There’s less than a week to go before Still Life with Strings is released! Anybody in the mood for an excerpt? Read on for a sneak peak of chapter one, plus a pretty teaser pic below 🙂
They call me the Blue Lady.
The more poetic would say a dark angel, or an unexpected, fantastical surprise standing upon the mundane street. I wear a long midnight blue dress, a matching wig, white paint on my hands and face, and glorious, feathery blue wings affixed to my back.
I feel like a gap in reality, a moment where people can pause mid-stride and say in a breathy, wonder-filled voice, wow, look at that. For the more cynical, wow, look at that
Perhaps for a moment someone will think that they’ve stepped into a world where normal is not the rule anymore, that the extraordinary is. That my wings aren’t false but real,
that my skin is really this white, my hair really this blue.
Unfortunately, none of it is real.
But it’s nice, isn’t it, for a brief moment to imagine that it is?
In reality I’m a twenty-six-year-old woman with a stack of bills I’m struggling to pay and two younger siblings who are reliant on me to keep a roof over their heads, clothes
on their backs, and food in their bellies.
I do this living statue act whenever I have the free time. It gives me an artistic outlet, while also making me some much-needed cash on the side. Admittedly, I don’t normally do it
at one o’clock in the morning in the middle of Grafton Street, but it’s a Saturday. That means there’ll be lots of tourists. More to the point, lots of drunk tourists with loose pockets and even looser inhibitions about who they hand over their cash to – such as women who stand very still while dressed like a Manga fairy.
I stare directly ahead, unblinking, controlling my breathing using a qigong method, just as I hear the recognisable loutish shouting and laughter of a stag party up ahead. When they come into my line of sight, I see that they’re all wearing black T-shirts with their nicknames written across the back and Jack’s Stag Weekend across the front.
I am an island, an inanimate object among the to and fro of humanity. I brace myself for the possibility that the stag party is going to be trouble. Moments later, one guy stands in front of me, waving his hand in my face and trying to get me to blink. How original.
Sometimes I feel like those guards who stand outside Buckingham Palace. And like those long-suffering buggers, I have also perfected the art of remaining still and giving no reaction at all.
“Are you blue all over?” he slurs with a drunken sideways grin.
As a street performer, you have to take the rough with the smooth. When you put yourself out there, you’re going to encounter every facet of society: the good, the bad, and the drunk off their arses. Kids are the best. They haven’t yet lost the sense of wonder
that makes them stare up at you and truly believe you’re some sort of blue-fairy-bird-woman-thing.
“That’s a real nice rack,” says another of the stag partiers.
Yeah, you try carrying it around all day and dealing with the back problems, and then
tell me how nice it is, I think. Soon they lose interest and continue on their way. A half an hour passes, and several more pedestrians throw some coins into my hat.
The moon is full tonight, a round white orb perched amid the stars. I want to go up there and see what everything looks like from on high. I flutter my wings and prepare for flight,
flapping them through the air and then leaping into the sky. My ascent is an easy one. I pluck a star out of the blackness and stick it in my blue hair as an adornment. When I reach the moon, I find a comfortable spot and sit. Leaning my chin on my hand, I gaze back down at the street. The people look like tiny black ants, the buildings like less brightly coloured blocks of Lego.
I blink, and I’m back on my box, back on the street. I was never really on the moon. My wings are a pretty accessory, but they’re useless for flying. Sometimes I can imagine things so hard that I feel like they’re really happening.
My eyes catch on a group of people I recognise. They all play in the symphony orchestra at the concert hall where I work as a ticket attendant and bartender. I don’t talk to
most of them, but I’m friends with a couple of the ladies. I know that one of the violinists is leaving to move to Australia with his family, so tonight must be his big send-off.
Often on my breaks I’ll sit at the back of the hall and watch their rehearsals, allowing myself to be swept away with the music. My favourite sound is at the very beginning of their
performances, when all the instruments clamour together to get in tune. It builds up this addictive sense of anticipation.
I envy their lives as musicians, travelling the world and playing for amazing audiences in historic venues. It’s so much more beautiful than the life I live. I think a lot about the fact that I’m constantly near these people, and yet my reality is so far removed from theirs.
None of them even know that the woman with the painted skin dressed all in blue is the same inner-city girl who sells tickets for their concerts and serves them drinks at the bar
after their practices.
In a way it’s quite a wonderful feeling. For a moment I am unchained from my own humdrum identity.
By the time I withdraw from these thoughts, the orchestra musicians are gone. Slowly, I turn my head slightly to the left and find a new position. I stand in the same pose for
fifteen minutes at a time, and then I’ll make an almost imperceptible move to ease some of the strain. It takes willpower and the patience of a saint to do this. Fortunately, I’ve had years of practice being responsible for my younger siblings.
I’m all about the willpower, especially since I’m a recovering alcoholic who works in a bar. Most people say that to properly get over an addiction, you have to purge all presence of the drug from your life. I take a different approach. The fact that I can be around alcohol and not drink it, well, I like to think that makes me stronger. It’s been five years, and I haven’t touched a drop.
Anyway, what with jobs being so thin on the ground these days, I can’t exactly afford to be picky. You’ll be amazed by what you can achieve when necessity sets in.
Once I settle in my new position, I notice a man standing by the shuttered window of a shop on the other side of the street. He’s got brown hair in what my mother would have
called a “gentleman’s haircut” when she was alive. It’s all neatly combed and swept to the side. His facial features are exotic yet not, giving the impression that he was born of a white father and an Asian mother — or vice versa.
He’s just standing there staring at me, looking fascinated and a small bit lost. I sometimes encounter people like this. Adults who see me and are touched by whatever
emotion my appearance has managed to evoke in them.
These are the things I live for. Aside from the money, it’s the main reason why I do this.
Up until this moment, though, I’ve never had someone I’m attracted to show a similar sort of wonder. His eyes crinkle in a smile. I think he knows that I’ve noticed him. A couple
who have also been watching me for several minutes finally drop some money in
my hat, and I give them a small bow for their generosity.
My legs are starting to get a little too stiff, so I decide it’s time to call it a night. Stretching my arms up over my head and stepping down off my box, I pick up my money hat, fold it in half, and shove it into the box.
The beautiful man across the street stands up straight when he sees me move. I pull off my wig and stick that in the box, too, loosening my real hair out of the tight bun I’d had it in under the wig. Making sure not to damage the feathers, I shrug out of the wings and place them inside as well.
When I glance up, the man is standing before me, too close almost. His eyes are a deep golden brown, like a glass of fine brandy, and his features have a delicate masculinity. Strong yet vulnerable.
“Hello there,” I say with a hint of amusement, pulling my long cardigan from the box and shuffling out of my blue dress. I always wear a light slip underneath.
“Hey,” the man replies, watching as I fold the dress neatly and place it in the box before ducking into my cardigan. “You’re blonde,” he says then, eyes on my hair.
I’d expected him to be foreign, given his semi-exotic appearance, but his accent is middle-class Dublin through and through.
“That I am,” I answer, giving him a look as if to say, are we done here?
It’s almost two in the morning, but the street still has quite a few people on it, so I don’t really feel on edge about this stranger standing near enough that we’re practically touching.
His gaze travels down to my feet, a wry smile shaping his lips when he takes in my black biker-style boots. As he scans my bare legs, I feel a shiver run down my back, lingering erotically at the base of my spine.
Hmm, it has been a
while, and this man is utterly gorgeous. He’s wearing a dark suit with a white
shirt, no tie. He hovers over me, standing only a couple of inches taller. His
breath whispers across my skin, smelling faintly of gin.
“Would you like to have a drink with me?” he asks, reaching out to run a hand through the waves at the end of my long hair.
Despite his forwardness, it feels good to be touched. Sometimes it seems like no one ever touches me like this — just for the sake of it. I had a really stressful day with my younger brother Pete acting the brat; a little relief would be nice. A bit of physical interaction. Some skin on skin.
Something thickens in the air between us as we make eye contact. The man sucks in a quick breath, his gaze flickering back and forth over my features.
Once I have everything put away, I close my box, pulling it along on its wheels.
“How about a quick shag instead?” I ask back, uncharacteristically brazen.