What We Talk About When We Talk About Rockets in the Night by Lucy Durneen

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rockets in the Night

We’re four storeys up in a fin-de-siècle café in the Old Town, eating cake and talking bad sex scenes because we’re writers, and we feel that gives us the… well, you know the rest. It’s -10 outside and we’re keeping warm thinking of those authors who get excited by bulbous salutations and barrel-rolling breasts, but not one of these heavyweights can hold a stray rocket to Peter’s back catalogue.

Peter’s not from here. You need to move your mouth both ways at once to pronounce the name of his hometown. Even the weather in that place is romantic. Even the wind is poetry. But there’s nothing poetic in the story he’s telling about some librarian he hooked up with a couple of years back, although it’s rhythmic, I’ll give him that, the tinny pfft pfft pfft of his spoon hitting the teacup, the occasional word semibreved for impact.

“She wants it in the ass,” he’s saying. “She wants it the way Brando does Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris. But there’s no butter. There’s olive oil, she’s shouting from the bedroom, but it’s dark, I’m naked in her kitchen, and I know her kid’s asleep right across the hall. So I just grab a bottle and run, and I’m slapping it over us, I’m seven layers deep in her before it hits me. Zeta. Those motherfuckers don’t just make oil.” He pauses. “They make vinegar too.”

“Seven layers deep?” Karl interrupts. “Seriously.”

“Who ordered coffee?” I ask.

“Silvie Szczepaniak,” Peter says. “She’ll be here in a minute.”

“Silvie Szczepaniak?”

He checks his phone. “Any minute now.”

I’ve never heard of this girl, and truthfully, I’m a little upset. But even before I’ve tried to object, a brunette in leggings and an outsized t-shirt walks in and the way their faces change, I know it’s her.

Silvie Szczepaniak is Polish and delightful. Her eyes are watery green like a Bengal tiger, but she has this crazy mess of dark hair that makes me think of the selkies my grandmother said stole men from fishing villages in the North.

“We’re talking bad sex,” Peter says. “Not rockets in the night, the fucking worst experiences you’ve had. Coffee?” He nudges forward the glass, now starred with lacy beads of condensation.

Silvie Szczepaniak sits down. There’s a dry, mineral smell about her like she’s made of snow. “Is it decaff?” she asks. “I only drink decaff.”

It isn’t. I want to feel sorry for her, but I can’t imagine it possible this girl’s ever known anything less than heaven, while for me what’s coming to mind is the guy who told me to go easy on the testes, which might not even count as a sexual experience. It was barely an experience. It really was the limit of what happened between us. I didn’t so much as breathe on his cock. The closest I got was my hands passing above, making a couple of promising sweeps like a magician about to pull a scarf away to reveal a rabbit.

Silvie Szczepaniak shakes her head as if she’s trying to dislodge something inside. “The fucking worst or the worst fucking?” she asks. “Max Lindher. From – I don’t remember where.” Her eyes close. “He liked me to jam carrots up his ass while I… you know.”

“Another ass story?” Karl says, but Silvie Szczepaniak shoots him the look of a leopard seal advancing down on a fairy penguin and he shuts right up.

“Or he’d tell me to get my finger up there,” she continues, “and look for this little bump. The prostate? It’s there somewhere, he’d say. Higher. You’ve got to reach. And you know what?” Silvie Szczepaniak says, “I couldn’t ever find it. There was nowhere left to reach. Is that the measure of a shitty relationship, when you’re rummaging in a guy’s asshole and there isn’t anywhere else to go?”

There’s a moment where it seems like any one of us might be about to laugh, but no-one does. Not in the faded elegance of this place. There are velvet curtains. There’s a whole table of superior leaf tea. The kitchen staff clink the silverware and outside the snow presses right on down to the street. It’s as if we’ve fallen clean out of the known universe into a moonlit place where Silvie Szczepaniak’s hands stretch up and up and we’re floating past like pages someone ripped out of a book, and the real world is just a faraway picture, the snow whips my hair like I’m some kind of luminous comet, I’m bucking my hips like those women who dance taranta to drive out the poison of the wolf spider. I tear my blouse open. I’m shaking as if I have a fever. My breasts are hard as little onions and I’m rubbing them until they’re blood-red, I’m crying, Praise my face, damn it, praise it! My mouth is overflowing marzipan and cream. And I realise I’m looking straight at Silvie Szczepaniak, all that dark selkie beauty crammed inside her spilling out like a whole river from a tiny glass, the soft plum flesh of her cunt its starfish taste, her thighs my God I want to say pearlescent, and that’s the moment I stop falling. My chair hits the table and the coffee glass floods clots of hot foam onto my lap, and the sound I make is sharp and feral, like something wounded out in the woods.

No-one says anything. No one moves even when the waitress comes to clean up the coffee. We are stilled by the human sounds around us. I’m not even sure if we’re thinking of Silvie Szczepaniak’s elegant fingers inside this man Max Lindher or if we are imagining something new now. We’ve entered a different world and all I can think of is that it’s my turn coming up and I have never known enough of anybody to have a story, even a bad one, to tell.


Albert Rodida


Lucy Durneen is a short story writer and Assistant Editor of the UK based literary journal Short Fiction. Her fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry has appeared in journals across the UK, Europe and America, including World Literature TodayLitro and The Manchester Review. Her first short story collection is forthcoming from Australian publisher Midnight Sun.


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(Picture by Sam Howzit of Albert Rodida artwork)