Her name, she said, was Lorelei, but strippers always had names like that. He didn’t know what she’d been christened, what she’d been called at school.
She said she’d grown up in the country but he thought perhaps she’d in fact been raised near the sea. All the women he fell in love with were from the sea.
She looked ridiculous, but he didn’t mind that. Like a hologram, he could twist her one way then the other, and see who she used to be when she’d been called Charlotte or Kate or Julia and her hair had been soft and fine – light brown, and her lips had been small and pale and her skin sallow. Now she had large eyes, large lips, large breasts. Her hair was much lighter, her skin was much darker, as though she had turned herself inside out.
He loved her for that. Her ability to turn herself inside out.
On Saturday mornings he picked her up outside her building. Caroline was preparing to go shopping or dropping the children at their various sporting events for the day. He took Lorelei to the botanic gardens where they picnicked on champagne and strawberries because she thought that the essence of happiness. He gave her orchids he picked, illegally and surreptitiously, from the grounds, and she found a secluded spot where they would sit. She sucked his penis and held his balls in her warm palm and when he came in her mouth his heart throbbed in his rib cage and his breath was so fast and wild he knew strawberries were not the essence of happiness.
One afternoon they walked through the small gallery at the gardens. She loved the delicate botanical watercolours. They were like something an old lady would choose but he knew she was showing him her child soul, when she had been Heidi or Lisa.
He stopped before a leafy sea-dragon painted in gauzy yellows and greens. ‘Laura,’ he beckoned. She liked it when he called her that. At his side she coo-ed and wow-ed like a teenager.
‘Did you know the male sea-dragon incubates the eggs? The female passes them to the male and he carries them for nine weeks. When they begin to hatch he ejects them from his tail.’
He loves his children. That’s why she loves him. She is one of his.
‘Let me get it for you,’ he said. She smiled with innocence, with joy, and he paid with his credit card and they wrapped it in tissue paper and put it in one of those thick paper bags with rope handles.
A little later – she tucked him back into his pants – and turned onto her stomach. They were lying on the lawns outside the Amazon Waterlily Pavilion, surrounded by bromeliads and ferns. It was a warm spring afternoon. Last time he brought her here he took her into the pavilion to see the waterlily – the thick green pad was well over a metre in diameter and the pink flower was bigger than her two breasts. She had cried, and he thought it was because she was struck by the beauty but it was because she loved him so much for showing her these jewels.
‘You know what would be cool?’ she said now. Her eyes were depthless. Her big soft mouth smiled at him. ‘A hand.’
‘A hand?’ For a moment he thought she was referring to something for his dick. He knew she was asking for something and he already knew he would give it to her.
‘From one of your bodies.’ Her eyes were dazzling. She looked like a child asking for lollies. ‘What happens to the bodies after your students finish with them?’
He frowned and moved a curl that had fallen across her eyebrow. She ought not know about the organs weighed and catalogued. The stench. ‘They go in the bin,’ he said.
‘You could get me hand, couldn’t you?’
‘A display.’ She mimed a small circular base with her left hand and the glass dome she would put over it with her right. ‘For dinner parties. I’ll put it beneath my watercolour,’ she said, and they laughed. He held her. He was tall but not too tall. He was slim, sturdy. He enveloped her just perfectly. ‘Can you stay tonight?’
‘No, darling. I’m sorry.’
He could have argued about the hand but it was more pleasant not to, and who would it hurt? Kids today were so gothic. Instead they walked to the Museum of Economic Botany where it was gloomy and a little chilly, and walked up and down the glass cabinets.
When she was with him she thought she was Lana again. But she knew something Lana had not known. He reached for her hand and enshrined her. His hand was large and tender. When he held her hand like this, and walked her through these gardens, she thought she could be happy again. Her eyes were hot and dry. When she was forty he would be sixty-one but that was fine. When she was fifty he would be past seventy and she would be exquisitely dressed and elegant and he would be quiet and distinguished and a little unsteady on his feet, walking with a silver topped cane and his back straight. Just as soon as his children were grown and he left his wife.
He led her down the aisle of cabinets where there were specimens of dried flowers, seed pods, cones (which were seed pods too, he said). There were dried lotus flowers that were huge odd things like shower heads with deep holes that led to blackness. Deep within, he said, the seeds rattled like dry peas. She imagined growing inside of him – coming to life by ejecting, pumping from his tail.
At the trial he took the blame. He had to – he had taken the hand, it was he who had committed the crime.
The lawyer asked her why she had wanted a hand and she played the dumb stripper.
What could she have told them? The truth?
Better they think her an idiot than crazy.
‘I thought it would look.. cool,’ she said, faltering so they would see she was truthful but embarrassed. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.’ Penitent.
She’d had it for three nights before George was reported by a student. The police searched her apartment later that same night and took the hand away. When she cried they most likely thought she was frightened by her impending punishment.
For three nights she’d gone to bed with someone to keep her company. A hand to hold til morning.