Weekend Fiction by Philip A. Suggars: The Circle Line

Esther had left the gloves on the Tube. Black leather. Narrow fingered, supple and soft, with small buttons that fastened them at the wrist. She had kept them for years. A thrift shop present from her mother on her thirteenth birthday. They had lasted through cold winters and crisp spring mornings.

Esther had even kept the note that accompanied them. Typed in the incontinent capitals of her mother's Smith-Corona portable and folded into a prim oblong of yellowed paper: FOr my girl: so you Do NOt get colD. So your haNDs Do NOt get up to mIschieF.

She had worn the gloves all that thirteenth birthday, until she had found herself in front of her mother's bedroom mirror, her mouth smeared with lipstick and her eyelids shaded black. An alien expression leered back at her from behind the glass. It was the gloves that made me do it she had said, but her mother had slapped her and sent her to bed all the same.

Now Esther's fingers were naked. She examined their lewd pink tips as they caressed the stem of her glass. Her head span as much from the novelty of being out on her own, and about to meet a strange man no less, than from the cosmopolitan that she had gulped to steady her unease. She'd never drunk one before. But then she'd never drunk anything before.

The place Tony had chosen to meet was quietly arty. One of those pop-up bars lurking in Soho that looked like a cross between a speakeasy and a brothel. A dark doorway opened into the veins of a parallel city that pulsed with blood, gin and ink.

Esther placed her hand into her pocket and it closed around a piece of paper. One of the many notes that her mother had given her, before the illness had come and folded her up forever. Esther imagined them piling up in a dusty corner of her mind. A mountain of papery exhortations: smOkiNg is FOr whOres. MeN are ONly iNteresteD in ONe thing. NOw please wash yOur haNDs.

Tony arrived late. Esther looked him over discretely while listening to his self-deprecating anecdotes. She ate three olives and pushed the stones around the table with a cocktail stick. She giggled at the appropriate points, surprising herself at how easy it was for her to giggle. She ordered a second Cosmopolitan with a feeling of bleary sophistication.

His eyes were watery and kind and he punctuated his stories with sideways looks as he leaned towards her in feigned intimacy. But there was something lurking behind his eyes that Esther could not read. He might be hiding a wife and two children somewhere for all she knew. After all, meN are ONly aFter ONe thiNg.

"He's nice, but I'll be home soon," she thought as one of the olive stones rolled off of the table. She glanced at her warped reflection in the window, noticing how her disembodied head hovered above the crescent of her neck. The image reminded her of that fantastic creature who had stared out of her mother's mirror on her thirteenth birthday. Something dark fluttered on the edge of her vision and she shivered. YOur just like the rest. A paiNteD tart.

Esther swilled down her drink, put one finger up to Tony’s lips just like she'd seen someone do in a film once and said, "take me back to your place, now."

The two of them hooped arms together and stumbled down the steps into the electric mouth of the tube, blinded by the glare of white-on-white fluorescence and tiles. Drunken girls in miniskirts tottered past them, unsteady on pale legs. I really am just like one of them now, she thought.

They burst into the cramped hallway of Tony's flat. Three spectral raincoats hung from a hook on the door. She shut her eyes for a second. The room swam gently while waterproofed arms reached out towards her in agonised shapes. She shuddered and put them to the back of her mind.

In the semi-darkness of his bedroom, Esther retraced where Tony's lips had been with her fingers. His hands worked the fastenings at the back of her dress till they un-popped. Tiny implosions that made her giggle all over again. He leaned towards her and unhooked her bra. His hands, soft like a woman's, threaded beneath her arms. They snaked around her back, gripping the clasp and squeezing it with practiced authority.

She twisted onto the bed, grabbing his chin to keep his mouth in contact with hers, skin electric and vibrating to their shared harmonic. Something inside her was dying a tiny, ecstatic death. Just the way her mother had lain in the hospital, blind and skewered with pipes that breathed and bled for her until the end.

After they were done, Esther accepted the cigarette Tony offered her, even though she had never smoked one before. She lay on her back, writing her name in the darkness with the red-star of the cigarette tip.

It was the gloves that made me do it she said to herself.

It was the gloves that had made her stand up in the hospital, skittering towards her mother's motionless body like a marionette.

It had been the gloves that had picked up the pillow and placed it gently over her mother's face. Esther had watched, mesmerised by the backs of her hands, black-leathered and beetle bright as they pressed down until her mother's flapping movements subsided.

It was the gloves that made me do it she whispered in the darkness.

She had left them on the Tube, she remembered that now, complete with her mother's birthday note still folded inside them. She smiled as she pictured them abandoned on the seat, orbiting forever like a promise on the draughty carriages of the Circle Line.

Philip A. Suggars

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