Boats and Cold Nights
Before she left the party she noticed someone’s feet being tickled with fire from a lighter. She got out of the building, walked down the street and when she noticed a bench by the side of a canal, she went to sit down. There were three boats docked on the side nearest where she was sitting and she could see people in the middle one sitting around a table. She retrieved a packet of cigarettes and smoked one to the tab, looking inside the boat. She thought she saw one of the people look up and notice her peeping, but she carried on looking, and soon it seemed as if they didn’t know she was there at all. When she finished her cigarette she stood up and carried on walking along the cobbles, which lined this maze of canals on the outskirts of the city.
Her shoes were covered with dust and grit, and she wished she could clean them but she couldn’t here. She began walking in the direction of the city centre, and went into the first pub she saw, not one in which she would choose to drink, but it would do. The barman didn’t notice her coming in, and when she spotted the toilet sign she started towards it.
There were no other people in the cubicles and so she stood at the middle of the three sinks and took off both her shoes. Then with water, and the soap from the dispenser, she cleaned them with her hands until the water which bounced off them ran clear. When she put them back on they were slightly damp inside, so she took them off again and dried them with the hand dryer. Then she left the pub, and carried on walking. She took another cigarette out of her bag and smoked it whilst walking towards the nearest large supermarket.
Once inside she scanned the aisles, but she couldn’t find what she was looking for. Asking the cashier would make the task harder, but when she was sure she wouldn’t manage to find it, she went up to one of them. ‘Do you sell shoe polish?’ she asked.
The woman stared at her, but didn’t answer.
‘Shoe polish?’ the girl said again, this time pronouncing the words separately, thinking perhaps the cashier didn’t speak much English.
‘No,’ the woman said.
‘Are you sure?’ the girl said.
‘Yeah,’ the woman said, from which the girl gleaned that the woman understood her the first time she asked.
‘Ok, thanks,’ the girl said, and left.
She was now on the main shopping street, but all the shops were closed, the only place open the supermarket she’d just left.
A while later she came across another canal, this one less well lit. A bridge crossed it a few metres overhead, and she could already smell urine emanating from the space. She slowed down her pace and looked around. There was no one else walking behind her and no one she could see in front. She carried on forwards, and walked under the bridge.
Another bridge was coming up, and her feet were hurting now. Her still damp shoes were rubbing her toes, and she slowed down again. She looked down at her hands, which looked very white in this light, her nail varnish was perfect except for a small chip on her index finger. She’d painted her nails earlier whilst sitting on a tram, a skill she’d perfected in recent months, being able to predict the movements of the vehicles as they made their way around the city in circles she was now so familiar with. She covered the chip with her middle finger, so that she wouldn’t be able to see the imperfection. She carried on walking.
‘Alright love,’ someone said, and she was startled, having taken her eyes off the path in front of her. ‘It’s only me,’ a man said, now only a few feet away from her. She noticed his shoes almost immediately, very old trainers, one completely destroyed at the front, so that the man’s sock was visible. The sock originally beige, but now brown from dirt, she noted.
She stopped walking and the man stopped too. He lifted his hand up, as if to say hello, and she noticed he was wearing fingerless gloves, even though it was summer. She looked at his face, and guessed he was a tramp, a drunk judging by his red nose, and the way he smelled.
‘I don’t know you,’ the girl said, her voice different from normal, her words better pronounced.
‘You do,’ the man said. ‘Richard,’ he added, patting his chest as if to reiterate he meant himself.
‘I don’t,’ she said, moving sideways, then began walking again.
The man jumped towards her, stepping right in her path. Their now close proximity showed that the man was a couple of inches shorter than her. ‘Stop playing games with me,’ he said, angry.
‘What are you doing?’ the girl said, then looked down at the man’s hand, in which he held a small knife.
‘I need to show you something,’ he said, baring his teeth, which showed gum disease.
‘What?’ she said, seemingly not alarmed by the blade, although she took a small step backwards, and quickly glanced back at the way she’d come.
‘Come with me,’ the man said, holding out his free hand. She didn’t take it, but nodded to show she’d comply. He gestured indicating she should go first, and she did as he wanted.
‘Here,’ the man said, and stopped walking.
‘What?’ she said, her eyes wide open. The man didn’t say anything, instead pointed to the ceiling, the underneath of another bridge crossing the canal.
‘I can’t see anything,’ she said, the nervousness now showing in her voice.
‘There,’ he said, pointing into a corner. She squinted at the direction he was showing.
‘What’s that?’ she said, taking a step away from the man. He’d noticed her doing it, and took a small step towards her.
‘A wasp nest,’ he said. ‘Touch it,’ he added after she didn’t do anything.
‘I don’t want to,’ she said.
‘It’s dead,’ the man said. ‘Touch it,’ he said again, coming slightly nearer, so that she smelled his odour strongly again.
‘Ok,’ she said, and neared the nest. ‘Stay there,’ she told him, although not like a command, rather a pleading.
The man nodded. He watched her as she approached the nest and stood on her tiptoes, then lightly touched the greyish outer layer of the nest.
‘How does it feel?’ the man said, still holding the knife in his hand, although with the blade turned towards him now.
She shrugged. ‘Like paper,’ she said. ‘I guess. Like crepe paper.’
The man nodded, then turned around and started walking back towards the direction he came from. ‘I’ll see you around,’ he said, without turning back to look at her.
She stood on the spot for a second, then looked up at the nest again, but she didn’t touch it. Then she ran all the way back to the supermarket where she’d been earlier. The same cashier was still on, but she didn’t stop. She got the escalator down, and quickly picked up two bottles of vodka.
She got slightly lost on the way back to the party, but she wasn’t worried. She knew she’d find it eventually, the main roads were familiar to her, even if the smaller streets weren’t. She rang the bell for the flat she thought the party was at. There was no answer, so she tried the next number. This time someone picked up.
‘It’s Amanda,’ she said, her voice quavering, as if she wasn’t sure of her name. There was a silence, and she thought she heard some murmuring in the background. ‘Amanda,’ she repeated, this time louder and clearer.
‘You’ve got the wrong flat,’ she was told, and the receiver clicked off.
She sighed deeply, then looked at the grid of numbers. She finally pressed a button for the flat next to the one she just called, and this time it was the right number and she was allowed in.
The lift smelled of chips and vinegar, and when she smelled it, she realised she was hungry. This prompted her to remember that she’d not eaten anything since breakfast, and even this was only a croissant. The lift stopped and she stepped out. The door of the party was recognisable among the row of identical beech effect entrances because of the three balloons pinned near the eye-hole. She knocked loudly, and soon a man dressed all in black let her in. She didn’t recognise him from earlier, and to make it known she was a worthwhile guest, she handed him the bottles of vodka, which she’d been carrying without a bag.
She briefly went into the living room, which hadn’t undergone much change since before she left. The milieu was more or less the same, and there was still someone dancing barefoot. She shuddered and quickly exited the room, then she waited outside the bathroom. When it became vacant she quickly went in and locked the door.
The bath was deep, and there were three steps leading up to its edge. She saw there was no shower curtain or screen. Noticing this she picked up the plug and put it in, then started running the taps. She took her clothes off quickly, before even looking to see if there was a towel. She was in the bath before the water was an acceptable temperature. She scolded her bum cheeks and her feet, before switching to cold water. The first bottle which came to hand was what she filled the bath with to produce bubbles, and something to clean her body with. Her hair, unwashed for over a week, was pinned back into a bun, the greasy roots disguised by a hair-band she’d picked up earlier. She took off the constraining items and immersed it in the water.
There was no sponge that she could see, so she poured more of the liquid into her palms and began vigorously cleaning herself. Her legs were hairy, as were her armpits, and she turned around and looked at the basket which neatly contained all the toiletries of the inhabitants of the flat. She took the razor which looked least used out of the two which were there, and in quick motions she removed the stubble, which she’d now grown accustomed to, but still despised as much as always. Cleaning her vagina was last, and the most pleasurable. She took her time, rubbing it with the soap, until it was red and slightly sore.
She rinsed her hair, and dried herself. In her coat pocket was a clean pair of knickers, stolen from M&S earlier that day. She removed the label and put them on, then the rest of her clothes, which she’d worn for a few days. She sat down on the toilet to put her shoes back on, and that’s when she noticed it crawling out slowly from her left shoe. The wasp looked lethargic, on its last legs. She picked it up by its wings with her thumb and middle finger and dropped it in the bath. There wasn’t much water left, not enough to drown it immediately, and she watched the wasp struggling to lift itself out of the remaining current of water, which was going down into the drain. The wasp stopped at the plug, no longer moving.
Kamila Rymajdo lives in Manchester, England. In 2008 she graduated from the Manchester University Creative Writing MA, and since then has been working on her first novel, which she recently completed. She was also published in the Manchester Review and was a Glimmer Train competition finalist.