One ordinary afternoon in a nameless town, a nameless young woman is at work in a benefits office. Ten minutes later, she is in an underground parking lot, slammed up against a wall, having sex with a stranger.
What made her do this? How can she forget him? These are questions the young woman asks herself as she charts her deepening erotic obsession with painful, sometimes hilarious precision. With the crazy logic and hallucinatory clarity of an exhilarating, terrifying dream, told in chapters as short and surprising as snapshots, True Things About Me hurtles through the terrain of sexual obsession and asks what it is to know oneself and to test the limits of one's desires.
Deborah Kay Davies started writing and publishing when she was a mature student and taught creative writing at Cardiff University. Her first collection of stories, Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, won the 2009 Wales Book of the Year Award. She has also published a collection of poems, Things You Think I Don't Know. She lives in Wales.
Deborah Kay Davies started writing and publishing when she was a mature student and taught creative writing at Cardiff University. Her first collection of stories, Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, won the 2009 Wales Book of the Year Award. She has also published a collection of poems, Things You Think I Don’t Know, and the novel True Things About Me. She lives in Wales.
I PRESSED THE buzzer for the next claimant. This old woman started telling me about her neighbour. As she spoke she kept tapping the glass barrier between us. That girl is on the game, she said, living off immoral earnings. It's disgusting. Someone ought to come round and investigate. I suggested she get in touch with the police. She pursed her lips and made a spitty sound. Probably half the police force are involved, she said, I wouldn't be surprised. Boys coming and going at all hours. And not only boys. Men too. Men old enough to be her granddad. She stood back and pointed with her thumb to her chest. I have seen men my age going in there.
I tried to take control of the interview, but she wasn't going to be put off. I could see a man with curly blond hair sitting behind and to the left of her. He had his arms crossed and his eyes closed. She leaned forward. And another thing, she said, there's always a lot of commotion; she's forever revving the engine of her fancy car outside my window, slamming doors, living like she doesn't have a care in the world. It shouldn't be allowed.
Every time the old woman banged the window she called me miss. I let her go on a bit while I looked over her shoulder at the other people waiting. I could see the guy was reading the paper now. Broad shoulders. His legs were long, stretched out in front of him, clad in faded, nicely tight jeans. I said to the woman, You leave this with me, we'll check it out, and scribbled down the address. She gave me a look. Thank you now, I said. I have to see the next claimant, and pressed my buzzer.
He sat down and leaned back in the chair. Name? I said, and wrote it down. I read his paperwork. He'd just come out of prison. Nothing serious, he said, and stretched. Just having a laugh with an articulated lorry and a lamp post. He settled back in the seat and grinned. I grinned back. I don't know why. It wasn't at all appropriate. Address? I said. He leaned near the barrier. Why d'you want to know? he said, his breath briefly etching an oval on the glass. I told him I was just doing my job. Nothing personal. Pity, he said. I leafed through his papers and picked up my pen. Married or single? I said. Single. Very, he said, and laid his hands palm down on the surface. Good hands, nice nails and what could have been a wedding ring.
I looked up from the forms. He winked. I told him he would have to wait about a week while someone processed his claim. No probs, he said. Is it your lunch-time soon? His shirt was open at the neck. His throat was kissable. No, I said, tidying up, I don't have time for lunch. Pity, he said again, and stood up. Everyone should have a break. You look as if you could do with a long one. I could feel myself starting to blush. I made a fuss of gathering up his paperwork. I couldn't bring myself to look up again. I pressed my buzzer and waited. Then he wasn't there.
Alison and I worked late. It was getting dark as we left the building, the air slightly chilly still. He was standing opposite the entrance. There's that man, I said to Alison. He was walking towards us. Which man? she said, peering around. Suddenly he was right in front of us. Hi, he said to me, ignoring her. Coming? Alison stood still and looked from him to me. Bye, I said and shrugged my shoulders. Alison held onto my arm. What about the film? she said quietly. He took hold of my hand and pulled me gently. I just went. Alison called out, Are you sure you're all right? I tried to answer but we were walking too fast, we were too far away, already going underground.
I don't value my possessions
HE TOOK ME down the steps into the car park, and led me to a dark area. I could smell damp concrete, oil, exhaust fumes. He backed me up against a pillar. Take your underwear off, he said, and grinned, showing his teeth. Stand on me. I mean, stand on my shoes. You mustn't get your feet dirty. He supported me while I struggled out of my tights and knickers. My mind had stretched and blanked, like a washed sheet on a clothes line. He had one arm round my waist. He put his hand up between my legs and pressed his fingers inside. I love the way that feels, he said. Then he unzipped his trousers and pushed his penis into my hand. It tapped heavily against my palm.
I'm so ready, he said. Are you? Yes, I said, and opened my legs for him. Say fuck me, he said, so I did. He grunted as he pushed himself in. I locked my arms round his neck. He sucked my bottom lip. I licked his teeth with my tongue. I felt his shoelaces under the arches of my feet. As he came I whacked the back of my head hard against the pillar. Afterwards I heard car doors slamming, and my legs gave way.
Short and sweet, he said, as he sorted my clothes out. He picked me up and carried me to the taxi rank. We didn't speak. He helped me into a cab and paid the driver. You might want these some time, he said, and threw the screwed-up knot of tights and knickers inside. See you around. All right, mate, he said to the taxi driver and banged the roof of the car. I sat on the seat with my underwear in my hands. I investigated the bruise on my head with my fingers; it felt tacky. Semen seeped out of me and pooled onto my skirt. When I got home I saw that the back of my new leather coat was scratched and scored. I bundled it up and chucked it in the bottom of my cupboard. I'd only had it for a week.
I get reflective
THAT NIGHT I began to be afraid; I couldn't remember things like how to do my job. I switched on the bedside lamp and made notes. I tried to jot down some tasks I needed to do in the morning, but in the end I just wrote: turn on computer; make coffee; file answered paperwork in alphabetical order. Then I wrote a new list and put the first, draft list in alphabetical order. It seemed like a complicated task. The period of time after I'd left work was incomprehensible. I knew I should think about it. The easiest way would be in terms of colour. Mid-blue was coming out of work with Alison. Suddenly yellow. Then apricot. Down into red, streaked with something else. At the bottom a sediment of khaki.
The next morning I decided to ring Alison and ask her to tell our boss I was sick. I avoided the big mirror on the wardrobe in my bedroom, and walked through the quiet house down the stairs to the kitchen. Everything was in place. I could barely lift the phone to my ear. The lead was kinked into snarled-up shapes. Alison answered eventually. Hang on, she said, before I'd spoken a word. Then I heard her shouting something about lunch boxes, and the sounds of running up and down stairs. Then a door slammed.
Right, she said, they've gone. How are you this morning? I, before you ask, have never been fabber. I just live for school-day mornings. Oh, the joy of tuna and mayo sarnies. The giddy search for bloody swimming cossies. Suddenly I couldn't remember what I'd rung for. Go on, I said. Alison's voice was like a cool hand on my forehead. Let me see, she said. You want me to tell old fridge-baps you're sick. Is that it? If you would, I said. My voice was unfamiliar. All in a day's work, she said. Are you all right? I've been so worried about you. 'Course, I said. Why shouldn't I be? Duh, ooh, I can't think why, she said with what I thought was unnecessary sarcasm. Well, I'll be speaking to you in depth very soon, young lady. Can't wait, I said.
I made myself coffee. Sunlight pulsed in the kitchen, bouncing off the kettle and the utensils in the rack. I had some chocolate left, so I carried that and the coffee upstairs. Finally I stood in front of the mirror and let my robe fall off my shoulders. Would you look at yourself, I said to my reflection in a take-the-piss Irish accent. My face was the same, but not the same. It looked slyly back at me, the eyes smaller, paler maybe. I felt afraid again. I reached up to touch the back of my head. The hair felt like a small, painful nest. I looked at myself properly. You're filthy, I said. How could you do those things? But I couldn't keep the accent up. My smiling mouth in the mirror shocked me.
In the bathroom I ran a bath. It hurt to pee. I didn't recognise the smell of myself. Each time I thought about the car park, something winced in the pit of my stomach and a fluttering sensation rose up from around my heart and drifted out through my scalp. I felt appalled. In the bath the water swam over me. I sank under and worked the dried blood out of my hair. As I did, the fluttering sensation changed. Now it felt like something was shrivelling inside. I remembered banging my head. Tears slid into my ears. I scrabbled out of the bath and dried myself.
The house was profoundly silent, every room empty. It felt like an out-of-season holiday home. I couldn't spend time there, so I put on some clothes, slammed the front door and got in my car. At the traffic lights I avoided my reflection in the rear-view mirror while I sent a text to Alison: Will be entering the building ASAP. Thank god 4 flexitime. Luv u.
I worked like a maniac all day and skipped lunch. I ignored Alison's concerned glances, organised some leave and left my desk tidy. Lastly I made a note of his address and phone number, just in case.
I talk to the animals
I DECIDED TO visit my grandmother. Magazines were always saying that if you were feeling down the best plan was to do something for someone else. I couldn't find her in the ward. All the old ladies looked the same to me. My gran had been the busty, blue rinse, costume jewellery sort of gran. She used to make me little crisp golden tarts with strawberry jam in the centre. Each one was decorated with a pastry letter from my name. The molten jam was lethal. We sewed clothes for my doll, Valerie. Gran said we should concentrate on evening wear for Valerie. Val's that type of girl, she said, winking. We winked at each other a lot. We spent rainy days colouring in together. Never you mind, she said, when I went outside the lines. Nobody's perfect, my darling. Least of all your granny.
I walked round the ward and looked at each old lady. They all seemed like half-inflated balloons. Finally I found her and sat down on the shiny armchair beside her bed. I picked up her hand. I didn't recognise the rings she was wearing. Gran? I said. She turned her head to look at me. We stared at each other. Are you my gran? I asked. The nurse came in. Yours is over there, she said, picking up a chart that was hooked over the end of the bed. She had to help me extricate my hand. The old lady had a strong grip. As we struggled with her she made a sort of keening sound.
I found myself in the toilet. For God's sake, I said in the cubicle. For goddy God's sake. I sat on the loo with the lid down and started to laugh. My laugh had a shake in it. In the echoing toilet it sounded eerie. That made me laugh even more. Then I cried. Someone used the loo next to me so I cried silently. There was a sound of rustling, and I stopped to listen. Then a genteel fart. Excuse me, a voice said, as the flush went. I giggled feebly until my sobbing stopped, and went out to wash my hands and repair my face. There was a handwritten sign over the basin: Beware. Dangerously hot water. The ink had run so it was like some spooky warning from a mirror in a horror film. I used the cold tap. Right, I said. Now for my gran.
I kissed her forehead. She used to smell of Coty face powder and polo mints. She patted my cheek. How are you, my little love? she said. Her eyes were like tiny chocolatey berries. I told her all about the blond man. I described him in detail. She gazed at me and faintly smiled. When I told her about the car park and the taxi, her eyebrows moved. I thought she might have winked. Gran, I said, I feel really bad. But nobody's perfect, are they? Right? She squeezed my fists with her warm hands. I felt calmer.
I told her it seemed like some sort of turning point. What do you think? I asked. What should I do now? Not see him again? Her nightdress was trimmed around the neckline with rosebuds, and a plastic slide held her hair away from her face. I waited. She opened her lips and began to make the sounds of a chicken, quietly at first. I dropped her hands. Then she threw her head back and started crowing like a cockerel. She had little claws that plucked the bedclothes. I couldn't move. The nurse appeared and touched my shoulder. You should go now, she said, and gave me a shake. It's time for her meds.
I am abandoned by my mother
AFTER MY VISIT to the nursing home I couldn't sleep. Poor old Gran, she would have hated to be herself now. I remembered the sound of her high heels clacking around her kitchen. She wouldn't have been seen dead wearing slippers, let alone a hair clip. All night my eyelids were stretched round my bulging eyeballs. In the morning I felt as if I'd aged five years in the dark, so I decided to go to the surgery.
My usual doctor was away. I saw a locum instead, a gorgeous-looking Asian woman. It was difficult to tell how old she was. I imagined she must be somewhere between twelve and forty-five. Not twelve, of course, that was ridiculous. But still, she might have been. She didn't take her eyes off her computer screen. Yes? she said. Problems? No, I said. I'm really, really, really great. How are you? She finally looked at me. What can I do to help? she asked flatly. I told her I needed something to make me sleep. She frowned. Have you had sleeping pills before? she asked, and returned to the computer. Finally she gave me a prescription.
I busied myself around the house for the rest of the day. I had an old film on DVD I'd been meaning to see, so in the afternoon I sat down to watch it. Things start off with this very beautiful woman, who seems normal; innocent and good. But soon you realise she's crazy. Her husband writes plays and she stalked him into agreeing to marry her by pretending to be mad about the theatre. It was one of those films where the viewer knows things long before the people in the film do. Eventually she drowns her trusting new husband's sweet, crippled brother and destroys her own unborn child, because she's jealous of any attention her beloved gives to anyone else. Then, after plotting to incriminate him in her death, she poisons herself. All because he's found out what she's done and is going to leave her. As she dies of poisoning, lying there against the pillows like a dark angel, she tells him, I'll never let you go, never, never. God, she was evil. But you had to sympathise with her somehow; she definitely knew what she wanted. Although I couldn't understand what she saw in him; he was a complete drip, and he had improbably groomed eyebrows.
I turned the TV off and began to think about the car park again. I saw myself slipping out of my shoes. Taking off my underwear. He had helped me. I remembered the cold air moving up inside my skirt, the feel of his muscular back and the way he sort of stooped over to grab my mouth with his.
I thought about holding him in my hand. I took some of the tablets and went to bed. I couldn't stop going over it all. When I thought about how he'd grunted as he pushed his penis inside me I felt a buzzing sensation between my legs, accompanied by a delicious little flip.
In bed I kept trying to find cool places on my pillows. Then I fell asleep. I dreamed I was out with my mother. I was a child; she loomed over me as we walked. She was singing a hymn to herself in time with the rhythm of our steps. We passed a dark alley, its entrance partially obscured by trails of ivy blowing in a non-existent wind. My mother pushed me into the alley. I could still hear her singing. There was a line of rubbish bins along the wall. In slow motion a huge black bear with blood on its teeth reared up out of one of the bins. The bin lid stayed on its head like a stiff flat cap. It lunged at me and scooped out my stomach with its curved claws.
I heard my spine snap. Splat went all my organs on the floor. My middle was crimson and empty. I felt the cold air playing on the raw, hot flesh. I screamed for my mother, but she didn't answer. She just went on singing and swinging her handbag out in the sunlit street. I woke up half out of bed, breathless and covered in a film of perspiration. I stood under the shower and then wrapped myself in an old towelling robe. Downstairs I poured some apple juice and sat at the kitchen table until it got light.
I serve unusual nibbles
I BEGAN TO hover near the cupboard where I'd slung my damaged leather jacket. You've got to deal with stuff like this, you silly girl, I said out loud. I had been reading a magazine article called 'Moving On, Moving Up'. I knew it was all crap, but somehow I couldn't stop thinking about my jacket. I lay on the bed and talked to myself. What was the matter with me, anyway? There were lots of perfectly nice, normal girls who did stuff in underground car parks all the time. Nobody judged them. They had a giggle about it with their mates around the photocopier for God's sake.
I go underground, I don't value my possessions, I get reflective, I talk to the animals, I am abandoned by my mother, I serve unusual nibbles, I advise on sartorial issues, I make people materialise, I misuse bread, I always deliver, I keep in touch, I entertain at home, I am not always available, I have titanic dreams, I get lots of fresh air, I believe that size matters, I eat colour-coordinated snacks, I agree to things blindly, I feel sick of visitors, I show too much, I am a one-trick pony, I gather at the river, I do some double-talking, I indulge in retail therapy, I get tied up once in a while, I don't talk to the animals, My timing is dead on, I pour cold water on events, I provide bed and breakfast, I'm at home to Mr Truthful, I have red-letter days, I don't like parties, I go to the pictures, I plan my menus, I cook up a storm, I'm on the outside, I have a houseful, I get blue, I go head over heels, I bleed publicly, I can't stop myself, I dig without due care, I feel empty sometimes, I dream, baby, I innovate with soft furnishings, Acknowledgements, About the Author,
True Things About Me 3.6 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
What does it feel like to be an addict, to operate completely opposite to what you know is good for you, to give in wholly to the irresistible, and, finally, to lose your identity? Davies provides answers. The addiction here is self-destructive, compulsive sex. The end is like that of any soulless addiction. Why would a woman go down to a car park with an attractive stranger for brutal sex and then sacrifice her life to empty gratification? The answer is a more common question: why pick up a syringe, run a line of coke, or guzzle a bottle? In other words, ask an addict. Compelling prose, dark but often humorous, and decidedly offbeat. For those who enjoy psychological drama and who recognize not every situation leads to redemption. If this appeals to you, also try I, Killer.
More than 1 year ago
This book has been recommended as a good 'beach read' -- it's much better than that. Settle down with a nice cup of tea and become engrossed.