My first encounter with Madeline ‘Maddie’ Bunker was at a poetry evening in the back room of a pub. I’m not a poet myself, much preferring to work out in the gym, but my mate Jeremy was a member and he was nervous about reading his work in public. I was there purely to lend him moral support. However, the open-mike evening I was expecting turned out to be eight people sat round a scratched oval table, reading poems. Jeremy and I were the only men, and the women included a lesbian couple who began the session with sonnets about vaginas in love. I still have teeth-marks on my finger from trying not to laugh.
Maddie was sitting across from me and I remember thinking ‘Ugh!’ the moment I saw her: Short punky hair, John Lennon glasses with blue lenses, and a jumper of quite spectacular ugliness, with woolly knobbles hanging off it. Halfway through the evening, she pulled it off to reveal a white T-shirt with ‘STOP SEXISM!’ in white letters on a red octagon, like the road-sign. Everyone around me cooed in admiration, but to my eyes it looked like: Stop, so that Sexism can cross the road safely.
‘Don’t you like my T-shirt?’ said Maddie.
‘What T-shirt?’ I said. ‘I was looking at your tits.’
There was stunned silence and I got evil looks from everyone, including Jeremy. I stayed for his poetry reading but sneaked out soon afterwards. I assumed I was persona non grata, so it was quite a surprise when my phone rang a week later, and it was Maddie.
‘Jason Noble?’ said the voice.
‘It’s Maddie Bunker.’
‘Who?’ I said, having forgotten her name and actually having no clue who she was in the first place.
‘I was at the poetry evening,’ said the voice. ‘You said you liked my tits.’
‘Yeah, me. Listen, there’s a pub concert at the Six Hammers tonight. D’you want to go?’
I didn’t really, but I was curious to see Maddie again. It’s funny how ‘Ugh!’ turns into ‘Hmm, I wonder…’ when a girl takes the trouble to acquire your phone number and calls you out of the blue. I cleaned myself up and left to meet her at the saloon bar of the pub.
I arrived on time, but Maddie was already there, having nabbed a small table in the only window seat. Seeing her, I was reminded of why I didn’t think she was my type — she wore glasses with red frames and flared pants with coloured diamond patterns. She looked like a little rich girl trying to look like a hippy. But the pants were tight showing off a round muscular bottom, and she really did have a nice pair of tits, this time under a way more attractive Matisse-print sweatshirt. I remembered her saying during the poetry evening that she went to the gym herself and when she got up to greet me, I saw it for myself. She had the kind of body that we Brits call ‘Fit as Fuck’.
Maddie insisted on buying me a drink, so I waited for her in the window seat, looking around at the other drinkers. There were a lot of student types — enough to make a man of thirty-three like me feel old. I reckoned Maddie was older too, but only just. Mid-twenties, perhaps. On the small table before me, I noticed a half-finished Bloody Mary and an empty glass containing a lemon slice and traces of cola. Maddie came over with my pint of bitter, and I got to my feet.
‘Well, well, a gentleman!’ she said, handing me the pint glass. ‘Sit down, Jason. There’s something I need to tell you.’
I sat down and moved so she could sit next to me. She took a deep breath.
‘My boyfriend is playing in the band downstairs,’ she said. ‘And I asked you here to make him jealous.’
I blinked. I took a long pull of my pint. I looked at the empty cola glass, then looked at Maddie. She shrugged, as if to say, ‘Isn’t life weird?’
‘Is this some sort of payback?’ I asked.
‘My remark about your tits.’
‘No! I thought it was funny!’ Maddie took a swig of her Bloody Mary. ‘Look, I believe in equality and all that, but those lesbians were so fucking uptight! I liked it that you had the balls to wind them up.’
I took another pull of bitter, wondering whether to be mad at Maddie. It seemed pointless. Okay, maybe she was using me… but what else would I be doing? Sitting at home watching telly perhaps or masturbating to Internet porn? At least this way I was getting out of my apartment.
‘So, what’s going on with your boyfriend?’ I said.
‘Let me put it another way. If you succeed in making him jealous, will he try and kill me?’
‘No! No way! Conall wouldn’t hurt a fly!’
‘Conall McKinnon!’ She switched to a bad Scottish accent. ‘All the way from Bonnie Scotland!’ She switched back. ‘Isn’t it a cool name?’
It was actually. I hated him already. I hated him even more when Maddie showed me photos on her smartphone. They weren’t snaps either — these were professional photographs from a fashion shoot. Yes, Conall McKinnon was a male model. He had the long, auburn hair of a girl, but it somehow made eryaman anal yapan escort the ultra-masculine contours of his perfect features all the more startling. He was like a caricature of handsomeness; the kind of young man who walks into a club and sets all the girls nudging one another and giggling. I wanted to punch him in the face. Or — even better — fuck his girlfriend behind his back. Maddie Bunker had just been promoted from ‘Hmm, I wonder…’ to ‘I have GOT to have you!’
‘So, what do you think?’ said Maddie, with unseemly eagerness.
‘Seems like a nice guy,’ I lied, or hoped I was lying. ‘Why do you want to make him jealous?’
‘Listen,’ she said, ‘it would take too long to explain, and the gig is starting in five minutes.’
‘Well, I’d rather hear your story than see some band in a basement,’ I said. ‘Besides, if the goal is to make your boyfriend jealous, having him wonder where the hell you are only to find you up here with me would work way better.’
‘Holy fuck,’ said Maddie, staring at me through her glasses. ‘And people say women are manipulative!’
‘But it would be a real mind-fuck. You sure you want to do that to him?’
‘Of course! But I buy the drinks, okay? I still feel a bit guilty about dragging you out under false pretences.’
‘You can pay until you run out of guilt. Then we’ll go Dutch.’
Maddie stuck out her hand and we shook. Her hand was small, strong and dry — I enjoyed the feel of it and was sorry to let it go. She finished her Bloody Mary and went to get another round of drinks. This time, I ignored the other drinkers, watching her rather splendid bottom and thighs for the few precious moments she had her back turned. When she was back sitting next to me, I told my Inner Caveman to go sit in the corner, took a sip from my fresh pint of bitter and turned my full attention to her story.
On finishing university, Maddie and a female friend went on a mountain biking trip to Scotland. They took a coach to Inverness, then planned to cycle around the Highlands for a couple of weeks. Maddie’s friend quit after three days.
‘She was such a whiner!’ said Maddie. ‘ “I didn’t realise there’d be so many hills!” I mean, it’s called the Highlands, for fuck’s sake!’
Maddie continued biking alone, heading north around a mountain called Ben Wyvis. The sun was shining, the scenery was breath-taking, and Maddie just followed the winding roads, staying the night in village pubs or B&Bs. Then, one evening, she was having dinner in one such pub, when a young man with a guitar took a seat on the small platform which acted as a stage. ‘Conall McKinnon,’ he said into the microphone and he began to play.
‘It was like a scene in a movie,’ said Maddie. ‘I’m sitting in a pub full of yokels, all of them men, all looking at me, like, “What’s this weird Sassenach girl doing here?”, and then suddenly this vision–this Dream Guy–steps into the spotlight and starts to play. I was so shocked I think the food fell out of my mouth. I’m not kidding! He was gorgeous!’
It turned out that he was also religious — one of five sons from a family of highly Christian cattle farmers. None of the mostly grown-up children had been further abroad than Aberdeen. Glasgow was referred to as ‘Babylon’, and England may as well have been a foreign country. (Which technically it is, but as part of the United Kingdom… it’s complicated.) Conall’s father still harboured a grudge against the English for executing William Wallace in 1305.
‘You’re joking!’ I said.
‘I’m not,’ said Maddie.
‘What did they think of Braveheart?’
‘They’ve never seen it. Conall never even heard of it. There was no telly or movies in the McKinnon household. No “devil’s music” either. Conall’s songs were all Gaelic ballads and shit.’
But despite his family’s best efforts, Conall hadn’t reached the age of twenty without having heard of The Beatles, Queen and U2. Even Madonna. Not all of Conall’s schoolmates had parents as strictly religious as his. And Lennox, his eldest brother, had smuggled in a portable tape recorder which Conall kept hidden under a loose floorboard in the barn where the cattle feed was stored. His tales of acquiring new batteries without his parents’ knowledge had Maddie’s jaw on the floor. It also convinced her that this handsome boy needed to be saved from his family.
‘It took me two weeks to talk him into running away with me,’ she said. ‘I had to borrow money from my parents so I could stay on at the pub. And when Conall did finally agree, the whole thing nearly went to shit because the bus driver wouldn’t let me take my mountain bike on the bus! We argued and then Conall said maybe this was God’s way of telling him that he shouldn’t go. I was close to tears!’
‘What did you do?’
‘A middle-aged woman came forward and basically told the bus driver to stop being a dick. I think she knew what was going on with ankara escort me and Conall. I mean, there are some men you just have to break the rules for, do you know what I mean?’
I took a drink to cover the fact that this really fucking hurt. I’d been in relationships before, of course, but no woman had ever gone to this kind of trouble over me. I tried to imagine a woman wanting me that much and realised, deep in my soul, that it was never going to happen. I was getting highly jealous of Conall-fucking-McKinnon.
‘So, what happened next?’ I said, keeping my voice even.
Maddie and Conall eventually arrived back in London. Maddie had a room in a shared house and, to begin with, Conall stayed with her. But Maddie’s two female housemates didn’t like the arrangement and they had to look for their own place.
‘They were jealous, of course!’ said Maddie. ‘Everyone reckoned Conall was way too good-looking to be my boyfriend and they were mad as hell. But the stupid thing was, we weren’t even having sex! Sure, we kissed and he let me give him blow-jobs, but his head was so full of this Jesus crap, he wouldn’t take it any further! Talk about frustrating!’
A couple of months after finding their own rental flat, Maddie was working two jobs–barista by day, waitress by night–while Conall joined a band who were playing the pub circuit. This meant he could pay for the occasional Chinese dinner, and Maddie had to pay for everything else. Then Conall was approached by a photographer after a gig who said he had modelling potential. The young man was invited for lunch.
‘Conall asked me to go with him because he said the photographer was “a bit strange”,’ said Maddie. ‘It turned out that he was as gay as a Christmas tree — and he was not happy to see me, I can tell you!’
But the guy was a legitimate photographer with a professional network. He offered to make Conall a portfolio at a discount on condition that he could also act as his agent. Maddie borrowed money from her father to make it happen and she attended all the photo shoots. In the end, Maddie was impressed with the work, and she loved telling people that her boyfriend was a male model.
‘I know it’s shallow,’ said Maddie. ‘But it’s just so satisfying, you know? All these girlie-girls see me as a Plain Jane who dresses wacky to hide the fact that she wears glasses — and who is certainly not going to attract a man that they would be interested in. Then they see Conall’s photo, and their mouths drop open like their brain has just dribbled out of their ears! And it’s even better when they see him in person!’
A couple of months later, the investment paid off. The photographer got Conall onto a three-day fashion shoot for which he was paid a cool two thousand pounds. Conall asked for a draft cheque, then went straight home to Maddie and told her he wanted her to have it. She told him he could keep it providing they please, please, please have proper sex now. Conall shook his head and said that it made him feel like a gigolo. He put the cheque on the couch next to her. Maddie burst into tears and Conall stood there watching as she poured out weeks and weeks of frustration and sadness. When she was finished, Conall apologised and said he hadn’t realised he was being selfish. He still wanted Maddie to have the money so she could pay her father back, but he also agreed to engage in proper sexual intercourse. After that, they went into the bedroom, took off their clothes and had sex.
‘It lasted maybe five minutes,’ said Maddie, staring at the ice cubes in her Bloody Mary. ‘I mean, I knew he was a virgin and all that, and maybe it was unfair of me to expect too much… but Jesus Christ! After all that time! That was the moment I stared up at the ceiling thinking: Madeline, what the fuck are you doing?’
Life went on and Conall’s modelling work, though sporadic, did help with the finances. The sex became regular and got progressively better. And, apart from a visit from Lennox which left Conall in tears, the rest of his family seemed resigned to their son’s departure from the Christian way of life. Things were okay for some months.
Then the band acquired a lead singer called Serena Smith.
‘Or Serena Fuck-Off-And-Die Smith, as I prefer to call her,’ said Maddie. ‘Serena of the blond hair, blue eyes and big tits! I mean, how is any girl supposed to compete with that?’
‘Did he cheat on you?’ I asked.
I blinked. Worse?
‘He comes home late from a gig,’ said Maddie. ‘And he wakes me up and says: “Maddie, I have something to tell you.” And I think ‘Shit!’ but I keep my cool and say, “What?” And he says: “I was talking with Serena after the show, and she wants to have a sexual relationship with me.” His exact words!’
‘What did you say?’
‘I said: “No fucking way!” Then he said, “I thought you’d say that. That’s why I told Serena I’d have to talk to you first.” ‘
I burst out laughing.
‘I know, right?’ said etimesgut escort Maddie. ‘Anyway, I’m really upset–obviously–and ask him how he can tell me something like this. And he sits there on the bed and says: “But Maddie, you said I should always be honest with you. That I can trust you with anything, absolutely anything. That there is no problem we can’t fix so long as we promise never to lie to each other.” Jason, the guy is quoting me word perfect with all the stupid shit I’d told him when I was trying to get him to leave Scotland! And then he starts telling me how grateful he is for bringing him to London, and how grateful he is for the financial support, and how grateful he is for everything I’ve done, and that his wanting a sexual relationship with Serena doesn’t stop him feeling grateful.
‘Well, by this time, I just want to fucking die. I mean, I’ve been living with this guy for well over a year and it dawns on me that maybe he doesn’t love me. So I ask him and he says, “Of course I love you. You’re my best friend–” And I say, “Stop right there! Don’t you dare give me the I-Love-You-As-A-Friend speech! We’ve had sex!’ And he looks confused and says, “But didn’t you want sex?” and I said, “And didn’t you want it?” And, even in the dark, I can see the look on his face as he thinks, ‘Oh shit, what do I say now?’ and that does it for me. I scream, “Get out! Get out, right now!” And he says, “Out of this room or out of the flat?” And I realise that if I say, “Out of this flat” he’s going to go round to Serena’s. So, I said, “Out of this room. I want you to sleep on the couch.” And he does, too, like a good little boy. And later I can hear him crying.’
Maddie upended the glass and poured the remains of her Bloody Mary down her throat. I said nothing.
‘Anyway,’ she went on. ‘The next morning, he apologises and makes breakfast and brings me endless cups of tea. Then he takes his little travelling Bible and swears that he won’t have sex with Serena until I’m okay with it. I was pleased at the time, because Conall takes that Bible shit seriously. I know he’ll keep his word. But now, I don’t feel so good about it. In fact, Jason, I feel like shit. I feel like absolute shit.’
I sat quietly next to the miserable young woman and gazed at the people in the saloon bar. All the student types had disappeared downstairs, and the half-dozen or so drinkers left were about my age. David Bowie was playing over the speakers, but you could just about hear the live band’s noise coming through the building. The bell rang for last orders.
‘We can go down to the basement,’ said Maddie. ‘They have a licence to stay open ’til twelve o’clock when there’s live music.’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on, Jason! You were going to help me make Conall jealous, remember?’
‘Mad-e-line,’ I said deliberately, giving her a look. ‘I think we both know that’s a bad idea. Besides, if I were Conall, given what you’ve told me, I’d think: “Oh, great, Maddie’s found another guy, so I can now go and shag Serena.” ‘
Maddie looked like she wanted to argue, then her shoulders slumped.
‘Shit, you’re right,’ she said. ‘What should I do?’
I frowned at my nearly empty pint glass. There were maybe two mouthfuls of bitter in the bottom and I swirled the glass as I considered my next move. I no longer wanted to fuck Maddie behind Conall’s back. In fact, I now believed Maddie needed a friend way more than she needed a fuck.
‘Madeline, I’m not a good person to give relationship advice,’ I said. ‘What does seem clear though is that you are in this story with Conall and you need to see it through to the end, one way or another. I don’t see any short-cuts.’
‘Well, that’s depressing!’
‘Yes, I imagine it is.’
I tipped the rest of the bitter into my mouth and put down the glass with finality.
‘You leaving me?’ said Maddie.
‘I’m going home,’ I said. ‘You’re welcome to come with me.’
‘Not for sex,’ I said. ‘For a time-out. You can sleep on my couch. We can have breakfast in the morning, and then you can get back to your life and all its drama. But a break might do you good. It’s up to you.’
I got to my feet and started pulling on my jacket, already regretting my offer. In the past, I’d often found myself playing a woman’s friend, patting her on the back as she cried over the man she was actually having sex with. Still, I liked Maddie and I didn’t want to leave her hanging.
Maddie got to her feet.
‘All right, Jason,’ she said. ‘But you have to promise me: No sex.’
‘No sex,’ I said.
We took a taxi to my place and Maddie insisted on paying the fare. We didn’t speak much during the ride and Maddie spent a good ten minutes on her text message to Conall. She liked my apartment though, which was a nice surprise. I was expecting her to find it ‘bourgeois’, but she settled herself on my couch and asked about the landscapes on my walls as though genuinely interested in them. But I wasn’t in the mood to chat. I went straight to my bedroom closet and collected bedding and pillows. Maddie looked surprised when I dumped them on the couch’s matching footrest and gestured for her to move so I could make up her bed.