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Sex With Strangers

Cover: Sex With StrangersAbout the book

Sex with Strangers collects twelve short stories about - frankly - what it says on the tin. And they really are frank. This collection includes my story, Barely Grasped Pictures.

Barely Grasped Pictures begins...

When she's on holiday, she play-acts herself (unless, of course, she's in Spain with other English people around, in which case she pretends to be French). Floating into seaside coffee-shops in a long summer dress, dark glasses, and a floppy hat, she can pretend to be the sort of person who floats into seaside coffee-shops in a long summer dress, dark glasses, and a floppy hat. She enacts being a character who buys long drinks with mint in them and condensation sparkling on the sides, and watches how the light from the water dances on the walls of the sort of arty, sparse café that a person like her frequents. Because she is transient, here, she can be what she seems. The moment is perfect because it is frozen.
     Forget that there is another place where, choiceless as a child, she must arrive every day by nine o'clock, uniformed in what is appropriate, and stay there, humdrum and appropriate and known as "the one who…", until half-five or six, and even then follow the deeply-grooved rut of the office worker to commute home, sometimes via the supermarket, fix supper, eat, relax, wash, get to bed at a suitable time, sleep. Repeat whether or not desired. Forget the people who know her sources, habits, limits of her knowledge, and workaday pigeonhole in life. Here, she is the tip of her iceberg - cool, remote, unfathomable. A disaster waiting to happen.
     One slim foot has half-escaped its sandal, which dangles from her toes; the artless childishness belies her creamy composed smile. Her bag, hanging from the back of the chair, is a smudge of straw. Her hair, fluffed up by sea air, froths out beneath her hat in fuzzy curls. Can she feel the eyes watching her?

He stepped in and she came alive. It was barely perceptible - her shades hid the sparkle of interest in her eyes. One hand rearranged a curl by her ear, almost absent-mindedly, and drifted back down to her glass. Once there, it was awkward and the fingers stretched out to twiddle the straw between the ice-cubes - as one does, as anyone does, quite naturally. Her face was angled towards the panorama of sea through the French windows, through the door by which he stood hesitantly. He'd seen her here every day this week, and her presence like a cloud of perfume was spoiling his favourite haunt. He could no longer saunter to the bar, knowing her eyes were in the room. He could no longer sit at a table and lose himself in a book and a cloud of cigarette smoke, with his spine tied to hers by invisible string. This was his coffee-shop, where he could be a recluse, and all week he'd only been able to orbit her. Now, standing within the range of her gaze, even his hands were shy and made to hide themselves in the pockets of the jacket he'd forgotten he wasn't wearing. Day by day, her skin was turning to pale gold, though he never saw her lying on the beach, steaming and sweating under the sun, like the other tourists. She wore three long dresses, by turns - a white one that whispered at her ankles (could he but be that hem, to kiss those ankles), a pale blue one that knotted together at the back, exposing her angular shoulders, and a pale pink silk one with cream and maroon flowers softly splotched across it. Luggage restrictions, of course. He knew what she was, that she would leave and he could have his coffee-shop back, that her presence here would evaporate like the early spring morning mist the tourists never saw, and he would be left clutching at air, yearning for a woman whose name he didn't know. But he did know her - he knew she was only pretending to be what she was. He saw it in the consciously elegant curl of her spine when she sat, the way her foot trembled to feel the sandal dangled but let it hang nonetheless. He had to speak to her.

He'd spoken to her already, of course. Every night when the cold salt air blew in across his room carrying the babble of voices and thrumming of music from late-night bars, when the orange lights of the boulevard bounced up onto his ceiling, his body lay in bed and his mind drifted through the streets with her. When he climbed the metal stairs to his concrete box of a room, her ghost trailed behind him. When he opened the door on his almost-empty room, she saw what he did: not the poverty of furniture and unswept floor gritty with sand, but the moonlit breakers rushing towards them framed by the long window. Lying alone, he turned to her imaginary face and let his hand be the soft brushing of her lips against his. Then his hand became hers, small and sweet as it cautiously explored beneath the covers, and the pillow was her body against his, and he made her cry out many times before he let himself be buried completely, no holding back, in the clasping warmth of… his fist. She always vanished when he came, so that he was left alone in bed again, gasping, holding only his own faded pillow and wilting cock, and feeling a little desolate and just a little ashamed. Only then, could he sleep.

"You have ruined my coffee-shop with your beauty."
     "Can I buy you a drink?"
     "Since I saw you, I can't sleep without the fantasy of you coming repeatedly under my hands, my tongue, my cock."
     "Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice you…"
     So far past the opening moments in his head, he couldn't think of an opening line, and walked to the bar rather than stand vacillating by the doorway. Never mind butterflies, his stomach was a lake of lava and ice: would he buy her a drink, would he approach her table, would he peel back the cool façade and pry into her elegant untouchability through which her real thrumming life couldn't help but shine? Would he teach her to drop her dress and pretences onto the sunset sand?

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a fantastic collection ... an excellent eclectic representation ... I absolutely adore the way Olivia Knight writes. This story read as if I was watching a painting being painted. A brush stroke here, a color there, all separate entities, yet in totality, creating the illusion of a beautiful picture. A+
Madame Butterfly