“Aspire to nothing; you will never be disappointed.”
“What did you say?” Snapped Mrs Knattle, her sarcastic drawl replaced with a sharp bite, which smelt metallic; a whiff panic.
“Nothing,” I replied swiftly, to soften the blow. I didn’t mean to say it aloud. Sometimes that happens when my temper rises. Things that should really be kept within the confines of my own mind have a singular tendency to smuggle itself upon the electrical signal from my brain to my mouth – a stowaway. I could feel sweat beginning to dampen my shirt, my pores determined to push out all the impurities as quickly as possible. It is another problem I have; my body’s ability – more desperation to be constantly purified. And to my great distress, a simple bath, unfortunately, does not suffice.
“Would you please turn around and face me young lady – it is irretrievably rude to have your back turned from someone who is addressing you.”
I stifled a guffaw. Since her husbands death I had caught her receiving many addresses whilst her back was turned.
“Come now, surely we can come to some kind of – understanding?” She laid her hand on my right shoulder. I let her wheel me around, her grip tightening at every second that passed.
Before me was a tiny woman. Tiny in that she was thin, unnaturally so, but it was common knowledge that her husband (deceased) forced this regime upon her. ‘How ironic’ I thought. Her skin was taut and papery; I had a sudden urge to touch it, to feel it under my calloused fingers. Her hair which was apparently ‘strawberry blonde’ was more like a sickly ginger, stuck between two identities. It hung at shoulder length, sleek and straight, good heavens it be otherwise. Her face was blank – it could have been the first time we had met. It was a fuzzy blur, like when you have an excruciating migraine, and you feel like your dreaming except you know you’re awake, because you know you can die. My eyes must have lingered too long.
“What are you staring at?” Hissed another woman who had slinked next to Mrs Knattle, she being young, willowy and smelt potently of boiled sweets.
“Matilda, surely you’ve learnt by now – you will never get a husband talking to people that way. Your R.P is utterly dreadful.”
A scowl fluttered across Matilda’s face as my words hit her. Her finely plucked brows inverted disturbingly, and her thin nose pinched in disgust. Matilda was Mrs Knattle’s very own creation. Sculpted from her twelfth birthday to smile and charm, gracing every house in Starlen to get what was required for her mistress.
“Don’t talk to me that way you little weasel! Get off your high horse for once and stop judging everyone,” she spat, in her usual conceited drawl. I ignored Mrs Knattle’s smug expression, and stared pointedly at a small tattoo in the shape of a ‘V’ which laced the base of Matilda’s neck. Immediately I saw the blood in her face simmer, and secretly smiled.
“Gee Matilda, I’m sorry. I guess I’m just not pure enough to be here.”
I knew immediately I’d gone too far. The over-eager listeners gasped in horror at my seemingly innocent statement, and Knattle’s expression morphed from haughty to utter shock. Matilda’s face was scarlet. She moved towards me as if to strike, eyes flashing with fury, then quickly lowered her opened palm and drew my face close to hers. I could smell the Colgate mouthwash on her breath.
“You think you’re different, do you? Well you’re wrong – you’re just like every single person in this room, filthy and vile. You’ll never escape. Never.”
Tiny flecks of spittle caught my face as she hissed the words, and then pushed away my face as if I held the plague. She turned on her heel and bounced across the room to an unsuspecting young man I had been inspecting earlier. What was it about him that had held my attention? He looked pretty much like every other over-rich low life that crawled unknowingly into Starlen. As Matilda flounced towards him with her usual overbearing enthusiasm something strange happened.
The man’s face dropped; his eyes rolled almost in repugnance, and his lips tightened, as if in anger. But a moment later it had returned to a more familiar surface state of charm and contentment. After a few seconds of searching this strangers face without finding any trace of his previous expression, I turned back to my window.