Love Like You're One of the Brontes

The University Book Shop short story series brings you three stories in which local writers relocate famous fictional characters to Dunedin, and send them on twisted adventures. Yesterday, Cathy quickly tired of her date with Gabriel Oak. Today, her Tinder travels take a dangerous turn. 

PART TWO

Cathy tiptoes down the alley, the heels of her shoes clicking softly on the stones. She is glad that though she knew Gabriel would hardly notice what she wore, she dressed up. She makes some adjustments so she is sexy by the time she gets to the door of Pequeno.

She has been here more than she would admit recently. Sometimes she thinks the bar looks like a giant woodburner from the outside. The glow of the warm light within and the blackened grime of the exterior. She opens the door and it is almost empty inside. It is not late enough yet.

Othello arrives just as she has secured a drink and a seat in the corner. She is near enough to the fire - it is a cold night. It is almost always a cold night in Dunedin, even on those hottest days. She cannot believe she has already been here a year.

He asks her what she is drinking and she confesses to the Quick Brown Fox and full cream milk. He laughs a little and she sees he is tortured by something. There is no lightness in his face. He comes and sits with her. It is clear within the first half hour that he is not over his ex. He tells her of how his best friend betrayed him and that this led to him alienating his last girlfriend. At least the story is gripping. Cathy likes his ex's name. She rolls the word "Desdemona" around her mouth, mixing it with her drink. She tries to make Othello smile and has mediocre success. She makes eyes at the cute guy across the room. He and she end up in the bathroom together. They will head somewhere else if she ditches Othello. Othello is surprisingly easy to ditch. He says he will stay for a last whisky. She leaves him gazing into his glass. The cute guy follows her out and they go to the Mac Bar and dance until they can't really hear properly any more.

Cathy wakes next morning to the sound of a southerly blowing through the city. The house is surrounded by whistling and clunks and she is Dorothy in Kansas and wonders what it would be like if the roof flew off.

She feels off balance. She thinks of all she has left behind and of how empty, really, it was once Linton was gone. It is raining hard and the clouds are like dirty sheets blowing across the sky. Cathy cannot rouse herself at first. She lies there, feeling tears slip down her face, across the make-up crusted on since last night. She is Lenin or someone else, laid up on some mausoleum slab and void of blood or life or sense. Her phone goes and it is a text from Dorian Gray. He will pick her up. He has a car. He will drive them to Larnach Castle.

She does not want to think of another new man. She covers her head with her duvet, closes her eyes, and imagines Linton. What could have been. She thinks of how he was the one person she could never fully read. She could not put herself in his position or know exactly what he was thinking of her. At least in those early days. Sometimes, she remembers, she would obsess about him ever feeling anything for her. She reads all her dates now like a book. It is why none of them are right.

It is cold in her room. She hears her flatmates doing things. She does not want to talk to them. She misses home. Why is she here, so far from everything she had thought was stability? It is like she has been possessed. The high energy, the push to leave the UK, to fly here, to take a job that doesn't seem like a job - lifeguard at the Salt Water Pool. It is a job though. She has been at it a month and a-half and it is like any other, although she still starts at the sight of the sea. She watches it change each day, each hour - the sky changing with it, and at times forgets everything that has passed, everything that is yet to come. She is Yeats' Irish pilot.

Dorian is slightly late. She feels this is planned. She recognises it has made her more off-kilter but she cannot do anything to mitigate the impacts. He is hot, there is no way to deny it, and she runs her hand through her hair as she goes out to meet him in the car.

When they get to the castle's cafe he looks disdainfully at the tartan tablecloth. At least she is almost sure this is what he is looking at, though the thought crosses her mind it is her that has caused the emotion in him.

He approves the seats - green leather with brass studs. "Kinky", he says, and looks at her with what seems like a warning or an invitation. She feels unsure. She is always so clear these days that this feeling from the past shakes her.

He is a surfer. He texted her something like a list of all the rich kid things he is proficient at when they were making this date. He surfs, he skis, he rides quad bikes at a family estate somewhere in Central. He is tall and tanned, his lips full and his eyes clear. He talks about a surf film, about how he is no Kelly Slater. He likes to party, he likes to surf with a hangover. He is invincible. A god. He doesn't say this but he doesn't have to. He glows. He tells her he only got home at 7am this morning. Party finished at the beach, he says and she knows without asking that there was a woman, women, and he is a player. This makes her want him more and she hates that she feels this.

She wants him to want her but she knows he is bored. It makes her strive to be vivacious and reckless. She tells him of the time she escaped capture at Wuthering Heights. He looks mildly interested. He asks her why she was held there against her will. She admits her marriage to Linton. Dorian's face shows disgust. He talks about baggage. He makes her feel washed up, used and dirty. She scratches a fingernail against the inside of her wrist until the skin is rough and, suddenly, bleeding. She is convinced her hair has gone from blonde to a dirty brass. Her clothes feel wrong. She should be wearing box-fresh kicks. She should have fine gold chains. Her fingernails should be painted with varnish that makes them look like the most delicate seashells, not this brash neon orange that has been cool for her for months.

She tells him about her old job and he launches into telling her how she did it wrong, how she should have done this or that. She feels attacked but also that it is wholly deserved. She listens. He tells her who she is. That she is trivial and superficial. He says it all with a drawling humour that slices into her and she cannot help but feel he is right. She stops knowing who she is. She feels dizzy, sick.

He slips a tab of acid into his mouth, making sure she sees. He licks his lips. "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." At this, he leans towards her and she sees him a vampire, a ghoulish Edward, his teeth headed for her throat. For a moment, she is both repelled and wildly turned on. Her skin prickles, her heart beats and she feels the colour rush up her body. Like disease, the blotchy redness spreads across her chest and neck, under the carefully made-up smoothness of her cheeks.

Her head spins. The food looks like body parts. The chandeliers are glittering shards and the light hurts her eyes. She thinks he has put something in her drink. As the curtains begin to run like water he makes a joke about death and she hears Linton's voice as if he is not buried in a churchyard on the moor. He tells her to run.

She pushes back her chair. The waitress looks at her. She sets off out of the room, out of the castle and into the garden. The day is still grey and terrible and soon she is wet through and shivering but she continues to run.

Cathy is in a darkened room. She can see, from the bed, a beanbag in a bright colour, a bookshelf. On the table beside her is a glass of water, a cup of tea. The door to the room is open and she hears some people talking in the hall. A man's voice, and two women.

"It's cold out there. Not really feeling this shift - I'm on 1A until 7."

"At least you're here and not up at Wakari. I've got a half hour ride home once I get back there with her."

"She's really in a bad way. Where did they find her again?"

"In the grounds of Larnach Castle - the staff in the cafe confirmed she'd been on what they assumed was a date with that young guy who does all that social media stuff, what's his name, Dorian Gray."

"I know him. That guy's a full-on menace. What was she doing with him? He's got that whole doing-good front and then really he's vice-central. We had some kids in here last summer after one of his parties. They literally thought he was a god and he'd given them all sorts of stuff."

"Grim. Good they found her when they did. It's not a day to be lost on the Peninsula."

"Who picked her up?"

"It was that new ambo guy - you know the one that only started a few months ago? Older? I think he's from the UK."

"You mean Heathcliff?"

"Yeah, that's it. He's bringing in all the crazies at the moment."

 

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