Rubin's Response IV
By Simon Barget
Though he couldn’t recall registering, Rubin assimilated the agency brief unquestioningly and with a degree of relief. He’d been out of work for ages so his paralysis in the face of it all was fully understandable, and he barely managed to stutter out a few ohs and hmms and uh-huhs in response. A phone call out of the blue and it was genuine alright - they’d found him suitable employment -- all details forwarded in due course -- and despite the nebulous nature of the communication as a whole, he experienced a deep feeling of vindication that he’d been selected and probably by someone who knew he was in need. Perhaps a tiny voice within screamed out ‘why not sooner?’, but later was better than never, and the opportunity would surely set him back on his way from what had been a very inert phase of his life.
It was tacit rather than express that declining was not permitted -- he’d never have declined it anyway and how would they have known -- but why hadn’t he asked appropriate questions? Questions such as: who is this potential employer? He was certain they’d not said though they’d be sure to demur if he brought it up. Questions that demonstrated that he was a right-thinking person, manifesting the requisite degree of self-respect. It simply behoved him to ask such things. And what was the job exactly; he hadn’t been given a title, so it could be anything, but he struggled to bring to mind one single job type. But then he had a reasonable inkling that it would be office-based, administrative but dependable. Rubin was dependable, but they didn’t know that. Was he not to be interviewed or vetted in any way because he could be the very apotheosis of evil and they’d be none the wiser, his mere presence capable of bringing down the firm in a handclap. How had they actually got his name and number? And why on earth hadn’t he even thought of asking such critical questions? It concerned him that it hadn’t crossed his mind; it augured badly. Why couldn’t he safeguard his interests, be in mind of the right things at the right time, the things that normal practical adults were in mind of in similar circumstances? When was he damned well going to grow up and take responsibility for himself? How long could he go on as a child, pretending? But now all these questions hit him in the head like a deluge and he was set to wondering, and he felt like a fool, and they would surely think him a fool and a pushover for not asking at the very least, but it was too late now, because he’d put the phone down and could hardly phone back when he didn’t even know the name of the firm, let alone the telephone number. Yet he was so happy to be presented with any sort of opportunity, and the prospect of questioning it somehow bore a link in his mind to the possibility of prejudicing the whole thing. He’d never have called back anyway - he didn't want to scupper this like he’d managed to scupper everything else.
Fortunately, he knew exactly where to go. It was a place in Ladbroke Grove or Notting Hill, one of those posh, west-lying-but-grimy-around-the-edges areas, not full-blown Holland-Park-swank but nearby; Latymer Terrace or something like that, and as he walked through the surrounding streets, he was reassured that this was undoubtedly a good area, so it was all the more disappointing when he got in the flat and saw how morbid and decrepit it was. His heart sank. Yet he wasn’t surprised; in fact he’d have been surprised to find something nice, something with oak floors and a huge, grand, light front room, replete with marble mantelpiece and a large mirror above, perhaps an open grand piano, yes this would very much have surprised him, not to say that he didn’t want to see it, but the chance would have been a fine thing. Instead, a gloominess reigned, and the place was a shabby mess; it was studenty, mucky, dirty: worn-out charcoal-coloured fibre carpet so threadbare in parts that the concrete was visible -- no underlay -- black hand smudges all over the walls, the lights, wherever they were, were so dim that he couldn't see where he was going; but the worst of it was this pronounced smell of damp that wafted up his nostrils, a warm, sour odour, which stuck around him as soon as he got into the dingy little hallway, and try though he might, he couldn’t escape it. Even when he didn’t inhale, the acridity of it just kept reaching that part of his brain where he imagined it came into contact with the upper parts of his nasal passage.
This hallway was incredibly narrow, so much so that merely standing there overwhelmed him with claustrophobia. Past it, two small steps which led up to a tiny landing area, from where the place opened out to the right into one space, but there wasn’t any sense of openness, it was still just poky. No partition between the two bedrooms although there was a wall between the hallway and the second bedroom, so that in order to reach the second bedroom, you had to go up the step, past the landing and then into the first bedroom. The second bedroom was actually the front room by the large bay window, with all its unrealised potential to be grand. The first was his room, two single beds in it, so one for someone else seemingly, pushed right up by each other like in a dormitory or war hospital or military academy or morgue. Garish orange sheets, the coarsest type money could buy, sheets that chafed the skin, but not only that, they bore irregular stains of toothpaste-white splats of ejaculate, and the prospect of having to sleep in either of made him depressed. He understood he’d have to sleep there as this was part of the job, but he had no idea why, nor an awareness at the time that it was unusual for sleeping in a particular location to be a condition of one’s employment. His judgment was all askew. Initially, the place was empty, he was sure of that, proprioceptively. No there was no one, even the other way beyond his bedroom which just led down to a single door at the back of the flat.
Before he had time to process that he’d been alone, a young man swashbuckled in lifting the depressed, stale atmosphere of the flat. Rubin had heard no key turn, no footsteps. As soon as he saw him, he felt drawn to him, harbouring a continuous expectation that the man would break out into some interesting and arousing course of action, something to dispel the bedevilled air of the flat. Yet though he knew that this was his boss even before he introduced himself as such, the realisation of any possible stricture relating to the master/servant relationship brought no discomfort. Quite the contrary; Rubin felt even more unencumbered than he’ done before Dean had come in, Dean, who did not expressly refer to himself as ‘boss’ or allude to any power over Rubin, quite the opposite; he was just ‘Dean’, and the way he conducted himself conveyed that Rubin was to be considered a completely separate entity to him, and in no way should Rubin feel constrained from doing what he wanted to do, nor fear any suggestion that the two of them might be inextricably linked. Rubin could do as he pleased.
Just the way he moved was carefree, almost recklessly so, yet it was clear that he could never come to any harm, whatever he said or did. He was a young dude, but not of any stylised mould; he was his own man; possessed of an unusual maturity, able to manage himself completely independently of any influence. Rubin beheld an impressive blondish quiff, almost a pompadour, a convincing layer of stubble, but not the coarse stubble of an older man, rather the fresh stubble of a young vibrant skin, a facial covering that preserved a young and playful look, but still managed to conjure up that determined, sexy vibe. This vigour was all the more strengthened by his attitude, enthusiastic and energetic, in that when he swanned in, he hardly needed acknowledge Rubin directly, but still managed to demonstrate how pleased he was that Rubin was here and that he’d wanted to put him at his ease. So Rubin had clearly been expected, and this was no put-on. He wore light blue jeans, not quite stonewashed, a tight blue shirt, casual but still fitted and tight around the upper body, with the sleeves rolled up to reveal a golden tan, tan belt with a large buckle and crocodile shoes. He said ‘hello’ warmly or something of that nature, smiling profusely, and prancing around the flat, mobile phone in one hand and black leather-bound document wallet in the other, frantic, and though he was clearly very busy, he had it all totally under control.
As far as the interaction between Rubin and Dean was concerned, Dean was blessed with a spirit so free and versatile that he hadn’t the slightest awareness that Rubin was not only anxious and uncertain but also heavily depressed, and therefore this depression exerted absolutely no influence on Dean. Rubin for his part was surprised and wondered why it didn't. He felt validated by Dean's fluid demeanour, it was as if he took on a residual part of the spirit himself, but deep down he knew that he had no business appropriating it; he was consigned from birth to a basic energy that was dour and destined to stick with it irrevocably. And as usual with this realisation came that tinge of fiery anger that he’d been marked for life, without any recollection of the wrongdoing which might have earned it. The gross unfairness of it all was just hard to bear. So as Rubin felt relatively free and easy in his surroundings, he asked Dean what he did, and Dean said that he was in the industry. It wasn’t absolutely clear to Rubin what this meant, but he intuited something to do with pornography and this thrilled him, and there was more than just a suggestion also that Dean was into drugs, that he used them as a daily crutch, not in a way that compromised his mental processes, because Dean had access to something like pure cocaine, a substance that was for the general good and which lent him a degree of zip and polish. Rubin remembers thinking that the drugs had not degraded him, but what Rubin didn’t quite sense at the time hit him after the event with clarity; this acrid odour, this putrid flat were all connected in some way to the drugs, this place was a den of iniquity, and Rubin had been taken in by Dean’s nonchalance, not really light at all, but a mere facsimile of freedom, and underneath lay something quite insidious and vile. Not that Dean was trying to fool Rubin or hide anything; he was just being his normal self, fighting this darkness. And then Dean let Rubin know in very ambiguous terms what he’d be doing; he would stay here for tonight, and they’d set up a rental agreement -- hold on Rubin thought, why am I renting when I don’t even want to live here -- this was the first concrete reference to drugs and needing Rubin just to be here to give something to someone if they came round. So Rubin’s suspicions had been well-founded. Well ok, that was no problem, but Rubin was slightly wary of what any of these criminals might look like and how they’d act and if they carried guns or knives or anything of that sort, and their behaviour would be unpredictable, but he didn’t have time to communicate this to Dean who’d gone down the very narrow corridor past the first bedroom and was engaged with something that Rubin couldn’t quite make out. In the second bedroom just a double bed and nothing else, so where were his clothes, his belongings, it was either that this was just a makeshift place or he was pretending to live here as a cover, and would probably spend the night somewhere else. The place had sheets for curtains over the front bay window, a black sheet.
Dean had to go now, and hardly had he flashed past a dithering Rubin than he was out the door and Rubin was alone again, with the surroundings becoming even more unfamiliar and hostile; and he felt queasy being in a space that wasn’t his own, unaware of how long he’d be there and of what he was supposed to do next, rather like he he’d been just deposited at the school gate, with no idea where to turn.. He looked at the beds and realised he had no belongings of his own. Was he meant to go back and pick up some stuff, or would everything be somehow taken care of? Again the smell came to his awareness and the cold, dark atmosphere, but then, when he looked up he saw two girls in front of him, or there was one and the other was her shadow, almost identical and they had got in while Rubin was daydreaming. Physically and energetically they were unprepossessing, exhibiting a sort of concavity in the chest, almost sickly, perhaps, chavvy, and their presence upset and unsettled Rubin. He didn’t want them to be there. One of them was folding clothes on the bed, taking from the cupboard, then picking up the clothes she’d folded and rehanging them whilst she conversed in hushed, unintelligible tones with the other girl. It was an alien language, and these words were not for Rubin’s ears. But he found strength from somewhere and homed in on the girl who was folding clothes, whilst the other stood less prominently by the wardrobe, and the former seemed absent-minded, but was still not aware of Rubin at all, so that Rubin could have signalled his presence with a bomb blast and she still wouldn’t have noticed. But he’d have to make his presence known, since she might have something do with the job, and he wouldn’t want to her going back to Dean and prejudicing his position so early on. But though the girl responded to his communication, he regretted his decision immediately; hers was a completely mechanical and self-regarding response, containing a completely tiresome description of her life story, with emphasis on current problems - something to do with acting, and she hadn’t quite got that part, but someone had promised her another, so it would be ok, and Dean would put a good word in, it was a weary outlook but one underpinned by a false sense of hope and a predictable all-coming-good-in-the-end – she knew it wouldn’t -- and Rubin didn’t know how to stop her, and she would go on forever if he didn’t. If she had any position of responsibility, then she certainly kept it well hid. And at that moment it struck him that it might be a turn-on to kiss and fuck this girl; but far from being a whimsical, spontaneous notion, this was something that had resided inside him all the while, something that he had failed to take account of and put into fruition. Nor was it a ruse to get her to shut up. And maybe that was what she was really looking for through all the verbiage; so, he went straight up, still with some trepidation because it was completely out of character for him to do something like this, put his face right into hers, ignoring any possible remonstration, on her part and flung himself on her.
She made a face as if to demur but only momentarily and it was clear to Rubin at that point that though she hadn’t necessarily considered him to be particularly attractive, -- Rubin wasn’t bad-looking but no Lothario as he wasn’t striking enough -- she nevertheless desired something sexual with someone, maybe anyone, and Rubin happened to be in the right place at the right time and coupled with fact that Rubin had gone in and sought it out stimulated her in a very primal and fundamental way. It was a sexual kiss full of ardent animalistic savagery and one to result in full intercourse, and he caught sight of the flimsy tattoo on her neck, and at some point after they were locked together, his chest pressed into her body, Rubin experienced an ever-strengthening immense and powerful attraction one that seemed to exist independently of their bodies as a discrete energy, an attraction that certainly hadn’t existed before the kiss, if anything he had been repulsed by the girl, one that had just come out of nowhere, and as they stood, he pressed himself against her and she delivered herself up to him fully.