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dickens & love writing does one so sensitive survive? I hold it carefully, and run my fingers around the embroidered edges, then press it to my face, inhaling the sickly scent of her. Cloying. Intoxicating. She must suffocate him. I fall asleep with it clutched in my hands, and throw it aside, like a ghastly nightmare, in the morning. She’s unbearably happy today. She hasn’t stopped talking. No wonder she’s barely moved on from binding edges. Whereas I deftly shape and trim the hats; bring them to life with nets and veils and flowers and spangles, she’s content to do the preparatory, the humdrum, the dull. Here, I am the peacock, and she is the hen; but not out there in real world; not where it matters. They are going to the country, tomorrow, she tells me: Rossetti, Millais and Hunt, and no doubt others in that silly Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or whatever it is they call themselves. ‘On the train’ she smiles, excitement emanating from her, carrying her away, far from our cramped, hot room in the back of the hat shop, away from the dirty, noisy city with its grime and soot; its beggars, traders, drunks and thieves. She’s losing track of her stitching, but I don’t tell her. Not yet. I smile as she talks, and she inches her chair closer. She likes me because I indulge her selfindulgence. I gorge upon it; question-nod-smile, question-nod-smile, my gestures the careful laying out of cutlery in an expensive restaurant where I’ll never eat, and her the fancy cake. She doesn’t notice. She’s in love, and for all she cares, the whole world could starve. She babbles on and on about her paintings, and my smile begins to crack. She thinks she’s an artist, and not just a disposable pretty face. Fancy that! Immortality in her own right? Well, not if her millinery is anything to go by. I watch her sew to the end of the line, and say, ‘Lizzie, I hate to point it out, but you’ve missed a stitch, right there, back at the beginning of the line…’ ‘Bother!’ she mutters, blowing back a loose lock of red hair that has fallen onto her forehead. ‘Now I’ll have to unpick it all and start again. Last week one was ‘below par’ and it can’t happen again, they’d see me out on the street!’ She laughs. That would never happen, I know. Not to her. ‘Thank goodness for you Mary, what would I do without you?’

I smile wider than ever, jabbing my needle into my finger; the thread screaming as it breaks in the silence of the room. My finger still throbs later as I prepare my evening meal: a small, red apple. I chop it into tiny pieces, and eat it whilst slumped in my grey shapeless smock; envisaging the transformation occurring beneath it. I see myself stepping out of a lake, thin; tossing droplets of pure aquamarine from my hair, which is as black and as glossy as a raven’s wing. My skin is pale, tinged with violet, but my amber eyes gleam, a tiger-eyed Aphrodite; emerging to admiring, awe-struck silence; my applause the frantic scuffle of brushes of canvas. I open her umbrella, the one that I took last week, and place it over my shoulder. Twirling it I dance around with the shadows in my room, faster and faster, until the faded wallpaper whirls before my eyes; until the candle lights blur into one dizzying stream; until I forget that I’m hungry. She got caught in the rain on her way to work, and sits at her station trying to run her fingers through her long, matted locks, muttering as her damp mane ensnares them. ‘This weather must be murder on your lovely hair’ I say, my initial feeling of triumph flattened by her beauty. Tendrils of hair curl around her face, and the downpour has darkened her eyelashes. Her cheeks are flushed, and she looks both vulnerable and wild, like a beautiful child. Beside her, dry and immaculate, I feel dusty, desiccated; old. She takes out a large, silver hairbrush, and I watch silently as she lifts it to her head. She places it against her temples; the bristles perilously close to her tender flesh, like teeth about to nibble at an exotic, sweet fruit; and then it bites. She pulls it through her hair; her slim, graceful wrist moving languidly through the air, almost ethereal; the beckoning call of a mermaid, or an angel. ‘Ouch’ she mutters, as the bristles catch. I blink, and move to help her, walking slowly, as if through treacle, taking the brush, the handle of it warm in my hands. ‘Here, let me do that,’ I croak, standing behind her, my shadow falling across the ribbons and scissors strewn over the work surface. I steady myself by putting one hand on her shoulder. It feels fragile, like a baby birds, easy to

the love dickens edition ~ 29

What the Dickens? Magazine #2  

What the Dickens? Magazine. Bi-monthly magazine for writers, readers and all literary types. Issue 2: the Love Dickens Edition

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