Fiction The Ecstasy issue

House Party

By Katharina Volckmer

Katharina Volckmer Astra Magazine
Illustration by Sawako Kabuki

It wasn’t easy to get invited to your housewarming party. Or rather to get my colleague with the ridiculous mustache invited, so that I could come along under the pretense of a fetish for his facial hair. You know how he always goes on about his alleged Athenian grandfather, and how he takes pride in the European nature of his curls. Recently he even started wearing a golden necklace to prove his point and I wonder when he is going to start speaking with an accent. It’s all gotten worse since you left the company and I’m still wondering why exactly people enjoy growing pubic hair on their faces. I have always much preferred your clean look, with your skin so tender and fragile. Like something that needs rescuing, something that is not unfamiliar with the outer edges of despair. 

After all those months without seeing you, when I finally followed my colleague and his mustache into your newly converted flat, I was ready to offer comfort. Just like in the past, I had come up with countless scenarios for how to turn our acquaintance into something steamy. Into pure drama and passion. My life would suddenly matter because we would start holding hands on a train. Or because we would survive some drastic violence and suddenly discover our love among transformative amounts of adrenaline. Or I would discover a hidden talent and, overcome by admiration for my professional endeavors, you would find even the traces of my body irresistible. I dreamed about finally being able to touch your hair. Those thick light brown strands that always look like you have just returned from a holiday. That are strong enough to be pulled. I dreamed about being close to you. About sharing something that could count as a bodily experience in the hope that my dignity would one day step in and meet my longing at dawn. Because it’s not like your appeal was universally acknowledged before you inherited all that money from your strange aunt. When we were still working together, some people even made fun of your tote bags and your tendency to correct their pronunciation. They said you look like someone who smiles in the rain.

I don’t know what exactly is living inside my mouth. Bacteria they say. Little creatures that make me an entity, that protect me against the world and cause bad breath. I wonder if they have legs, if they go dancing on their day off and where they bury their dead. Do they send the residue of their existence down my throat, into the darkness of my bodily functions? There are days when I would like to meet them, to hear what they have been up to, whether they agree with my choice of toothpaste and what they think of my new electric brush. Do the rotating bits of plastic soaked in foam fill them with pleasure? Does it make them feel like children that are allowed to stay in their seats during a car wash? And what do we mean when we talk about bad bacteria? When we pretend that there are morals affecting our bodies. I remember the stains the insects used to leave behind on our windscreen—red and yellow—their matter and their fluids joined in the kind of fingerprint that has now become so rare. That I now long for on my clean journeys through concrete landscapes. And I wonder whether the creatures inside me get smashed in similar ways, whether my flesh is colored by the remains of their opposition. Or are they too small for my violence? Maybe it’s always been the trick not to be bigger but smaller than the thing that is trying to kill you. To have a heart that is too small to break. 


But it’s too early to talk about broken hearts. The plural seems like an exaggeration. Even I know that the hearts of the deluded suffer on their own. I can’t even claim your rejection because I’ve never offered you my affections. My pain has its roots in an unacknowledged situation because you don’t know that I think about you before I fall asleep and it’s just as well that you married someone who knows how to decorate things, someone with solid aesthetics. Someone who makes you look happy in the midst of all those smooth objects and the seamless transitions that exist between them. Content in the knowledge that you live inside a picture, that the two of you have somehow managed to fuck your telephones and give birth to this isle of wonders. That all this fake pottery is going to outlive us all. Remnants of stoneware made in Portugal scattered across empty plains and, in the background, wild things multiplying without effort. Even when we are long gone, the remaining flora will still be seen playing with bits of our universal color palette. But your offspring won’t be part of this, and neither will that dog that you are so inevitably going to adopt. The gatekeeper to your indestructible happiness. The cherry on top of your fucking cake. I can already tell, by that suspicious gap in your interior design, that their bed will be in the corner by the floor lamp and their little jacket on a hook in the corridor, only a short distance away from your own layers. 

In the morning, one of you will chat to other dog owners while pretending that the park is the countryside and therefore requires special outfits. That those bits of green can be conquered only in special footwear, reveling in a bit of mud while forcing the dogs to stay clean. Forcing them to wear fabrics on top of fur to prevent them from doing their unpleasant dog things. Stopping them from rolling around in shit and dead rats. Bringing them even closer to becoming walking toys, the lead dancers in our desire to defeat all meaning. I can see you, the ease with which you wear your clothes. Only expensive things can be worn so carelessly, and it pains me to witness your decline into the realm of aesthetic comfort. I miss those days when you would wear baggy shorts in the summer and roll your own cigarettes, when you also had to deal with broken boilers and cheap food before payday. When it was less unlikely that we could have been friends. And I miss the rumors about the things you got up to in the office after those horrid staff parties. The knowledge various people possessed of different parts of your body.


Now, I fear that you might even buy a boilersuit and give yourself artisan airs, the occasional fleck of paint and confusion in your hair, a small part of your flat turned into a studio where you make trousers or taxidermy butterflies. I wish I had the means to buy you an ugly couch. Or to take a knife to your perfect wallpaper and carve out my desire, to be sick in your expensive palm tree and find a color that would bring out the ugliness in your perfection. But your partner has watchful eyes. His talent for hostility far exceeds that of your future dog. He is not an eternal puppy, not one of those comfort things that people buy alongside their dildos. I’m sure he would be reliable in the event of a calamity. I can see him lifting heavy things or dealing with burglars but beyond that, I see nothing. Just his silent anger and his muscular existence, but none of the juicy bits, nothing that makes life feel like orchids will spring from the corners of your wounds and losses. Nothing about him signals a future without defeat and when I look at his flawless shirt, I can feel an absence of poetry. But maybe that’s why you chose him, to hide behind his shape, to make him do the things you don’t want but that you still desire. Maybe it was like voting for a conservative party, with that little moment of faith in a better version of ourselves before all idealism is washed away by personal advantages. In his shadow you can carry on living your ridiculous life and find comfort in the contrast between your worlds. Because after all, you’re rich now and you couldn’t have shared your life with someone who doesn’t dream of clean sheets. He is your ticket to looking like you belong where you landed. And maybe this means that you won’t actually have to change, that you can let him plant the bee-friendly flowers and buy the supplements but that you still get to lick the paper of your own cigarettes. Just to remind yourself that your lips have not forgotten how to move.

And so I just spend my time feeling nervous, trying to admire what my heart despises, unable to get any closer to you. Or your hair. Or the sensations my body produces when you are near, the spark that undoes my desolation and makes me want to reach for the edges of your fine garments. To reach for that slender body of yours that I imagine soft like the inside of a good pear, and that you still hide beneath white T-shirts. Though now it looks like you wash your colors separately. And you are suddenly so popular in these social situations, people now flock to you as if there were precious things coming out of your holes. I don’t think we will be able to talk for more than a few minutes. Someone will start standing next to you, waiting for the right moment to interrupt, pushing me off the back of that boat and leaving me to drown in my visions of what could have been. I’m not even sure what it is about you, apart from your sudden wealth. Maybe it’s because your foreignness comes from an attractive place and they like to soak in the allure of a fancy otherness? Or maybe they are also partial to your luscious locks. Or maybe you have turned your bookishness into something more exclusive, now that you can afford to be a little ridiculous. You might even have told people that you are working on a novel and they forgave you and found it endearing. And they don’t even mind that you always claim to know things before everyone else, as if angels filled your dreams with novelties. But I doubt they know about your other side, about your erotic potential. They wouldn’t have looked deeper into those sullen eyes of yours to discover your hidden kinks. The things that I think we should do together. The things that the creatures in my mouth would enjoy, because they felt it, too. Because when we smell something, we breathe in little particles and the creatures distinguish between fractions of flowers and fractions of other people. Between the things that give pleasure and those that don’t. And we could taste your perfume as soon as I walked into the room.

Initially, I was worried about how they would react to strangers. There are so many theories about the things that other people’s bacteria do to our bodies. Apparently, a new sexual partner makes your skin go itchy, but I wouldn’t know because my sexual partners are always new and never last long enough for my skin to form an attachment. All I know is that my thoughts leave my skin looking somewhat stained and unappealing, like the bark of a sycamore tree struggling with pollution. My skin doesn’t look like something that would inspire romantic thoughts. Something people would like to caress and care for. Something that contains a future. And still I dream about your hands, their skin always a little too dry and your pinkies looking so frail, as if they belonged to someone else. I can feel your hands even now, moving between my legs, their rough surface rubbing against my softer tissues. As my desire sends all my blood to hold your fingers tight, as we stand in the door of your study and you look at me with those motionless eyes, knowing exactly when to stop. When my pleasure is about to overcome itself. Because in my mind you are more exciting than gentle and without taking those eyes off me you free your fingers and move them to my lips. Making me lick clean what I so gladly sullied. And I know that our private parts have powerful bacteria, that they act as a shield against the world and might well have killed all the danger you brought to my mouth.

I can feel your partner’s small eyes on me as I look toward the doorframe I want us to lean against. He might even notice the force with which I’m holding on to my wineglass. How its delicate bits are about to surrender to my diverted lust. And I realize that it’s time for me to pretend I’m here with my colleague and his ridiculous mustache, but he is probably busy telling people about the intricacies of traditional Greek cuisine and I suddenly feel like I have no real reason to be here, like I’m looking at this party from within the walls of an aquarium. Unable to make myself heard, a solitary idiot floating in a landscape that’s only a replica of what other people think of as real. A castle is a joke if the entrance is as big as your own head, and everybody knows you haven’t achieved very much if you are dependent on someone else making sure that a mixture of algae and your own shit doesn’t kill you. The other people at this party clearly think I’m not worth talking to because my brain is not capable of producing any relevant feelings, because I use my lips to suck the walls of my own prison and I breathe through a part of my body most of them couldn’t even name. Yet my gills make me vigilant and at least I don’t look like I’m mostly breathing through my arse. I know that there is beauty in my invisible parts, but your partner is the only one who sees me. He’s the only one who can tell that I have feelings that don’t belong. And still, I defy him. Because just as a fish has the right to disappear into the background, to inhabit the ridiculous castle, so I have the right to use your bathroom. To find gold beneath the shop-bought sand. Even though your partner looks like someone whose farts sound like whip cracks, he’s hardly in a position to regulate my physical needs. His small eyes follow me as I leave my wineglass on the sofa table and they only give up once your bathroom door is firmly locked behind me. The sound of the latch drives away my predator’s gaze.

I don’t remember much about your bathroom, except that it made use of some daring wall paint and otherwise seemed to compete with ambitious levels of hotel perfection. It was the kind of bathroom where all traces are immediately visible and I was reminded that it takes this kind of flat to look like a decent person in the morning. That these bathrooms actually exist in London. There was even a plant, not some kind of plastic orchid from a restaurant toilet, but a real plant. And I thought of all the things the plant had witnessed from that angle where it could see the toilet as well as the bathtub. It was probably more familiar with you than your partner and I hope it will treat my little secret with kindness. We don’t think of intimacy as an act of hygiene but rather as a somewhat joyful moment of contamination. I like to think of it like that, I’m sure the creatures in my mouth would agree. They seem to enjoy the special freshness they have been blessed with ever since, that I can still feel when my tongue touches my teeth. But I had to turn my back to the plant, I wasn’t sure if it could be trusted, whom its heart belonged to. Then there was, of course, the decision about which one was yours: they were both the same color, stuck in those elegant Japanese holders. But I found it quite easy. Your partner is a meaty type who could easily chew through difficult textures and so I figured that his must be the brush with little bits of food stuck between the bristles while yours was spotless and had suffered from less force. I put some of your enamel-supporting toothpaste onto your brush and put it in my mouth. It was sweet like the toothpaste from my childhood when I would sometimes sneak into the bathroom to eat bits of it, and the creatures danced to the rhythm of my strokes, the foam growing until I finally felt close to you. I brushed very slowly, the way I imagined you would move your fingers between my legs. I could even feel how big your fingers would be inside my mouth and every time your brush was about to come out, my teeth locked gently to keep it in its place. Like an animal biting with excitement. And I think I smiled as I looked in the mirror and imagined that this could really be us, that you could come in at any point and finish what I started. That I could finally surrender to your movements. But all pleasure is finite and as I felt the foam dripping from my mouth, my lips budding with bliss, the sweetness of the paste had turned into a sting, alerting me to the dangers of overdosing on fluorides. And so I bent over and relieved myself into your sink, lovingly taking in your tap as I washed my mouth before burying my face in your tumble-dried towels. Sunshine touching my face on a Friday night. I knew then that it was time to leave because unlike your future dog, your partner would be able to smell my unsuitable freshness, could see me smile with all the things that lived inside me and he wouldn’t forgive me, no matter how gentle I had been with your brush. And as I exit your bathroom I get a glimpse of you in your study, you have been cornered by my colleague and his ridiculous mustache. You look tired, there are lines showing on your forehead but if I’m not mistaken you are actually interested in what he’s got to say. You care about the different ways of preparing loukoumades and I realize that you will soon start making your own bread. That you will start wearing your hair short and start believing in happiness. That I have had the best of you and that it would be a mistake to let the reality of you conquer my delusions. As I head for the door, I can feel your partner’s small eyes on me again, but this time I let him look. This time I feel what he will never find the words for. And I leave with the sensation of another man’s hunger on my skin, my own sorrows suddenly lifted by the wings of a lighter fate.  


Katharina Volckmer was born in Germany in 1987. She lives in London, where she works for a literary agency. The Appointment is her first novel.