A Place of Gardens and Lilies, Eric Leclere (2005)


In the ordinary course of events. He liked that. In the ordinary course of events. Something about it sounded good. Sounded dependable. Serious. He had no idea where he’d picked up such a solid string of words but he liked it. In the ordinary course of events. Huh!

Myrtle, bracken and rosemary… 

And strands of flesh and bone. A tick. That’s what it was like. A bleeding tick. Of the poised kind that sits on a tree’s low branches for years or more waiting for some warm-blooded creature to pass by. Spot on like that. The brainless bloodthirsty little bastards could wait forever, but in time – and wasn’t it beautiful, frightening and weird that it should happen at all – some four or two-legged meal-ticket would come by and the ugly buggers would seize their chance, seize the day, let themselves drop at just the right moment and dig into the flesh and feed. Touchdown! Al remembered exactly where he’d learnt of the pesky sonsofbitches. On TV. On one of those nature documentaries he liked to watch back in the days when there still existed an ordinary course of events. And it had just come back to him. There he was, getting along, doing his deals, surviving, and, whoops—What do you know? Hi there! He’d been transformed into some tick’s meal-ticket. And, of  course, he’d felt nothing. Had remained gloriously unaware of what was going down. Remained gloriously unaware that he was no longer getting along by himself, had picked up a passenger, so to speak. It had taken until the parasite had fed enough to grow enough to make a nuisance of itself. Only then he’d known. And of course, no matter how hard he’d tried, how many times he’d retraced his steps, Al had no idea which tree the thing had hit from. When and why he’d been tagged. The problem was, there’d been quite a few trees along the road. Huh! How did the proverb or whatever they called those things go again? You reap what you sow? Was that it? You reap what you sow? Had to be it. Sounded too familiar not to be it. You reap what you sow. It was always going to happen. Was bound to happen. What goes round comes round, right! Comeuppance and just deserts. If he’d been somebody else, if he’d not been himself, Al could have screamed, become truly  angry. But there you go; he wasn’t somebody else now, was he? He was Alan Winston, whatever that meant, and there was nothing he could do about that. Tick or no tick.

Al sighed. Well, not exactly. He didn’t really sigh in that the broad fixed grin across his sun-kissed windswept face remained just that: broad and fixed. He was mindful of this, just in case Bunny Rabbit up front should catch sight of him in her rearview mirror while steering her fancy convertible through the slow-moving traffic. But he sighed within, through the gorgeousness and into the buzzing darkness inside his shut eyes, where it was okay to do so.

The car underneath him coasted to a stop, ever so smoothly he reckoned there was more to it than slick engineering, that Bunny Rabbit had to be a skilled driver. It was probably a red light, another red light – he could sense as well as hear other cars braking on all sides – but he kept his eyes shut, kept on grinning, ignored the sun burning his skin now that all was hot stillness. He shifted his upper body slightly to the left though, and shook his shoulders to loosen up his outstretched arms along the top edge of the soft leather seat on either side of him. In the traffic fumes, he hoped Bunny Rabbit was looking, stared into her mirror through her sunglasses and bought the grin. But he wasn’t going to open his eyes to check. He’d done that at the last light, found himself alongside a crowded Italian restaurant terrace and, for a moment there, had nearly lost it, gone too deep. Come summer, come lunchtime, London’s West End could be quite something. Could offer quite a few challenges to a sensitive soul. Ever watched a fat-assed balding guy prancing in the midday sun in thick black leather trousers? Found yourself thinking What an asshole? But then, seeing the man get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin Volante, found yourself wondering? Like, well, Hell, maybe the guy’s no asshole after all. You know? Perhaps respect ought to be given where respect’s due, right? Only now, moving your thoughts away from the man’s car and back to his receding hairline, and realising how hot and hard the sun is and how thick and black the leather encasing his ass also is, you are moved to think about practical stuff, like about his hairy balls, and how sweltering it must be in his pants, and about impotence, and once again dismiss the guy as Asshole-Number-One. Or you think you do. Because by then you’re no longer sure what to think. By then, you’re a little confused, don’t quite know what to make of Mr. Leather-Trousers of Aston-Martin. Or what to make of anything really. And if that wasn’t bad enough, as if you weren’t confused enough by now, you then have to watch as a toned lipsticked blonde walks into frame to settle her snug little butt next to Mister and his leathered balls. Hell. What’s supposed to happen now? You’re supposed to think what exactly? Is he or are you? Well, you don’t know. You don’t. And it’s not as if a situation like this should unnerve you only because you’re a guy. Uh-uh. Might be just as disturbing if you’re female. Just as confusing. Or would no woman standing there ask herself stuff like what life might be like as Blondie here? What life might be like if it consisted of little more than nursing your tits and keeping your cute little pussy nicely tight, trimmed and lubricated? Downside: keeping Mr. Leather-Trousers happy. Upside? Well… 

Al felt his grin broaden. For real. He even showed some teeth, felt the searing air waft inside his mouth. He’d had a thought, a thought to which Bunny Rabbit was welcome. Because he was sure she was looking at him. She had to be. They still sat at the light and it had to be a good ten minutes since she and Daniela – or Dan, as she called her – had last talked.

“Tell me, Bunny Rabbit, how many hours a week does a nice girl in your line of work have to put in to own such a fine new convertible as this, eh?” he asked.

It was the other who replied, the one called Dan, as quick as a whip:

“A lot.”

“What’s a lot?”

“You’d be amazed.”

“Amaze me then.”

“Fuck you!”

Wasn’t it something? Not an hour had gone by since they were introduced and, already, Danny-girl felt relaxed enough to stray into familiarity. Fuck you! What a world! Bunny Rabbit, on the other hand, was keeping quiet. Probably couldn’t be bothered. Probably didn’t care. Or did she?

Hell. Couldn’t be helped. Al opened his eyes, connected with the rearview mirror between the blonde heads up front. Gotcha! The sun shone dazzlingly bright, her sunglasses were too dark to make out her chestnut eyes, but Bunny Rabbit was looking, and, of course, failed to react swiftly enough and gave the game away. Her pretty little head took all of about three quarters of a second to process the information that she was being watched, just like a poor bunny caught in headlights, and a full second and a half elapsed before the rest followed and everything above her neck jerked slightly but noticeably back towards the windscreen in front of her. Huh. Sweet nothings. How much he’d have loved to know what was going on in that head of hers. Tick-tock! How much he’d cared once.

The light ahead turned green, Bunny Rabbit, like a bird spreading her wings, shifted into drive and the car under him purred back to life, glossy magazine like, although this time the engine could have been said to be over-revving just a little. Sweet nothings alright. And the world was on heat.

Al was good. Felt clear. Felt just like you feel when you hear a favourite song. Three minutes of absolute unadulterated emotional clarity. He was leaving Cambridge Circus, turning into the Charing Cross Road, once again gently cooled by the breeze created by the car’s motion. Things looked so sharp he felt lucky merely for being part of it all. For being there. It was a good day for sun-seekers. A perfect day for ice-cream traders. A dream day for the soft-drinks industry. The streets were packed, mostly with hot looking tourists with knapsacks. Hordes of them. All sparring for space. And some, he could swear, sent envious glances his way. And why not? In the ordinary course of events, any guy cruising the streets on the back-seat of a red convertible fronted by a couple of girls like Bunny Rabbit and her butch little friend would have generated envy. Had to. In the ordinary course of events, that’s exactly what ought to happen. Not that Al cared. He simply noted the fact, that’s all. Strangely, or so he thought himself, he derived more comfort from sighting the backs of a couple of kids’ heads bobbing and stirring in the rear window of a car in the traffic ahead. It had one of those big box things fixed on its roof rack, as good a pointer as any that it was family summer holiday season. The kids’ brisk motions, their sitting side by side with their heads angled towards their laps, could mean only one thing. Al knew. He’d been there. He’d once sat in the back of that car. The boys were playing. Wrestling little buttons and controls. And for all they cared, the world was gone, zapped into the stratosphere. The only thing that mattered was that tiny little screen their tiny little brains were hooked into. Fuck you!

Al shut his eyes again. Maybe that was why he felt so good stretching his arms along the leather of the red convertible. It was like being a kid again. Though he hardly felt like a kid really. How could he? What he felt was more like feeling what it’s like to remember what it feels like to be a kid. If that made sense. Feeling like a dumb kid while sitting so close to Bunny Rabbit that he could actually smell shampoo from her wafting hair would have been too mean a feat. Not that he was unduly obsessed with the girl. He wasn’t. He had been, once, but now, he wasn’t. Once, such a word as lustful might best have described her. Al sure had thought of her as Miss Lustfulness, in a nice and proper kind of way. Average height, full everywhere a girl needs to be, lazy dark hair, buttery complexion, loaded lips, forever amused round chestnut eyes and kissable all over, she may not have been catwalk material but there was no need for her or anyone to fret about it. Once, she’d stood out from the crowd. Had looked charged alright. That could no longer be said to be the case though. Bunny Rabbit had dieted, probably worked out, and so forfeited the fullness of the curves which had many a night and day made Al glad he was no longer a dumb kid. Bunny was now a lean and mean Rabbit, with bleached-blond shoulder-length designed hair. The thing was, in her skimpy sleeveless cream top, tight jeans and high-maintenance high-heeled shoes, she looked barely different from her friend Danny-girl. Or, come to think of it, from any mousy blonde around the twenty mark. She was anybody. Could be anybody’s. Bare midriff and all. And being lean, mean and blond, if Al’s opinion on such a matter meant something, didn’t agree with the girl. Neutered her outer lustiness. Not to say she was unattractive. Oh no! Dream on, boys and girls! It would have taken more than a diet and some hair dye to kill the Bunny Rabbit in the girl. No. There was no need to exaggerate. She remained Do-not-pass-without-getting-an-eyeful material. And if Danny-girl’s butch little act and hostility to Al meant anything, the feeding eyes were no longer boys’ only. Girls were equally happy and obviously welcome to check the merchandise. But still, in Al’s eyes, Bunny Rabbit had lost something. Lost her thing. Lost the thing which had made her stand out. Made her different from all the other bitches. Made her it.

Al smiled. Unsure why, he smiled at something in the buzzing darkness inside his shut eyes, where it was okay to smile, because outside – he remained mindful of this – he was all broad and fixed grin. It went without saying really. He was right. Even with Bunny Rabbit a lean, mean and mousy version of herself, feeling anything like a kid again in her company would have been too mean a feat. Someone else could go there perhaps. But him? No entry! Hell, he’d loved the girl, if feeling special about someone special is what is meant by loving. He’d loved the words she said. Loved the things she did. Loved her wishes. Thanks to her, he’d even known all those scary devils you hear variously described as jealousy, possessiveness and intolerance. He’d got his head right-and-properly fucked up, some sorry bastard would probably say. Waking up by her side every morning, wrapped around her every morning, he’d embraced the days to come for bringing the nights when he’d be by her side again, wrapped into her. Absolutely. No one could possibly feel so hard about some girl and ever feel like a kid again in her presence. Not in this life. Bunny Rabbit might have brought it all crashing down one day, but all the same, who could forget having been there? You just don’t. Even now, even three years down the road, even one lean and mean and mousy Bunny Rabbit transformation later, it couldn’t be done. Even if, as she said, he’d never really loved her at all. Even if, as could be the case, she might possibly be right about that. Who could tell? Who could ever be sure about that sort of thing.

It’s true the end had come abruptly, from one moment to the next. Is it possible to really love one minute and yet totally fall out of love the next? Just because one drunken birthday party night the object of your passion gets up on a table to strip to her lusty-furry-fucking-self in front of friends and foes? Fucking tits! Who could know, eh? She’d said he stopped feeling for her because he’d never really loved her. He reckoned the reverse was true; he’d stopped feeling for her because he had loved her. Watching her take her tits out for the house had simply set off his survival instinct, which in turn had taken care of his protective instinct. Don’t protect what’s not yours. And you must-not-cannot feel love for what you cannot protect. Universal truth. Healthy instinct. That’s all there was to it. But again, who could really tell, eh? She very well might be right. Maybe he’d never loved her. Maybe what he’d felt for her was something else. Maybe, as she’d suggested at the time, he’d have properly lost it if he’d been in love with her. Would have hit the bitch, or cried or threatened suicide or done something instead of calmly moving on. What do you know? There’s just no pleasing some folks.

Al realised why he was smiling inside. Bunny Rabbit had looked. Of course she had. Couldn’t help it, could she? Even lean, mean and mousy, the girl couldn’t help it. Sweet nothings. 

If he was right, very soon, unless they were to come across yet another light, Bunny Rabbit would bring her automobile to a stop and time would be to say goodbye.

He was right. She called in a drowsy voice as they were still moving:

“Here we are, Al.”

The song was coming to an end. The car was coming to a halt. Al had prepared. He opened his eyes, caught sight of the blue sign marking Leicester Square tube station, looked back to check the movement of traffic, gripped the top of Bunny Rabbit’s seat with one hand, gripped the top of his seat with the other, and, in one smooth motion, flung himself out of the vehicle, landed on the tarmac, turned back on his heels. Easy.

He could have got off on the kerb side, which would have been safer, but that was Danny-girl’s side. It was better sport to be by Bunny Rabbit’s door, even if it meant standing in the road with the traffic brushing uncomfortably close behind him.

“Always wanted to get out of a convertible like that.” 

He was grinning into her sunglasses.

“Really? Well, glad I could help you realise one of your fantasies.”

“Oh. Easy now, Bunny Rabbit. No need for false modesty. We both know you’ve done much more than that to make this man happy, don’t we?”

The tightly bundled firm pack of her breasts heaved inside her sleeveless top. It was difficult to say if her loaded lips grinned or scorned. She’d never taken to being called Bunny Rabbit. Even then. Not in public anyway. And judging by Danny-girl’s stiff-jawed sneer, she was not alone in taking exception to Al calling her sweet names. 

There was only one thing to do. And who could tell, could be Al had prepared for this too. Could be. He showed Danny-girl his teeth. In other circumstances, the two of them might have got along. All in all, for a diminutive butchy mousy blonde, Bunny Rabbit’s friend was okay. On the butch-standard-scale, her needle still pointed towards girlish. Possibly, if and when she smiled, with her small everything, baby-fat cheeks and cute green eyes, she might even have managed to look cuddly. The problem was, ever since being introduced to Al, she’d doggedly refused even to smile, given him the stuck-up, stiff-jawed treatment. Fuck you!

“Anyway, Honey Bun. I never asked. How’s your love life these days?” he said, keeping his toothy grin on Danny-girl.

“For fuck’s sake, Al. Will you ever grow up,” Bunny Rabbit replied, more lamenting than upset or angry.

“That’s just it. I’m working on it, Honey Bun. That’s why I’m asking, see. Just in case you too’ve got problems on that front. These days I myself am into experimenting with loving uptight little ones. The small, rigid, stiffy-jawed type, you know. It’s not too bad. Ought to try one. Very satisfying. A challenge. And if you get there, get them to ooh-aah and yield – love is eternal. And if you don’t, they’re so grateful for the attention they dare not complain. Can’t lose, really. Take it from this wild hare, Honey Bun, there’s nothing like a suppressed stiffy-jawed pint-sized tight bitch to cover your bets. You must try one yourself sometime. Hell. You only live once.”

“Ah ha ha!” This was Danny-girl, who stiffly-tightly looked away; “Fuck you, loser!” 

“And I was just about to say it was nice to have seen you again.” This was Bunny Rabbit. Still no anger. She just didn’t know how to show anger.

“Well, guess I blew it then.”

She shrugged her tanned, taut, toned shoulders.

“All I was trying to say, as they say, is familiarity breeds contempt,” he declared.

Only the hum of the traffic and the crowds moving in the heat answered him. Maybe he was being too tortuous.

“I’m sure your girlfriend here can take as good as she gives,” he remarked, in a lazy shot at an explanation.

“Loser!” Danny-girl hissed again. Then again, in all the noise, in all the heat, the hiss could well have been “Wanker!” It was anyone’s bet. 

“Okay, Al,” Bunny Rabbit said, moving on.

Her plucked brows had risen above the rim of her sunglasses, a smile formed on her lips:

“I guess that’s it. What do you want me to say if the guy calls again?”

The tick…

You haven’t seen me. Don’t know where I am. Piss off. Or whatever it is you say to guys who bother you.”


“You needn’t worry about him though. I don’t think he’ll bother you again.”

“I’m not worried, Al. Anyway, I—”

She broke off, hesitated, then put her handsome automobile into drive, scarlet nail polish flashing in the sun:

“Right. I guess that’s it.”

He winked into her sunglasses, stepped back from her door.

“Uh-huh. Guess so.”

“Well, good luck with your restaurant and… You know...”

“Yep. And take good care of yourself. Thanks for the ride. And by the way, you still don’t know how to rinse the shampoo off your hair properly.”

She pursed her lips, shook her head, waved a reflex goodbye and rejoined the traffic. Purring. Effortlessly. Slipping away.

There’d been no suggestion they might meet again. They both knew this reunion ought never to have taken place. In the ordinary course of events, some things were never meant to happen.

Al didn’t look after the red convertible. He wasn’t that sort. And he let go of the grin. And got out of his Levi jacket and flung it over his shoulder. He felt light. Had possibly not felt this light for years. Or if he had he couldn’t remember. In the searing heat, the hot-looking hordes of tourists and knapsacks appeared to melt out of his way, parting like the Red Sea of the story. In the searing heat, he felt so energized and alert it was as if he had hooked into a pocket of fresh air, was moving in a personal world. The thing was, he had, he was. Alan Winston was no longer the same as the others. Alan Winston was—

Myrtle, bracken and rosemary…

  Who cared! He knew of a special place. His place. And it had a pool and a waterfall and a burro even. That’s right. Even had the fucking burro! Now, if the others with their knapsacks knew, what would they think, eh? He had better learn today’s lesson, though: do not renew contact with ex-girlfriends. Could prove embarrassing. Had most certainly been a little awkward. Had been touch and go, really. How was he to guess how far Bunny Rabbit had travelled in just three years? You leave someone an underpaid lusty-looking brunette waitress in a two-bit pizzeria, call to say hi-how-are-you-still-got-the-same-mobile-number-I-see-and-I’m-back-in-town-and-thought-might-be-nice-to-see-you and you find yourself having a drink in a fancy flat with a lean and mean and mousy blond dyke complete with girlfriend who tells you she’s now some fashion magazine Assistant Editor and owns a red convertible to prove it. Three years. What kind of magazine would promote a Pizzeria waitress to Assistant Editor in just three years? Al could think of a few that might, but none of them had anything to do with fashion. No sir! But it had been touch and go, alright. The funny thing was, Bunny Rabbit still fancied him. In her perverse way, the girl still fancied him. Or at least had fond memories of their time together. She had to. Otherwise why the lies about the source of her new-found wealth? Why would she have bothered? Assistant Editor of a fashion magazine! Now, really! That’s what had saved the day. Bunny Rabbit had wanted to look better than what she’d become. Oh, you know, Al, since we split up after I displayed my furriness, well, I discovered there’s a living in taking your tits out. Huh! The funny thing was that he too had lied. Entirely different reasons though. Bunny Rabbit had moved on too far, out of reach, that’s all. And also, the tick had got to her, hadn’t he?

A new movie had just opened at the cinema around the corner from The Red Bistro. It was the big new summer action flick everybody would go and see in the next week or so. By coincidence, it replaced some voyeuristic thriller about a lesbian relationship gone wrong that Al had found moderately entertaining the previous week. The poster advertising the lesbian story was still on display, and he absent-mindedly studied it for a minute or so before stepping out of the sun and into the foyer to purchase a single ticket for the next show, together with a large coke and portion of salted popcorn. There were plusses to being back being a donkey doing evening shifts in the West End of London: at least matinee cinema tickets were not too expensive and there was no need to put up with queues to see the latest film offerings. You must learn to count your blessings.

For a couple of hours, the large screen in front of Al became all that mattered. For all he cared, the world had died, zapped into the stratosphere. And when the film ended and he stepped back out into the sweltering almost pasty late afternoon heat, he didn’t even remember thinking about Bunny Rabbit and lesbians and ticks and lies about opening his own restaurant or folks earning a living as fashion magazine Assistant Editors. And every woman who met his eyes looked just beautiful.

The thing was – and he was well aware of it – in the ordinary course of events he’d never have felt this great after spending his afternoon watching a totally forgettable movie. But who cared. Who knew anything about those things?

“Hi there, Paolo.”

“Hello, Al, my friend. How you doing?”


“No shit. What are you on?”

“Just floating, my friend. Just floating.”

“No shit. What happened? Some girl fucked your brains out?”

Paolo was an Italian English student working as a kitchen porter to supplement whatever money he’d wrestled out of his parents to come to London. Paolo’s thing was girls.

“Spent an hour with a couple of dykes, actually,” Al said with a smile while tying an apron over his chequered chef’s trousers.

“No fucking way! A couple of dykes! And you spent only one hour with them!”

“Well. Let’s just say they spent one hour with me, if you know what I mean.”

Paolo was not sure. Aside from girls, Paolo was never too sure about anything, if the few evenings Al had spent with him were any guide to his character. He grinned into Al’s smile, then somehow understood whatever it was there was to understand in what Al had said. Never failed.

“Ah. Geddit! Geddit!”

Geddit! It was the new fad. The latest in-word. Geddit! Everyone everywhere had to say it and everyone everywhere saying it thought they were so uniquely clever. So in. Even dumb Italian English students.

Al grinned. The day chef, whose name was Ralph and who he had yet to meet, had left him a note. The Bolognese was not ready. The frozen meat delivery had arrived too late etc. etc.

Al sighed and stuck a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint in his mouth. The defrosted meat was waiting for him. He had twenty minutes before the door opened and the hordes came in to be fed.

“I need you to help me chop some onions mucho rapido, Paolo…”

In the ordinary course of events…


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