WHEN SHE’S SCREAMING, THE STARS COME OUT TO SHINE by Peter Caffrey
 
Desmond could hear the woman next door shouting at her husband.
 
‘You prick, what time do you call this? You treat this place like a hotel. How would you like it if I didn’t come home, ever again?’
 
Desmond thought for a moment: her husband would probably like it if she never came home, ever again, and he would like it too if it meant not having to listen to her fish-wife cacophony through the thin walls.
 
He turned up the volume on the TV to drown out her nagging but wasn’t sure which was worse: the inanity burbling from the television set or the screeching of the neighbour. Feeling trapped in his own home, he switched off the television, collected his coat from the under-stairs cupboard and stepped out into the cold night air.
 
His coat pockets gave up a half-smoked packet of cigarettes, a book of matches, a £20 note and some loose change. Strolling down the street, he noticed the clouds had cleared and the stars were shining with heightened luminance.
 
Desmond entered the Dog and Duck and sat on a stool at the end of the bar, away from the other drinkers. The barmaid was new. As she approached he noted she had a pleasant smile and a plentiful cleavage, both characteristics he approved of. She wasn’t old, but neither was she young. A glowing face contrasted with creased and dark eyes, evidence of a thousand sleepless nights. He ordered a pint of bitter and a shot of rum. As he paid, he offered her a drink. She thanked him but declined.
 
Sitting in silence, he drank the beer, occasionally sipping the dark strong rum which gave him a pleasant shivering sensation in his guts. He ordered another round, and this time the barmaid accepted his offer.
 
Desmond enjoyed his isolation; despite being in a bar filled with people he retained his own space, an exclusion zone to the lives of others. He enjoyed just existing in the here and now. He wasn’t a dreamer; he had no agenda to follow. All he wanted from life was peace and quiet.
 
Desmond ordered another round of drinks but realised he did not have enough money. Embarrassed by the situation, he apologised, explaining he would go home to get more cash, but would return straight away to settle the bill. The barmaid would not hear of it; she insisted that Desmond finished his drinks in comfort, and indeed kept drinking until closing time. He could pop in and pay for them another time. Desmond thanked her but still felt awkward.
 
After finishing the beer and rum he rose to leave, but the barmaid stopped him and insisted he had another. Despite his excuses, she poured a beer and a rum, and came around the counter. Sitting down next to him, she talked.
 
She too knew loneliness, she said, but also understood the need for solitude. The delicate balance between being alone and lonely was not lost on her.
 
Desmond felt relaxed; he watched her full red lips as she talked. Her voice was hypnotic, carrying him along on the velvety warmth of the evening. Alone but not lonely; she emphasised that to him several times.
 
The pub was empty, the other drinkers gone to their homes, and he was alone with the barmaid. He apologised and tried to leave but she silenced him with a touch of her fingertip to his lips, before taking his hand and leading him upstairs. They fell, together, onto the bed. Desmond felt her arms embracing him. It was relaxing, close, and comfortable. He was drifting, his mind wandering. He placed his hands against ... her skin. She was naked!
 
Her breath caressed him, warm and sensual on his neck. Desmond felt alive, awake, yet drifting like a confused somnambulist. She took his hand and placed it between her thighs. He felt the warmth, the dampness of her Belle Chose.
 
He stroked with tenderness, her heavy breathing an encouragement, and slid in his finger. It was like a vacuum, pulling his digit into her warm and sensual secret place. Another finger joined it, followed by another, and then his whole hand was sucked inside. The vacuum increased, jolting his hand and he was in her to his wrist, then his elbow as his arm was sucked into her dark damp hot sex. He struggled but the suction was too strong. Giving in to its strength, he slid inside, the darkness giving way to a dull red glow.
 
Desmond was inside what appeared to be a large spacecraft. Around him were hundreds of glass and metal pods, all emitting a warm crimson light. Sitting around the spaceship bay were several other men: middle aged, balding, overweight, alone but not lonely. No one spoke. Everyone was content with their lot. All were happy to preserve their own space, their own exclusion zones against the lives of others.
 
Desmond found a space a comfortable distance from anyone else and settled down. Dipping in his coat pocket, he took out the cigarettes and lit one. Leaning back, he exhaled the smoke into the air, the wisps illuminated with a dull pinkish glow. The space was silent aside from a low-level background hum.
 
Desmond figured he probably wouldn’t go home, ever again.
 
THE END



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