If she didn’t look up when her name was called, you’d have to understand.
There was a long black coffee being set in front of her, the saucer festooned with frolicking rabbits in waistcoats. She was staring at it, marvelling at their velvety eyes, when the word came again.
It took her a moment to respond.
The woman in front of her had a face full of freckles and a pram by her side. She was rocking it with one slender hand, and smiling.
The word flew out of Brigit’s mouth and soared across the cafe.
The woman laughed, and slid into the seat opposite. There was warmth in her smile and Brigit felt a flare of familiarity in response.
God Lucy, how the hell are you?
She knew she was meant to ask questions about the slumbering little being in the terry towelling depth of the pram, but Brigit had never been good at doing what was expected.
I’m fine babe, just fine. This is Honour, sleeping for once…can you believe it? Definitely not the future I saw for myself this time last year, hey?
Brigit smiled, and reached for the rabbit cup. She took a sip and when it scalded her tongue, she didn’t show it.
Lucy moved the pram back and forth with a practised move. The question had to come, and when it did, Brigit didn’t even flinch.
So are you still there?
She tried to laugh, but didn’t quite pull it off.
I’m still there, babe. Been two years now. I just wouldn’t know what to do without it…Sometimes I think I was born into the massage parlour.
Lucy raised her eyebrows. She didn’t notice Brigit’s jaw tighten as she spoke.
You always dealt with it better than me, Bridge. I don’t know…all those predatory fuckers, pressing their flesh towards me. The smell of those tiny rooms, sweat and peppermint oil. Used to make my stomach churn.
She shuddered, and felt it snake all the way down her spine.
How you managed to cope with it so well was always beyond me.
Brigit held the rabbit cup in her hand, and watched her bones tighten around it. She thought of the pressure between her shoulder blades as she knelt in their shower at the end of her shift, mopping up their trails with a scratchy towel. How her bath could never be hot enough, the whiskey strong enough, to wipe out what they left behind when she pulled the shutters closed in the Chinatown alley each night.
I don’t cope that well, Luce.
She lifted the coffee to her mouth and blew on it.
I just drink a lot.
And she tried to smile again.
Lucy’s hand movements were hypnotic, pulling the pram towards her, and rolling it away. She watched Brigit’s white knuckles around the fat little bunnies as they sashayed around the handle.
Are you still writing?
Brigit nodded. You know it. I always have my notebooks open between clients. Lot of down time in this profession, after all.
Lucy smiled, and closed her eyes as she spoke.
You reading to us between clients was always my favourite part of the job.
The pram moved back and forth, back and forth.
Those stories were so alluring to me, and the other girls, you know. They reminded us of the magic of the world outside the massage parlour; how much there was still to learn.
When Lucy spoke, it came quickly.
You need to get out.
Brigit looked into her green eyes, and blinked, twice.
Lucy shook her head. You need to get out of there. It’s no good for the soul, Brigit. You know this, babe. You know it.
Brigit tipped the last of her coffee into her mouth.
I’m made for it, remember, Luce? I know what I’m doing.
And for a moment, it was almost true.
Lucy smoothed the scarf around her neck, and stood up. She pulled the pram alongside the table, and swivelled it towards the door.
Well, give my love to the girls, ok?
And as she turned, one hand reached out to squeeze Brigit’s arm.
Don’t let the bastards get you down.
Brigit watched her manoeuvre her way towards the door, holding it open with one foot. And then Lucy turned, her movements slow and measured.
Brigit’s not even your real name, is it?
The rabbits sat with their ears upturned, scampering around Brigit’s ring finger. She shook her head, and set the cup back into the saucer.
She kept watching as Lucy pushed the pram through the doorframe, and back into the light.
Brigit is back.
She’s the first character I ever wrote about on Red Bubble, and the protagonist of my first draft of a novel. I have a special place in my heart for her fire, but never quite know where she ends and I begin.
The other strands of her story are here:
Brigit part one: Fire
Part two: :The star anise room
Part three: The growling goddess of Chinatown
Part four: Brigit with the peppermint hands
Part five: Lit in the same places
Part six: Violet in the flames
Part seven: This conflagration
With thanks to Deb, who reminded me that even when you shed your skin, a few scales always remain.