I remember being scared that, as we stripped naked, I’d become aroused and embarrass myself. In the end, I didn’t need to worry. Even as I tried not to stare at your breasts, even as I tried to stop my eyes from following the line of your sternum downwards, the cold wind sunk fingernails deep into my thighs. My manhood remained shrivelled and pathetic, as ever.
As you took your clothes off, I watched you to see how I could read this situation. In the event it was dishearteningly prosaic. You lifted off your shirt with nonchalance. You took your jeans and panties down in one motion. Nothing matched – not your plain white bra or your knickers like a packet of M&M’s. We could’ve been in the changing room of a clothes shop. But the needles in my feet reminded me otherwise as I shivered. I broke out in a hive of goosebumps. Sensations baby. That’s what you told me, as you grabbed a thumb-and-fingerfull of my nipple. I wondered why you didn’t appear to show any visible pain. Then I remembered all the theories about female pain thresholds; the monthly agonies and the dreadful torture of childbirth endured with a restraint beyond us abject, shrivelled chromosomes. You looked so sexless against that cold concrete. The only vibrant colours around us came from the rusted household appliances scattered as though randomly dropped from an aircraft. Everything was muted.
We met in silence, as I sat on an uncomfortable bench surrounded by grey walls framing the brilliant but untouchable blue above. I could not hear anything, not even the creak of my own joints. Before long, my vision began to fade and I saw only vague shapes in the shadows. Oval lumps of black against the lighter dark. No wind, no feeling, no music, no urgency. This felt like a coffin, roomy to the point of absurdity but with no more freedom. When you arrived your lips moved but nothing registered and I’m sure I began to panic. You dragged me out of that stone square into the street, so full of noise and smells and stares. I may or may not have pissed myself as you cradled my head in your lap and leaned over into me, blocking the sun. I could smell your hair as it tickled my cheeks and a single droplet of liquid fell from your face onto the corner of my mouth.
You tuck your hair behind your ears and make a grab for my hand. I recoil, not from aversion but because I can’t be distracted right now. You shake your wrists and ankles, bounce on the spot and your breasts barely move. Your naked feet are larger than I thought they would be. You sprint ahead, running through the foliage, crashing into it. The vines and brambles attempt to grab you, swinging tentacles of thorns in your wake but you are away. I can hear the snapping of stems, the dismemberment of leaves and the chaos of a One Woman Army against Nature. When it all goes quiet, I know it is my turn next.
I am trying to run. I am trying to accept as much pain into the soles of my feet as I can to anaesthetise what is to come. But I cannot do it – I tiptoe like a man running across a hot bath. I shoulder charge Nature and it scrums back at me, forming an interlocking wall to push me back to my own tryline. I turn my back and try to reverse my way out of trouble. I can feel my hair being pulled. Thorns and spikes are tearing my legs apart. My torso already writhes and I am aware of my small penis swinging as it is scratched. A cut just below my ribcage breaks my skin in slow motion like a paper guillotine and I am aware of every nanosecond as my skin parts to the flesh. I look down briefly and see a thin red line. I know if I raise my arms, the blood will pour.
I crash on, holding my hands up to protect my eyes and I’m aware I’ve already spent longer in here than you have and I cannot see the end. The slice in my side is starting to itch painfully and my hair is matted and thick with thorn and seed. I’m tripping over things I cannot see and my ankles are zig-zagged by cuts. In a brief moment I look up and see daylight, and even as I break out from this hideously grasping gauntlet, a single whip of green vine plants a thorn into my scrotum and breaks off. I cry out, feeling a certain rip and immediately cup myself. The white tooth sticks in, not deep but grinning madly. I pluck it out carefully and examine the red welts and scars like a road map of a major city. Thin lines of blood are running to my hip on one side.
You’re waiting for me with arms aloft, and a smile that could kill time and leave us all frozen in a polaroid. As you stand there, criss-crossed with your own red kanji warnings, I think about how unbelievably sexy you’ve become in just a few moments. Everything about you is perfect as you stand, vagina deep, in a bed of stinging nettles and yet your eyes never stop twinkling and you don’t even stammer as your voice rings out in triumph. We did it, you say, and you punch the air. I can see the path you’ve cut through the nettle stems, some stomped to the ground and some broken in half, bewildered and confused wondering where the fuck did that come from.
I want to fuck you, but I don’t have the strength to even try and follow you, to initiate something that may lead to us flattening that bed of nettles for good. So I gingerly lower my buttocks onto a rusted washing machine and begin the forensic hunt for thistle needles and bramble thorns that cling to my flesh like barnacles.