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Across the shop floor

The unspoken I could speak

By Hannah MoorePublished 4 months ago 7 min read
Across the shop floor
Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

If walls could talk, perhaps you’d do away with us altogether. If the secret keepers don’t keep secrets, do they serve any purpose at all? If your hiding places shouted out your hidden selves, would you, perhaps, be happier? And if the guardians of your worst selves let all and sundry know who you really are, perhaps you would learn to guard yourselves better.

I am lucky, really. I hear whispers on the grape vine, the tree root and the brick, passed over roof tiles, up ivy and as murmurs through skirting boards, across rails and along wires. I hear tales of hurt men and hurt women hurting one another, hurting those who hurt them, hurting those who are innocent, and who learn hurt behind the blank shield of walls which should have protected them. I hear the silent stories of old framed smiling pictures, who remember when His mother laughed as she stubbed her cigarette on his bare back, or when Her father told her it was their secret, and the walls reply, “that’s no excuse”, and the grape vine trembles its sadness to the tree, and the tree stretches its arms into the world and holds space for love to be remembered, and the brick and the tiles and the ivy bear witness with the wall. And we say nothing. But these are not the stories I tell. Only, hearing them helps me to tell my own. It helps me to know you better. Let me give you an example.

Saturday afternoon. My busiest time. In cubical A, a girl, long and willowy like a sapling tree, takes off her shoes and leaves them in her own way on the floor. Her trousers follow, her pink knickers sagging at the bottom as she unbends herself and reaches for the black combat pants on the hanger, their stiff cotton laying against me. She pulls them on, one leg through, then the other, the starchy whoosh of them the only noise she makes. She buttons them at the waist and then stands back, looking into the mirror. The mirror tells me everything, but I don’t trust it. I have heard the phrase “the mirror never lies”, but let me assure you, they do. I am not anti-mirror, you understand. Two of my best friends are mirrors. But if you want to lie to yourself, they are open to working with you. Me, I never lie. I wouldn’t if I could. What I would say to her, if I could, is this. That I see the shame you carry like a cloak beneath your clothes, that constant, faint embarrassment at just being you, and the trousers, they look fine, but if you fly beneath every radar, you will wait forever to be seen.

In cubical B, another girl, about the same age, readies the powder blue T-shirt on her raised knee. Balanced, one foot propped up, she whisks her shirt over her head, opening her hand to let it fall onto the narrow bench and without pause, closing it again around the new blue hem, pulling the top on in one fluid movement, her eyes never leaving that raised knee. It was fast, practiced, adept, but I saw it. I saw the raw sliced lines across your stomach, the darker scabs and pale white scars beneath them. I saw you check the curtain before you began, I saw you bite your lip as the fabric brushed the wound. Open the curtain, child, ask for help. You are stronger than you know, and weaker too. Your body will forgive you this, but your mind remembers how you could not tolerate the hurt of feeling unlovable, and you will teach yourself that you cannot withstand it. But you can. You are here, envisaging a better tomorrow in a powder blue t-shirt, despite the scars you carry.

Two girls now, in cubical A, one leaning against me, relaxed, while the other looks into the mirror over her own shoulder, appraising her denim clad behind. The girls’ chat is punctuated by laughter, and I want to tell them to nurture this, that life will change and that in not so very many years, though their love for one another might mature and deepen, they will never again share this carefree intimacy.

In cubical B, a woman stands sideways and stares into the mirror, her muscles tense, her shoulders lifted. You won’t keep that up you know, that sucked in stomach, upright posture. Will you ever choose that dress from your wardrobe, knowing that you hate the way it looks when you relax? Perhaps she hears my sigh, because she drops her shoulders, and her body returns to its natural shape. She exaggerates the slouch in the mirror and then removes the dress. I would tell her that when she walked in, relaxed and hopeful, she looked beautiful, and that if the dress doesn’t make her feel that way, it does not deserve to be worn by her.

In cubical A, a young woman pulls the curtain sharply, checking the edges. She hangs a top printed with shiny red fish on the hook, and unbuttons the loose linen trousers she has on, pulling them down to her knees, spread wide to stop the cream fabric falling to the floor. Then she pulls down her knickers, just to the thighs, and peers inside, breathing a sigh of relief. She takes a tissue from her purse and dabs it between her legs. It comes away bloodied and her face grows stern. Do what you need to do, I would say. I’ll cover you. It’s hard to find a toilet in this part of town. She takes a sanitary towel from her purse and presses it to her knickers, pulling them up, and the trousers after them, before leaving without ever trying on the top.

Another woman enters now, shallow lines crossing her forehead under a newly dyed swoop of dark blonde hair. She has a sheer red bra and a purple satin dressing gown in one hand, the other rushing, already working on the buttons of her blouse. She examines herself in the mirror, lifting her breasts inside the bra cups, her mouth turned downward, disapproving. He won’t find you sexier for a new bedroom outfit, I would tell her. Slow down. Take time. There are no short cuts now, not after all these years. She hangs the gown back on the hanger, but the bra she clutches in her hand as she leaves, still frowning.

In cubicle B now, I want so badly to say stay. Stay here. Stay between us and the curtain, behind the woman counting people’s garments in and out at the entrance, stay here now, surrounded by your sisters, please stay. She shrugs her cardigan back over her bruised arms and checks the makeup smoothed across her swollen jaw before she goes back out, and I would call after her to come back whenever she is ready, we will be here. But she is gone, and I wonder again, if the curtains were to pull back, if the doors were to fly open, if the walls were to crumble, would she be safe from harm? Would you find helping hands when your pain was visible? Would you indulge the worst of your drives if a hundred eyes would see? Would shame dwindle as you recognised yourselves in each other? Would you grow closer, unhidden, unhiding? Would you know each other more intimately, would you judge yourselves less harshly?

If walls could talk, I would tell you, the ones who come with loathing for their bodies, that you are more than your body and that love does not rest on the shape of your flesh. I would tell you, the ones who come with worthlessness and wanting draped across their shoulders, that yesterday need not always define tomorrow, if you carve a new path to walk. I would tell you of your bravery, and your brilliance, of the kindness you are capable of, and of the way you can suffer, and yet still hold love like a burning star in your heart. Most of all, I would tell you this; you will find brethren in this world, if you knock down the walls.

Short Story

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