I adore beautiful things. Defining myself by their glossy parameters is as natural to me as believing in their illusion, believing in the fairy tale reflection of my made-up face. It was in my late teens and early twenties when I began harbouring desires to adorn myself and my immediate surroundings with elegance and style. I started to watch my posture and my language, saying my p's and q's and remembering to say 'I don't know' rather than 'dunno'. But when it came to my surroundings, elegance proved more difficult to accomplish. Rented accommodation at a price I could afford meant stuffy little bed-sits above shoe shops and sweet-smelling bakeries, where every night I dreamt of choking to death from the flames that might be thrashing at my door. But I did what I could to make these places a little more attractive. A wardrobe pushed into the corner to cover the damp patches of mold, black and white prints of Veronica Lake and Rita Heyworth on the walls, a bunch of carmine roses on the chest of drawers, and a purple drape over the cabinet to hide the pinprick holes left by woodworm. I used to sew lace onto my clothes, fancy buttons and pieces of silk, and spray them with perfume to counteract the smell of must that would linger anyway.
But now it is easier. Now that I am 35 and I own a perfect little flat with its wooden floors, ostrich feathers adorning the walls, blinds at the windows instead of curtains that don't shut properly and a glass shower door instead of a blackening plastic curtain that I once ripped down after I fell in the bath, drunk. I went out a lot when I was a younger woman. I drank, I smoked, I took men home to bed. I don't drink or smoke anymore. I can't stand the smell of it on my clothes and in my hair. And if I bring a man home now I make him leave his shoes at the door and I change the bed sheets the moment he leaves that very same night. I cannot stand to wake up next to a man to remind me of my lack of self-respect. Yes I still take strangers home but at least I can forget about them the next morning and begin the day like some newly born virgin. Alone.
Still, I've been wondering lately, as my waist has begun to thicken and the fine lines around my eyes and mouth have become less fine, thinking, wondering, pondering in moments of loneliness whether any of this was worth it. Sometimes I want to sweep my hands across the coffee table in the living room. Sweep it clear of the neatly stacked magazines, knock the green glass vase to the floor so it smashes in a small rivulet of acrid-smelling water. Crush the daffodils beneath my feet, take pleasure in destroying something so beautiful. Vibrant yellow scented and soft, yet dead by all accounts. Stupid flowers trying so hard to keep on living even after they've been crudely plucked from the soil. Sometimes I imagine taking the crystal glasses from the kitchen and smashing them, risking the upshot of tiny splinters shooting into my face like gold-dust. Sometimes, not often, but now and then, the intensity of my yearning to destroy surprises me. I could eat a slab of chocolate cake and let the crumbs fall silently onto the floor to get trodden into the bedroom carpet in doughy lumps like chewing gum, and then wipe my sticky hands on my nightdress. I might blow my nose and throw the damp snot-filled tissue onto the floor instead of tossing it into the bin. Or, instead of gift-wrapping a brown-bloodied tampon in toilet paper and placing it in the small metallic pedal bin, perhaps I could hurl it at the bathroom wall. I see it hit with a slap and fall, leaving a dark stain suggestive of a kill.
Not that I ever would, I don't think, do any of these things. As much as I hate to admit it, I need these objects and this routine. I can't afford to let go of my restrained impulsivity. After the adrenaline rush, it would mean the loss of everything. The anti-climax would prove too much to bear. They are my constants, my stability, when I myself am mutable. It is this very reasoning that has kept me from 'settling down'. Despite my age I can still attract the attention of men in the street; a man will still begin to sing as he sidles past me; the young shop assistant in the newsagents where I buy my daily newspaper still attempts to flirt with me as he hands over my grubby change. But these men just seem so… what is it? They seem so soft, physically and mentally. All rippling muscle or well-formed fat, idly supportive or downright idolatrous, there is nothing there for me. I need solidity. I need a pillar, a buttress root, a great bed of soil strong enough to keep me embedded.
I do love this flat, but my bedroom is my favourite place, my sanctuary. Its white carpet is like sand, ruffling my bare feet, or my freshly-shaven legs when I choose to lie there, for sometimes it offers more comfort than the bed. Which is always made. I sleep well (until recently, at least) and when I wake, the sheets are often still stretched tightly across and the pale gold coverlet still flat, never rumpled, never hanging off the end or bunched up on the floor. These walls are painted a pale carnation colour, the wardrobe a deep velvet mahogany. Wooden slats are at the window to keep the world outside or to let the sun in at my whim. And my favourite spot to sit, the large bay windowsill, is adorned with silk, velvet, and fur cushions in matching creams and ochres.
I like to sit here and read, sometimes delighting in the sheer flow of words, other times picking out phrases and re-writing them in a way more pleasing to me. I did start writing a novel once, but found it impossible to continue with my ever-fluctuating rush of ideas, which would change course so often I might have ended up writing ten novels within the confines of a single book jacket. It was fun for a time though. At work I would note down snippets of conversation, interesting phrases, whispered affections between doctor and nurse, diluted truths between doctor and patient. People can say the most interesting things in fleeting moments, when they think nobody is listening. I used to bring the notes home and stick them around the flat. The stolen lines scribbled onto post-its, headed with the names of various medicines that sounded, to me, like exotic blooms; Acyclovir (for STDs), Meridia (for obesity), Starlix (for diabetes). But one day I tore down those post-its and threw the novel into remission. I was wasting my time, thinking the discipline of novel-writing could pin me down when in fact it had begun to devour me.
I sit here now, on the windowsill, in turns reading Simone de Beauvoir and looking out at the park while the scent of sandalwood sends its lazy tendrils to permeate my hair and clothes and the pores of my skin. It is quiet today. Joe must be out for there is no thrumming or vibrating shaking my floorboards from his stereo downstairs. I prefer the stillness you can only get from a quiet room, when I am reading. Music creates a sense of movement, as though I can actually feel the notes pervading the air.