Waitress

IMG_8964Northern France. August. Thirty one degrees and sunny. The town square laid out like the scene for a GCSE role play – charcutier, boulangerie, tabac, pharmacie – and barely any of it open for business.

‘Role play.’ The very words make her squirm, and he knows it. He is eyeing up the sign outside the shuttered bar, a busty blonde with cartoon blusher holding a board with holiday dates crudely chalked up on it.

‘Shame,’ he says. ‘I could just fancy a beer.’

They are staying in the hotel on the town square, just for a few days, and she can tell he’s itching to cause trouble. Trouble for her, that is.

She has a friend who likes the role play thing. Who frequently plays at being strangers with her boyfriend in the bars of top London hotels, only to fuck in a huge room, with a big bed, and an equally huge bill at the end of the evening. It sounds fine, she thinks, but it lacks the possibility of humiliation. Sadists trump strangers, in her opinion.

They head back to the room, and he rifles through her luggage. He finds a pink shirt, a short skirt. He lays them out on the bed. And then, without explanation, he disappears again, the heavy door slamming loudly shut behind him.

When he returns, he’s carrying a bag from the toyshop, which, inexplicably, *is* open, and a scuffed metal tray with a white cloth, two beers and two glasses. He makes her change into the shirt and skirt, without wearing a vest underneath, as she usually would. Her tits strain against buttons unused to containing them. The bag contains a plastic, jewelled tiara, meant for a little girl. She fights the urge to giggle.

He puts her hair up himself, pulling it tight before he secures it with an elastic, a promise of good things to come. Her NARS orgasm blusher, though, serves his intentions poorly – he cannot rouge her up in quite the cartoon style he’d like, but he does his best, and when she sees herself in the mirror she is duly amused and horrified in equal measure, because she suspects this spectacle won’t be confined to their room.

He fashions a makeshift apron from the cloth on the tray, asks her to step into the highest heels she’s brought with her and says, ‘J’aimerais deux bières au square, s’il vous plaît, mademoiselle.’

His French is good, but she has to force herself not to laugh at his accent. He’s not, she reminds herself, the one who’s supposed to be being humiliated here.

She gives him enough time to get downstairs and settle himself in. To be totally honest, she needs the time to psych herself up. She goes to the window, and looks out, trying to calculate the worst case scenario. There are very few people around, and from this angle she cannot she the tables where he’ll be sitting, but she can see an old man with a little dog, who she fears will wave his stick and shout at her only to then fantasise about her for weeks.

The stairs, narrow and winding, are tricky. The combination of the tray, which means she can’t see her feet, and the heels, make her anxious. But she makes it safely down, and is rewarded with a mercifully empty bar.

In the square, it takes her a while. She is looking for a single guy, but what she finds is a man – her man – sitting with a pretty blonde. She freezes. He beckons her over. He takes the beers, puts a 10 euro note on the tray. The girl he’s with looks bemused. She glances up. The old man looks away, pained.

And she scurries back up to the room, where she will wait, alone, for almost two hours, wondering if they are still just playing.

 

 

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On the lasting effects of a proper crush

IMG_5483I blagged my way onto the sixth-form day trip to Calais when I was still in Year 11. The Calais trip, to be honest, was a bit of a joke. We ‘interviewed’ the mayor; every year the same questions – ‘Do you prefer the ferry or the tunnel?’ ‘Is tourism good for France?’ ‘What’s the hardest part of your job?’ – and then spent the rest of the day having lunch and hitting the hypermarkets. Not for booze. Too young for booze. 

In the full grip of an immense crush, France – even Calais – seemed magical to me. The object of my affections, Super Hot French Teacher, would load his basket full of brie, croissants and coffee, and it all seemed so grown-up, so sophisticated. I look back now and wonder what the bloody point was – good, authentic versions of those things can be bought easily in British supermarkets. But when *he* was buying them, France seemed the sexiest place in the world.

Fifteen years on, I can see that’s far from true. France is the country of dog shit everywhere, of supermarkets that close on Sundays, of endless meals of goats cheese salad if you’re a vegetarian (which fortunately I’m not). But it hasn’t lost that sparkle for me, that golden quality of having been sanctioned by someone I adored. I can find joy in the most mundane ways in which it differs from life in the UK.

Here are five random things I love about it:

1) Condom machines on every pharmacy – I’ll acknowledge that this is a weird one. After all, in the UK, many public toilets have condom machines. But there’s something about having them out there, in full view, and their often rusty, battered appearance, that I find super sexy. Sadly I’ve yet to ever have need to buy condoms from a machine, but this is definitely on my list of fantasies.

2) Wine – one of the most magical things about France is that if you order a glass of wine, a coffee and a Coke, the wine will almost always be second cheapest, sometimes even the cheapest. I associate France with daytime drinking, wine as a sign of doing things like a proper grown up and the promise that, one day, honestly, I will take wine tasting seriously. Just not this week.

3) Steak – I like steak all over the world, as far as I can tell, but there’s a particular kind, onglet, which you don’t find outside of France that often (or maybe I just don’t know what the English translation is), which is my absolute favourite. It’s a cheap cut which means it’s usually been cooked for a long time and it comes with gravy. And chips. Chips and gravy. Yum.

4) Openness about sex – underwear shops all over town, middle-aged couples kissing as they clink their glasses at lunchtime, topless women on the beach – sex, or symbols of sex feel like they’re all over the place here. Even the things that might piss me off in the UK, like billboard ads trading unashamedly on suggestions of women giving head, fail to bother me. They just make me want to give head.

5) Sea – again, there is sea in many places. I like it here though, for a few reasons. Firstly, because falling in love with the South of France has shown me that I’m in many ways free of the crush that started my love affair with the country in the first place. There are no links to him here, language aside. Secondly, because of the way the salt dries on my skin and in my hair – it reminds me of the feeling of come drying on my body – invisible to other people but undoubtedly there. And thirdly, because it’s scary sea – pebbles and jellyfish and occasional big waves – and I can handle my fear of all those things here now. By myself.

I’m not sure what the point of this piece is, exactly. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, it was about looking at the wider ramifications of crushes, which we dismiss so easily. I guess what I’m trying to say is that once upon a time, this was all filtered through my feelings for a man. And although the feelings for him have gone, my feelings for the place haven’t and they’ve been deepened by a new confidence, a new knowledge of myself and what I like. And that really does feel magical.

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