by John Morrison


93: Bed and Bawd

Willow Woman is a warm and beautiful adornment to Milltown's social milieu, and you'd be hard put to count the men who have experienced her loveliness from close quarters. She tends to go for men who can appreciate her many qualities, and aren't too house-proud. Men who react predictably well to the placebo effect of being told just how splendid they are in bed. Men who can enjoy the moment, without planning too far ahead.

Planning is futile. Willow Woman's love affairs tend not to last; they're just too intense to prolong them beyond that first, fine, careless rapture. As she points out in self-justification: swans mate for life... and look how crabby they are. While the going's good, she gives each lover a hundred per cent attention. Then, before all that hot-blooded passion has had the chance to coagulate into dull routine, she brings the affair to a dignified conclusion.

She gets through men like other women get through pan scourers. But there's nothing premeditated about her capriciousness, and you will search in vain for notches on the headboard of her warm and wantonly dishevelled bed. She'll just see another guy who looks more enticing than the one she's got. It's as simple as that. Just because a man is sharing her bed, he shouldn't assume that he's got his feet under the table too. Willow Woman isn't promiscuous, exactly; she just tries to be true to her spontaneous self. If her priorities change with a speed that some people find bewildering... well, that's their karma. The fact is that she can recall the name of every single bloke she's slept with... and most of the married ones too.

She doesn't have many qualms about sleeping with married men. She's usually managed to shoo them out of the door, with their boots in their hands, before their wives have even noticed they're missing. In any case, these errant husbands tend to be a lot more imaginative in bed, following a brief refresher course with Willow Woman, than they were before. So where's the harm?

Ending relationships is never easy. A lot of incompatible couples stay together, unhappily, for that reason alone. How can you tell a person that you would prefer abject solitude to spending another minute in his or her company? But it's a skill that Willow Woman has perfected. She lets men down gently, in a voice like smoke and maple syrup. Instead of feeling cast aside, like an old umbrella, they are beguiled by her solicitude. She has such poise and grace and sensitivity: rejected suitors ought to feel spurned... but they don't. She makes them feel that she is the one who will be the loser.

The secret's in the timing. She doesn't give them the opportunity to whine, or wheedle, or become tearfully maudlin. Once she's made up her mind, there's no going back. She doesn't negotiate. By the time they understand what's actually happened, her ex-lovers are out in the street with a dazed expression and a bagful of clothes. Yes, Willow Woman is that good. Mind, she's had a fair bit of practice.

Since they never have time to fall out of love with her, Willow Woman's old lovers are seldom overwhelmed by bitterness. Whenever her name crops up in conversation, they come over all dreamy and wistful. The men who have shared her embraces - and experienced her idiosyncratic baking skills - have an indelible experience to carry with them to the grave. In a world where mediocrity holds sway, how many people can say as much?

Her tastes in men are eclectic. One week she'll go for someone caring and sharing. The next week - having given house-room to more red roses than she knows what to do with - she'll opt for a big guy in a dirty vest who drives a truck. It's generally accepted that Willow Woman has first pick of Milltown men. Yet there's someone for everyone, she'll suggest, nonchalantly, if pressed on the matter. After all, if Robin Cook can find someone who thinks he's witty and attractive, then there's surely hope for the rest of us.

There are plenty of Milltown folk who could use a few lessons from Willow Woman about finding a partner. Once they've met someone they like even more than themselves, it's never easy to frame a question that seems innocuous, yet hints, subtlely, at the prospect of intimacy to come. It certainly hasn't proved easy for Town Drunk. He persists, fruitlessly, with the same tired chat-up line - "Have you always been a woman?" - unaware that there's just never a good moment to ask a question like that. And what's the point of bragging that he's up to date with his rabies shots? It impresses nobody. The usual advice to the shy and bashful ("just be yourself") is unlikely to win him the heart of any woman blessed with a central nervous system.

Town Drunk might have more success with a tried and tested formula: telling as many bare-faced lies as is necessary to convince some short-sighted lass that he has more to offer her than prodigious wind and a passion for binge drinking. There must be someone out there who'll believe that a man with a Motorhead tattoo and a nose like an over-ripe strawberry could be an airline pilot for Lufthansa. All he wants, bless him, is a woman who is able to see beyond his unprepossessing exterior, to the existential void within. A woman - preferably orphaned - who will share his bed, without money changing hands. Unfortunately, most women would think twice before sharing a lift with him.

No wonder he spends so much time on his own, lost in sexual fantasies (he's fighting off Michelle Pfeiffer's advances... and always succeeds). He's even investigated the erotic potential of Hoover attachments... purposes for which (as he now knows from painful experience) a dustpan and brush are really no substitute.

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