Purple Suit, Junkie Lover
Once there was a woman, blonde and aloof, who would only love junkies. Needle as prick. She spent her days filing her nails to long, sharp points, varnishing them to a brilliant shine and hue, and searching for the dresses she liked to wear, tight frocks made before she was born, sold long ago in high-ceilinged, murmuring department stores to neat women in hats, gloves and girdles. She bought the dresses in dusty, sad op shops, their labels greyed at the neck, cursive script embroidered to proclaim their designers’ affiliations or aspirations in a trail ending near home: Paris — New York — Melbourne.
She had beautiful, straight, long blonde hair, which fell from a middle parting to frame her pursed mouth and vague, unrecognising face. Except, of course, she would unpurse the mouth, unfurrow the brow and smile a wide, welcoming smile for each new junkie she loved, hoping her smile and face and dresses and nails would please him.
There came a day when she fell in love with a particular man she had come to assume — from his look, from his friends — was a user of junk. Her assumption was false, as it turned out, but that’s neither here nor there. He wore a purple, pointy-lapelled suit of a slightly newer vintage than her dresses. She loved the fact that they shopped at the same small, sad shops, loved that their clothes smelled the same, that they each chanced finding the crumpled hanky, the lolly wrapper, of someone’s just-dead uncle or wife in the pocket of any purchase. She admired his long, black, lank hair, loved the way it obscured his eyes. She cooed over his pointed black suede boots, she adored his sallow indoors skin. His fate, as she saw it, was sealed one night when she saw him dance — those pointed toes shimmying, that was the word, shimmying, sashaying, lightly across the sticky dance floor – and her focus cleared on him, locked in. She was on target. She sent Purple Suit a letter of longing, an expression of interest.
A week later, having received no response to the first, she sent him another, more strongly worded letter, expressing her need and desire for him in the most certain of terms. She delivered the letter herself, not trusting the postal system and hoping, besides, for another look at, another taste of, her junking beloved. She walked to the bookstore owned and operated by her purple-suited darling and stood for a moment, centring herself, staring down at the basement window, which reached up just to her waist from the footpath. Inside, books tilted shallowly upwards, or lay flat on their backs, angled for their only chance of catching an obliquely-focused, pavement-staring eye. She lit a cigarette, and then walked down the four damp steps from street level to the dark-painted door of the smoky, book-smelling room.
But the door was closed, her darling out for lunch or yet to start his day, so she kissed the letter for luck and poked it under the bookshop door to await his return. She felt confident of his response, for the letter was explicit: in it, she told him she would have him, that he was hers forever, and that her body would cleave unto his. Yes: cleave.
He kicked this second letter clear across the floor and under a stand of comics, when he arrived to open the shop later that afternoon. After retrieving it, he read it through the smoke of two cigarettes, the second lit from the butt of the first. He was horrified by the letter’s contents.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t appreciate the charms of Paris-NY-Melbourne. It was just that, in truth, his affections lay elsewhere: he harboured a deep and never-to-be-requited love and longing for another, a good woman, a henna-haired beauty with large breasts and heavy, dark-lined eyes; but that is entirely another story, and we must leave its telling for another time. Suffice to say that, as he was a fine and decent man, the delights of the flesh that Paris-NY-Melbourne was offering were anathema to him while his large, loyal heart yearned elsewhere.
While Purple Suit sat, and sighed, and contemplated the situation in his good and thoughtful way, Paris Etc. fidgeted through each day that brought her no reply. She would tap the long, reddened fingernails of her pale left hand along every shiny tabletop, her chin heavy in the palm of her right hand, its nails splayed across her cheek, over her eye, into her hair. She muttered curses against the man she wanted, “fucking hopeless junking bastard,” and drank martinis from a blue conical glass which had been one of a pair she bought especially to serve very dry vodka martinis to the man before Purple Suit. A fondness for vodka and that single unbroken glass were the only things she’d retained from that relationship.
She would stare into the straight-sided bowl of that empty glass, licking acid lemon from a spike of fingernail, then lowering the nail to tap its blue slope. She sometimes thought she might see the future in the empty bowl of that glass, but it only ever reflected her own face back at her, and she couldn’t see any future in that, as much as she tried.
There’s only so much staring into an empty martini glass that a girl can do before she feels the need to get out of the house however, so there soon came a day when Paris Etc. made a plan, forced into action by the inaction of her beloved. Her plan took her back to his shop one afternoon, — for the bookstore, she knew, was a time–honoured place for the acting out of romantic fancies — at a time when she knew he was most likely to be in attendance himself, reading at the counter, or perhaps arranging and rearranging the Bukowskis in the window for maximum visual effect. She knew this, as she had come to learn his routine over recent days, lingering at the café across from the bookshop, or watching from the street, stooping slightly, casually, to see through the low window. Loitering like this, she had seen him laughing soundless behind the window glass, open-mouthed, close-eyed, mid-afternoon happy in the cool, booked dark of his shop.
Learning his routine, the pattern of his days, was just one more way of loving him. She had to make him love her equally, though, and she knew that he would truly come to love her only at the moment when her eyes could hold his stare across those books. He must love her as he loved his books. He would love her in his bookstore.
And so Paris etc. planned, to the tiniest detail, her assault on the man she desired. She chose the time, the day, she planned for weather contingencies, considered travel options. She would wear this dress; her hair would be so, and so; these shoes, these tights, nail polish and underwear to match. She bought a fresh packet of cigarettes, then just as she was about to leave, she removed five from the pack and placed them on the mantelpiece. It seemed the right sort of emptiness for the situation.
Well, how did she fare, our Lady of the Junkie, in her quest? Here is the scene of their confrontation, as perceived by our purple-suited prince:
Her dress is a suspiciously authentic verdigris in colour and texture, like bathroom mould. It sparkles in the afternoon light, its metallic flecks catching the sun. She straddles the counter with her arms, nails splayed on the countertop: confronting. Her fingernails curve, witchlike, scythes, so that the tips touch the countertop a finger’s width closer to me than the fingers. She holds her cigarette vertical to the countertop, to her hands, to the curving nails, up from between her fingers, shaking with emotion, ash spilling, smoke rising. Her demeanour screams: “Love me, love me, LOVE MEEEEEE!!!” I stare at my shoes, tug at my hair and tuck it behind my right ear while dipping my head slightly towards my tucking hand, a habit I revert to in adversity.
Her whole body seems to quiver.
Here is what she saw, in the mirror behind him, the mirror in her little mind; and mirrors do not lie:
Elegant, blonde, dignified. Strong, emanating strength. Disdain, if anything negative. Not desperation, definitely not desperation, just demanding (in a very dignified manner) a right, a desire.
His dear back, hunched with the weight of love.
And if you were a potential book buying customer, passing by in a sauntering, unfocused, mid-afternoon kind of mood, wondering whether or not to trot down those four shaded steps towards the unwelcoming door of the shop to browse a while amongst the books and the cigarette smoke, as you paused you might have seen through the window — if your gaze was low enough — behind the display of dark books, a woman and a man, confronting, avoiding each other. You might’ve seen mouths moving silently, a fist slammed onto the counter, a hand raised to tuck hair, the stiff pages of an open book on the counter turn themselves, closing. You could have witnessed her grabbing the lapels of his suit jacket, pulling his face to hers across the counter. You might have seen the man shrug away, turn his back on the woman, and start to shelve the pile of books by his side; seen her plain pale face crumple at the offer of his sad back. And as the woman turned on her heel to spin through the door and push past you on the top step, you might have caught the sour milky smell of rejection before you walked on down the street.
stays in his bookstore, unhooks his hair from behind his ear to let it fall lank across his downturned face. At 3:30 pm, the after school habit of a lifetime, he stubs out his cigarette in the Lake Tahoe Nevada ashtray with the hula dancer on the side, hangs the back in 5 sign on the just-locked door of the shop, and wanders into the back yard to fold himself onto an old school chair, too small by half for him, to roll and admire the day’s first smoke. It starts to rain, hot with the dust smell of cement. His thoughts turn to
the henna-haired beauty, in thigh-high red vinyl boots, strutting between my books, down the centre aisle of the shop towards me
and as usual, as he smokes, he contemplates moving to Sydney, and writing a novel.
walks briskly home, to sit smoking in her tatty brocade armchair by the open window, inhaling rain with her Kent smoke, tapping the windowsill with those fingernails, haunted by the smell of unbought books and conjuring the image of her next lover in the shape of the rain clouds, the puddle forming on the red cement footpath below, the rain’s path down her open window, the cigarette smoke’s rise towards the ceiling’s yellowed rose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tracy Farr was born in Melbourne, grew up in Perth, matured in Vancouver and settled in Wellington. Her short stories have been published in Sport, broadcast on National Radio, and earned her the Runner Up Guernsey in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2001. She completed the Short Fiction Workshop at Victoria University of Wellington in 1998. She researches the secret life of seaweed when she’s not writing fiction. Her almost-complete collection of short fiction is tentatively titled Viva Baby, Viva!