The Blackest of Fridays

She crept to her door, iPhone pinging deliriously in hand. It was out there. Waiting, just for her. She peered out. Nothing could be seen through the bobbled glass. She would have to go outside.

Stretching between the hedge and next door’s wall was a web, a brown-speckled spider brooding in its middle. She walked past it and out, seeking those things that were promised to her. The sky was cold blue, remnants of leaves squadged into mounds. She would need to go further.

The bus lurched, gorged full of swaying bodies. Each of them clutched phones, trolleys, bags, waiting to be filled. At their destination the bus vomited them onto the grey pavement. Hard concrete under her feet, huge signs shouted from windows. All those things, just for her.

She checked her phone. It took her hand, guided her to the best place. The one where she could get the most.

Hours spent dragging other people’s food over a barcode scanner. Mopping up the spilt orange juice in Fridge Aisle Three. Pinning the laminated badge over her shirt-enclosed breast. She was happy to help. And this was her reward.

Bargains dripped from the walls. Scavengers looted the racks, garments falling to the floor, trampled under shoes bought two weeks ago, ready to be replaced. In the distance were the electronics, recognisable from the heaving mass that throbbed around the shelves.

That could wait. A gaudy blue dress squawked at her from its hanger. But there were others it called, too. Applying her elbow firmly to the nearest set of ribs, she clambered over a heap of clothes, something solid under the fabric, and clawed it from the hanger. Such a bright blue. And that fabric, the hang of it. Hot For This Season, and definitely suitable to Transform From Office To A Night Out. She clutched it close, the scent of newness hanging over it.

But there was a jacket, too. Stripes To Flatter Your Figure. This was harder to get to. Another had it already in her grasping fingers. She reached over, smiled, scraped her fingernails up the exposed length of arm. The woman shrank back, easing her grip. Perfect. All it needed was some jewellery to go with it. Perhaps those people, the reporters, would stop her on the street when she wore it, her face smiling from those coloured pages, a beacon of fashion to the dowdy.

Scattered finery littered the floor. Necklaces, jangling bracelets, it was like walking over a dragon’s hoard. What she needed was gold. Something to Stand Out From The Crowd. A glitter caught her magpie eyes. Chunky chain, adorned with fake-diamond lumps and a cross at the bottom. Perfect. But there was only one left.

She watched as another swooped in. Lacquered nails clasped around the treasured item. The usurper started to walk away. She would have to act fast.

Grabbing a set of earrings, she lunged forward, tripping, falling to her knees. In one movement she drove the studs into the back of the woman’s leg. A trickle of blood could just be seen through the 20-denier tights.

With a shout, the trinket fell to the floor. She scooped it up, dodging round the display filled with hair accessories to avoid recriminations. Her prize was clutched in her hands. Such a good start, after only thirty minutes of shopping time. Imagine what she could achieve in a whole day.

Her key scraped in the lock. Heaving herself up the stairs, she collapsed onto the sofa in a satisfied lump. Bags were lined up each arm, a huge box clutched between her hands. As she leaned forward to put it on the coffee table she winced, the twinge in her back attending to the distance she’d walked back with this lot, unable to fit on the bus.

She peeled the packaging off the black hulk – Active Shutter 3D, curved screen, LED, 720p, High contrast ratio, Internet connected HDTV. Her reflection was muted in the 50-inch display. The smudge of a bruise on her cheek, the red ribbon of blood trickling down from her split lip. She dropped the bags, wincing at the pain from her cracked rib. They healed on their own. Better to try these things on, parade her body in front of a mirror, fragrance it, shave it, moisturise it, daub it with colour, style it, dry it, freeze it in a single click of a glorious selfie that would capture her in this beautiful peacock dress, sitting amongst her purchases after the Blackest of Fridays.

The Jacket

It was bought for Harry’s christening. Sharp darts in the waist and a slippery blue lining. Mum kept it at the back of the wardrobe, shielded in a cover. Black makes anything look smart.

A baked late-September day; the interview. Perched at the back of the bus, the hum of the engine vibrated sweat into my skin. Keep the arms down. CV printed at the internet cafe with grades in a bigger font than the school name.

I’d tried to press out the cardboard shape from the shirt packaging. Iron too hot; a shine-streak down the front, a whiff of polyester plastic.

They put us in a room. The other candidates were beige flowing lines, rippling pages of magazines. I was the cardboard leaflet jammed through the letterbox.

The slick from the bus crept from beneath the fabric. That prized item. It didn’t belong here.

Supermoon

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Tonight the moon was huge. There was a tweet, an article on my feed, a pop up ad. Don’t miss it.

Scuttling out into leaf-speckled roads, I looked. Peered between the dark branches of chimneys, stretched my eyes to look beyond the splashes of brightness dropped from streetlights.

Something was glowing behind the house opposite. I imagined the size of it, the golden glow, the ballooning of it in the navy sky.

To get a clear look, I had to walk to the end of the road. Reach the onslaught of traffic on the corner. The crossing beeped, sparse fireworks popped, bodies hurried past. No-one was looking up.

Past the corner and up the road, I turned back and saw it. Golden, yes, but no more than the electric hum nearby that guided children on scooters. Huge, probably, but tucked between rooftops it was apologetic, an urban intruder.

Tonight I want the moon to be huge somewhere else, not trapped here where the sky is too small. 

An Instruction

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His breathing labours over my shoulder, huffing out breath perfumed with ham and disappointment. My hands clunk over the keys, slip off the C sharp, snag on the C. I can feel the wince behind me.

Eight bars to go. I stretch out the middle finger, labouring too long in the shift in chords on the left hand, out of time. Rest for one, back in on an F. Should be sharp, it’s in the key signature. My shoulders tighten.

No retribution. Maybe he didn’t notice. The last bit is easier. I accelerate the movements, trying not to let the slick of sweat affect it. The last chord is fiddly. Shuffle the fingers around, make sure it’s in the right key. A bit of a pause, but there it is. A harmonious exhalation.

I slump back, twitching my feet off the pedals. Last week he let loose a tirade, the importance of practising every day, little flecks of white gathering at the edges of thin lips. He must be gathering the words, preparing the shape of his discontent.

A soft gurgle. I shift around, my school skirt rucking up against the piano stool. His chin is stooped against his chest, breaths ruffling the hairs poking out of his nose. He’s asleep.

I could wake him, dart my hand out to those skin-wrapped bones, slackened on the edge of his navy trousers. They always move slowly, look like they won’t be able to grip the cheque I place between them every four weeks, carefully filled in with Mum’s looped letters.

Until they’re on the keys. Swooping over them, barely touching, the pressure so light. Reaching impossible distance in semiquaver speed. Not like the plodding gait of mine. So smooth and pink, you’d think they could race, leap over the spaces.

The clock slices out time, gold against flowered wallpaper. Each minute costs 50p. Mum shoved that comment at me over the dinner table the other day when she asked why I hadn’t done my scales. Waste of money, she said.

His head pops up.

“Let’s have that again,” he says.

I bring my hands back up, clawing the ends like he showed me, the top of the pads on the keys. Another attempt is granted, possible redemption.

Even if it did cost mum £3.50.

Steps

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In February, the sun stoops low before your eyes have  fully widened, so it feels like you never wake up. I peered into the fading light, indistinguishable bodies cluttered in the street. Heels were a bad idea. They announced my arrival in sharp clicks, made it impossible to be a hidden observer. Even in tights, my feet were cold. I had paced in front of the mirror, discarded everything until a heap lay on the bed. The shoes helped, charmed my reflection into thinking it was more than I was. My departure echoed in the concrete stairwell, announcing my intentions to the neighbours. By the time I’d arrived at our designated meeting place, my feet hurt.

So I stood still, decided you would come to me. Or that if you didn’t find me in the greyness of the night, it would be a reason to retrace my steps to the warm sofa and bright spooling images from the TV that substituted companionship.

The crowd outside the tube station was a soft mass, surging forward and back, individuals dripping away from the station entrance, leaking into the street. A shadow became human under the streetlight. I didn’t recognise your gait then, couldn’t separate you from the mulch of the crowd. A description and a blurry online photo, solidified into one smile, one angle of your face. That’s all I had.

You stopped a few paces away, a squint in your eyes. I was unrecognisable to you. This charm rested over us, through the walk in the street where you grabbed my arm to stop me turning my ankle on the stupid shoes, the excessive glasses of thick red wine drunk because we didn’t want to leave. Kissing by the bus stop as my route home swished past two, three times, to savour the sticky pleasure of your lips.

Your foot plant is familiar now. The soft curtain has lifted. The sleep crease in your cheek, the gentle annoyance in your eyes when you are exasperated but still in love with me. I wonder what you see of me now, what was hidden from you in the glamour of new meetings. If I am still precious to you in this stark light of knowledge.