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Mary Trend


Divine


It’s a beautiful afternoon; let’s rest a while. We can perch on

the edge of this bell tower and watch the wash of the city

beneath us.

Down to our right is a vast statue of Ghandi, forever

striding forwards. The hot July sun bounces off the curve of

his head, gleaming bronze. A small girl with tight dark curls

springs at his ankles, trying to hold his scalding hand. Her

white linen dress blooms around her as she lifts and sinks.

Here swoops her mother, taking her hand and gently

guiding her down the street. Chairs spill out onto the

pavement, with people drinking and eating. Their faces are

flushed and excited, with browning cheeks and freckled

shoulders. A waiter, with one arm crooked holding a tray,

reaches out to ruffle the girl’s head as she passes – she

squeals and rushes round to the other side of her mother,

burying her face in her skirts.

Across the road, colourful shop faces trade people

between their open doors. The blind windows of high-rise

offices loom behind them, carving up the glowing pavement

with jagged shadows. Construction whirrs endlessly on,

coiling up on the warm air in a muffled moan. Below us, neat

quadrangles of green are cropped around the Cathedral. A

cat, crouched in the shade of a low-lying grave, licks the back

of her paw and rubs industriously at her ears.

Behind us, the sun pours into the captive square of the bell

tower. It bakes the stones, so the air warps above them like

mottled glass. A breathless flag tangles round the flagpole,

while a ladybird crawls tiltingly into the twisted knot of its

rope. There is a heavy wooden door at the far side of the

tower. It is studded with thick bolts, hot peppercorns of brass.

If you listen carefully, you can hear feet slapping up the

stone steps.

The door swings open and a young girl joins us in the

blinding light at the top of the tower. She is very pale, with

long blonde hair swinging to her waist. She wears a bright

orange sundress that clings to her damp legs and her hair is

pulled back from her face with a twist of turquoise fabric. Her

cheeks are red and flushed and she flings down her rucksack

and begins rummaging inside. She is twenty or so, flushed

with youth and heat.

Something flits in the dark mouth of the doorway. Another

girl: the ghost of the first. She has the same skin, the same

blanket of hair, the same pinched nose. It’s hard to see her

because the light out here is so bright, but their resemblance

is uncanny.

‘We’re going to burn.’ The ghost speaks!

‘Don’t be boring,’ calls the girl in the sunlight. She

squashes a plastic water bottle in her hands as she takes deep

gulps. ‘It’ll turn into tan anyway.’

She perches the lid on top of the bottle and holds it out

towards the doorway.

A pink arm extends from the shadows. The fine hairs on

this arm are flattened darkly against her skin, glinting with

sweat. Just as she is in reach of the bottle, her sister (they must

be sisters) yanks it out of her grasp. She purses her lips and

makes that kissing noise people use to attract cats. Psssppssp-pssp.

As the second girl steps into the light, we see that she is

the duplicate of her sister. There must have been a time when

they curled together, side by side, in the womb. A moment,

early in their life, when a doctor leaned forward over the

sonogram to count the glowing domes of their heads. A

spasm of concern from their mother as she wonders how

they’re going to manage. A long time ago now.

She grabs the bottle from her sister and squats in the

flimsy shade by the balustrade while she drinks. This girl is

wearing a worn pair of denim shorts and a navy blue t-shirt

with a collar. The word Bethel is printed on the back in faded

white letters. We’ll call her Bethel.

‘Fine. I’m here. Are you happy now?’ she asks.

Her sister ignores her, instead plucking contemplatively

at the straps on her dress. In a decisive movement, she pulls

the fabric over her head and spreads it on the hot stone floor.

She slips off her shoes and springs lightly onto the cloth. She

is naked except some small lace underwear. Buttercup yellow.

Bethel starts. She looks in quick succession at her sister, at

the floor, at her sister.

‘What if someone sees?’ she says.

‘How?’ her sister snorts. She gestures towards the edge of

the tower. The only thing visible to them is the winking moon

of the Travel Inn. The girl dips back into her rucksack, tugging

at something. She looks up at Bethel, ‘You’re not embarrassed

are you?’

Bethel’s cheeks are already red, so it’s hard to tell if they

redden at this comment.

Pulling out a towel, the girl spreads it on the stones next

to her dress. She wriggles out of her knickers, revealing a

neatly trimmed rectangle of dark hair, and begins shaking a

bottle of sun cream.

‘Aren’t you going to join me?’ she asks.

‘What, so I can burn all over?’ Bethel snaps.

The girl snorts again as she caresses her shoulders with

cream.

‘It isn’t funny Deb, if Dad finds out he’ll be really mad,’

she says.

‘Don’t tell him then.’

‘He could lose his job,’ Bethel adds.

‘Good riddance,’ the girl called Deb says as she lies down,

closing her eyes.

Bethel dips into her bag for a towel and spreads it out. Her

movements are exaggerated and slow, as though she feels her

sister is watching her. She perches on her towel, the whitehot light glaring on her, pink and discontented.

A smile curves around Deb’s lips and she begins to whistle

a lilting tune. Bethel looks up to glare at her sister.

‘Don’t,’ she says.

Deb laughs and closes her eyes, pointing her face towards

the sun.

*

It’s quiet up here. Just the faint grumble of traffic and the

clangs from building sites. Perhaps we should move on. There

will be lots happening across the city today.

Then – whistling again. The lines around Deb’s mouth are

quirked in a smile.

‘I mean it, don’t.’

Deb whistles louder. The same nursery-rhyme tune.

In a flash of movement, Bethel pulls her t-shirt over her

head and throws it towards her sister. The flesh under her

arms pools over her nude bra.

Deb laughs and waves the t-shirt like a flag. A hot blush

creeps down Bethel’s neck.

‘Shut up. Pass me the lotion.’ She says.

Deb pats the stones next to her and skates the bottle

towards her sister. It gives up limply half way. Bethel, huffing,

crawls along her towel to fetch it. As her sister’s body jerks

into view, Deb frowns.

‘All of it,’ she says.

Bethel doesn’t respond. Instead she is spurting lotion into

her palm. She begins rubbing aggressively at her stomach.

‘What is your problem?’ she asks.

Staring at her sister, Bethel pops the button on her shorts

and tugs them over her hips. She is wearing a greying pair of

briefs with a twirling hole by the elastic. Deb eyes her up and

down, snorts, and turns back to the sun.

‘On second thoughts, maybe you should put them back

on.’

Water rushes across Bethel’s eyes, pooling in her lashes.

She swallows thickly and lies down.

To look at them, it’s hard to see their differences. They both

have the same long, pale legs, turning gently red at the

kneecaps. They have soft, rising stomachs and the same thick

collarbones. Four blue eyes, with four rows of pale lashes.

Four ears. Four hands. Four feet. One knee has a small

crescent shaped scar across it; this is Deb’s knee. One of the

twenty fingernails is chipped, revealing the dark pink skin

underneath; this is Bethel’s finger. They are like fully-grown

cherubs: blonde haired, with soft circular faces and full, fleshy

cheeks.

Deb is lying flat, unnaturally so, pressing both her arms

against her towel with her legs ever-so-slightly crooked to

allow the tops of her feet to catch the sun. Her face is passive,

expressionless, like she’s asleep.

But her sister’s is tense with emotion: lips pursed, eyes

scrunched, a deep line cutting down her forehead. The sun

lotion is forgotten at her side and her chest is spotted with

pink. One arm covers her stomach while the other teases

loose threads in the towel. Two bees dance above her face,

tickling her hairline. She bats them away and they rise out of

her reach, contemplating her. She waves her arm above her

head in awkward, jerking movements and they eddy off

towards the side of the tower and down to a neat village of

hives on the main roof below.

With a warm, resonant thrum, the clock in the tower

strikes two. The sound loops across the two sisters, spreading

on the air, before it slips over the balustrade and pours over

the city.

A horn blares up from the street below. It is met by another

in a garish harmony. The sounds are flat and urgent, each

trying to overpower the other. Deb squints an eye open. She

raises her head – is that shouting? It’s quite hard to hear but

it sounds like an argument. She gets up and leans over the

edge of the tower, her long hair swinging across the curve of

her neck.

If we lean over the edge with Deb, we can see two white

limousines with high-shine metal trimming, face-to-face,

blaring at each other. Each has long white ribbons tucked into

their bonnets, stretching up to their front windows. Inside

each car, two men with grey caps are pressing on their horns.

One holds the note, flat and heavy, while the other favours

sharp, repeated bursts. Outside the cars, a woman dwarfed

by an enormous hat is gesturing furiously at a man in a grey

suit. He is calmly holding up a piece of paper, tapping at it

with his free hand. One chauffer winds down the window

and starts gesturing to the other to turn around. You take your

eyes off the world for one minute – but it never stops moving.

There are bewildered faces scattered across the pavement,

clumped into alliances. They are dressed in an assortment of

colourful, uncomfortable clothes. Pink-cheeked and

discontented, they hold up invitations or beaded purses to

keep the sun off their faces. Two women, wearing identical

lavender dresses and flowers in their hair, are trying to knock

on the Cathedral door. But the brass handle must be

blisteringly hot; one of the women ducks down and gathers

up her lavender skirts to hold the handle. She is trying to

knock it against the door, but her skirts are muffling the

sound. Here comes a suited man, striding up behind her. He

slams his fist against the door and immediately recoils,

cradling his fleshy hand. Looking the women up and down,

he reaches into his breast pocket and produces a

handkerchief. The lavender woman takes it from him,

without thanks, and proceeds to smash the handle against the

heavy wooden doors.

Bethel has kept perfectly still through all the smashing,

blaring and shouting. Her eyes are closed, her lips held in a

tense line.

‘Beth, come look,’ Deb calls over her shoulder.

The woman by the limousine turns smartly away from the

man and throws open the back door of her car. She holds out

an authoritative hand and a slim, pale arm wavers out from

the darkness to take it. A glowing leg follows. On the end of

this leg is a perfect white stiletto; it skitters as it meets the

pavement. White tulle begins to foam at the open door,

spraying upwards towards the roof of the car. The arm tenses

and with almighty effort, a body begins to rise from the belly

of the car.

The woman starts frantically pulling the tulle over her

daughter’s bare legs. The protruding arm grasps the roof of

the car and slowly, slowly levers herself out. The man in the

grey suit is watching this performance, mesmerised,

seemingly forgetting his own daughter in his car.

A bride appears before us. Like a crumpled duster, she

shakes herself out. She has dishevelled brown hair looping

down her back and the bust of her dress has slipped to the

side. Her mother darts forwards, grabbing her delicately

beaded décolletage and jerking it firmly into place. The bride

bats her away, embarrassed, and attends to her own preening

and plumping.

The grey suit, not to be outdone, turns sharply towards his

limousine and, flinging open the door, ejects a slim, stringy

woman dressed in a flowing Grecian style. The white of her

dress sings against her caramel skin.

The two brides face each other in the street, ghostly pillars

of women. In the hot summer light, their dresses glow around

them like saintly aureolae. They exchange a few quiet words

as their families shout around them.

Up on the roof, we find Deb chewing at her hair, fixated

on the commotion below. Her eyes gleam with a certain

excitement, as she extends a leg backwards and begins poking

her sister.

‘Dad’s double booked. They’re going to kill him this time.’


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