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UKArchive ID: 17159Handbags and Gladrags by thegeeza
Originally published on September 4, 2006 in Fiction    

It's hard to move on, sometimes. We all cling to and wish for our more carefree days - but it's dangerous territory. Adult themes... Not suitable for children! 2,710 words.



She wrapped the laces of her shoes around her calf, tied them together and stood up. She turned her legs one way and the other and wondered if these shoes were in fashion and if they’d ever been in fashion. Her lower leg looked shiny and in danger of bursting through its restraint. She was a mess.

She sprayed her neck with expensive perfume, had one last look in the mirror and went into the lounge to say goodnight to her son. He was sat, watching the usual Saturday evening crap on television. He didn’t speak, just nodded and turned back to the show.

She met her mate in the pub at the top of the high street and they sat with two large Bacardi and cokes. Happy hour.

‘So, watcha been up to?’ - ‘Me? Nothing. You?’ - ‘Nothing much. Washing. Changed the beds, you know.’ - ‘Yeah.’

Happy is what happy does. A strong sense of irony – or is it sarcasm? – “Happy Hour”. People getting pissed, as quickly as they can for as small an amount of money as possible.

They watched the young ones, their whole futures in front of them and smiled, remembering when it was them: smiling, flirting, laughing.

She rubbed her toes together and grimaced as she tried to soothe her uncomfortable athlete’s foot. From the tip of her fungus infected toes, to the top of her frizzy brown hair and all the bits in between, Anne needed something to freshen herself up – something exciting. She felt stagnant, tired.

Her mate was yabbering on about something or another. The movement of her head and the gold jewellery around her neck took her attention, making Anne jump when Julie’s tone hardened: ‘D’you wanna nother?’ - ‘Eh?’ - ‘Or d’you wanna move on?’ - ‘Let’s have another here.’

Anne watched Julie at the bar, eyeing up each man within range, thinking she was discreet. Every movement just as she did when she was eighteen. As obvious as ever. It seemed a little embarrassing now, perhaps sad. Anne turned away and looked down at her hands: they were not young hands any more, the gold rings were scratched and her red nail varnish gave an almost absurd look to the ten stubby fingers and their sleek-topped finishes. She had hands like a drag queen.

Julie sat down with the drinks. ‘That bloke’s giving me the eye.’ – ‘Get away … which one?’ – ‘That one in the light blue shirt.’ – ‘He’s not.’ He wasn’t. They watched for fifteen minutes and he didn’t look once.

When happy hour finished, they left along with half the pub. An older crowd replaced them, ready for their weekly Motown anaesthetic.

Two bars later and they stood on a street corner trying to choose between a kebab shop and a nightclub. ‘You only live once, Anne, come on.’ – ‘Do you think we should?’ – ‘Why not?’ Anne looked at the queue of people and saw that the excited people looked no older than her son. ‘Come on, Anne, a couple of drinks and we’ll call it a night. The kebab shop will still be open.’

‘Good for you, love!’ – ‘What?’ – ‘I said “good for you”, you know. Get yourself out to have some fun … you’re never too old!’ Anne looked at the boy – because that’s what he was – a boy. He had on a white shirt, a stupid grin and his eyes were very big. His mates were watching, mystified – mystified by what their friend was doing. Julie pulled out a cigarette and lit it. ‘Gimme a puff!’ said the boy – ‘Are you old enough?’ laughed Julie. They flirted and the boy took a draw, pretending it was a joint.

They paid their money and went in. The atmosphere was heavy, smoky and the music was very loud. They went to the bar. The boy and his friends stood next to them, facing away, laughing and joking. Julie stood with her back immediately behind the boy and tipped her head backwards, indicating him, asking for an opinion. ‘What?’ – ‘What do you think?’ – ‘Don’t be so fucking stupid – he’s a kid!’ – ‘He’s got a cock, hasn’t he?’ – ‘Well, I wouldn’t be sure, he’s very young, Jools.’ Julie took a swig of her drink. ‘You’ve got to lighten up, Anne, have some fun. It’s just a laugh.’ Anne shook her head, took a drink and tried to change the subject. Julie said she couldn’t hear, irritated. Anne looked around wondering how long she could put up with the place. She wanted to be at home.

She turned back and saw Julie’s hand was behind her, holding the boy’s hand, although he was still facing the other way. ‘What are you doing?’ – ‘What?’ – ‘You’re holding his hand!’ – ‘Oh, relax, I’m just having a laugh.’ Anne didn’t know what to say. Her chest felt light – her breathing quickened. Why did the boy want to hold her hand? There were plenty of young girls around. Anne tried to see if the boy’s friends had noticed. They were still laughing and joking as the strange situation unfolded. ‘I’m going to the toilet,’ said Anne.

The toilet was crowded with girls standing by the mirror, laughing, screaming. The floor was wet. The atmosphere was just as dense with heat and smoke in the toilet. Anne went in a cubicle, pulled off some tissue, wiped the wet seat and sat down. Someone rattled on the door. ‘I’m in here!’ said Anne. It rattled again but the person went away. She realised that her body was covered with sweat. A patch looped under both arms. She listened to the girls saying who they wanted to shag, who they shagged last night, about what they had done. Anne thought about her body, her drooping tits, her expanding waist, stretch marks, cellulite, the mass of matted hair between her legs. She imagined herself in mid-air, like a computer simulation, turning, people laughing. The door rattled again. ‘Come on! What the fuck are you doing in there?’ She stood up and flushed the chain. She lifted the dress up by the straps, trying to ventilate her stinking body. She opened the door and a young person pushed past her into the cubicle. She turned to have a go, but the door slammed shut. The person sighed out loud as she shit.

She went back to the bar. Julie and the boy were facing each other. His mates were still behind, carrying on as if nothing was happening. ‘This is Anne.’ – ‘Hello, Anne.’ – ‘This is James.’ – ‘Hello.’ They carried on talking. Anne stood by the bar, behind Julie with her drink in her hand. She tried to listen to the conversation, but the music was too loud. She waited and watched.

‘Anne?’ The boy was talking. ‘Here’s a drink.’ – ‘Thanks.’ – ‘Pedro bought it.’ She nodded. Darren bought her a drink. Gary bought another. She was not introduced, she didn’t know who they were, and she didn’t much care.

She watched a boy approach two girls standing by a pillar. They all started laughing. Then another boy approached, and another. They were all laughing. Then they went off towards the dance floor. When Anne turned back, the boy was kissing Julie. He had his tongue right down her throat. His friends were still laughing and joking, oblivious. She walked to the side of them, determined to give her friend a dirty look. Julie broke off. ‘It’s our turn to get the drinks in – can you get them?’ – ‘Six pints of lager for us – that’s easy to remember!’ – ‘But, Julie?’ – ‘What?’ – ‘What are you doing?’ Julie rolled her eyes. She grabbed the boy by the neck and they started kissing again. ‘Come on, love!’ said one of the boys, uncomfortable, but grinning manically. He shook his near-empty glass. ‘I’m almost dry!’ The others laughed and watched her. She felt them looking over her lumps and bumps, her waist, her shoes, her hair – imagining her naked – imagining fucking an older woman – thinking of the experience – thinking it was better than nothing. She stepped behind Julie and called to the barman.

All five boys walked over and surrounded her with their drinks, thanking her. They asked her name, where she was from, what she did for a living, if she came to the club much, if she knew James. Two split off and went away, not interested. She saw Julie’s hands grabbing at her boy’s crotch.

‘Do ya?’ – ‘Sorry?’ – ‘Do ya like football?’ – ‘No.’ – ‘Oh.’ – ‘I hate it.’ The boys took a swig of beer and looked around for prey. ‘My son likes it. Arsenal.’ They turned back to her and took a bigger swig. ‘Arsenal, eh?’ said one. Two boys looked at one another and left. One remained. ‘You’ve got a son?’ – ‘Yes’ – ‘You don’t seem old enough!’ Anne laughed. ‘He’s seventeen.’ The boy lifted his eyebrows. ‘Seventeen? Never.’ He took another swig. ‘What’s his name? I might know him.’ – ‘I bloody well hope not!’ – ‘He might’ve gone to my school.’ The word “school” made her laugh out loud.

‘We’re going for a dance,’ said Julie. Her boy led her away by the hand.

‘What school did you go to?’ said Anne. ‘Whitworth.’ – ‘Oh.’ – ‘Do you know it?’ – ‘Yes.’ She took a drink. ‘My son didn’t go there.’ – ‘Right,’ he said, nodding.
They had some more drinks. ‘Let’s have a dance!’ – ‘What?’ she said – ‘Let’s have a dance!’ He took her hand. She tried to pull away, without much effort. What’s the harm? He pulled her towards the dance floor. They danced to the modern techno beat. The slow music came on and he pulled her towards him. He was sweating. She could feel him rubbing against her. He put his hand on her bottom. She let him do that. He started to put his hand up her skirt, so she batted him away saying nothing. He tried to put his tongue in her mouth, but she pulled her head back. ‘Come on, I could be your mother.’ – ‘But you’re not’ – ‘But I could be … what school did your mum go to?’ He thought for a moment, thrown by the oddity of the question. ‘I don’t know. Why would I know that?’

The lights came on, and the DJ said it was time to go home.

‘Where’s Julie?’ – ‘Who’s Julie?’ – ‘My friend.’ – ‘I don’t know, come outside, my friends will be waiting.’ She took the boy on a tour of the club, but they couldn’t see her. The boy wouldn’t let go of her hand. Anne felt like everyone was staring at them. ‘Can’t you let go of my hand?’ – ‘Oh, don’t be like that.’

Outside, and the boy got a message on his phone. ‘I can’t believe it. They’ve gone on to the party already, without me.’ – ‘What party?’ – ‘Party after the club. Sam’s house. Why don’t you come along?’ Anne laughed. ‘No, I think this is the end of the night for me. I want to find my friend and get home.’ – ‘She’s probably at the party.’ – ‘I really don’t think so.’ Anne looked at her phone and a message from Julie told her to go to the party. ‘I told you,’ said the boy. ‘I can’t go to a teenage party, it’d look stupid!’ – ‘No it won’t, I told you, you look really young.’ She laughed. ‘Why are you laughing?’ – ‘Nothing.’

Anne got in the cab, thinking she would have one drink and drag Julie away. They got to the first floor of the housing estate, to a blue door with pounding music behind it. There was a chill in the air and nothing was moving. The boy tried to kiss her again but she pulled away. ‘You’re a randy little thing.’ – ‘I am,’ he said.

The boy pushed the door open and they went in. The air was blue with smoke and she could smell dope. The music was louder than the club, and she couldn’t hear what the boy was saying. He gave her a drink. It smelled strong but she tasted it. Some kind of vodka drink. The front room was heaving with bodies, a few people dancing; the traditional kitchen gathering – how did they hear one another?; people in the hallway – teenagers everywhere. She couldn’t see Julie. ‘Where’s Julie?’ she shouted at the boy. He cocked his ear at her. ‘Where’s Julie?’ He shook his head, checked his phone and shook his head again. Anne sent an SMS message and stood by the door. She finished her drink and the boy brought her another. She could sense people were looking at her, wondering what she was doing there. She finished that one quickly, so he fetched another. As she finished that one, he grabbed her and slipped his tongue in her mouth. She tried to resist, but didn’t, or couldn’t. She dropped the empty glass. She felt his hands move over her breasts and towards the bottom of her dress. She thought about stopping him, and how to, but she couldn’t think clearly. He turned and shouted something to someone, but she could not make out what he had said. He turned and kissed her hard, her head banged against the wall with the force of his passion. She trod on the glass and almost fell.

***

She woke up on a bed. Her mouth was dry, a sticky film on the roof of her mouth. She blinked her eyes. There were two boys asleep beside her, completed naked. One had his hand on her fanny. She had no clothes on. She looked down her body, each breast fallen to the side by her ribcage – over the bump of her stomach, past her legs to her red painted toes. She pushed the hand away. Someone laughed. There was a boy standing at the side of the bed. He was taking a photo with his mobile phone. ‘You were sensational – a real goer. Hold still.’

She climbed over one of the boys and looked for her clothes on the floor. ‘Where are my clothes?’ – ‘In the front room, where you took them off.’ – ‘Where I took them off?’ – ‘Yeah, I can show you, if you like.’ He held up his phone. She pushed him out of the way and went down the hallway. There were about twenty people asleep in the room – on the floor, on the chairs, the settee. She spotted her clothes in the corner, behind an armchair. As she knelt down to get it, she noticed the boy in the chair was her son – her face was inches away from his closed eyes as she reached for the dress. Gripped with panic, she quickly left the room. The boy was in the hallway. He carefully watched her slip the dress on. ‘Look at this one,’ he said, holding up his phone. She glimpsed an entanglement of bodies as she turned away. ‘My handbag.’ – ‘It’s in the front room. Do you want me to get it for you?’ She looked back in the room, turned and nodded. He smiled, went to get it and handed it to her. ‘I’ll text you if we have another party,’ he said.

Anne walked down the road barefoot, hoping no one would notice her. It was a cold morning, clear sky and the sun was about to come up. A milk float went past. She went into a taxi office and an African man drove her home. They didn’t speak a word.

Julie called in the afternoon. ‘What happened to you?’ – ‘I was gonna ask you the same question.’ – ‘That bloke I was with stole my bag. Can you fucking believe that? All my money, my phone, my keys, everything. I’ve got a geezer here, changing the locks now. The fucking bouncer kicked me out, said I was pissed and to go home after my boyfriend. He thought the bloke was my fucking boyfriend. Can you believe that? I waited outside for a while, but I went home. I felt like puking and guessed you’d gone anyway. What happened to you?’

Anne looked at her mobile phone as it played a trumpet sound. A message flashed on the screen telling her she had a picture message waiting. She hung up on Julie without a sound.



End (c) Steve Smith. 2006.


© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 17159
Archived comments for Handbags and Gladrags
bluepootle on 04-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
I got absolutely gripped by this by the mid-point. Some wonderful observations of age and desire, and how the two aren't allowed to go together in our society. Not sure about the'joint of meat bulging out of a net' - I kept wondering why it would be in a net?! Maybe go for a different image there, but that was the only stumbling point for me. The scene in the club is brilliant.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, BP. You're absolutely right about that net thing - I know what I meant, but it wasn't clear, and had troubled me during the edit. Changed!
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Steve.

e-griff on 04-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Hmmm. It's nearly a year since you last posted, so I was looking forward to this. While I was not disappointed by the quality of the writing, the life and sharpness of it, my heart just sank at the subject matter. OK, maybe it's only me - maybe people love reading about sad, useless people who do stupid things and have no hope in life. Well I've read an awful lot of this stuff in the last few years (and even edited whole books of it 🙂 ) and I just wanna give it a miss, frankly. As I say, this is a purely personal view, but you can write 'magic' when you want, and I missed that.

Anyway, with bluebirds buzzing round my head, a blue sky and blossoms dancing in the fields, I couldn't help but note a few odd bits.

Tense agreement:
He was sat, watching the usual Saturday evening crap on television. - he was sitting/he sat (this is the narrator not a character) and I don't see why the comma's there at all.

The person sighed out loud as she shit. - shat?

I didn't look for any more - they are just for old times's sake!

very best and great to see you back. JOhnG 🙂



Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading and commenting, John.
I would disagree that she is sad and useless, though!
ta for those points.
Cheers - Steve.

Flash on 05-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Definitely has the stamp of a Geeza piece of work.

Solid and very readable, kinda saw where it was heading, but that's a trademark with you i guess.

Good piece.

Flash

Author's Reply:
Flashy,
Thanks for reading and commenting. Played it safe with the story element, for sure - my first piece of work in a while.
Cheers - Steve.

discopants on 08-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
Very readable and well-written. My only gripe was that I wasn't sure about the need to introduce Anne's son into the story because I'd imagine that even if he arrived too late to see her stripping off he would have been shown photographs of the event that would no doubt have been taken on various mobile phones (given that a number of images seem to have been taken) and given that he remains asleep and so there is no interaction between them, I felt that this didn't add to the story.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Disco. I think you are right about the son. He was introduced to heighten embarrassment and create a moment (where he might wake up), but I think she was embarrassed enough!

KDR on 15-09-2006
Handbags and Gladrags
And another tale from the dark side of life.
Well observed. Dunno about the point BP made, re: age and desire not being allowed to go together. I thought Anne was a sad old so-and-so for still doing the same things as she did at 18. I guess life doesn't move on for people like her and Julie, and I'd like to say I don't know people just like them, but the sad thing is that I do. Too many of them. Maybe an element of a wider social thing: where do you go when you're too old for clubs, but want/need a night out?
OK, you're never too old, but you know what I mean.

I'd be tempted to lose the son. The comment that I can't help but notice (it is a few lines above this as I type) is that he was added to create more embarrassment, and I think you're right; she'd have been embarrassed enough.

Anyway, now you've posted again, it must be nearly time for Christmas! 😉
I know I shouldn't shout, but...

Cheers for the read.

Karl

Author's Reply:
Cheers, Karl.
Yeah - may well lose the son ... so to speak.
Ring the jingle bells and wake up the reindeer!
Steve.