EVERY PRISON by Anna Hayes

Are you an artist? Or, more to the point, the artist?’ I ask, offering another, friendlier smile. She raises her eyebrows at the question.

‘Jesus, no. That’s a bit hardcore for me,’ she laughs before adding that I had passed by her work on the way in.

‘Really?’ I say, suddenly embarrassed that I hadn’t paid attention to any other work yet, and looking aimlessly behind me. She laughs as I scan back over my tracks.

‘Relax, it’s just the poster. I’m a graphic designer.’

I nod and glance around, trying to find one of said posters, if only to keep the conversation flowing. She points one out to me, on a pillar a few yards from us. It’s striking, featuring a colourful image of one of the paintings that I had spotted further into the room, with the exhibition title printed in vibrant yellow, sideways, up the right-hand side of the page.

‘It definitely grabs your attention,’ I say, catching sight of a little flicker in her eye, ‘Art never called you?’

She scoffs at that, shaking her head.

‘No. Well, no, it did. I liked art and I was pretty good at it. But I also like eating and, for the most part, art and eating don’t go together. Graphic design, on the other hand, gives me the chance to be artistic...’

‘To a point,’ I suggest and she shrugs.

‘To enough of a point,’ she says, ‘And I can afford to eat when I want.’

I laugh, finally introducing myself and shaking her hand when she offers it. Her skin is clammy, something I attribute to the fact that she’s had her fist clenched in her pocket for the past ten minutes.

Her name is Alex, short for Alexandra she points out, adding that her parents were fond of all things Greek and had been told that they were having a boy in the early stages of her mother’s pregnancy.

‘At least they only had to change one letter to get the name they wanted,’ I chuckle and she frowns, before explaining that she was supposed to be called Damon. I raise my eyebrows, watching her face for any further reaction before I finally risk a response.

‘I think fate was on your side...’

‘It definitely was!’ she laughs; a raucous, booming explosion that seems to emanate from down around her knees. It feels like a joyous expulsion of tension. I smile as I listen to her. I notice her perfect, gleaming, white teeth. I feel like I’m staring for too long, as if I’m intruding on something that has become a personal moment for her, so I look back to the kaleidoscopic wall of colour in front of me.

She quietens beside me and stands for a moment, both of us feeling something drifting in the silence between us.

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The café smelt like fresh crushed coffee beans and failed relationships. My finger lined the rim of my fourth mug of hot chocolate, drawing endless circles taking the occasional sip. There were shouts of orders from behind the counter, people rushing in to order before work and revising students, business men with fancy ear phones making calls and gaming theme songs, an atmosphere of business which breathed life into the café I was sat in. The employees looked over their shoulders concerned, possibly wondering why a young girl was in the same spot for the past 4 hours, possibly wondering why my head was flickering back and forth and my knees were shaking so obviously. Everyone else however payed no attention to me and went about their day, not even giving a second glance, after all why would they? Being in the same room does not automatically promise their acknowledgment of my existence, in fact invisible is how I liked it. The roads were empty with overpowering fog engulfing all views within a mile from the building which made the café feel like a floating island far from civilisation. I made myself at home as I slouched down the wooden chair and crossed my arms tipping my foot to the beat of an old Lauryn Hill song. I catch a glimpse of her as I scan the space, she’s staring in disapproval from corner of the room, my brain scrambles for a response to such direct confrontation, I stare out through the window at passing cars and scatters of rushing strangers and try to ignore her dissatisfaction in my volume, In my excessive spending on hot chocolate, in my top riding up, in my tight jeans well fitted to my curves and my obnoxious lack of personal space towards the gentlemen behind me who’s practically leaning on me. Even after all this time she still had her ways of making me feel ashamed. I’m counting down waiting for her to make a move but she sits patiently as if she’s not planning on going anywhere, like she has all the time in the world and she’s just here out of boredom, but I know better, she was waiting for her next opportunity to use her supremacy to remind me that I am improper and undeserving. They promised that if I killed her I’d be happy, it was a well-known solution, eradicate that which makes you unhappy. Anticipation drowns out the murmurs of everyone else, the sound of contemplating customers, plastic sandwich bags and the hot top 50 music in the background which I’m nodding my head too. She’s writing vigorously in her notebook, she hasn’t even touched her orange juice, her black dress flows all the way to her ankles with a small rope as a belt highlighting her small waist and feminine figure, simple, modest, effortless. She stops and stares at me with large brown eyes hidden beneath square glasses that extenuate her oval bare face of flawless olive skin, her expression calm yet unsympathetic, symmetrical to me except healthier, brighter and better built. I hate her.

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