142.—As it is the mark of great minds to say many things in a few words, so it is that of little minds to use many words to say nothing.
Barbara soaped a smooth leg and luxuriated in the warmth of the suds. Her hair was piled messily atop her head, and her creamy complexion was on this occasion literally creamy with a soothing facial mask. Reaching for a cotton-rich towel, she patted her face clear and dropped the towel to the floor. Standing and allowing the suds to tingle down the length of her, she scooped her baby-pink peignoir up from the edge of the claw-footed bath and wrapped it loosely around her. Stepping out of the bath and into a pair of fluffy heeled mules, Barbara glided from the bathroom to the boudoir to complete her toilette.
Humming La vie en rose under her breath, she sat at her dressing table and patted herself down with a thick, rich towel. She took a sip of the martini she had mixed before the soak, and adjusting the flimsy peignoir, turned her attention to her face. With deliberate and assured strokes, she applied her foundation and topped it with the gentlest explosion of powder using a satin-backed powder puff. Subtle use of rouge gave a rose to each cheek, and a thick line of kohl on her upper eyelids created a dramatic and enhancing effect. A tall crystalline atomiser was ready to be spritzed at the pulse points on her neck, and its concentrated essence applied in tiny delicate dabs to her wrists, inner elbows and the hollow of her knees. Selecting a pair of pearl studs from her jewellery box Barbara clipped them to her earlobes. Twisting and pinning her luxuriant hair into a soft chignon, she checked her reflection and was satisfied.
Moving across the room, Barbara opened the armoire and from a drawer selected a boned bustier and silk knickers to serve as foundations for a sheath dress that skimmed her curves and draped just so. Slingback heels would augment the ensemble, along with a crocodile clutch and a pearl choker. She dressed deliberately. Admiring her reflection, she gathered her clutch and her keys and left her Left Bank apartment in a gentle cloud of fragrance and grace.
Skeeter sat hunched against the cold bluestone, wrapped in rags and sleeping bags hooked from charity bins and fellow travellers. There were a few of them camped here under The Bridge. If someone moved on, or was stiff and never moved again, their stuff got divvied up amongst those who stayed, so most of Skeeter’s coverings smelled of BO or worse. That was ok. He himself smelled of BO or worse. It had been a while between baths.
Speaking of fellow travellers, Skeeter thought to himself, here goes Babs.
Babs was nuts. Well, to be fair, they all had their issues – but Babs’ daily ritual was something else.
On the opposite wall, Babs basically had a fort; a lean-to of shopping trolleys, broken prams, striped bags of unknown ‘stuff’, cardboard fridge boxes, polystyrene pieces and whatever else she snaffled from behind the shops. She brought it all back here and referred to it as her ‘bood-wah’. And each day at about 5pm – ‘cocktail hour’, she called it – she’d start moving around her fort making mysterious rustling and humming noises. Skeeter had watched it from closer quarters before, back when he’d first taken up digs at The Bridge. It went like this.
Babs had a bunch of rags and blankets thrown over a stained old mattress she’d dragged here from up top. She’d start, half reclined on the mattress, and stretch out a leg – fully clothed in dirty polyester old-lady trousers – and run her hands up and down. She made a kind of kissy-face as she did it, kind of puckering her lips up. When she wasn’t making kissy-face, she was humming a tune to herself that Skeeter didn’t know. She repeated the stroking on the other leg, then patted her face with her hands. She flicked out one of her hands as though throwing away a notice to move along. Then she stood up, acted as though she was wrapping a bloody mink around herself and then tippy-toed over to her milk crate and plonked herself on it. Honestly, it was the weirdest thing. Skeeter’s eyes had bugged the first time he’d witnessed the whole routine.
Because she wasn’t done yet – she was sipping from an invisible glass, then rubbing her face again, sweeping at her cheeks and pulling at her eyelids. She picked at her wrists and elbows and behind her knees as though she was infested with fleas, and let’s face it, that was entirely possible. All this while cocking her head from side to side, making kissy-faces again, and then doing what Skeeter called “sexy shoulders”: first one shoulder would come forward, then the other. She could have been having a fit, like Matty at the shelter did every now and then, but it was only this hour of every day, then she went back to being sort of ‘normal’ again. She just needed to get through her ‘cocktail hour’. More like ‘nutjob hour’, Skeeter had thought, before he’d gotten used to it. Now he kind of found comfort in its weirdness.
After knotting up her already matted hair, Babs would then shuffle from the milk crate over to a broken ladder she called her ‘arm-wah’ and grab her grotty old purple coat off one of its rungs. She would then emerge from her fort with a serene smile on her face as though she knew a secret nobody else did.
Well good on her, Skeeter thought. If this minor conniption once a day helped her escape the fact that the smelly nether side of a bridge was her lounge room or bood-wah or whatever you wanted to call it, then what did it matter? Survival on the streets was mostly a state of the mind. Your mind was the one thing that actually stayed your own, if you could hold onto it.