Changing Skin

September 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Image             She was gazing idly through the kitchen window overlooking the back yard when the idea came to her: she would do it when the last leaf blew off the gingko tree. She loved her husband, but wanted to know – just once – what it felt like. She knew she had to do it soon, before she got too old and no other man would want her. She told herself she was probably being stupid and it would no doubt be a disappointment, but she would do it anyway.

November arrived and the storms came. She glanced up from the morning’s washing up and watched the wind making whirlpools in the yard. Red and orange leaves from the Japanese maples curled through the air like wet broken feathers, and the flat yellow gingko leaves stuck to the wet slabs like imprints of fossils. A single anaemic leaf held tight to its branch, then, almost as if she had willed it, was plucked away by a sharp gust. The gingko was bare.

It was easy. She told her husband she was going to the city to do the Christmas shopping. He had no reason to doubt her. She made a casserole to last the weekend, finished the ironing, and took a bus to the station.

As she tucked her weekend bag neatly under the seat, she smiled. Her husband would have been surprised and not a little confused by its contents. No trace of the Boden wardrobe and sensible loafers; but instead a clingy red dress and black waisted leather jacket she had bought from Karen Millen and hidden at the back of the wardrobe. The high-heeled boots were black and expensive; she had been surprised how easy it had been to walk in them when she had tried them on in the shop.

She studied her reflection in the carriage window unable to concentrate on the thriller she had intended to read, and looked for signs of remorse for what she was about to do; she found none. She hardly recognised herself – it was as if she had put on another skin. She shivered with excitement and pressed her cheek against the carriage window. The clouds scudded low over the fields, turned into grey mist and disappeared into the purple anonymity of the night. On the return journey, she knew, everything would be different.

             A cab took her to a small hotel near the cathedral. Her room, a blank minimalist box with no history written upon it, was unlike any space she had ever slept in. She showered but did not change her clothes, and went down for supper. She scanned the room: a couple of old men read newspapers in the bar, a middle-aged couple ate silently in a corner. She ate quickly and went to bed. She did not dream.

In the morning she went shopping. She bought presents she knew would surprise her family. A pink party dress for the girl – it was the child’s favourite colour; a shaving set for the boy – he would be needing it soon. For her husband she bought an expensive Philippe Patek watch with a large white face and roman numerals engraved in black. She had no appetite for lunch. Before going back to the hotel she bought black underwear and the darkest red lipstick she could find. She walked back through the cathedral gardens, then turning down the lane towards her hotel was attracted by music coming from a pub. The sign above the door said the Chaste Arms.

Back in her room she flung her old clothes carelessly on the floor and changed into her new clothes. She carefully applied her lipstick. I have not lost my figure she thought, admiring herself in the full-length mirror.

The pub sign squeaking in the cold wind showed a metal chastity belt and an improbably large key. She paused briefly, stifled a laugh and pushed open the door. The bar was low ceilinged and timber framed. It was dark and smoky and smelled of beer. Chastity belts hung from the walls and rafters. She thought how ironic it was she had chosen this place. A man sat with his back to her at the bar. He was much too thin for her taste, and untidy black curls spilled over the collar of his brown leather jacket. As she sat down beside him she noticed a snake tattoo on his left wrist.

He turned casually towards her. ‘Haven’t seen you here before.’

‘You haven’t,’ she replied. ‘I’m just travelling through.’ She looked at his empty glass. ‘What can I get you?’

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