Her head was too small on top of her large body. That’s one of the reasons that I decided there and then that I hated her. She reminded me of a lazy cat, lying there on the sun bed her head turned towards the light and glasses that were too big for her tiny head obscuring her face.
“Come sit down,” she said beckoning me to take a seat next to her own. She sat up and her stomach folded into four separate sections. I couldn’t stop looking at it. She pulled a towel around herself and smiled at me. I attempted to smile back, but the muscles either side of my mouth just wouldn’t work. She patted her bright red curls and pulled the sun bed up into a sitting position. I heard it click, I wished that it hadn’t and that when she leant back she would go toppling backwards, possibly falling onto the floor. I imagined that she would have been like a large beetle, arms and legs flailing in the air and not able to turn over to get up. I decided that I wouldn’t help her if it did happen, if I’d had a giant newspaper I’d have swatted her with it. Although looking back it’s flies that are generally hit by newspapers or rolled up paper of some sort isn’t it? Not that it matters, I’d use anything I could get my hands on. She was patting her curls again and still smiling,
“So, Madeline?” I remained silent, I have never grasped the idea of what to say when people decide to just place the word ‘so’ in front of your name and make it a question. Does it mean, how are you? What do you want? What? So I just continued to remain silent and hoped that she would try making conversation from another angle. After all, isn’t it her job as a future employer to ask the questions? Although she wasn’t currently acting in the most professional manner, half naked and bright pink lying like a stupid fat cat in the sun. I was starting to sweat, I wanted to remove my cardigan but was afraid that I’d have wet patches on my blouse. I shifted uncomfortably in the seat. “So Madeline,” she said again, I frowned, didn’t she realise I stayed silent for a reason? “How are you today?” she elaborated. So that’s what she meant the first time. Her voice drawled, it sounded like a dying bee. Do people hit bees with newspapers? I suppose they are rather like flies so they probably do. I shrugged,
“Fine thanks,” I replied, she looked confused for a moment then carried on,
“Okay, that’s great,” she toyed with the hem of the towel wrapped around her. “Let’s get started shall we,” she patted her curls and smiled again. It was then that I decided I couldn’t be bothered. It was too hot, she was too irritating and all I wanted right now was to smack her in the face and I knew that if I stayed any longer I would have to restrain myself.
“I’m sorry,” I said standing, she looked startled and struggled to stand as well.
“You’re leaving? But we haven’t even begun the interview,” she cried.
“I’m sorry this was a mistake,” I walked away from her standing there her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. I don’t know why I compare her to a goldfish, she should be compared to a trout or a different kind of fish that is a lot uglier and bigger than a goldfish. As I left through the front gates I thought, I do this a lot, why do I even bother leaving the house? I turned and walked at a slow pace down the road, I was still too hot but the street was busy and someone might laugh at the wet patches I thought I had. And what if I was sweating so much it was coming through my cardigan? I glanced down, I couldn’t see anything but I crossed my arms and shoved them right up under each armpit to ensure that nothing could be seen. I arrived home and after shutting the front door slid the damn thing off. It felt cooler but not cool enough so I pulled my shirt off as well. The curtains were still open so I crawled across the floor to shut them so no one would see me in my bra. The room was nice and dark and cool. The window was open and the breeze toyed with the curtains pulling them up as though they were ladies teasing with their skirts while doing the can-can. I lay on the wood floor and let the breeze wash over my face. I slept.
Megan wanted to meet. She wanted a girly catch up apparently. So I went. As I walked to the Drapers Arms I thought to myself how silly it was, the idea that at the age of twenty six I’m still having girly catch ups. Megan looks like a Barbie. She waved in an excitable manner when I entered the pub. She ran her finger round the top of her wine glass, it didn’t make a high pitched sound, just a squeak. You have to have crystal to make music. I heard it once, at some carnival I got dragged to. The girl doing it was dressed like a flapper girl with a feather stuck into a headband which looked too tight for her head. Her dress was nice though, I would have looked daft in it. You need curves to carry off a dress like she wore. It would just hang on my skinny frame. I like those old movies with the flapper girls, all black and white with twinkly piano accompaniments and beautiful smiling faces. Of course you know that they were never that pretty naturally, black and white hides the wheelbarrow amount of makeup that those girls plastered upon their faces. It’s a shame that the world isn’t black and white so I can’t see how grotesque and unnatural all the women around me are. Megan’s face wasn’t the same colour as the rest of her skin. They say you’re supposed to test foundation on your hand, I tried it once and left sighing. I don’t bother with make up anymore.
Megan had false eyelashes on; every time she blinked I thought they were going to fall off. I pretended to be interested in what she was saying and said no to a drink. She had two more glasses of chardonnay and I could tell she was getting drunk. I don’t even know why I speak to the woman. She acts like a hormonal fourteen year old.
“So, Madeline?” there it was again. I pursed my lips and remained silent. I refuse to construct an answer to that so called question. She elaborated, “What have you been doing with yourself? I haven’t seen you in ages,” She leant back in her chair and surveyed me.
“Nothing much, looking for a job at the moment,” I replied, I glanced around the pub, at all the low life regulars slumped over the bar. The apparently cheery barmaid wiping glasses and rattling them together to make herself feel busy. The sickening couple in the corner booth play fighting and giggling like small children. I watched them for a moment, my chest hurt.
“I’ve been doing a beauty course at the Tech college,” Megan’s voice made my head turn, I’d forgotten she was there chatting away to herself. She really was the stereotypical blonde. Her hair looked like a wig. I think my hair was like that until I dyed it. The box had promised it would be a fiery auburn. I got auburn. Just one block of colour, all over. No natural highlights like it said on the box. I’d spent hours deliberating in the shop over which colour to have. The manager had come over in the end to help me. He’d suggested the colour. Why I took advice from someone who was nearly bald I have no idea. “And hopefully I can set all that up once Robbie lends me the money for the place,” Megan had finished. “You could help me,” she suggested when she noticed that I was paying attention again.
“I could teach you how to do falsies or something,” she waggled her long fingers at me showing off long perfectly stuck on nails. I just looked at her for a moment, “You said you were looking for a job,” she said placing her hand back on the table. She began to tap those long false nails on the woodwork. I wanted her to stop so I nodded.
“It could work,” I replied. She smiled. A big false smile. It always was. Just like her hair, and her nails and her tits.
I watched a pregnant woman walk down the street the other day. She waddled, I wanted to shout Pingu out the window or make honking sounds, like that silly plasticine model used to do when it was on telly, but I didn’t. I thought to myself, I’m rude but not that rude. She looked pretty far gone. I felt sorry for her. Imagining something invading your body like that makes me feel sick. And that huge stomach, you can’t lie on your front and that’s how I always sleep, on my stomach with my face in the pillow. One day I won’t wake up. One day hopefully I won’t wake up. Isn’t it a fact that babies forget to breathe sometimes? It’s called a cot death isn’t it? As much as I don’t like children that would be awful. I watched this pregnant woman and I wondered if the father was still with her. I didn’t notice a ring on her finger, and she was pretty young.
Megan called. On the house phone. She complained that I didn’t answer my mobile, I shrugged even though she couldn’t see and she didn’t mind because she continued to talk. Could I come to hers? She could start teaching me how to do falsies. Robbie was definitely paying for her place. I said I couldn’t meet her. I went and had a sleep after I put the phone down.
I thought about going clothes shopping the other day. But then I decided that I couldn’t be bothered with the sneering shop assistants when I wanted to try something on. They always look at what size you’ve picked up and their foreheads always crease a little as they size you up. I like my clothes baggy, thanks.
False nails are possibly the most irritating idea ever thought of. I could tell Megan was getting irritated with me. She gets a blotchy forehead when she’s mad. My hands are too shaky to apply the glue properly. They were sore after running them under the hot tap when I glued my fingers together. I refused to carry on after half an hour of sticking and un-sticking my hands. Megan appeared disappointed. I didn’t think I looked right in a place like her salon with its glossy photo-shoot prints on the wall and her high backed leather chairs. Robbie had paid for it all apparently; he thought that Megan deserved it for working hard at college. He sounded like a pushy parent. Maybe he was old enough to be her Dad. She’d had someone that age before. It made me feel sick. He had a daughter the same age as her at the time. He should have been locked up. I don’t care if she was twenty and she was old enough to make her own decisions. It’s disgusting. Disgusting. Like my bathtub. I must clean that soon.
He wasn’t very tall, this man I met today in the café. He had a little stubble on his chin. When he passed me my coffee his hand touched mine. He gave me an electric shock. But it was just a static shock, not like they make out in gushy movies when that shock means you’re in love and are destined to be together.
I saw that pregnant woman again, she must live locally.
Megan asked me to come to the salon again to try learning how to do those god damned falsies. She pretty much begged. It started to rain on the way there. I met Robbie today. His jacket was covered in spots from the rain. It was a tan colour and looked pretty expensive. He had grey streaks on either side of his head like Mr Fantastic. He could have been her Granddad. He smiled at me, his teeth were too big for his mouth. I tried to smile back but the muscles still refused to work. They haven’t for a while now.
“You must be Madeline,” he said, I nodded looking out at the street. A woman hurried past shielding her face from the downpour with a newspaper. I thought, what a pointless task, buying that paper then getting it wet. It was dark and Megan turned the lights on.
“You going to help run this little business? We don’t want Megan working too hard,” he slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her close. She giggled and looked up at him. She was always better at acting innocent. He had a faint accent, but I couldn’t work out where it was from. I shrugged,
“There’s not much point I can’t seem to get it right,” I replied. Megan’s face dropped,
“Megs, you said that your friend would definitely help. That’s why I sorted this place for you so you could open straight away,” his tone of voice had changed now. He was no longer pleasant. Megan looked at me angrily.
“I should get going,” I said. “Nice to meet you,” I really wanted to add, by the way do you wear dentures, onto that sentence. He smiled slightly and watched me leave. I looked back to see he had let go of Megan and was shouting at her. She raised her arms into the air and her stick on nails actually shone in the lights, like mini torches attached to her long fingers.
“I was a stripper,” Megan said. I turned around from stirring a cup of tea and looked at her, “I was doing really shit, and the only thing I could think of doing was taking my clothes off,” she played with the end of one of her false nails, she ran her finger over the edge like someone testing whether knife is sharp enough. There was no blood though. I went back to stirring the tea. I knew she’d keep talking. “That’s how I met Robbie, he was more of a private client though. There were rooms in this club and…that was how I met him. He’s loaded; he’s really helped me out,”
“Filthy temper though,” I muttered thinking back to what had happened the other day.
“You didn’t help matters,” Megan snapped. I slammed the tea on the table, one of the cups contents spilt over the side.
“How was I supposed to know?” I replied. I couldn’t find any kitchen roll.
“Look it doesn’t matter, I’ve found someone else to do nails now. But I was thinking, how do you fancy answering the phone for me, seat customers that kind of thing?” I gave up looking for the kitchen roll and sat down facing her.
“Really? You don’t think I’m too rude?” I asked her. She laughed,
“Nah you’re not that bad,” She was wearing false eyelashes again. She smiled at me. “I need you and you need me,” she said.
I dyed my hair blonde again the other day. I can’t go swimming for a few weeks though. Doesn’t chlorine make it go green? Not that I go swimming anyway, everyone would laugh at the skeleton in the bikini. I don’t think that if I jumped in I’d make a splash.
I splash in the bath sometimes. I panic if I stay under too long. But I stay under just long enough for my chest to hurt. That’s what it feels like, dying, that tight painful feeling in your chest. Like when you watch couples kissing in the street.
I hate Christmas.
Robbie was wearing a navy coloured coat today. I couldn’t get over how shiny his shoes were. My shoes were uncomfortable. He had a nice smile, just nice though. I tried not to look at him as he spoke to me. I wished it would rain again, then his coat would look stupid covered in spots. I hope he didn’t think that my hair looked like a wig.
I have an aertex ceiling. It’s an obnoxious swirling pattern. It makes me nauseous just looking at it. Like the nauseous you get when you’re on the Waltzers at the fun fair and the greasy bloke with the dangly earring thinks it hilarious to spin your car faster when he can see how pale you already are. I’ve never understood that though, he’d have to clean up your vomit if you did it on the ride.
I won a bear once at the fair. It says I love you across its chest, like someone’s carved the words into him. He doesn’t love me. He just sits looking smug at the end of my bed. I shut him in the wardrobe once but let him out again because I felt bad. He must have been lonely. I need him and he needs me.
How can I be sure he’s even a he?
Maybe because only men say I love you because they enjoy seeing you cry. But he won’t make me cry, no he won’t. He’s a stuffed toy. He has no feelings.
Like most men then.
If I had a man I’d carve I love you into his chest, then when I asked him if he did love me I’d look at my handy work and think yes, yes he does.
I thought my chest was going to explode in the bath the other night.
The pregnant woman fell over today. I stood at my window waiting for someone to go help her, or for her to get up but she just lay there holding her stomach. I sighed and went out.
“Are you alright?” I asked her. Her eyes were shut but she opened them when she heard my voice.
“Can you help me?” she whispered. I held out my hand and she grasped tight as I heaved her up. “Thank you so much,” she smiled at me, brushing dirt from her clothes.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked her. She nodded,
“I’ve done worse than that while carrying,” she tapped her stomach. “They’ll be fine in there,” she laughed. I tried to smile. The muscles. Didn’t want to. Work. “Thanks again,” she said and walked away. I watched her turn the corner then went back inside.
I’ve never seen someone fake a smile so quickly. Usually it takes a moment to compose yourself.
I sat in front of the mirror yesterday. I was training my face how to smile. All I could do was grimace. Who has ever heard of someone that can’t smile? I tried pulling my mouth into the position it should be, it fell straight back. Even if I did smile my eyes would still look dead. Dark dead eyes. I wish they were blue.
I opened them in the bath the other day. The ceiling in the bathroom isn’t aertex, so I didn’t get nauseous under the water.
I had a dream that I was on fire. I felt no pain but it itched. All over and no matter how much I scratched it wouldn’t stop. The flames burnt my eyes out but I could still see my skin dripping from my bones like candle wax. It made a puddle around my feet and hardened instantly, it held me there and I couldn’t move. I saw my hair burst into flames on my head. All I could think was, why did I spend so much money on dye when I knew this was going to happen? Strange, what thoughts come into your head while you dream. Strange, what thoughts come into my head while I’m awake.
I woke up and could smell burning. But I’m sure I was just imagining it.
So how are you? I haven’t heard from you in a long time. Are you still living in Peterborough? You must come and visit me soon, the weather has been awful lately but you don’t mind the rain do you?
I have some bad news and I wish I didn’t have to tell you in a letter but you have never given me your phone number. Bernie has died. It was of old age and in his sleep so he didn’t know anything about it. I hope the news doesn’t upset you too much. I kept his lead; it’s in a box in the loft.
I heard from your father the other day. He says its all going fine in there and that he should be out in a couple of months. He’s been doing really well, keeping his head down.
My phone number is at the bottom, please ring me soon to catch up and possibly arrange meeting. I do miss you darling even after all that has happened. Your father misses you too and I know that he has forgiven you for everything.
All my love, take care of yourself
She didn’t put any kisses.
I wrote down the number and shoved the letter in the bin. I’m a little upset about the dog.
“I’m going to have to start stripping again,” Megan said. I looked up from where I’d been staring at the table. There was a mark there that I couldn’t figure out what it was, I tried scraping at it with my nail but it stuck.
“Why?” I asked.
“Robbie’s left me, shut the business. I’m broke and can’t afford my flat,” she rested her chin on her hand. I watched her elbow blossom red from the pressure of her leaning upon it on the table.
“Oh,” was all I said. “Is that what you came to tell me, about my job?” Megan nodded.
“I can’t afford to pay you for this month either, I’m sorry doll,” I felt like a doll then, I just sat there all glassy eyed and motionless. I’m not as pretty as a doll but I still sat there like one. Then I said,
“How much do you get for stripping?”
I practised in front of the mirror. I’m a woman; I should be naturally sexy shouldn’t I? But then I stood there looking at my body in my ill fitting underwear and I thought, who am I kidding? My hip bones jut out and my collarbone looks hideous. I put my clothes back on and just sat there staring at my face. I wasn’t always this thin. I traced the prominent line of my cheekbone with my skinny finger. I thought, when was the last time I had a proper meal? Mum used to cook me proper meals.
I was fat once.
I bet Dad’s skinny now.
“I’ll show you,” Megan said. She stood in front of me and began to dance. She wiggled her hips and batted her long fake eyelashes. I felt embarrassed when she began unzipping her dress at the back. It fell down to her feet and she didn’t step out of it, just wiggled her hips there. I looked down at the crumpled mess of material. It reminded me of the candle wax in my dream. She continued to dance. I looked up to see her unclasping her bra at the back.
“I get it,” I said. She stopped.
“Are you embarrassed Madeline?” she asked bending down to pick up her dress. She shimmied it up over her hips and I heard the zip doing up. I’ve always liked that sound.
“No,” I lied.
“Because if you are there’s no point even auditioning tonight, half the girls that work there are topless most of the time,” In my mind I imagined hundreds of wobbling pairs of breasts coming towards me.
“I’m fine,” I said. She raised an eyebrow and flicked her hair over her shoulder.
“Sure,” was all she said.
Alan owned the club. He looked me up and down as I walked in.
“You Madeline are you? Mind if I call you Mads?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes to what?”
“I mind,” he contemplated me then laughed. He was younger and a lot better looking than I expected. When he smiled his eyes creased up.
“You just a dancer or do you use the pole?” he asked. I looked at Megan for help.
“She just dances, this is her first time,” she said to Alan. He nodded and scratched his chin.
“Sure, well jump on stage when you’re ready Mads and get started,” he motioned to the steps at the side and I stood for a moment anxiously. I hated him. Mads? Honestly.
“Good luck, just wiggle your hips and be a tease,” Megan giggled. I felt like a doll again. Wide eyed and made up and motionless. I blinked and thought my lashes were going to fall off, but they weren’t even fake. Every step towards the stage felt like I was treading water. When I got up there I couldn’t see because of the lights. I thought, oh God my bones are going to stick out even more in these bright lights. I pretended to be Megan. I flicked my hair back, I tried to pout. I wiggled my skinny hips. When it came to undoing my bra I was like a hormonal fifteen year old boy. I couldn’t undo the damn thing.
I walked off stage in my underwear. I couldn’t stand to stay up there to even put my dress back on. I ran out into the street with it hanging off me and the zip undone.
The flames have turned to ice and I’m frozen there now. Stuck, and my eyes are the only things that can move. I imagine that I’m like that woman in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when she pretends to be a giant doll and dances like a robot. Only I can’t dance. What was her name again? Truly Scrumptious or something? That’s worse than Mads. Imagine being introduced onstage as Truly Scrumptious.
Actually now I think about it does sound like quite a kinky name.
The guy in the café must rub balloons before he serves me. I got a shock from him again. There was still stubble on his chin. He has blue eyes. They reminded me of those holiday posters you see on the billboards, they were the same colour as the fake sky and the fake sea in those. He smiled today. He didn’t show his teeth though; it was a closed mouth smile. Just being polite, not trying to impress. I tried to smile back but I must have grimaced because he looked offended and hastily turned away. I sat sipping my coffee and looking at him. I think I made him nervous. I checked my watch and left to see Megan. She was nursing a bruise when I arrived at her flat.
“Some twat hit me,” she hissed through the icepack that covered half her mouth.
“Why?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t strip completely for him, Alan doesn’t like complete nudity for some reason. Although the thongs he makes us wear are like bits of string anyway,” she replied. “It’s okay, security gave him a kick in and Alan paid me double,”
“That doesn’t make it all better,” I muttered. She looked at me.
“You just don’t understand Madeline,” she said. Her voice sounded thick, and husky, like she’d been crying before I’d got there. But her eyes weren’t red. They were really white around the green of her iris. She didn’t have her fake eyelashes on today. Or have any make up on at all. She didn’t look real without it. She looked like wax.
“What don’t I understand?” I asked her.
“Life. You’re weird you live in a bubble, nothing touches you,” she said. I’d love to live in a bubble. I’d bounce around in it, bounce off walls, bounce off people.
“I should go, you should stop stripping,” I said to her. I left before she could reply.
She gave me flowers. She held them out to me when I opened the door. The pregnant lady.
“They’re just a thank you present for the other day, I thought I was just going to be left there,” she laughed. She had bruise on her wrist.
“Would you like a drink?” I said.
The ice in her glass made a pretty noise. She was quite pretty as well. Her eyelashes were really fair.
“You didn’t have to get me a present,” I put the flowers in a plastic jug, I don’t own any vases.
“But you helped me, it was the least I could do,” the ice made a tinkly sound as she drank from her glass. I saw the condensation build on the inside as she breathed. It reminded me of someone wearing an oxygen mask.
Her name was Emma.
The ice wouldn’t melt, and I was stuck there. And then there was a penguin. It smiled at me. I’m sick of all these god damned fake smiles.
People read food labels to see how much weight they might put on if they eat them, then they leave the most fattening ones in the shop. I buy the most fattening ones but they don’t have the weight gaining effect on me. I wish they did, I get so cold sometimes.
I tried to eat a pork pie, but the pastry was so greasy it made me gag. Shame, pork pies are really fattening aren’t they? Aren’t they made from pigs feet or something?
Is it true that if you chop a chicken’s head off it can still run around? I think I’d like to see that.
It was a baby, but it had wings stuck on its back. To make it look like a fairy. I didn’t get it. Why would someone want a picture of a naked baby with fairy wings stuck on its back in your living room? Emma was rubbing her stomach and talking to it. She saw me looking at the picture,
“They’re cute aren’t they?” she laughed. It sounded like ice cubes clinking in a glass. I thought of the flowers in the plastic jug at home, I should invest in a vase. I tried to smile. Couldn’t.
“They’re sweet,” I said. I looked down at my tea. I didn’t want it. It’s just polite to accept one though isn’t it?
“Yeah, I really like them. I might dress this little one up and have some personal ones,” I really wanted to raise my eyebrow, I wasn’t going to though that would be rude. So I just nodded and took a sip from my cup, she’d put sugar in it. I cringed and placed it on the coffee table. She hadn’t noticed, she was still looking at that daft picture. I sat back in the sofa and she turned her head back to look at me,
“So, Madeline?” I stayed quiet. That god damned question was getting irritating now. She looked at me and smoothed out a crease in her maternity dress. It fitted around her swollen breasts then just hung, like a tent. I thought it was a bit weird for a pregnant woman to show off her cleavage. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m out of work at the moment,” I said, she nodded.
“I work in one of those offices down Cowgate,” she told me. “The environmental agencies, not very exciting I know,” she laughed.
“I tried out at a strip club the other day,” I blurted it out. Why did I say that? She looked taken aback then giggled,
“Really?” she said, “How did it go?” I shrugged,
“Not too bad,” I lied. She nodded.
“That’s great,” she leant forward “I’ll tell you something, I’ve always wanted to do something like that, but I don’t have the guts,” she whispered. She giggled again and leant back in her chair.
“Are you married?” I asked her. She shook her head,
“No, Darren doesn’t want to get married. He likes an open relationship,” she said. She looked sad. I wanted to give her a hug. I’ve never wanted to give anyone a hug before.
“An open relationship? Doesn’t that mean he can” she interrupted,
“Have sex with other women? Yeah. I wanted to have an abortion you know, but then I couldn’t go through with it, Darren he…” she stopped talking and stared at her lap. She was rubbing her stomach again.
“Can I touch it?” I asked. She looked up and plastered on the biggest fake smile ever seen,
“Of course,” she giggled, I leant forward and she presented her bulging stomach to me. I pressed my hand on the exposed flesh. Something moved,
“Jesus,” I said. She laughed,
“You touched just at the right moment,” she smiled.
“Doesn’t that feel weird?” I asked her, “Something wriggling in there?” she shook her head.
“You get used to it. It’s a wonderful feeling,”
I had a dream that my belly was full of snakes and when I looked down I could see them writhing under the skin. I could see their horrible tongues flicking in and out and they had red eyes that glowed.
But when I cut open my stomach to get them out all that spilt out was my insides, metres and metres of intestine slithering out and onto the ground in front of me. It wrapped itself around my feet and held me there. Like the wax and the ice. It wrapped itself around and around until it was so tight it was pulling and I thought it was going to snap completely.
I cut higher and I could see my heart. But it wasn’t a heart. It was a box. It was locked and covered in barbed wire.