Sunday, 22 September 2013

70. Pale lilac feathers nod against her glossy black hair

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Sally and I are in a busy, noisy, untidy cafe in the centre of town. We met to do some shopping and our favourite cafe - full of plants, parrot wallpaper and vintage china - was shut. We were forced into a large and brightly lit cafe with crumbs on the floor and plastic chairs. Neither of us are happy about this. I have a hangover and Sally prefers somewhere with a little more style.

Sally is wearing a sharply tailored black skirt suit. Her tapered high-heeled shoes are black as well, and so is the seam up the back of her stockings. Her gloves are cream, like her handbag and the tiny hat she is wearing on the right side of her head. Cream veiling comes down over one eye, and pale lilac feathers nod against her glossy black hair as she moves her head. Her lips and nails are brilliant red. She appears to be oblivious to the stares of the other people in the cafe.

One of the things that suddenly strikes me is how uncomfortable some of them look. We arrived at the cafe, walked in, and ordered a pot of tea, a chocolate cupcake (for me) and a slice of Victoria sponge (for Sally). We have done nothing except politely order food and talk quietly, but I can feel the hostility oozing out of the walls and it is chilling me to the bone.

"We should have gone back to my place," I say, nervously twisting the hem of my silver shorts. Across the way two enormously fat women, both wearing jeans and t-shirts, are staring at us with identical expressions of amused disgust.

"Nonsense," Sally says tranquilly. She sips her tea.

A four-year-old boy passes our table. He is flying a car through the air and talking to himself softly, until he sees Sally. He stops dead and stares at her. He is wearing red dungarees and a blue jumper.

Sally has finished her cake. She dabs her mouth with her napkin. She looks at me, says "Excuse me," and flips open an antique powder-compact to redo her lipstick.

The little boy's father arrives to take him back to his table. He is lumpily middle-aged, with an air of having generally given up on himself and the rest of the world.

"Daddy," says the little boy, revealing himself to be piercingly middle-class, "why does that lady look like that?"

The father and Sally look at each other. There is a hilarious simultaneous moment of "What the fuck?" as the father quite clearly wonders the same thing and Sally tries to process why anyone would even buy a pair of chinos, let alone wear them in public with a navy fleece. Sally returns to her mirror.

"Come on. Back to the table," says the father. He stares at the lipstick licking colour slowly over Sally's lips, and then pretends he wasn't.

The little boy looks at Sally.

"Why are you dressed like that?" he says.

"Noah, stop bothering the lady," says his father. I suspect he actually means "stop attracting the attention of the deviants."

Sally folds the napkin up, puts it on her plate, and looks at Noah.

"Because this is how I like to dress," she says.

Noah nods. His blue eyes are huge and serious.

"I'm so sorry," says his father, ineffectually.

"My sister likes to dress like a fairy," Noah says. "She wears the costume all the time. Mum tried to get her to take it off this morning but she wouldn't."

He points at his table and indeed there is a slightly older girl there in a pink tutu, wearing a pair of large sparkly wings. She is tucking into a large chocolate eclair. A pink wand lies on the table beside her.

"She looks very nice," says Sally. "Developing your own style is an important part of Jungian self-actualisation." She looks meaningfully at Noah's father. He gives us a terrified smile, as if he is about to beg us not to kill him.

"Your hat is pretty," says Noah.

"Thank you," says Sally. 

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