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Seven Nights in Marignan – Pearl Argyle

Pearl Argyle’s first collection of short stories is an unashamed celebration of visceral experience. 

Sensuous and richly described, these stories are a lyrical love letter to Paris, to London, and above all, to physical pleasure.

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Early April; a weak sun bleaches the sky over Paris as tourists begin to flock to the Louvre, the Tuileries and the Grands Boulevards; river boats start their interminable trundle along a slate-grey Seine, and in the Place de la Madeleine, a confection of sticky, pastel macaroons appear in the warm windows of Fauchon.

A couple of miles away from the gloss of Paris’ public face, however, a few stragglers make their way home along the Boulevard de Clichy, returning from the fag-ends of wine-soaked parties and frenetic nights in cheap hotel rooms…. Achille, the brilliant but injured dancer; Maddie, his protégée in the studio and the bedroom; Jody, the death-pretty rock star; latex freak Nate, and shattered, sweet Alasdair, apparently as cold as the dirty waters in the fountain of the Place de Pigalle.

Set in a warren of backstreet cafes, shabby dressing rooms and all-night bars, Seven Nights in Marignan charts the intimate lives of the inhabitants of a hidden twenty-first century demi-monde, where contemporary libertines indulge in a heady mix of pleasures, both sexual and sensory.

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From the Author

“I disliked much of the published erotic fiction I read, for the simple reason that it was appallingly written.  I couldn’t take it seriously, and most of it made me either cringe or simply close the book, disappointed. I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write stories that came straight from the heat of my desires, experiences, and fantasies.  I wanted to write about things that turned me on, and I wanted anyone who read them to know that I was turned on when I wrote them; that they come from a place of real desire, and not from the need to sell my work.  Above all, I wanted the stories to be well-written, good quality prose. 

Are these stories fantasy or reality? As I started to disseminate the manuscript among a few close friends, this was the question which I got asked most often.  The answer lies somewhere in the middle, in a pea-souper of truth/fantasy.”

EXCERPT

Heat

Outside, the first rain of the winter had started.

I crossed the dark grounds of the office block past the rearing bulk of the public art sculptures, past the blackened mirror of the fishpond with its cold, silent inhabitants, and stumbled onto a bus, pulling the fluffy collar of my coat up so that the ends tickled my nose.  I started out of the rain-streaked window and out into the gloomy sprawl of west London.  The bus tires hissed through on the wet road; fluorescent lights glowed from mini-supermarkets into the wetness and wet flowers drooped in filling-station buckets. 

The windows of the takeaway on the corner were steamed up with a greasy, damp impenetrable fog, obscuring the lumbering figures behind it, on the corner a young woman ate fried chicken from a cardboard carton.  Her eyes stared out cautiously from under her wet hair, and she looked wary.

In the dim gloom of a November supper-time, the street-lights had flickered uneasily on, not yet up to their full brightness.  Through the bus window, the wind blasted invisibly around the terraces.  Banker Street, Allerton Street, Allerton Terrace, Haddon Road, Haddon Place, Martin Terrace.  Black, scratched names on white in the rain.  The bus was approaching Lidl.  In the car park, little lives packed their shopping into their cars, driving home to their damp, rented flats, with peeling wall-paper and rusting taps.  I shivered, despite my fur-collared coat.

Out of the left-hand side of the bus, the cracked-tile hulk of the Feathers was approaching.  The benches were deserted, left with memories of scorching summer sun and tanned girls in short dresses still vibrating in the wood.  A smashed beer glass lay in splinters next to the wall in the dirt, next to a sodden cigarette packet.  A faint, stale smell of beer mingled with the fume-soaked rain.  The whole world looked as if it was lying in the bottom of a used coffee-filter, among the vile-smelling dregs in a clammy, nauseous glass interior.  The sky was murky and disagreeable, petulantly raining over London.  This was a London November; rain, drooping flowers and smashed beer glasses on the pavement of belching, an impersonal city that absorbed the souls of its inhabitants through its Lidl, takeaways, and night-clubs.

I rang the bell; the bus slid to a halt, and I got off.  I didn’t have an umbrella.  I cuddled myself deeper into the lining of my coat, my knuckles freezing and red.  The rain was lashing down now – summer was over.  I stood at the side of the road and waited to cross.  A smell of fatty fish and chips wafted through the air, and I winced; those crackling, brown slabs of fish and the chips made me feel sick to my very stomach.  It was all rather distasteful.

And so I switched off.  As I walked towards my flat, I took myself far away from the rain, from the cold and the pervading smell of frying fish and back to more pleasant memories of the previous summer…

… And summer had beaten down on London.  Not a warm summer, but an intense oven, a summer from which there was no respite.  Each day slammed down as hot – or hotter – than the previous one, the white-hot heat bouncing off the flat steel and glass lines of the City.  The tube had become a giant pit of heaving, sweating, sticky flesh.  Miniature electric fans, bottles of water and newspapers converted hastily to fans didn’t dent the steaming, subterranean railroad and wilting commuters drooped along pavements scorched by the midday sun.  The yellowing parks were full of lunch-time sunbathers, and the bathing ponds on the Heath were packed with bodies unused to brief bathing suits and bikinis.  I plunged a few times into its cool, dark depths, savouring the sweet chill against my limbs, swimming to the far end to stare through dripping hair at the footbridge and wave at the people still enduring the sun’s glare… laughing over a bottle of grenache gris, eating strawberries on the bank with friends, the sun falling full glare on my wet body after the swim…. the Globe theatre lit by hundreds of starry lamps on a sultry evening with the sun sinking over the Thames, my shaded balcony with its tall sunflower and indolent cat stretching in a prime spot shaded by tumbling plants… all of this warmed me as November’s cold curled itself sinuously around me.

But most of all I thought of the nights spent in Zack’s narrow bed, high above west London; Zack lived in a shabby block of flats on a small estate.  How he had come to live there, I never discovered, but a dusty tramp across the grounds, where faded signs pointed to Hammersmith and Ealing, took me to the door of the high-rise.  Ringing the bell, I would wait next to an industrial bin piled to the top; the sweet reek of rotting detritus filled my nostrils as I waited for him to buzz me into the stuffy hallway… and now in the solitary cold of an autumn night, I longed for that smell to steal its way to me again as it was the start of a pleasurable intimacy…

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