Built in Brockley of fading yellow brick, the gaunt, three-story terrace of large Victorian houses stood back a few paces from the road, as if to preserve a semblance of former elegance, in much the same way that Adam did. As he waited for Angel at the top of the steps up to the end house, Adam wondered how such a change could have come over her.
“Here she comes,” he murmured under his breath, “I’d better steel myself”.
Adam’s gaze took in the stiletto heels, the abundant blond locks and the tight-fitting trench-coat. As it hugged her figure, the black gabardine of the coat contrasted to good effect with a shower of stray pink petals floating in the late April air. The latter was the work of the wind rustling its admiration of Angel and tugging at the giant blooms with which were laden the cherry trees that bordered Breakspears Road. Adam frowned. When, he asked himself, had he first begun to be afraid of her?
Adam and Angel had moved in together the November before last. On that chilly 1968 day the lines of cherry trees stood bare and damp as the couple unloaded their meagre belongings from a hired van. Despite their winter bones, the trees were not unwelcoming. Alas, the same might not be said of the house and its occupants. What stood out most in Adam’s mind as he recollected that day was Angel’s chirrupy energy and simple charm. Back then he just could not get enough of her. He considered it a blessing that their paths had crossed in the way they had, he slipping down the social ladder by moving up from Tunbridge Wells, and she the reverse, up the scale from Peckham just down the road. He was chalk and she was cheese.
It was puerile, Adam knew, but the reason he had first fallen for Angel was the rose-pink knitted top she frequently wore. It was very like the one his grandmother used to wear. Indeed, it might almost have been the same garment, right down to the white lace collar and mother-of-pearl buttons. However, the contents it englobed were not of equal effect upon his senses. Time metes out merciless punishment as it beats out the metre of the passing years. Adam adored his grandmother but the way she wore the pink knitted top, with the top three buttons undone, was wont to make him retch. He felt compelled to button up the garment in order to hide the scrag of her sagging chest, whereas when Angel wore hers in similarly undone fashion, Adam relished the thought of unbuttoning the ample rest.
On that first day of their new life together, it had seemed to Adam that Angel was wholesome and fresh as she struggled to carry cardboard boxes, too heavy for her slight frame, up the short flight of concrete steps that led up to the house. At the same time he felt uneasy; a cloying dampness in the air gave him the impression that it was trying to conceal something. The old building itself seemed suddenly to have focused its attention upon Angel, like a dry eye flicking open after arousal from an unchaste slumber.
Glass-panelled and heavy, the street door stood ajar, its tarnished brass knob looking hard and drab.
When a pretty tabby cat appeared and yowled plaintively in front of her, Angel chirped an impromptu “ow look! What a luvly moggie!”.
It was typical of her in those early days. Oh how Adam had loved her! Awkward and stiff, he was himself incapable of such spontaneity. She immediately put down her load and stooped to stroke the cat, which began to purr. It prowled back and forth, rubbing alternate sides of its head against Angel’s legs in an ecstasy of clumsy gusto. Unexpectedly, out of nowhere, appeared a ginger grimalkin of ruthless proportions. Without the slightest hesitation, it brutally boxed the tabby female with such force that it fell backwards down the flight of steps and cowered bleating at its foot.
Angel responded with a bubbly “Oi, don’t be such a bully you!” but the ginger beast merely spat at her and stood its ground.
Adam joined Angel at the top of the steps but still the animal barring the way betrayed no fear. With dark defiance etched on its features, the cruel creature crouched low and crept menacingly towards them.
“Blimey!” exclaimed Angel, hastily retreating behind Adam, an action that he experienced with an embarrassment of mixed feelings.
Adam did not care for cats. He could never understand why people kept them. At the same time, the feel of Angel’s pert body snuggling full against his back made him painfully aware that to deal with the situation something virile was expected of him. He clapped his hands. The grimalkin feigned not to hear. Not wishing to touch it, Adam gingerly put out a foot with the intention of inching the cat’s angry gingerness out of the way but its features clouded with malice. In a flash, it sank two rows of needle teeth into the toe of Adam’s trainer and refused to be shaken off. Adam saw its jaws tighten and felt a sharp pain as the incisors pierced the fabric of his shoe. Before panic had time to take hold, the lady who kept cats appeared in the doorway. She looked accusingly at Adam, scooped up the old cat, which instantly released its grip, and returned without a word inside the house.
“Take no notice,” said Angel sensibly.
But Adam’s uneasiness did not abate. “This does not bode well,” he thought.
Owing to a sheltered upbringing, the things that Adam did not know far outnumbered those that he did. He was, for example, good at doing crossword puzzles and at naming capital cities, but shopping lists and screwdrivers defeated him. He knew who Eisenstein was and of Pavlov’s dog, but just what made the lady who kept cats keep cats he could not fathom. She had fifteen of them.
It was through no fault of Adam’s that his father had lost his fortune. At thirty five – an awkward age for a man – Adam had, by the time he met Angel, been failing to fend properly for himself for several diminishing years. Affluence was something he no longer knew. Angel was far better than him at being brainy but due to her upbringing she knew none of the things that Adam knew. Neither had she realised, until they moved in together, that despite his learned bearing there were numerous things that Adam should have known but did not. For example, how to perform in bed. No worries, she decided, she would educate him.
“Not then,” thought Adam. He had not been at all afraid of her at first.
The house in Brockley was divided into flats arranged such that there was one on each floor except the basement. The entrance hallway boasted a chessboard of pitted black and white stone flags. The stories of the house were linked by a strip of faded carpet, the diamond pattern upon which ran thick-tufted atop a broad staircase of polished wood. Climbing from the ground floor, the diamond pointers ushered the way in the company of a dark mahogany banister rail. The latter was supported by a series of spindle-shank balusters that reminded Adam of an aging lady’s neck. The raucous insolence of a Beatles chart-topper was often to be heard coming from the ground floor home of the lady who kept cats. In a cage atop a mirrored sideboard the lady who kept cats also kept a budgerigar which, surrounded as it was by fifteen felines, sang little and worried much. To the basement area not a soul ever went, save cats in pursuit of rats.
Her features more wrinkled than a shelled walnut, another lady inhabited the middle floor flat. So ancient was she that no-one still alive could recall what she had looked like before. A silver wedding band sat loosely on the third talon of her left hand, amidst blue veins and liver spots that betrayed her great age, but of a husband she made no mention. She did not go out much, if at all. Absorbed as she was with cat litter and cooking sherry, the lady who kept cats paid scant attention to her decaying neighbour. Yet at times, between two sips of Harvey’s and dishevelled hair, she fancied she heard an ethereal laugh from aloft. However, large houses like this one had been erected for gentlefolk in Victorian times. Their deliberately thick walls were designed to prevent ladies in chintz overhearing what turgid gentlemen were wont to do to winsome chambermaids, who in the matter had but little choice. So, a century later, the lady who kept cats hardly heard an old lady’s cackle nor her glee, neither did she hear who she could see.
Running quietly past the middle floor’s firmly-shut door, the stair carpet found its way up to the top of the house, at which point it abandoned the visitor in front of what was to become Angel’s abode and Adam’s bane. Formerly the servants’ quarters, it was nevertheless noble. Graceful ceilings were supported by smooth high walls, hand-plastered in a bygone time when plastering walls was still considered a craft. A room with two sash-windows overlooking the back garden was to be their lounge cum dining room, alongside which ran a narrow kitchen. A second room was ear-marked as their bedroom, whence a narrow, bare-boarded passageway led off down a pair of uneven steps, and then on through an unwilling door to a back room which radiated a chillness and which, as if for succour, sucked the warmth from any living soul that entered there.
Adam and Angel brought all their belongings up the stairs from the van with no further hindrance from cats. On one occasion it had seemed to Adam that the old lady’s door had clicked shut moments before he passed, although he could not be sure. The only items the lovers had bought brand-new were a London Co-op bed and a duvet, which was a new-fangled item in those days. Their clothes they hung on a pair of castor-mounted chrome rails that Angel had found discarded outside Chiesman’s store in Lewisham High Street. The remainder of the furnishings had been provided by family and friends, few of whom approved of such a couple. Angel’s friends said Adam was a snob and chided her for aiming above her station. Adam himself had no friends, their having one by one abandoned him to the tune of his misfortune and dwindling bank balance.
It took the couple little more than an hour to set up their new home. The bed was erected. Angel tucked in the bottom sheet then stood back as Adam, looking sheepish, spread the duvet. The longest task had been to install a set of home-made bookshelves. These comprised sturdy planks set on makeshift stacks of loose yellow house-bricks. Then Angel took a bath and slipped beneath the duvet, attired only in her rose-pink top.
“What are you doing?” she called huskily.
Adam was watching cats. He hated cats. There were five of them spitting at each other down there in the back garden below. He started nervously at Angel’s summons. He was not sure he was up to what was expected of him now but as soon as he drew back the duvet he knew he was.
“Adam,” whispered Angel on that dank November’s eve, as hesitant hands hovered over her buttons, “what’s in that room?”
“Let’s take a look after…” he said hoarsely, now on the last button.
No, he was not afraid of her then, that much Adam knew as he watched Angel striding confidently across Breakspears Road, tossing her head to dislodge stray cherry blossom from her hair. So when exactly had it all started to go wrong?
They explored the cold room. Previous occupants had used it to store things and had left behind an assortment of battered cardboard boxes containing junk, along with several stacks of yellowing newspapers. The only furniture of note was a three-panel wardrobe made out of walnut wood. It had seen better days. A full-length mirror with bevelled edges filled the centre panel, flanked by heavy doors with brass keys unturned for decades in their locks. Feathery black spots flecked the mirror where the silver had worn away. They decided to reserve this cold room for future plans.
The next day, Angel went to Woolworths to purchase draught excluder. She found some fashioned into the form of a long brown sausage dog. This she stationed along the crack under the cold room door in order to block off the chill. Adam took an instant shine to the sausage dog; it made a welcome change from cats!
No, reflected Adam, everything had been fine at first; blissful, in fact. Their first winter together they spent in Paradise. Angel was a hive of industry; she made curtains, scrubbed the kitchen until it gleamed and set about decorating the rooms to her taste. She persuaded Adam to paint the walls and put up shelves. With nimble fingers, she made false flowers from coloured tights by stretching the nylon mesh over strands of stiff wire bent into the shape of petals. She needed hooks and cubby holes everywhere. They chuckled over Adam’s crooked eye when it came to putting up shelves. She seemed always to be happy with what he had done. At last he was able to relax by day and not feel ashamed of himself at night. He got a job and one evening he even aimed a kick at the ginger cat.
Then one day a strange thing happened. In late January, on a crisp morning of jagged shadows, they went for a walk in Greenwich Park. Around the Observatory they ambled arm-in-arm, Adam expounding upon longitude and the prime meridian while Angel’s eyes flashed sparkles of diamond.
“Shall we sit down?” she asked finally, guiding Adam to a bench beneath some trees. She snuggled the fur muff of her coat up around her ears and pressed the tip of her nose cold against Adam’s neck.
“I’m waiting for a silver moment,” she whispered, seeking to see the sun through the slender fingers of a white-barked birch tree.
Adam sat staggered. How could she possibly have known? Those were the very words his grandmother had uttered the last time he had seen her! She too was sitting amidst the trees before she slowly smiled and died.
That night in bed Angel again wore her pink top.
“Unbutton me,” she whispered, but Adam was troubled by thoughts of his grandmother.
Angel moistened her lips and ran them back and forth along his index finger. She looked up at him meaningfully and took the knuckle between her teeth. Then, with no warning, she bit down hard. Adam yelped and bore deep teeth marks for several weeks after.
Later that year, an early autumn evening saw them again in the same Royal park under a sky of scudding clouds. They were seated upon a sward of soft grass at the foot of a maple tree, listening to the bees. The meadow was littered with fresh fallen foliage but the maple tree retained a multi-pigmented dazzle of dying leaves which, as they danced and dappled and altered the light, cast shadows that painted patterns on Angel. Adam was caressing her forearms when quietly she whispered “And today I’m waiting for a golden moment”.
She explained to him that this is what old people are doing when you see them sitting alone, be they decrepit or demented.
“They are living with the leaves. That’s why sometimes you see them smile,” she said.
Adam knew this to be true, he had often seen his grandmother do it, not only on the day she died. It was odd, he felt, that Angel was so in tune with her. He was not sure he enjoyed such collusion between the two of them across the divide between the living and the dead. He was aroused from his musings by a dark cloud which opaqued the sun and plunged the park into sombre thoughts. A puff of cool air emerged from behind the tree and shimmied the grass.
“Oo, I feel chilly!” cooed Angel as a stipple of goose-pimples developed on her arms.
Adam was about to pontificate upon pilo-erection when he was silenced once again by the darkling cloud. Mid-scud across the windswept sky, it suddenly cleared the sun, setting free a burst of brightness that penetrated the maple leaves and drowned the down on Angel’s arms in ripples of light. The fine hairs that stood erect atop the follicles on her fair skin swayed this way and that. Adam had certainly not been afraid of her then. So fresh she was, like a blush of pink champagne.
The fear had come later, realised Adam as he watched Angel push open the gates and pass between the brick pillars supporting them. It had taken hold on just such a day as this, after he had waited for her at this very spot in cat territory at the top of the steps. It was the first time he had seen her in the black trench-coat. Angel’s hips undulated as she negotiated the steps up to Adam’s lips. She kissed him full and wet. He didn’t like that, in full view of the lady who kept cats! She brushed by him and, with a hint of swagger about her, started the ascent of the diamond-patterned carpet. As he followed her up the stairs his gaze was drawn inexorably along the thickening length of her stiletto heels, across the narrow channels around her ankles, then on up past the fullness of her calves. Adam slowed his pace and missed a step, which afforded him a guilty better view. Up beyond her knees his eyes then ventured. They came to rest beneath her trench-coat and then he felt embarrassed. He saw only immodest legs. Averting his gaze, he stole a glance over the mahogany banister and beheld a gimlet row of feline eyes feeding on the spectacle. So too was the lady who kept cats. Adam’s cheeks reddened and burned.
The door to the second-floor flat clicked shut as Adam passed by. Or did it? He was never sure. He lingered a moment and frowned. He was wearing the trainers with the cat teeth marks. Thus shod Adam was able to pussyfoot. He crept stealthily across to the dinosaur’s door and cocked an ear. Was that the scrape of a chair, a sigh of breath? He could not tell. No point in dallying.
Moments later, Adam pushed open his own door and found Angel standing naked before him, her trench-coat at her feet. Adam looked furtively behind him in heightened embarrassment but saw no one. Angel stood her ground. She stretched out a hand and curled her fingers about the knot of his tie then tightened her grip. It was his favourite tie, the one with the red and silver swirls. He would have preferred her not to pull on it but that is precisely what she did. Eyes of ice penetrated deep into his own. Slowly she raised a stiletto-clad foot from the floor and tilted the toe upwards until the dagger was facing dead ahead.
Holding Adam transfixed in her blue gaze, Angel deliberately scraped the stiletto point down along the length of his shinbone, beginning just below the knee-joint and not stopping until she reached his shoe. There the steel point circled twice then came to rest atop a puncture mark remaining from the cat attack. With the grin of an ice maiden, Angel transferred her naked weight onto the front foot, raising the other foot from the ground as she did so, and drove the stiletto point hard into the fabric of the supple shoe. The concentrated pressure thus exerted by a small woman exceeds that of the footfall of a bull elephant.
Prior to this ordeal, the only inkling Adam had had of any change in Angel was when one day he came home to find her tidying the back room along the boarded passage. She had moved her clothes in there, the chrome rails adding to the cold. She persuaded Adam to help her move the wardrobe out of the cold room and into their bedroom alongside the bed instead of the clothes rails. There she spoke to it as she polished it.
This was why he was afraid of her. From then on Angel was insatiable. The day she dragged Adam by his favourite tie to the bed, his toe was ablaze with pain.
“What are you doing?” he protested, “I don’t feel like it, I need time to recover from what you just did!”
“You’ll survive,” she said icily, “first things first…”
“But I can’t!” pleaded Adam. But Angel would not listen.
“Use your tongue if the rest ain’t working,” she added spitefully in a voice almost unlike her own. “Kneel down by the bed,” she commanded, manoeuvring him to a spot in the narrow space between the wardrobe and the bed.
Once he was in position, his clothes strewn all about, she inserted her fingers into the thickness of his hair. Taking a firm grip on either side of his scalp, she drew his head between her thighs then threw herself backwards. Thenceforth, this became their daily ritual.
The rate at which Adam lost his libido was matched only by the ascent in Angel’s ardour. She became ever more demanding, always at the same spot. Adam’s discomfort grew as with each passing night came the conviction that there was a third presence in the bedroom. Then came the night when, in mid-ritual, the hairs on the back of Adam’s neck prickled and he knew that other eyes were watching them. Coming up for breath, he perceived a pair of dry red orbs fixing him from a corner of the wardrobe mirror. Rivulets of cold swirled about his kneeling form, coursing in waves across his body, but oblivious Angel merely grasped his head more firmly and returned it to its task. The next time Adam surfaced the eyes in the mirror had gone, as had the tie with the red and white swirls that Angel had yanked from his neck not long before.
“What’s the matter?” asked Angel, her voice returning to normal. Adam told her what he had seen. Together they examined the wardrobe but found nothing untoward.
“We’d better see to that toe of yours, you’ve gone a bit delirious,” retorted Angel.
Adam dared not tell her about the missing tie. In the bathroom she bent over him and bathed his toe. Then, to his amazement, she closed her lips around it. As he looked down at the bare nape of her neck and saw the delicate line where her blond hair parted in equal portions, a tingle began to course through his body. He ran a finger softly along the parting line, feeling his vigour returning. Soon after, Adam was able to relax.
That night, however, sleep eluded him. From time to time he propped himself up on one elbow and peered beyond Angel’s supine form to check the mirror. Because there was not enough light by which to see, he felt, rather than saw, a presence brooding there.
“This is ridiculous,” he told himself rationally, “mirrors only reflect, nothing can move independently on the other side”.
However, the rational is less cocksure in the dead of night, at which time it may be found looking nervously over its shoulder in fear of its pursuers: the strange and the cruel. He had seen something, of that he was convinced. Adam twisted and turned in bed, eventually disturbing Angel, who stirred.
“Hmm,” she yawned languorously, “Adam, press me a lemon”.
Adam rose from the bed and felt a stab of pain invade his toe as he put it to ground. Limping awkwardly toward the kitchen, across the double sash-windowed lounge, Adam hesitated a moment, ears alert. What was that sound? It was hard to tell – a kind of growl. Something was there, of that he was sure. The sound came again. Adam froze, every nerve in his body zinging like frayed piano wire. Then he heard it once more, it appeared to come from outside. Adam approached the window. He gripped the tails of the heavy brown curtain, weighing them for a moment in his hand, undecided what to do.
“I should be brave,” he told himself, but his better judgement told him to go straight to the kitchen. Summoning all his courage, Adam whipped the curtain along its rail then jumped back sharply, stifling a cry. A row of yellow eyes, with death black pupils, sat peering into the room. Cats.
How those cats gave him the creeps! And how had they climbed onto this window sill? Adam did not know. He quickly drew shut the curtains again. Why were they there?
Hobbling back to the bedroom with Angel’s glass of crushed lemon, Adam felt his bare feet warm against the carpet.
“Come here,” said Angel earthily, her outstretched arms wanting him.
He had to skirt around the foot of the bed to reach her. Inching into the passage between the wardrobe and the bed, he was immediately struck by the acute difference in temperature beneath his feet. A distinctly cold band spanned the gap between the wardrobe and the bed. Stepping into it, Adam felt a chill of dread. It was as if electrodes of ice were being injected into his legs. The cold coursed right through him and thence into Angel’s body, up over the mounds of her breasts, along her white neck and into her skull, where it intensified the glacial blue gleam of her icy eyes. Angel snatched the glass from Adam’s trembling hand and tipped its contents in a liquid line along her bare torso. She pulled Adam’s head towards her.
“Come,” she said.
Before long he was stretched along her, the bitter taste of sour lemon on his lips. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of something in the mirror of the wardrobe. Unblinking, immobile, scowling at him. The grimalkin. With no warning, Angel smashed the empty glass on the wooden frame of the bed and, with a curt laugh, ran the jagged shards down the ridge of Adam’s startled back. An echelon of four angry welts spurted blood. It looked as if a glove of steel talons had scraped a path from between his shoulder blades down to his waist.
Adam yelped. He was terrified. Whatever had possessed her to do such a thing? His back was burning. Angel lithely extricated herself from beneath him and stood wolf-eyed and naked in the cold band connecting the bed to the wardrobe. She bent over him and ravish-licked the fresh blood from his back until his wounds were white and her ardour was quenched.
Next morning Adam felt as frail as parchment, his head was pounding, his back and toe were scorching. Angel was already up and in the shower. Hoping household chores might restore some normalcy into the day, Adam laid the table for breakfast. He boiled eggs and buttered toast, feeling a semblance of sanity returning. No sign of Angel yet. He decided to take out the rubbish bin, for today was collection day. Or was it the next day? Adam was losing his bearings. Wrapping his dressing gown tightly about him, Adam descended the stairs somewhat shakily, for each step on his bad foot was painful. Not a sound disturbed the house. It brooded with the sort of silence you find in mausoleums.
Adam stepped outside and pulled the street door gently to behind him, hoping to shut in the stale of the oppressive indoors. He paused at the top of the street steps to fill his lungs with copious draughts of clean dawn air. The early morning whine of an electric float working its way along the street soothed his ears and a friendly wave from the milkman lifted his spirits.
“Lovely morning,” chirruped the man on his way into the house next door, milk bottles chinking in their crate to the rhythm of his steps. Adam might have felt further revived had it not been for what he saw at the foot of the concrete steps.
A misshapen shadow of something dangling swayed to and fro on the brick wall behind the big container to which was destined the household detritus that Adam had descended. After depositing his plastic bags into the container he ventured a peek behind it. Whatever was casting the shadow had to be there.
What Adam saw plunged him right back into the depths of despair. From a rusty nail driven into the hard grey plastic of the container hung the decaying remains of the tabby cat, its head in a noose, half its face eaten away, one leg gone. Adam’s horror increased when he realised with what the animal had been strangled. It was his favourite tie, the one with the red and silver whirls.
“Yes, I am afraid of her now; so very afraid,” thought Adam as Angel, once atop the concrete steps, stretched her body taught and up, so that her hello lips were at the same level as his.
At times, Angel had nevertheless been her old bubbly self, quick-witted and warm. At least outdoors she was, notwithstanding a disarming self-assurance, a ‘look you straight in the eye’ demeanour that made him feel uncomfortable. The swagger in the step, the way her clothes clung to her body, the ever-unbuttoned cleavage of her pink tops – of which she now had three, these things Adam knew were not as before. Once indoors, she rarely wore more than those pink tops. Adam himself began to grow thin, his features drawn. He had taken on the liverish hue of one who has not long to live. And the wounds on his back still hurt and never healed however assiduous the attention from Angel’s eager tongue.
“And now here she is, home once more,” observed Adam inwardly. “Where is this all leading, what lies ahead?”
Together, Adam and Angel climbed the carpeted stairs. Past the door of the lady who kept cats, through which came the strains of Yellow matter custard, green slop pie … and the chink of sherry bottle against glass, sounding like the chattering teeth of a frightened child. Then past the silent door of the ancient lady’s abode. It had been all quiet in there for several weeks, he assumed she was away. Then, with mounting dread for Adam, up to their own door.
Once inside, the exhausting routine began afresh. After dinner, Angel’s intentions once again became apparent.
“Please let it stop,” thought Adam. “If I could, I’d go back to Kent.”
Angel danced in lascivious slow motion about him, goading him, cajoling him, pointedly doing up the buttons of her pink top and then unbuttoning them again. She pushed him, straddled him, pulled him and pecked him. Still he could find no enthusiasm. She stripped him and kissed him, rubbed him and snubbed him. Adam kept his eyes screwed shut and prayed for the misery to end.
Leading up to midnight she had him once again properly in position, kneeling in the cold spot by the bed. Legs asplay, she was more violent than ever, a heaving hellcat, both hands gripping Adam’s head, pulling it into a vice of pink flesh to match her pink top. Adam could barely breathe, his lips were welded to their task, his neck was trapped between her thighs, her knees were clenched tight and her feet dug into the wounds in his back. Adam’s head began to swim.
The sound of fevered female voices ebbed and flowed in Adam’s addled brain. Angel’s and his grandmother’s were foremost among them. The voices grew louder, panting in unison with the writhing of Angel’s body.
“We want, we want, we want our silver moment!”
Such was his detachment from reality that at first Adam failed to notice when the ice-cold floor began to melt away beneath him. He was jolted back to consciousness when a rush of cold air came up to meet him and he felt himself falling. His hands sought frantically for purchase on the frame of the bed. Somehow he managed to wedge his elbows between mattress and bed-frame and there he hung suspended, the sharp edges of the frame cutting into his armpits, his back on fire, his head clamped in a frenzy of flesh and his mind in a turmoil of dread.
Adam was totally helpless. There was a gaping hole in the floor beneath him, his nethermost nakedness hung through to the apartment below. If the old lady was at home she would not fail to see his predicament. He was able to move neither up nor down, for fear of falling. He was unable to speak, he could barely breathe, his arms were growing weak.
As the clock of St. Peter’s in nearby Wickley Road began to chime midnight, Adam had but twelve seconds to live. To kill him, Angel had only to pinch his nostrils together. One hand cupping his head, she slowly ran the fingers of her free hand across her body. She let them linger for a moment on her crotch, then moved them moistly onto his face, feeling for his nose. Gentle pressure from her thumb stopped the flow through one air passage. She felt him struggle. Then, her excitement mounting, she cut off Adam’s remaining link with life with her index finger. There was nothing Adam could do about it. Let go and he would fall to his death, hold on and he would suffocate.
“And so I must die,” he thought, “with the smell of her in my lungs. This is how it ends.”
Adam’s body squirmed and convulsed in the throes of death. Angel’s body squirmed and convulsed in an orgasm of murderous intent. Yet Adam’s horror was not yet complete.
Slowly, bony, from the mirror, a hand emerged on a skeletal arm stretched far beyond its natural length. Fleshless fingers inched forward and found their way along Adam’s back, across his buttocks and up between his flailing legs. There they gripped and manipulated his genitals, now hard and erect in the agony of his demise. Then they dragged him downwards.
As the clock ceased its tolling, the macabre dance drew to a close. Angel’s lust abated, she loosened her grip and Adam’s head slipped heavily between her thighs. His lifeless arms dragged limply across the bed-frame, scratched and torn. For a moment Adam’s body teetered by one arm. Then it plunged into the void.
A few days later a police car drew up in front of the yellow brick building in Breakspears Road. Several officers got out, one of them young. They spoke first to the lady who kept cats. She was unable to tell them much but at least she had a key. This the police took and went up to the middle flat. An acrid stench awaited them as they unlocked the door and went inside. And a lurid scene. All three policemen were physically sick, the youngest man had to go back outside and wait in the car.
Two corpses were found in the flat. One of them decomposed and the other fresh. They were locked in a hideous embrace on an armchair. The body beneath – the decomposed one – was found to be that of an aged woman. The body was unclothed except for a pink knitted top which, incongruously, looked quite new. What most sickened the officers was that the other body, that of a man, was clearly copulating with the old female. It lay atop the skeleton, erect member inserted into what would have been the right place had the woman’s body still had any flesh.
The case was mystifying for the police. Forensic experts were called. They scoured the old lady’s flat but found no useful evidence. Could these two people really have died in there together? No, this was impossible, that much was evident. Given the state of decomposition, the woman must have been dead for many months. This could only mean the male was a necrophile; such things do exist. Yet there was no sign of any break-in nor were the man’s clothes anywhere to be seen. It was as if the male’s body had fallen from above. His legs had hit the floor and the torso buckled forward on top of the woman. The talons of one her fleshless hands had gouged furrows in the man’s back and were now seen to be gripping a bare white buttock. Yet the ceiling was as perfectly intact as the rest of the room.
“Let’s go up and see anyway,” said one officer.
Angel opened the door, looking demure. No, her partner was not in, she said. She had been surprised he had gone out without putting his dirty washing in the linen basket. It hadn’t occurred to her to check whether any of his other clothes were missing, she had assumed he had left in a hurry. No, she hadn’t heard anything suspicious and yes of course she would come downstairs with the police and yes she would prepare herself for a shock. She feigned horror when she saw the bodies and expressed disgust at the final fatal embrace in which they had been found. Yes, she could formally identify Adam. No, she had not been aware of any ‘peculiar’ behaviour on his part. Yes, she thought she would be alright; no, she didn’t want any psychological support…
What the police failed to notice was how carefully Angel covered her pink top. With a shiver and a wan smile, she gathered her gabardine trench-coat tightly about herself. She did as she was told and went down to sit in the police car with the young policeman. Who examined her curves out of the corner of his eye. Who nodded when she said how little we know of people, even when we live with them.
“My name is Angela,” she told him. It did not fall on deaf ears.
And that was that. The police missed the connection between Angela’s name and the death erection, also known as Angel Lust. They could not know that Angela had shortened her name for Adam’s sake. She was not afraid; she knew they would ask more questions about Adam’s behaviour.
In due course, she told them about Adam’s impotence, his obsession with cold spots and with cats. Soon she was troubled no more on that score. Yet somehow she missed Adam, nights were long without stupid him. Sometimes she kicked the mirror.
One winter’s eve not long after, as ice stars twinkled a thin light on Breakspears Road, a young policeman padded along the snow-silenced street. He hesitated a moment in front of the yellow brick Brockley house, then went up the steps. With a hiccup and a glare, the lady who kept cats let him in. Up the diamond-patterned carpet he went, past the now uninhabited old lady’s middle-floor flat, and dubiously on up to the top. A ginger cat shot past him and down the stairs. Heart aflutter, he unmuffled a knuckle and knocked gently on the door. Had she heard? Was she in? Yes, he could sense her presence behind the door. In the car she had looked at once vulnerable and hard, an unusually captivating combination, he thought. Throat dry, he ventured another knock. This time she unlatched the door and left it slightly ajar.
His heart racing, the young policeman put out a timid hand. He pushed gently on the door, unsure of what to expect. A tempting pink hand on a pink clad arm came round the edge of door and felt for the knot of his tie and then withdrew. Then it came again and one extended finger traced the faintest of furrows along the full flesh of his lips. He gulped. Suddenly the door flew open and she stood there ice blue-eyed before him, naked but for her pink top.
“Come in,” she purred, “I’ve been waiting for you”.