The filthy smoke cascades upwards and dances amongst the smoke rings he forms so effortlessly with bitten, pale lips unaccustomed to the sunlight. In a dishevelled, ash-caked bedroom this is where she goes to hide and remember she doesn’t always have to be placed under so much pressure.
The need to conform, to be a straight – A student, a motivated worker, a kind, generous, ladylike individual. A budding teacher, loving children and reading educational articles with an intense, eager expression of joy painted on her blossoming cheeks. The way she would have to smile and laugh along when people spoke of what a perfect, sweet and organised young woman she had grown up to be. No mess ups, no embarrassing imperfections. She was a perfect, pristine chandelier, glistening in a world of dilapidated, shattered lightbulbs. Failures who tried their best to shine bright, holding themselves together with hastily prepared cello tape, who seemed just as pristine from afar. But deep down they were filthy, downtrodden things, and they resented her for her spotless, beautiful ways. They all hated her for the way she shone without a crack in her frail, glass casing.
Charcoal hands ruffled her greasy hair, familiar lips kissing her head thoughtfully. He knew she was frustrated, that was the only reason she ever came here. Pounding on the door, raising her voice ever so slightly, the perfect façade falling down before she even entered the dismal shelter of his cramped flat. She barged through the door, kicking stray cans and food parcels out of her way, stamping her feet and making her way to the kitchen. Beside festering plates of rotting pizza and noodles, she reached into the alcove behind the broken, barely-used washing machine and pulled out the large bottle of whiskey, chugging half the bottle down before turning to look at him.
Then she did something she had never done before; she slowly paced towards him, bottle still in hand, eyes watering, and hugged him. No one had hugged this unpleasant man in many years, since his self-inflicted confinement. This startled him, the way she held him so tightly, breathing in his musty, sweaty scent and letting her own untainted, glowing skin smear and stain under his smoke-stained, unwashed clothes and skin. He slowly, nervously, reached up and held her. She was so soft and sweet. He hadn’t been so near to anyone or anything so beautiful before, she was simply blinding. She didn’t belong in a heinous place such as this. It hurt to look at her, it made him ashamed of the route he had chosen for himself, no matter how happy he felt with the decisions he had made. She made him want to change, but he knew he could never confide in her these forbidden feelings. He was here for the exact opposite purpose, to make her feel unimportant, unwanted, a unpleasant, imperfect being that was anything but the object of admiration to all those around her.
And so, as much as it made his chest heave and crumble within his timid, anorexic chest, he pulled her away and let her go. Walking away, he ran his hands through endless yellowing papers on the broken coffee table, till he found his lighter, offering it out to the silently weeping woman.
She knew how he felt, and she was extremely relieved he never said anything to her, respecting the boundaries they had set for themselves all those months ago. The last thing she wanted was this unsightly, tarnished man announcing his undying love for her. That would mean she would have to find somewhere else to relax and be herself, and there would be nowhere else. Nobody else could ever know how she really felt, really wanted to act. It would be shameful and the gossip would soon fly. She blew out another thick puff of smoke, choosing to ignore how he was gazing at her so lovingly from the corner of his grey eyes. His lips were twitching into a wary smile beneath ratty, unkempt hairs.
As they fell asleep together, resting on the peeling leather sofa, she seemed to recall his mulled, soothing whispers in her ear, serenading sweet nothings of how he would care for her, if only he had taken a route not unlike hers, instead of the one he himself had chosen. But alas, that would never happen. And so instead of kissing her on those glistening, cherry lips, he willed himself pull the one clean, soft blanket over her sleeping form, turning his back to her and returning to the world of dreams, where everything would be oh so different for them both.
Copyright © 2017 Rebecca Sherratt
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