The beginning of a short story
A bar, late at night, in the depths of winter. All biting dreariness, all new vows smudged and turned bitter. Peasants, Producers, Queens, Barons, Bankers, Witches and Bitches, we sucked on rhubarb pickle sours and tipped Earl Grey whiskey martinis into our gullets. Snorted up fairy powder and blew out smoke from the damp arse-end of buildings. Clinging to the dregs of festivity to make it through the first month of the unwelcome fresh year.
It’s a strange sort of girl who fears ending up alone, when they have a phone frothing with dates and the puny, pale beauty of a thirteen-year-old Russian supermodel.
I was she.
But although it was a fragile and tedious time, I had never gone as far as to talk to him. Not the blue-bearded prick who sat at the corner table!
He liked being called ‘Blue’ and would sliver into the place without anyone noticing, making you feel like he was everywhere. Before too long your eyes would be involuntarily pulled towards his cement smile or you’d overhear one of the compliments that leaked from his mouth like bad breath.
Admittedly, I’d had one brief encounter with him, when I’d been trying to walk to the little girls’ room three months prior. He had been dating a haggish ex-ballerina at the time and they had been high as treehouses and pulled me into their little scrum, squishing a glass of champagne into my hand. In return, I’d sloshed the bubbles onto the woman’s dress and then squeezed out a putrid, tumultuous fart right onto the blue-bearded prick’s lap.
He’d left me alone since then, but I’d seen a flicker of admiration on his fat face.
That night he was sat at the bar, alone for once, stroking the hairs on his chin, which must have been bleached and then streaked with the pretentious periwinkle. I felt his eyes crawl over me like slugs. I tried to trawl through my messages to select a suitor, but Salvo the barman interrupted.
‘Blue cannot stop staring at you tonight.’
‘I know, how disgusting.’
‘He’s just broken up with his girlfriend … you should go for it!’
‘Why on earth would I do that? He is repulsive.’
‘Wait, sweetheart. You don’t know?’
Salvo stopped still but his hair quivered like a Chihuahua.
‘He’s a celebrity. He’s BFFs with Taylor Swift and has Instagram followers all over the kingdom.’
I gripped my taut thighs with confusion. ‘What? Well how come I don’t recognize him?’
‘Oh you know, he keeps it real. But I swear, when he’s not here he’s like, reading out poems with James Franco or blowing out birthday candles with Blue Ivy. And he doesn’t even drink now but still tips like Richie Rich with a hard on.’
I inspected my friend’s face and saw it was earnest and true.
I looked over at the blue beardy prick. His oily, milky cheeks reflected the flashing lights of the dance floor quite sweetly. On second thought, the beard, perhaps, was not periwinkle, but electric blue instead. Bowie had electric blue hair at one point. Did he not write a song about it? Maybe it was actually an excellent look and I just hadn’t got it. I flushed with embarrassment at the thought of his sophistication fooling me; what a naïve little chicken I could be. An unwelcome memory of my chubby eleven-year-old-self eating liver and onion pie with my moustachioed grandma popped into my mind. I clenched my fist and banished it.
He saw me looking and raised his enormous pink milkshake. Jabs of jealous maiden scowls prickled around the room. Salvo winked and cackled as I strode over; the evening was sparking up. Blue licked his chops and rubbed his thick knees when I sat down with him. I allowed my mink to slip slightly and expose a hint of my white breast.
‘Madame,’ he kissed my hand with damp fish lips, ‘so psyched you finally came over.’
‘Darling, I feel as if I were made of stone until this second.’
We spoke a little of our dreams and desires, our beliefs and aspirations. At one point we got Salvo to take a picture of the two of us and Blue uploaded it and said: Who says you can’t find beauty in Brooklyn? #bae #thisgirl #Tuesday #drinks #princess
Kanye West ‘liked’ it.
By spring I had turned into a kept woman. I swapped boozing for volunteering and took up teaching scat singing to a group of old blind people. My plump little prince kept me happy. I even dyed a tuft of my pubic hair blue as a tribute to him!
I gauged snippets of the origins of his great fortune. He was one of the early app and website creators for Elderly Elixir, which rejuvenated the faces and phrases of selected over-fifties and disposed of those too decrepit to hope. And then there was his zine – Superior Stepmothers – that championed the plight of second wives that deserved more attention than their new hubby’s children.
His schedule was sporadic. Sometimes we would snooze and laze around the apartment for days on end, waited on by his excellent selection of servants. We’d nibble sushi, master dance routines, he’d make me squeal with laughter with his imitation of a disabled duckling. Other times, I would barely see him for a week. I would potter about, whiling away the moments, singing my oodleh aw wap doo dah. The staff would watch with pained, solemn expressions, obviously deeply moved by my new talent.
Blue would always manage to catch me off guard on his return. I’d inevitably be doing something vaguely mortifying, like flicking through one of his ex-wives’ modelling portfolios or eating a half a slice of bread like a little piggy. Then I’d hear, ‘My little ladylove!’ or ‘My precious poo petal’ and I’d whip around and see that creamy smile and blue, heart-shaped spurt of facial hair.
The only thing I couldn’t get him to relent on, however much I wriggled and jiggled, was the secrecy surrounding his so-called studio space.
‘It’s private baby,’ he’d say, ‘it’s my sacred abode. Victoria and David were actually just saying last night how much of their relationship was based on trust and respecting boundaries.’
But the studio was out in the bugger-up end of Queens, so of course, I knew he was hiding something – or someone. A mistress perhaps? That seemed nigh impossible given how devoted he was to me. Perhaps it was a drug ring of some sort? A cupboard stuffed with dwarves dallying out powder into little sacks? But then my darling had been to rehab and never touched any of the naughty stuff, so that seemed doubtful. I couldn’t imagine. But I had to find out.
Of course, the second I actually wanted my husband to leave, the longer he seemed to hang around. There was just one engagement after the other. Flings and swing dancing ping-pong comps. Bear fights, cock duels, rock lights, diamond fuels. I was supple on my husband’s arm and would twiddle a strand of his tuft so people passing would be mildly blinded by my jewelled fingers. He was very proud, but I knew he’d had a checkered list of brides before myself, and it was getting harder and harder to stick out from the pack. One thing that aided me was my siblings. Blue flew them first-class from their various pecking patches around the globe and scrubbed them all clean in a spa until they were almost as attractive as me. The three of us exuded nymph-like naivety whilst flashing our foxy little fangs, and had most of the crowd salivating.
But after a while, all this began to wear thin and my thoughts were pulled again and again to his studio. I wanted to truly know the man I had married. I wanted to delve into my husband’s psyche and attempt to understand what went on behind the flaccid white of his eyes.
It was no joke getting Driver to agree to take me to the studio. Clearly it was seriously forbidden. I resorted to sneaking a whole manner of crushed pills into his apple smoothie every morning until he was drowsy, constipated and psychotic in equal measures. Then I pinned him down and got one of the worse singers in my group to scat in his ear until he screamed he would do anything to make it stop.
The very next day we set off. My heart thumped under my tiny bosom and my hands grew sticky on the leather as the postcard skyline morphed into unknown scabby tower blocks.
‘One mustn’t stray off the path around here, I suspect?’ I called out to Driver. ‘All wild dogs and hungry smackheads?
He did not respond. Lord, was I nervous! We drove past dirty, looming buildings with mismatched bricks, swarming pigeons and creeping tramps. Hounds pattered by without leashes or humans to hold them, seemingly unabashed of their wildness. Grim-faced cops, mucky teens charged the pavements whilst howling toddlers declared war from prams.
What could possibly make Blue subject himself to this dreary and disgusting patch of the city? The more vile the neighbourhood became, the more I wanted to know what was in that sodding studio. Driver’s thick hairy fingers gripped on to the steering wheel as the car started to slow.
‘My oh my,’ I leaned forward, ‘what mighty hands you have!’
‘What? Oh yes, my ex-wife used to make me wax them. Now, here we are. I’ll wait outside here in the car until midnight. Building code is seven-three-seven. You have to follow the sign for the bagel stand, the studio is just on top of that.’
‘Oh do come in with me darling,’ I said. ‘Don’t be such a bore.’
‘No madam. I think you’ll find that I have held up my end of the bargain. I won’t go any further.’
‘Oh fine then, you wet pair of panties, I’ll go in alone.’
Before I got out of the car I doused my finger in my saliva and then jammed it into his earhole to demonstrate my disappointment. He accepted my punishment in silence.
The building was painted lime green with bubblegum borders around the windows and doors. Billboards for peanut butter cookie bars and cinnamon chili popping corn were emblazoned on the front. ‘Oh my beardy poppet,’ I muttered stoically as I jabbed in the entrance door code. ‘What are you hiding from me? What would make you come to such a frightful place?’
Inside was as endless as a public hospital, looming grey corridors shooting off from every direction, mountains of junk in the corners and rats relaxing on the stairs. I barely had to follow the signs for the bagel stall, as the slobbish inhabitants or workers had left little carby crumbs all over the floor. I knew I had reached my husband’s studio from the blue paint and the diamond-encrusted frame, so at odds with the rest of the grimy hallway. I looked down at my fingers and saw I was shaking. I realised for the first time I was frightened of what I was about to do, of my disobedience, my quashing of our love and our routine.
Was it wrong that I wanted to uncover my husband’s secret? Did I really know him at all? I considered turning back. Perhaps I could bribe Driver to help me douse the building in petrol and flick an impish match on the whole structure and its unsavoury inhabitants.
But I guess I’m but a simple gal, and I wanted to understand the man I had married. I breathed deep, gripped on to the handle and let myself into the room.