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Take the P.
Pop. The. Pill.
Suck. The. Stick.
Take a drag.
The accumulation of sweat on the upper lip, the gasp, the pressure, the aching lull of blood that rises, hot face, hard skin, hot mouth, open mouth, ragged breaths, upset teeth, wide eyes, large pupils, black pupils: Take a drag.
She saunters into the shop with a skirt that has slipped around her knees. The fabric has congealed around her joints; the pale rubbery band clings to her skin like a sequence of plump fingers. The aged material is sagged, the elastic has snapped, the static shape has loosened around her hips and sunk down to shelter her kneecaps, revealing the white thighs, the once-white underpants.
The men do not look, they are occupied, but the little boy sees. He peeps from behind the counter and his mamma’s knees. He sees the white bony thighs and the dizzy walk, the fumbled arms and the hand that clutches the side of the cigarette, the one that moves like clockwork up to her lips and down. They are pale lips. She has smeared on rouge but it has faded to the corners of her mouth and the edges of the line under her nose, the cupids bow, the little rise and fall, bright pillar box red on white skin.
He tugs at his mamma’s dress as his eyes track the girl quietly, up and down, like the arm and the cigarette, up and down. He thinks it’s a cigarette; it’s rolled up, worn and white at the edges like the girl. His eyes continue to rest on the discoloured briefs, the crumpled fabric, a place of contraction, of contract. It is an attraction he has yet to understand.
She wears a neon yellow top, see-through with squares, checks of fabric, a white leather skirt. This is the thing she wears resplendently around her knees, it knocks back and forth with the movement of her legs, a strange crunching sound as the material wanes against the pressure of flesh, yet the shape stays, a crumple indented on the front.
She staggers to the counter and lets her bony elbows rest on the mock-marble with a toothy grin.
“Hello there what can I get you?”
His mamma turns from the till and addresses the girl’s top, glancing with a blush over the see-through squares, the smile set in her face. She can make out the girls small breasts and the large dark loops of her nipples and it makes her uncomfortable.
“Can I get a cherry soda?” She grins with a wide mouth, a little lipstick has tracked its way onto her teeth.
His Ma looks nervous. She’s fiddling with an open can, unsure if she’s talking or just asking.
“Cherry soda? Not a coke?” She’s testing her, the little boy knows.
She casts a smile over to the little boy, leaning over the counter with her belly flat on the surface, her feet suspended slightly in the air for a second as she stares at the boy between his mamma’s legs.
“Do you like cherry soda?” she laughs and takes another drag.
He doesn’t answer. He’s wary, he knows what the words mean and what Mamma must do.
“I’ll have that for you in just a tick darling; you wait there now.”
Untangling the child she’s moving towards the back of the till and popping in numbers quickly, glancing occasionally back at the girl; from the side she can see the girl’s skirt and the way it has slipped. She wants to scream at her but instead she coughs loudly.
The girl looks over. “What?”
She pulls up the fabric gently, letting the leather squeak against her hands.
“Just getting comfortable.” She watches the boy. He sucks his thumb, watches his Mamma and the way the till responds to her fingers slipping out the pills in the little bag.
She’s coming back, pours out a glass of frothy red liquid with the bubbles that run up the sides of the glass. She places it on the counter quickly with a straw, the plastic slip placed neatly beside.
The movements are mechanical. He has seen them before.
The girl lunges at the pills and slips them into her pocket. The leather squeaks a response.
She lifts the straw to her lips. Takes a sip, her eyes latched on the boy, a tsk,
She walks out, leaving the unfinished drink behind, clutching her skirt to her crotch.
Mamma passes him the glass.
The boy doesn’t like cherry soda.