The journos were back again this morning asking me about her. ‘Candy says this’, ‘Candy says that’ they say. What do you say? they ask. And what should I say after all these years? What story does this old fool have to tell? Should I say that she was dirty and sweet? No, as true as it was, that would make me sound like a dirty, old man. That she was damaged? Equally true, but makes me sound bitter. And yet my story needs to be told too. So what shall I tell them? The truth.
She was dirty and sweet, damaged and pure, fragile yet strong, she was all of those things — she was a beautiful, walking contradiction. She was also a dead-ringer for Catherine Deneuve, she was my belle de jour my obscure object of desire. It was early 1981 and my life was already in crisis. I was ripe for saving and like a drug wrapped in black, she offered herself for the taking. And soon, her burning fires stoked and rekindled the ashes of my broken passions
‘I loved her’, that’s what I’ll tell them. As foolish as I was to have fallen for a girl like Candy, as desperate as it sounds now. But it wasn’t infatuation, it was love, I told myself that then. And I’ll tell the world it now. I loved her as much as she loathed herself.
She would stay behind on the pretence of needing help, although she was probably the smartest one — I guess she always knew how to play old fools! I mean just look at her husband now, that old, wrinkled, sleezebag ‘media tycoon’ or whatever he calls himself. She would lean in over my desk until our breaths mingled and our hands touched, until she ignited something in my soul. This went on for a few weeks until the meetings took place at her flat where we’d discuss Nietzsche’s nihilism as we kissed and explored each other’s eager bodies; I quoted Heidegger while I lost myself deep inside her, stripping ourselves of our depraved, existential doubt with anguished, unconditional sex. But as my desire for her intensified through the spring, so too did Candy’s self-loathing.
I have to admit, I didn’t spot the signs. I suppose many people don’t, even now. And mental illness just wasn’t something you talked about in those days. Even with her scars I didn’t put two and two together. I guess I was too wrapped up in my own crisis, too busy fucking her brains to notice what went on inside her head. I mean, I’m not sure even Candy herself knew what was going on inside that beautiful, mercurial head of hers.
It was a rainy day in late June. We’d spent the weekend at the Reading Festival listening to The Kinks and getting high on weed and sex in our cheap tent. By then I was already spending a lot of my time at Candy’s flat on the pretence that I was away on conferences. Although the London nights were cool and wet, Candy always liked to sleep with the window open. And in the morning, as a breeze blew in, I ran my fingers down her neck, brushing her blonde hair back the way she used to like, and traced the curves of her spine as I kissed her arms, down to her hips, and nestled myself between thighs.
She pushed me away and pulled the sheets up.
‘What’s the matter?’ I said.
‘I need a cigarette.’ She stretched over me and reached for the packet of Player’s on the table.
I watched her lighting up, cupping my old Zippo in her slender hands as the flame reflected in her blue eyes from where yesterday’s mascara had stained like black, dried-on tears.
‘I want to take you places,’ I said.
‘Yeah? Like where?’ she said leaning back against the pillows.
‘Places you’ve never been before.’
‘What? Like Australia?’
‘No. Places in here.’ I swept her hair back, kissed her temples and nibbled her ears. ‘And here.’ I pulled down the covers and explored her body with my lips.
‘What about your wife?’
Oh course the irony wasn’t lost on me, an ethics professor having an affair with one his students. But my marriage was already unsalvageable (at least that’s the convenient truth I convinced myself of back then — it made the guilt more palatable). Nothing kills a man’s desire and lust for life more than the chains of a loveless, sexless marriage. I needed something to help me live again and Candy was willing to give me whatever it took. In hindsight, the thing with desperation is, it never feels like desperation at the time. It feels like burning love, like frenzied desire and lust — like wild, unconditional sex.
‘Let’s go away together,’ I said. ‘I love you.’
She laughed and pulled the covers up again. ‘This?’ she said. ‘This is only lust and you know it. What do you know about love? Besides, why would you want damaged goods?’ She rested the cigarette between her lips and stretched out her arms through the smoke that danced between us.
‘The damage is what makes you who you are.’ I ran my fingers across the tiny furrows of scar tissue and kissed her arms. ‘But why do you do it? Why do you cut yourself?’
‘Because I hate my body,’ she shrugged.
‘Well, I love your body.’
‘And because nobody else understands the pain inside.’
‘I understand.’ I drew her in and kissed her again.
‘You can’t even understand your own loathing,’ she laughed and pulled back, ‘how can you understand mine!’
And I guess she was right. I didn’t understand, not really. I didn’t understand the way she constantly blew hot and cold was because of her depression, the way she threw herself at me one moment only to clam up in silence the next, the way she harmed herself and couldn’t see the beauty I could see.
She leant on her side and propped her head in her hands. ‘Tell me something though,’ she said, ‘is this where you saw yourself when you were younger?’
‘In bed with a beautiful woman, you mean?’ I smiled.
‘Cheating on your wife. Trying to salvage your youth.’
‘It’s not cheating if there’s nothing left to cheat on.’ I repeated this kind of mantra often to convince myself. Just because I taught ethics, it didn’t mean I had to practice it, after all, who was I being unethical towards by being honest about a failed marriage?
‘Anyway, I don’t care. I’m gonna walk,’ she said. ‘One day. I’ll walk away.’
She gets up and goes to the window, I watch her naked body leaning against the window frame.
‘I don’t know yet. Anywhere. Maybe somewhere far by the sea, somewhere free where I can watch the birds pass over my shoulder and put everything behind me.’
‘We can go together, we’ll find our own island, we’ll make love on the beach, and in the breeze, we’ll swim in the seas. Come on back to bed. I need you.’
I dragged her back and we lost ourselves again in frenzied, uncomplicated sex as the cool, summer breeze blew in through the window. Afterwards she cried, her beautiful, pale blue eyes trailing mascara against my shoulder.
‘How do you do it?’ she said.
‘Cope with all these endless decisions? There’s so much I want to do I never know where to start. Sometimes it makes me so happy, sometimes it just makes me sad. It drives me crazy. How do you do it?’
‘I’m not sure I do. We’re always choosing. Life is a constant choice,’ I said and held her tighter. ‘We make choices and we live with the consequences, knowing it may have profound effects on others. That is Sartre’s Anguish remember? Even not choosing is a choice. “We cannot escape anguish…”‘.
‘”…for we are anguish”. Yeah, I remember. What a cheery soul he was.’ She rested her cheek against my chest and I kissed her hair.
‘He was probably right though.’
‘So I can equally walk or stay? Live or die? My choice?’
‘Yes, your choice, your free will,’ I said. ‘Although, I’d prefer you to stay of course.’
And I had foolishly hoped she would, that I meant as much to her as she did to me.
‘Sometimes I wish I could just walk,’ she said. ‘Just walk. Walk away from me, from everything and escape it all.’
I wiped her blackened tears and kissed her scarred arms again.
Candy graduated the following week and left for America without saying anything. And several months later Mary and I finalised our divorce. I didn’t see Candy again after that, but I would come to know her like everybody else did — in the movies. She’d never indicated her desire for acting when I knew her, but she did have a lot of things to hide, so I guess she felt the best way to escape herself was by becoming other people; and I suppose, unlike life, her scripts were free of the anguish of choice — in movies, free will is just an illusion.
I haven’t read her new autobiography yet, but I’m flattered that she’s dedicated an entire chapter in Candy Says to us, what with all the debauchery that goes on in Hollywood, I’m surprised she still remembers our wonderful summer of sex and despair together. Some of the journos asked whether I regretted the choices I made, whether I regret breaking up my marriage over a foolish midlife crisis. My reply was, the choices I made were mine and mine alone, I live with the consequences of them, and that regret is a choice I refused to make. But at least I understand her depression now.
This story first came about when the line, ‘Well you’re dirty and sweet, clad in black/Don’t look back and I love you’ from T. Rex’s Get It On got stuck in my head, and the only way I could get rid of it was by writing from it. And, as I started writing, the name Candy came into my head and that’s when I decided to throw in some lines from The Velvet Underground’s Candy Says, and then Gang of Four’s Damaged Goods entered the mix — there are bits of lyrics from these songs hidden in the story.
The story of a philosophy professor having an affair with one of his students is part of my revised idea for NaNoWriMo. And the part of about the younger woman bringing out an autobiography was inspired by Carrie Fisher’s recent revelation in her book that she and Harrison Ford had an affair during the making of Star Wars.
I guess I may as well throw it (or at least a version of it) into my NaNoWriMo draft and kill two birds with 1,700 words.
Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the story, here’s the soundtrack to it: