While Luigi washed my hair and sorted it out, I lay back and let my thoughts wander. Last night had been incredibly weird. Phyllis had driven me home afterwards in silence. I was left to wonder if they really did set out and punish other folk for daring to jolt their little worlds.
When he finished talking and stroking my hair in various complicated ways, he said I could use the back entrance into the dress shop, so that no-one could get a glance at his creation before the show. It was odd to look at; he had built it up somehow and given me two streaks of blue and pink, at one side. It did look nice, gave me depth and colour, brightened up my face. I slipped next door on cautious feet, Phyllis grabbed me and ushered me into a fitting room.
“We have a select audience today,” she said waving beyond the curtain. “You need to get changed. I’ve put the first collection together for you. When you get back, change again, straight away.”
I changed feeling bemused, she hadn’t noticed my hair. She was so involved. I heard her telling someone in the changing room next to mine the same instructions.
I put on an all in one cat suit, with floating palazzo hems. It was made of silk, slipped deliciously over my skin. It was quite modest, came fairly high up, and had enough at the top to cover bra straps. To go with it, I had a pair of sandals, and a small bag.
“Will I do?” I asked Phyllis carefully.
She nodded, and looked me over. “Your arms are good; you don’t need a cover up.”
The other changing room occupant came out, clad in a soft trouser suit, with a bright t-shirt.
We complimented each other, each softly casually formal.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” we heard her announce, “Welcome to our second design show. First up we have Christine in a soft linen town suit, and next we have Marion in a casual cat suit.”
Christine stepped forward, swinging her hips and her hair. Phyllis motioned me to stay still, and in silence Christine walked a red carpet, and back, turning to face the audience at the end. Phyllis motioned me to go forward, and in a blur I did my best to follow Christine’s path.
I got back to a slight smattering of applause, and slipped behind Phyllis, as I heard her announce two more outfits, this time for men. I had no time to stop and see. I had to run and change. This was certainly going to keep me fit. We went through the process six times in all. At the end, I was glad to slip into my own clothes, my beloved leggings and a simple tunic that came to my thighs.
Phyllis seemed delighted with the whole thing and at the end, was handing out drinks, and taking orders, some of them more extreme than the ones we’d worn.
“Wait, when it’s over we’ll go get coffee.” She said hopefully.
I shook my head. “I can’t,” I said dolefully, “I arranged to meet Paul for a chat. He’s been through such a lot.”
Phyllis nodded, “Alright, I’ll catch up later on then.”
Down by the outside market I began to feel more alive, more cheerful, the sun was up, it was a beautiful day. He was waiting for me outside Smith’s, hands in pockets as usual.
“Hey!” he said, holding out an arm.
I grasped his arm, and we walked arm in arm down the street, almost like lovers.
“Coffee?” I asked, “I was modelling for Phyllis.”
“Ah,” he said, “Remarkable. You should do it for the other shops, Quiz for example. “
“Don’t know,” I paused, looked around, was there any of them about? “I went to a meeting of the Ladies Triangle last night with Phyllis.”
“How was it?”
“Dreadful, stuff to people,” my voice faltered I hadn’t got over it at all. So much I couldn’t share with him. They’d do it to us too.
“I was in the other one.”
“The masonic one?”
“No, the X Club, does a lot for charity. Does other stuff too. Not so good.”
“Did you do it?” Suddenly so important that he didn’t.
“You have to keep in with people,” his voice tired out, “Otherwise… well you know about the otherwise now.”
We reached the café, and he led me in, and ordered, “I know most of them.”
“I think I know most of the ones we met, know what they do, and even where some of them live.”
“Since my business folded, I’ve had nothing to do with them.” He confessed. “I’ve been too ill.”
“Still it’s over now.” I encouraged him, “You have to start again, find someone nice. It’ll happen.”
“It’s happened,” he answered half smiling, “You!”
“Yes, I know,” I wriggled uncomfortable, “You really should have someone your own age.”
“You’ve met them, how can you say that?” he asked hurt. “You must have heard what they do.”
We drank our coffee. I felt bad. I wanted to say stay with me.
I put up my hands to say something and his hands enfolded mine, and we sat a few minutes in a taut silence, our heads near enough touching.
“Oy! It’s you, isn’t it?” said a female voice, “I met you last night.”
He moved his hands. I lost his touch.
“I have to go,” he said, getting to his feet. “Nice to meet you?”
“Sharon,” she said giving him the once over. “Nice bum!” she said softly as he walked away.
Sharon sat down. I could see she wasn’t going to be easy to lose.
“Sharon?” I said calmly, “What’s up?”
“It’s a pass the word,” she said triumphantly, “If asked about a certain person, you say she isn’t very friendly, you’ve heard that she drinks too much.”
“I don’t know the certain lady,” I pointed out.
“I’ll show you dear, it’s easy to do. You just have to do it in a quiet gentile way. No swearing or bad language.”
She led the way out of the coffee shop and into the busy street. As we walked up the road, she pointed to a small woman about my own age, with a harried air about her. She had grey hair that curled around her face, and blue grey eyes. She didn’t look harmful at all.
“Hello,” said Sharon as if she was being nice, “Are you busy?”
“Very,” said the lady, “I have a lot to do today.”
“Okay,” said Sharon, “I made a mistake; I thought you were someone else.”
She turned to me as soon as the woman walked out of hearing distance. “That’s her, she stole that poor girl’s husband, and we’ve got a contract out on him too.”
“Pardon?” I asked feeling stupid. Contract? Were they all out of their tiny minds and trees?