“Taxi’s here. Are you ready, Sal?”
Sally is looking in the mirror, breathless with anticipation. She looks strange, different from the person she knows. She looks good. The dress is perfect. Tonight she’ll live, she just knows it.
“Get a round in will you, babe? I’ve just seen someone I know. Won’t be a tick…” Sally stands by a pillar holding Karen’s drink. Her fingers feel stiff and the ice has melted.
“Do you remember Ricky? I told you he’d be here, didn’t I? Get us another drink will you, Sal, this one’s lost its fizz.”
Karen puts her hand around Ricky’s neck, pulls him to her and licks his face.
“Don’t worry, babe,” she says to Sally. “Ricky’s mates are coming later.”
The smile is thin, but Sally’s trying, trying her bloody hardest. She’s buffeted by perfume and sweat, she’s elbowed and knocked, but still she smiles. I’m here to have fun, to live a little, to be someone new. Her feet feel heavy and the rhythm escapes her, so she dances to her mantra.
Perhaps I’m invisible, Sally thinks. She hovers around the bar area, thankful of something to do as she rehearses her round.
“Are you ordering or just standing there for effect?” Same fat bloke who’d served her before.
Sally blushes and stumbles over her words.
“Don’t bother, love. Two Bacardi and cokes, three lagers, right? Your friends’ not got legs then?”
The room buzzes, lips move, heads bob as Sally places the glasses on the table and then sits down. Not a look, not a blink. Perhaps I am invisible, Sally thinks.
The music is loud and no one is listening, but she says it anyway. “I’m just going to the ladies.”
Sally stares in the mirror. The stranger looks back; neat, pretty, make-up remarkably unsmudged.
Sally draws the bolt on the cubicle door as three women burst into the toilets.
“Have you seen the state of that cow…”
“Shit, just look at the size of this spot…”
“I’d go for botox, but never the knife…”
“I’m bloody on, too…”
“God what am I like?”
“Lend us your lippy.”
“Well I’m having him if you’re not…”
Sally had stopped listening to the words much earlier in the evening. All she can hear is the laughter.
Sally knows she shouldn’t be surprised; it’s Karen’s stock response once she’d had a drink, but she had promised they’d go home together, to share the cost of the taxi.
“OK. I’ll get the bus then. See you later…”
But Karen has turned away, her arms above her head, her body gyrating to the rhythm.
Sally resists the urge to cry as she bends down, balancing on one stiletto to yank the other out of a crack in the path.
“You should sue for that, love.”
The disembodied voice makes her jump, tipping her fragile balance and she falls backwards onto the saturated pathway. At the back of her mind she knows she should feel alarm as hands are slipped under her armpits and she’s hoisted to her feet, but all she thinks of is her dress, the dress she had bought specially, the dress which had made her feel wonderful. It’ll be ruined, she thinks, stained by pummelled blossom and muddy rain.
“Are you alright?”
Eyes are on her; large, deep brown, concerned. She wants to reply, but sudden apprehension sticks in her throat. This man is a stranger; there’s no one else around. Her gaze follows his large dark hand as he slips it into the pocket of his jeans.
“Think you need this.”
He smiles with white, regular teeth as he pulls out a crumpled napkin like a magician. “Mum’s cake from earlier…” he shrugs.
“Here’s your shoe, love…. Your foot, it’s wet. Maybe you could use….”
Sally realises that she’s staring at the man as he handles her shoe. He’s young and handsome, a crease forming above his nose as he returns her gaze.
“Look, are you alright? Did you hurt yourself? We could go to a bench and sit down if you like.”
Sally shakes her head as she balances on one leg to wipe her foot.
“Here,” the man says as he holds out his hand to steady her.
“Let’s walk for a while,” the man says, still holding her hand. “See if you feel better. Maybe you had one too much, eh?”
His eyes are on her. She puts her fingers to her throat.
His grip is firm as he guides her from the path towards trees. Sally’s palm is sweaty and her heart thumps in her chest.
“You don’t say much, do you?” he says, smiling that smile.
The drizzle suddenly pours and they run to the bandstand. The rain shines on the man’s cheeks in the gleam of the lamp. He’s still young, still handsome but his face has fallen.
“Look I’ve got to get off,” he says, as he drops her hand. “We’re soaked and it’s late. I’ll see you around.”
Sally laughs out loud, breathes in the night air then strides forwards, her head held high as she’s assailed by the treacherous rain. Her shoes feel tight, her wig feels cold and heavy against her scalp and her dress is drenched. It’s ruined, she thinks, but never mind. Tomorrow I’ll be Steve again; today I lived.