Chapter XII

Mewsy drags a finger along dust-matted spines as she squeezes deeper into the basement stacks. There is a secretive smell here that tickles her way down low. Unlit recesses loom up as they pass, piled with mysteries — ancient things covered, forgotten, slowly being subsumed by the earth.

In this colourless subterranea she is untouched by the tinsel and perfumes of her own milieu.

Who am I here?

She slackens her pace to drink it all in, and feels the tug of a yearning loin.

“Sally,” she says, all curves and vapour in the doorway of his lair, “You got a minute?”

Salvation Crane looks up from his labour, and detaches himself from the scholarly device of lenses and levers that has made him appear, at first sight, less man than machine.

“Mewsy,” he says, and his soft basement tone puts her straight at her ease. She puts a hand to her brow, briefly creased with chagrin.

“Oh Salvation,” she says, “You do me good.”

Sal gestures a homely welcome to the cot in the corner, a thick nest of age-softened spreads. She arranges herself thereon.

“Tell me something,” Salvation says, leaning back in his chair.

Mewsy’s face remains cool while she frees a ripe breast hitherto only nominally contained by her gauze-linen kaftan. “It’s dreadfully hot in the upstairs world,” she says, “It’s hundreds, one imagines, and barely a breeze on the v’randa.”

“Down here you must feel yourself free,” he says.

“It’s so temperate, I could die of pleasure,” she says, unshouldering her diaphanous rags entirely. “Such a roiling inferno up beyond those stairs — and it would be no matter the temp.”

Sally crosses his legs and enjoys her, saying, “I hope you can find here a refuge for savouring comforts.”

She smiles and opens her flower to his gaze. “Is it too warm for my visit?” she asks.

“One adjusts,” he says lightly. He stands to look down on her.

“Dear Sally, do show me,” she smiles.

Salvation begins taking himself out of his functional garments, laying each piece neatly aside as it gives up its prize.

“Something from the ice block?” he asks, disencumbered at last.

She nods, grinning girlishly. He bends to dislodge the floor plank and his generosity of flesh gives our Mewsy a warm flood of, well — what would we call it?

She feels again — so keenly it cuts her — the tender throb of life being lived right now. The singing of Salvation’s mysterious artificial lamp… and that pre-erotic earth-ooze smell… and out of the sawdusty pit comes a cool crystal chinking.

A lovely dear man, she thinks inanely — but the words are floating in a bath of well-being.

Salvation resurfaces with a proud, flushed face, clutching a tin cup filled with slivers of ice.

“Oh Sally, my saviour, you spoil me.”

He comes to sit cross-legged by her, where his genitals protrude at a delectable angle. “If you don’t fear the waste of your icy labour,” she says, “Would you nestle some of that quite as intimate as you can manage, oh — only for one blessed moment?”

“We should all pray to die so lucky.”

The frosted touch makes Mewsy trill extravagantly. Sally giggles himself, and bends in to take some. They pass the dwindling shards from lips to lips to lips.


“I guessed you’d already know about La Toilette,” says Mewsy. She fans him languidly and watches sweat bead in his nests of black hair.

“I do know,” he says. “Have they asked you yet for your services as aide?” She nods. “I put in for you,” he says. “Ever beneficial just to be involved.”

“How perfectly lovely you are,” she says, appreciatively but without much feeling. The days and weeks ahead — of toiling below the surface, squalid, unlit — rear up before her. “You’re a dear, being mindful of poor old Mews’.”

He takes the fan and agitates it round her, a frantic ivory moth drawn instinctively to all her points of charisma. Mewsy sucks in a draught of the sensually unfresh air and draws herself near him, burrowing drowsily into his friendly embrace.