a literary and visual arts journal
Walking home I notice a butterfly glitching under the weight of its wings, quivering toward the traffic. The ground is rough and wet. As I scoop it up I recognise myself in a puddle and feel accosted by responsibility, this little life in my hands. I deposit her amongst a display of plants outside a trendy lifestyle shop, hoping I’ve done the right thing. Inside, an island adorned with sparse bouquets. The heads of six dried poppy seeds snake out of a clay cup – £30. I fondle organic hand creams and moisturizers made from things I can’t pronounce. The woman behind the counter asks if I’m OK. I smile and say ‘yes, just looking, thanks’, unconsciously neutralising my accent.
Outside Venetia’s Coffee Shop, a group of teenage boys congregate in uniform. They are always here, vaping in their dark grey sweatpants and waterproof mountaineering jackets. I cross the road later than I need to so as to breathe in the caramel fog that surrounds them. I wonder where they go when they’re not here? Do they live together, these treacly lost boys? I picture them occupying those three-storey houses on Glenarm road, the ones not yet divided into flats, painting them all gastropub grey to match their joggers. It would explain a lot. Halloween is nearing and there’s a skeleton placed limply on a chair outside the hairdressers, airing its new, lilac crop. Cut and colours for the dead! Show-off, I think.
A man in his early 40’s rummages for his keys before entering a shop through a frosted door, closing it behind him. In the window, a framed art deco poster features the elongated frame of an anonymous tuxedoed gatsby, alongside the words, ‘Champagne Devaux’. A small wooden table props up two martini glasses and a shaker next to a doll-sized Turkish rug. Not very spooky. To the left stands a long bulbous vase, and a sign that reads ‘Opening hours: Monday - Sunday CLOSED’. A white sheet hangs like a screen behind it all, projecting its objects outwards whilst concealing the mechanisms at work behind it. The Shop is not a shop at all but a home in masquerade. Its window offers narrative not to entice or to sell but to blend into the landscape of this high street in transition, a labour of mimicry, carefully curating its own precarity. Nothing to see here! ‘Window dressing’, after all, is to make a better impression, an act of deception.
As I’m paying for some toothpaste, the young boy behind the counter asks ‘Do you have a twin?’, I tell him ‘No’. Later in bed, I imagine her, living alone in one of the victorian houses across the street, manicured with thick, fresh paint. ‘Make it Grey!’ I’d instruct the decorators, the ones the lost boys sent over, and they’d nod knowingly. I fantasise about what I’d do with all that space, how I would sleepwalk into the kitchen each morning to see the light filtering in through the french doors. I’d only use my bedroom to sleep in, not for work or dinner - there’d be other rooms for that. I’d emerge each day feeling rested and reborn. Whenever I leave the house I’m on the lookout for her, scanning each face for my doppelganger. I bet she buys those expensive hand creams and never worries about her accent.
Opposite The Shop sits a woman and her dog. They spend their days under the canopy of the Turkish supermarket, where I was first informed about my twin. She cushions herself on discarded delivery boxes, wishing people a nice day as they step over her, oblivious. The constant observer, and the constantly observed, she looks and is looked upon, though not reciprocally. She witnesses the displays of The Shop unfold over time, a movie playing out in slow motion, marking the passing of months. When the street is your living room it’s hard to keep your secrets dear. Does she have a twin, too? I look harder, try to see what she sees. Someone has left a sleeve of ibuprofen on the edge of the display window, three pills down. I notice a tear in the curtain, right at the bottom, and press my face to the glass attempting to get beyond it. Meanwhile, someone tosses a sandwich into her lap and she starts to eat. I can hear my twin talking to the flowers saying, ‘there should be a room for that’.
A woman my age walks past sobbing as a group of children look up at her, whispering, others try not to meet her eyes. There are some things people just don’t want to see. I follow her to the corner - is that you? All week there’s been builders working on a house on Elderfield Road, they stare at me as I pass their skip, I don’t know what they want. I spot them up ahead and put on my sunglasses in anticipation, place my headphones in each of my ears and hurry through them so I can’t hear what they say. Not today, not today. I wish to be invisible. Outside the pub on my way back home, a woman stands on the table screaming ‘I don’t care! I don’t care!’ and I recognise her, I’ve seen that rage before.
I’m sharing a room in a three-bedroom house that four other people call home. I spend days online looking for better options. I imitate my twin on the phone to estate agents, ‘yes, yes, that sounds perfect’, but I’m always found out when they ask my budget. It occurs to me that the rental market is exactly that, it’s opening hours depend on who’s asking. We’re all in the market for a space to take our wigs off, and the more that closes in on us the more we spill onto the street. A boy lets go of his scooter and it rolls, slowly, slowly into the road, tipping its front wheel off the curb with mischievous nonchalance as the bus grinds to a halt, avoiding it by millimetres. The choreography is impressive. The boy stands there and laughs into the collar of his coat. ‘You’re lucky’, I tell him, ‘Sometimes that bus doesn’t stop.’
Stephanie Gavan is a writer from Liverpool, UK, living and working in London. She writes fiction & non-fiction about cities, identity and contemporary art. Her work has been featured in Dazed, The Quietus, Corridor8, the Double Negative and others.