The girl waits for the man she knows isn't coming. She sits in her sateen dress, the most beautiful dress she has ever worn. It is white. It gleams, as luminous as bone. Each fold rolls across her lap, soft and
cold, a sloping landscape under snow. The sheen spills over her thighs. It pools on the floor.
When she dances though, it will bloom and twirl around her legs. Together, the girl and the man will be so handsome. Everyone's eyes will turn and follow them. They will gaze, like her, on his perfect face; it's highlights and it's shadows, it's poetry and dark romance. Her smooth arms will be raised high around his broad shoulders. He would be hers for all to see, and she his.
But the wait is too long. The first flush of dancing will have all been danced by now. Couples will be resting in corners. Whispers of breath on bare necks. Lips brushing teasingly close to attentive ears. The band, relaxed, with long practised skill, are casting benevolent smiles around the room. Their quiet ribbons of rhythm and melody twisting gently round woozy heads. The slow glow of alcohol flowing through bloodstreams and rising inevitably, heady with promises. The boys will circle the girls. The girls will look, without looking, sideways and under. And the dancing will get up and go round and around again. Hearts will whirl and jump. The shadows will flicker. The dizziness will linger long into the next morning.
The girl is now cold. She is slumped, no longer sitting pretty for him. She thinks she has been to sleep. There is blood pooling in the lap of her skirt. It's thick redness is shocking. It is a violent insult to the pristine beauty of her dress. She knows without looking, the blood is not hers, although it could have been. The severed brush from a fox is lying there on the floor. The smell is pungent and thick with animal. The girl doesn't think about how the fox brush came to be there, or how it came to be severed from it's fox. She thinks about her ruined dress. She won't be able to remove the stain tonight or any night. She can't dance in this dress now. It will not make the perfect scene. It will be the ugly blemish that will draw the eye, furrow the brow, wrinkle the nose. A kind of dread and sickness builds. It has a name and she abandons herself to it. She sobs. As she cries, she looks around unbelieving, tears falling, her hands raised up. She makes the effort to hold on to one last wild hope. Something has kept him from her, something he couldn't avoid. Perhaps he still sought her.
But the girl is not completely without fortitude and she closes her windows and locks her door. She removes the dress and douses it in cold water. She leaves it trailing from the sink and tries not to think about her pale flesh now so ordinary and imperfect without it's sateen cloak. She hides the flame coloured fox brush in paper, pushing it under the bed where she doesn't have to look at it. She'll do something with it in the morning. Then finally she washes herself, standing under the shower, but careful to keep her make up on for some reason. She still has her face ready she thinks. She gets into bed, focusing on the warm weight of the covers on her body. Trying not to think of him. Its a hollow feeling.
Later, soft knocking at her door and her heart leaps, but it is her friends. They whisper through the door 'Where were you? Why didn't you come? You could have come without him? You missed the whole thing.'
The girl doesn't open the door. She can imagine their flushed faces, their lit up eyes and mussed up hair. She doesn't want the contrast between her and them. They're going on somewhere else. She should come, they plead. The girl is not going anywhere tonight. She has already taken off her dress and it is now a heavy solid thing, lying cold in the sink. They leave a flurry of goodnight wishes and promises for the next day. The girl returns her head to her pillow.
Daylight comes. It is Sunday and there is no one to meet it. The courtyard is still. The buildings around it all have their eyes closed. Inside bodies are slumbering in whatever places they have found. So the car engine noise is crude in the quiet. The girl is awake with a start, nature's fight or flee mechanism hammering an alarm in her ribcage. She rushes to the bathroom. The sink is full of grey sodden fabric and pink water. She turns the tap for fresh water, rubbing at the dark marks under her eyes with wetted fingers. Her feet slide on the wet floor as she darts back to her bed, only just in time for the key in the lock. He is here! Her tears in the early hours seem so foolish now!
He is giggling as he comes into the room. She pretends to sleep. She expects him to slip into her little single bed. She hopes he will kiss her and show his desire for her. But her covers are never disturbed. She has to lift her head and turn to find him. He is silly with something, sitting on her chair, fiddling with his fingers. He's telling her he has an idea for them today. He wants to go and find mushrooms in the mountains. He reckons they should go early, before everyone else is there, all the tourists, although he hasn't been to bed yet, but he's not tired. He's leaning back on her chair, grinning at her. Then, casually, as he's looking at his fingers, rolling tobacco and paper together.
'Did you go out last night?'
She can only stare at him as she lies 'Yes. Just to the student bar. I didn't
know you were coming up this weekend?'
'I needed a break from the band.' he shrugs, 'Surprise!' He's grinning still, cigarette pinched in his folded bottom lip. 'I bet all those college boys were sniffing round you last night, wanting to be your boyfriend. Hating your boyfriend?'
She doesn't answer. There is no good answer to this that she can think of.
'It smells bad in here' he says. 'What's wrong with you. Did you die in here last night? That's fucking bad!' He scoffs, looking at her, incredulous. He turns away from her into the bathroom.
'What's in the sink. Actually, fuck it, let's go. Are you coming?'
And as she's finding her jeans, 'Do you have a tenner?'
'What for' she says,
'I need petrol'. He puts on a pleading face.
In the end she wears a long skirt, heeled mules and mustard leather jacket, totally inappropriate for mountains and defenceless against the mizzle that starts as they drive away, but she imagines she looks like a model groupie from the sixties. She rolls another cigarette for him as he drives, the way he has taught her. She crumbles the little block of hash in and she pretends to smoke it with him. She is tired and hungry and in the wrong clothes but they are driving away together and for now that is all she needs.
The girl stares at the man. He is so handsome. His cool eyes perfectly framed by his finely drawn cheekbones above the hard line of his jaw, but her admiration is disturbed by the way he giggles unpredictably. When he does that, he seems younger and less solid. She turns away. She thinks about the fox brush that so suddenly appeared to her. Fox tails are the most beautiful things, so abundantly bushy and the colour of autumn. She can understand why you might want to have one, to touch it. Although what was it, when it wasn't attached to the living fox anymore? What strange compulsion made people take trophies, like the huntsman who proudly brandishes the bloody brush. This made her think of other trophies; the hat or the ear of a man, taken by a soldier. Was it the same thing that made tourists buy fridge magnets or scratch their names into the bricks and wood of famous sites?
The car struggles with the steep upward curves of the single track road. When they reach the mountains, they are a flat open plain, swamped by greycloud and damp air. The girl thinks she will stay in the car, but the man urges her out. He wants to spend hours hunting his mushrooms, covering the area as far as they can see and collecting as much as they can pick. At first they can't find anything, but soon the man is showing her what it is she needs to find, a slender pink, brown tipped mushroom. The man is excited now and the girl diligently works, hoping that soon they will have enough and they can leave.
When the police car comes to a stop next to them, the girl wishes she could run. The policeman is fierce and demands to see inside their pockets. The policeman hunts underneath the seats of the car and in the glovebox and boot. He doesn't find enough to charge them but shame has seeped into the girl's mind. She wants to go home. The man doesn't. And they carry on for the rest of the day.
Finally back in her room, she hopes to sleep with him. He lies on top of her but it is not what she hoped. He leaves soon after. He has work in the morning. The next time she hears from him, he says he's not coming to see her anymore. He's sorry. She tries to keep him on the phone but he's finished with what he wants to say. She is cold with shock, yet she thinks she knew all this already.