What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?
I slide the gloss over my bottom lip and keep reading. The multicoloured lines crawl up the wall like drunken midnight spiders, reaching the top of the cracked mirror.
I’ve never been the type to graffiti bathroom walls, but I’m definitely the type to read it.
The girl next to me is tucking her bra strap into her dress and frowning at her reflection. She has shorn blonde hair that looks as if she cut it herself, but probably cost two days pay at one of the funky salons Fitzroy is known for. She looks a little like a drunken pixie, one hand gripping the sink for balance. A glass with two inches of flat beer sits next to her, a thick smear of red around the rim.
We make eye contact in the mirror. Her pupils are huge. She holds up a lipstick, its bright red tip pointing my way.
‘He says’ – her lips purse in defiance – ‘that it’s a whore’s colour.’
I look away, then back. Her words carry a slur, her legs a slight sway.
’Says it makes other men think certain things about me.’
I raise my eyebrows as she sweeps it across her open mouth. I can hear the wine blurring the edges of my answer.
‘Well, I think it’s a gorgeous colour. Whoever the hell he is, what would he know?’
We turn from the mirror and grin as the door flies open. A burst of rockabilly music blares into the bathroom as a painfully thin brunette clatters in on heels she hasn’t quite mastered yet. She heads for the corner stall and doesn’t even glance our way.
I look back in the mirror, tug my fringe straight. The pixie has coated her mouth with a layer of red so thick it’s hard not to stare. She catches me, and holds out the tube in nicotine stained fingers.
I shake my head and hope I hide the cringe I feel creeping up my spine. It’s a gorgeous colour all right, but somehow I don’t trust a mouth that says the word whore quite the way she just did.
I take the tube so I don’t offend her, and turn it upside down. I read the curled name Proud Pepper to myself just as she reaches out and taps a fingertip with a bitten nail on my forearm. I look down, and see the scattering of scratches traced in angry lines along the paleness of my skin.
Her sigh is soft.
‘Honey…will you look at us?’
I want to explain that it’s my demonic little punk rock kitty who’s left her mark down my arm, that it’s not as sinister as it looks, but as she rolls up her sleeve the words dissolve on my tongue. There’s a trio of small circles burned into the crook of her elbow, the scars puckered and perfectly shaped like the end of a lit cigarette.
‘Why do they make us do this to ourselves?’
I don’t think I can tell her about the kitten now.
The brunette stumbles out of the stall and past us without washing her hands. A song surges in as the door to the bar swings open, and the pixie and I start singing at exactly the same time.
I tried and I tried, to run and hide,
I even tried to run away,
You just can’t run from the funnel of love,
It’s gonna get you someday.
We lock gazes in the mirror and when she laughs, I see her face transform. She looks years younger, her teeth tiny and white, and it’s only the lipstick that marks her as the same swaying stranger I’ve been sharing a sink with.
She turns for the door. I’m a few steps behind her, ready for the wine and warmth of my table of friends, of the heavy throb of the music through the floorboards. As we go through the door my hand reaches for the small of her back, a gentle touch to guide her forward.
It only stays there a few moments, but it seems enough.