At 6am it was hers and she held it to herself. The bed was very warm and her body fitted perfectly into it. In the half sleep dream world of early morning she lay wrapped in blankets as the pink sunlight turned to yellow sunlight turned to blue skies filled with the chattering of birds. She brushed her teeth and it was still hers as she looked at it in the mirror. She brushed the hair in long strokes, untangling sleep and knots. Meanwhile the kettle boiled, and as she spat into the sink it started to whistle.
It was almost hers on the train but she could feel someone’s crotch rubbing against her leg and didn’t know whether it was the motion of the carriage or the active decision of the suited man. She shifted her body and the suit shifted with her. The train rattled through dark tunnels and each stone face was jaundiced under the sickly bright lights. She was tired and looked at the sparkling gum covered floor as she clung onto her pole.
When she got there she could still feel the coarse polyester against her leg, as if it had followed her. The restaurant was brightly lit and the chandeliers glistened in the sunshine. At night they would be ignited and sparkle on their own, as people milled around sipping cocktails. But now the atmosphere was different. She was glad to be on the lunch shift, where old ladies smiled as they asked for a lager shandy, please darling. Jessie said the man had been there since the morning, drinking Irish coffees and staring at the waitresses. This was what the girls called a creeper and they served them quickly, not engaging with attempts at conversation. Jessie caught her by the arm and said can you take him, please, I’ve had him all morning and I’m hungover, please, I’ll take over your section I just can’t deal with any shit today. So she agreed. Jessie’s section was bigger so she was glad of the exchange.
The carpet was so soft and as she dropped the coffee she was carrying a brown stain spread over the dark red like when you hold a pen against a piece of paper. Somewhere in the back of her mind she thought of her manager shouting at her later about it but it was hard to get over the shock. Nobody had ever touched her like that before. His hand was so soft and big and as it slipped up her skirt and squeezed the flesh of her bum, and at the same time he said nice legs darling and she felt the fine hairs on her thighs stand up.
Everything was in slow motion as she turned and the drink fell to the floor and she saw his two hands already back in place on the oak table like they had never moved. A woman with white hair turned to look. Nobody had seen. The moment of silence lasted forever and they looked at each other and his face said I know you won’t, you silly bitch. She felt a horrible shudder through her insides and walked away, black heels sinking into the soft red pile. She went to the bathroom to be sick and readjusted her tie before fixing her smile back in place. When she returned the man had left, taking some of her with him. It was not hers anymore.
On her way home listening to Beyoncé she regained it a little bit but still she could not get rid of the anger directed at herself. The image of her manager’s red mouth moving as she shouted at her played on a loop. Spit had landed on her crisp white shirt. It had cost £11.95 deducted automatically from her first wage slip.
First warning, she had said. You know the expectations we have of our waitresses here. It’s not just some diner. And that gentleman left straight after. He’d spent over seventy pounds already and I expect he would’ve spent more if you’d not fucked his order up.
Then she left with her bottom wiggling in the black pencil skirt, looking like a squashed loaf of bread in elasticated nylon.
She had intended to explain what had happened but the words stayed in her head. She didn’t know why they wouldn’t come out because they were ready and so clear, so clear, so clear and sharp like the glass that seemed to have embedded itself in her chest.
The cold air sobered her up and she marched through the streets with breath clouding in front of her and ignoring the watchful eyes as she wound her way through the maze like the expert she was.
The night had settled over the skies blanket-like and brought a chill with it that froze her bare legs, her nice legs darling. She felt the polyester and the hand like hot patterns on her skin. The hallway was so warm and safe that she just stood there with the keys in her cold hands under the yellow hall light.
The top door opened and he stood silhouetted against the crack of light. Why was he wearing that jumper? I thought I heard the door, he said. Why are you standing down there you muppet?
She held up a stack of post in answer.
In the shower he tried to come in but she said no, please. It’s been a long day at work just give me a minute.
He went away without saying a thing and the muscles in her shoulders relaxed.
She lay in their bed, wondering why the shower had not washed away the polyester or the hand, only made her smell like coconuts.
She asked that to him when he came into the bedroom. He asked what she was trying to wash away but he didn’t look at her, he was looking at his phone. The tinny theme tune of candy crush saga leaked into the little room.
They hadn’t fucked for ages so she was surprised when he rolled over and started to kiss slowly down her spine.
The room fizzed with the sound of the heater and the sound of the telly next door and her heart jumping unevenly against her chest.
She thought about how sad it was for a twenty seven year old man to be playing candy crush saga on his phone.
Yes, oh fuck, fuck, he said
It wasn’t even a fun game.
Neither was this. She used the gap in time to think about other things, like the fat man’s hand. She also lamented the loss of her favourite scarf somewhere on the 273 bus as he grunted and sweated above her, feeling up the tits dangling beneath her. Did he not notice the lack of response? But they were both worlds apart in the little room, one sordid brick in a grid of thousands, millions of spots of light spreading out across the city. Some were filled with laughter, some with silence, some with lovers and some with mismatched hearts like theirs. They were only planets caught in the same gravitational pull, and like planets they did not question why they were there but went on hurtling through. Afterwards they lay side by side not touching and the smell of his sweat and aftershave seemed to fill the room and also her entire nose.
You watch too much porn, and you’re getting fat, she said to the darkness.
But he was asleep. Then she thought about how strange it was that a person who had once been everything and also irresistible could alter, snap, so suddenly into an object of mockery and pity and disgust. How had their laughter and bodies ever chimed together?
In the darkness she spoke, her voice breaking inside the whisper. She told the sleeping boy about how it had been, because she knew he had forgotten and that was what got her deep in her stomach. It still shocked her. Time slowed to a drip as she fed her memories into the unhearing ears and they played behind the fuzzy darkness of her eyelids like colour projections. She spoke about how she thought she was strong and that she belonged to herself, but she was wrong. Increasingly she was losing bits. Where had she put them?
Then she started to laugh.
She fell asleep, holding herself and saying
In the morning the sun rose and illuminated the five spread out points of her body, from pink to yellow to chattering blue.
By Cicely Drew
Cicely is a writer and feminist based in London. She explores the female experience in her work, and is interested in articulating the lives of women everywhere, through both the fictional and journalistic. She is unsuccessfully trying to learn as many tongues as possible so that she can always be sure of where the toilet is.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for queries about collaboration or anything else.
Photography by Alice Sleeper-Atkins