Humbert’s words lingered around her like shadows at noon. They gave rhythm to her steps and her heart bounced with freedom as her ‘burden for one’ surrendered at the sound of Robert’s voice. She felt the inextricable trickling of happiness splash over her like summer rain dripping from a gutter on a muggy evening. But, at night, when it pooled in her stomach and clogged her innards like an insoluble plastic, she shot up in bed, wrenching herself out of dreams of deflating lifejackets.
Kathy noticed the change in her friend’s attitude, betrayed by a slight nod and smile offered to Bateman when they passed him in the Arena en route to a meeting.
‘You’re not fucking pregnant, are you?’ Kathy spat at her venomously after he disappeared. Before, that jibe would have stung. Now, she simply made a mental note to be careful of making Kathy jealous.
They had dissected that first weekend back at Blessings over cocktails, squealing like pigs for slaughter, the barman had thought to himself. She had nigh on forgotten the disappearing text after a ‘brill’ Saturday and Sunday. And Kathy, in all her knowledgeable lesbianism, promised the sex would improve in time as they got to know each other’s ‘moves’.
‘Give it a few weeks of easing him in or you’ll frighten the poor guy.’ Again, it was the spaces between Kathy’s words that held her meaning and she wondered for a moment underneath the dim chandelier if her friend was speaking from memory.
She had also missed most of her mother’s calls after the party and, when she eventually got around to picking up the phone to apologise, received a small lecture. Angela let fly the stress of work, tying her daughter’s emotional shoelaces so tightly with guilt there was nowhere she could turn. Did she understand how disrespectful it was? The shag better have been worth it. She thought of Robert and his mother, and the pain he must carry having no one to worry about him like this.
‘He’s not just a shag, mother,’ she chastised.
She explained who he was and where they had met.
’Oh, but your father has the worst taste in people.’
‘He wasn’t one of the clients, Mum. He was standing in - journalist, remember?’
‘I don’t remember meeting him. What did he look like?’
She started to do laps around her coffee table, smiling as she ticked off, ‘Six foot, curly hair, slim, strong jaw, brown eyes that change colour in the-’
‘Excuse me?’ Her mother’s sharp tone cut through her fantasy of Robert lying in her bed as the morning sun streamed through her open blinds and she garbled an excuse.
‘Oh, it’s from a song, you know? You must know it. Anyway, brown eyes and-’
‘Do you like him?’ Angela interrupted.
‘Very much.’ She was nodding, and began circling the coffee table again.
‘He’s… different,’ she said. Suddenly, she wanted to sob, wishing she could tell her mother more, that she could entrust her secrets to such a fierce gatekeeper. The wish clamped around her head more tightly than the headset she wore at work.
‘Isn’t everyone?’ She could almost smell her mother’s perfume through the phone. She walked to her large window and pressed her forehead against it wishing, for the first time since she left home, to be back in her parents’ house for the night.
She opened her mouth to respond but Angela cut in. ‘Did you cook?’
‘I tried,’ she said, watching her breath steam the window, blurring the sight of The Shard.
’Well, ‘cooking by colours’ my father always used to say. Keep that in mind,’ Angela trilled. ‘Darling, I have to run. Look after yourself and don’t lose your cool over this journo man.’
The dial tone sounded in her ear but she held it there, stunned. The steam on the window receded as she held her breath, her mother’s words pricking her cranium with the delicacy of any clue.
When she left work that Friday her legs quivered like those of a racehorse in the stall with an urgency that rushed her to Robert’s. When she caught sight of her long, rolling gait reflected in a glass front she thought it looked like the adult adaptation of a child’s skip - restrained, almost to the point of hindrance, and rather than an expression of delight at the present moment it characterised an excitable expectation, willed out of unconditional belief in the destination. She tugged her earphones out and slowed her pace to something of a stroll and was immediately overtaken by four people as the rest of the herd on Brick Lane parted around her like water displaced by a stone.
She needed to calm down. If she didn’t, she was in danger of losing herself over the river for the entire weekend. She cut across the lane to turn right onto Fashion Street, deciding to walk the fifteen minutes to Bank station rather than board at Aldgate East, and then change for Stockwell. She lifted her eyes to the grey sky, determined to enjoy the sparse evening rays filtering down through the smog.
On Fashion Street she saw the Kid taking in the outdoor chairs and tables that crowded the small pavement. She trotted over and offered to help before being shoved into a chair at the last remaining table and told to wait. She dropped her bag onto the ground and rooted around for her cigarettes, drawing the lighter from her pocket. An enormously fat pigeon shuffled along the pavement opposite, its beak shooting down with voracious speed, considering its rotund chest, at any scraps littering the ground. It spread its iridescent wings, edges dipping into a stray beam of sunlight, and then shook them in the sad imitation of a flap. It cawed, unable to lift itself from the ground. Then it was distracted by something else at its feet and bobbed its head back down, continuing on its endless search, unruffled by its failed attempt to fly.
The Kid collapsed in the seat opposite her holding two coffees in takeaway cups. ‘Lovely evening. Although that fat bastard’s ruining my view.’
She took her coffee from the Kid and then followed her gaze back towards the pigeon. ‘I feel sorry for it.’
‘Don’t. It did that to itself.’ The Kid popped the lid off her coffee cup and blew. ‘Hope you don’t mind, just you’re here means I can take a break before I shut up shop.’ They toasted their coffees cheerfully.
‘My pleasure. Plans this evening?’
‘Got a date with my bed,’ the Kid groaned.
‘Long day?’ She was sympathetic.
‘Every day,’ the Kid sighed, not unhappily. ‘C’est la vie! What about you?’
‘Got a date over the river.’
‘Over the river? You’re brave,’ the Kid grinned at her. It was an old joke that going over the river plussed two onto any Zone on the South side. Eventually the government had ruined the joke by relabeling the Zones in that exact format and One had become Three, Two had become Four, and a whole section of the city’s population woke up to find their DV had plummeted overnight.
‘It’s not a first date, don’t worry. I’m not mad,’ she smirked, trying to take a sip of her scalding coffee, burning her tongue. The Kid watched the pigeon totter on the edge of the pavement near the corner of Brick Lane trying to judge a way through the masses of feet. For the first time, she noticed the lines around the Kid’s mouth and realised she was probably in her thirties.
‘I had a date with a guy in Clapham once,’ the Kid said cheerfully. ‘Got lost trying to find his place from the station in the rain and then when I arrived he asked me to take off my shoes and tried to give me a stupid pair of guest slippers.’ The Kid turned back to her, shaking her head with mock sincerity.
’You know what I text my girls on the way home? ‘I should have never gone over the river.’’ They both laughed. ‘He even had the audacity to try and have sex with me in them,’ the Kid giggled.
‘Oh Jesus. Did you take them off in the end?’
‘Absolutely not - I left, babe.’
‘Good for you.’ She raised her coffee in a salute. They both turned to watch the pigeon still fumbling on the edge of the pavement.
‘So, who’s the guy?’
’His name’s Robert. Actually, this is funny, but he calls me ‘kid’, too. Sometimes ‘kiddo’,’ she said with a proud blush.
‘Does he? That is funny.’ The pigeon made a jump for the lane between the thundering feet and floundered, distracting them for a moment, until it pulled itself back onto Fashion Street and waddled towards them.
’Who started the ‘Kid’ thing with you?’ she asked, realising she didn’t know the real name of the woman’s cafe she’d been frequenting since starting work at SM.
‘Me,’ came the simple reply. The Kid wrapped both hands around her cup and lifted it to her mouth, taking a sip. ‘You get some weirdos coming in, real fanboys and fangirls, and I didn’t want them finding me online so I created this kind of alias, I guess, out of the name. It’s worked so far.’
‘Smart,’ she said, raising an eyebrow as the cafe owner hissed and spat at the oncoming pigeon like a cat.
‘Dirty rat can see right through me,’ the Kid said as the pigeon advanced unfazed before narrowly avoiding a kick once within range. The women finished their coffees as they watched the world pass them on the street, pointing out the best dressed and swapping their plans for National Pride, promising to rendezvous on the day for a laugh.
It wasn’t until she had said her goodbyes and continued onto Bank that she realised the Kid hadn’t disclosed her real name. The idea that she might be one of the weirdos kept a grin on her face until she descended to catch the Northern line; she didn’t want to keep her mouth open amidst the grime and exhalations of the underground.
The low and wide entrance to Stockwell station reminded her of the mouth of a whale she had seen in one of the professor’s encyclopaedias. He was waiting for her next to the closed ticket office, leaning on a wall and swiping through something on his phone. A patterned scarf was tucked underneath his wax leather jacket and his jeans were tucked into those big black leather boots he was so fond of. She thought the term devilishly handsome was applicable as she approached, noticing his other hand tucked casually into the pocket of his jeans. He wore his attitude the same way he wore his clothes: devastatingly casual. She liked the way his shoulders hung loosely and rounded to meet the wall that was supporting him so his hips could also press against it.
It was the first time she had ever seen him be completely still. Normally he was shifting or smoking or gesturing animatedly in bizarre contrast to his level voice. Looking at him now, she realised he was actually under six foot and, though his dark attire stuck out against the once-cream tiles, his stature could easily be ignored, unless your eyes happened to glance over the hard angles of his cheekbones softened by the thick beard. And those eyes - her heart skipped when they rose to meet hers when she came to a stop in front of him, the point of her shoe peeping into his downcast periphery.
He slid his phone into his jacket pocket. ‘Hello gorgeous,’ he smiled, pulling her in for a kiss. She beamed into it, threading her greetings in his moustache. He pushed his two thumbs into her hips through her coat to gently direct her backwards and out of the station with a wink.
They swapped stories about their day as they took a right onto the main street. Children passed by in grey uniforms taking up the entire width of the pavement in their large groups. She watched them curiously. Children, certainly groups of them, were rarely seen on the streets further into the Inner Zones, and the majority boarded during the week if streamed in Zones One to Three, even if their parents lived in the same zone. If that was the case, they were lucky and went home at the weekends. But these loud and cocky groups were obviously day-schoolers, residing and educated in the same Zone, strutting through the streets as if the signposts spelled their names. They didn’t take notice of her designer clothes or interested stare and it struck her they were still proud of themselves. She wondered at what age that would be torn from them. When the world became bigger and they remained the same size, perhaps.
Passing the taxi offices and launderettes and takeaways, they turned right again onto Stockwell Green where she was disappointed to see no green but instead towering new builds to her right. They were much like her own place in Hackney, from what she could see, but on a much smaller scale. On her left were the tall and narrow brick structures of the old design.
They walked past the first few doors, not more than fifty yards, and then ducked into a narrow alley on the left that backed the buildings fronting the main street. Though a united front, the rear of each home was built to different levels causing it to look almost like a skyline. Ten paces in, Robert let her through an iron gate to their left, pulling out his keys as they stepped over the weeds poking out between the stone ground, heading towards the back door of an extension.
‘Welcome to the wrong side of the tracks, kiddo.’ He laughed when she raised her middle finger at him as he turned the key in the lock.
‘By the way,’ he continued, ‘you’re the only person today who hasn’t made fun of my snood.’ When he opened the door and stepped in, he removed the circular scarf-thing from his neck.
She followed him through the door that opened onto the kitchen, careful both in step and speech. ‘Why would I make fun of it?’
Robert hung it up on a spare hook bolted to the wall above a pile of men’s trainers and a lone pair of heels that would have engulfed her feet. She removed her woollen coat and hung it over his jacket.
‘You don’t think red and purple and orange clash?’ He trailed off, looking at her with one eyebrow raised. She looked at the grey garment poking out underneath their grey coats and wondered if it appeared maroon in a certain light. She turned to him with crossed arms.
‘Maybe I think it suits you.’
‘Maybe you do,’ he laughed, giving her a quick kiss before tugging on her hand and giving her a rapid tour of the flat, verbally checking off each room. They had put a sofa into the large kitchen so it doubled as a living room. In the hallway was a bathroom and a flight of stairs that led up to the bedrooms which, he said, were a good size for Zone Four. The entire flat was about half the size of hers with double the stuff. Old computer cluttered the stairs, as well as guitars and magazines. Half a dismembered bicycle fought for life in the hall.
Rob had the slightly smaller bedroom, but the deal went, so he said, it meant he got the study. Ironically, the ‘study’ was a full length storage cupboard next to the bathroom that they had hollowed out by removing most of the shelves, leaving the top two levels lined with notebooks and just enough room to cram a small desk and chair in.
‘Your work?’ She peered into it from the hall.
‘Work? No. My dreams, thoughts, ideas. My words. Sometimes put together in the unfashionable structure of a poem, or a novel.’ She gazed at his A5 collection - some leather, some recycled, some plain, spiral-bound reporter’s style. He watched her.
‘It’s wonderful,’ she said softly. She didn’t want to ask to read any of it, thinking about how much of her own self she poured into her art. To show someone else when present, or to be coerced into showing, was demanding the artist witness their own violation. Robert would show her when he was ready.
He nuzzled her temple, not quite kissing it, and nudged her head slightly to upturn her lips towards his. They kissed deeply in the hallway and her hands slipped from around his neck down over the steeples of his collarbones and continuing on to his chest. She grazed the circular lump hidden underneath his t-shirt with the unmistakeable current of curiosity. Then his thumbs were at her hipbones again and he gently pushed her away.
He led her back into the kitchen and collected two beers from the fridge, cracking them open with his teeth. She pretended to faint in admiration, collapsing over his counter, and giggled when he flicked one of the caps at her. In between the snatched kisses and hustling for control over the music, Robert started cooking. The air became thick with the heady aromas of spice and she pictured the lands on which they grew, becoming infused with the imagined colours of the exotic. The onion’s bite hanging in the air made her eyes water.
‘Mmm!’ she noised through a mouthful of beer. ‘Forgot to say: On the tube here I saw the most blatant sight-dropping. Older guy, on his phone, tapping away, and the younger man and woman sitting either side of him were shamelessly watching everything he was doing on his screen. Shocking. I mean, there really is no sense of individual space anymore. The private sphere? Demolished.’ She took another swig before continuing. ‘No, not demolished. Deleted. By a virus.’
‘I wonder why they weren’t just sitting on their own phones,’ Robert mused by the cooker.
She frowned at him. ’I don’t know. It’s hardly the point. The point is how normative the invasion of technology and, by proxy, other people as extensions of that technology, has become.’
‘Maybe he was doing something interesting,’ he shrugged, stirring the curry.
‘I don’t care what he was doing, but unless he was the leader of some terrorist organisation I don’t think his actions justify removing their agency in the situation.’ He smirked when he heard her use the word ‘agency’.
‘That’s a void argument,’ he said lightly, ‘because how would we know if he was a terrorist without looking and, even then, who are you to say a terrorist deserves different human rights?’ He wiped his hands on his jeans and picked up his own beer. ‘Is your humanity a priori or is it quantifiable by your actions?’
She blinked at the back of his head. A priori? Really? She pushed her thumb in and out of the neck of her beer bottle as she spoke.
‘I would say your identity is subject to your actions and therefore your humanity is relatively quantifiable. Everyone is born equal in nature - it’s what you do after that tips the scales. Hence why this system that calibrates on some basic intrinsic foundation of self makes said humanity elusive.’
‘Everyone is born equal?’ He turned to her, licking his fingers.
‘Yes - unless you boast some conditioned values about the worthiness of differing humans.’ Her jaw started to clench noticing the smirk on his face. He was trying to wind her up. She thought he would have been as outraged as her by the sight-dropping, by yet another glaring example of one’s life being stretched, manipulated and stolen for someone else’s purpose and entertainment. But now he had his head stuck in the fridge choosing another beer, and seemed more interested in his toothy task than their discussion.
Tongue flicking between her molars like a metronome she cocked her head to look at him through narrowed eyes. She could feel a remark hissing at the back of her throat as the words formed the shape of a spear ready to be loosed. Just as he grinned at her with the cap between his teeth she opened her mouth to let it fly, but the sound of a key scrabbling in the lock halted her. He mistook her open mouth for confusion.
’That’ll be Adrienne. Hello dahling,’ he called over his shoulder when the front door swung open. A skyscraper of a woman whirled in and slammed it shut, cursing the wind. She moved in a way that suggested a once prowling gait that had since morphed into an equine stamp. Adrienne flung her coat over the sofa and kicked off her heels whilst propping herself up against the wall with a bejewelled arm. Even without her heels she was enormous, with shoulders much broader than Robert’s and a stunningly painted face. But even such mastery could not hide the sad corners of her mouth that seemed to be pulled down by invisible strings.
‘I don’t feel so darling, darling,’ Adrienne husked in a rich voice. ‘It’s been a hellish week. I almost had to beat my way through the crowds with a mannequin today.’
‘Adrienne’s a manager at Harrods,’ Robert explained, pulling another beer out of the fridge for Adrienne who moved to lean on the kitchen counter that separated the kitchen and ‘living room’. She reached a long arm over the counter and pulled open a drawer on the other side, grabbing a tub of moisturiser and slathering it on her neck, massaging her unmistakeable Adam’s apple.
‘Adrienne, this is-’
‘Oh, I know, of course,’ she said standing up again and towering over the younger woman. ‘Darling, what a pleasure. I’d shake your hand but-’ She waved her large, sticky hands in the air. ‘How about an air kiss?’
The two women graced the air near each other’s cheeks with loud ‘mwahs’ and she couldn’t help but be entranced by the transwoman with the delicious smelling cream.
‘Tough day at work?’ she asked Adrienne, immediately embarrassed by her benign question. Adrienne glugged down half of her beer in one.
‘It’s mad! They’re animals! These few weeks before the DVTs are hellish - they’re worse than the Christmas sales, no word of a lie. Oh yes,’ Adrienne said when she made a small sound of surprise, ‘they might try and be more subtle about it but they’re just desperate to do some last minute topping up of their Values before the test.’
She took another swig before continuing. ‘Really, I didn’t think I’d be in my thirties fetching matching sizes in Kurt Geiger heels for a mother and her daughter she’d taken out of school to go on a bloody shopping trip.’
‘You’re kidding,’ she gasped. Adrienne gave a whooping laugh.
’Oh they just want you to think housewives are a thing of the past but that’s crap - as long as they got into the habit of outrageous spending at a young age, they can keep their DV topped up and qualify for the swanky family home their rich other half is subsidising. Of course, now there’s more of a fair gender split; the only thing men love more than a hole is a loophole, pardon my French. Robert is just dying to be a househusband, aren’t you, darling?’
‘You couldn’t pay me enough,’ Robert retorted, brandishing a wooden spoon.
Adrienne turned back to her. ‘Darling, will you unzip me? I’m dying to get out of this bra.’
She suddenly found herself faced with Adrienne’s broad back and almost choked on her beer in surprise at the request. Her hands shook when she put her beer down for the task, but as she pulled the zipper down with the tenderness of a fellow woman she was touched by the gesture; the distinctive rasp zipped them together in a moment of trust even as the two halves fell apart before her eyes. When the zip came to the end of its line she was almost sad.
Adrienne changed for dinner as they finished cooking and re-emerged in a pair of tight leather leggings and oversized jumper, looking exquisite. Bottles of wine sprang up between the dishes on the table and they all filled their glasses to the brim before loading their plates. She was entranced by Adrienne, who was at once hilarious and angry, constantly battling to keep the bitterness from entering her heart with the knowledge that she wasn’t the only one failed by the city. There was only one Adrienne Rich, she said, but there were countless others who also had to live with the shards of broken promises cutting into their soles, limping through life like inmates on death row.
Adrienne had been born a boy, an optimistic and clever child who showed enough potential to snag a place on a prestigious fashion technology degree program at the University of the Arts in London. With her DV estimate ever-increasing due, in part, to finally being able to heed the call of the ‘mother ship’, as she called London, Adrienne was confident enough of her future career that she took another hit in student loans to start her transition.
‘I was utterly convinced I’d be fine,’ she said as Robert cleared their plates and fetched another bottle of wine. ’I was quite the all-rounder - designing, engineering maintenance, coding software - you name it, I could do it, so I didn’t think I’d have a problem getting a job and, of course, my DV estimate was based on that ‘prestigious’ field so the bank had no problem approving my second loan. Not for the full amount, sure, but enough to get started- just tell me if I’m boring you.’ Adrienne topped up their wine from the bottle Robert brought over.
‘Not at all!’
‘So I get a few of the surgeries. I start the hormone treatment - and you can imagine which bit I was desperate to transform - and am assured that in my first year of employment I can continue while paying off my first loan. I may need to live on the border of Three and Four for a while but I’m okay with that. As long as I’m on the North side of the river, you understand.’ Adrienne’s long black hair lay gently over an arm that was draped across the seat next to her in a most stately manner. She was rubbing the pad of her thumb against the pad of each finger in turn like a poker player before a bet. The two women had swapped anecdotes very briefly before discovering a mutual distaste with the outside world. As the hours had worn on that distaste was resurrected in its true form of anger and had been broadcast and reciprocated in kind. Everything she knew in her gut to be wrong Adrienne had seen and experienced first hand. She was hooked on the glamorous woman’s stories.
‘What happened after you graduated?’
‘I didn’t get a job. It’s a lie that a degree guarantees you a job in your field.’ She picked her glass up by its stem. ‘Maybe they were oversubscribed that year. Maybe not enough people retired. No matter, same outcome.’ Adrienne poured some of the cheap wine into her mouth.
‘I couldn’t find an opening, and in the few interviews I did secure they told me doubling my loan made it look like I didn’t have my priorities in order, or some other corporate bullshit. They all assumed I’d be taking loads of time off in my first year of work. Tossers. None of them bothered to ask me.’
Bloody hell,’ she said, slumping back against her chair, ‘so you didn’t get a job at all?’
’Not in that first year after graduation. And you know what? I think they rely on people not making it every year. It sows some good seed in the Outer Zones and serves like some bloody sacrificial reminder of who’s in charge. It scared the crap out of everyone I knew.
’And guess what my friends did. Instead of laying blame on this screwed up system they worked longer hours and bought more things. They did everything they could to rebuild the illusion I had shattered that their Death Value was there to protect their identity.
‘That’s the worst thing in all of this. I had no problems growing up trans. Everyone loved me the same - friends, family. But the minute my existence threatened their fantasy?’ Adrienne drew a finger across her throat.
’Isn’t it? So I took my overqualified rear to retail and snapped up an Assistant Manager job to support myself because no one would take me in while I was still hunting for work.
‘But my DV plummeted and so did my mental health - of course, they affected each other - so I got caught in a downward spiral and no one would touch me. Not designers. Not software engineers. Not even surgeons.’ Adrienne’s lips pressed together in a thin line but she held her chin up defiantly. ’Once your DV goes, once you’re no longer the full package - and I am far from the full package! - you can never reclaim it because they don’t have time for you. And if they don’t have time for you then they don’t have money for you.’
‘Thank you for your time,’ she whispered.
’Thank you for your money,’ Adrienne growled, revealing just how deep her voice could go.
‘Your surgery - you couldn’t afford to finish it?’
Adrienne barked a hollow laugh. ‘Darling, I’m still paying off the loan for the first round, and I’ll never qualify for the rest or another loan with my DV. I’m either a pussy without a rack or a dick without a pair, depending on the day.’ Adrienne turned away for the first time and looked down her outstretched arm as she ground her teeth. Her Adam’s apple bobbed violently in her throat as if someone was trying to fish it out.
‘I didn’t think I’d still be stuffing my bra eighteen years later.’
‘I’m so sorry, Adrienne.’ Her voice was hushed to ensure she sounded sincere. Too often in precarious social situations those expected words could sound like contrived performers because of their obvious disposition. She did not want to sound fake or unkind to the human being who had both her inner child and outer person stolen from her.
‘I’m sorry. It’s awful,’ she continued. ‘Everything about your story is disgusting, apart from you. I think you’re a beautiful human being.’ Adrienne turned back to face her and dipped her head with gracious thanks. ‘I’m serious, and your d willingness to talk about it so openly is amazing. So many people would be silenced after that - so thank you.’
Robert refilled their wine again, then draped his arm over the back of her chair as she leaned in towards Adrienne putting both elbows on the table.
‘Oh, they can’t shut me up,’ boomed Adrienne. ’The way I see it is the more people who know - the more truth that’s out there - the better. What are they going to do? Arrest me for talking? I’d like to see them try. I’d put a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘killer heels’.’
She raised her glass and shouted, ‘Cheers!’
Nothing escaped the chopping board of debate that night. They tore apart their ‘Kingdom’ and, after finishing every drop of alcohol in the house, cajoled Robert into stocking up from the local shop after midnight.
Refuelled, they put together their piecemeal knowledge of Westminster and rebuilt the government from the ground up. But even in their soft hideout backed by an acoustic track and the ringing of their laughter, for every alternative they suggested she could only look at Adrienne, the wo-man, and think there will always be some who don’t fit.
Once they were all good and drunk (although she had played the fool by trying to keep up with two people much bigger than her) Robert’s whispers of bedtime became louder until eventually Adrienne threw them out of the kitchen with heroic self-sacrifice.
When she was halfway up the stairs she disentangled herself from under Robert’s armpit, and followed her instinct back downstairs with slurred promises that she would be up in just a moment.
She entered the kitchen again and saw Adrienne still sitting in her seat, arm once more outstretched, and as still as a sphinx. She was desperate to say something to the strong, proud woman. Something true, something real. She wanted to offer back a piece of her own trust in gratitude - she wanted to show something that Adrienne could either hold her together or undo her with.
‘Adrienne,’ she whispered from the doorway, her drunken sight hazy as if fringed with an extra set of lashes. Adrienne turned with raised eyebrows and a half smile. She noticed then the music had been cut off.
‘What is it, darling?’
She grinned widely and then looked up to the ceiling, envisioning Robert lying in bed. She raised a hand to her mouth and sloppily pinched the smile off her cheeks, refocusing with some difficulty on the lone symbol looking at her with concern.
‘Adrienne,’ she whispered again, pausing for a moment. ‘I-I think I drink too much.’
Adrienne paused and calmly looked over her before saying slowly and deliberately, but not unkindly. ‘Then do something about it.’
She nodded. ‘I will. Thank you. I just wanted to-I don’t know.’
‘I know.’ The half smile reappeared. ‘I know.’
She hovered in the doorway for a moment. ‘Adrienne?’ she whispered again.
‘Will you unzip me?’ She looked at the still figure, twisting her hands together behind her back After a few seconds Adrienne stood up carefully and moved towards her without saying a word. She turned the younger woman to face away from her and smoothed her hair to one side. Then she slowly pulled the zipper down.
When it hit the bottom she reached up to grab Adrienne’s hand with her own and squeeze, still facing away. The older woman squeezed back, staying close to her skin for a warm second, and then moved to her seat silently.
When she reached the landing upstairs she slipped out of the dress and flung it over her shoulder, ready to strut into Rob’s room with the other hand on her hip and her mouth parted like putty. She didn’t want him asking questions.