She sensed the curtain rustling and a body drawing forward, moving towards her in the half light. There was a kind of pervading emptiness beneath her ribs which she could not quite deduce, and she drew the blanket more tightly around her like a second skin. The artificial calm of some water feature or another irritated her.
“Hurry up,” She muttered hastily, attempting to adopt a tone that was still vaguely inviting – not that she needed to – the men would approach anyway. Some of them would be greasy and groping, others presenting a tenderness which peeled away to a tortuous aggression, others were silent and would sob with shame – all were desperate. She told herself that she did not care, that she was just a pawn in the social system and not capable of caring. But she did.
The man was pale with flaxen blonde hair beginning to darken at the roots. He moved forward uncertainly with sharp staccato motions, craning his neck as if to get a superior view, his hard soles seemingly echoing the slow sharp slogs of a drugged pulse. It irritated her, but was not unusual, that he was proceeding to do the opposite of what she instructed him. Perhaps he didn’t hear her.
She found any kind of teasing speech stoppered in her throat. Instead, she glanced round uncertainly, looking across the little room as if it was a vast and torturous landscape she had yet to familiarise with – the tortured twists of the faucet, the medicinal quality of her array of rouges and fragrances. A brassiere lay across a three-legged chair like a fallen bird.
“I need to ask you something.” The undulations of his voice seemed almost intimate as he sat down upon the makeshift bed at a seemingly polite distance from her.
She wondered for a second if he was a police officer, and then realised that that did not matter much either – there seemed to something carnal in everyone. The veins pulsed, almost screaming through the skin at the top of her neck and she quickly, with shaking fingers, seized the smeared tumbler of whisky which sat faithfully next to her, night after night. It cleared her throat to manage a throaty drawl she felt most men at certain stage of intoxication found somehow sensual.
But this man was evidently not under the influence, his breath seemingly thick and sweet as he aimed his voice specifically at her, and yet she did feel aware of its kind of universal quality. She subconsciously tied her hair up behind her head in an extended arc, as if to hear better, her dark lengths usually intrusive and muffling of the sounds of male despair she so despised.
“When is your favourite time of the day?” and then he paused, and smiled, sadly “or night.”
She was taken aback by the semi-philosophical quality of question, half-anticipating the ploy it could be part of – and yet, she was acutely aware of his breaths, shallow and almost eager – a sense of evident waiting which pushed the truth from her. The alcohol stung in her mouth.
“When I sleep.” Her own unexplained honesty shocked her.
She answered surely, despite herself, letting the cloth sheet fall through her fingers, not even awae of her nakedness.
“Because I seem to have a much better time asleep.”
She wondered if there was something sad in that revelation, as she typically reassured herself that she had been long-disjointed from human emotion – although now she felt different, almost curious, as the bone-white fingers of the moon pried and the miserable mouth of window and cast the man in a kind of starved light.
She usually maintained that she did not ask any of her clientèle questions – she intruded into and most likely complicated a lot of their lives which caused enough consequent collateral damage to please her, to allow her to forget them, to evade any kind of tenderness.
But now she broke.
“How about you?”
Her voice was muddied with alcohol, inconsistent and for what seemed like the first time, she was painfully aware of it – usually accustomed to the evasion of shame – yet now she curled her body around itself and waited.
“I love polishing my boots,” He mused, almost fondly, placing his finger close to his lips as if drawing on a cigarette, and with his other hand gesturing vaguely towards the tall tough boots which encased his feet “You know, in a truly polished boot you can see the truth in everything – people’s faces, their expressions – don’t need to look over my shoulder when I can look at my boot…”
He let out a chuckle which seemed to enrich the air between them, deepening the thickness of the darkness as the night advanced and an owl shrilled like a murderer in the trees outside.
“What’s your name?” He asked simply, the question unfurling towards her as if the tender gesture of a hand against her face.
She woke for the first morning she could remember without the lingering pressure of hands across her body, woke without the usual drag of another’s breath thick through her ear. The sunlight spangled uncertainly on a room which appeared exactly the same as when the strange man had entered – he must have left soon after their conversation – apart from he had left the curtains of her room closed and his boots were stood, side by side, almost like infantry together on the floor.
She only noticed the tin of polish nestled between them as she swung one of her legs out of the bed and proceeded to move towards them. A little note nestled on top of the glistening tin, a note which seemed almost soot-blackened, and yet the writing style bold and determined, deliberate, thick between her clumsy and sleep-silted fingers –
Give it a try, you might like it.
A smile crinkled her still thickly painted lips, which lapsed to the usual grimace on hearing a familiar pressure behind the curtains.
“Yoohoo, sweetie. You want to see Maxie tonight?”
She automatically covered the window with its makeshift drape – though the only thing she lusted for was to see whichever man who stood behind the curtain shrink from the piercing shocks of new-day sunlight, bickering, howling.
But she told herself she had lost lust a long time ago – there in that little box-room which its thick lingering fume of lilies, almost funereal amidst the smoke-scared walls and gutted furniture. The whole thing stood like an assemblage of bone, even Eva, as yet another man crept round the divider and swayed into her arms, crushed with a fall thick with alcohol, unshaven and starving for contact.
She lay passively until he had finished with her.
It was one of the regular men she noticed - too exhausted to become frustrated – sometimes she would mention his wife, sometimes he would wail about the price of whisky until he lay insensible, breathing thick and damp into the old sheets. she wished that hate and pity were more compatible, especially when he raised his thick, bullish face afterwards, and began to speak, unfurling any kind of experience to her as if an apology –
“Saw my old friend Clive on the way here,” He slurred without any kind of control of his volume “doesn’t speak to me any more though….”
He mused upon his a moment before continuing.
“Had bare feet an’ all. Usually ‘as a pair of great big boots on. Anyway one of the blokes said he’s off to ‘make up things’ with his wife…”
At this remark he dug Eva teasingly, yet roughly in the shoulder, she shuddered at the sick scratch of the skin.
“Apparently ‘e hated seein’ her face in his boots – he told one of the lads he could see how very sad she was.”
She scattered ash thickly over the bedclothes as she smoked and spoke – a customary cigarette before he left, Eva thought with relief. She wondered vaguely of the strange man of the night before – Clive, he must be – she still felt the particular pressure as he had sat calm and collected at the end of the bed.
She assemblage her tiredness hastily to scramble to her feet, avoiding the grasping hands of her client and showed him to the door. Money did not even cross her mind, no, not then.
Light teased its way around the room as if on wings - for the makeshift drape danced and drew itself up in the wind like a free woman. She smirked at the thought, crumpling to her knees and looking back down again at the boots which had been left the previous night. Taking a little polish on her thumb, she pressed the toe of one until it shined back at her.
She smiled, and yet she watched, in the thickness of her reflection there – the tears fall thickly and heavily – against her face.