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The Blue Dress by Justine Windsor

© Justine Windsor

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The Blue Dress - a short story.

It is a beautiful day. I sit on my sleeping bag in my usual spot on the pavement, outside the bank opposite Waterloo Station. I have my polystyrene cup in front of me and my supermarket trolley beside me. The commuters streaming past pretend not to see me, although some slide their eyes at me as they pass. I feel looked down upon and sometimes I want to stand up and shout – I was like you once, I had a job, a house, children! Sometimes I do this, usually when I have been drinking.

It is getting hotter. My hair itches in the heat and I try to remember when I last washed it. I haven’t been to a hostel for days, maybe weeks. The sad fuckers in those places disgust me. They remind me of myself, pathetic, hopeless and lost.

I sit and watch the people come and go. No one is bothering with me, they are all too anxious to get out of the brilliant day and into their offices. I feel sorry for some of the men as they pass. Even on a perfect summer’s day like this, with the sky rinsed a clean blue, their shirts and ties truss them up. The women are much freer; flip flopping along in pretty sandals and airy clothes. I remember how I used to love buying new clothes.

A woman in a blue dress comes towards me and my heart lurches in my chest. Springing to my feet, head pounding, shaking all over, I stare at her, I feel my eyes bulging. I can hardly see. The woman gets nearer and I scream at her, my throat tearing with rage.

‘Where did you get that dress from, you fucking bitch! It’s mine, it’s mine! How dare you, how fucking dare you.’

I lose myself for a few moments. When I am together again, I am sitting back down on the pavement, sweat streaming down my face, my throat in shreds. Commuters hurry past in an arc around me, practically walking in the gutter to avoid me. I close my eyes, trying to calm myself, but blue dresses cavort in the darkness, taunting me, mocking me. I remember the one and only time I wore my blue dress.

****

It is a hot night. I stand in front of the bedroom mirror, pleased with what I see.

'You still scrub up well, Nina my girl.' I say to myself.

A last slick of lipstick and I’m ready at last. I go downstairs to say goodbye to the girls. My girls, my twins.

There they are, cuddled up on the sofa with Laura the babysitter. As usual, I feel a pang about going out, wanting to change back into my usual mummy clothes and spend the evening playing with them. But Rob would be so disappointed; it has been so long since we went out together.

The twins jump off the sofa, hugging me around the waist, turning their flower fresh faces up towards me. I bend down, burying my face in their hair, catching a whiff of their smell and feeling hopelessly in love with them.

‘Mummy, mummy you look lovely! ’ says Lily, stroking the silky material of my new blue dress.

‘So pretty!’ says Rose.

‘Now girls, you will be good for Laura won’t you?’

‘Yes Mummy!’

‘Can we have some chocolate…please mummy.’ Lily jumps up and down, her black hair flying. I pretend to think hard.

‘Ok. Laura can give it to you when we’ve gone. Is that OK, Laura?’

‘That’s fine, as long as they share it with me!’ The girls squeal as Laura reaches forward and tickles the backs of their legs. They jump on to the sofa again, engulfing her.

I look at them for a moment, as they tumble around on the sofa. They still feel like such a miracle to me, even five years on. Plain old Nina Williams managed to produce two perfect, beautiful children – how did that happen? My throat constricts as I watch Lily and Rose, I almost weep for the pure joy of my children.

Rob appears in the doorway. Another miracle in my life. He looks beautiful.

‘You ready, then Nina?’

I swallow my emotion and smile at him.

‘You bet! Let’s get out of here before Laura changes her mind!’

‘Bye!’ Laura’s voice is muffled; she is still buried in my perfect twins.


****

‘Nina! Nina!’

A voice wrenches me back to the present. Tears and snot cover my face. Opening my eyes, I see Juliet crouching next to me, her round face soft with concern.

‘Nina, are you OK?’

‘No. I need a drink. Haven’t got any money.’ I smear my face with my sleeve.

‘Oh Nina.’ Juliet sighs. She stands up, digs around in her pocket, takes out a fiver, and hands it to me. Then she roots in her bag, pulling out a bottle of water.

‘It’s going to be boiling today, Nina,’ she says, handing me the water. ‘If you’re going to be drinking make sure you drink some of this as well.’

I want to hug her for caring about me. But I can’t. The distance between me and other people is vast and hugging is impossible. All I can manage is a grunt. She bends down again, touching my shoulder.

‘Take care, Nina.’

I watch her go. Juliet works in one of the offices nearby. I met her one day when I was desperate for alcohol. I stopped her in the street, told her straight that I wanted money for drink. She gave it to me with no hesitation and no judgement. Since then whenever she sees me she stops to say hello. She gives me money if I ask her for it. She gives me money even when I don’t. Sometimes I want to ask Juliet to take me home with her. Maybe she would, but I know what would happen, I’d empty the drinks cabinet, get drunk and throw up all over the parquet flooring or something similar. I feel sure Juliet lives in a house that has a drinks cabinet and parquet flooring and I don’t want to mess it up for her.

I get to my feet, put my sleeping bag back into my shopping trolley and wheel off to my favourite off license in Victoria, where they do great offers for people like me. Sometimes you have to give the guys behind the counter a bit of a fumble, but it’s nothing. Although since I have stopped washing myself, they seem less keen on this form of transaction.

****

The day gets hotter and hotter, but that’s fine by me. Sitting on a bench under a tree in St James’ Park, I feel much better. The healing power of a couple of tins of Tenant’s Super truly is a wonder to behold. I have the whole bench to myself, even though the park is crowded. The heat probably brings out the unwashed stench of me, but not being able to smell myself any more, it doesn’t bother me at all. I pop open my third can, enjoying the sight of the lake in front of me. It would be nice to feed the ducks and swans, but I have to attend to the important business of getting shit faced and I don’t have any bread.

****

Rob and I eat a wonderful, garlicky meal at our favourite Italian restaurant. We wrangle, argue and laugh as we always do. We share a bottle of wine and then top this up with brandies after dessert. We giggle our way into the back of a taxi, groping like a pair of teenagers, Rob whispering into my ear all the filthy things he wants to do to me when we get home,

I fumble the key in the lock, then realise the front door is already open. Stumbling into the hallway I hear a high-pitched whining noise and it takes me a moment to realise that the phone is off the hook. I look round at Rob, who seems unconcerned.

I go into the living room. No one there, empty chocolate wrappers, DVDs and toys are strewn all over the floor.

‘Rob…’

‘They’ll be upstairs, go on up and see them, I’ll put the coffee on.’

He goes into the kitchen.

There is a tight feeling in my chest as I go upstairs. The house is quiet, too quiet. Into the twin’s room, empty. Into the bathroom. Thank god! There they are, in the bath. Chocolate stained clothing litters the room.

‘You little monkeys, you raided the chocolate tin again didn’t you? What have you done with Laura?’

Lily and Rose don’t answer, they are too busy playing one of their weird bathtime games that only they understand. I go over and sit on the edge of the tub, dangling my hand in the water,, it's freezing.

‘Come on now you two, you have to get out. You’ll catch your death!’

But they insist on carrying on with their bizarre underwater game, so in the end I pull the plug and lift them out. I wrap them in their favourite towels, the fluffy thick yellow ones with the ducks marching along the edge. They are still playing silly buggers, so I sit them on the floor and prop them up against the bath. Lily pretends to be all floppy and her head slides sideways against Rose and then they end slumped in a heap together. There is a noise in the doorway. Rob is standing there, his face grey. He’s crying, but I don’t know why. I don’t know how long he has been standing there. I don’t know how long I have been here either, sitting on the bathroom floor with my twins. Rob is on his mobile. I hear the world ‘ambulance’. I turn back to Lily and Rose.

‘Listen to Daddy, Isn’t he a silly Billy? We don’t need an ambulance do we?’

They don’t answer me, Lily and Rose. They are silent. They are still.

****

I jerk awake in the dark. Christ! I rub my wet face, my eyes feel scrubbed raw and there is a foul metallic taste in my mouth. I reach for my trolley and the bottle of water Juliet gave me, but the trolley has gone. Some lowlife shit-head bastard has nicked my trolley. I feel like someone has kicked me in the guts. Everything I had was in that trolley. Everything. What am I going to sleep on now? I start to cry so hard it’s as though my insides are coming out.

Sometime later, hours, minutes, I don’t know how long, I manage to pull myself together. I really need a cigarette, but of course they were in the trolley. Bastards. Luckily, I discover that there is a last can of beer under the bench and I open it gratefully.

The park is deserted now, except for the foxes. Now and again I see one running silently across the grass and I hear their lonely cries. As I sit drinking the dregs of my can, two lights begin to glow out in the middle of the lake. As they come nearer I realise that they aren’t lights after all, but faces, glowing like small moons, their bodies submerged beneath the water. I hear voices, children’s voices, calling.

‘Mummy, mummy.’

I’d know those voices anywhere, I hear them every night in my screaming dreams. Lily and Rose. Light-headed, I get up and go across to the water’s edge. I see them, there they are, their beautiful faces shining at me. Joy blasts my soul.

‘We miss you mummy!’

‘Please come and get us!’

I wade out into the freezing water, out, out towards them, my girls, my twins.

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