(an excerpt from a book I’ve been writing on turned into a short story)
Goosebumps flooded her body.
She was trembling.
Her breath like smoke tenuously floating from her mouth.
Her head roared, ached, hurt like hell.
How long had she been sitting here? It was too cold to do anything. Too expensive.
Too cold, way too cold.
The people that passed by threw snarky looks, sometimes undisguised disgust, and stalked on by wasting no more thoughts about that lousy brat on the floor, wrapped up in their insular little worlds with no intention of extending their hands.
What did she do to them? Why did they treat her so disrespectfully? Each of them could end up like her some day. Back then, no one would ever have thought she’d be here today.
She tucked her head between the knees of her bent legs.
She wanted to stand up, scream, cry, swear. Yell her hatred off her empty soul. That hatred towards all and yet nothing but herself.
She closed her eyes and clenched her teeth.
No, none of them were to blame for her misery. She had to pay for her past herself.
Leaning back, eyes almost closed, light seeping through interspersed with shreds of memories raging back and forth and up and down in her world of thought. They stirred up images, hazy and blurred, such as the ones that used to hang in the house’s hall. That hall with all those pictures, the hideous zucchini flower yellow wallpaper, the deep brown chestnut wooden floor… How little she had appreciated it then. She had just lived, lived her life like everyone else, and any problems she might have perceived she had then in hindsight amounted to nothing.
Now she was sitting here, day after day, longing for a clear and empty mind. How useless and senseless life was.
Death was what she most thought about. It was a hopeful thought that she could cling on to. No matter how much worse everything would get, death would remain a save way out. Why she didn’t just do it so she no longer had to suffer, she didn’t know. What was still holding her here? Somewhere, within the smallest molecules of her measly self, there had to nest a last spark of hope. One for rescue, escape, luck maybe. If not, she would have ended this a long time ago. Or, she just didn’t have any courage, just like she was lacking everything else too.
She took a deep breath.
There were, apart from those ignorant people, on rare occasions also different ones. Only a few. They pulled a pitying face when they spotted Anna. Then they wagged their heads, they probably asked themselves how a young thing like that could end up in the gutter. They fished some coins out of their purses, threw it her way, and kept going. Maybe they thought that made them a better person.
There she was immersed in darkness, the streetlights dipping her face orange. It was the coolest day of autumn. Or maybe, was it winter already?
She was hurting, hungry and thirsty, terribly thirsty. It hadn’t rained in days and her water bottle was empty. The booze had finished its services the night before. The last breadcrumbs had been dispersed by the wind. Was it two, five cents she had panhandled today? Her last customer seemed years ago. It was time, imperceptibly sipping light away, which left her marks by gouging the image that was Anna. Who’d want one like that.
With her hands almost frozen she rummaged about her lighter.
Her hands were shivering, the cigarette almost broke, that’s how much she was shivering. It hurt, rubbing her finger against the lighter.
Her red lips embraced the glowing butt, she drew it all in. And more smoke puffed out of her mouth.
Her grey-red accentuated eyes stared in those empty faces that passed by.
Another night, uncertain in dark on frosty stone. Another night she’d probably survive. Unfortunately?
What if, one morning, her eyes would not open? If she’d frozen to death or some crazy person stabbed her? No suicide necessary. Just dead. Just an easy way out?
Would anyone ever notice? No-one would miss her.
She wanted to shed a tear, be sad about the idea, but even though she was upset about it, she didn’t feel the sadness.
Chaos and confusion in her starving mind. All those brain cells had certainly already rotted and were no longer revivable. She was damned for eternity with stupidity and ugliness and all which went with that.
Sweat ran down her forehead. She needed it, urgently, more than a feed.
A voice, as deep as a never ending fountain, as dark as the black of his eyes and as harsh as the ground she was bedded on.
– How much?
She could hardly get a word out her untrained vocal tract.
– Li’l much for’n ugly bitch like you, don’t you think?
Anna said nothing. She had learnt to keep quiet.
– What’s included?
– An hour.
His bitter eyes bored through her ashen-pale face.
– Get up then, don’t waste my time, he ordered.
Her little body was wobbly on her knees. She followed him, always kept a meter distance. All was shaking, she or the world or both.
The motel was just around the corner. Seedy but respite from the bitter cold. She felt sickness creeping up her throat and swallowed hard. She hated it.
He made her pass through the swinging door and walk next to him to reception. A fat guy, one hand in a bag of crisps, the other one reaching for a bottle of coke, asked what they wanted.
– A room for two hours, she heard him say.
A cold shudder ran through her body. Two hours. She felt gripped by fear. How would she manage in her condition? Physically? Mentally?
But she needed the money and didn’t argue.
The lift rolled down.
– I’m Jack, you?
– Call me whatever you like.
– Watch out, don’t be cheeky, or…
His hand was gliding down her cheeks. Soft and gentle he kissed her and she kissed him back. He pulled off her dress. Her heart was beating, so loud and quickly as never before. His skin was glowing against her cold skin. His lips caressing her neck. She’d never felt so ecstatic before. An involuntary ‘stop’ burst from her lips. ‘What’s up? Did I do something wrong?’ ‘No, but… Daniel… We can’t do this! We’ve known each other for too long, as friends, isn’t this… Weird… Wrong?’
Was that a valid argument? She didn’t want it to be. He laughed and put his finger on her mouth. ‘Shh…’ He continued kissing her.
She was lying on the bed, naked.
Jack lit a fag.
Revulsion coursed through her and she turned her face up to the ceiling.
– Want some?, he murmured.
She shook her head, got up and disappeared into the bathroom.
That was it, her, there in the glass on the wall. She hadn’t seen herself in a very long time.
Bony. Dry, broken hair. Spots. Wrinkles. Saggy small tits.
Once, she’d been nice, pretty even, looked her age. Now Jack’s words were everything but wrong and she appeared more like double her years.
She kept starring at her clone. She felt empty of emotions and yet full of anger, fear and sorrow.
Walked out of the bathroom, put on her dirty porous clothes.
She took the notes on the table that he’d put there at the beginning.
She left with money in her pockets.
She knew exactly what to get.
EXEGESIS (aka background information if you’re curious)
The writing style and layout reflect Anna’s patchy and disorganised thoughts, her emotional chaos, and allow the story to create more mystery which is also established by keeping Anna anonymous at first. Once more about her state has been told, her name is revealed to give her more character.
As a psychology student, I was determined to deal with interpersonal issues many of us experience at some point in our lives. Depression – emotionlessness and helplessness. Suicidal thoughts – people often think of suicide as a way to escape their problems. Drugs – they may soothe in some way for a certain period of time, but in the long run they create even bigger problems than people started off with. Beauty – shouldn’t the ‘ideal’ be to simply be (thus look) healthy, is it really desirable to be skinny but have poor health? Self-perception – can you ever see yourself for what and who you really are? Can realisation trigger enough strength to change behaviour or are habits much harder to break? Do we need help or can we cope on our own? Prostitution – does Anna sell her body just to make money? Even though she hates it, it may well be the only time when she’s being appreciated and drawn back to good times when she was really loved (memories of Daniel, her former boyfriend).
Jack portrays Anna’s self-conflict; on the one hand she hates her current state of affairs, yet on the other hand she feels helpless and can’t seem to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty, drugs and prostitution.
The story shows that change can occur anytime to anyone – never would Anna, who grew up ‘normally’, have thought she would end up on the streets. This inspired the title which is a metaphor: Anna used to be a flower but got covered in dust – something changed her colourful life to grey.
Furthermore, change takes time – Anna can’t just stop what she’s doing, she’s stuck. The reader can try to imagine how the story might continue: Will she get out of her misery at some point? Maybe even with the money she just earned through Jack? What is it that she intends to buy? Drugs – which would suggest that she remains hopeless about herself – or has she had an epiphany and wants to break free after all?