Read Personal Darkness Online

Authors: Tanith Lee

Tags: #Fiction.Dark Fantasy/Supernatural, #Fiction.Horror

Personal Darkness

, you see, it takes all the running
can do, to keep in the same place.

Through the Looking-Glass
Lewis Carroll



He had been watching her for about twenty minutes.

Timothy's plan had been to clean his car, but the rain had beaten him to it. He had gone to the window of the room his mother called the Living Room, and his father, obstinately, the Lounge, and was looking out at the water sluicing the street. He did not wonder if it was raining at the country hotel where his parents were spending the weekend. The only second thought he gave them was one of pleasure in their absence.

The Mini Metro shone like blue tinfoil in the downpour. And across the road, between the green cascades of the raining trees, was this girl.

She looked tall, though he thought actually she was not, very, it was her slimness which created the impression. She had a marvelous figure, in her tight-belted raincoat. And plastered all over her was a thick, soaked spillage of jet-black hair. Her face was pale; her eyes were black with makeup, and her lips scarlet. She was just amazing. And wet, she was certainly that, simply standing there under the gushing tap of the rain, staring across at the house.

Timothy assumed she could not see him through the net curtain. And yet he had the notion she was waiting for him to make some signal.

Finally, after twenty-five minutes, he made it.

He lifted the curtain and waved at her.

He might have been a ghost. She did not react.

"Fucking blind," said Timothy. It was nice to say something like this in the lounge-living room, without his mother going up the wall. He had to be careful at work, too, where Mr. Cummings would come scuttling along the rows of computers like a poisonous woodlouse. "Got those figures yet, Timothy? Mr. Andrews is waiting." And, breathing his halitosis briskly over Timothy's shoulder, "You should wash your mouth out. I don't want that kind of language."

Timothy forgot his mother and Mr. Cummings. The terrific girl was crossing over the street, toward him.

She was past his car, up on the pavement, coming through the gateposts. She had great legs, and weird shoes. Then she was on the steps.

Timothy turned around and stood in the big room with its pallid mother-chosen, satin-finish walls and parent-selected furniture and objects. He, now, waited.

The doorbell buzzed.

Timothy had one curious moment. He felt faintly affronted, assailed. Threatened? Then that went, it was childish, and he told himself that maybe he could be on to something good here.

When he opened the door, he grinned at once, to let her see he liked the look of her. She was sensational, even though her eye makeup was running in the wet, which he wished it had not been. Her clothes were pretty odd, too. The raincoat looked as if it had come out of a dustbin. His grin sagged a little.

"Hi," said Timothy, defensively.

The girl said, "Mrs. Watt?"

"No, sorry." Was he relieved?

"Yes," said the girl. Her voice was clear and quite flat, like a soft musical chime wrongly played. "Mrs. Watt lives here."

"She doesn't. Never heard of her."

"This is the house," said the girl. She paused. She said, "She lives with her daughter. Liz. Liz and Brian."

Something plucked at Timothy's memory. Had the people Dad bought the house from last year been called Liz and Brian? Everyone had got quite matey when the deal was struck.

"I think—they've moved. The people before us."

The girl stared into his face. Her eyes were not only made up black, they
black. Black as black paint. He had never seen a white woman with eyes as dark as that, maybe not a black woman either.

"She's gone," said the girl. There was a note of something after all. Was it regret?

"I'm afraid so." It was fairly obvious no possessive, well-heeled mother had packed the girl off on such a journey. Frankly, she looked as if she had been living rough. Her ankle boots, a glance had told him, were broken, and newspaper protruded soggily from the cracks. She had a split plastic shoulder bag.

"What'll you do?" asked Timothy.

The girl stood and looked at him, and behind her the rain poured as if forever.

And behind
was the pale yellow house, with all its rooms at his disposal, open as a hand to Saturday afternoon and Saturday night and all Sunday until ten in the evening, when they would be back.

"Why don't you come in a minute," said Timothy. "You must be wet."

She did not hesitate, neither did she thank him. She walked straight into the hall, where the big mirror reflected her darkly above the wilting flowers his fussy, weekending mother had forgotten to throw out.

He thought of things in horror movies that had to be invited over the threshold. But only for a second. At once she took off her raincoat. She wore a scruffy, skimpy black skirt into which was tucked a gray T-shirt with holes. The rain had got through the topcoat easily and she was damp. Everything clung. She was slender as a bone, with big perfect breasts that had little wicked points. Her hair hung to her bottom in black stripes and waterdrops ran off it. The presage of excitement was fulfilled. He was aroused.

"You'd better have a towel," said Timothy.

He left her in the hall and started up the stairs. At the linen cupboard, out of her sight, he made a joyful gesture to himself. Then hurried back with the big fluffy towel.

Better not leave her alone too long, just in case.

First of all he made tea in the fitted kitchen. As he was doing this she said she was hungry. So he grudgingly put some bread in the toaster. She sat on one of the stools at the breakfast bar, with her hair up in the towel. The eye makeup was in unwiped trickles down her face, but her red lips were pristine, even after she ate the toast, very quickly, as if she were starving. So he had to offer to make some more. She accepted.

He had realized, if she had been living rough, she was probably dirty. She did not smell. The rain must have cleaned her somewhat, but it would not be enough.

"Would you like a bath? You must be cold."

"All right," she said.

He ran the hot water for her into the avocado bath, and put in some of his mother's expensive bath foam. He had always liked the scent of this, although recently not on his mother. She was too old for that sort of perfume, though he still felt he had to give it to her at Christmas.

The girl went into the bathroom with a T-shirt of his own Timothy had sportingly offered her. He hoped she had clean underclothes in her nasty plastic bag. He could hardly give her his mother's, that would be going too far.

He wanted to see his protegee improved. Know she was cleaned up. If she looked all right, he might take her out to dinner at the Italian.

When she came back, she looked wonderful. She had washed her hair and dried it, bathed, and redone her makeup. Her hair, dry, was like frayed black silk, and the new black T-shirt, though it clung rather less, still emphasized her breasts. God knew what he would do about shoes, though. She was now barefoot. Her feet were good, not ugly like so many girls' feet. She must have trimmed her toenails, as she had trimmed the long nails on her fingers, and both sets were now bloodred.

"That's great," said Timothy. "You did look a bit— well… What happened? You ran away from home?"

"Yes," said the girl, without faltering.

"You'll have to go back," he said. At twenty-two he was more responsible than she. Besides, he would have to unload her before Sunday night.

"I can't," said the girl. She had not told him her name, although he had revealed his as Tim.

"Of course you can. Parents are bloody awful, I know, but they do have their uses."

She regarded him carefully. Her eyes were even more fascinating now the shadow and mascara had been realigned. She looked like a singer. He wished Rob could get a look at her. For a moment he basked in the future enjoyment of telling Rob all about her. Then he and she went into the lounge-living room and had gin and tonics.

"No, you're going to have to go back. You can phone them, if you like. Tell them you're with a girlfriend, or something. You can stay here tonight. Plenty of room." He thought of rolling with her in his narrow bed, squeezed together. Thank God he had kept stocked up. Like Rob said, you never knew your luck.

The girl sat on the sofa, her long legs—even though she was not tall, she had the right proportions—visible almost to the tops of her thighs. No unwanted hair. No tights. Perhaps no pants?

"I can't go back," she said again.

"Come on. Don't be dramatic. Why not?"

"My father," she said. She drank her gin slowly and steadily, like lemonade on a hot afternoon. "My father abused me."

Timothy put down his glass. He was shocked.

"You mean he—you mean he—what do you mean?"

"I mean he slept with me."

"Jesus," said Timothy. "That's fucking disgusting."


Timothy took both their glasses and poured generous gin and tonics. He would have to remember to get replacements from Viney's.

When he handed the girl her drink she was demure and still, as if she had told him nothing very much.

"Does your mother know?" he asked. Under the shock was a dim prurience, curiosity. She had been broken into, and in unacceptable circumstances. This made her less attractive. And more.

"Yes, my mother knew. And my grandmother."

"Didn't they try to stop it?"

"Oh no."

She was matter-of-fact. Suddenly she said, as if awarding him a favor, "My name's Ruth."

"Yeah," said Timothy, and drank his gin.

Could he still chance her in the Italian? He would have to. He was not going to cook, and already she had had two rounds of toast, a packet of biscuits, and three apples from the fruit stand. Her legs… He would have to loan her some jeans. And she could wear his old trainers, the ones he had had when he was thirteen. He had small feet for a man.

Maybe she was lying about her dad.

She was only seventeen. Girls had fantasies. Remember Jean, who said she had slept with David Bowie?

Later, two or three gins later, when he was wondering if perhaps he need not wait until after the Italian dinner, she sidetracked him. She asked, politely, if she could see the house. The drink had seemed to make no impression on her.

Showing her the house bored him. He was not proud of it, none of it was his, not even his own room, really.

But then, this Mrs. Watt person, who had presumably been her only friend, and not much of one at that, had lived here.

Ruth had already seen the fitted kitchen with its dishwasher, computerized washing machine, ranks of polished knives and utensils, fanged juicers, and endless other gadgets. And the lounge-living room, with china in cupboards, fat TV,
Homes and Gardens
on the coffee table, and the music center. Ruth had actually investigated that. But his mother's seldom-played highlights from
Swan Lake
, Beethoven and Dvorak had not held her interest.

The dining room was small, and superfluously glistened from the cleaner's superfluous attentions.

Upstairs, Timothy showed Ruth bedrooms, and his father's study, quickly. The house had been extended at some time, and there were rooms of various sizes, some now lying fallow. Timothy's was the big room with the inclusive bathroom. Here Ruth paused, looking around at his posters briefly, showing even less interest than before in his music center and discs of Level 42. This room too had been recently decorated, but it was not Timothy's taste. He had let his mother choose, not really knowing what his taste in rooms was.

Ruth did look down from here onto the garden, and she remarked, nearly incongruously, "There's the cedar tree."

Apparently Mrs. Watt had mentioned this tree.

Nothing else was said.

They descended again, and Timothy wondered if Ruth would like to see his car, but she would be seeing it anyway when they went out. That should be soon. He was anxious by now with desire, but also hungry. An early dinner, and they could make a long night of it. Bring back some wine. And a video. Something she would like.

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