It was the scent of lilies through a florist’s door that brought it all flooding back. Not much anyone can do to stop such a primal trigger.
I remembered how I’d almost slept with Heather in the first year. We were on the same course at uni and she quickly got a reputation when she gave every boy on her floor of the halls of residence crabs. She may not have looked like much, being short and squat with a broad face and her dark hair cut in an unfortunate fringe, but in the parlance of the day, Heather was obviously a goer. I hung around when everyone else treated her like a leper because I figured she’d soon get treatment for the infestation, then I’d be first in line.
When Heather did ask me around for dinner, we were second years and she’d moved into a house with Suzie and Lezzer.
Suzie and Lezzer were a couple of freaks. Suzie wilfully so. A pretty girl from money, she wore charity-chic clothes over tight black body stockings and laughed too loudly at nothing in particular.
Lezzer was just the inevitable nickname the class gave Leslie Wong. A tall, handsome boy with a pony tail and a motorbike, given to long, sulky silences and wearing women’s clothes.
To begin with it was nothing obvious. A silk scarf that could have passed for cool with his leather jacket. Blouses that made him look like a romantic poet and too-tight knitwear that showed off his muscles. The same charity shop collections that Suzie was so fond of. Once they started swapping outfits it all became a bit tragic, and then he started wearing make-up.
Still, they never bothered me, and Heather clearly remembered the sympathetic coffees I’d bought her after her little spot of difficulty. So I eagerly accepted a dinner invitation to their little place on Jervis Street, miles from campus in a dock-side neighbourhood. All gone now of course. Replaced by skyscrapers and fancy seafront restaurants.
Back then, choosing to live on Jervis Street was a perverse decision, bordering on the masochistic. One entirely consistent with the rumours of their house-warming party, when Lezzer was strapped naked to a dining table and Suzie encouraged the guests to drop hot wax on him, whilst Heather waited behind a homemade glory-hole made from a blanket pinned up in the kitchen.
I didn’t know anyone who’d actually been to this orgy. Stories of its lewdness varied depending on who you asked. It seemed someone always knew someone else who’d dropped by but left before it became too crazy. And since the three of them hardly came to classes any more, who was there to contradict a good story?
It took two buses and most of the afternoon to get there. The crowded terraces all looked the same. I missed their door and was relieved when Suzie called out. She was dressed in her standard black leotard, this time with a garish silk kimono draped over it, but she seemed genuinely happy to see me.
“I saw you walk past,” she said as she ushered me inside. “It’s easy to miss this place. That’s one of the reasons we chose it.”
The doorway opened straight into a small room, neatly ordered around a second-hand dining table with artfully unmatched chairs and calligraphy scrolls on the walls.
“Ah, don’t worry about the table,” she said. “We only sacrifice virgins when there’s a full moon.”
Then she laughed her shrill laugh, and I realised, close-up, she was really just a nice, nervous person with regrettable dress sense. “Sorry I’m late,” I said. “Took me longer than I thought. Here, I brought these.”
“Oh, lilies, how lovely. Their smell is divine. Heather!” she shouted gaily, “Your friend’s arrived!”
Heather entered the room with a glass of wine in each hand and handed one to me. “Welcome Jon,” she said and lent forward to kiss me on the cheek. “Leslie will be along shortly, he’s just fussing over dinner.”
“Oh, I hope it’s not turning into a drama in there,” said Suzie. “He’s been cutting and dicing all day and he gets so temperamental when he’s creating.” She smiled at Heather, and went to help in the kitchen.
“It was nice of you to ask me,” I said.
“I’d been meaning to for ages,” said Heather. You’re one of the few at college we’ve got any time for. The others are so …” she wrinkled her snub nose, “judgemental. Cheers.”
We clinked glasses and made some steady eye contact. I was beginning to be very glad I’d made the effort, then Suzie re-entered the room clapping her hands. “Dinner is served.”
Behind her came the tall, broad-shouldered figure of Lezzer carrying a tray heavy with steaming bowls. For once, he was dressed half-way normally. Jeans, a Blondie T-shirt, just some garish plastic beads around his neck and a hint of eyeliner.
The dinner passed pleasantly enough. Actually, it was rather good, Lezzer proving himself to be an excellent cook and Suzie keeping up the conversation whenever it looked like faltering. I sneaked Heather the occasional meaningful glance, but she remained demure so I decided to play it cool.
When dinner was finished, Suzie and Heather cleared away and I steadied myself for some one-to-one with Lezzer, but he didn’t hang about. Through the thin curtains I could tell it was quite dark outside, there being no street lights to speak of on Jervis Street, and without the two girls flanking him he had become quite agitated.
“Scuse me,” he said and literally ran up the narrow staircase that divided the front room from the tiny kitchen behind.
At the sound of his feet on the stairs, Suzie and Heather rushed in, shouting in unison, “You are not to go out again! You promised. We won’t let you!”
Within moments, he appeared at the foot of the stairs, tottering on stilettos, wearing a floral dress and a ridiculous blonde wig. “I must!” he cried, and forced his way past the two women out into the night.
I could hear him running off, while the others stood huddled together in the doorway. Suzie started to cry and Heather looked at me, desperation in her eyes. “Could you go after him? He’s done this before and got horribly beaten up. The men round here, once they’ve been drinking ...”
I stood up and went out. What choice did I have if I wanted Heather? Maybe I could find him quickly and drag him back. But as I walked slowly in the direction of his footsteps, thoughts for my own safety took over.
In the near distance I could hear drunken voices. Laughter and something else, something uglier. I turned and ran.
It took me fifteen minutes to find a taxi and go home. I had a couple of days off sick. When I went back, Suzie and Heather had dropped out of college, I never saw them again. Now when I smell lilies I’m in the darkness of Jervis Street once more. Hearing screams echoing in the shadows, and the sound of my own feet, running away.