Thirty seconds later I found myself in the cold white cell of the public toilets I knew to be on this road. God, what was I doing here…?
I heard the shaking sounds of sobs echoing eerily on the chilly tiles. My eyes cleared, and I saw that Shani was standing at the sink, tears leaking through her fingers, her shoulders hunched and her straight figure seeming to have collapsed in on itself.
What had I done? What had she done? What had her cousin done?
Not now, then? No; not since Shani was here.
When Deanna was there, then? Did she depress me?
Perhaps she did. But at least she understood.
Now, did I indulge in my own depression, or attempt to comfort Shani, in a public toilet I guessed to be the women’s half? What kind of a hole was I in now? What if anyone came in? Could I be jailed? Surely it wasn’t legal for me to be here.
And how legal was the murder of my sister, or the suicide of my friend’s cousin?
I made a mental decision. No more selfishness. You're going to church in a few minutes, if you ever get there. And Shani needs you.
So I stepped towards her and let my arms slip round her small body. She turned in to cry into my chest, and I felt how slender and broken she seemed. Sorrow shrivelled her. Clouds had passed over sunny Shani, and the rain was pouring down.
But for all her comfort, I felt awkward. I just felt as if I wasn’t meant to be there. Which I wasn’t. But I wasn’t meant to be hugging her. Somehow, instinctively. Or was that just the memory of Deanna Macpherson, haunting me, distorting my judgements, like a dark phantom of Satan?
I refused to think of it. Deanna had been my saviour the first time.
Or had she? Since when did she actually persuade me to go to church at all? She bade me look up at a cross upon a green hill, where a man was killed so that we could be forgiven. But I didn’t believe her. Why should I? I still don’t.
Wishing I could rub the sleep from my eyes, I let my neck droop. My nose was in her hair, intoxicated with her shampoo, and we were just standing there, Shani and I, in the girls’ loos, alone and cold and grieving.
Then she was at the sink, splashing cool water on her tear-smudged face. I watched in wonder, never having seen the face of a girl who wears make-up without it. It can only be described as a horrifically fascinating revelation.
“See here?” she whispered, beckoning, and I obeyed. She was staring into the mirror.
“The instant anyone, whoever it is, mentioned the word ‘acne’, I wince. I can’t help myself. I can’t hear that word.”
I winced myself. I had never heard her speak with such feeling before this. Her sunshiney exterior had been cold, despite its warm rays. It had been shallow, skin-deep. Now, her words went to the core, and they stayed there.
“Come closer,” she said.
I peered into the mirror as closely as I dared, and I saw that her face was not pale and flawless. It was blotchy, holey.
“Scars,” she said. “I don’t suppose you remember me that well when you first met me.”
“I do a bit,” I said.
“I was recovering at that time,” she said. “I’d had it since I was ten.”
Another nasty jolt to the system.
“You will never know how much I hated myself. How much I had to get through. How I had to beat myself up, reason with myself, just to go out and show my face to the sunlight every day.”
I felt a lump in my throat. “I do know,” I said.
She looked at me through the mirror, unsmiling, but I could feel her warmth coming through once again. Yet this was not shallow warmth. This was Shani’s soul. And for a moment, I thought I couldn’t possibly disappoint her.
“I…when I was ten…my parents left me alone for a few nights. No, not alone.”
She waited. No curiosity; no prying enthusiasm. Something a little allied to Deanna’s powers of understanding. Just a little.
“There were two of us, you see. And then there was just me…”
I was interrupted mid-explanation by a fantasia of church bells somewhere in the distance, and I felt an overwhelming rush of queer relief. The moment had passed.
“Let’s go,” I said. “We’ll be late.”
She just smiled, and drew a tiny plastic case from her pocket. I watched her apply her make-up, a peculiarly disappointed feeling welling in my heart. Why should I be disappointed? I thought, fascinated as her cheeks were tinted with so much skill, becoming round and healthy and alluring. I found myself wondering if Vere or Deanna Macpherson had ever worn make-up, and I found that I had no idea as to the answer. It had never seemed to matter before. But now, it mattered very much. If Deanna wore make-up, or if she didn’t, everything would change, something told me.
Moving to the door, she poked her head outdoors with unnecessary abnormality, although she looked quite childishly comfortable in the action – I suppose she thought I’d tell her my story later sometime. No passer-by would think there was anything out of the ordinary if she’d strolled out as nonchalantly as ever.
Turning back swiftly, she winked, and closed was the window to her soul.
I slipped from the ladies’ toilets and we continued down the road. Nothing that could in any way be described as exceptional or extraordinary had taken place, and Den O'Derron was on his way to church.