The dim light from the pendant lamp trembles incessantly but inconsistently. Its flickering yellow glow is scarcely enough to stave off the darkness in the cramped bedroom. She stands under the lamp in front of a body length mirror. The shadows accentuate the contours of her body: her sharp collar bones, hollowed cheeks and sunken eye sockets appear skeletal. She examines herself carefully, smoothing the lines of a short, black dress that clings to her pointy hips. She spots two small holes in the upper thigh of her stockings and pulls them underneath her hemline.
She picks up a tattered bag and wobbles on heeled boots towards the open window. The mechanical hubbub of the city street is mellowed by soft music coming from a small CD player sitting on the window sill. The careful strumming of an acoustic guitar is met with lyrics sung delicately by a pop star.
“…Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen…”
She puts her bag next to the CD player and produces a small glass pipe, a lighter, and a bag filled with off-white powder. She pours half of the powder into the bottom of the pipe. It begins to bubble above the flame and then evaporates into ghostly fog that seeps into her mouth. She closes her eyes as she tilts her head back. A croaky sigh escapes her throat.
A thudding knock at the door pulls her away from the window. She sways across the room, clumsily picks her coat off the floor, and fumbles to unlatch the door.
“Open it, you stupid girl,” a voice growls.
The door swings open and she staggers out. An older woman, dressed in a red, ankle-length coat and fur scarf, peers down on her with cold, blue eyes.
“The little whore finally emerges,” the older woman laughs bitterly.
“How’s the dress?” she slurs in reply.
“You look cheap. Fuckable and cheap.”
“Oh, that’s funny,” she drunkenly retorts. “I was dressed for Sunday Mass.”
The older woman lifts her palm up high and wide and swings it back down to land a sharp blow on her cheek. She buckles under the shock and pain and lands heavily on the cold, passageway floor.
She hears stifled laughter to her left. Two younger women stand a few metres away from the older one. They both smirk as she looks at them through droopy eyes. They are wearing full-length dresses, and their necks are bedecked with necklaces.
“Where’d you get that?” she mumbles.
The older woman answers for them.
“They’ve become very popular with a few bankers along Abington so they’ll be escorting them to parties this weekend.”
“Okay, am I — “
“Not going,” quips one of the younger girls.
The older woman bends down and pulls her up sharply, making sure to dig sharp nails into her arm.
“You’ll be seeing men at The House,” hisses the older woman.
“That’s where cheap whores belong.”
She opens the door to a dark, quiet room and slowly makes her way over to the bed. It’s dressed in white, lacy sheets. She sits, slumped, on one corner.
“So, you weren’t invited to Abington then.”
Her eyes widen and she stumbles onto her feet in shock.
“You can sit back down darling, it’s only me.”
She remains standing, but sways slightly and laughs.
“Checking up on me, then?” Her laugh catches in her throat. “That’s thoughtful.”
The figure moves slowly towards her. The light from the window falls on the face of a man in his early thirties. He wears a white shirt underneath a dark grey coat. His hair is black and slicked and shiny with modelling clay.
“I bought you something,” the man coos.
“A winning lottery ticket would be nice,” she replies coyly.
He holds a pair of gold high heels to the light as way of reply.
Her eyes flicker with excitement for a few, fleeting moments but they soon glaze over again.
“I can’t give that bitch one shoe.”
“Oh,” says the man, feigning hurt. “So, you won’t see me tonight then?”
She looks away from him, still dazed.
He moves closer to her until they stand chest to chest. He touches the tip of his bottom lip to her ear and runs his fingers gently down her forearm to uncoil her clenched fist. In one palm, he places two one hundred dollars note and a little bag of white powder.
“Now,” he chuckles quietly, “give your love bird a kiss.”
She slumps to the bed and lights the pipe while the man squats at her knees and unzips her boots. He presses his hands up her thighs, finds the seams to her stockings and peels them from her skin. He then straps the gold heels on her feet before rising over her and planting his wet mouth on her neck. She breathes in more and more of the white fog until her world is hazy and she feels delightfully numb.
She returns to her favourite dream. She is in a huge yellow room that is lit brightly with shimmering chandeliers hanging from a ceiling that’s as high as heaven. Everyone is taller than her too. She is wearing a white, silk dress with a pink bow. There’s a man next to her that smiles down at her, and pats her crown affectionately. Music starts and everyone begins to dance. The women’s colourful gowns swing and sway in rhythm to the bouncing jazz trumpets and drums. She smiles up at the man as he lifts her up onto the tips of his toes. He holds her steadily in his hands as he dances her around the room. She shrieks with laughter.
“Daddy, daddy! One more dance!”
“Of course, my angel, we will dance together all night.”
“What did you call me?” whispers a voice in her left ear.
But she ignores the voice and loses herself in the rise and fall of the laughter and music.
“Darling, darling,” coos the voice. “Answer me now.”
But his voice gets softer and softer and she cannot feel him on her neck anymore. She feels light, free, and the shimmers from the chandeliers become brighter and brighter as the music rises into a crashing crescendo.
For angels to fly
To fly, to fly…”
“For angels to die.”
Words by Samantha Dawes.
Image by Lucas Shaw.