Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Bullied, pt 1

Eileen woke up ridiculously early, as usual. She never slept well anymore; thoughts raced around her head keeping her awake and morphing into dreams of running, always running. She never saw her pursuers, but she knew them well; their voices pounded her ears incessantly each day at school.

It was 5am by her huge red digital clock. Dark, still, and cold. She had forgotten to wear socks to bed, and she could by now barely feel her own toes. Eileen crept out of bed, taking care to avoid the creaky floorboard in the middle of her room; it wouldn't do to wake her mother at this hour. Her sock drawer was almost empty, but a moment's scrabbling around in the dark located one mis-matched pair of socks, which she put on hurriedly. Halfway back to bed, she paused.

She knew she wouldn't sleep now. She was too wide awake, too cold, and too hungry. Too full of dread for the day and the week ahead: another Monday, another long and terrifying school week.

Her schoolwork was easy. She got on well with most of her teachers. She enjoyed classes, and learning. But her fellow students were the very bane of her existence. 'I lean,' they would leer at her, 'What kind of name is I lean?' Or comments about her troubled mother, her absent father. Small things, each on their own, but adding up to a mountain of thinly veiled hatred and animosity.

What if I just don't go? she asked herself silently. It was far from the first time this thought had crossed her mind, but this time she felt a resolution strange to her. I won't go. I will run away. Maybe I can find my dad.

Eileen stood stock still, surprised by her own thoughts and conviction. It didn't seem so difficult; she knew her father's name and suburb, surely she could find him. And then she could live with him, and go to a different school, and make friends.

Warmed by the thought, friends, she tiptoed back to her drawers and wardrobe. She quickly pulled everything out of her schoolbag, pausing occasionally to listen for her mother's footstep. A heavy book does not come out of a bag with utter silence, and Eileen was quickly becoming paranoid, more than her usual caution, about waking her mother. At last the bag was empty, but not for long. Into it now went clothes, some photos, a couple of treasured knick-knacks.

Food was the next problem. Could she make it to the kitchen without making a noise? How much would she need, anyway? How long would it take to get to her father's house? Would she need money, would she take public transport? She could - she gasped a little at her own audacity in thinking this - she could hitchhike!

Immediately all the horror stories and cautionary tales of hitchhiking rushed into her mind, making her shake a little where she stood by her bedroom door. Ready to leave, yet so unready for what awaited her. Her feet felt cemented in place by the memories of the girl last year, who was kidnapped and raped by a driver while hitchhiking. Eileen had known the girl by sight; an older girl at school by the name of Nancy. Nancy hadn't come back to school, and the few times Eileen had seen her since she had been a small, timid, quivering thing, so unlike her former bold and flirtatious character. The concept of rape was an abstract in Eileen's mind; she was so young and so, as she thought, undesirable. But the concept of ending up like Nancy was something to hesitate over.

But no. Eileen was decided. Such a fate would not await her. She would boldly go in search of her estranged father, and nobody would stop her! It was her quest, and she was to be rewarded with a new and happy life. With this thought, she began to feel rather like a character in a storybook. It uplifted her, and she stepped quietly through her bedroom door.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The beginning of my novel for 2008

It was a dark and stormy night. I’ve always wanted to start a story with those words; it’s unfortunate that now, as I have a story to tell, they’re not quite true. Actually it was a dismal evening: the sun would have just set if it could have been seen through the thick black clouds, and a steady drizzle fell on the crooked pavement. No thunder rolled, no lightening dramatically illuminated the sky. I sat by the kitchen window, looking out at nothing, dreaming. I was always dreaming, that winter. It was the kind of winter that inspires dreams; dreams of being anywhere other than where I was.

At length I roused myself from my self-imposed stupor. There was work to be done, and I was the only person likely to do it. The only person capable, now. I moved slowly to the sink, my knee aching in the cold, to where dishes had lain soaking for days now. The blood had stained the water pink, and I couldn’t bring myself to immerse my hands in the tepid mess. Just like yesterday, and the day before, I shuddered and put the task off until tomorrow. I turned instead to the floor. I felt I could handle dried mud rather better than blood, but even the mud looked red to me. I vacuumed the greying carpet with my head turned aside, hoping that my peripheral vision wouldn’t care. I wished I could turn off my eyes, the way I’d stopped my ears from hearing the cries.

As the vacuum faded into silence, a small hand appeared in the doorway. The little ones were always trying to get into the kitchen. I can’t count how many times I’d slapped them away, unable to bear the sight of their tiny deformed faces and limbs. Weariness overtook me, and I slumped to the floor and watched the hand. It waved pitifully, clutching for something that wasn’t there. Who knew what disjointed thoughts went through the mind controlling it? Maybe none. Nobody knew the full extent of the effects on these children. There was an arm in view now, and a shoulder. It wasn’t long before the child was in full view, and for once I couldn’t look away.

She was barely deformed. Her face was perfect, flawless, with the exception of one ear. Just her left ear had the melted appearance characteristic of her generation. Her brown eyes shone with an intelligence rarely seen these days, and her hair curled in a way that hadn’t been seen for decades. The Horror-babes, as they had come to be known, remained bald for the entirety of their short lives. I wondered how and when this little one had arrived; the vans rarely stopped long enough for explanations, and I paid little attention to them when they did.

Looking into the shining eyes of this child, I felt something I hadn’t felt since I was barely older than her. Hope. I felt my eyes, long dry, well with tears, and a smile cracked my broken, ill-used lips. Surely this was a sign. It’s over. Then as I watched the miracle crawl towards me, a grunt reached my ears. One of the men, only recently arrived, was lumbering slowly towards my brown-haired Horror-babe, arms outstretched. I knew well his intention; it was the intention of all infected males: Destruction. Beauty, passion, hope… they mattered not to those with Horror. They strove to bring all down to their own level, to hurt and maim and ruin. It was their blood in my sink.

I moved without thinking. The consequences could be dire. I picked up the child. Held her in my arms, pressed against my chest. Surely one so nearly perfect couldn’t still be infectious? I glared at the staggering man, knowing that would not deter him but powerless to do any more. He was tall, much taller than me, he loomed in the doorway like an omen of doom. I stepped back nervously as he approached, seeking blindly behind me with my one free hand for something to throw, or threaten him with. Another step back. Another. One foot hit the vacuum cleaner, and I tottered, nearly fell. My free arm windmilled wildly, trying to restore balance, and the movement attracted the hulk’s eyes.

“Haaaaaand,” he muttered, or something that sounded like it. Tongues and lips were among the first deformities to become apparent in Horror victims, followed shortly by the speech centre of the brain. It occurred to me that my would-be attacker was only recently infected, one of the few who escaped the early waves of Horror. This meant he still had some brain function, and was obviously able to move more efficiently than his cohabitants.

I regained my balance with difficultly, and wondered, if I spoke, would he comprehend?

“Leave us alone,” I tried nervously. My voice sounded dry and harsh, unused for so many months.

He blinked and paused. “Leeee? Lone.” Was he trying to repeat my words? “Leelone. Lee.”

“Go away!” I said, louder this time.
“Way!” He matched my increase in volume, and I feared for a moment he may become more aggressive. But he seemed distracted at his own ability to make noise, and turned back towards his fellow inmates. In relief, I hurried to close the door behind him, shutting out the sights and sounds of the sickroom that was the entire house.

I realised I was breathing heavily, and still clutching the child. She hadn’t made a sound, and barely moved, throughout the incident. She seemed utterly calm, looking up at me with what I hoped was trust. She needed a name, and only one occurred to me.

“Hope,” I said to her. “Your name is Hope.”

I stepped into the quiet, rain-splattered street with my heart in my mouth and my Hope in my arms. I hadn’t been outdoors since the onset of Horror. The last time I was outside, the sun shone and people were still human. And then I proved to be one of the thirty-one people in the city with a natural immunity to the first strains of the disease. It fell to us to care for the rest, hoping they would recover, seeking a cure. Risking infection by later, mutated, strains. Or not. I had heard, much later, that seven of the others had taken it upon themselves to put sufferers out of their misery. I wondered, later, if that made them happier than I had been.

I didn’t know where to go. Was anybody left alive? The van drivers lived under a bridge somewhere, I could find them, or hijack a van… this train of thought ended as soon as it began. They would not see the hope in Hope. They would take her away from me, and lock me up with the Horrors we had just left. Hospitals had long-since closed. Doctors, treating the first cases, had succumbed early. It was around that time people had started barricading themselves inside houses. They hoped to avoid illness, but even those who hadn’t fallen to Horror had slowly starved and died anyway. The houses of the dead were burnt, regardless of the cause of death. Better to burn than fester.

The city was unfamiliar to me now. The streets were the same, but the buildings had taken their neglect badly. Streets were blocked by fallen rubble and skeletons. “We’ll find a way,” I whispered to Hope, with no destination in mind. Did she nod? Maybe I imagined that. She was becoming heavy in my arms and on my mind. For long years I’d carried little more than food, and the weight of another human was physically and emotionally draining. Responsibility for masses of the unaware and uncaring was a light burden, but caring for a single child who seemed somehow more than a child was weighty. I had vague memories of a supermarket (oh, that such a thing once existed!) in the area, and wondered if it would be wrong to put my Hope in a trolley. As if there was anybody to judge.

I climbed over parts of buildings and bridges, I crept on tiptoes past the remains of the dead. In the silent city, who knew what might wake the dead? Silly and superstitious, but with nobody to impose rationale on me I crept anyway. I shielded Hope from the rain, and hid her eyes from the corpses.

The supermarket was still there. Mostly. Weeds had buckled the pavement of the carpark, and the glass in the windows was shattered. The constant rain leaked through the roof in many places, forming puddles in the uneven floor. The stock had been plundered in the early days of panic, but some things remained. I found some blankets, still sealed tightly in plastic and probably uninfected, and lined a rusted trolley with them. Hope seemed comfortable to be wheeled around, and I tried to avoid the bumpiest areas in my search for food. What little there was to be found was only barely edible, but I forced it down. It’s not stealing if nobody owns it anymore. Hope didn’t notice the foul taste; she ate mechanically, just like any other Horror. As it grew later, and I grew more tired, my faith in Hope dwindled. Maybe she wasn’t a sign. Maybe she was just deformed in the brain more than the body. It was too late now: I’d touched her, held her close, and likely infected myself in doing so. It surely wouldn’t be long before I was just another lumbering idiot.

I watched her sleep. She lay inert in her trolley, her chest rising and falling slowly. Occasionally she seemed to snore, or snort, but she never moved. No dreams appeared to trouble her, she looked almost comatose. Her hair stirred slightly in the breeze of her breath, covering her single deformed ear so she looked utterly perfect. I was loathe to stop watching her, guarding over her, wondering about her, but eventually sleep stole my senses. Lying awkwardly on the hard floor of the supermarket, in the cold, I dreamed of being anywhere but where I was.

I awoke early, sore all over from my night on the floor. Hope slumbered on, and I reluctantly concluded I must leave her briefly while I explored the city and our options. She would be fine, I assured myself. Nobody was around, and she was safe. I stood and stretched mightily, stretching out the kinks in my back and neck. We would need good food. I had relied so heavily on the vans, and now I realised I’d never even considered where they got the food they delivered to me. Did they grow crops somewhere? There had been meat, sometimes; perhaps they had established or taken over a small farm? The very basics of living I had taken for granted, and thought I was doing it tough. The last twenty-odd years were like heaven compared with sleeping in a supermarket and not knowing where to find something to eat. Yesterday I’d experienced a momentary and quick-fading hope in a child, and today I felt hopeless. I hadn’t felt hopeless in so long; you can’t miss something you didn’t remember having.

My wanderings that morning were aimless, indecisive. Any direction was better than none at all. I tried to keep moving quickly, but was frequently distracted and my course changed. A rat-surrounded corpse would make me hesitate and change direction, or a blocked street might send me retracing my footsteps to find another way around. Before long I’d lost my bearings, my sore muscles and tired mind adding to my confusion. Only when I stopped for a moment and saw a droplet fall to the ground at my feet did I realise I’d been crying.

It was at that moment that I looked up, my eyes seeking further ahead than simply the next laboured step. I had reached the suburbs, where once houses had stood in neat rows, painted cheerful colours, with well-tended gardens. The houses had long-since been burnt; only charred black piles of wreckage remained. But the gardens remained. Overgrown, untended, but there still. I wept and silently thanked those with the foresight to grow vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs. The quality was poor; vegetables were choked by weeds, fruit had been feasted on by birds and insects. But it was food, it was fresh, Hope and I could eat.

I hurried to gather as much as I could in my pockets and hands. I should have thought to bring a basket from the supermarket. Who could know I’d find such a plethora of food? With pockets bulging I tried to re-trace my steps to where I’d left the child sleeping. In my haste I missed my way several times, but finally the supermarket was in sight. I ran to the doors, then slowed so as not to frighten her. Stepping slowly through the broken door, I gasped. She stood upright in the trolley, worry lining her small face. She turned slightly and saw me, and the concern gave way to relief. She’d missed me! She knew who I was, and missed me! Faith in Hope blossomed in my heart again, and something else I didn’t immediately recognise. Love. I strode towards her with new confidence, and grasped her in my arms.

“It’s ok,” I said quietly, “I’m here, I didn’t leave you.”

She smiled up at me, and murmured something indistinct. I wondered if she could actually talk. Maybe she just needed to hear human voices, to learn as any baby did. She couldn’t be more than two years old, that wasn’t too late to start teaching her. She could learn to be a normal child, just as I would learn to be a mother.

“My name is…” I paused, not having heard it spoken in so very long – “Susan.” I pointed to myself, and then to her. “Susan. Hope.”

“Ooo-an-ope,” I thought she said quietly. Maybe I just wanted to hear her say that. She continued to make little noises as I held her, but I couldn’t make out anything that sounded like words I knew. I wondered briefly if she’d been born to parents who spoke another language. But by the time she’d been born, scarcely anybody had been able to speak at all.

That first full day with Hope was spent in discovery, physical and emotional. She clung to my shoulders as we explored our immediate vicinity, and gurgled quietly whenever she saw the colour green. We collected several new possessions, with a vague plan forming in my mind of going to the country somewhere, getting away from the silence of the dead city. Only food stores had been badly looted, so I was able to fairly easily find things like a large backpack, a tent, good walking shoes for both of us, and an umbrella. A small general store on a back street had managed to escape the worst of the panic and still had a lot of canned goods and medical supplies.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fuck mindless optimism. Fuck well-meant lies. Fuck meaningless reassurance. Fuck unwanted changes. Fuck relocation. Fuck sacrifice. Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chapter 4 (sorry about the massive break)

I had to work. It felt the wrong thing to do. I couldn't concentrate, I wanted to leave, to scour the town for Lucy. But I told myself I had no choice. I worked. Nobody mentioned my red hair. They pretended I hadn't been seen with her in the supermarket. But I could see their glances, and knew they gossiped behind closed doors. What did they say, I wondered. Were they angry, envious, resentful? Perhaps I was being paranoid and nobody cared.

At last it was time to go home. I walked by the long way for a change. Maybe I thought Lucy would be waiting to meet me somewhere along my usual route. Or maybe I hoped that by covering more distance I'd be more likely to see her.

I got home without seeing her. I didn't know what to feel. Let down, in a way. And relief that I didn't have to push my comfort zone any further just now. My emotions needed a break from Lucy. I'd known her for a week, if such acquaintance could be truly be called knowing her. Already I was exhausted.

Instead of settling down to my usual evening routine, I went to visit my father. The hospital was quiet, and my mother wasn't there. He was asleep, or maybe tranquilised, but I sat with him. I spoke to him. In this non-responsive body I found a sounding board. "I'm a lesbian," I said. "I'll miss you." I paused and blinked away tears. "I know you were away and busy a lot. But you were a good father." I suddenly wished I hadn't used the past tense. It seemed so final. But you can't fight the inevitable. "I love you, dad." The first time I'd ever said that aloud.

I ate alone in the hospital cafeteria. I was finishing my meal when she arrived. She didn't see me, but I saw her. She seemed ten years older, and vulnerable in a way I'd never seen. She walked past me with the assistance of a man. I wondered who he was, what they were doing here. I felt a pang of jealousy towards him. Why should he hold her arm when she'd kissed me so recently? I stood to go to her, but his presence stopped me. I wasn't wanted.

Waiting outside the hospital, I saw her leave. She was alone. "Lucy," I called. She didn't hear, or she ignored me. She kept walking, head bowed. I sighed, and went home.

[unrelated to previous writings]

The lonliness hit me like a brick wall as I stepped out of the shower. It was a long shower, and in the back of my mind I knew he would be waiting. Of course he wasn't. I didn't know I was expecting him until he wasn't there. I stand staring at my steamed up reflection in the mirror, my sudden tears mingling with the water still dripping from my hair. He's been gone for a month now. Emmylou Harris croons to a lover through my stereo whilst I have none. I know I should take his ring off my finger. Maybe he wants to give it to somebody else now. But it's all I have left. Memories, the smoke of burnt photographs, and a ring. Smoke. Vanishing like the steam on my mirror. As it clears I see myself in stark detail and wonder which flaw was the final straw for him. Perhaps the scar from a nose-ring long since removed. We were getting married next week. I was going to wear a white dress, and make-up. I feel like Miss Havisham, eternally dwelling on lost hopes. One day I'll turn into a bitter man-hater just like her. Don't we all have such great expectations. And how we are disappointed.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chapter 3 (b)

I don't know how long I cried. When I woke up, Lucy was gone. There was a piece of paper under my head, and I thought she might have left me a note. But the paper was blank. The space on the couch beside me was still warm, and I realised she must have only just left. I ran to the street in the hope she might still be within sight. But I saw nobody.
I went back inside slowly. I caught a glimpse of myself in a window, and was surprised anew by my flaming red hair. I didn't recognise myself. It somehow seemed that more than just my hair had changed overnight. Yesterday I knew who I was - I wasn't particularly happy with it, but I knew. Today, I rejoiced in no longer knowing. My perception of self had been tipped on its head. I had been kissed by a girl. And I had liked it.
Lucy had taken me by storm. She had appeared in my life, forced her way into my little world, and taken over before I knew what was happening. Yesterday I had wanted to avoid her. Today I wanted to find her. I could not explain it to myself. She scared and fascinated me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Chapter 3 (a)

I saw myself in the mirror when we had finished. I was a big red drunken blur. My hair shone like a beacon fire. I did not know myself. Lucy giggled at my expression.

“Cool, huh?”

I nodded blearily. “Cool. Red.”

“Very red,” she said with satisfaction. “How does it feel?”

I hesitated. How did it feel? “Liberating,” I said, and surprised myself. “Yes. Liberating.” I spoke slowly and carefully: “It is a visible... expression... of my free will and... hidden feelings of... rebellion.” I frowned. “Or something like that.”

Lucy laughed. “Get used to it, woman. Express yourself!”

“I don’t think I’ve got that much to express,” I said apologetically. “I’m really no different from anybody else.”

She poured us each another shot. “Everybody is different. Everybody is screwed up in different ways.”

I drank. “I’m just bored. I go to work, I come home, I sleep. I wake up and do it all again.”

“So don’t!” She drank her own shot, and immediately poured more. “Just start talking. You might be surprised what comes out.”

I rambled. I talked about my childhood and my brothers. I talked about my father, his illness, and how I felt about that. I told her about my job, my self-esteem problems, how I hated every guy in town, how I wanted to do something meaningful with my life but never seemed to have the chance. I told her about high school, being picked on, and pretending to be sick to get away from everybody.

All the while, she sat beside me and nodded. She listened. She sympathised, and more importantly, empathised. She poured us both drinks. After a while she moved closer and held my hand as I talked. Tears ran unchecked down my cheeks, until she brushed them away. I wondered if that was what it was like to have a friend.

Then I stopped talking and she kissed me. Just like that. I had closed my eyes while I talked, and I never saw it coming. Her lips touched mine softly, just for a moment. Then she put her arms around me and I cried until her shirt was soaked.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Chapter 2

The walk home left me with heatstroke. I spent three days in bed in the dark, trying to forget. I did not want to think about Lucy. I did not want to know why she did what she did to me. But I couldn’t help wondering. It seemed illogical, purposeless. I wondered if anything really did have a purpose. Was anything more logical than taking somebody to a paddock, showing them a fire, then leaving them there alone? I tried to blame her and hate her for my incapacitation. But she continued to fascinate rather than repulse my imagination.

On the third day of my dark confinement my mother phoned me. I felt a brief pang of remorse that I had not called her in so long. Then I remembered why. She spoke to me of my father’s illness. It was a topic I tried to avoid. I told none of my friends. I wanted to forget he existed. Then it wouldn’t hurt when he didn’t. My mother said he was getting worse. That there wasn’t long left. She asked me to visit, and I said I might. The truth was, I didn’t know if I could take it. How do you face a dying man? My mother sighed and hung up at last, disappointed in me as usual.

Afterwards, I could not rest easy. Thoughts of my father got muddled up with thoughts of Lucy, and thoughts of myself. I wondered if I was dying too, and if Lucy would care. I wondered why I cared if she cared. I tossed and turned and sweated in my bed.

At last I decided I’d had enough. I was recovered enough to get up. I thought watching television would kill my mind for a while, make me stop thinking. Before long, my mind was filled with commercials and the ludicrous dramas of daytime television.

But then there was a knock on my door. I had seen nobody in three days, I was unwashed and in my pyjamas. Whoever it was would have to be brave.

There was nobody outside the door. But there was a small envelope with my name on it. I picked it up and took it back to the couch, where the TV was still telling me that I wasn’t cool unless I consumed a certain soft drink. I flicked it off and opened the envelope.

“G’day Emma,” the letter started, in near-illegible handwriting. “I guess I’ve pissed you off, haven’t seen you round town for a few days. Avoiding me? No worries. Just so you know, I’m not leaving town. You won’t miss me.”

That was it. It wasn’t signed. It didn’t need to be. Was it a threat or a promise? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t avoid Lucy forever.

I was proved right the very next day. I had left my house almost furtively, glancing around, hoping not to see her. Or hoping to see her. I still don’t know. She bothered me, she fascinated me, she upset my comfortable little life. I didn’t see her. I continued to the shops. I had no food left.

She was in the queue at the check-out. I saw her first, and tried to change queues. But she grinned at me and I couldn’t move. I told myself it was because it would seem rude. She shouted at me across the four people between us in the line. “Feeling better?” She looked cheeky. She looked like she knew something I didn’t. That grin.
“Yeah. Thanks,” I muttered.

She held up an item from her shopping trolley. A small box. Hair dye. “I’m going red,” she explained. “Wanna join me?” The idea seemed strangely alluring. I had been naturally blonde my whole life. But what would it mean? I imagined sitting with Lucy in a bathroom somewhere, dying our hair. Certainly there would be no girly chit-chat. It would interest neither of us. I confess I was curious.

“Ok,” I found myself saying.

“Great, I’ll come round later tonight,” she said. Then suddenly she was through the check-outs and gone. The people in the queue stared at me. They knew me. I would be a hot topic of gossip for a week.

Lucy turned up at nine. I had been sitting on the edge of my chair, waiting. “Tonight” she had said. That could be any time. I was nervous. She stood at the door with a bottle of vodka and two shot glasses. Her feet were bare and her eyes sparkled. I thought she’d already been drinking. For some reason that bothered me: that she would start without me. I stared at her without speaking.

“Going to let me in?” She jiggled the vodka like bait in front of me.

“Oh.” I moved out of the doorway. “Sure. Come in.”

She sat on my couch, uninvited. She plonked the shot glasses on my coffee table and proceeded to fill them. “Drink up, woman.” She gulped hers back, and looked at me pointedly when I hesitated. “We can’t dye our hair sober,” she said as though such an idea were blasphemous to her.

I hadn’t had vodka in years, and it burned my throat as a swallowed the shot. I blinked hard and Lucy laughed. “You’ll get used to it,” she said. She poured us each another one.

We were halfway through the bottle before she mentioned the hair dye. We brought it into the bathroom. I wanted to read the instructions, but she said she’d done it a million times before.

She did her own hair first, as I watched through blurry eyes to see how it was done. She didn’t seem drunk at all, but I could feel a fuzziness in my head. I reached for the bottle to do my own hair, and stumbled. She laughed. “I’ll do it for you,” she said, and winked.

The first touch of her fingers on my head gave me a start. Her touch was gentle, but firm, as she applied the dye. I knew I was drunk. I closed my eyes and a wave of dizziness overtook me.

“My father is dying,” I said. I shocked myself. I had never said that to anybody. I felt Lucy freeze for a moment, then her fingers started moving again as she recovered herself.

“What from?” she asked. I sensed she had finally stopped grinning. She even seemed genuinely concerned.

“Cancer. Lung cancer.”

“Is he a smoker?”


“Are you close to him?”

I didn’t want to answer. “Not really,” I said. “Not since he was diagnosed.” That’s what I tried to say. Emotion and alcohol interfered. I don’t think she heard me at all, but she nodded. She understood. We finished doing our hair in silence.