She confronted the mirror and manipulated her outfit into position. Finally satisfied, she ran her eyes calculatedly up the length of her legs and around the curve of her hips and chest. She fixed her eyes on her reflection and watched herself draw a cigarette from behind her ear. Lighting it, she took a deep drag and enjoyed the quiet.
Suddenly the door of her flat swung open as Daphne walked in. Liz closed her eyes and slowly released the cigarette smoke, polluting the sudden gush of air.
“Hey hun,” she said coolly, still adjusting to Daphne being in her life once again.
Since childhood they had been close, until Daphne’s insatiable dating of men finally separated them. It was only because Daphne tracked her down that their three year silence had ended. She had to laugh. After painfully ignoring Daphne’s affairs for so long, she found herself jumping at the chance to untangle the mess Daphne had brought into her life. And so she had agreed to accommodate her here, at her flat above The Glen, an overpriced strip club and Liz’s current workplace.
Daphne was discomforted to learn of her temporary home, but to Liz The Glen was a neutral territory that stripped people down to their basic selves. For Daphne, however, The Glen put her on edge. She didn’t know where to look for fear of what she may discover.
Liz smiled at that thought and opened her eyes to see Daphne looking at her outfit. Not bothering to turn, she perused Daphne in return with the mirror, her smile growing at what she saw.
Daphne started, ignorant to the fact that she was being watched. “Uh, yeah, I mean, you look great.”
“Good,” Liz said, facing her. “Because I’m about to go on.”
She grabbed one of her whips and headed for the door. Daphne moved to let her pass.
“You aren’t going to watch me?”
Daphne fondled with her hands, uneasy. “It’s not quite right, is it?”
“It’s your fifth night here. You have to see me at least once,” Liz replied, lingering close. “You have to judge to see if I’m worth all the hype.”
“Come on, it’ll be a laugh.” Liz grabbed her hands and took her along. “You’ll watch safely from the side-lines. No mingling with the locals,” Liz threw her head back and made a face. Daphne laughed and succumbed.
“It’ll be fun. Just like the old days, now that I have you back,” Liz winked at her as she flicked her spent cigarette away and walked toward the stage.
Left behind thick curtains, Daphne watched Liz stride in front of the audience, her spiteful confidence captivating them. The music was quietened, gathering attention and suspense as Liz just stood before the men. And then the music detonated. Everything lit on fire. The lights were turned all the way up, leaving nothing in the room unexposed. Beady eyes latched onto Liz, feeding from her ruthless domination of their senses. Daphne followed their gaze to be shocked by Liz’s dancing, by the violence emanated through her rhythm which both mocked and encouraged the men. She flaunted such anger and strength, barely contained within her act. It wasn’t until the music died when Daphne realised her frustrated grip on the curtain, the heavy material staining her hands red, smelling of use and exhaustion.
“What a strange place,” she mumbled to herself and she felt her nerves beginning to bubble up to the surface.
She sat down on the floor as the world began to spin. Breathing slowly, Daphne soon realised she was sat on a sticky dampness that went right through her trousers. She groaned.
“What’s wrong, hun?” Liz asked, exiting the stage.
It took Daphne a while to find the energy to speak. “It’s just…I feel so silly, putting you out like this, being here,” Daphne sighed. “I should never have come–”
Liz descended beside her and placed her hand on her thigh, shutting her up. “I want to help – what else am I here for?”
Daphne smiled slowly. “You were amazing, by the way.”
Liz surrendered a dry laugh. “Well, that was act one. If you’re impressed by that, then you should definitely stay for act two.”
“What’s act two?”
“The post-watershed hours.”
Liz helped her stand and guided her to her small flat. The giddiness continued to slosh around in Daphne’s stomach, making her question why she ultimately came to Liz. To distract herself, Daphne wandered over to Liz’s wardrobe, her hand stroking each outfit, enjoying the variety of textures against her skin.
“You should try some on,” Liz proposed.
“Oh no, I couldn’t…”
“We have the same shape, so any one will fit you. Go on, indulge.” Liz plucked a cigarette from her packet on the dressing table and lit it.
“How come this one is covered in flowers? Kind of clashes with the leather and whips.”
“I wear it when I feel particularly mean.” Liz came over and groped the dress. “There’s a sad violence in flowers. Always on the cusp of something new, when suddenly it’s over and they’re wilting into themselves, stuck in an ugly vase in an unused corner of a room no one barely enters.”
“I think flowers are beautiful at any stage.”
Liz glanced at her and exhaled. “Even those wilting into themselves?”
“Well, the fragility is beautiful,” Daphne replied, breaking the smoke up with her hand, “since you know it won’t last so you appreciate it all the more.”
Liz continued to bore her eyes into her.
Daphne shrugged, uncomfortable with how self-conscious Liz made her feel. Liz slowly turned to her reflection and mused, “What an unsatisfying cycle. Appreciating a thing’s beauty only to see it die and moving on to repeat the process.”
Before Daphne could reply, Liz turned to push the dress back into the wardrobe and pulled a shocking red number out. “You need to see yourself in this.”
Daphne stuttered, stunned, “Oh god no, I couldn’t–”
“Trust me, this one always makes me feel better.”
At first Daphne thought it wouldn’t fit, yet Liz pulled it over her limbs with ease. Daphne watched her in the mirror and felt a faint familiar thrill. She could barely recognise herself.
A buzz suddenly went off and Liz went to check her phone. “I’ve got to step out for a minute – boss wants a word.”
Daphne nodded and returned her gaze to the mirror as she left. Rocking her hips, Daphne tried out a few dance steps. In the dim light, she could be mistaken for Liz. She smiled and imagined herself building illusions for men only to tear them down moments later, ripping their mouths open to hang agape and making their eyes bulge in a weak endeavour to appease their carnal hunger. She would crack her whip into the gormless mixture of disbelief and hope drifting above the men. And afterwards, they would want to keep her on stage, to do more things to them, their consumption demanding more than what was willingly given for the price they paid.
So caught up in her fantasy that Liz walked in unnoticed.
“Don’t stop on my account.” Liz laughed at her embarrassed yelp, walking past her to pull out another outfit. “The boss has moved my last act up, so I’m on in ten.”
Beginning to grope with the dress’ zip, Liz stopped her. “Wear it, nobody will see you – unless you want them to.”
Feeling excited, Daphne kept it on as Liz performed once more and it was like watching her daydream come to life. Liz was so natural. Even when she had finished, she sauntered away, as if she had performed to an empty room.
They returned to Liz’s flat once again, a space filled with a menagerie of hats and scarves held up by moth eaten furniture. Despite the constant smokiness and stale smell, Daphne loved it, having known only the boxy flats her past liaisons had disappointed her with. It was a paradise to penetrate at free will.
As she entered, her excitement fled and the sick feeling crept back into her belly. Daphne stumbled in front of Liz to grab at the dress’s zipper, needing to be free of the dress. She had noticed the two dozen roses resting on Liz’s dressing table and how still Liz had become.
Liz eyed the bloated bouquet without saying a word before sitting down and brushing them aside. She began her night cleansing routine as Daphne hovered in a corner.
Liz ripped off her false eyelashes and slung them in an open pot, taking her time before acknowledging Daphne and her delivery.
“I see you have an admirer,” she said in a tired voice.
Daphne shuffled to the flowers and read the attached card. “They’re from Dan.”
“I presume that’s your most recent attempt. He found you quick.”
“I left him a letter with this address. He must have sent them special delivery.”
“You gave him the club’s address?”
“Well, this is where I am right now–”
“Why? You’re finished.”
“It wasn’t final.”
Liz closed her mouth against the spite eager to spring out and instead stared at Daphne in silence, waiting for her to attempt an explanation.
She shifted uneasily. “This one was different. He wanted time to think about us and I gave that to him. Well, at first I didn’t understand, but now I do.”
Liz lingered in her silence before abruptly laughing. “I can fix that.”
Daphne frowned. “Fix what?”
“Your infatuation with men and their consumption of you.”
“But Dan’s so good for me–”
Another derisive snort.
Liz gestured to her outfit. “Clearly.”
“You wouldn’t know–”
“No.” Liz stood before her. “I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t know the feeling of being broken into a mould forged by someone else. You allowed him to break you, he attached himself to you and sucked the life out of you until you were…well, this.” Another gesture of her hand.
Their distance shortened.
“I’m the one here now, just like when we were younger. I’ll fix you.”
Daphne stepped back, shaking her head. Liz matched her, step for step, and reached out to cup her face with a deceptive strength.
Daphne struggled in her hold to express what she was feeling. Liz felt hope rising, until she saw her eyes frantically look for the flowers. Daphne physically calmed down at the sight of them and frustration punched Liz in the stomach.
“Hun,” Liz let her go and returned to the mirror. “Why do you think he sent you flowers?”
“Perhaps,” Liz mused. “Why did he send you dark red roses?”
“They’re romantic,” Daphne answered, causing Liz to raise her eyebrow. “He still loves me.”
Liz sighed and picked at the flowers. “No. Bright red indicates love. Or, even better, a budding bright red rose.” She drew out a long stemmed rose from the centre of the bouquet. “These roses are at their end. They are dying.”
Her brows knitted, Daphne fought to say something and Liz’s voice took on a tender tone. “It’s time to move on.”
“No, that’s rubbish.”
Her objection was swallowed up in the sudden attention Liz gave to her roses.
“Please, not now,” Daphne resisted in vain as Liz’s fingers reached for a rose. She picked one and traced the petal veins so slowly it hurt to follow. She toyed with each, smiling from the satisfaction it gave her and without hesitation slit a petal in two with her nail. Its juices perfumed the room, as they moistened her fingers.
The damaged explored, Liz threw it away and licked her fingers clean. She sat back in her chair and continued to take off her make-up, as if nothing had happened between them.
Daphne couldn’t take her eyes off of her rose, cast to the floor, raw and glistening in the light as dim as it was. It was so pathetic, it hurt to see it. Liz watched her in the mirror and a sad smile tugged her lips as Daphne let herself out.