She moves so slowly, impossibly bent and twisted into herself; leaning heavily on the metal frame that is supporting her faltering steps. Her dirty old coat is open and the clothes underneath are washed out, well worn and slightly grubby. There is a hole in her sleeve and the hem of the slip she is wearing is showing, frayed and yellowed, from under her skirt. The hands gripping the frame are veined and tinted blue with the cold. She should not be outside alone, somebody should take care of her.
She is wearing slippers and they cannot be safe, flapping uselessly from her heels with every hard won step. One of her stockings has curled around her ankle and I can see the skin of her leg, almost translucent. I can see the crisscross of veins under the parchment of her skin. She is so delicate, this woman. She is a portrait of age and fragility and in all of this there is beauty. She is life, the curve of her spine and the awkward angle at which she holds her hips advertising the kind of life that she has led. She is a wealth of memory and stories, of experience. There is nothing more alive then this, and yet she is fleeting. She is decay and death as much as she is life.
She is too easily lost and with her goes her story, never to be captured, unimportant. But she is beautiful for all her connections with endings and loss. She is frightening and awe inspiring and completely real. I would write her, I would create drunken husbands and too many children all scrambling to be fed while she works and suffers to fill their bellies and hearts and heads. I would make her a hero if she will let me, standing tall and proud and surrounded by love and family; not limping, lost, from house to shop for a paltry bag with bread and milk for one and a frayed handbag in her shaking hands. I would turn her into a fiction where she is strong, I would straighten her twisted spine and have her stand with her head held high as a survivor.
I watch her body, small and fragile, tense at his footsteps behind her. Everything about her is watchful as heavy male boots rap closer to her side. She is frightened, as she must always be frightened, so much of this world is strange and dangerous to her now. He seems oblivious to her presence on the street. His I-pod is firmly connected to his ears, tobacco yellowed fingers drumming an uneven beat on his thighs as he lumbers closer to this creature from another age. He is greasy and foul, cigarette hanging limply from one lip, eyes fixed firmly on his feet. Everything about him screams bad news, dirty and roughened mean eyed boy pretending that he is a man.
Then, for a moment, her entire frame seizes even further into itself as he passes her too closely, trapping her for one heart stopping moment between himself and the wall. Then he has passed and she seems to relax, seems to almost swoon and I think that he has seen her near collapse because he is turning back. In one swift movement he reaches out to her. He could be a lover, putting his arms around her. There is beauty in this too; they are crushed together and everything in their embrace screams passion and connection and want; age and filth forgotten and they could be in a moments pleasure. His arm wrapping her waist with the other on her neck; her hands grasping blindly at his shoulders and chest; but the hold is unnatural, he is too close and she is frightened, it is the wrong kind of passion, the worst kind of want. They could be lovers but for age and fear and the way in which she struggles against him, pushing him weakly, uselessly away.
She flutters against him while he divests her of the bag gripped in her clawed hand. There is beauty in this too, the tightness of the muscle in his neck and cheek and the hopeless fear in her face, a different kind of beauty but it is there, real world beautiful and horrible at the same time.
He has her clasped to him, pressed against his chest and I can imagine her heart fluttering against his. He releases her, their embrace is finished and as he steps away she staggers slightly, he reaches out for the briefest moment, hand on her elbow to steady her and they are lovers again before he runs.
She is left alone, curling back into herself, her breathing laboured, her emaciated body trembling with fear. A car speeds past and she flinches, frightened by the noise; silent tears making tracks on her cheeks and hovering at the edge of her lip before falling, and this is beautiful too, perhaps I will write her like this.
She is crying. Her hand reaches to her face and neck as if checking for something, before fluttering briefly to her heart and settling to grab onto the wall. She is still, confused by what has happened, by the speed of her attacker and the feel of his hands upon her. She is not ready to move yet, standing still as if waiting for something else to happen. Then, with a movement so tiny it is almost indiscernible, she nods once to herself, resigned and I watch her go, more slowly now, defeated.
She is a lost soul, made of too much time, too much life. I cannot make her a hero. Her tears make her beautiful but then they are gone and she begins again her slow limping way home and it is terrible and it is ugly and it is the world.