all tangled up at the Agitator Laundrette
So, here’s tonight’s thing. I get home, cook meatloaf (and for a very good reason), drink some wine with some very nice people who I like immensely, eat strawberry tart and talk about things like life on other planets and penis man in Invercargill.
Then, at around the time when I should be turning my thoughts to hair-washing and pyjamas, I think… okay, so how about I fossick in the very depths of my hard drive for something to replicate right here. Something ancient and rusty and probably somewhat embarrassing. No edit, not even a full read-through. How’s that for brazen, huh. How’s that for livin’ a little.
To give you an idea of the sheer ancientness of what follows (you can probably see the parchment cracking on the screen if you look closely enough…), I copied and pasted it out of MICROSOFT WORKS, ffs! I didn’t even know Microsoft Works still even functioned this side of the digital revolution. Turns out it does, bless it.
This might be my new thing, if I’m brave enough. Posting old stuff so quickly I don’t have a chance for second thoughts. Here goes.
Lucia took measures not to say his name, scared the syllables might fix themselves to her tongue with some freak adhesive and stay there, barbed in her taste buds long after the predictable sun rose; long after the lean consolation prize of his body had upped and awayed like something out of a pornographic take on Mary Poppins (in the inspired and inspiring umbrella scene); long after he had made for the door with his suit pants pulled up only to the knee, his belt swinging free like a defunct lasso.
Last night, in the hip cocktail lounge with the flattering light, behind the door with the skirted stick-figure woman and the lipstick graffito, Juanita, Lucia’s kohl-eyed girl pal, had hitched up her sequins almost to the crotch and levered herself up onto the wet formica sink ledge, caring not at all that the wired V of her fish-tail dragged in the pink-soaped basin, or that the backs of her bare thighs slapped and sucked like sea anemones against the veneer of dirty water. Lucia had stared for an inordinate length of time at the VACANT sign on the cubicle door; she envied the red sign its status. It was a state of mind she aspired to.
Juanita had made powder room excuses to her booth of moneyed suitors and tapped her nose, by way of overt explanation, dragging Lucia by the wrist behind her. And she had produced the silver vial, sniffed sharply from the webbed skin between her stretched thumb and index finger, and said to Lucia, between wild horse-flares of the nostril, of all the senses, which one would you surrender? (She spoke like this habitually, like a woman in a latino soap opera, always on the brink of a swoon that never got round to happening).
At this late juncture, when all true, upstanding Cinderellas had slipped indoors to take the sleep of the pure and beautiful (dreaming all the while of misplaced slippers), to Lucia, the task of naming the five senses, let alone isolating one, proved as problematic as listing the Seven Dwarves in height order. And still she made fish-mouth faces in the wall of mirrors and answered Juanita directly. Touch, she had said. Feeling. She watched what she believed to be a security camera swivel to immortalise their narcotic transgressions, the literal powdering of nasal cavities in a room euphemistically, or almost, designated for this purpose.
Ah, Juanita had opined, plumping her lips into vermilion arcs and running her palms down the shiny contours of her hips. Touching. It’s funny, yes? Touching. The mermaid fabric, grafted to Juanita’s buttocks, was darkened by water. Her cleavage burgeoned. She had bunny-hopped off the ledge and taken Lucia’s jowls between her hands, pushing them upwards, roughly, until Lucia’s eyes became slits, cheekbones aching. Juanita leaned forward and kissed Lucia on the mouth, then tipped back onto her platform heels, smearing her lips together to redistribute lipstick, and had said, I am touching you. You are feeling me. As if it were a rudimentary lesson or a cautionary warning.
And, because Lucia loved a man, she was destined to behave like this. Wanton, nonchalant, the queen of disposable affection. These are the requisite traits of one disguising heartache, one determined not to let love find any external expression. It was denial and spite that dressed her up in high-class centrefold lingerie and made her yawn at the ceiling when these men fawned with butterfly tongues between her knees. In these (predominantly nocturnal) situations, the devil may have cared, but no cupid ever smiled on her.
It was a pastime. And so, time passed. And now he slept, one hand cupped over her breast like some kind of softened door-knob, a handle to stop him falling from the bed. She prised his fingers back and noted his pared nails, thick knuckles, like a hygienist with only the most cursory of interests. She lay on her back. Moonlight circumscribed the dimensions of the room. She involuntarily counted conquests instead of sheep and listened to car engines pulse through the artery of the motorway below. And then she attended to her own pulse, pushing a dent above her collarbone, to check for feeling.
glass house girl
Juanita sat on a swing, ignoring the queue of children waiting behind her. She dug her tapered heels into the protective rubber underlay, swayed and gestured madly, knocking her fake-tanned arms against the chains.
‘I feel like -’ she grappled in the air for words. ‘I feel like I am this woman in a, how do you say it? In a glass-house.’ She threw her arms about her to indicate an invisible structure. ‘And, see, what I am saying is: all these lover men, they come to me with the gift of stones.’
And somewhere far away, but in the next swing along, Lucia hummed You Don’t Bring Me Flowers without even registering the tune.
When she arrived, Corisinde, her twin sister, was already waiting for her, sitting so close to her boyfriend Kevin that Lucia mused that the pair might have to be surgically disentangled so to fit through the door on their way out. This was an ugly attachment. Corisinde and Kevin made octopii of themselves in the chairs. They were two relatively normal, functioning human beings who had signed up to be Siamese. Their emotional enlistment was an eyesore, like watching two orthodontically-encumbered teenagers brace-locked while kissing, unable to snap themselves free. This is the price that passion pays, Lucia thought, gulping back a surfeit of saliva.
And now Corisinde extricated herself like it was an easy thing to do, no big deal, and kissed Lucia on both cheeks in the continental way. And now Corisinde pulled Kevin’s greying Y-fronts from a designer paper carry-bag and placed them tenderly in a front-loading machine. It must have been love. It could only be.
Lucia crawled in through the fire escape to find George curled up in the wicker dog basket (and Jarvis, the cocker spaniel, relegated to the sticky floor beside him), one leg extended in a hairy exclamation mark, a dampened ankle pressed up against the metal water bowl. She had been calling all week, finding herself confronted with the dead-end monotone of his message. Am not in. A lie. Will return your call. A lie.
The contents of his wallet were spilled out onto the floor. A photo of Juanita folded into squares. A novelty condom, past its use-by date. A bus pass. His E-ROCKETER business card. A five dollar note torn in two. Silver coins.
He read a comic book and the newsprint reds and greens bled into the grain of his fingertips as he thumbed the pages. Lucia could not see the words inside the speech bubbles.
They sat together, strange as strangers, in silence in a near-empty carriage. They chugged upwards through a tunnel until the hill-contained city sprung into view, neon and baubles. A dream scene, bright, from a pop-up book. The sudden nightscape stunned her. She gasped and her diaphragm filled with more oxygen than the pink and grey trees in her lungs could handle. Stop-go inertia launched her forward and she grasped the cold railing, bracing herself against an ungainly fall.
It was all before her, the city. And the lights pooled into puddles and her ribs ballooned with air.
It was a short trip from here to there, and in all truth (if truth can ever be complete) Lucia did not know why she was making it. Her head was full of speech bubbles and the bubbles were filled with things like: *^%$#@!!, and where am I going & where in God’s name are my keys, but mostly the bubbles contained emptiness, a sort of mental static. And his head was full of speech bubbles, too, and she would never know their contents. Those punters below, ravenous and hurried, supposed that a name badge and a smile said it all.
The cable car itself contained them in its own internally-lit bubble; they were vaccum sealed against the world by glass.
The boy followed the trajectory of the bulked-up hero. Broad shoulders, brawls and blue skies. The good versus the bad. His shiny trousers hung from his knee-caps. He had dirty fingers, no smile and wide eyes, comic-captured. The paucity of his thigh bones, curved together like two mirrored boomerangs, agonised her. Lucia would have told him that he should have eaten more burgers, if she had thought that this would have been at all funny.
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Tags: laundrette, prose relics, writing