Lily arrived home after 3am, heated up a ready meal from Marks and Sparks and threw her keys on the bench. The microwave beeped. She peeled off her thigh high platform stilettos and left them slumped against the rubbish bin and wandered into the lounge scooping drool warm pasta into her mouth.
Satan looked up from his perch on the blue arm of the sofa and nodded. The iguana blinked. Lily flicked on the remote, then settled onto the belly of the sofa with a sigh. Music TV: the last refuge of the damned. She muted the volume and they sat in the dark watching an MTV tribute. Michael Jackson strutted and pouted to Billie Jean. Messages from shocked fans cascaded along the bottom of the screen.
“I can’t believe he’s dead.”
Lily slid her unfinished pasta onto the floor next to last night’s pizza box, shreds of cheese still clinging to the cardboard like ectoplasm.
Satan didn’t move but he looked thoughtful. Lily fondled the iguana’s tail. His skin was cool and dry.
“He was so good looking when he was young. It’s a shame. You’ve got to stop after your first nose job. That’s what I say.” Lily ran her hand down her long sharp nose. The girls at the dungeon were encouraging after the operation. (“It’s subtle, but noticeable.” “Same nose, just better.”)
“Life’s so short.” Lily bit a chip of black varnish off her thumbnail. “What if I’m not cut out to be a dominatrix?”
Satan turned to her, his face craven in the blue light.
“I know, I know. I shouldn’t have spent all that money training in cock and ball torture.”
Earlier that evening at work, Dark Angel had called Lily into her office and told her there had been complaints.
“What kind of complaints?” Lily asked.
“Some of the clients feel that you are not,” Angel paused and pressed the office ruler against her lips, “aggressive enough.” She put the ruler down on her desk, next to the notepad embossed with the dungeon logo.
“What do you mean?”
“Look,” Dark Angel sighed. “You can afford to be violent. When you spank a client it’s meant to hurt. I’m not sure you’re really giving this everything you’ve got. We’re in a demanding industry, both physically and mentally.” Dark Angel raked her fake nails through her peroxided hair. “Do you know what I’ve been reading this week?”
Lily shook her head although she did know.
“Mein Kampf.” Dark Angel picked the book up. Hitler’s satisfied little face peered from the cover. He looked like a particularly nasty client.
“I’m not reading this because I support fascism. I’m reading it so I can create my client’s fantasy of being enslaved by Nazis. It’s not for me to judge that fantasy; it’s my job to simply fulfil it to the best of my ability. And at times that is gruelling. Very gruelling.”
“It’s quite a long book and the type is small.” Lily had found it left in the bathroom and flicked through the pages.
“That’s not the point,” Dark Angel said. “The point is sometimes we have to find the darkness within ourselves to do this job. It can be scary, but it can also be controlled. I want the work done here to be some of the best in the industry.”
Privately Lily thought Dark Angel enjoyed dressing up as a Nazi. Angel was a full-time dominatrix – she wore leather chaps and a pair of stilettos to the off-license. She probably wore a butt plug when she wrote the ad that featured on the dungeon website: Mistress Lily knows how to make your pain exquisite. An imaginative and authentic role-player, she is full of delightful and demonic fantasies. Do you deem yourself worthy of Mistress Lily’s attention? Come and visit if you dare!
“I’m sorry,” Lily said. “I couldn’t concentrate tonight.”
Dark Angel leaned back in her red leather chair. “Look, I know you’re a Michael Jackson fan, but these complaints aren’t recent. Lily, I like you, we’re friends, but being a dominatrix isn’t for everyone.”
Lily stood up and wondered which client had complained about her? Probably the toilet licker; she shouldn’t have let him use a brush to clean the bowl.
“I’m going to have a shower. Do you want the TV off or on?”
Satan sat still on the sofa arm, his eyes fixed on the screen.
“Fine, I’ll leave it on.” Lily knew she was meant to keep Satan in his enclosure while she was at work but her flat was so small. What did it really matter? He’d already ruined half the furnishing. The innards of the sofa hung out the back in a gush of yellow foam.
After she dropped out of Central Saint Martins Lily had intended to paint imaginative fish all over the bathroom walls, but of course, she only got around to one long black eel, its malevolent head jutted out from behind the toilet bowl. In the shower, the water soothed her muscles, relaxed her mind and helped prepare her for sleep. She changed into her track pyjama pants and a baggy t-shirt, scrunching her work clothes into a wicker basket. Latex was such a bitch to wash. How did you ever get the sweat out? Lily returned to the lounge and scooped Satan off the sofa, draped him round her shoulders and flicked the TV off.
Annoying work dreams crowded her sleep. Dark Angel announced the arrival of an important client. Lily was agitated, anxious to make a good impression. She prepared the dungeon fretfully, running the feather duster over the dildos and polishing the leather saddle. Michael Jackson unzipped himself from a black latex body bag in the corner and started singing ‘Billie Jean.’ The client arrived just as Lily was trying to stuff Jackson back into the body bag. A life-size iguana stood in the door wearing a trench coat and carrying a suitcase.
“Satan?” Lily asked.
His forked tongue jetted out of his mouth. Lily twisted and rolled over in her sleep. The iguana leapt off the bed. The dream morphed again. Lily was a mime artist performing in a Quintet. She wore a mask and played a triangle. The stage lights were bright. Every time she hit the triangle the audience laughed. Her makeup was running. Litres of white paint rolled down her face and dripped onto her pants. When she looked around she saw that all the other mime artists were melting too. And she began to laugh and cry, because underneath all the white paint each mime artist looked exactly like…
Lily woke to Dirty Diana. She felt winded. Satan wasn’t on the bed beside her. The light in her room was dishwater grey, the air tasted stale. The overland shuttled by shaking the house. She reached over and turned off the alarm on her mobile, closed her eyes and tried to rally the energy to go to Sainsbury’s.
The walk through Camden did nothing to cheer her. Shoppers, tourists and teenagers sprawled across the street. Abrasive music throbbed from speakers; enormous platform shoes were stacked on racks outside shops in varying fluorescent shades: bile yellow, mucus green, pestilent orange. Cyber Goths glided by in packs, their scrupulously made up faces strangely inert. One girl wore a spiked collar; her mauve lips matched her contact lens. She stood outside the door to a piercing studio, slithering egg-noodles into her mouth. The food didn’t even touch her lips. Lily used to think Camden was where all the interesting people lived, now she wasn’t so sure.
At Sainsbury’s she overspent, loading her shopping basket with exotic vegetables. Two Celeriac, one for herself, one for Satan. The spiral fractals of the Romanesco cauliflower. The avocados were hard but she grabbed a pair anyway, running her fingers over their leathery skin. She often chose food on the basis of colour and texture rather than taste. Finally, she bought some pre-packaged sushi and a bottle of Pinot Grigio, telling herself she would work on some new watercolours after lunch.
Outside The World’s End she ran into Kenneth from Saint Martins.
“Lily, great to see you.” He leaned in and kissed her on both cheeks.
She reciprocated, feeling fraudulent. In London, she greeted acquaintances with more affection than her own parents.
“How are you darling?” he asked.
“Okay.” Lily swept her hand through her hair. The sky tilted down towards the slate grey pavement and secretly she felt as though life couldn’t get much worse, but she couldn’t say that here, with people swarming all around them like lice. “Have you heard the news?”
“About Michael? Are you still painting portraits of him?” Kenneth said. “I forgot he was your muse.”
“He was so young to die of a heart attack,” Lily said.
“Demerol honey,” Kenneth shrugged. “The man was an addict. Apparently, he had a chest like a pin cushion.”
Baldrick from Blackadder shuffled towards them, hand outstretched. “Spare, any change?”
“Sorry,” Lily said. “I never carry cash.” Baldrick glanced at her shopping then glared at her.
Baldrick glared at her.
Kenneth fished a fiver out of his jeans.
“God bless you.” Baldrick snaffled the note into the sleeve of his jacket and disappeared into The World’s End
“How’s Satan?” Kenneth asked.
“He seems a little off at the moment actually. Perhaps it’s the weather?”
Kenneth arched his heavily pierced eyebrows. “And are you keeping him in his enclosure while you’re at work?”
“My flat is an enclosure,” she joked.
“No wonder he’s aggressive.”
“I’m actually worried about his heart. Sometimes he wheezes in his sleep.”
“Take him to the vet, honey.” Kenneth’s mobile vibrated and he glanced at the screen. “Hey, are you going to Torture Garden this weekend?”
“Yes,” Lily said.
“Great,” Kenneth said. “See you there, I’m doing a performance.”
At home, she disposed of the empty pizza boxes and plastic microwave meal trays, vacuumed, put on a wash and made an extravagant looking salad. Satan sniffed at the bowl, blinked then returned to his perch in the closet beneath the UV lights. When Lily came into the bedroom he didn’t nod.
“What’s the matter, boy?”
The iguana’s shoulders were hunched. He looked wistful. Perhaps she should take him to the vet? Lily put on her iPod and turned the volume up listening to The man in the Mirror. The overland shuttled by shaking the flat as she ate her sushi, cross-legged on her futon. At art school, Kenneth told her she was too intense. Yet at the dungeon, she doesn’t seem to be intense enough.
At work that night, rain slid down the double glazed staff room window. The dommes sat under an afghan rug on the couch watching Michael Jackson’s 911 call broadcast over the news.Lily kneeled on the floor. ‘I can’t believe he’s gone.’
Lily kneeled on the floor. “I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
Camilla sipped her herbal tea. “To me he died a long time ago.”
“Mistress Lily,” Dark Angel appeared in the doorframe, wearing her leather chaps. “I have a new client for you.”
Lily sat on the smother box in one of the more rudimentary chambers and stared at the client’s pale legs splayed across the floorboards. At first she was painfully aware of his breath warming her vagina but after a while, her mind drifted off. Lily wrapped her arms round her sides. She wanted her new paintings to capture the sad spectacle of Michael’s unearthly white face. The dommes were convinced Michael was a paedophile. Lily wasn’t so sure. Behind the mask of his face she could see a frightened child still seeking his parents love. Lily was keen to experiment with the paint until she captured the marzipan quality of his skin and his eyes, so black and watery, inkwells of sadness…
Suddenly, she felt something warm and trembling tickle her labia
Dark Angel placed her hand on Lily’s arm. “Good work. The client was extremely satisified. I’m glad we had that chat earlier this week.”
“Me too,” Lily smiled.
“Hey, what are you wearing to Torture Garden this Friday?”
“My latex nurse’s uniform?”
“Didn’t you wear that last time?” Dark Angel said.
“You can borrow my fun fur cow mini dress if you like,” Camilla offered.
“Thanks,” Lily said. “But I’ll think of something else.”
In the morning the answer came to her in a fit of artistic genius: she would go to Torture Garden dressed as Michael Jackson! Lily bought a pair of men’s dress trousers and smart black leather shoes at Camden Market, picked up sparkly silver ankle socks from Top Shop and a silken black wig from a fancy dress store that she cut into shape. At home she worked slavishly on the mask. She photocopied a portrait of Michael and enlarged it several times to get the right proportions; then cut out almond shaped holes for the eyes. The mask had a Cubist influence. Lily accentuated the cheekbones with poster paint and used a graphite pencil for detail and shading. The masterpiece was his nose: a cardboard prism.
On Friday evening, she reached for her mobile with a silver glove. “Hello?” Her voice was muffled through the green surgical mask she had borrowed from the dungeon. She tasted the sweet smell of her own breath.
Lily hoisted Satan onto her shoulder and took one last look in the mirror. Michael stared back, his frightened face and excited blue eyes ready to dazzle and thrill an audience of screaming fans.
“Oh my god,” Camilla leaned out of the backdoor of the black cab.
“What?” Lily asked.
“It would have been more PC to come as a cow,” Camilla said.
The cab ride through Camden was brief. Satan perched on her shoulders. Lily hadn’t taken him clubbing in a while. They got out of the cab and walked down the throbbing stairwell into the techno heart of the club. Dark Angel led the way as though she was the Queen on her coronation. Camilla and Lily flanked her on either side. Someone called out: “Michael, you’re alive.” Then: “Do the moonwalk.”
Torture Garden passed in a haze of cheap champagne and bad E.
“Can you feel anything yet?” Dark Angel stared at Lily intently.
Lily shook her head.
They sat at the bar. Satan dug his claws into her shoulders. Lily pulled down the green surgical mask; she was having trouble breathing. Her hair felt hot beneath the wig. She wanted to scratch her scalp but she could tell Satan was too tense to be moved right now. “I might have to go soon,” Lily said.
“What?” Dark Angel leaned in. The music was a brick wall between them.
Satan’s tail twitched. Lily twisted round and peered through at him through the eye holes of her mask. The iguana bobbed his head up and down; his dewlap stuck out, it vibrated like a speaker.
“Is he okay?” Dark Angel pointed.
“No,” Lily said. She moved away from the bar trying to find the exit. Satan clenched her shoulders. She reached up and reassured him by stroking her gloved hand over his flank. Sweat ran down the inside of her mask. Strobe lights rushed over litres of exposed skin all around her. A beautiful Japanese girl strutted past coiled in glad wrap like a caterpillar in a chrysalis. Satan flicked his tail. Lily passed the periphery of a crowd who stood watching a man in leather chaps being rogered in a sling. The man bobbed up for a breath of air like a swimmer and the lights strobed over his face: Kenneth.
Lily stumbled further into the crowd. She lost her grip and Satan leapt from her shoulder and scampered into a cluster of shrieking drag queens. The largest one squealed, “stop that iguana!” Hysterical laughter and soggy techno.
“Satan!” Lily lunged for Satan and caught his tail, but it fell off in her hand, pulsing and twitching. She dropped the tail and watched it slither across the floor like a sausage in a frying pan. The drag queens gaped in horror.
“Michael Jackson’s lost his iguana.”
“You can say that again, honey.”
Lily ran through the club and up the stairs. In the kafuffle, she had lost the green surgical mask. Rubbish scuttled about the streets, arachnid, alive. She pulled back Michael Jackson’s face and let it hang round her neck on its string. Rain as soft and warm as fingertips slid down her skin. The party was everywhere, a seething mass of concrete.
A pack of Goths surrounded a telegraph pole. Her heart surged. “Have you seen an iguana?” The Goths shook their spiky black mohawks. They gawped at her through layers of makeup and indifference.
Lily wandered over the bridge and along Camden Loch, thinking it was somewhere peaceful that Satan might like to hide. The butterscotch lights of nearby apartments shone on the slow moving water. Lily shivered. The stars were out but there was no moon. The smell of stagnant water filled her mouth and nostrils. She dropped the Michael Jackson mask onto the loch and it floated on the surface like a reflection then slowly disappeared.