by Mike Day
A chance meeting with a girl in a silk dress
|Word count 1445
Girl in a Silk Dress
By Mike Day
The grounds of the old hospital were a lovely place to walk during the day. Bob, unfortunately, was walking alone at a quarter to midnight. The shadows cast by branches in the moonlight moved in slow sinuous patterns across the lawn. Despite his best efforts, his imagination conjured phantoms in every patch of darkness, at every misshapen, silhouetted bush.
He’d been at a friend’s party, another engagement. He seemed to have reached an age where everyone around him was getting married or having babies. It only made the space where Emily had been that bit emptier.
They had broken up over six months ago, her idea, and still he felt lost. His friends had told him to get over it. One even mentioned the quantity of fish left in the sea. He couldn’t explain it to them, he didn’t love her. In point of fact her voice had begun to grate on his nerves. But now, now that she was gone he felt the void that she had occupied more sharply.
A cloud, thicker than the rest, scudded across the moon allowing darkness to steal in and fill up the gaps. When it released its grip and slipped away, it left a pale woman in a long dress sitting on a bench by the side of the path. Her blond hair reflected the silver light and her bare arms reminded him of Italian marble.
She sat with her head bowed; a cascade of lustrous hair hid her face.
The woman, whose appearance had startled him from his reverie, made no movement. She seemed lost in her own thoughts.
He approached slowly, conscious that he might unnerve her, awkwardly trying not to seem threatening.
She looked up as he reached the far end of the bench. Tears glinted in the moonlight as they streamed down her perfect face.
‘Are you ok?’ He asked gently.
Her head dropped down again, letting the curtain of hair fall back into place.
‘Can I sit?’ she didn’t respond so he slumped on to the bench at the far end. ‘Is there anything I can do?’ He asked.
The girl in the pale dress pushed her hair back behind her petal like ears. She pursed her lips and then smiled weakly as again, she shook her head.
‘Had a bad night?’
‘Me too.’ He said feeling depressed.
She pushed the gravel around with the toe of one elegant silk shoe and said nothing.
‘I was at a party,’ he said trying to fill the silence. ‘A friend of mine was getting engaged. It was nice, but…’ He trailed off staring out into the darkness.
She tilted her head slightly, inviting him to continue.
Bob looked at her for a long moment. ‘I guess it was seeing my ex-girlfriend, we broke up a while ago. I don’t miss her; it was just that everyone seemed to have someone, even her.’ He looked searchingly at her and for the first time their eyes met. Hers were dark, like polished coal half hidden in shadow. ‘I… I just feel like I’m going to be alone forever, you know?’
She held his gaze for a long moment as a tear rolled along the track of its predecessors. Then her head dropped, as she once again regarded her hands clenched in her lap. As if to mirror the reflection of her tear, a flash of light glittered from between her fingers.
He watched as she toyed with the thin gold band of an engagement ring, holding it in one hand then the other. ‘You split up too?’ His voice was hushed, almost reverential.
Without looking up she nodded again. A lock of her hair fell forward and she tucked it back self-consciously.
And that’s when he saw the twin scars across her wrist. Parallel tracks of angry white, like bone against her pale skin. ‘Did you do that?’ He felt a fool even as the words passed his lips.
For a moment he thought that she hadn’t heard him, and then she slowly turned her hand palm up, exposing the scars to the moonlight. They were thick and ugly; he felt sure they would have killed her if she hadn’t gotten help. ‘I’m sorry, it must have been bad.’
She didn’t raise her head this time, simply shrugged, as though it were all somehow unimportant.
‘I wouldn’t have the guts.’
She raised her head and regarded him fiercely. Her mouth open to contradict him, and then, at the last moment, the words seemed to fail her. She looked at him in mute misery.
‘I know, I know.’ He said embarrassed.
From where they sat he could see the glow from windows of a few of the converted flats, expensive pads in the gothic looking hospital. ‘You live in there?’
She looked through the branches of the oak trees and nodded.
‘You don’t say much, do you?’ He asked.
She looked back at him and smiled a small wry smile, keeping her lips firmly shut.
He reached into his pocket and took out a pack of cigarettes.
She watched him, eyes round, hypnotised.
He shuffled one half out of the pack. ‘Want one?’ he asked.
She shook her head and in the papery light he thought he saw a livid red mark around her throat.
‘Is that sore?’ He asked pointing at her neck.
She lifted her hand self consciously to cover the mark, a sad look on her face as she shook her head again.
He slipped the cigarette between his lips and flipped open his fathers Zippo lighter. The flame burned in a low fat pyramid across the width of the burner. Bob sucked greedily, the smell of lighter fuel filling his nostrils. ‘Look you’re going to catch your death of cold if you don’t go in.’ He waved vaguely in the direction of the darkly brooding building. ‘Shall I walk you back?’
She looked at him hard for a long time, as if she were unsure of his intentions.
He admitted to himself that he wasn’t that sure either.
She stood up, the silk of her dress sliding smoothly against her thighs as she moved.
Bob swallowed involuntarily.
They began to walk, neither saying anything.
He was intensely aware of her presence next to him.
A second gravel path split from the one that he had intended to use and turned at a right angle up to the side entrance of the main building. They followed it until they came to the deep shadow cast by the brick edge of the hospital.
He felt her hand, cold and small, slip into his own.
They reached the side door; it was solid wooden affair, painted steam train green, with a metal down lighter above it.
The girl in the silk dress turned the handle and pulled it open a half inch. She paused and quite suddenly turned on her heel and kissed him quickly, gently, on the cheek.
Her lips felt like a cold flower had brushed against his face. Bob reached up and touched the spot as she slipped inside the doorway and pulled it closed. He stood for a moment, his heart pounding from the thrill of her scent.
After he had drawn a few deep pulls on his cigarette he accepted that she was not coming back out and after shoving his hands deep into his jacket pockets he began to walk back towards the path that led on through the Oak and Sycamore to the main road beyond.
The moon had ridden higher in the sky and the shadows that had looked like claws on the lawns had shrunk back towards the trees. Emboldened by his conquest he strode along the path.
The trees gathered in around him as the track wound its way amongst them, they were far too grand to be removed for something as inconsequential as a straight route from A to B, and so at night, despite the bright moon, the darkness clung around them, as though it were waiting for its chance.
At first he thought it was a bed spread caught up in a branch; someone’s washing blown there in a storm. And then he saw her one silk slipper, the too pale flesh of her ankles and bare foot, luminous in the moon light. Her heels were at a level with his face and turned, ever so slowly, in the faint breeze as if she were turning to speak.
He looked down to avoid the face that he felt sure he would recognise, and saw, laying next to the discarded shoe, a thin gold engagement ring with one bright diamond.