Coral stands and stares at the Aspidistra Bistro. She even mumbles the words. You can't say them without a hiss and a spit. After cocktails, a bottle of house red and house white and a Tia Maria or two the customers can't say it straight to save their lives. But even if they're sick or senseless Coral isn't allowed to say they're drunk. Ricky's very strict about it. You don't get drunk at the Aspidistra. You get happy.
So why isn't Carol happy? She takes a deep breath, tosses her long dark hair over her shoulders and arranges a big smile on her face. She applies it carefully, like putting on lipstick. She puts her hand up to feel it. Her fingers are trembling. She's standing at the very edge of the pavement, her odd little pointed boots sticking out towards the middle of the road.
What are you wearing them boots for? It's the middle of summer! Your feet won't half pong by the time you get finished. And do you have to wear that prissy blouse thing? It makes you look like you've got a stiff neck.
Coral fingers her high lace collar, moving her neck jerkily to the right and to the left, as if performing an Indian temple dance. She shivers, and wraps her arms in their white leg-o'-Mutton sleeves round her waist, digging her fingers right into her ribs. She feels sick. She isn't wearing her wrist-watch, she can't bear to spoil the Victorian effect of her outfit, but she knows it must be quite a bit past seven.
She's been waiting at the edge of the pavement for at least five minutes. Sometimes people in passing cars think she's about to dash across the road and slow down accordingly. Coral stays stuck. One of the motorists hoots at her impatiently and she blushes. She sticks her tongue out at him, but only when the car is almost out of sight.
She wishes she was out of sight too. Stepping back in her buttoned boots to a time where she might just belong. Her feet are twitching inside the hot suede, they want to run so badly. But she can't. This is work, it's not school. She can't bunk off. Mum will kill me if I do, Coral thinks.
Too bloody right, I will!
Yes, she'll be waiting for me when I get back. And she'll kill me. How will she do it this time? Where will we be? In the kitchen. So she'll brandish her new electric carving knife, the one she got from the catalogue, she hasn't even started the payments yet, but she's so mad at me she doesn't care if she blunts it and buckles it slicing me into little segments.
No, she couldn't stand the mess, all my blood spurting over the white walls, splashing the curtains and seeping down into the cracks between the kitchen units. She'd be scrubbing all night with a bucket of Flash and a Brillo pad. The electric carving knife stays in its little box, its serrated edge unsullied. A suitable murder weapon is at hand. A heavy-gauge dustbin liner, black and glistening like like the skin of a sea monster. She shakes it free of its folds with one brisk flick of her wrist, seizes me by the scruff of my neck and stuffs me inside. I try to tear my way out of it but she's tied kitchen gloves to my hands and they scrabble uselessly. Now she's bumping me in the bag, dragging me out of the flat and along the balcony.