© Lisa May
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Fly on the Wall
Ironically, it was the webcam that sealed my fate. It had transmitted images of all it had seen onto my computer’s hard drive. That meant many long hours of incriminating footage, including scenes of everyone involved in various states of undress. Naked bodies were everywhere: in the bedroom, in the shower and in the bathroom. The press had a field day with that:
“Sex Starved Yummy Mummy!”
“Peeping Tommette gets her panties in a twist,” and;
“Horny Hazel – the Housewife from Hell.”
I could handle that. It was almost funny. Other headlines were less amusing:
“Sicko Techie Talks: ‘It wasn’t about the Little Girl.”
The knock on the door came first, soon followed by the cold embrace of handcuffs. Walking, trance-like, to the police car I knew that I was caught up in a web of my own making, with no idea of how to get out.
As I climbed into the police car I became aware of peering eyes all around. Some spied from behind net curtains, some gazed from upstairs windows, and some had stopped still in their tracks to stare. They would be loving this, having no doubt feasted on their morning newspapers. The press wouldn’t have disappointed either. Within the past week they labeled me a peephole pest, a pervert and a pill-popping swinger. But that wasn't the worst of it.
All this fuss for me? No international criminal here, just a busy mother. At least that’s what I had been, once. Life had become increasingly solitary since my boys had gone. Their departure had left me with nobody to tend to and nothing to do. No more morning coffees or chats at the school gate. Instead I had taken to all forms of amusement involving a screen. Facebook, Twitter, Bebo, and of course television, were the mainstay of my days. Reality TV was my biggest passion, but the refuge that I sought in the lives and loves of others merely deepened a tendency towards introversion.
In fairness I couldn't lay all of the blame on Mr. Mann. I knew that my own hermit-like existence had combined with a pathetic reliance on modern technology to create the beast within, a depraved force of destruction.
It had all started well enough. Hearing the knock I expected yet another timewaster, newspaper in hand and eager to see the annexe I had recently advertised as vacant. However, opening the door to a whirl of orange leaves, I was pleasantly surprised to find a spry middle-aged gentleman standing tall on my doorstep.
Finally, somebody normal! As I eyed this man, taking in his neat salt and pepper beard, tweed suit and polished chestnut brogues, my spirits leapt.
“Yes, please come in. I’ll take you around the back to see it. It’s got a separate entrance. You’ll like it. It’s so peaceful.”
Ushering him out to the annexe, small, but squeaky clean and carefully staged with a cafetiere of aromatic coffee, I hurried to keep up with his long paced stride.
“That’ll do fine. I’ll take it,” he said quickly, eyes fixed firmly on my 34C chest.
In he breezed the next morning, winking as he passed me by. I let the wink pass, not wishing to scare away my brand new lodger with the frozen look of contempt I usually reserved for lechers. He held aloft a small cardboard box containing just a tennis racquet and a bottle of champagne, its golden top peeking from the corner. Less than ten minutes later he was off again, jauntily kitted out from head to toe in tennis whites. This was a whole new Mr. Mann, sporty and lithe, and looking so much younger than the fifty-five years I'd seen spelt out on his passport only the day before.
Later, as the clear autumn sky was folding in, Mr. Mann returned. Yet this time he was not alone. This time he had company. Here he was, arm in arm with a young blonde woman, similarly dressed from head to toe in white.
Perhaps his daughter?
I logged out of my Blackberry Facebook app to listen more closely. There was little of interest on the status-update page this morning: God my friends were a boring bunch. Though permanently locked for privacy, the interconnecting door between the annexe and my kitchen was very thin. Motionless and barely breathing, I heard laughter, and then a cork exploding and glass tinkling. She must be so pleased that her father has found a decent place to live, I thought.
About to move away, I was pulled up short. Were they groans of pleasure? Listening more intently I heard the sensual sounds deepen, and knew then that I had been so very wrong. This was clearly no father and daughter.
Desperate to share my news, I was excited to hear Tom’s car pull in.
“Tom, Tom, you won’t believe this!” I giggled, as he walked straight past me.
I tried again:
“Really, Tom, Listen! It’s...”
“Not now, Hazel, later. Please! Let me get changed for goodness sake! I’ve had a tough day.”
“Ok, later.” I conceded, throat tight, but voice sprightly.
Several minutes later Tom had forgotten all about me, having gone out to the garage to fetch a bottle of wine for yet another night in on the sofa. There, patting his swollen stomach, double chin savagely illuminated by neon light, he would stare at the flickering screen.
I jumped as he stormed back in, eyes wide,
“What the hell is going on?”
Graphically, he described the scene he had just witnessed. Through the steamed annexe windows, curtains hanging shamelessly open, he had seen writhing bodies engaged in an act of wild and abandoned sex, the naked torso of our so-called “respectable” new lodger lying appreciatively underneath the pneumatic body and jiggling breasts of a gyrating woman, some thirty or so years younger.
“My God, but she’s so young, so …attractive, and he’s so… so” he said with a smirk.
"I know, I know. I heard them just now,’’ I laughed, pleased at last to have something to share.
"See, us men, we still have it, no matter what! That old silver fox! We just can’t help improving with age."
"Mm! I suppose that's just what Anna Nicole Smith's husband told himself, just before he popped his clogs."
"Err, no, but I bet he died with a smile on his face. I'm thinking more Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones... and I'm liking it," he said, laughing.
I wasted no time in broadcasting my news on Facebook, updating my status to: “Hazel is – running a bordello?” I left it at that, mysterious updates always worked best. Anybody interested enough would soon ask what on earth I was going on about. I did have a couple of bites, and gleefully sent messages back to Sue from schooldays and James from work days, lasciviously filling in every minor detail, and some more. But that was it as far as Tom’s interest was concerned. Work re-claimed him, and we reverted to our usual modus operandi, mainly non-verbal. However, my own interest had been well and truly piqued, and I kept a close eye on developments next door.
I felt an odd connection with Mr. Mann’s younger lover, the woman he called Laura. Her voice often drifted into my kitchen as her voluptuous form passed by my window. I noted those shapely legs under a flared tennis skirt, the ample bosom resting under that heart shaped face. I liked having another woman around: that vague but enchanting promise of real life friendship. Still, I couldn’t understand what Laura saw in her lover. Not at that point. It couldn’t be money, which tended to brighten up the prospects of the more mature Casanova. Certainly Mr. Mann drove a Mercedes, but it wasn’t a sleek new model. It was a workaday edition, way back from the seventies. He also wore driving gloves for goodness sake, brown leather ones. I’d seen him slipping them on with obvious pleasure as he headed for the car.
As much as I liked Laura I wasn’t sure about Mr. Mann. One morning he stopped by to pay the rent. As he looked down at me I found my attention drifting, eyes wandering down to those strong, tanned and muscular legs, their dark whorls of hair matting here and there. So toned. Must be all that tennis, I thought, as I looked up and tried to re- focus on the words coming out of his mouth.
“Yes, I do pop back home every now and then. It’s good to get back to Gloria, the wife, you know, from time to time. We all need help, to get our washing done, and all that...”
“Back there I have a nice bath, tuck into a homemade meal. Not like the micro-waved rubbish I eat here.”
Another time, he lamented that younger women like Laura were,
“All very well, don’t get me wrong, but they can get a bit demanding, a bit unreasonable.”
He stared at me eyeball to eyeball, and I swear his pupils dilated as he added,
“But there are perks of the younger lady too, as your husband would no doubt confirm,’ he said, smiling.
His searing glance unnerved me, and I blushed and looked down quickly, heart beating.
“I don’t know about that. He’s…well… very busy,” I said quietly.
“Not too busy for you?” he shot back.
I forced a small laugh.
“But he is away a lot,” he noted, “and you do look so serious sometimes, Hazel. Come on, blondes are meant to have more fun!”
“Oh, I’m ok. Fine really, just busy, you know…’ I lied, with a smile on my lips, but a sinking feeling inside my chest. He knew my life already. Was it that obvious?
“Well if you say so, but you know what they say: cats away and all that.“
I looked up at him, eyebrows arched.
“Well, you know where I am, if you need anything … “
Then, shrugging sheepishly, he scanned my face for some glimmer of possibility.
Drawn in by his serpent-like eyes, I found myself both attracted and repulsed by the man. I knew that I wasn't the only one to be drawn by his presence. Laura clearly couldn’t stay away from the man, although the affair posed a real threat to her marriage. I often overheard her complaining about Olga, her Romanian au pair, who watched her every move.
“That interfering bitch. Plain jealousy. She’d love to stick the knife in given half a chance.”
Laura was fraught, her lovely face etched with strain as she drove back and forth in her tall black people carrier, its two empty child seats a constant reminder of guilt. I so wanted to help her, to be her friend and confidante, but just didn’t know whether I would ever get the chance.
How I longed to be a fly on the lover’s wall, to watch their story unfold. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t the sex I was interested in. I could find whatever I wanted to watch online. At least that’s what I told myself.
Nevertheless, Mr. Mann’s sinuous overtures had left lingering notes, awakening a long forgotten libido. Fascinated by his suggestive smile, that still athletic frame, I wanted to flirt with him a little more. But I pushed these thoughts to the very back of my mind, refusing to believe that I was desperate enough to desire the attentions of a philandering older man.
Tom and I had known passion once, but that bright flame had burnt itself out all too quickly. Tom had never fulfilled his early sweet promise. He worked too hard and ended up too tired, for me, for the boys, and ultimately, for life. I tried every trick I could think of to please him, and more, scanning the Internet daily for tips on love, arousal and passion. I became expert in all matters sexual and perhaps even something of a ‘sex-pert’, but the harder I tried the more he drew away. I think that I scared him: ‘Sex pest’ more like, he probably thought. Bit-by-bit my efforts lessened, until one day I just gave up. No more make up, high heels or lacy underwear. Why bother when none of it would ever be seen, or noticed? I had contact with so many friends in my virtual world anyway, 120 Facebook friends to be precise: And the best thing of all? They don’t know or care how shitty you look. Isn’t photo-shop great?
Tom had settled with ease into country life. He didn’t miss the hustle and bustle of London, but he must have known that I did, terribly. He heard me often enough, crying into the dark. It was on account of those endless tears, that deep overwhelming sadness, which I now recognize as depression, that Tom claimed to have sent the twins off to boarding school. It would be best for them he insisted, well away from the negative atmosphere at home. In reality I wondered whether he just wanted an easy life, a quiet sanctuary from work where he could relax without having to get involved in refereeing yet another round of screaming fisticuffs. I hadn't put up enough of a fight.
“But no Tom! I'm managing, and we'll get used to it, our life here, together, as a family,” I cried, gazing down at our boys. Oblivious, they continued to thumb their Nintendo DSs.
“It’s not their issue, Hazel. They’re too young for all this misery. They’ll go in September. It’s all fixed up. Besides, boarding school offers opportunities, connections, forges the way for a better life," he said.
But what kind of better life? He had been through that very institution himself, and now lived only for work and a nightly dose of television. That was enough for him, but I missed my boys, and I desperately hoped that they would want more.
The odd couple next door had more. That annexe held so much passion, and the more I saw, or heard, of it, the more intrigued I became. Were they in love or was it just the sex? Mr. Mann was clearly an accomplished lover, as evidenced by the moans and groans that Laura seemed incapable of containing.
As I was watching Big Brother one long afternoon, half dreaming of the couple next door and half watching, a niggling idea which had been festering at the back of my brain began to take shape: Why not find out more, really enter their world? Why not be a fly on their wall? Oh Yes! I knew that I could do it. And after all, it would barely be worse than eavesdropping, would it? If they had wanted complete privacy then they might have kept all that delirious, rather delicious, moaning more hushed up under the duvet. Oh why hadn’t I thought of it before?
With a bit of judicious Googling I knew that I would find all the information necessary to enable me to wire the annexe for glorious sound and vision. It would be my very own slice of reality TV, but so much better than any channel 4 offering! Oh yes, what an idea! Real life, warts and all!
Before I could even mull things over adrenaline got the better of me. Nerves buzzing I switched off the TV, fully aware that I was finally done with reality television. I took straight to my computer and began to purchase the necessary hardware online.
I was soon fully armed, having joyfully received my illicit brown wrapped parcels. Then, almost before I knew it, I found myself creeping into the annexe, mouth dry, all set to wire it up. Now was the time to move on: time to have some real life fun.
Fingers trembling, I secured a tiny camera, no bigger than a fingernail, to the wide face of a mantelpiece clock looking out onto the bedsit area below. I hooked up cameras so that when adjoining doors were ajar even the shower room and tiny oak kitchen could be seen. Adrenaline was telling me to hurry, to get it right, but my brain was telling me to: Stop! Dismantle! Turn around! Go home! Then, suddenly, as I placed that last wire behind the clock, I thought I heard a creak outside, and, heart racing, scrambled out.
Back in my office, I hesitated before clicking the webcam on. There it was: a crisp fish-eye view of the annexe. Euphoria fizzed inside, clashing with fear, as I surveyed this goldfish bowl of a world. Zooming the lens in and out, I almost couldn’t believe it, but it worked! Suddenly scared of the monster I’d created, I wanted to turn back, to undo everything. But that would be too risky now. Perhaps later - if I still felt the same.
But soon I heard the couple return and decided to take a little peep, just to see what I would be missing if I did tear the whole system out. So, on went the webcam, in went the proboscis.
That first taste of life as fly on the wall was so terribly addictive. My screen leapt to life to find Laura tenderly stroking the brow of her older lover as he reclined on the sofa. Tender kisses were exchanged. I drank deeply. It felt so wonderfully intimate, as if I were right there, in the room with them. My cotton shirt became damp as I looked on, inhaling with pleasure. I swear I could almost smell them, that musky undertone of desire. But ‘almost’ living it was good enough for me, for now. Ignoring chesty vibrations, those first early tremblings of guilt, my entire body pulsated with pleasure, and I felt new, reborn.
I watched on, transfixed, as steam rose from a forgotten mug. I felt my cheeks pink and breath became fast and shallow as Mr. Mann stroked Laura's rounded limbs, teeth exposed in a rictus smile.
“So gorgeous, so gorgeous,” he repeated woozily, slit eyes lustful.
I couldn’t tear myself away. He looked sleazy, but sexy too. I found myself buzzing with anticipation as he slowly moved his hand up and down those honeyed curves, dipping here and there in harmony with her sighs of pleasure. I could finally appreciate his attraction, and knew then that I was hooked, like a fly gorging on its grubby feast.
Every morning I hurried to my webcam to sit, wide-eyed, for hours. I tried to draw a line somewhere, to switch it off whenever their embraces became tighter, harder, and more sexual. Still, I’m sorry to say that my good voice, the one telling me to turn the damned thing off, didn’t usually win. I watched them keenly and often. Looking on, my hand would run down my body, one hand slipping under knicker elastic, the other squeezing a breast, my skin livening to its own touch. I imagined myself with them, and pleasure would come quickly and easily, followed by a damply aromatic guilt. But a black cloud of remorse followed, whilst a ripening jealousy gave birth to its own delicate pain, twisting my stomach in unexpected ways.
I convinced myself that I was thriving on that daily diet of human drama, but know now that it was poisonous fare. It could never nourish the root of the problem. Shortly after our marriage the twins had arrived. Simply trying to keep the boys alive was exhausting, and all the while Tom worked harder than ever. He came home late when they were tucked up safely for the night. Blinkered, I could only see my all-consuming babies, and any passion left between us began to drain away. Finally. Hearing his car pull in I would switch the TV off, glad to see another day come grinding to a halt. Into bed we would go, a dry peck on the cheek, then backs turned.
Some time later, when autumn leaves had crisped to dust, I came to my beloved webcam to find Laura with a pigtailed little girl by her side. The girl was 10 or 11 years old, shoulders drooping, rosebud mouth downturned.
“Please, Mummy, please, I just want to go home. I’m so bored.”
“Don’t worry; it’s just for a while. It’ll be such fun, Sukie Sue, you’ll see,’’ Laura replied, as she heaved open the sofa bed and arranged her own daisy printed covers upon it.
“No it won’t, I’m bored already. I've got nothing to do here and I just want to go home. I want to see Alfie too,” was Sukie’s sullen response.
I soon learned that baby Alfie and Olga were staying with an auntie. That day I moved constantly backwards and forwards between household chores and the magnetic pull of the webcam. Laura was trying hard to be upbeat, despite a haunted look in her eyes. My only guess was that her affair had been revealed. I paled, as blood drained from my face. Might this spell the end of my insect life?
That night I couldn’t lie still. My secret had become more of a burden each day, and my growing jealousy of Laura was souring everything. I had gone from wanting to be her confidante, to wanting to be her, the woman underneath Mr. Mann and his pleasure giving hands. I needed Tom to know. Everything. He would take control of it all. He could put a stop to my own irrepressible urges even if I couldn’t. I felt feverish and suddenly didn’t care where it all led. Trembling, I leaned over.
"Tom, Tom, wake up.”
Recoiling at my touch, he grunted and rolled away, before producing a deep whistling snore.
However, the next morning, all doubts gone, I was more impatient than ever to get to my webcam. It showed Laura, her daughter and Mr. Mann living together, as they did for the next few days, within the cramped confines of the annexe. The presence of Sukie, who slept soundly next to her mother, dark hair curling around her face like a china doll, made even the most basic of adult conversation awkward. For her part, Sukie wasn’t impressed either.
“I hate it here, and I hate him and his stupid tennis. Blah blah, tennis this, tennis that. It’s all he ever goes on about. When can we go home?” she whined.
And another time, as Laura gently brushed Sukie’s damp hair after her nightly shower:
"When can we go home, Mummy? Please."
"When can I see Daddy, Mummy?"
"You're not splitting up are you, Mummy?"
Laura seemed at a loss how to answer.
In other circumstances I may have felt some sympathy for Laura, my ‘would – be’ friend, who looked more and more tortured by the day. Still, my jealousy of her as the target of Mr. Mann’s attentions warped everything, and I could feel little or nothing for her plight.
I wasn’t overjoyed by Sukie’s presence either. Whilst I adore children, little girls in particular, I just couldn’t watch in the usual way. I couldn’t feast my eyes on Mr. Mann. Not with a child present, it just wouldn’t have been right.
It was the presence of Sukie that led to my downfall.
The couple had been looking for some private time. Laura had sent her young daughter off to ride her new pink and be-jangled bike up and down the pebbled and pitted lane in front of the house, no doubt in order that she might enjoy a little private attention from her beloved Mr. Mann.
I tuned in eagerly. Finally, a chance to observe the object of my affections, and perhaps share a brief moment of ecstasy. Predictably enough, they were also keen to seize the opportunity to be alone, and tore at one another’s clothing. Mouth sought mouth with renewed passion, that old firm body pressing in on all that soft heaving flesh with impressive vigour.
It had been too long. Before I knew it I too had become involved. In my excitement I made a fatal mistake. I forgot to close the all-important office blinds. They were there, on the bed, vibrating with pleasure, and I was mentally and physically there with them, buzzing too. But then something unexpected. Along came the crunch of gravel, the squeak of bike wheels, and then, a face at my window. The doll like face was staring at my screen, firstly with interest, and then with pure horror. Sukie screamed. Her mouth was a pure ‘O’ as I slammed off the webcam and yanked down the office blind, all too late.
I busied myself with household tasks, manically sweeping up toast crumbs, polishing the kettle and scrubbing the hob. She wouldn’t recognize the annexe or her mother and lover on the screen, I kept telling myself, as I scrubbed the same spot, over and over again. I convinced myself that Sukie had probably been too far away to have seen clearly through the office window, and would instead imagine that I had been watching porn. That would have been bad enough.
I was wrong.
Later, hours later, hordes of police arrived. My heart stopped. They were armed with gimlet eyes and search warrants, packed themselves like so many sardines into my office, and ransacked my drawers, my life.
“Yes, take that Rob, we need the computer, the hard drive, and don’t forget to empty all her drawers. We need the papers, the disks, the tapes, everything you can find.”
They barely noticed me sat there, bug-eyed, watching.
Later, searching the annexe high and low, they located micro cameras and microphones, stashing their treasures with white-gloved hands. First a stern warning, then a formal caution, before I was handcuffed and frog marched to the police car. Later came the interview and formal charges.
My offences, as I later came to understand them, were multiple, and concerned various invasion of privacy laws prohibiting the spying and setting up of cameras in private places, including bedrooms and bathrooms.
I admit that I have probably only got what was always coming to me. I let my heart rule my head and latched onto something toxic. This fly on the wall had unwittingly gorged herself on rotten meat.
The worst part of it all, by far, is being wrongfully labeled a paedophile.
The webcam had captured plentiful images of the ardent lovers. That wasn’t the issue. The real problem was that it had also filmed Sukie in various states of undress. Whilst that material hadn't been of any interest to me whatsoever, the Police chose not to believe me, and I was formally charged with the criminal offence of possessing indecent images of a young child. For now, and unless I can prove my innocence, this means that my own boys are on the “At Risk Register’, facing a childhood of monitoring by Social Services. It is their turn to be spied upon now. We each have our role to play in the chain, the viewing and the viewed.
As I await my hearing I too am spied upon all around. Prison wardens are especially fond of peeping through my keyhole, keen to get a glimpse of the notorious, “Horney Hazel from Humpshire.”
But I do have hopes for the trial, even though Tom won’t be there. We’ve both moved on. My lawyers tell me that I have a good chance of proving my innocence.
“They’re just trying to make an example of you. Scare people. They need to clamp down on this sort of thing. They know you weren’t really interested in the little girl,” they say.
I try and have faith in that.
When the time comes for my release I know I'll be flying straight into a storm. The gutter press will be desperate to corner me, to lay their grimy camera lenses upon me. Even if wrongs are righted and my name is cleared regarding Sukie, the other image will always remain: ‘Hazel, the Horny Housewife from Hell’. I am their sport now, the wrong type of ‘celeb’, and I have to face up to them, if only to bring my boys home. I need to explain, to tell them who I really am and exactly how I got here, before they believe the hype.
I want my boys to live a life beyond reality TV, beyond Facebook, Bebo, Twitter and whatever comes next. I don’t want them to waste their days indoors, in front of screens, pretending to have a life, pretending to have friends. I need to get them out there, to tell them to grasp the world by it's throat and to suck the marrow out of life, for then, and only then, can this fly rest it's weary head.