Eating Time: Part Three
Her bloomers. Dead sexy. It’s all thongs and bikinis nowadays, but back then, her frilly white bloomers peeping out when she did the Jitterbug were the sexiest thing I’d seen, no kidding. It was the way she threw herself into the turns, as if she wanted each one to throw her off somewhere new, and exotic. Great waist; shaped-up legs. Not a bad face, either. Sort of long, with thin eyebrows and a tiny mouth with tiny plump lips. They’d pout down if you said something a bit frisky, then one side would shift up reluctantly. Not a patch on my Jenny, of course. But at the time, it was just too bad she were married; already had baby hips by then. Although, truth be told, I don’t think I’d have got past the window sill anyway. She had a funny way of keeping you away. She never seemed to look you in the eye, as if she were looking on you, not at you. When you touched her arm, your fingers felt an inch apart from her skin. She’d already been claimed.
She looked at me in that blank way the first time we met. Made me blink to see a pretty face forget to flirt. She smiled quickly, though, as I sat down next to her, ordered her a G&T, and offered the next dance, once I’d got my breath back. Turned out the next dance never came, at least not for us. We just talked all night on those crusty plush-red chairs. I’m a Cambridge man, and it turned out she’d studied at Birmingham, and really knew her stuff, for a woman. I got her arguments about Pliny good and tangled, alright. She only managed to worm her way out through a linguistic loophole.
We met quite a few times after that, wine at Maggie’s when she could get away from the brats, or just a quiet pot of tea in my flat. She used to sneak out when that wet-blanket husband of hers had “got one of his days on,” as she put it. We argued over this and that, all quite amicably. And she told stories. Endless stories. She loved telling tales. About events she’d been to, intriguing signs she’d seen, sounds she’d heard on the wind. Half the time I thought she was making it up as she went along, a torrent of strangled communication with the world. As if she had to interpret every tiny thing in her brain out into the air, or she would be lost in her own smallness.
God, and she repeated story upon story from her wretched old Aunt. At least, her Aunt gave her the budding stems of stories, in proverbs, in anecdotes, in warnings. That old bitch had quite clearly gobbled up poor Dotty’s youth in chores and nagging, but she never seemed to remember that. All she repeated were her Aunt’s old wives’ tales, like a personal mantra. In her mouth they grew and unfurled and tendrilled out into beautiful, horrifying Venus Traps.
She got quieter though. Silences started to creep into our stolen evenings. She never said why. Why is hard. Who and when are like sticky clay on a potter’s wheel, but why is after the kiln. Rock hard. Try and re-shape it, and it smashes into sharp pieces that cut your fingers. So we skirted round why and settled for stories. Stories that almost said things.
The last time I saw her, she was in a laughing mood. We were at Maggie’s with a few friends, Billy Ace and Sammy, Handsy Joe and that gorgeous Hermes-footed Peggy. Peg and Dot, what a pair they were. Inseparable doesn’t cover it. I swear sometimes they’d look at each other, and see right into one another’s heads. Always seemed to know what the other was thinking. Us boys used to tease them about it, say that they knew each other’s thoughts before they’d had them. Women are like that, though, I guess. Always a step ahead when it suits them, always a step behind when they’re wearing heels.
But there was something… off that night. Her leg juddered up and down as she sat in her stockings and powder, smoking one of my rollies. And she kept tapping her teeth with those tiny fingernails, then fetching out her lipstick to repair the damage. She’d got one on her, no kidding. I tried to get her all het up about a bit of Sophocles I’d been reading, but she weren’t having it. I asked her what was up; she just looked across me. Later, she told me she’d eaten too much. I joked about her baby hips, but she looked across me again and said, “But I’m not enough for it. I’m too thin. I’m – I’m chiffon.” Peggy came over and did that weird mind-reading look, and they left. Without a word. I just figured I’d see her in a few days, same as ever, but she just vanished, without a single word, just gone. Peg, but no Dot. Gone. Back into her washer-woman life, I guess.
Such a shame. Such a pretty waist. Such cracking legs.