The Marshland Influencer

Late evening, on the edge of a remote field located in Middle-England, three score and ten years forward of this day, two romantics made preparation for a starkly different kind of date, to the usual.
Charlotte lifted out a fat gun from a portable case they’d brought along with them and handed it to her lover.
“Actually, it’s not as heavy as it looks!” Chris said.
“That’s right, it’s mostly hollow in construction.” Charlotte replied, knowledgeably. “Here, let me help with the cartridge, then you can do the honours.”
The crescent moon and clustering Milky Way stars spread across the cloudless night sky, providing adequate light to assist with prompt loading of the firearm.
There,” she said, cocking the mechanism, “you’re good-to-go.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” Chris tested the weight with a loose grip, peering at the gun inquisitively. As he rolled it back and forth through a one-hundred-and-eighty degree arc, Charlotte studied Chris, unsure if his question had been a serious one or not.
“Yes darling,” she said, taking a firm hold of his arm, “especially if you point like so, up in this direction.” From her pockets, she produced four foam earplugs and gently inserted them, first in Chris’s and then her own ears.
“It doesn’t make a loud bang,” she said, her voice raised by five decibels, “it’s not like a starter’s pistol. But, safety-first, just in case. We don’t want to go down in history as the first couple to lose our hearing, in such a manner.”
“In case of a malfunction, you mean?” Chris asked.
“Exactly so.”

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Stroke, Fondle and Poke.

Alfrid had sight of him: location Gallery 2. Using the zoom function on the security camera monitor, he watched awhile, as the man lightly stroked a high value piece with his fingertips.
Excuse me sir!” Alfrid yodelled, skidding to a stop on the polished gallery floor. “You can’t touch this.”
Surrounded by non-figurative paintings on the walls were five sculptures, located near the centre of the room. Each, human-sized in scale, formed from richly veined marble and oil-finished ash timber, broadly cylindrical and smooth. Bored into the sides, round-shaped holes added interest, some through the marble, other holes appearing in the wood. Naturally, the sculptures called out to be touched and the man doing the touching, stood dressed in full military fatigues.
“I sanitized my hands thoroughly.” He said, pulling away sharply from the sculpture he’d been caught fondling. “At the entrance, when I came in.” He held his hands up in front of his chest, palms showing, his long fingers stretching outwards.
“Well.” Alfrid hesitated. Abstract words collided with each other inside his mind, while he tried to formulate a coherent sentence.
“I thought the problem with touching, had to do with dirt and grease from people’s hands, transferring onto the sculpture.” The army man looked at the gallery custodian, appealing for a judgement. “Coupled with the passage of time, it’s these minute abrasives and oils which cause the damage.”
“Look, it’s just, if I say ‘yes’ to you,” Alfrid’s voice vibrated with a conciliatory tone, “you know what I mean?”
“Others will think it’s alright to touch the exhibits too?”
“That’s right, sir.”
Although,” the military man countered, “there’s no one else in here, just you and I. No one else will see me touching.” Both men threw glances around the room, unnecessarily.
Alfrid placed his hands on his hips; he felt close to conceding the point. Staring out through the shopfront earlier, had demonstrated the street outside as empty. No cars, no people, no stray dogs, no vapour trails intersecting across the blue sky. Following the second-wave onslaught of the virus pandemic, this had become the new normal.
The telephone at the reception in Gallery 1 rang. “One moment, please.” Alfrid said, raising a relaxed index finger up in the air, as he backed out of the space.

Continue reading “Stroke, Fondle and Poke.”

Go Get Mars!

Just after she’d closed the office door, but before she could finish her first sentence, Mr Sharples, in an ignorant fashion, interrupted Willa.
“Willa, before we get into this conversation, I have some bad news. It’s been decided, the decision taken and confirmed as final: you are too old to go out into space and travel to Mars, and you’re off the project, with immediate effect.”
“What? What are you saying to me?” Willa staggered, overcome by a sense of disbelief, frantically trying to absorb and process what she’d just heard. Despite the short notice, she had readily agreed to the request for an early morning one-to-one. Now, she found herself plumped in a seat opposite her boss, speechless.

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Your Wife Need Never Know!

To a fashion, the United States government’s first ever experiment for time travel moving forward, had actually worked. “Precision, needs tweaking by the technicians.” The pilot had recorded later, in his log. “Admittedly,” he’d reflected, “I could have ended up on an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, or inside a mountain of rock, or on a busy and fast moving freeway.” The nightmarish scenarios avoided, proved endless, when given consideration.

According to the read-out on the auto guidance i-device strapped to his wrist, providence had played him in with a lucky hand. Albeit cramped-up inside a small, walk-in maintenance cupboard with his foot wedged inside a plastic bucket, it transpired that Lieutenant Commander John Eagle, of the Florida-based US Special Secret Projects Unit, had rematerialised in a club named Iggy’s. The location: Suthfork, Middle-London England. His mind and body, as far as he could tell, had survived the journey fully intact.

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High Hopes

“I’m guessing you must be Melvin! Hi, I’m Summer.” Confidence oozed out deliciously from the blue-haired young woman, as she crossed the courtyard in several long strides. Sat next to the marble fountain, Melvin looked up from the patch of ground he’d been staring at, as if brought out of a daze.
“Yes! Hi there, Summer I presume?”
“Isn’t the villa just beautiful?” Summer spun around three hundred and sixty degrees with her face turned up towards the sun. “As a student, I used to help with picking grapes in the vineyard, during college break.”
“Well, you know I’ve lived in the area for five years, not more than twenty kilometres away and I had no, idea, such a place existed.” Melvin stood up and looked around, surveying the architecture, “I must say, it’s impressive.”
“Yes, yes it is.” Summer watched Melvin shuffle left and right, his hand horizontal on his brow to shade his eyes against the bright sunshine. She felt her enthusiasm drain away. She trusted her gut instinct, at least during an occurrence like today, feeling it dominate her head and heart so decisively. “Look, lets get a coffee,” she suggested, “there’s a kiosk over there with tables and chairs set up nearby.”
They walked together in silence, like an old couple with nothing left to say to each other. Melvin sunk his hands deep into his trouser pockets, playing with his keys and some loose change, while Summer compiled a list of reasons in her mind.
“Let me get them, what will you have?” Melvin said, pulling out his wallet from a back pocket.
“No,” Summer replied, “I’ll get them, what would you like?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Okay, well if you insist,” Melvin glanced at the blackboard menu, “flat white then, thank you.”
“Flat white?”
“Yes please, two sugars.”
“There’s sugar on the table, in the bowls, slim packets of sugar.”
“Oh, yes, so there is.”

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And I Love You, Too. (NSFW/Erotica)

“It’s such a beautiful day.” Standing on the fifth floor balcony of the hotel room they’d checked in to only minutes previously, Santiago surveyed the vista before him.
Maria dropped her backpack onto the bed, removed the hair band she’d worn all day, ruffled her hair and joined the distinguished-looking young man, outside. “It’s just such a beautiful countryside; where are we, exactly?”
“You know what?” Santiago’s expression softened, “I don’t know for sure. I know we are in northern Europe. After we met for the first time this morning, at Charles De Gaulle airport, our train stopped in Brussels and then continued through Belgium. Could we be in the Netherlands? I’m unsure, I dozed off several times.”
“No.” Maria pointed towards a mountain range. “The Netherlands are flat, bicycle friendly flat. Did you know that in the town of Utrecht you can coast along unaided on a bike for one kilometre after pushing through just five pedal rotations?”
“I did not know that, Maria.” Santiago grinned, amused by his companion’s reply. “How did you happen to come by this information?”
“I’ve told you, I received a good education back in Buenos Aires.”
“A good Catholic education and upbringing. I wonder what Sister Carmella would think of your pink hair?”
“I wonder what she’d think of this?” Maria faced Santiago and forced her hand between his legs. Her fingers groped the loose folds in his trousers, until, from touch, she identified his balls. With a firm grip established, Maria pulled her catch towards her. Santiago felt a flourish of bodily changes spring into action, as his lips met with hers.
Al-right,” Maria said, pulling away from the embrace, “a decent sized set you’ve got down there.” She winked, smiled, lifted up a little onto her toes and planted another kiss, this time onto the smooth space between Santiago’s eyebrows and nose.
“You know, it matters not where we are,” Santiago fixed his gaze into Maria’s green eyes, “I am just glad we found each other.”
“I can check our location!” Maria excitedly retrieved her phone from her jean’s back pocket and began tapping in her birth date code to access the phone’s features.
“No, hold that action Maria. Don’t you see? We are two porteños on an open ticket, a random adventure visiting the other side of the world a long way from home. Isn’t there something magical about that?”
“Oh for sure!” Maria cleared a list of notifications from her locked screen and returned the phone to her pocket. “Honestly, all the station names we’ve seen, they’ve meant absolutely nothing to me. All I can tell you is that we are not in Spain.” Laughing, she draped her arms around Santiago’s neck and scattered light kisses across from his jawline, to his cheekbone, to his temple. A sense of euphoria grew large and fluffy, inside Santiago’s head.
“M-Maria … Maria, I, I, love, you.”
Maria could make out the shape of two nipples showing through Santiago’s shirt. Deftly, she slid her hands down and covered both protuberances with the face of her thumbs. “It’s still early,” a cheeky expression danced across her face, “let’s open the wine you picked up. I’m taking a shower.” She gave his left nipple a sharp twist, felt his chest muscle tense and a satisfyingly deep growl vibrate through her momentarily flattened palm.
“If you don’t mind,” Santiago said, “I’ll kick these boots off and watch some TV whilst you shower.”
“Go right ahead, I won’t take long.”

Continue reading “And I Love You, Too. (NSFW/Erotica)”


“Hi Rihanna, I’m home!” Bill called out, closing the front door behind him and dropping his keys into a Jerusalemite ceramic bowl on the sideboard. He checked the time on his wrist watch, showing exactly five thirty-five. “I got you some flowers!”
“How long did it take you to get home?” The distant, tired voice of his wife, although familiar to Bill, retained the power to make him sigh to himself, betraying a hope for something different.
“35 minutes exactly, from door-to-door!” Bill picked up several envelopes from the floor, casually scanning them before casting aside onto a coffee table. Slipping his cycle helmet off, he removed his sunglasses and headphones, dropping them onto the red, leather chesterfield sofa as he passed. He walked through the apartment living room, towards the bedrooms. “I don’t think I can actually better that time, not without shaving my legs and racing head down. How’s your day?”
“Oh, you know, ‘same old same old’, exhaustion, a prevailing sense of apathy. I had to rest in bed again all day today.” Rihanna smiled weakly at her husband as he entered the bedroom. He smiled back, his features softening sympathetically.
“I had a strange day today.” Bill said, approaching the bed, sitting down and laying a bunch of orange-red zinnias on the folded sheet.
“Are these for me?” Rhianna read the gift tag.

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The Smiling Ballerina (~900 words)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
Way back, in the early 2020s, I owned a café-bar in Söder, Stockholm, called Mellan Broarna, the meaning of which made sense, if you happened to be familiar with the island. Known locally for late hours, fine schnapps, a range of delicious smørrebrød and original entertainment, we welcomed local and international visitors alike. I ran the place with a light-touch managerial style, as you’d expect, encouraging bar, kitchen and waiting staff to coordinate harmoniously. They understood their responsibilities and kept the place operational, incident-free, right across all the eight years the project existed.
You’d have liked the place, unassuming from the outside, spacious on the inside. Large, arched windows looking out onto cobble streets outside. A wood interior, furniture, bar counter, finery found in all the fixtures and fittings. The brass lamps glowed orange, warm and reminiscent of a century ago.
Yes, you’d have loved the place, for sure.
My role, aside from styling, finance and administration, included sourcing performers for Friday and Saturday evenings, when we hosted a varied assortment of musicians, comics, and poets. Thursday evening served as audition night, a feeder for the weekend shows, with acts new to the venue granted the opportunity to perform in front of a smaller, but nonetheless encouraging, and appreciative clientele. Those shows steadily gained a reputation for uncovering talent, going on to appear at the weekend here, elsewhere in the city and beyond.

Genius is simple, performers arrived any time during the evening, writing their names on a piece of paper taped to the wall to one side of a modest-sized, raised stage. The acts went on in order, I compèred, read out short bios I’d scribbled onto scraps of paper; I crossed names off after each performance. Undetermined gaps of time existed between one act and another, allowing adequate time to refresh drinks, order food and discuss the pressing issue of the day. Informality ruled. Several novice creatives told me they actually preferred these feeder evenings, above the weekends, and showed up regularly.
One summer, on a Thursday evening, Bella, an African American and Gretchen, originating from Germany, arrived together; two overseas students previously acquainted by a chance meeting. Bella explained how the studio formed their usual rehearsal environment, however, they both happened to enjoy practise in the open air, with the Royal Djurgården city park as their choice location. Here, they’d stumbled onto each other and a bond of mutual appreciation quickly formed, with Bella admiring Gretchen’s cool trumpet playing and Gretchen equally impressed with Bella’s artistic ballet exercises. On the same day, according to Gretchen, they’d had a bonkers idea to become an act, as Bella Ballerina and Gretchen the Trumpeter. Prepare to be amazed! they’d told me. I chuckled, kindly, asking them, is that right?
Because, like you know, it takes a lot to amaze me, at least in a positive sense.

By ten that Thursday evening, we had comfortable numbers, not cramped; the staff each occupied with their tasks, all just how I liked it. Earlier, I had commandeered a small table and busied myself with administrative paperwork, refreshed by lager and encouraged by the promise to myself of a nightcap at the end of the evening. My attention had wandered back and forth to the stage, fulfilling my role for introductions. Several poets had appeared in the mix, along with a stand-up comedian, a folk singer performing original material with a nyckelharpa and a young woman playing several classical selections on guitar, starting with Bach, followed by a Clara Schumann piece and finishing with my personal favourite, Tarrega, with a flawless rendition of Adelita.
Then, it came to the turn of Bella and Gretchen. They emerged from the green room, located behind where I sat. First onto the stage, Gretchen with her trumpet, plainly dressed in a short-sleeved white blouse and blue jeans. Bella followed, wearing a low-back, mid-sleeve, black coloured leotard, with white tights, ballet shoes and silk ribbons. The crowd gradually hushed, as the two young women took up positions at opposite ends of the stage.
Gretchen began playing a slow tune, the notes singing, stretching out across the room, curling around everybody in the room. Bella matched the music with sensuous movement, arms unfurling down to her fingertips, ripples through her body, neck and head, and unfaltering balance en pointe. The audience were captivated, couples exchanged affectionate glances, lovers gently squeezed each other’s hands. When the pair finished, the applause echoed onto the street outside. As they turned to exit the stage, people cried out for an encore, which, smiling and clearly having fun, Gretchen and Bella obliged.
At the end, after taking their bows and the applause, they left the stage for the green room. Simultaneously, a man I recognised as a patron, the slightly eccentric Sir Charles, clearly deeply moved, left his table and advanced to meet the smiling ballerina and trumpeter. I heard him address them, saying it had been a wonderful experience, how he’d never heard such beautifully played music or seen such poise and elegance in dance, and on behalf of the universe, he wished to thank them both.
It had been an outstanding, atmospheric evening, one that holds on in the memory. You remember the times when that happened, don’t you?

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)

We Went Everywhere Together

It’s true, with my job as restaurant critic for Food World magazine, we went everywhere together. With a mission to cover all fourteen states of the Eastern Seaboard, the last 12 months had seen Jürgen and I move around regularly.
Typically, while I developed an extensive directory of remarkable places to eat, he’d take up casual employment, in whichever conurbation we found ourselves in. I hadn’t heard him complain too much about it. Picking and choosing whatever took his fancy, almost any form of manual work suited him.
Apparent to even the casual observer, Jürgen has a little less height and weight in comparison to me. His toned, athletic physique is impressive. I make comparisons to a competition-winning, middle distance runner … and with the stamina to match. His many attributes are widely recognised by other people too, the kind of folk who need a job done. I’m not sure if he’s altogether aware of it, but he has a social magnetism, drawing people into him. For sure, when out together he’d often get hit on by men and women alike. After a period of adjustment, it became something I’d gotten used to.
I’d guess it’s fair to say Jürgen and I were opposites in many ways. My work tends to be a solitary endeavour. Before we met, most of my acquaintances were involved in projects closely related to my own. You get to recognise the characters, top-end restauranteurs and event organisers, wine merchants and the rich who never cook for themselves. Reasonable-minded people might say the connecting thread for these types is arrogance, plain and simple. Well, nevertheless, I don’t hate them for it, I feel comfortable in their company. In the past I’ve shared time with them all … and occasionally whole weekends.
Next to my New York background, sits a proud Sicilian ancestral heritage; I’m Roman Catholic. Ultimately, I believe in the judgment of God and not that of bigots. In Jürgen, while he holds an immense regard for the architecture, art and atmosphere of churches, I see not a glimmer of faith inside of him.
Politically, my sympathies point towards liberalism, while, as far as I can make out, he holds no truck with any idealogical wing. Jürgen describes himself as apolitical. A person seeking power, he once told me, disqualifies themselves from suitability to hold office, by definition. I see his point, but I am less cynical. Despite our differences, I felt compelled and excited by this man, more than anyone else I’d ever known before. Across the time spent together, I experienced growth and insight from a perspective hitherto unknown to me. It sure as hell hadn’t happened immediately, but gradually, I did indeed fall in love.

Whilst finishing off in Georgia, the penultimate state on the list, I received a call from James, lifestyle editor at the magazine. He’d been instrumental in my successful application as restaurant reviewer. Originally, I’d met him and his husband Todd, at a members-only spa in the Village district on the west side of Manhattan. Over time, the three of us established a friendship featuring regular meet-ups, convivial late nights … occasionally late morning sleep-ins.
Ross, he says, for your next assignment, how does sunny California sound?
It sounded good. I wondered how fast he wanted me there.
How about you speed your way through Florida and get your sweet ass over to Los Angeles by … let’s say … this time next week. I’ll book a table at La Providence for Saturday.
That fast.
No way could I turn him down. Lots of wonderful opportunities had opened up to me since meeting James. I hadn’t had so much fun in years, finding myself generously rewarded for travelling, writing and eating out in fancy restaurants. Looking back, I knew deep-down Jürgen wouldn’t want to go.
How am I going to get to California? he said. He disagreed with air travel, solely on environmental grounds. Well, when I’m finished in Florida, you catch a greyhound bus from Miami, I told him. By road or rail, factoring in stop-overs, that’s the best part of a week’s travel, just to get somewhere I don’t even want to go to, he’d said.
Ultimately, Jürgen caught a greyhound from Miami, but upon arrival at the first stop in Atlanta, from where we’d not long left, he carried on north via Little Rock and back to Omaha, Nebraska, his home state.
Over in LA, I had the time of my life. I loved the climate, the people, the restaurants, bars and cafés. Soon, I hooked up with contacts and made new friends. With their help, I discovered parts of the city tourists often miss, expanding Food World magazine’s directory for the city tenfold, over the course of just a few months.
Jürgen and I kept in touch. He’d found work, some happiness, alternating between Omaha and Gothenburg, a town just a few hours west on the interstate. One time, we met at a convention in San Francisco, six months after last seeing each other. Our lives had diverged, this much had become apparent. I came to recognise the differences between us extended to our entire outlook on life. Unable to understand each other’s point of view, felt like a blindness. Getting the time and distance between us, helped me understand this. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t ever miss him. Although, something that has just occurred to me, the asshole flew to San Francisco!

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)

Elena’s Gifts

Outside Pulkovo airport on a fresh, springlike, early summer morning, Alexander wrapped his arms around Elena and positioned an affectionate, slightly moist kiss upon her temple.
“Missed you.” He whispered into her left ear.
“I said I missed you.”
“Really? You sounded and looked fine, during our video-chats.”
Alexander gave Elena a squeeze, pulling her in, ever more closely. “Well, you know, I wore a brave face for you.” Looking up, he acknowledged the presence of a young, grey-suited chauffeur standing on the kerbside, who reacted immediately, collecting together the luggage and dispensing with it into the trunk of the limousine. “Let’s go back to the apartment, breakfast’s ready to go. I have many surprises in store for you.” Remembering Elena’s preference, Alexander opened the front passenger door, ushering her to sit inside. “Did you bring your trading instruments with you?”
“My ‘tools of the trade’, you mean. Yes, they take up most of the space inside my suitcases.” She buckled herself into the seat and adjusted two air-in vents, pointing them towards her. “Have you many jobs waiting for me, Alexander?”
“Yes, my love, I have kept them all for you. I have a very long list, maintained in a strict order of priority.” His expression softened more than it had already, as he stroked the edge of her chin in one swift motion of his finger. With a wink, he slammed the car door shut and climbed into the vehicle via the nearside, passenger rear door, taking up a seat directly behind her.

Their journey from the airport to Palace Square passed in silence. From past experience, Alexander knew only too well of Elena’s susceptibility to travel-sickness, if forced into conversation while in transit. During the ride, Elena noticed Tatiana, the chauffeur, flirting with her. She caught several furtive glances at her smooth legs, exposed below the short hemline of her skirt. Occasionally, a gloved hand rubbed and polished the automatic shift lever, in a manner rather suggestive. She wondered if Tatiana thought her preference to sit in the front merely a ruse, covering a desire to be close to her. Possible, she thought. Certainly, she had some strange, mysterious air about her, which no matter how she tried, Elena could not quite nail down in her mind.
The limousine pulled up outside an eighteenth century, pastel-coloured mansion block. Standing on the kerbside, again Alexander cuddled, this time, playfully groping his British guest. She wriggled and twisted out of his grip, wagging her finger at him, mockingly.
“Not in front of the servants!”
“All right Elena, let’s do it your way! Let’s go inside quickly, I want us to make a start as soon as possible.”
The same concierge she remembered from her last visit, greeted them in the reception. “Ah, Miss Elena welcome once again to St Petersburg!”
Thank you Boris.” She offered her hand, which he kissed with such courtly grace not even an ardent, dyed-in-the-wool feminist could take offence. “And how is Mrs Karpov?”
“She remains the light of my life, my protector, muse and inspiration for happiness. Thank you for asking.” Bowing his head forward respectfully, he fingered a button located on the reception desk, triggering the elevator hydraulics, and summoning a lift-car from an upper level within the building.

In the minimalist styled fourth floor apartment, Tatiana busied herself with preparing breakfast. The smell of freshly made coffee drifted out to the balcony, where Elena stood, gazing out across the river through the sunny haze, towards the Blagoveshchensky Bridge. Alexander soon joined her, having changed back into his paisley print, silk pyjamas and dark red velvet dressing gown. Approaching from behind, his hand cupped the left cheek of her buttock.
“Isn’t it just paradisiacal?” He said.
“You want me to start straight away?”
“After breakfast, yes.” He retrieved a folded piece of paper from an inside breast pocket, one specially sewn into the dressing gown. “Here,” he said, “take this, this is for you, the list. Get to know the contents.” A voice from inside the apartment summoned their presence.
Zavtrak is served, Master Alexander, Miss Elena!”
The couple positioned themselves, sitting cross-legged and adjacent each other at a low level, finely veined, white marble table. Tatiana placed wooden bowls of freshly toasted kasha soaked in milk, in front of her patron and guest, along with coffee and orange juice. Tempted by the toasted aroma, Elena quickly spooned in a mouthful of the porridge.
“Tatiana, this tastes sublime.”
“Food for the soul.” Effortlessly, Tatiana opened out a serviette, allowing the two-ply tissue paper to float down and rest upon her complimenter’s cream-coloured thighs. “The small clay pot, to your right, contains a local honey. If you like it… ?”
“More coffee please, Tatiana.” Alexander requested, replacing an empty cup onto a saucer. As she left the room, he turned to Elena. “You see?” He reached over and placed his hand upon her cheek, his fingers stroking her hair behind her ear. “I am surrounded by beautifully skilled women artisans.”

After breakfast, Tatiana showed Elena to the bedroom where she would stay for the week. Her bags were already open, clothes removed, all neatly folded and laid out on the four-poster bed. Alexander joined them briefly, having changed into his running shorts and vest.
“I’m going for my regular run,” he announced, “if you settle in, Tatiana will take care of your needs while I’m gone.”
“Okay Alexander, I think I’ll freshen up.”
Walking into the ensuite bathroom, decorative mosaic tiles covering the floors and walls, she considered how it equalled the size of her kitchen/diner at home. A large, free-standing bath, sat positioned under a tall, south facing window. Slipping out of her clothes, she paused before a mirror above the vanity unit, held her hair up onto the back of her head and swivelled on tip-toes, observing both side profiles. Satisfied, she stepped into the shower, automatically activating the water supply, and receiving a sudden rush of cold water from overhead. This quickly resolved into an agreeably hot temperature. She washed her hair.
Shortly, movement caught her attention, detected through the condensation on the shower glass. To her surprise, she realised Tatiana had entered the bathroom, dressed in a white bath robe, her auburn hair untied, falling loosely over her shoulders. Elena wiped away the mist as Tatiana approached, wearing a mischievous smile.
“It’s good, right?” She said, pointing at the chrome shower head inside the cubicle.
“Yes, very good,” Elena replied, “much better than mine at home, much more powerful!”
“You know, we have several different functions and settings to this shower.” Tatiana’s hand grasped the handle of the glass door and paused, “I’ll show you, okay?”
“Yes, sure.” Elena watched as the white robe fell around Tatiana’s ankles. “Oh, right, you’re getting inside, okay!” Tatiana reached out for a steadying hand. Elena offered one. The two women stood admiring each other under the water spray for several moments. Suddenly remembering her objective, Tatiana slipped an arm behind her guest. Elena braced herself mentally, anticipating a kiss.
“Here,” said Tatiana, “If I touch this button … ” Water droplets fell like glistening rainfall from numerous, small outlets in the shower’s ceiling.
“Oh, this feels very good!” Elena cried out, sweeping her wet hair back with both her hands. As she turned her face upwards, she felt soft fingertips placed lightly onto her hips.
“You ready for this?” Tatiana asked.
“Ready for what?” Elena felt a thrill of anticipation unfold throughout her body.
Small, powerful jets of water burst out from three sides of the shower cubicle. Elena, taken unawares, hopped forward and instinctively wrapped her arms around her companion. Tatiana returned the favour, drawing their bodies tightly together, eyes closed, cheek to cheek. Together, they laughed, their hips swaying to a gentle rhythm, creating a pulse of pleasure rapidly increasing in intensity. Gentle kisses gave way to passion, tentative touches grew confident, exploring each other’s secrets, On this morning, they sealed their friendship.

Back in the bedroom, dried off, Elena dressed. On the bed, Tatiana observed, out-stretched in her robe, legs pointing towards the headboard, her feet resting on a pillow.
“What time will Alexander return?” Elena asked, taking a towel to her hair, bending forward and rubbing briskly.
“Not long, in the next half hour. He takes his running very seriously. Today he’s on the ten kilometre route, past the Marble Palace Museum, through the parks and revolutionary memorial gardens. He’ll stop for coffee somewhere and then come back running alongside the river.”
“Well,” said Elena, taking a brush to her hair, “I’d better get started on his list. Have you seen it? All sorts of things. He’s noted a leak in his shower. I think I’d better look at this before he gets back.”
“Okay,” said Tatiana, swinging her legs off the bed and sitting up, “good idea, I’ll show you the location of the water tank.”
The two women walked the corridor together, one in an untied, flowing, white robe, and the other in blue dungarees, carrying a metal toolbox. Alexander’s bedroom, larger than the guest bedroom and closer in style to the minimalist theme of the living room, held an equally luxurious bathroom. Tatiana placed a wooden chair underneath a wall panel, as Elena scrutinised the shower head and taps.
“Consistent dripping.” She said, thoughtfully, half to herself. On the chair, she unscrewed the panel, exposing the header tank. “Well, the ballcock looks fine, it’s floating. It’s likely the rubber washer in the valve has eroded. I’ll have a spare one in my toolbox.”
Soon after Tatiana had returned with two, cold glasses of kefir, Elena had disassembled the valve, replaced the washers, tested the taps successfully and reinstated the wall panel. “What’s next on the list?” She asked, taking a gulp of her drink.
“Toilet in entrance hall, seat very loose.”
“Okay, doesn’t sound too difficult, what’s after that?”
“Hold on,” Tatiana scanned the list held in her hands, “number three … kitchen steps, creaking noise …” She looked up, nonplussed.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, Elena, with Tatiana assisting, worked her way down the list. Alexander arrived back, listened avidly to a progress report, before disappearing to try out his newly fixed shower.
The next task, a door. “Door to study sticks on floor when opened beyond ninety degrees … do you understand what he means?” Tatiana asked Elena.
“Yes,” Elena blew her cheeks out, “a door adjustment, tricky, I’ll have to take it off.”
“You know, it’s why Alexander is so crazy about you.” Tatiana said, picking up the toolbox and guiding her friend through the lounge, towards the interconnecting door to the study. “You’re gifted, intelligent and practical. Russian men, by and large, do not possess either attribute. When they stumble upon a woman with such qualities, it’s … how you say … like bees to the honey.”
“You’re saying Russian men aren’t very clever?” Having wedged the door, Elena began unscrewing the hinges from the door frame.
“Helpless children and functioning alcoholics consuming heroic quantities of vodka, most of them, to a greater or lesser extent.”
Really?” A hint of scepticism came through Elena’s question.
“Don’t you believe me? Look, how can it not be true?” On cue, Tatiana helped lower the door onto the floor. “Not so long ago, you know we lost an unimaginably large number of experienced and highly knowledgeable people to war and political purges. Theorists, strategists, teachers, doctors, scientists, economists, artists, musicians. You must understand, it takes a long time for recovery, suffering such a great subtraction from society’s gene pool”.
“It’s not just the numbers, it’s about the wide range of skills lost.” Elena said, running her smoothing plane over the bottom edge of the door.
“Of course. Eliminated, gone, kaput, effectively forever, certainly as far as my lifetime’s concerned.”
“How sad.”
“It’s how the country got so messed-up and why Alexander loves you madly. He couldn’t trust a local tradesman with the work you did today. Some of the jobs you’ve completed, corrected defective work done by others.” Leaning forward, Tatiana tucked a loose strand of hair back behind Elena’s ear. “Would you like my advice?”
“O … kay.” Elena blew sawdust off the underside of the door.
“I understand you like him, but you will tire of his company soon. Meanwhile, take all the tokens of love he gives to you. Accept the clothes and jewellery, the car.”
“Car?” Elena froze, mid-turn of a screwdriver.
“Yes, he has already chosen a car for you, top-of-the-range electric powered. Take it, keep it. He has probably set up a bank account for you this morning, filling it with funds enough for a comfortable few years ahead. Also, expect to receive notification regarding a portfolio of shares purchased on your behalf. Accept them and keep them all. End the relationship with him in a month or two. He’ll be heartbroken, for a week. Then he’ll move on, forget, won’t give a second thought to all he has given to you. Do not worry about returning anything, he won’t ask for anything back. Okay?”
“You’ve seen this happen before?” Elena asked.
“Mhm … something similar. Sometimes, the women make a fuss or get greedy. Such instances never end well. My advice, take what he gives, you’ll find it plenty enough.”
“I’ll have to think about this.” Elena said, opening the adjusted door, checking the bottom edge cleared the floor adequately. Tatiana crouched low, examined closely, raised her hand, fingers shaped into the ‘perfection’ gesture.
“The concept doesn’t warrant too much time spent in meditative contemplation. In Russia we have a saying, all genius is simple.”
“What’s next on the list?” Elena asked, brushing herself down.
“Okay, look, we stop for some food, you deserve a break. Alexander has a business meeting this evening, you restart then. The list, it says about kitchen units coming apart, lots of hammering needed, noisy work, only begin after he has left.”
“Okay,” Elena said, closing her toolbox, “let’s eat.”

©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by picture)
With special thanks to the Covid-19 Lockdown