Ling glared at him, already shaking with anger, her face reddening. ‘Could you explain to me why she’s soaking wet, again?’, she quizzed with to-the-book typical angst in her voice, eyeing the slender frame of the dripping dog who ran on ahead. She panned to a windswept Mac who had entered the flat awkwardly, avoiding eye-contact as he coasted the mountain bike past her through the narrow hallway, leaving a trail of muddy tire tracks in his path. In his absence, the flat had gained a strong unpleasant aroma that smelt of something between pickling vinegar and stale cooking oil. There was a dampener in Ling’s voice that if he did not know her better, would have suggested that she had been crying. ‘You know Honey is delicate at the moment and somehow, somehow you, you—‘.
He turned to her and shrugged. ‘Rain. I take it you haven’t heard it?’. Ling tutted in response, grunted and turned away, evading further escalation, retreating back into the dark den of the bedroom, rubbing her stomach slowly in circular motions as she walked. Mac parked the bike in the spare room, and removed his wet outer clothes before following her cautiously. It was lightless, except from the motioned glow beaming from the laptop, gleaming from the far end of the bed. He watched Ling nestle back into her arrangement of fluffy pillows, encircling her scantily clad body, as if it were a megalithic site of worship. Curling her petite legs and feet to her side in the feline way that she always did, she zoned back into the illuminated screen, adjusting herself here and there as she struggled to get comfortable. Mac walked over to her hesitantly, ignoring the deep ache in his lungs from the trip back home, paused, and in reaching down, stroked the oval of her swollen stomach in smooth motion. She felt impossibly warm, so much so that it surprised him more than not being shooed away by their body contact— she was as warm as a radiator, or perhaps it was just the stark contrast of his rainswept icy skin. Her stomach rose beneath the hem of her grey, battered Slayer crop-top and above a pair of simple black knickers that she always seemed to wear— like a cartoon character, stuck with its stock outfit. She had never worn that crop-top in public; to his knowledge anyway and as a result, he often teased her about knowing none of Slayer’s songs. ‘What about… oh, I don’t know— Fear of the Dark?’, Ling had replied to him under pressure, during their train journey to Edinburgh a year previous, hoping that she’d somehow managed to wing her music knowledge. Back then, it was the last week of summer, and they’d decided to get a train up to visit some of Mac’s friends from university, J and Edwin.
‘That’s not Slayer, that’s bloody Iron Maiden!’, he replied, rolling his eyes, sarcastically wearing a grin. ‘You’re one of those real ASOS girls for sure— you could have said, like... Reign in Blood, or Jihad, or even… TheHell Patrol’. The train emerged from a lightless tunnel.
‘Ha! The joke’s on you, mate— The Hell Patrol is by Judas Preist. Even an ASOS girl like me knows that, smart arse’.
He laughed through blushing cheeks. ‘You’re still a wannabe— I can’t believe I’m dating a bona-fide, real life wannabe’.
‘Well, you know what you can do to change that, don’t you?’, she volleyed back. This continued for some time. Mac remembered them hodlding each other’s gaze; how new it felt, as the rugged desolate valleys and spinneys rushed by outside. Six months later, Ling told him she wanted to end it— that she needed more time alone. Her mum had put in a good word with her hairdressers daughter, who’d founded a start-up back in China; they’d successfully raised their third round of funding and offered Ling a great job in the process. It was in the national papers, so Ling’s mum was happy about that at least. The salary jump wasn’t that big, but the opportunity and scope for development was huge. Working on big campaigns; more job security. A better quality of life, away from distractions— that’s the way her mum had spun it anyway. Two months after that, Ling and Mac met up for one last drink before Ling left for good. She fell pregnant ten days later.
‘So... what are you watching then?’, he voiced, reaching in to lay a kiss on her swollen beige stomach. She shuffled, ignoring him. The camera on the programme being streamed, scanned over an arid plain, swept with hostile winds. ‘What—‘, he began again. She turned and shushed him, pointing to the screen. Outside the flat, the rainfall grew from a gentle patter to a furious torrent almost instantly, as if a dial was turned up by a deity. Ling turned to the window and mumbled something in her mother tongue, before returning to the screen, her side profile outlined with an ornate black bob that curled obediently. After all these months, it still wasn't clear if the rough patch was finally over; if she resented him or the baby for anchoring her firmly in lukewarm, aspirational suburban London, with its French bulldogs, and vegan brunch cafes and sleep deprived power-couples that she loved complaining about but secretly envied. Wrongly or rightly, he had prepared himself for a turbulent pregnancy; periods alone provided enough hormones to ignite raging arguments, terminated phone-calls and oodles of passive aggresion at the best of times. In that moment, Mac racked his brain, to remember what it was like to be a bachelor; to be single and alone, but somewhat in control of his life, as on the screen a Cheetah trotted down a dusty path, leaving the vibrant cluster of tropical plants that surrounded it. The soothing baritone of the narrator, began relaying the past ten months of this Cheetah’s life. It was the last of its group— its previous mate had been killed by poachers three months ago.
‘So, how was dinner then?’, Mac enquired, sitting, reaching round to embrace her. She stiffened, brushing him off with a disapproving groan. ‘Yeah, fine’. Silence returned. She paused. ‘For your information, the baby loved it’, she added. It was unclear if her statement was a slice of softening humor or a genuine statement, but without waiting to find out, he took the opportunity to recline closer to her. Their contact, although brief, sent a cocktail of scents and memories rushing through his head. The cheetah on the television pointed it’s black nose into the air, as if to sniff the locale for prey, before trailing down a small grassy hill, back onto the dusty path. As if gaining awareness of their two bodies making prolonged contact, Ling adjusted her posture slightly. Then again, and then once more, pushing a pillow up into the nook between her legs. To his surprise, she leaned back into him, cradling his nape with a gentle grip of her hand. Their eyes, embraced for the first time in what seemed like weeks, synchronising briefly like two seperate sets of ancient hardware, connected by cable for the very first time. She smiled a rare shadowy smile; her nose wrinkled and her eyes squinted into a curved arc. The volume in the room, nullified, and then it was just them outside a universe plagued with arguments, and debts, and secrets and doubts, within the snug womb of the bedroom. The credits for the show on the screen came pouring down, as the tropical landscape faded to jet black. She rubbed his rough palm between her finger and thumb. ‘You do realise that you’re going to need to wash the dog, right?’, she asked rhetorically.
* * *
He could always tell when she was close. The reality was that Mac hadn’t slept with many women— technically, Ling had slept with more women in her twenty six years of life than he had in his thirty one. But in his experience, knowing when his previous sexual partners were about to come, was a skill that he never managed to master. Ling however, provided no such problem. Her tattooed thighs pulsated like a mortally wounded insect; her voice heightened to an almost impossible pitch. More noticable however, she became emotionally malleable— willing to do anything, to have anything done to her to be granted the desperate gift of an orgasm. She twitched within his grip, as he fingered her deeper, feeding his own mouth after every deep stab inside her vagina. ‘Fuck’, she wheezed, gasping deeply. ‘Fu— fu... fuck fuck— FUCK’. Spreading her legs slowly, he slid his tongue inside and out of her in deep fluid motions, changing stroke with each lick. Mac had always enjoyed licking her with her knickers still on and since the pregnancy she was either too exhausted or self-conscious to remove them. He became fond of these uniformed black pairs of pants; they stained the most, either with their post-sex juices combined, or with her creamy, daily discharge which he often masturbated with during one of the rare occasions he had the flat to himself. Parting the black gusset to one side, he lapped up her transluscent fluid and the flecks of white miscellanious cream that trailed from her. It tasted sour— a familiar, gentle innefable kind of sour. He fingered her again with two digits, savoring the gloop before tracing her slit back and forth, attempting to form a Y-shape. The last time they had tried to fuck, they were interrupted by a door-to-door collector for new local dog shelter. The girl, polite and in her late teens, seemed nice enough but didn’t seem to be able to take the hint about bad timing, with Mac trying to kill an already waning erection beneath one of Ling’s dressing gowns that he clumsily threw on. After the girl finally left, the two ended up arguing about whose turn it was to hoover, and Ling ended up kicking him and the dog out for the evening.
Slowing to an abrupt halt, Mac exhaled over both her dilated pink clitoris and butt for dramatic effect, stroking the soft hairs of both, baiting for a reaction. She raised her head between her legs, over her shadowy tummy, a smile on a sweaty familiar face looking down at him. Her cheeks and forehead, flushed and rosy even in the low light, reminded him of the time she had gotten sunburnt in the middle of winter in their first six months of dating. Ling had later Skyped her mother that evening, who Mac remembered shrieking with laughter on their laptop screen, proclaiming in Mandarin about how all of that british food had made her daughter as sensitive as those western white girls. He remembered being able to pick out the Mandarin words for ‘weak’ and ‘paper’, between his mother-in-law’s hysterical laughter.
Ling caressed his scalp. ‘Don’t—you—tease me; just do it’, she whined, toying her pussy. He tugged at her long pubic hairs with his teeth, prodding her slowly as she continued easing onto his tongue. ‘Oh, please— please?’, she pleaded. Inside his mind, he laughed to himself. When Ling had announced her pregnancy to her boss, she had to be practically forced to consider maternity leave. She hated asking for help— for anything, even when she needed it. When Mac got sick, two years back, her father had to re-send his own cheques that she kept returning, written in order to help with the mortgage on the flat. And here she was, swollen and wet, and lovely, begging for him to help her ejaculate over his tongue. Mac stood abruptly, pulled down his pair of washed-out boxers and slid inside her with little effort, their hands interlocking as he rocked his skinny frame against her soaking crotch. Within seconds he felt a burning warmth grow deep within him; days-worth of come rising with each thrust and grip of her body. Her swollen pinky-brown nipples, topping a pair of modestly sized, firm breasts rocked in unison as he quickened. Without warning, he jolted in a prolonged, crippling ecstasy, trying his best to stabalise his frame and not land on her swollen stomach, before finally pulling out, kneeling and continuing to lap at her, as the rain continued to lash and lash against the glass outside.
* * *
He awoke disorientated, delirious and cloudy with sleep some four hours later. Reaching out the right-side of the bed, he found only pillows and rippled layers of lukewarm bedding. Outside the room, the hallway light glared through an ajar bedroom door. He could hear Ling speaking in frantic Mandarin, within precise emotionally charged intervals. Honey’s nails clattered across the floorboards of the hallway, as she panted and yawned anxiously, pacing up and down. Mac rose, making his way to the source of the commotion, the kitchen, pausing at the closed doorway when spotted. He had to double take at the woman ahead of him. She looked pale; agitated, haggard— an omen of the elderly woman she would probably one day become.
The doctors had told her mother that he went in his sleep; that at his age it was quite common and that he would have felt no pain. When Ling shared the news, she seemed serene; focused. Not quite detached but definitely removed from her normal self— even the abnormal self that she had shown over the past six months. It was 02:21 exactly. Mac stared at the tiny clock red digital clock on the oven as he processed the information dictated to him. Four silent minutes later, he burst into floods of tears, hugging her tighter than he had in months, holding her skin, the bough of her neck closer to his face than ever before taking in notes of her essence; pretentiously perfect perfume cut with washing powder, between blurry eyes and warm tears. It wasn’t his father— he had only met the man a handful of times, exchanging hand-gestured pleasantries and mutual enthusiastic laughter when realising that they either understood each other or had a shared mutual interest ( ‘Tennis— I love Tennis too!’), but for the first time, possibly in his life, he realised that in becoming a parent, that it simply was not OK to die. It was not OK to grow old; to give in to the innevitable pull of the selfish reaper and just expire— in your sleep, or in any other way either. That it was not OK that one day, their baby would be just like Ling and it would be told the same news about Mac himself. Waiting for his sobbing to cease, she kissed him on the forehead. ‘Look, 宝宝— I’m fine, and you’ll be fine’, she said, pulling his idle palm towards the swell of her stomach. ‘We’ll all be fine— in time’. She walked over to the cavern by the fridge to make a coffee, avoiding his gaze. Outside the rain continued to fall. The rainswept windows had pixellated the artificially lit nightscape beyond, reducing the red constellations of distant neon lights to blurry red beams. Sensing that he didn't believe her, she returned to him, combing his hair with her fingers. He kissed her, against his better judgement, but she accepted, pressing her bump firmly against his chest. She withdrew, finishing off her coffee and instructing the Honey softly and maternally to return to bed, before turning off the hallway light and closing the door. She chuckled, softly. ‘You know, I could really do with a cigarette’. She looked down indicatively. He gave the satisfaction of a smile.
‘I wouldn’t judge you, you know’, he said. They both paused in shock at his statement, and grew equal smiles. In their early days of dating, they’d work their way through endless packs of Marlborough lights, cheap merlot and colossal greasy pizza slices form the place on the high road that neither could really afford on their salary, but was so good. Within an unspecified memory, he felt her exhaling her tobacco tinged breath on him, as her legs wrapped around his hips tighter. He swatted away the mental projection like a troublesome insect, with it leaving as quickly as it came. Ling sipped. ‘We’ll talk about it all in the morning. You sleepy? Want to watch something else in bed?’ He shrugged, and then nodded passively, trailing behind her, passing the now fast asleep Honey in her wicker bed, her tiny head perched upon her chest, none the wiser of trouble nor tragedy.