Red lips, black hair, and the faint taste of licorice on her lips. The lights from the Cabaret shining on her cheeks, her eyebrows raised to denote surprise to what has become the dullest of routines. She spends her nights splashing in giant martini glasses or doing pirouettes from the ceiling, slowly undressing her body and the sadness in her eyes. Gents slipping tips in her girdle, between her breasts, around the chocker on her neck. She hates the touch but takes the cash. One must wonder how something so soft and tender ended up in such a dreadful cage.
After the 1:30 show, she heads to her dressing room: green drapes, beige stained walls, and a window that overlooks a wall. Faint yellow light illuminates her steps and guide her fingers to retouch the makeup and the wig. Her silk robe stained with foundation and whiskey, Rye. Someone knocks the door; a male signal her client has arrived.
A quick brush of blush, and some powder to hide the tiredness goes up her nose. She wishes for it to be quick, she always does. Lucky for her, most gents are indeed fast, some rough, and every so often soft. She lays on the couch, quietly hiding between the shadows of the candlelight. The door opens, his frame steps in, the hat goes on the table next to the cane. She sits up straight, meekly pointing him to the basin next to him. He looks at the water and washes off.
She steps up quietly, reaching him, around his shoulder height. The scent of her hair does the trick, and his hands trace her rapidly. She reaches for his belt, then the button on his pants. It is quick, and she is relieved.
It is 2:30 now, and she begins to take the pins off her hair, and the makeup from her face. She looks at the mirror for a semblance of her, all she can find are her green eyes. She gathers the cash from the silver tray, putting it in her bag, and closing the door without turning off the candles. Sometimes she wishes the place would burn down, but it never does. She takes a short walk through the pebble stones wearing her disguise: brown gabardine, flat shoes, a scarf, and a hat, a ghost passing through the night in between light poles and wooden doors.
She stops before her building, looks up; the light on the third window from the left is on, the balcony doors are open, and the curtains are trying to escape. She hears him screaming and her crying, every night the same routine. She walks through the corridor, up the shifting stairs into the second door on the right, the green one. The door locks with her fingers firmly pressed against the brass going into the wall. The gabardine goes first, then the scarf and the hat, finally the shoes. She kept her costume: a light pastel green bustier held together by girdles and a bra. Sitting down, she pours more whiskey. Her red nails grapple the glass, clawing for its insides. The screams do not stop this time, but she is no longer there.
It is Autumn, the gold and red of the leaves stretch as far as the eye can see. A young man walks through the road with muddy boots and a brown gabardine. He pulls a horse and chariot. Soft pale skin, green eyes, brown hair. The fence of the farm up ahead, the beasts ready for their rest. Inside the stable, he takes off his gabardine, revealing a slim frame. His soft hands hold the fabric against the hook. He has a tender smile, too delicate for a farmers life.
Back at the cottage, his mother serves him bread, cheese, and oatmeal. No one speaks, they never do. He touches his neck, slowly following the landscape of his birthmark, red and brown in the shape of a cloud. He helps his mother with the farm, it has always been the two of them. His mother is brusque but kind, at least at heart. He likes to sit by the fire while she fixes dresses for the ladies of the town. He dreams of leaving, he wants to wear their clothes, their shoes, wishes for a petticoat hat.
His mother knows of him, she doesn’t understand nor questions. She only makes her dresses a few inches too wide for him to wear. He doesn’t know, nor would he dare to ask. The feeling is too intoxicating to notice anything but the fabric on his skin, or the peaks of flesh revealed as he floats. Sometimes he wishes his mother would wear makeup. At least blush and lipstick, but that is not to be.
Back at the apartment. It is the silence not the screams that wake her. There are only steps to let her know he is on the move. The woman above has stopped crying, or perhaps he tied her up and silenced her otherwise, it would not be the first time. The table next to the bed in the apartment above is a washed-out blue, rust on the edges, with a wire net tray for a shelf. A candle reveals the jewelry, his wallet, and the keys to the place. Pale chiffon drips down the woman’s leg, lifeless.
He quickly gathers his things: the keys, the wallet, he takes the jewelry as well. The door slams behind him, rattling the whisky glass downstairs. She looks up, putting her hand around her neck, slowly tracing her birthmark, red and brown in the shape of a cloud. She sits quietly, hands on the glass and neck, wondering if she will be next.
A knock on the door, panic in her eyes it is him at least she believes it is him. A soft knock on the door again. She knows she cannot avoid answering, it is pointless. Reaching for the door, she braces for the worst. There is a man, but not the one from the floor above, she reaches only about his shoulder height. Looking up, she recognizes him, it is the John from the cabaret. He looks surprised but pleased. She looks scared and puzzled.
Both wonder what is to happen next, he looks into her eyes, and she finally looks at him back. He was kind, she remembers. But she knows better than to let an almost stranger in the door. She begins to close it, and he begins to push it back. There is no contest, and he is inside. He quickly scans the room, not much to find, except the whisky and the glass. She resigns to her fate, walks to the table, grabbing the glass and sipping from it one more time.