Bathwick. Bath. 1927.
Valeria had watched the man for over a week now, and always in the early morning. From her solitary table on the balcony terrace she would first hear the gentle slap and pull of his oars working the river, then see him glide slowly in to view. Straining on the oars and pulling the remaining four rowing boats behind him he would moor up below her, tying each boat seperately to the metal rail of the jetty. Already dressed for the day she would sit with her coffee, all brilliant white in her new travel clothes, a long lace dress and silk scarf with heeled shoes, which she viciously kicked off as soon as her husband left. She had always loved the feel of bare feet on wood. The whole outfit felt suffocating.
Henry had insisted she come on this trip, even though she always hated leaving Rome. Though only married a year, she had long since learned that the burning, intense look he gave her initially was the same as his businesslike scrutiny of profit figures, or slabs of his beloved marble. He’d even started to look like the stuff, his face now broken veined from too many business drinks. They were here because of that cold, ugly stone now. Henry was overseeing the installation of three bathrooms, in a round place that reminded her of the Colosseum when he had taken her there to meet the clients. They had been about as friendly and hospitable as Gladiators, both to her and to each other. Like all of Henry’s clients, they looked bitter, peevish and unhappy. These last two had en particularly awful, and brought home to her how unhappy and unfulfilled she felt. They had not made love for months, and she felt her loneliness and frustration keenly. Then pushed it deep down within herself, as she always did.
At the sound of his retreating car wheels on the gravel she shook her thoughts from Henry, stood, and stretched her lace clad arms upwards, enjoying the sunlight. It had been hot for days now, but this morning was sweltering and oppresive even before Nine. She could clearly see that the boatman’s linen shirt clung to him, already soaked in sweat from his endeavours. As if aware of the scrutiny upon him, the man straightened from the deck and doffed his straw hat, revealing a flash of laughter-lined eyes beneath the frayed brim. She looked away immediately, embarrassed by her boldness and the flush she felt blossoming on her face.
Unruffled, beneath the balcony the boatman worked on. Valeria watched him from the shadowy doorway of the breakfast room. His white open-necked shirt accentuated the deep tan of his body, as he bent forward to coil the tied mooring ropes in readiness for the day’s pleasureseekers. He was intent upon his work, curving his hand and arm to form perfectly concentric circles on the boat prows. She drank him in, in quick glances. Strong, elegant hands. Lean frame. Grey green eyes, as if the light of the water had leapt in to them. Short black curly hair silvered by the sun. A thoughtful look on his face, and a calmness to his body that was utterly reassuring. He was beautiful. He was the best part of her day.
Henry did not return that evening. After a sleepless night she dressed in the light of the dawn, walked down to the jetty and watched the calm river. In the hazy morning it looked turgid and slick, as if the very heat of the air had made it sleepy. She jumped with alarm at the loud voice behind her. ‘Excuse me Madam. You have a telegram’.The kitchenboy had clearly run down to deliver it to her, and watched hungrily as she found him a coin for his trouble. It could only have been from Henry. WORK FINISHED. WE LEAVE AT NOON. BE READY. She crumpled the message in her anger and tossed it in to the river. How dare he not return, and then click his fingers at her with no explanation? In her fury she forced herself to breathe deeper and listened to the flow of water. She heard the parting of the flow between the wooden piles, and with it a familiar sound that made her breath catch. Glancing behind her she saw him appear, the boats fanning out in his wake. At once, she felt a determination and longing that she had never experienced before, and with it came a fierce desire. He was coming.
The mooring rope landed squarely on the jetty with a thud. “Good morning Madam”, said a voice which was gentler than she had expected. “Would you like me to take you on the river”? His open face looked full of concern, as if he knew her distress. This sudden nearness took her aback, and she found she could not answer him. He dropped his eyes and occupied himself with the rope. Watching him again, Valeria recovered her composure. She saw the turning of his arm and hand, and a blissful calm in his eyes. ” Teach me, please”. He looked startled, as if he had been sleeping. “Of course, Madam. Watch”. She saw how he teased and twisted the coils so that they naturally sought the inner layers of the spiral. Laying the rope flat, he outstretched his hand. ” Come. ” She took his dry, calloused hand, in which hers was gently cradled. Passing her the new rope end he said, as gently as before: “The trick is to turn the rope always, so that there is no tension. Feel it slacken in your hands.” She did as he said, and focussed on the rope, despite the tickling of her ear. One of her curls had worked itself loose from her hat. Slowly he swept it behind her ear, twisting the lock as he did so that it looped around and curled against her earlobe. His thumb and index finger lingered just a moment too long, and she caught the scent of linseed oil and boat tar from his hands.
The words emerged from nowhere. “Teach me on the river”. She tossed the rope in to the boat. Despite her fear of falling, she stepped in to the boat and he jumped after her, anxious in case she should fall. The craft pusned out in to the current.Still standing, he steered her in to the tilted backrest and threaded the oars in to place. She felt invigorated by her bold actions, but as his gaze sought hers is was replaced by almost a childish shame. He smiled at her. ” The river is good for many things, Madam. It will help you today”. She felt calmed by his words, and reached for the mooring rope, suddenly hot from the lack of shade. The river still looked flat and swollen with bruised, ochre and purple clouds in the sky above. A sudden flash startled her, and with it came a low rumble of thunder. The boatman glanced up and levelled his gaze at her. “It will rain soon. Should we return?” Her reply sounded more forceful than she intended. “No. When it rains, find a dry place”. His eyes widened momentarily, but glanced up again as the first heavy drops fell. Immediately he bent to the oars, and the boat picked up speed. As did the rain, and within seconds they were sodden.
Despite the sudden chill in the air Valeria laughed, and turned her face upward to the drops. He watched her and smiled again, and as they turned a bend he deftly flicked his wrist and steered to the bank. The boat glided in to a narrow inlet, carved by some flood that must have subsided before eroding the bank completely. It was entirely screened from both shore and river traffic by tall rushes and an immense willowtree above. As her eyes adjusted, Valeria saw that the roots of the tree had stopped the flood. As their eyes met, he saw hesitation in his for the first time. Reaching behind him he passed her a large blanket. ” Here, take this. You are cold”. She felt a sudden anger towards him. ‘Is this where you bring all your women”, she asked? “No”, was his reply. “I have never brought anybody here. Only you”.
She shivered, both from the cold and the intensity of his gaze. ” Turn around. I want to take these clothes off”. He turned immediately and looped the mooring rope around a thick root. She turned away and removed the dress and her stockings, wrapping the blanket around her trembling shoulders. In the dappled green light it was like being underwater, everything touched with an ethereal glow. As she watched the light play she shuddered again, at a sudden soft caress on her neck. Spinning round she saw the boatman, with a long white rope trailing from his hands. He had stroked the soft, frayed end accross the nape of her exposed neck. In the green light his eyes were wild, and he stepped up to her. Another low rumble was followed by a quick flash of light above. “I am faithful to my Husband. Do not touch me.”
He did not move. “Then faithful you will remain. I will not touch you with any part of my body. Remove the blanket.” She let it fall from herself, and he knelt to spread the blanket over the backrest and the soaked deck. His voice took on a deeper tone as he said ” Lie back, please. I want to give you such joy”. The thunder was increasing in volume as she lay back, watching as he removed his shirt and placed it over her eyes loosely. She felt her breathing quicken at the musky, tar spiced scent of him, and her lips parted. The boatman brushed the rope against her calves, and she moaned, despite herself. Urgent sounds of desire came from her as he brushed her arms and shoulders, then guided the ropes down her sides, coming to rest on her thighs once again.
Cold drops from the deluge began to drop on to her, making her twich at the shock. At his “Do not move”, she stilled her quivering body. The smooth ropes traced up her thighs and across her stomach, which made her gasp and moan afresh. In a bid to still the hot darts of desire within her she grasped the oarlocks with both hands, and immediately he teased the rope ends around her now pert and aching breasts. Even in the midst of her own desire she could hear his breathing quicken, and it aroused her still more. It had never, never been like this with Henry.
Seconds or hours later, as she felt his feet move to seperate her legs, she felt her body arch with need. She felt the rope begin at her toes, caressing them with featherlight touches. He worked his way steadily towards her knees, and Valeria felt the turning coils stroking her. Again the rope was at her thighs, but now he moved them inwards, and drew them gently upwards. The constant moving turns gave her fierce pleasure that built and built, her body juddering despite her efforts to still herself. Her thighs parted at this rising, and the centre of her desire opened just slightly. As the frayed ends pressed to her wetness she came, in waves and waves that left her exhausted and spent.
She did not feel him wrap the blanket around her, nor the gentle embrace of his body as he cradled her. She felt nothing but joy, at this sudden, wonderful release. Later, much later she was listening oo the rise and fall of his chest. “Should I leave at Noon?”. His reply came slowly and gently, as he her hair behind her ear once again. ” Whether you stay or go, you do not have to live your life so tightly wound”. She felt his lips come to rest on the top of her head.
© Tom Tide 2016