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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1778968
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Dark · #1778968
Fairytales were never intended for children and neither is this version of Cinderella.
            The woman just ahead in the check out queue, protesting the price of a pair of kiddies jeans, was being unbelievably vocal and the guy
behind was standing so close he was sucking in all the available oxygen. In the space in between she was fighting a losing battle; embedding her
fingers deeper in the handle of the supermarket basket as rationality flew off into the ether. Her nerves were coming loose like the pegs holding down a tent in a high wind and she could feel her blood rushing to the surface, bursts of heat blooming on her chest and cheeks. Her feet had begun the compulsive, impatient twitch she imagined an athlete feels at the start of a race, except she was no athlete; she hadn’t moved any faster than a canter since school and begun to doubt she was even a member of the human race.

            Her personal air space crashing in around her, she tried to make good her escape, jagging the guy who was standing too close with her elbow in the process.  “Sorry, I forgot som...” She mumbled an apology, but didn’t bother to end the sentence; it was a pointless exercise and a lie. There was scant evidence of remorse in his face in the split second that the aborted speech forced eye contact and she didn’t want to invite conversation, not when she looked like she did, or was pretty sure that she did; like a crimson startled fawn.


            Standing in an aisle toying with a box of soap powder with the checkout queue at a safe distance, her personal air space popped back into place with a satisfying ping. She glanced around anxiously, almost sure that the ping was audible and equally certain that it wasn’t, but then she was never entirely certain about a lot of things these days; not since He had left and her world had changed and become a disturbingly noisome place.

            “What was all that about?”

            I wanted some soap powder. She fell back into the inner dialogue that had become an unavoidable part of her changed world.

            “Liar. It’s not even your brand.”

            I might be thinking of having a change.

            “You were scared. You thought that woman in the queue might have turned round and lamped you one and the guy behind…Well God only knows what you imagined he might have done.”

            The soap powder box suddenly became a very interesting distraction from the argumentative voice in her head.


            The thought had been there, just before the anxious wind loosed her pegs and the unbelievably vocal woman was prodding the eyeline of the checkout girl with a price tag and the guy behind brushed her backside with something not worth thinking about. But it wasn’t the only reason she felt the need to flee, there was another; one of those stupefying little things that rams a neurosis into gear and gives it voice. She didn’t envy the checkout girl’s career choice or her black eyeliner and dyed hair, God no. But she envied the careless way her shoulders rose and fell, her expression never shifting from total disregard, even when she was perilously close to losing an eye.

          “You want to be her.”

          She pushed the box of soap powder back on the shelf and sighed a long rumbling sigh that emanated from the soles of her shoes as she often did these days and was mostly unaware of. There was no arguing with the voice in her head; on some level or other she was generally right.
Back at the checkout, normality had returned. The woman had gone, so had the guy behind her and the checkout girl was swiping out the next customer and chewing gum. Who knew how long she had been staring at the box of soap powder? Her cheeks burning with renewed vigour, she picked up her shopping basket and headed down the beeping lines of checkouts until the checkout girl was lost in a sea of happy shoppers. 


          Outside in the supermarket car park the day was bright, sunlight sparking off car roof tops and the faint whiff of newly mown grass in the air from any number of manicured lawns. The rush of blood settling to its usual slow simmer, she jigged the carrier bags already cutting ruts in her fingers and set off for home, watching her feet appear and disappear below the hem of her skirt. Driven on by the thought of a steaming cup of tea she made her way through the parked cars onto the pavement and turned left toward home. 

            “Hi Cindy. You alright?”

            Cindy slowed to a stop, the involuntary sigh slipping from her mouth as she raised her viewpoint to find the source of the interruption to her thoughts.

            “Beautiful day,” Muriel was handing out her most neighbourly smile, all set and ready to exercise her fondness for the sound of her own voice. “Have you heard about the Wainwrights?” she moved closer with the conspiratorial gleam in her eye that gossips are apt to use as bait.
 
            “Actually Muriel…” Cindy hoisted her elbows, tipping her head to one side and pulling her face into an expression meant to show well meaning intent, but instead accentuated the burdensome load making mincemeat of her fingers.

            “Well…,” Muriel was off and running.

            “Tell her to fuck off.”

            Cindy had never used the F word or the C word for that matter. They conjured images of rape, of forcible invasion and more to the point she believed they were lazy words used by lazy people. But she had used the F word once when she was a teenager rebelling against things she had long forgotten. It was hot day like today and the school trip, exploring York from the raised perspective of the ancient perimeter wall, had moved on leaving Cindy and her friend to drag behind being suitably rebellious.

            'Ere girls,’ he had said from behind the safety of high metal railings, pushing down his trousers and flinging open a grubby mac in a flourish. ‘Do ya want to see it spit?’ It may not have been a grubby mac, but it should have been, so in the depths of her memories the image had stayed that way.

              For a millisecond that stretched out seemingly endlessly, the two girls had stood gawping. Not really offended it has to be said, just surprised, moderately amused and a tad curious if the preposterous thing dangling pointlessly in front of them was actually representative of the male population. And surely it should have been a little more active? Had she been older, less na├»ve, if that were humanly possible, she imagined that she might have stuck her hand through the railings and grabbed it just to monitor his reacton.

            “But you wouldn’t.”

              I might.

              For the one and only time Cindy had used such a profanity, ‘fuck me’ was left hanging mid air in a prophetic speech bubble as the teenage Cindy dragged her friend into a sprint and departed the scene. As they ran, the irony hit them and they had galed with laughter, helplessly grabbing at each others regulation navy school blazers to stop them ending up in heap on the ground when the need to run was lost. When they rejoined the school outing, still laughing, if not vocally, then physically in the way that only teenage girls can, they tried to explain, but no one was listening. Instead the teacher had glared at them over the face of his wristwatch and bundled them onto the bus still reliving the event; pushing and prodding, smirking and laughing. Together they had dropped onto the back seat and her friend had melted into hysteria thrusting a finger toward the collection of turned heads who had watched their progress up the aisle of the bus and one in particular. The diminutive girl with glasses eating yoghurt stalled, spoon suspended mid air dripping viscous white substance and Cindy had melted away with her friend

              “Who eats yoghurt on a bus?”

              How should I know, but they obviously hadn’t been listening to the same rumours as we had; they didn’t get the joke. Cindy smiled, the memory washing over her as warm as any sunny day when the world is your own, Muriel’s mouth silently moving ten to the dozen in front of her.

              “Tell her to fuck off for Gods sake

              “Shut up will you.”

              “What dear…?” Muriel had paused mid flow, her hand held in poetic pose, one finger pointing to heavens knew what.

              “Sorry Muriel, I really must be going.” Cindy struggled with her face, trying not to transmit the impression that she had just fallen down a very deep hole. Jigging her burden so that it cut new flesh, she headed off in the direction of home one step faster than her feet were able to carry her. “I’ll catch up with you some other time,” she called over her shoulder, struck by a belated need not to appear rude.

              “You should have just told her to fuck off.”


              The house was quiet. Not that she expected otherwise, it was always quiet now that He had gone, even with the TV on. She rather liked it that way. It was hard to live with a constant headache and the feeling he filled every crevice and corner with disdain bordering on hatred. It was hard to find a place to occupy that didn’t interrupt his view of the world.

              “Ah. Ahhh, shit, “ she dropped the carrier bags in the hall and examined the damage to her fingers; they looked like they had been garrotted and hurt like buggery. Bending down she picked up the mail gingerly and went through it: gas bill, phone bill, ‘no I don’t want a double glazing’ and a letter with familiar handwriting. Sliding the bills and spam mail on the hall table she opened the letter and got as far as ‘Dear Cindy and I’m so sorry’, the rest lost to a blur and stinging eyes. Dropping it in her handbag she sighed, picked up the carrier bags and trawled into the kitchen.

            Still examining her fingers and sucking air between her teeth, she put the kettle on, seriously wishing she had taken the car to supermarket. Her heart slumped into her stomach recalling Muriel’s dumbfounded expression when she had her attack of teretze.  She really should have listened to at least some of what Muriel was saying; got the giste in case the Wainwright’s were still on the agenda next time they ran across each other. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Muriel, she had a sort of motherliness about her. Her blond, going on white hair and softly lined features made her appear translucent in the right light. Angelic even, as old ladies are supposed to look, gently smiling out from the pages of the ‘Peoples Friend’. And she was generally harmless, unless your name this week happened to be Wainwright. Nursing an empty mug as the kettle hissed, Cindy stared into space succumbing to the unwelcome thrill of panic that felt far too much like drowning. 

            Struck by a sudden need to do something constructive, she put the mug down and started to put the shopping away, sighing as she did, as she always did. One hand clasping a tin of beans she gazed at the shelf, at the acres of space her meagre requirement never filled and remembered too much for one day. On cue Monty wound his body around her ankles, soft, furry and purring like a rusty spring. He looked up as she looked down, his wide golden eyes blinking a silent communication that she knew was centred around food and escaping outdoors to piss on the next doors lawn, but wanted to believe meant something else.

            “You’re right puss,” her words drifted into the hissing, aching world that, that morning, had been her kitchen. “I should go to bed.”

            She was halfway up the stairs when the kettle clicked off. Monty had bounded up in front of her a blur of beautiful tortoiseshell pulling a long bushy tail and was now sitting on the top step, staring. Maybe he did want to piss after all? She turned to go back the way she had come.
Without so much as a thank you, Monty shot through the kitchen door before it was fully opened, racing off to do what cats do, what ever that was. Whatever it was he always came back and curled his long tail around his tilted head and drifted off to sleep under the radiator. He was certainly sweet, there was no denying it, but he did have a tendency to snore.

            Locking the door to the outside world she went back to plan A, passing the kettle on the way to the stairs, still quietly steaming.

            When He had left she had changed everything in the house. Furniture had been woman handled into new perspectives, flopping into chairs and on beds to make sure the view was suitably different. Nick nacks, crockery and things that had hung around for years evading their pointlessness had been ejected, but she had not changed the bedroom. She didn’t know why.

          “Because you don’t wan t to know.”

            Whatever the reason, she was always accosted by a surge of emotion, a swirl of something that defied definition every time she crossed the threshold to the bedroom. Now she was faced with it again and pulled in her breath, her heart defying the need to beat as the swirl carried her mind off for a tour of memory lane.

            “Are you having a clear out?” Muriel had bent down to peer into the open car window, her hair glistening in the light of a sun that had no cause to be shining.

            “Yes, just a bit.” Cindy had managed a sarcastic smile though it hurt her face. There was no point in denying it, the back end of the car was almost scraping on the wheels and she had taken off a chunk of paintwork trying to cram in an unwanted chest of drawers.

            “I hope you get a lot of money for it.” Muriel beamed.

            “Thanks.” Cindy had floored the accelerator and sped out the drive, not considering there may be other traffic on the quiet suburban road. She was going to the dump.

            She hadn’t told Muriel that He had gone at that point. She hadn’t told anyone. She had cried plenty, pacing round the house in the dead of night, pulling at her hair and wailing. But it was nothing new; she had done that when he was still there, when he had vanished to do whatever it is men do. Probably piss on next doors lawn.

            “You know what he did, you know you do.”

            Cindy dismissed the voice in her head with the usual involuntary sigh, the same sigh accompanying her into the soft comfort of bed, pulling the duvet up to her ears and sinking into her pillow.

            Momentarily forgetting,
            “How can you do that?”
she trawled an open palm across the other side of the bed and quickly withdrew it.


              Sometimes, just after He had gone, she would wake in the night and still think he was there. The pall of heavy condescending hatred would hang inches from her nose, then swoop down and take her over all over again. It was a soul destroying feeling, it left her feeling helpless and believing her sanity was in mortal danger and  apart from that, it was downright unfair. What had she done wrong? Why, with all that’s Holy, had it come to this?

              “Because you wanted it to happen. Because you made it happen.”

              I didn’t. I swear, I couldn’t. He was stronger than me…I loved him.

              “There you go again, trawling through excuses like preacher on a bad day.”

              We were happy.
   
              “Once.”

              We had everything.

              “Uh, uh. You had nothing.”

              We did.

              “You made sure you didn’t.”

              No. No, I worked damned hard to make it work, but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t want to hear me.

              “Oh he listened, but you had nothing to say worth hearing. This is precisely what you wanted. Do not go preaching about how sorry you are. This sorry ass predicament is all of your making and you know it.”

              “SHUT UP.”

              She was trembling now, shrieking into the damp patch on the pillow knowing that it wasn’t the behaviour of a rational human being. But she wasn’t human. Humanity drifted in the eyes of other people, people like Muriel; people who didn’t spend every waking hour arguing with themselves and panicking in supermarket queues.

              She unburied her face and realised that it was his pillow, his side of the bed. A pained whine exploding from her chest, she flung herself back to her side breathing heavily and stared at the ceiling. Then, jamming her hand down the front her jeans, she did what she always did when she couldn’t sleep; when she wanted to clear her mind of painful debris in spite of the fact that it sometimes made her cry. It was warm down there, warm and soft and filled with memories and if she did cry the tears came from the soles of her feet and not the top of her head which somehow felt more cleansing. But there was no denying it had its drawbacks and the voice in her head was moderately obsessed by them.

         “There’s no point, you know that. You can grind the organ, but the monkey won’t dance.”

                Eventually, cocooned in her duvet the voice fell silent and she fell asleep in a confusing haze of dissatisfaction, disappointment and localised soreness.


                She woke to the sound of birdsong, wakefulness lifting her into a state she could recognise as calm, a lightness of the soul until reality kicked in. Reality was a kick up the backside that sent her sprawling, brought everything flooding back and was apt to drown her in a reservoir of her own tears if she lay long enough thinking about it.  Wiping the back of her hand across her face she sucked back the desire to cry, though the sting was there. It was like the tingle portending an outburst of facial herpes, except more painful and there was no cream to make it go away.
There was no cream either for the other itch she couldn’t scratch.

              Somewhere outside Monty was whinging to come in, Cindy groaned and threw the duvet over her face.

              “He was good for something.”

              You can’t base a relationship on sex.

              “You can’t build a relationship without it.”      

              We had some happy times together.

                “You had better times when he was shagging you senseless. You miss it. Admit it, you do.”

                Cindy sighed, all too aware now that she was doing it. All too aware that it was an involuntary reflex she was going to have to conquer one day.

         “Get out of bed and go and clean the bathroom.” The voice leapt into the usual change of tack when an argument was going nowhere. It sounded so much like her mother seeking repentance for a random misdeed that she could almost put a face to the voice.

                It can wait.

                “No it can’t. There’s a whole new eco culture growing in there.”

                SHUT UP.

              “GET UP.”

                Bugger, shit, damn, bollocks.”

                The effort of keeping up with the housework, amongst other things, unerringly made her reel with fatigue of late. It was like living in a slowed down video of a train wreck; everything piled up relentlessly in untidy heaps and dust and dirt bloomed overnight, but it was only the voice in her head who felt it worthy of note.  She stalled on the way to the bathroom, dragging her feet like a petulant teenager, filled with the same pointless sense of rebelliousness and cringing self doubt. The reflection in the bedroom mirror was much as she expected, much worse than she was prepared to imagine. She looked like an un made bed - An overweight unmade bed with piggy eyes, her hair standing on end where she had ground it into the pillow. For what purpose?

              “None.”

              The voice was right though it grieved her to think it. How could she achieve an out of body experience when she was the one doing the work?

            “You can’t

              How could she ever hope to have the top of her head blown off ever again?

            “You won’t.”

            She stared at her reflection one hand buried in the knots in her hair mulling it over until her mind made a sudden manic leap toward plausible logic.

            “I can find someone else.” The manic leap forge upward at terminal velocity, igniting a fire that burned intensely bright until it hit the top of her head. Then, suddenly starved of oxygen it made the crashing fall downward, her reflection cast in a shadowy gloom, her heart in her mouth and her stomach round her ankles. Then there was silence - A deep, dark well of silence that dragged her down further to a stinking pool of fetid despair.
They were there, even before she could see them, she knew they were there. It felt like someone had stepped on her grave. It felt like she was dying, but no one had told her eyes to close. The ugly sisters floated one on each shoulder staring back from the mirror, mocking without ever having to utter a word. The bodyless manifestations had no voice and didn’t need one. If they could speak Cindy would be sure she was dead; she knew her heart, now pounding against her ribs, would stop.

            “You are a fool Cindy. A fucking,twat.”

            “Nooo.” She was wailing. It came from a place deep, deep down within her. A place where He had lived, where he had stroked her hair and said he loved her; the place where lies are born and truth dies.

            “You are worthless. Look at yourself, just look at what you have become. You could have saved yourself, you could have done what he wanted. You could have tried harder instead of stuffing your hands under your fat arse and sitting on them. You are a grade A fucking waste of space and you know it, if you died today who the fuck would notice?

            “Shut up, shut up. SHUT UP.” Her hands were buried in her hair, dragging down until the pain was sharp and exquisitely unbearable. Pacing the carpet, turning in circles, she was sure her scalp was bleeding, unable to stop the sound of her own voice driving up and out through her mouth. Sure, without looking that the ugly sisters were laughing, their features drawn out into grotesque evil things with soulless eyes and hair blown adrift by a wind that wasn’t there.

            “Give it up.”

            “Send them back.”

            “Give it up. Give up this pointless daydream and go back to being the pointless pile of garbage you know you are.”

            The voice was speaking with manic calmness, pushing her to the limits of endurance, just like He did. Exactly as He had the day he left. Hurt and anger swept through her like a brushfire and she let out a scream so ferocious she thought the roof of the house would come off.

            “What will the neighbours think?”

            “SHUT UP. For Christ’s sake shut up.”

            “They’ll think your insane. They will think you’ve gone off to La La Land.”

            “Make them go away. Please.” Cindy sank to her knees, struggling to breathe. Hardly daring to look up, but wanting it so much – Wanting to know that they had gone.

            Silence followed. A silence filled with the hum of distant voices and impatient scratching she could ignore, just about, if she tried really hard. Sighing the deep shuddering sigh she had no control over, Cindy rose her face to the mirror and found it empty but for the crouching, shivering wreckage of a woman she barely recognised.


            A couple of days later when she had slipped into a state of stuttering calmness and cleaned a few more corners of the house like a woman possessed,
          “They needed doing.”
my house is not a shit hole,
            “If the shoe fits…”
she came up with a plan.

            “It will never work.”

            “Wait and see.”

            Preparation took ages. She had no previous knowledge to draw on, except what she had seen on the TV and she seriously doubted that it much resembled to the truth. TV never did. The clothes were pretty easy, just a minor rearrangement of personal preference and trip to the charity shop. A little less WI and little more ‘why on earth would you’. Makeup and hair were harder; the image in her head unable to stoop to the reality of the tools she had to work with.

            “A face like the back end of tram smash and hair like an abandoned birds nest.”

            She curled her hair round her fingers and piled it up on her head, turning into profile to gauge the effect. Then let it fall again; down would have to do. The day, scattered rainfall, occasional sunshine, was fast speeding to a close. Beyond the window civilisation was stilling to the greyness of dusk, but in her chest her heart wasn’t at all still.

            “You don’t have to do this.”

            Yes I do.

            Trying to avoid the shock of unfamiliar colours, she plastered on makeup and waited a while for it to bed in. Cherry lips and dark smoky eyes were what she aimed for, the sort of ‘come hither’ look that pouts seductively from the pages of ‘Cosmo’.

            “You look like battered wife with a busted lip and a couple of shiners.”

            Sighing, she wiped it all off again. Peering into the mirror like a child trying to eradicate her mothers’ makeup before she was discovered and denied the Curly Wurly she had been looking forward to all week. What was left, what flatly refused to go because her makeup wipes had dried due to lack of use, was not so disheartening. Remembering the check out girl, she drew around her eyes with an eyeliner

            “You want to be her.”

and called it quits.

            “Shoes, shoes,” she danced around the bedroom trying to remember where she had put them. Stacked soles, peep toes, high heels, far higher than she would normally wear. They were hiding exactly where she had left them, under the bed, though God only knew why she put them there. Slipping them on she stared at the completed image in the mirror the ugly sisters had leered out from.

              “You look like a whore.”

              Monty stalked in, flashed his golden eyes, shuddered his upright tail and stalked out again.


              By the time she teetered out of the house and turned the key in the front door it was full on night, the pooled light of the street lamps marking the way along glistening pavements.

              “Are you sure you want to do this?”

              Cindy adjusted her girls so they had a better chance of jostling, dragging on her low slung sweater and hoisting them into a more viewable position.

              “You’re going to get yourself arrested.”

              She sighed.


              The original plan was to stay close to home, to find a pub within walking distance so she could scamper back home if it all went wrong, but she hadn’t reckoned on her shoes. They sounded tremendous, deeply satisfying, clicking down the street from lamp to lamp. But they pinched, they pinched like a bugger, and before long she was faced with a dilemma; go to the Wagon just a few steps on from where she stood procrastinating, or catch a cab. The Wagon lights were appealing enough, shimmering against the velvet of night they looked quite pretty. But she doubted it would be so pretty inside faced with people she might bump into tomorrow.

              The arrival of a cab with its little yellow sign lit up decided it.

              The cab driver was no more or less than she expected of the breed, roughly spoken, unshaved and generally just rough. He seemed far more interested in her girls than where she might want to go and she couldn’t help a small self indulgent smirk as she asked him to take her to a pub. The cab driver raised his eyebrows and glanced over to the Wagon. “Another pub,” she added realising that she was sounding more and more like an alcoholic. Or was it just slipping into the role?

              “Slipping into insanity.”


         The Pig and Whistle was a good few of miles away, far enough to avoid anyone local and about as far as she could stand the cab drivers leering advances through the rear view mirror. Darlin’ should be struck from the Oxford English she decided. Spat out from a mouthful of gravel in a deep lecherous drawl, it was deeply offensive. I am not your darlin’, she told herself.

              “You are no ones darlin’

              Standing on the pavement as the cab scudded into the distance, Cindy drew in her breathe and let it out in a stuttered stream of condensation.  Closing her eyes she tried to focus her mind, to not be distracted by voices. Her confidence was there somewhere, she knew it was. Was it so long ago that she took it out and brushed it off? Her home was a cab ride away, her previous existence when cruising the pubs was normal,
              “Cruising for a bruising
              Gagging for a shaggin’
was a million miles further back into pre history.

              “Pre Him.”

              Pre Him.

              “You shouldn’t have let him go.”

              I couldn’t keep him.

              “You should turn back, while you still have a chance of saving your dignity.”

              I have no dignity.

              “Go back.”

              Cindy crossed the street, scraping her heels on the tarmac and shivering in the cold, her girls hucked up over her crossed arms.


              The doors to the Pig and Whistle were the double kind, varnished oak, big panes of glass and massive brass handles.

              “Too heavy for a would be whore in stupid heels.”

              She grabbed a handle and pulled, dragging her weight backwards. It didn’t move.  She tried again adding a grunt for good measure at the precise moment the other door vanished inwards. The guy, jeans, leather jacket, stupid haircut, appeared in the space, striding confidently forward rooting through a packet of cigarettes.

              Stumbling sideways and teetering dangerously on her heels, Cindy crashed into him.

              “ Whoa,” he took a forced step back, unlit cigarette dangling in his mouth. “You alright there darlin’,” he drawled with a lopsided leer, instinctively placing a broad hand on her shoulders and steadying her.

              Cindy felt her face fall into a crazed grin, pretty sure it wasn’t reflecting the petulant, grisly anger in her head. The same petulant, grisly anger she had used on Him when he stopped listening to reason.
              You are not my darlin’.

              “She is no ones darlin’.”

              Out of pure reflex she let out the stupid girly giggle she remembered from her teen years when she found herself in a position she might regret later. Now seriously wrong footed, she beat a hasty retreat before the guy got any ideas.


              The pub was dimly lit, bar down one side, cosy little nooks, chairs huddled round little round tables, randomly placed pieces of nostalgia, brass gleaming and the atmosphere humming with conversation. She thought of her fridge back at home.

            “You are seriously fucked up.”

            She stepped in tentatively, not sure what to do with her hands, unsteady on her heels, her girls heaving with each breath. When she still had the patience to watch TV, she had enjoyed the occasional spaghetti western. Clint Eastwood being cutting edge dangerously mysteriously, strolling into the bar chewing on a cigar nub, spurs jangling, the plonking piano stalling suddenly as all eyes turned.

            “This is a corner of nowhere on the edge of suburban England not Mexico.”

            I think I’m going to throw up.

            “Well don’t do it here.”

            Oh shit.

            “Move for Christ’s sake they are going to think you’re a stripogram.”

              Shit, bollocks, shit.


              The Pig and Whistle, it seemed, was a popular watering hole, the bar two deep in broad shoulders, beer bellies and testosterone. Cindy teetered uncertainly over to stand in a space at the corner of the bar, her handbag stuffed under her arm and hands clasped to her chest as if she was praying.

              For a long time, for far too long, for long enough to believe she might faint under the unbelievable agony of pinching shoes, no amount of finger waving and pleading looks caught the attention of the bartenders. All three of them, black trousers, white shirts and embroidered corporate logo, fervently ignored her.

              “Should you not have questioned why this corner of the bar was empty? Idiot.”

                By this point Cindy’s feet had moved from complaining to outright screaming and she picked them up one at time, hooking her knee like a horse being shod to feel the soothing rush of blood to her toes. She had given up caring what expression was on her face, underneath all that makeup she knew she was ashen, all the blood having moved South long before she reached something to lean on. Her head was aching and not all the rapid breathing could be attributed to nerves.

                “Oi. Over here.” The guy by her side, a little short, a little tubby, no sense of dress, but generous mouth, had appeared at some point when she wasn’t looking.

                “He looks like Him.”

                No he doesn’t, He wasn’t fat.

                “He was when he left. Fat and happy, but not with you.” {/i }

              “Do you want me to get yours in for you love, looks like you’re about to keel over.”

              “Yes, thanks. Diet Coke.” She tried to smile, but the ability evaded her. Instead the fore finger of one hand stroked the little dip at the base of her throat, searching for something, but she didn’t know what.

              “Don’t do that. It’s body language for look at my boobs.”

              Cindy moved her hand to the bar and giggled the stupefied teenage giggle. He looked at her, just a glance, one quick smile, a flash of something that could mean nothing. She giggled again and followed it up with a sigh.

              “Come and sit down, before you fall down.” He was holding two full glasses, golden frothing bitter, black Coke, jerking his head to one side with a wholly innocuous expression.

              “He hasn’t asked you for any money.”

                “How much do I owe you?” she was leaning in, her personal space bubble crackling like an electric fence just as someone with laugh like a constipated Hyena let rip.

              “What?” he ducked to hear her, drawing heavy lines across his brow.

              “How much do I owe you?” She repeated, leaning in further this time and really compromising her comfort zone.

              “We’ll talk about that later,” he said, his expression less innocuous.

                “You’re his whore now.”

                Did he just leer? I swear to God he just leered at me.

                “You’d better move, you’re drink is escaping.”

                The guy, who’s name she would at some point get around to finding out, weaved with the ease of an overweight dancer through the crowd that had grown like topsy while she was stood at the bar. ‘Sorry mate…Mind your back… You with me love?’

                “Yes, yes, I’m here.”

                She actually wasn’t, she was trying to negotiate access with a pair of shoulders, keeping one eye on the pint of bitter floating in the air just ahead. “If you don’t mind, could I just…?”

              “Sorry, darlin’”

              “She’s not your darlin’, but she could be for the price of a large Coke.”

                I think I’m going to pass out.

                “You were never like this before. Never such a weak arsed excuse for a woman.”

                She found him eventually, sitting at a table, legs spread, grinning.

                “A man’s man.”

                I need to sit down before I fall down.

                Cindy flopped into chair at the table, abandoning hope of following the plan she angsted over when she should have been sleeping.  Dropping her handbag on the carpet and grabbing the glass of Coke she quaffed it, filling her cheeks and tilting her head to pour the cool liquid down her parched throat. Then choked.

                “You alright love?”

                “He spiked your drink…What a bastard.” 

                Cindy wafted away the question, unable to speak, in the throes of something that was too close to wretching. “I’m good, I’m fine,” she stuttered eventually, one hand clasped to her throat no longer caring if her girls were drawing attention. She took another drink just to prove her point.
He hoovered a good two inches of bitter, then sat watching her.

                She shuffled trying to look nonchalant and vaguely alluring, which was difficult considering she had very nearly thrown up, passed out, then choked all in the space of…How long?

                “Who knows, far too long.”

                “Have you come far?”

                “In a cab.”

                “My dad was a cabbie…” And he was off.

                Cindy let her gaze drift South.

                “Do you think he’s related to Muriel?”

                Nice balls though

                He had nice balls.”                 .

                “I used to shove my hand down his trousers and play with them when we were watching TV sometimes.

                “Spaghetti Westerns.”

                Great big hairy stress balls. Sometimes I can still feel them sliding around in my fingers, soft and warm and squishy.

                “You shouldn’t have done that.”

                He used to like it, he’d spread his knees and little whimpers would swim out of the back of his throat.

                “You can’t play with a man’s bollocks and then get all ancy when the other bits get excited and want to play too.”

                I was stressed, I just wanted his balls.

                “You were wrong.” 

                He had no right to yell at me.

                “He had every right

                He was cruel.

                “He was unhappy.”

                I was unhappy.

                “Why did you marry him?”

                He had nice balls.


                The guy had stopped talking and was staring at her over an empty pint pot, but Cindy had to raise her perspective before she got the full picture.  Had she really been staring at his crotch that long? Snatching up the glass of spiked Diet Coke she downed a large mouthful. The alcohol hit the back of her eyes and the room did a brief dance.

                “Do you want to go to my place for a coffee?”

That wasn’t the question burning behind his affected smile or rearranging his tailoring, he knew it and so did she.

                “So why hide it?”

                He’s a man. Maybe even a half decent one, he thinks I might be offended.

                “Your not offended, your desperate and possibly tipsy and he is definitely randy.”

                Cindy nodded and stood up, not imagining that conversation at this point was entirely valid. Not thinking about much beyond soft squishy bollocks because the image refused to leave her head. She knocked her knee against the table and sent his empty pint pot flying. He recovered it, one handed and looked up at her as she looked down.

              “Just like Monty.”

                He might piss on my lawn.

                “You could go home.”

                I don’t want to, there’s nobody there.

                “Only Monty.”

                Only Monty.


                Outside the infrequent rain was making moves to become frequent. She teetered by his side trying not to think of her pinched feet, trying not to think at all; her face swathed in a lingering something she didn’t want to imagine.

                He passed her a look she couldn’t define and took her arm. His touch was firm and gentle and almost reassuring, had she wanted to be reassured. She might have cried and added to the diamonds raindrops peppering his black coat that would run in rivers when the rain picked up, had she been so determined not to; pressing her lips together to deny the want. She might have dropped to the damp pavement on her backside and wailed, loosed the swirling morasse in her chest and thrown her stupid shoes in the gutter. But she couldn’t, not in front of him, not when they had only just met and she had lured him with her girls and made him rearrange his tailoring.

                “But you did it in front of Him.”

                I didn’t want to, he made me.

                “Liar…You wanted him to see it.”

                I did…Why did I do that to him? I must have hurt him so much.


                “We’re here.” He was standing, the pool of light filling a porch and highlighting the subtle shifts in expression that showed…what? Impatience, exasperation, annoyance…Anger.

                “Are you alright? Are you OK with this?”

                “Yes of course,” she forced a smile and giggled the ridiculous giggle that ended in a sigh.

                He fiddled with some keys, opened the door and let her in. Led her into a hall and kitchen who’s stark unfamiliarity smelt of subtle musk and smacked her a good one square in the face.

                “Go home…Run.”

                He flicked on a kettle, she heard it hiss, but didn’t look. She didn’t want to.

                “How do you like it?”

                “In a mug…”

                Silence.

                Turning round now, twisting her body on her stupid heels to face him, to see his face. To see what?...That same expression, only a little different. Hurt maybe.

                “He has brown eyes. Just like Him.”

                Oh God.

                “I don’t want coffee.” Heart pounding, feet racing, but standing still. Barely human.

                “Are you sure?”

                “Run. Run like the scheming, worthless cow that you are.”

                “Yes.”

                “Where are you now, pointless bitch. Hopeless whore.”

                I’m in a room, his bedroom…I can’t breathe. It’s untidy, bed not made, dirty mugs, discarded underpants.

                “He lives alone.”

                “You live alone?”

                “I never married.”

                “He’s a pervert.”

                Shit.

                “You’re very pretty.” He was moving forward, stepping over dirty underpants, crumpled beer cans, half eaten pepperoni pizza and large side order of mouldy baked beans.  Another expression…Want, need, desire?

                “Lust.”

                “Jesus Christ.”

                “Pardon?”

                “Nothing.” Opening her arms to invite him in; defences down, knickers up, but not for long.

                His arms are strong, his hands calloused. Cupping one of the girls, breathing in her ear, in the place just behind,
                “Just like He did.”
pressing against her. Hard.
                Ere girls…Do ya want to see it spit?
              “Fuck me.”

                “Run, you worthless sack of shit…Run. RUN.”


              Cindy ran. With every ounce of energy she had, with every pounding heartbeat and cascading tear, she ran.

              “I thought that was the general idea?” She heard him calling after her, but didn’t catch all the words. 

                “You never listen. You never did.”

              She tumbled down the stairs in her stupid shoes, one hand on the banister, one on the wall trying not to fall. Down to the door to the outside world, grabbing at the handle, pushing through the space and trapping a shoe.

              “Stupid shoes, leave it…RUN.”

                The letter, “Dear Cindy, I am so sorry…” falling from her bag and falling silently on his carpet, unnoticed in the mayhem and forgotten for the duration.


                Hopping one foot to drag off the remaining shoe, she ran out into the rain, pounding pavement in her bare feet through pools of light from the street lamps, one to the next and then the next. Past the Pig and Whistle, its lights all put out leaving darkness inside. She heard a church bell and stopped to count the chimes, holding her head face up into the pouring rain. “How many chimes? It must be late.”

                “Very late. Too late. Not late enough.”

                “So many chimes, it must be midnight.”

                A cab meandered down the road toward her, its headlights nodding as it went over a speed bump.  Nursing her shoe against her chest, she pushed her hand into the air feeling too much like she was back at school needing the loo.

                The cab meandered on, the driver tipping his head to the side to get a better view as he drove past.

                Cindy stood catching raindrops in her eyelashes, the last dregs of energy seeping through the soles of her bare feet as the red taillights vanished into the night.


              When the point of standing in the rain finally evaded her she began to walk, paddling through the puddles still clutching her shoe as if it was a malformed infant she was trying to protect. When she was small and the trip to the corner shop made her legs ache, her mother had sung, beating time with her clicky heels and swinging their joined hands. As illogical as it felt, Cindy began to sing.

                “One, two, I need the loo,
                Three four, think of some more,
                Five, six, all men are dicks,
                Seven, eight, its really late,
                Nine, ten, I hate men.”

                She kept going, her chin slowly slipping down to her chest, her voice getting progressively thinner as the beat got progressively slower and the rhymes increasingly obtuse. By the time she stumbled as far as, “Forty three, forty four,” there were no more rhymes, just a twenty pound hammer pound lead in her head.

              She stumbled to a halt, veering over on one side as if the pull of gravity had grown stronger where someone’s gate was jammed half open with brick. Her line of vision wandered through the gate and up the weedy path to the door and up over glistening bricks to dark windows, behind which someone was probably tucked up in a warm bed. 

              Sighing she changed perspective, looking up the street, to the pooled light from street lamps she still had to pass through, the night closing in around her and the moon hanging above the rooftops, a grey grinning disc. She lowered her head and carried on walking, not certain that she was heading in the right direction, not certain that it mattered. What did it matter what she did or where she went, she would never get back all that she had lost? She would never be able to stop trawling after Him, standing a breathe away from his shoulder as he prepared to leave. The years peeling away like layers of an onion to leave only tears and a multitude of why’s crammed in her throat expelling the last pointless question and his last reply.
              “What about me?”

              “What about you?”

              She was cold, the numbness in her feet spreading up her legs leaving an empty space between her shivering body and the pavement. She almost welcomed it. What was the point in going on?

              “There is no point.”

              The grinning moon hovered in an oppressive blackness, pressing down as the world spread out; the waterlogged pavements and gleaming tarmac going on forever, leading nowhere. One step more and she would drown in an invisible ocean, but her worthless body couldn’t move.

              “Where are you now, pointless bitch. Hopeless whore.”

                They were coming, she could feel them. She could always feel them, scratching on her innards, filling her dreams with heartless ridicule and waking her in the night. There was no need to look, no point in lifting her head out of despair, she could see them with her eyes closed.

                “You made this happen, you did it to yourself.”

                The night that was so still was filled with scary shadows, the silence broken by an unearthly sound; the sigh she was so often unaware of had become a wailing voice she couldn’t recognise as her own. Wide eyed, she turned, her absent legs crumbling underneath her and sending her crashing to the ground. The sudden contact with the pavement sent shockwaves through her exhausted body and expelled the wailing sigh in one heavy breathe, leaving silence and something else.


                For a while she did nothing, staring into nothingness as the shock subsided and the something else took hold.

                “This isn’t fair,” she told the nothingness, whispering at first then raising her head to face the ugly sisters. “Whatever I have done that was so wrong? I don’t deserve this. Who is to say that he was the right someone? Who can say that it wasn’t just a massive balls up from beginning to end.”  She hauled her shoe sending her anger ricocheting after it against the dark windows where other people slept not knowing if the person curled around them was there because they wanted to be, or if they just thought it was the right thing to do.

                The shoe sailed across the tarmac, the bodyless manifestations watching as it passed then vanishing with a pop to leave only silent stars and the noisome clatter as the shoe hit a wooden fence. Cindy stared up into an empty sky, time stuttering as it did when she was teenager standing on York wall gawping at the flasher.
 
                “Fuck me.” She said, addressing the place that had just popped.


                “Are you alright love?”

                Cindy had heard the car pull up, heard the engine idling and had thought of Monty. She hadn’t moved from the pavement. Her feet and legs thrumming another wordly tune of the barely conscious, sitting on a sore bum with her knees drawn up and head bent to meet them as if she was a drunk dozing in the rain. She raised her head to meet the voice, the small and weary smile drawn from resources she didn’t know she had left. “Could you take me home please?”


                  The next morning she woke to the familiar surge of hope and crashing loss of faith with Monty curled up at her feet, snoring, but she didn’t feel the need to cry. She stayed in bed too long, drifting in and out of sleep, feeling like death might actually be a welcome change and her head pounding out a beat as if it refused to give up the memory of singing in the rain. 

                  Sitting on the loo, shivering in a chill that had nothing to do with the boiler, she examined her feet and cringed. The policemen who delivered her home with only a stern lecture about being stupid and irresponsible, might have not bothered if she had thought to show him her feet or mentioned that she probably had double pneumonia.

                  By late afternoon she decided to take a shower, letting the steady stream of hot water flow over her face and soothe the bits that hurt. Well, the bits that water could reach; her heart and mind were a different matter. The hurt in her heart seemed eternal, the one in her head, fatal. She brushed her teeth, head down, avoiding the mirror and heard her stomach growl; a large chasm gaping somewhere in her midriff. Throwing on some clothes, old joggers, older T shirt, she padded down stairs to the kitchen where Monty was sitting as far away as he could get from pool of piss on the floor looking guilty. “Sorry Monty.” She bent down and fondled his ear.

                He lifted his chin and tipped his head into her hand to direct her fingers to the right spot, closed his eyes, began to purr, then glided effortlessly to the door and let out a pitiful mew. Cindy followed, let him out and sighed.

                After cleaning up Monty’s guilty pool she washed her hands and stood wiping them on a towel wondering what to eat, what wouldn’t make her sick. Outside, the day was leaving and night was setting in.


                A little later she was standing in the kitchen not relishing the cold beans she was eating from the tin when the doorbell rang. Putting down the tin she padded to the front door thinking that she maybe should take a couple of pills for the beast of a headache, not really looking when she opened the door. Not really hearing the voice that said, ‘hello’, until something inside her head exploded.

                The guy from the night before was standing in her doorway holding her other discarded shoe and a letter, looking…What? She slammed the door in his face before she had to think on it further.

                Jesus Christ what am I going to do? She leant her back against the door with palms spread against the woodwork and her insides crawling out.

                “Let him in. It can’t possibly get worse and he has your shoe.


***

                  “Like a doe in the forest.” The thought had popped back into his head when she opened the door bleary eyed, dishevelled and wearing what might have been charity shop rejects. It was the first thought he had when he saw her walk into the bar and reminded him of Trudy, though at first he couldn’t for the life of him think why. It came to him shortly after while he was downing the dregs of the most recent of one too many beers, staring at her over the rim of his glass.

                The woman was most definitely not a teenager, but looked like most teenage girls do when they are trying to be rebellious, teetering on the edge of adulthood and denying how scared they are. Her legs stretched all the way up to next Wednesday and disappeared under the hem of a pleated skirt that only just covered the possible. As the beer trickled down his throat, he drank in the journey from heel to peekaboo skirt, his mind seduced into memories of the soft warm place secreted under flimsy fabric, so near and so far away. 

                His mind had swooped back to Trudy as a teenager, the way she could dress like a whore and still be saintly.  The way she had grown so beautiful in the space of five minutes, her eyes pools of still water he had willingly dived into and never come up for air. That was until she had dragged him back gasping, realising ten years later that she was still basically a whore.

                “You are well rid of her.”

                Then why does it still hurt.

                He had watched the woman sache to the bar on high heels, totally mesmerised, his blood supply diverting South in rhythmic floods with each peekaboo flip of her skirt. The months of wallowing solitude were almost forgotten as the years peeled back to the time when he was a teenager; to when his blood deprived mind was never far from the impatient rumbling in his underpants. For a long time he denied it, sitting there aware his glass was empty, aware his balls were beginning to ache and his lad stirred with fond remembrance. Then, as she stood in the corner of the bar where no one ever got served, lifting one leg then the other in that covert ‘come hither’ way, neither his brain nor his balls could stand it any longer. He slipped into the empty space in the bar beside her in a state of incompetent teenage self assurance, snatching glances now that he was at close quarters; her hands pressed together, breasts rising like warm dough and eyes like pools of shimmering water.

                “Almost like Trudy’s

                He seriously thought she might faint, eyes wide and swimming in his direction, pale skin, a bead of sweat meandering down to her brow, but if anything it made the effect worse. He told the barkeep to add vodka to her Coke, his brain making up excuses about medicinal efficacy while his balls considered what amounted to little more than date rape.

                “You were always so willing to give in if She offered any resistance.”

                I know. Maybe I don’t want resistance

                He led her back to his seat, moving without thinking, pretty sure that she was just behind. Settled in his place, he slipped into a conversation about his father, temporarily enamoured by the sound of his own voice as his balls worked away on their not so secret agenda.
She drifted away from him, into some agenda of her own and he stopped talking, unable to stop himself from imagining what it would feel like to tilt her face up and bury himself in the softness of her lips. Remembering the feel the smoothness of skin over the delicate firmness of bone and how Trudy had always turned into granulated sugar under his touch. At least she had until she stopped, which could have been any time because, as it turned out she was a really good liar. 

                “How could she do that?”

                  Before long his balls had brewed a fire he no longer had the power to stop and his lad was on a mission. The woman didn’t seem to care about the outcome and neither did he. But for a moment, just the briefest of seconds when rescuing his pint pot, he found himself staring face to face with whole different something that made his heart dance in his chest.

                  “You don’t know her, its ridiculous.”

                  But the feeling never quite left him until it was too late and the damage was done. It nagged away, creeping into his words when she stood in his porch in a bemused light and he might have ended it there if his balls hadn’t ached so much. If he hadn’t stalled under the sheer weight of bittersweet memories hearing her making a stupid joke about coffee in the footprint of the woman who did so much more than make his balls long for attention; sounding so much like her, he could have believed it was Her.

                  “You used to fit together like a dovetail joint, careless of noise, of whether the neighbours would look at you funny in the morning.

                He had taken her upstairs, almost dragged her, hanging on the end of his arm and stumbling on her heels with that doe eyed look. Unable to stop himself from rushing to the place he wanted to be, to do things he needed to do before he exploded, with a woman he had only just met.


                  When she had gone, rushing out of his life much as she had rushed in, he trawled round the house in ever decreasing circles. Retracing her steps and his as the fire died and he struggled with a feeling that had no single definition and sat like a lead weight on his shoulders. He picked up her shoe and the letter and closed out the patter of rain and shimmer of street lights too carefeully for a man recently denied the chance to relieve the dull frustration in a place other than dim solitude. Unable to catch a single thought and hold it long enough to decipher any logic, he opened the letter, stuffing the shoe under his armpit to free his hand.  Moving into the place where the light from the kitchen illuminated the debris in the hall, he read it, slipping slowly down the scuffed paintwork as the words drifted off the page.



Dear Cindy,
I was so sorry to hear your news. Muriel cornered me in the supermarket and told me he had left you. I’m sure you’ll forgive her, you know what a gossip she is. She is worried for you, we all are. I know right now you will want to be alone, that you will be hurting too much. When you feel you are ready please call me. If you want, you can stay here for a while until you feel better. We can get drunk and do girly stuff. Remember we all love you. We weren’t put on this earth to be alone. Sometimes we get it wrong and we have to admit the mistake and move on, but there is always someone.

Take care of yourself.
Love
Wendy


                  His place on the floor was incredibly uncomfortable, the chill sneaking under the front door made his bare feet numb and his bum was sore, but it was nothing to the growing pain where his heart should have been.  He clung to the shoe, pressing the dangerous heel into the pit of his stomach and wept for far longer than was seemly, drawing the tears from a reservoir he had been quietly accumulating all the years he had known she was unfaithful, all the months that had passed since she had gone.

                “You are a fool, a complete idiot.”

                Yet he had denied her,
                “How could you do that.”
at the precise moment when he was so close to recreating everything he had lost,  wading through the scattered debris of his life just to hold her again, he had denied she ever existed.

                Her face, the face he had always believed so saintly, drifted above him as it always did; as it did from the moment she turned and left him trying to force questions he couldn’t put into words out of his mouth. He didn’t have to raise his eyes to see her, he saw her when he was sleeping. She filled his dreams and woke him up when the world was still tucked up in bed.

                “All you ever asked was that she let you love her.”

                But she didn’t want to and now she never would. He raised his eyes, red and stinging and looked into hers, still blue pools he had almost drowned in and a face that he had always believed beautiful. In the place he had always believed she would stay, until someone dropped a letter in his hall.

          We weren’t put on this earth to be alone.

                The still blue eyes cooled, the face wavering on the edge of becoming nothing and taking with it an expression steeped in unspoken accusations.

                Sometimes we get it wrong and we have to admit the mistake and move on, but there is always someone.

                “Fuck me.”


                The door to Cindy’s house clattered shut and he found himself staring at woodwork, holding a shoe and a letter. He felt foolish and for a moment, after the initial shock drove his next sentence back from where he had so carefully rehearsed it, he thought the whole world was smirking. He glanced around to check and gave the elderly dear who had paused mid stride as she made her way up the pavement to give him meaningful look, a quick indecisive nod. For some reason the tiny vignette made his bum ache all over again.

                He had spent most of the night sitting on the cold hall floor, scraping tears off his cheek until he fell asleep. When he woke it was barely light, but it felt far brighter and he dragged his sore behind and numb feet up the stairs she had almost fallen down to get some proper sleep. Waking up, his mind hadn’t plunged into the painful no mans land as it had so many times before, instead it plunged into an inner discussion about letters, crazy women and shoes until he came to a decision. He didn’t bother to consult his balls, they had shrunk to the size of walnuts. As he plodded up her street counting down the houses until they reached the number on the front of the envelope, he could have sworn they were getting even smaller. The light of day was failing, the world drifting into the half light existence of uncertain possibility, but he couldn’t deny the something when he was looking up and she was looking down with the dim pub lights shining through her hair.



                The door that had been slammed shut opened, slowly creeping along the pile of  a moss green carpet to reveal a dishevelled woman sporting an uncertain smile; as uncertain as the one that was returned from the man clutching a shoe and a letter.

                “You’d better come in,” she ran a distracted hand through her hair.

                “Thanks.”

                “My names Cindy by the way,” she said, standing back to let him pass, unsure of what to do with her hands and thinking that calling him fat had perhaps been unkind.

                “I know, it’s on the letter,” he replied, waving it pointlessly, and wondering how she managed to make such a mess of her feet. “My name’s Vince. Vince Charming, I thought you’d like your shoe back.”
© Copyright 2011 Barnaby Aloysius (barnaby3009 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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