© Barbara Scott-Emmett
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Every day upon the stair Edward Carter kept watch on the neighbours. He kept especial watch on Miss Susie Greenbank, whose golden curls intrigued him; whose hesitant smile made his innards quake. Miss Susie Greenbank was a stenographer. He liked the formality of the term. In actuality, she was a shorthand typist but Edward didn't believe in using a lesser word when a greater one would do.
Susie clopped down the linoleum-clad stairs every morning at precisely 8.16. The precision satisfied Edward; it made his heart throb and his bowels loosen. At a quarter past eight he would hold himself in readiness, breath quieted, limbs still. Then he would hear it - her door opening and closing above him, the click of her key in the lock, a pause while she stowed it in her purse; then the fluttering clip of her stilettos on the stairs.
The legs would appear first around the landing bend, then the tight black skirt, filled with Miss Susie Greenbank's ripe thighs and mellow hips. This was the moment when Edward's throat would constrict; his Adam's apple leap. Then Susie's blouse and breasts would present themselves, followed rapidly by her short bubble-cut hairdo, styled by Eveline on the High Street, Hair Artiste to Ladies of Discernment. Edward, in his rubberised mackintosh, often followed Susie on her weekly forays to the Beauty Box and would stand discreetly across the road, behind the pillar box, until she emerged, pink from the dryer, her curls lacquer-stiff. Sometimes, if they sat her near the window and the steam did not obscure the glass, he could watch while the curlers were inserted; while the big metal cap of the hairdryer, solid as a spaceman's helmet, was fitted over her head.
Edward shrank back into the shadows of the landing as the bubble curls bounced past, then crept to the banister to follow their progress, a golden beacon in the dim stairwell.
In the evenings he knew to conceal himself in the dusty twilight at twenty-three minutes past six. On occasion, if her bus was delayed, he would be required to sit on the top step and kick his heels against the risers for several minutes. Once he waited two hours and she did not appear at all. The big house echoed to the comings and goings of the other tenants - baths were drawn, lavatories flushed, vegetables boiled - but no Susie Greenbank clip-clopped home to quicken his heart. Edward was distraught.
That must have been the very first evening she met her friend outside the cinema. Edward smiled to himself as he listened to her footsteps echoing down the long staircase. Experience had taught him to avoid that little trap. The cinema visits happened every second Wednesday - oh but how many weeks had gone by before he saw the pattern in her non-appearances? How many disappointments had he undergone before he realised?
Now he had formed the habit of waiting, on these cruel Wednesdays (and tonight was such a one), outside the insurance office where Susie worked. He would scuff along behind her at a sensible distance; loiter while she bought a bar of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate at the paper shop; conceal himself nearby while she swung her handbag outside the Regal waiting for her friend to appear. Anxiety paralysed Edward that first Wednesday, in case the awaited friend proved male. And oh sweet relief when another young female trotted up and slipped her arm through Susie’s. Edward gripped the banister and held himself rigid at the memory. His pleasure had increased far beyond all expectation. When the ladies draped their coats over their arms and chummily entered the cinema together, the sight of the two sets of low-slung buttocks disappearing into the darkness was almost too much for Edward to bear.
He crept after them, that first time, and sat two rows back on the opposite side of the aisle, the better to watch them watching the film; the better to hold himself under strict control. Recently, emboldened by the flickering darkness, he had begun to move in closer, sitting now in the row behind them, now off to the left side, now the right, moving ever nearer until he was close enough to hear the rustle of the purple chocolate wrapper and catch the odd whispered comment on the leading man. Tonight he would close the circle, he thought, as Susie’s footsteps died away in the distant hallway and the front door clunked behind her. Tonight he would sit right next to Miss Susie Greenbank, his thigh nestling against hers, his heart beating fast, his breath shallow. He closed his eyes, anticipating the warmth of her well-fleshed leg, the rise and fall of her brassiere-encased bust.
Tonight. He could hardly bear to think of it in case precious emissions should be lost ahead of time.
That evening he secreted himself across the street from the Ruby Assurance Company, his palms damp inside his raincoat pockets, the hair on his neck primeval. The autumn sun gilded the office windows in a final blaze before dipping behind the railway bridge just as Susie emerged. 5.31pm. Prompt as usual. Legs trembling, eyes glazed, Edward slid out of his crevice and followed her as she tottered across the zebra crossing in her new high heeled shoes. (37/6d at Freeman Hardy Willis - he’d died a hundred deaths of ecstasy last Saturday afternoon when he watched her try them on.)
The friend, to whom Edward had taken a recent dislike, was late. Susie peered impatiently up and down the street. From behind his telephone kiosk, Edward sympathised. Like Susie, he was a stickler for timekeeping. It cost nothing to be punctual after all. It was only common courtesy. Finally, the friend appeared, flustered and out of breath, her headscarf sliding off her bouffant hair. A rapid exchange, obvious apologies, a forgiving smile from Susie, and they tripped their way across the foyer to the ticket office.
Edward detached himself from the shadow of the phone-box.
Soon. Very soon now.
In the fug of the cinema, in the occasionally bright dimness, he shuffled behind them. The auditorium was crowded and a clutch of fear gripped Edward's genitals. Suppose he was unable to achieve a seat right next to Susie Greenbank as he had fantasised? What then? Curse the friend for being so late. Usually, they were all three of them settled in their seats well before now. The Pathé newsreel had already started. But whatever god or demon it was that looked after Edward Thomas Carter, that god or demon smiled down on him tonight. Near the front there was a row with five - five! - empty seats. Holding back while the two female behinds squeezed along the row, Edward drew in a breath and did not let it go. The stiff curls and dislodged beehive nodded thankyous to the row of people they disturbed, people whose eyes did not leave the screen though their bodies rose and sat in a wave. Edward seized his moment. Lunging forward, tripping over his own feet in his haste, he caused the seated audience to rise again. This time there were sighs and tuts of exasperation, but Edward did not care.
Susie had entered the row first and was now settling into one of the five empty seats half way along. In his panic, Edward prayed: Don't let her close the gap between her own sweet flesh and the person to her right. Let her leave a space for him to slither into. Let her leave at least one seat free. The demon god smirked on Edward yet again. Susie settled her derriere into the red plush seat right in the middle of the row of five and the friend sank down next to her. Two seats were left empty on the far side of Miss Susie Greenbank. Two seats, into one of which Edward Carter could pour the liquefaction of his limbs.
But first the terrifying test. He must squeeze himself past the two ladies who had only just fitted their full hips between the arms of their seats. He must insert himself between their soft flesh and the hard backs of the row of seats in front. He must slide past, a dull glow in his averted eyes, until, haven reached, he could fall, faint with terror and triumph, into the seat next to Susie. Her eyes would be on the screen, the block of chocolate in her hand. She would rise and fall to let him pass without ever looking at him, already hypnotised by the flickering images. But Edward knew that even if she did see him as he slithered past, she would not recognise him. Oh no. His fear was not of that. Her eyes had not once crossed his face in all the time he’d known her. Though she’d passed him many times, he was not worth her glance. Nonentity that he was, she did not know him.
But she would know him now.
It started innocuously enough. An ankle pressed against an ankle, a knee rubbed against a knee. Then the quiver of her flesh as she shifted in her seat, crossing one delightful leg over the other, no matter that it was done to remove it from his touch. No matter that her discomfort was tangible. In the brightness of the Technicolor screen he saw the knee-length skirt slide an inch further up her thighs; he could hear - or imagine he heard - the rasp of the wool mix hem against her nylons. The blonde curls shivered as she passed some comment to the friend. The friend turned a stern eye on Edward but he kept his gaze fixed on the screen. His hand, however, he was incapable of controlling; it crept unbidden onto Susie's knee. She squeaked and jerked away. Once more the friend glared at Edward. Susie herself refused to look in his direction. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her avert her face, heard her mutter something.
His hand grew bolder; his moist fingers pinched an inch of cloth and assisted it upwards. Susie gasped, took hold of her hemline in both fists and tugged it down again. Edward's left hand, unbowed, slid across the shiny stuff of the skirt and into the dip between her legs, fondling the soft mound of flesh it found there. Another gasp, a slap, a pushing away. Edward knew, through the haze that clouded his brain like the cigarette smoke in the auditorium, that he should stop now. He should recall his hand and luxuriate simply in the pleasure of his hip against hers through the armrest. But the hand, once embarked on its adventure, would not be called back. And now his right hand joined in too. Jumping up suddenly, it tweaked the point of the brassiere where Susie's cotton-armoured nipple lurked. The soft yelp she emitted almost released his fluids, made his genitals twitch.
A whispered consultation with the friend. A muffled sob. Edward panicked. They would get up and move. He must act quickly. He slid his right hand across his crotch and fingered the buttons of his fly. Shushings and mutterings were drawing attention all around. The usherette would shine her torch on them soon. He extracted his half-erect member and with his left hand clasped Susie's stenographer's fingers. With a strength that surprised even him, Edward drew the fingers towards his sweating crotch, pressed them, struggling, against his damp scrotum. Susie pulled and pulled but Edward's hold was stronger. Pushing her typist's hand down inside his loose warm Y-fronts, he made her stroke him into life.
The friend was on her feet now. Pervert! she cried shrilly. Pervert!
Susie's tears were comforting to Edward. She was not a shrieker. He had known that from the start. She was a sniffler, a weeper, that most feminine of creatures - a sobber. Her guilt would last long after his had faded. He knew that from past experience and the knowledge of it brought him suddenly to satisfaction.