Memoirs of a girl of high society
‘’Who would like another drink?’’ her voice echoed around the tiers of the room despite the general hubbub.
Miss Birkbeck’s countenance was thick with anxiety. Over the glasses of alcohol in each hand, her eyes wavered a kind of fleshy pink and her tongue set thick in her mouth like a snare. She had taken what she thought would be enough aspirin to last her the evening – enough to mask over a gaping ache which filled her chest and lungs, like an invisible bruise. But, as with everything, she brushed it off, brushed it off as her dress brushed against the gowns of others – projecting that resounding crackle of high society – the crackle of the cork plucked from the bottle, the crackle of starched shirts and banknotes. She stumbled slightly on the polished floor, her high heeled shoes protesting with a squeak which hit her amidst the wave after wave of sound.
Her senses were somehow elevated – there was a smell of violence in the room, she knew. Of course, she knew many people as well – distinguished individuals one way or another – but they flickered distantly, like starved candles. She wondered if what she needed was not alcohol, but a kind of hot wax to envelop her sense of feeling completely. Then she would be satisfied, safe – she thought. She was glad that no one was really looking at her; after all, the room composed what she saw as a kind of face of its own, moving in a horrible unison. She steadied herself on the shoulder of some sandy haired young man. His fingers gripped her wrist almost compulsively.
‘I’m fine, honestly, just serving drinks,’’ She stuttered, hoping he would gather the implicit message and let her be.
It was quite the opposite. With the seeping ferocity of someone already intoxicated, in his free hand he swept the two surviving champagne flutes from her grasp, drinking them greedily – the fine-cut glass pressed hard to his lip magnifying the slimy thickened flesh. Miss Birkbeck protested weakly, and wrestled free. She saw his lips dripping with moisture.
People like that, she thought - considering the room as a face – were the mouth of the room; compulsive and consumptive, desperate. The mouth of the room was a group that usually clung together, thickened with perspiration and alcohol - she saw them from a distance – rouged lips and cheeks shrieking in a mounting hysteria. The man with the sandy hair and thick lips was absorbed back into them, the clot of bodies spluttering and squealing like a hot oil. It made her skin crawl, her hands were wet –
‘Would you kindly tell me where I can find the bathroom?’ A nasal female voice interrupted her abstractions.
Miss Birkbeck stared into the face which had approached her. She was only a girl, no more than eighteen – with a stark, almost naked complexion and wide eyes as blue as if they had immersed all the purity in the room. Her eyelashes fluttered nervously, making a tap, tap, tap, tap against the young white face. Miss Birkbeck stiffened – it was a noise of monotony, of clocks and ticking, of time and minutes. She saw this girl as part of the nose of the metaphorical face of the room – pronounced in such an alert angst. She felt sorry for her, although she may have confused feelings of pity with the ache that was still there.
‘I will show you the way if you follow me.’
Miss Birkbeck knew if she showed the girl the way to the bathroom she could cross quietly afterwards to her own room and savour the sweet minutes of utter isolation, but also, she knew she wanted to discard of this girl as soon as possible – the girl who had a thickening bruise and teeth marks at the nape of her neck. This was perhaps just the regular jewellery of existing. After all, Miss Birkbeck mused as she swept through the room – people adored to adorn themselves with it, or at least convinced themselves so – the files of young men with awry collars she passed, cheeks coloured with the lipstick of some insignificant other. That is what Miss Birkbeck thought – all utterly insignificant! The room over her shoulder was nothing more than a clot of vague colour against fleshy walls and thick curtains, punctured with the occasional scream. It was like a piece of tissue proposed for inspection.
Medicinal. Yes, that is how she saw it, as she pointed the fluttering girl in grey to the now visible bathroom, crossed with precision to her own room, turned the latch of the door like a glistening instrument. Ah, for all she had heard tonight – the pleading and shrieking, the lies and excuses – perhaps she could consider herself the ear of the room. She mused on this, collapsing back on the devastating expanse of bed and could hear herself breathing. She wished she couldn’t. Her dress crackled, the open doors and windows floundered against the wind whipped through their hinges like an irregular pulse. Her short hair prickled against the pillow. And gazing upwards, she knew it was the eye of the room which swam into view – its horrible bloodshot expanse, its sense of dominance, its leering unblinking as she scored upwards with a fist….
She felt a hand on her throat.
‘I think that quantity of sedative will be amicably sufficient,’ a rich, masculine voice sounded out every syllable meticulously.
The pressure was released. She could feel the tears thicken against her face as the doctors and nurses wheeled her back into the ward, away from the dayroom. They left behind them an upturned chair like a broken carcass, several patients. A young man with bruised arms stared after, his lips dripping with moisture.
The ache continued.