Careful

Careful
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Pease Pudding Hot …

 You follow the outside squares of the hand-painted hopscotch boxes in the empty playground, your steps zigging in and out of every white line. The top of a kid’s vacuum flask lies abandoned over by the side, a piece of lined paper screwed up into a ball in front of you, some broken glass by the verge. You resist the urge to pick up, clear away, keep things safe. You walk on. The bones of the corset he told you to wear dig into your skin. Your ribs are squeezed together by laces tied as tight as you could bear. The skirt’s narrow hem means you take doll steps. Without thinking, you hum the rhythm of the childhood skipping game you used to play. Perhaps the children sang those words here this afternoon. Before they rushed home to where they were safe.

 

Pease Pudding Cold …

You come alive with every note he writes. That’s all it takes. A simple email with an address, date and time to meet. Sometimes he gives brief instructions on what to wear. Once on the bench outside the hospital, Saturday, 11.30pm, in a white laboratory coat, he made you wait for hours. You watched the walking wounded appear one after the other. All those weekend hopes gone wrong. And the way they looked at you in your white coat as if you were someone who could help but you had to keep looking past them. Later when he kissed your tears away, it just made you cry more.

 

Pease Pudding In The Pot …

You told him about your childhood early on. How it was unusual because your parents were kind, hardworking, lenient enough to let you explore life but clever enough to call you back just when you wanted them to. How you studied a subject you loved at university and then went on to a good career. How you had never dared to do anything really bad. Even the book you stole at school made you feel so sick that you put it back on the teacher’s desk the next morning before anyone noticed. You told him about the skipping games you played as a kid, the songs you’d made up, the friends you had. Lots of friends. Because you were popular.

 

Ten Days Old.

You sit down now with your back resting against the pole of the basketball hoop, arching your spine so you can feel how tightly your body is caged in this costume. Your fingers pick out the tiny pebbles from the asphalt. There are always the odd ones that can be dislodged if you work them hard enough.

 

Some Like It Hot …

You’d like to meet him in normal places. A pub or a restaurant, or even for the two of you to sit through a film together. He took you to a cinema once, but you only made it as far as the car park. You wore pearls, a black shift dress and high heeled shoes without tights, and he made you kiss a teenage boy he’d found from somewhere. The boy was trembling, at least an inch shorter than you and it was just a kiss, a light one, but afterwards you saw the boy wipe his mouth on his sleeve again and again, the horror on his face when he turned round at the other side of the car park and saw you both still there. Watching him.

 

Some Like It Cold …

He sees into minds. That’s what he tells you. He sees people’s fantasies. He sees your fantasies, even the ones you don’t admit to yourself. Especially those ones. He says he can make them come true for you.

 

Some Like it In the Pot …

He made you wait for weeks before he sent you tonight’s instructions. To begin with the lack of contact was a relief. You got on with your own life. You stopped checking the inbox every fifteen minutes. You thought you might join the people at work for Friday drinks. Make new friends. Be normal. Ordinary. Hello, that’s all his first email said. So you could have ignored it if you’d really wanted to. Hello, you wrote back. And then you cancelled the arrangements you’d made, stopped talking to people in the office, avoided the few friends you had left. He didn’t like it when he had to share you. Somehow he knew. Even when he wasn’t with you, he knew.

 

Five Days Old.

And then he asked you to meet him here. The pebble your nails have been digging away at finally comes loose. You trace the mark it leaves, rubbing the hole backwards and forwards with your fingertips. He’s told you he’ll always be one step ahead of you.

 

This Hurts Me More …

But a playground? Be prepared, he’d told you. Be prepared for anything I throw at you. You remember the look on his face when you’d told him about your happy childhood, how you had always felt safe. And today you can’t run away. Not in these shoes. The hem of your skirt too narrow for a normal stride. All the clothes you are wearing are ones he choose.

 

Than It Hurts You.

However the knife is your choice. You feel it now, tucked into the waistband of your skirt. You shut your eyes, try to hear the children’s voices echoing through the games that have been played here. Try to hear the memory of a voice that might once have been you laughing.

 

What You Wish For.

Your fingers trace the edge of the blade with the same urgency that worked the pebble free. You want to see if he really can read your mind. Whether he really can make all your fantasies come true. You’re ready now. You hear his footsteps. You don’t turn, just wait for him to come towards you.

About Sarah Salway

Sarah Salway is the author of three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything and Getting the Picture), a collection of short stories and two collections of poetry. Her work has been published widely, including in the Financial Times, Poetry London, PEN International and on BBC Radio 4.

Sarah Salway is the author of three novels (Something Beginning With, Tell Me Everything and Getting the Picture), a collection of short stories and two collections of poetry. Her work has been published widely, including in the Financial Times, Poetry London, PEN International and on BBC Radio 4.

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