Walking, exhausted and alone into the midnight hours. Stumbling on heels too high, under streetlights that burn too bright and stars too distant to be seen. It’s at times like this you have to be honest with yourself; he was a lecherous bastard with an ego complex bigger than God and you never really loved him, right?
There is a playground tucked away behind the superstores; incongruously situated in the centre of town. Its slide reaches up to the sky and then falls back to the ground like the contorted spine of an ancient sea snake. Still a long way from home, your feet ache from all the dancing and the stupid shoes. You feel an urge to sit on the swings, like you used to when you were young. Distant memories of sunny days and laughter drift through your mind. Moving silently through the gate, you watch your shadow on the grass. Truth is, you were just looking for some fun, and it was never going to be anything serious, was it?
Your shadow watches you back, echoing every movement. Calmly it observes as you pull a pack of cigarettes from your bag, place one between your lips and strike a match. But with the flame the shadow comes alive. Flickering into consciousness and detaching itself from you as if you were nothing more than a set of uncomfortable shoes. Your shadow dances round the park with its arms thrown up, worshipping the unseen stars, undressing itself as it skips from swing to seesaw to slide; showing an adolescent frivolity that you haven’t seen in years. As it climbs to the top of the red plastic slide it rids itself of the last of its clothing. Slipping out of its underwear and gliding down the slide in one fluid movement. You admire its elegance as you smoke your cigarette, thinking about him, remembering the way he could move across a dance floor, grinding up against you, pulsing and thrusting to the rhythm of the bass.
Gradually your shadow reaches one hand down between its legs and brings the other up to its mouth, gently inserting half-solid fingers into semi-transparent lips. Still smoking your cigarette, you watch as your shadow begins to pleasure itself; arching its spine across the spine of the plastic slide, which is moist and slippery with midnight dew. Faster and faster your shadow moves, caressing the angles and curves of its smoky-black frame, squeezing and stroking and blurring. As it begins to reach a climax it drags its shadow-nails across its shadow-stomach and reaches up to pull and grasp its shadow-hair, screaming silent ecstasies as it soars above reality, riding the tempest waves of sensation that pulse through its impossible body. You finish your cigarette and flick it to the ground, crushing the butt into the dirt with the ball of your foot. Your shadow vanishes and reappears at your side, no longer alive with lust. As you leave the park you drop the packet of cigarettes, almost full, into the blue recycling bin shaped like an open mouth. And you wonder; did he fancy that bitch more than he fancied you?
After a while you find you have drifted into the quiet hours of early morning, where there’s no one left but you and the beggars. You don’t see them until you turn a corner, and then you’re right on top of them; two of them, asleep under a heap of blankets, on a mattress of cardboard with newspaper sheets, themselves and all their worldly possessions crowded into a coffee shop doorway. For the hundredth time you ask yourself that most important of questions: Did he ever really care?
Suddenly you realize that they’re not asleep at all, they’re very much awake. The blankets shift and you see them lying side by side, with their feet at opposite ends, topping and tailing. You notice the naked flesh and the fur. They have animal heads and muzzles like dogs. As you peer closer you see fleas crawling through their manes, nibbling and sucking and sucking and nibbling. Only then do you hear the gasps and grunts and the low growls, the sound of long tongues on smooth flesh. Sharp canine-teeth delicately grasp and release, exploring the cliffs and coves of each other’s thighs. The smell of alcohol hits you, mingled with the stink of urine and pheromones. You are fascinated by the ferocity and the tenderness with which they make love, as again you think about him, wondering if he’d ever held you the way they were holding each other, or if your moans had ever made the sort of music theirs were making.
The light shifts as they roll across each other, out of the shadows and into the soft radiance of a neon sign. You observe that even though they have their heads between each other’s legs, they are still semi-dressed. One wears the jacked of a dark-coloured suit, ripped, ragged and stained, but still recognizable. The other is wrapped in the remains of a diaphanous white dress, concealed under countless layers of mud, muck and mire. There is a sign placed next to an empty bowl and the now vacant pile of blankets. It bears the words: Just Married in large, somewhat smudged copperplate handwriting. As the couple continue to roll over and over each other, yelping and sighing with pleasure, you reach into your bag and pull out a bundle of condoms. You look once at shiny plastic in your hands, then sigh and drop them into the empty bowl. As you walk away the beggars quickly fumble back to their mattress of cardboard, folding their carapace of blankets back around them, losing their animal heads and falling back asleep. You tell yourself to forget him. He was nothing but a hollow-hearted boy with an erection, right?
It will rain soon. You can smell it in the air. The clear, starless sky has become crowded with clouds. You take off your shoes so that you can comfortably walk faster. You hold them in your right hand. You want to get home before the storm starts. While passing the windows of a high-street shop you glance up to check your reflection. Nothing but a subconscious reflex, but that’s when you notice the mannequins. Crowded together and dressed in fashion’s finest, standing like smooth skinned statues flaunting their flawlessness to the world. Was it because she was younger and prettier than you? Did he think you were getting predictable? Was he bored of you?
As you watch, something starts to happen to the mannequins inside the windows. Beginning with a shiver and twitch in the corner of your eye, the plastic perfect people are coming alive and turning their heads to stare at you. With their unfeeling fingers they reach for each other’s clothing. In utter silence they begin stripping and ripping away all the expensive fabrics that gave them meaning. In a fury and a frenzy they rend and rake their way into nudity. You think of him, the curve of his scapula as it rolls in to meet the deltoid in the half light of your bedroom as he turns away from you, muscles flexing with every step.
The mannequins are copulating now; furiously rubbing their polished, flat groins together with an air of dry desperation. They fuck fast and without affection, hopelessly tumbling and scratching and riding each other in a madness of consumption and corruption, deforming as they do so. Smoke rises from between their thighs as gradually they start to melt, smooth limbs bubbling with lust, closing dying, blind eyes and moaning countless, inaudible orgasms. You watch as their pretty faces distort and dissolve in a haze of pure sexual hunger. Then the rain starts, heavy and indifferent. It tumbles like a storm of fists, knocking against the windows and spilling down the surface of the glass, washing your reflection away. You smile and look to the sky, mascara spilling down your cheeks. Standing there beside the expensive shop full of boring, unmoving mannequins, something inside you fixes itself. You fling the shoes into the distance with a joyful scream. Fuck him. It’s time to love yourself.
You run home barefoot under the streetlights, getting soaked in the storm. You are breathless and shivering, but still smiling when you arrive, make-up streaming down your face as you hammer on the door to wake me up. I let you in with a hug, throw you a towel and promise to make you a hot drink. Only then I ask what happened to your shoes. You laugh and promise to tell me all about it.
Philip Webb Gregg is a recent graduate in English and Writing from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. He writes both for pleasure and for necessity, believing stories are somewhat like the sweet-smelling spirits that rise from the fermentation of our subconscious. His work tends to orbit themes of human psychosis coupled, or in conflict with, the natural world. Keep in touch @PhilipWebbGregg