She visited the boots on Monday, then again on Thursday. When she carried them home in a bright yellow bag on Friday, she felt suddenly more visible. The bag rubbed against her knee like a sticky promise and left some of its yellow dye behind.
She took a seat and looked down at her jaundiced flesh as it jerked with the motion of the train, crushed between the bony knee of a schoolboy and a pillow of pale blue silk. The boy was holding a cold, half-smoked cigarette that rained ash onto her forearm.
When she arrived at her apartment block, the heavy humidity was already turning to wet. His gravelly voice was on her answering machine; she listened to it four times and didn’t erase it. The apartment was silent as she sat on the patchy suede of the lounge and unwrapped her purchase. The supple leather was still creased near the ankle from when she’d tried them on in the store, bored sales assistant looking on. Her thighs seemed glaringly white above the leather-encased calves.
She went and stood in the bathroom, took off all her clothes and balanced on the side of the grimy tub. Her image appeared like a beheaded Juno in the mirror. Her body looked soft, incongruously so. Flesh that would split at the slightest pressure. She ran a hand over her clammy stomach, trying to imagine the thrilling tickle of foreign fingertips.
Draping a robe around her shoulders, she stepped down to wash the greasy slick from her face. The hand towel smelled a little of stale urine. She darkened her eyes and reddened her mouth with a thick smear of lipstick. When she slipped into her dress, its material clung wetly to her and bunched uncomfortably under the arms. Rain clattered like pebbles onto the roof, threatening to break through.
The bus was crowded with a perfume-drenched group of chattering women. They reluctantly shifted their feet to let her pass. She had to hold her legs at an awkward angle so her boots could sit flat against the floor. Her ankles were starting to ache when the bus stopped next to a rusted bus shelter with an enormous coffee ad stuck to its side. Her heels rapped with satisfying solidity against the path as she alighted and walked the few metres to a yard cluttered with old bicycles and engines. The skin of her toes opened up with every step.
He opened the door before she got to it, wearing thigh-hugging trousers from which the zipper stood out like an awkward flag. The smell of cigarette smoke wafted through the door, propelled by the muted thud of a bass line. The haze around his head glowed like a halo in the porch light. When he pulled her against him, she couldn’t hear what he murmured into her ear but his breath was hot and scented with the sour tang of liquor. His zipper skewered her bellybutton.
Inside, the odd head turned to examine her with curiosity. He gently gripped her shoulder and guided her through to a bright kitchen, already littered with cans. Women were huddled in two and threes, wine glasses held casually askew, eyes bright with self-assurance. He turned to talk to a girl with a purple Mohawk. Someone pressed a bottle of vodka into her hand.
Seated on the lounge, her eyes scanned the room for his whippet-like form. He moved rapidly, his expression one of reserved enthusiasm. He looked people directly in the eye with a penetrating blue gaze. His laugh was easy. She took a swig from the bottle. The liquor set her empty stomach seesawing.
A man with a few blond hairs clinging to his chin was talking to her. She nodded a reply, giving him a tight smile. When he sat next to her, the soft cushion tipped her weight against him. He picked up her hand and brushed the back of it with dry lips. She couldn’t hear what he was saying but he didn’t appear to mind. She passed him the vodka bottle and awkwardly got to her feet. He clasped her hand briefly before releasing her.
She made her way to the bathroom, navigating the laughing huddles, ignoring the hands that grabbed at her. The face in the mirror was mask-like. In the dim light, her mouth seemed enormous. The thick red grease had caked and dried where it met saliva. She ran her tongue over it and scratched the pale scum away with a fingernail. She returned to the lounge, now empty. Her lips smarted when she sipped the vodka.
Suddenly he was there and brushing the soft underside of her arm with his fingers. His eyes were shining, watery in the smoky air. He bent to ask her a question. She shook her head uncomprehendingly. He asked again, his mouth quirking into smile. She stood, more steadily this time and led him outside, surprised to feel him unresisting behind her. They went and stood at the bus stop.
The rain was more like mist, now. He stroked her hair and his long fingers snagged in the wet strands. She tipped her head back and tasted smoke and the slippery hardness of his teeth. He kissed her again when the bus drew alongside them, a roaring, bright intrusion on the dark street.
He nodded at the bus driver. His eyes were in shadow and there were beads of water in his fringe. She made her way down the aisle of the bus, past bleary-eyed youths and the closed faces of shift-workers. She tucked her boots under her, making the damp leather squeal. Through the wet glass, he was a vivid watercolour against the black night. A torrent of rain washed him away.
An anti-love story. Black boots and great expectations.