Celia didn’t believe in vampires or religion. The idea of hell and all that guff made her snort and giggle with laughter. Her pals warned her, laughing like that was a nervous reaction on some spectrums within spectrums that got you locked up, and it made her sound like a parched and crazy camel swallowing half the Sahara in gulps. She was, preferably, to bury her head in shame, but at least cover her mouth. But she’d a date and was ‘starving’.
As her old mum, God rest her soul, used to say, ‘Ceiia, you cannae be starving, you’ve just had your dinner.’ Her mum was right, she was always right. She wasn’t starving, but she was, God help her, worse than starving, a Weight Watcher.
It was a cheap date, because she chose the location. The Amur, all-you-can-eat buffet, off Dumbarton Road. Cream coloured walls, a long corridor of tables and chair pushed close together with minimal elbow room, an Aertex roof three metres above and a crystal lampshade to add a killer touch of class.
She was a modern woman, up for going halfers with him for the meal. That way she could dump him quick and still get a feed, almost guilt free. She got there early, to stake out a table. A grey-haired man and younger woman, perhaps his daughter, were already up at the buffet, grazing, plates in hand.
It was one of those internet thingys. She’d sent her picture. He’d sent his. She wasn’t daft enough to think that’s what he really looked like. He said he was twenty-eight, ten years younger than her and totally gorgeous. He looked about eighteen. Thick black eyebrows. Thick hair. Extraordinary blue eyes. Thick lips and extremely kissable mouth.
He’d said his name was Ted something, probably Bundy, and he’d be a fat, married, balding, middle-aged guy in unmatched trainers with bad breath.
She took quick photos of the food in front of her. My perfect life on Instagram. The usual calorific feast Chicken Tikka, Nan bread, Chicken Pakora –which she adored – Fried Rice, Chips and Garlic Mayo. Enough carbs to float the Queen Elizabeth, which only left enough room for ice- cream and black coffee (perhaps with a chocolate mint if I was going the whole hog).
The ever-smiling waiter, who she suspected was also the cook and bottle washer, waved an arm and escorted her would-be date down the row of empty tables to meet her.
Her fork clanged onto the plate of Tikka, leaving a brownish stain on the red tablecloth. She snatched up her IPhone from the table get a quick snap of him, proof to her friends.
He bounded forward, a hand up and out, to stop me taking a picture. A shy guy. He had a calculatedly disheveled look, and was wearing a bluish cord shirt and fawn casual trouser and white hand-crafted street-shoes that looked like sannies to the uninitiated.
Ted swooped to embrace her, nudging her long hair aside, chuckling, kissing the sensitive nape of her neck and, cheekily, nipping beneath the ear.
Ted smelled like syrup drops and she was smitten. He was way-too forward, but there were few things she liked more than a man kissing her neck.
She’d made an effort too with prickly pear and rosehip to let my skin breathe and a little girlie blusher, but without the faff of orangeness that buds on the more mature woman. Her dress with décolletage as just ‘an old thing that she’d flung on’, which cost a week’s wage and made her bum and boobs look like part of my body and not extensions tacked on afterwards.
The waiter waited, with a put-on smile, for the next order of a carafe of King Beer lager.
She couldn’t remember what they gabbed about those first few minutes, but could remember the circadian rhythm and sleep deprivation being mentioned, him ever-smiling, an up-close advert for teeth-whitening, and holding her left hand as if he’d just found me. For once, her mum would have been proud, she ate like a lady.
He paid the bill. She asked the waiter for a chocolate mint for taking home. They didn’t bother with coffee. She wanted Ted, if that was his name, naked, skin-on-skin, and all to herself. They walked hand-in-hand through the drizzle to her place, which was just a few closes along, the second floor, in the tenement block.
Her flat was a stage set with all the props for her next disastrous date skewed on floors, couches and chair—she wasn’t expecting to bring anybody back—but the curtains were closed, only the bathroom and bedroom for visitors. She kept the lights off. The awkwardness of love-making wasn’t awkward. She didn’t even think about checking as the messages on her iPhone flooded in and calls about stranger danger from her friends were blanked. Sleep came quick and went deep.
She woke with a start. He was watching her with those eyes of his and he was reaching between her legs.
‘I’d a dream,’ she spluttered and gasped, pulling back to the edge of the bed.
‘Uhu,’ he laughed with his too perfect teeth. ‘What about?...Was I in it?’
‘My Mum…warned me…’
Ted did things she’d rather not talk about to her friends, which left her flushed and sore. Sex in the morning was magical, even better than the night before.
She snuggled next to him sated, skin damp and the aroma of sex hanging in the air. Suddenly, girlish wanting to talk, be held and be reassured.
She flicked at the thin gold chain around his neck, a soft leather pouch, a weighted pendulum that had bucked and jumped as they fucked.
The door buzzer went on and on in a continuous wail, and he jerked away from her, his head hitting the headboard.
‘Jesus!’ He’d slapped at her breast as he pulled away. ‘That hurt.’
He tugged at the filigree of gold and bent over clutching his side, his face screwed-up. ‘That hurt too,’ he grunted with tears in his eyes.
‘It’s the guy down the stairs buzzer…I think he’s a junkie, the door goes all the time.’ She wondered if Ted was noise sensitive.
He scrunched up a little and stroked his chin. ‘It’s just when the door went you instinctively grabbed the stone, and that hurts me, very, very much. Imagine you’d gripped me by the balls and squeezed and multiply that by 100.’
‘Whit stone?’ she tried to sound cheerful. Make a joke of it. Everything was falling into place. He was gorgeous and great in the sack, but he didn’t have a girlfriend, because as her mum would have put it, he wasn’t quite right in the head. He probably wouldn’t be able to tie his own shoelaces.
He tugged on the chain his head dropping to gaze at the leather pouch. Her eyes followed his.
‘Don’t get too carried away,’ she said, in a soothing voice. ‘She reached out with the tip of her index finger and stroked the pouch, with the kind of care that she’d have touched a new-born baby’s forehead.
‘Help me,’ he wheezed, with the wavering voice of an old man.
It was her turn to jolt backwards and away from him, almost gagging with revulsion.
Ted sat up in bed, once more boyish and strong. ‘You felt it?’
He studied her face and shook his head. ‘The stone. It’s indestructible and from the roof of hell.’
‘You’re cuckoo,’ she said.
He carried on speaking in a monotone. ‘You’ll hear of it mentioned in ancient manuscripts, and the Kabbala. Abraham used it when he used demons to construct the Holy Temple. Nero had it when Rome burned. Napoleon brought it back from his invasion of Egypt. Hitler had it in the Berlin bunker.’
She rubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand and swivelled her hips, sitting on the edge of the bed, with her back to him. ‘I need to go and pee.’ Bending over she searched for her slippers blindly, with her right hand. ‘You can let yourself out, anytime.’
‘Hear me out,’ he said. ‘I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m asking you to take the stone and see.’
She cocked her head to look at him. He seemed serious and daft at the same time. ‘I really do need to go to the toilet.’
She picked up her phone from the cabinet and sauntered past him. She squatted on the toilet and flicked through her phone. Prioritising which message she would answer first. She typed in Kabbalah, demons, stone from the roof of hell. She idly followed a few links. And then she saw Ted’s leering face in a Renaissance painting, he had hooves and a forked tail and was holding a banner, the words in Latin or Greek. A warning.