Title taken from 'A Ramble in St James's Park', by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

And Who Does Worse

Perhaps what you heard my Lord Rochester tell you was a little indelicate, but I am not so accustomed as he to being attended to thus. You came so far with my lord that you deserve the truth of all I have left, even if that is not very much.

Here is how it goes.

For a moment, I pause and allow myself to feel the bones in his skull, my hands poised against his head, fingers buried where the hairline meets the base of the neck and where the skin is secret, most tender, as intimately hidden as that other place. It is as if I want to memorise that sensation of him, imprint onto the sensitive map of my palms the heat and scent and texture of the body I had never dared hope to peruse. His hair is silky, beautifully soft. I consider the blade of the razor.

For the first time he says nothing, no more witticisms or barbs. He seems indifferent to what I am about to do, alive only to the possibilities of my hands, though he watches me in the reflection of the glass while I touch him. He watches my face. His own is almost translucent in the candlelight, scrubbed clean of the glutinous fard that I had applied to the smooth planes of his countenance earlier that evening, but pinched and too pale, skin drawn taut over the cheekbones, lips stained plum-red with the heady dye of the wine, obscene. His mouth is debillitating to my sense of focus, the short, tender cupid's-bow of an upper lip so much like that of a child's, lower lip full, sensual, expressive, drawn almost into a pout. I fancy that I could sever a finger and not notice while I gaze upon that mouth.

I draw out a lock of the shining dark hair, twisting it experimentally around my finger, then let it spiral free, watching in fascination as it uncoils itself, seeming almost a living thing. He smiles a little as I do this, watching the dreamlike progression of my hands; his eyes are so dark that I cannot even begin to detect the pupils.

His teeth gleam a little as he speaks: "Do you like it?" His voice is the barest purr, almost a whisper, and I imagine its colour and texture as the shadows that lie in the hollows of my lord's face.

Staring like one mesmerised at his parted mouth and the trace of wetness that his tongue leaves as he runs its moist, pink tip slowly across his upper lip, I shudder where I stand, feeling the internal contraction as if it is my flesh that his mouth is drinking, his tongue stabbing -

"Do I...?"

"The power." He is whispering now. "You could cut my throat if you wanted. Anyone else would."

"I wouldn't..." I begin thickly, but he is smiling still...oh, he is smiling that wolf's smile, the raven-pitch of his strange eyes tickled by the pools of diffused candlelight that cure the darkness around us. His gaze caresses me, more intimately, surely, than any woman's hand could ever have.

"Don't tremble," he tells me, settling himself further into the chair. "I have no wish to lose an ear."

Thus, I begin.

As I cut, the severed locks of his hair fall with a foresty rustle at my feet. This close, I can pick out the motes of colour in individual strands; I have spent so much time looking at him in the past that it strikes me with surprise that there should be even the smallest, most infinitesimal thing about him that I had not before, inside my head, drunk in, dissolved on my tongue, rolled around my mouth, breathed into my nostrils, rubbed against my skin. My lord's hair is dark as gloaming at the roots, shot through with strands of rubric that I could never have imagined, and even, scattered here and there, irrisdescent threads of palest gold.

It is said that we covet the things we love. For me, I have ached for so long to touch him that I am gluttonous for him before the next long starvation. I am aware that it might only be the once. For him, I must remember, I am only a whim.

This is how it goes.