Thanks to Writers Island for the prompt.
This week – torrid.
Alice was used to looking at life in terms of what she couldn’t have rather than what she could. She lived in a two bedroom apartment with her sister which they had inherited from their hapless father – a man left startled by unfulfilled desires not just of the physical kind but the emotional, the spiritual. ‘You can’t always get what you want,’ he was noted for saying. ‘It’s important to learn to settle for second best. It keeps disappointment at bay.’
At night Alice watched the lights on the river, liquid green like the wheatgrass juice the young girls in the office favoured. Alice had tasted it once and was instantly repulsed. She’d rather have a cup of tea.
Every night she sat up well past midnight while her sister slumbered, sedated with pills and single malt whiskey. Once you got used to the night it was not as bleak as you imagined. Regal purples and rich browns whorled through the black until it was a microcosm of sombre beauty. Alice had grown fond of the night.
She met Alex at drinks after a work function about management strategies that left her longing for the time where she could brew her favourite tea and watch the river, face pressed against the glass, surrendering to the night.
He was 35, a ‘mover and a shaker’ and so good-looking she felt like her heart would burst when she looked at him. Alice, at 46, was ashamed to feel what she didn’t want to say out loud but knew was lust, for a man so much younger. She felt pathetic, out of her depth. How many times had her father predicted she would end up a spinster, that she didn’t have the looks men wanted.
To his credit, Alex didn’t seem to mind. He pursued her in a relentless manner that made Alice breathless, kissing her so passionately on their first date she saw coloured lights like she’d been hit on the head with a blunt object. It was astounding. It was miraculous. It was the way she had felt as a child when she plunged her entire face into a hibiscus flower and emerged having lost all sense, the scent of the flower so deeply embedded it stayed on her tongue for days.
Alex began to stay over at the apartment – once a week, twice, then every night. ‘It’s disgusting at your age.’ Her sister was peeved. ‘I can hear you through the walls. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep for weeks. I don’t know what the neighbours must think.’
Alice didn’t care what the neighbours thought. Or what her sister thought for that matter. She was wrapped in a magical, dreamlike blanket. Her euphoria made her love the world and everything in it. She was surprised she had gotten more than she’d dared to hope for and shocked that she wanted more and more. And more.
‘Don’t hold back,’ Alex said when they were in bed together. ‘This is it. This moment. This is what life’s all about.’
Alice was partly enthusiastic, partly embarrassed. This passion, intensity, was torrid, scorching her fingertips, leaving her thirsty and shaking. She felt like she had shed a thousand skins and was walking reconstituted in the dusty streets where people regarded her with a knowing eye.
All she could see was the colour of her ardour, everything else swam in blandness. The lips of the girl in accounts, smeared with vermilion, assailed her. The rest of her appeared as a line drawing that had been partly erased.
The strawberries in her fruit salad jumped out at her, like rubies set amongst glass. She spent an entire hour watching a blouse with magenta buttons whirl in the dryer.
Everywhere she looked she could see it. It was all she wanted to see. Red, carmine, damask, crimson. The colour cupid and the devil knew in equal measure. It was as if by seeing the colour of her passion, her secret, secret life, it became more real.
‘It’ll never last,’ her sister said. ‘He’s just using you.’
Alice found she didn’t care. She barely thought about the future, plunging into the present with a lack of restraint that normally would have unnerved her.
She took to wearing daring dresses with plunging necklines, red shoes with six-inch heels. She got her hair styled and coloured. The responses of friends and work mates were favourable:
‘You look years younger.’
‘I’ve never seen you look so well.’
In her lunch hour she read Byron, feeling she would swoon over all the talk of sex and death. She went to the bathroom and in the mirror the colours of her face blurred until all she could see were two spots, deep as burgundy, lodged on either cheek.
One morning she woke and the red in the world was gone like it had been sponged off in the night. She held her breath, panicked. Was this the end?
I love you. Alex said as he awakened. I’m yours for the rest of my life.
Alice rushed to the window. She saw colours that had been hidden for months. A little girl danced in the morning wearing a blue dress. A boy pulled a green cap on his head. Her neighbour hung washing on the line in whites and yellows.
‘You love me,’ Alice said. ‘As no one else could. And the world is vivid and bright.’