There was a woman there, early 60’s I’d say, and one day she announced she was a bit of a one in her day, she did love a good dance, and sort of waltzed with an imaginary partner up and down the communal room where we said prayers and got our post. And she was so lost in this waltz, which then turned into a bit of a jive. Waltzing, jiving, I could do them all, even pissed, I was a a BIT OF A ONE, she said. I said quietly, no , a bit of a one means a slag, you were just a dancer, a drunk dancer, but a dancer. And she said, no, I was a dancer and a slag, and laughed heartily at her own joke. She had great legs and a broken veined complexion, the kind you see on people who pour whiskey on their cornflakes and think its normal. She had some sort of early onset very mild form of alcohol related dementia. And though everyone liked her and she was a bit of a laugh, no one ever wanted to go to the shops with her because she would get lost, or just go walkies, and you could never buy your stuff cos you had to find her. She said her daughters had disowned her and this brought up a fresh personal hell for me. It never occurred to me it could work that way around, that the kids could disown the parents. But they were grown ups as well, whereas my kids were still kids. Teens at least.
She loved Primark. She seemed to have a good disposable income and her favourite getting lost place was there, and the queue was always enormous. She liked those coats that looked like duvets. The Indian summer left quite suddenly and we were all rushing to the second hand shops to buy winter coats. Addicts are not big on forethought. When we pack, we really only check we’ve got our drugs, clean knickers if we are we are not totally nuts. But the lady, the goer, the bit of a one in her day, she would only get new things. Hence, I seemed to spend half of rehab looking for the bit of a one in Primark.
I will always think of her dancing with her imaginary lover. For that moment she looked young, and sober, and you could see the beauty that had been ravaged by drink.
One day, two girls I lived with and myself decided to have a “spa” day. On our meagre budget, this meant going to the Vietnamese nail varnish and eyebrow tidying shop. They did your nails for less than a tenner, your brows for a fiver, your tache, if you had one, for three quid. We went into the shop, giggling like young girls, taking in the strange smells of Vietnamese Pho cooking on a single burner in a back room where I think some of them lived, because there was a mattress on the floor, a bowl of oranges and some dirty Hello Kitty sheets messed up on the Tracy Emin like bed, that and dirty kid’s nightgowns and pjs of superheros. Then there was the chemical smells of nail varnish, nail varnish remover and hot wax for ladies who wanted “Down there” seen to. I had no idea what she was talking about. She wanted to pour hot wax on someone’s private bits? Was this some sort of sexual pleasure-pain thing, or did they want women hairless down there, to make them look like children?
The dancer went first. They put the hot wax on what was left of her eyebrows and sorta ripped them right off. They painted her fingernails bright red. She had lipstick to match. She scrubbed up ok, though the over application of face powder made her look rather ghost like, more so than all of us junkies did anyway. We giggled. We read months old copies of magazines, all with Jordan or Katie Price on the cover. We made sure we did not lose the dancer. Occasionally I went into the back room, my guts in upheaval, demanding the medicine I could no longer have. The kids played quietly on computers on the bed. The toilet just had a beaded curtain. “Shut your eyes and ears and nose,” I implored them. They giggled. “You got the bad tummy?”
“You need the medsen?”
“Totally, I totally need the medsen, but nothing you have”
“We have rice. Very good for tummy. You too skinny Make tummy better, not so skinny”
The nail varnish lady, wearing a sort of gas mask, came in and shouted to the kids in Vietnamese”
I said to the kids, “Sorry. Sorry I got you in trouble. And like, for the war and stuff.”
They said nothing.
By the time I got out of the loo, drained , ill, just wanting to get the hell out, it was my turn. I had my eyebrows ripped off as well, leaving two angry welts, which she drew over with a pencil. The other girls were in hysterics. She did the bit over my lip, but it just turned into an angry, welted lumpy thing. I had my nails done in the same shade of the dancer, that way, if she got lost, I could show someone my nails and say, “Her nails are this colour.” Like that would work. 18 quid poorer, in great facial pain, fifty times uglier than when I went in, I slunk out with my friends, who all looked pretty OK, pretty even. We went for coffees, and one of the girls, a lovely girl, she just stared at me and burst out laughing. “They’ll grow back, don’t worry. The rash, well, it might settle….” here she burst into hysterics again. And I laughed too, it was hard not to.
“Well that’s not what I call I spa day,” I said, blowing on my coffee.
“Well we’re addicts, it’s a spa day for like, misfits”
We suddenly realised the dancer was missing. Oh fuck. Wait, I said, she’s probably gone to Primark to buy a coat to match her nails. So we left our coffees and went into Primark, and found her, slinking round the rails, looking for anything red. I didn’t even have to do the nail thing. I still think of her , dancing in her reverie, when she was bit of a one. She may well still be, she may be dead. I hope she isn’t. I hope she is waltzing with her daughters.