– Fierce Fiction by Kelly Aiello –
The boy pulls his chair up to the window. He does this every Wednesday night to watch the woman in the pink towel in the apartment across the tiny alley.
He keeps the lights off. Wednesday nights, his mother works in the diner in Cabbagetown. She leaves just after dinner and doesn’t come home until the early hours of the morning. Sometimes the hint of the rising sun leaves the apartment with dusty tones of pink and velvet. Wednesday nights, the apartment belongs to him.
The anticipation of the moment is intoxicating—moving through the rooms of the small apartment, flipping the lights off, hearing the satisfying click, then dragging the chair in front of the weathered window. Like watching a chocolatier tempering sheets of glossy chocolate, followed by that prickling feeling in that spot just under the tongue. The boy smiles.
But the woman is late tonight. The boy reaches down beside the chair and pulls out a package of cookies—the kind with mint cream inside. His mother doesn’t like him eating them, says they are for little boys. He takes one out of the package, dusts the top off with the flick of a clean finger, and places it on his tongue. He lets the cookie sit there for a moment and then one crunch and the pleasure spreads through his mouth. Dark crumbs flicker down his chin. His head roves back towards the window.
The woman in the pink towel lives alone. From the moment he first saw her soft, plump body wrapped up, he has felt drawn to her. He sees her through the window sometimes, mouth moving, eyebrows furrowing, as she inspects her form in the long mirror behind the door to her boudoir. Sometimes the woman flips between dresses on hangers.
The black one tonight? No, always the red—you look beautiful in red. Like a cardinal—big breasted and soft with the sweetest voice.
Then she will drop the towel from her body and the boy will watch her move over to her dresser, hints of a fold on her back, near her waist. He watches as her naked bottom moves with each step. He can even see the dimples on the back of her thick, pale thighs.
The boy takes another cookie from the package, brings it to his mouth and bites. He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees which are just visible through the thinning cloth of his jeans. The boy particularly likes when she slips into her underthings. She always has the most beautiful underthings—not like his mother’s, ratty, cotton, and yellowed. The woman in the towel has underthings that a real woman should have. He likes to watch her move over to her vanity table and slide her lacy bottom onto the chair. She will then gently lean over onto one bum cheek, like she is only perching there for a fraction of time—she is too busy, too beautiful to want for plucking, tweezing, cosmetics. The cardinal woman in her boudoir. The boy wonders if there is another woman in the world quite like this one.
He likes watching the woman apply lipstick. She takes it out of the golden case and slides it along her lips. Puckers, smoothes her lips together. Then, after tossing the golden tube aside, she plucks a tissue from the silver tissue box and gives it a kiss. He imagines her mouth. Her lips. He loves watching ladies and their lips. Years ago, he’d felt a girl’s lips when playing kissing tag on the playground, but they were a cold, wet fraction of experience that felt like slugs across his mouth.
The boy takes another cookie from the package, slides it into his mouth and crunches. The woman is late tonight. What will she wear? Will she hum to herself as she sometimes does, flipping between silk and diaphanous garments, lazily pondering without a care of real extravagance?
She is never late. But tonight, she is. The anticipation of it is exactly what the boy is here for.
The boy sits on a bench—a ripped vinyl bench that would probably have been elegant (or at least clean) at one point—and waits for the arrivals. His mother, perched on her tiptoes, chin thrust in the air, scans the passengers flooding out of the frosted glass doors from the beyond. Suitcases wheel behind them as they rush to embrace loved ones with kisses, cuddles; the only place where affection is ever unabashedly shown.
“Get over here!” the boy’s mother spits at him. “She’s here.” Her attention turns back towards the ramp and doorway, his mother spots an older woman in the sea of passengers, flowered suitcase trailing behind her. The woman’s face and perfectly permed hair look distinctly like the boy’s mother’s.
“Mom,” the boy’s mother says as she throws her arms forward to embrace the older woman.
“My, we’ve been living happily, have we?” The older woman pats her daughter’s round hip, like a chef slapping a piece of prime rib. The older woman’s eyes swivel to the boy. “And there he is. My Pooky-bum, how big you’ve grown. You’re practically a man.” She swoops in, both hands forward, and pinches each of the boy’s cheeks, thrusting his face this way and that. She plants her wrinkled lips on his, smearing coral lipstick and leaving behind the aroma of rose and bad breath.
“Hi Gramma,” the boy mumbles to the floor as she releases him. She turns back towards her daughter who is grasping the flowered suitcase in her hand. “Is he doing well in school? Good grades?” The older woman asks the boy’s mother.
The boy’s mother nods, struggling with the case as they move towards the exit. “He’s just fine, Mom. You know he’s more athletic than academic.”
The boy recalls the first—and last—sports game he ever played: he was punched in the nose by one of his own teammates.
“He’s getting a little rotund, don’t you think dear?” the older woman whispers as she leans into her daughter a bit, but the boy can hear her anyway. The boy’s mother gives him a quick glance.
“Well,” she is breathless with the weight of the case, “I hadn’t really noticed.”
They move through the giant sliding doors and the air becomes clogged with the scent of gasoline, jet fuel, and incessant noise. The older woman turns to the boy while her daughter hails a taxi.
“Any girlfriends? Any lovely young ladies capturing my grandson’s interest?” the older woman asks with a wink. She has lipstick on her teeth.
“Maybe. There is this one girl,” the boy says to his feet.
“Is she pretty?”
The boy nods vigorously. “Oh yes, yes she is. Very pretty.”
The boy’s mother has gone to work again. He sits on the couch in the small living room in front of the television with the older woman. He can feel the springs sagging, depressed, apathetic, underneath his bottom. They watch the evening programming, the news, before settling on a crime show.
The boy waits until he hears the soft snoring of the older woman. He looks at her with the blanket his mother knitted tucked around her chin. The boy stands. He inspects her face and watches as her eyes shift, staccato-like, underneath the crepe lids, the turquoise shadow creasing in the multitudes of crevasses in the skin. Satisfied, the boy shuts off the television and moves over to the window. He’d have to forgo the chair and the delicious temptation of snacks.
Tonight is Wednesday. He wonders what she will wear tonight. He waits, kneeling in front of the window. She arrives, towel of the softest periwinkle wrapped around her. She moves into her boudoir, bare feet padding along the carpeted floor. He can just barely hear the sound of Otis Redding wafting over the narrow alley and seeping into his quiet living room.
The woman opens her closet, flips between items that are out of his line of sight. Reaching a soft arm into the closet, she pulls out various items. Elegantly tosses them onto the bed.
The boy raises himself off his knees pads through the living room and into the hallway and enters his mother’s bedroom. He moves to the closet, opens it. The boy knows the items in this closet. He looks behind the greys, the browns, the muted and faded blacks. Moving hangers aside, he reaches into the back. He sees it. A gown of the softest lavender. He feels the fabric clinging to his fingertips as he runs his hands deliciously over the material. He smiles. Pulls out the dress.
The boy moves to his mother’s tiny vanity table. He holds the garment out, inspecting it, running his other hand down the fabric. He likes the carefully constructed bodice; the way the silk folds as it moves to the waistline and flares out at the hip. He can’t imagine something so beautiful, so ethereal, on his mother’s used and worn form.
The boy looks into the vanity mirror, brings the gown to his neck, and places the fabric around his shoulders. He watches himself as he tightens the fabric around his hips. He looks into the mirror for some time, moving slowly, inspecting the drape of it.
He places the gown on his mother’s bed, smooths the fabric with care. He steps back and unbuttons his shirt, peels it off his body. Looking down, he sees the beginnings of down on the centre of his chest. He loosens his belt, letting his trousers drop onto the floor. He steps out of them, lifts the gown over his head, arms raised through the armholes, and lets it drop over his body. He runs his hands down his hips and thighs. Turns to the vanity. He looks at himself in the mirror. He touches the silk.
It’s not red, but it will do.
He moves to the vanity and sits in the low stool. Looks at the small collection of cosmetics and creams that belong to his mother. He picks up a tube of lipstick, twists the bottom, inspects the colour. Replacing the cap, he sets it down, opens the drawer to his right. Inside, two more tubes of lipstick roll to the front. He pulls one out, opens the cap. A deep, rich shade. Twisting the tube, he leans forward and slides it across his lips. He likes the feel of the texture on his mouth. He places the lipstick back in the drawer. Plucks a tissue from the box with no silver box cover. Dabs his lips. Leans back, looking at himself. He likes how the lipstick makes his lips look larger, like lips he would want to kiss.
“What are you doing?”
The boy turns. He drops the tissue and it falls to the floor silently. His grandmother stands in the dimness of the doorway. The streetlights behind her cast a sodium glow on the side of her face, which is blank except for her eyes. They are wide. “What are you doing?” she says again.
She enters the the room. “That’s your mother’s dress.”
She reaches out to touch it, but lowers her hand before her fingers reach the fabric. The boy notices liver spots on her hand. He feels frozen, distanced from the room, from his grandmother. From the lavender dress and the private moment he was having with silk and lipstick.
The older woman raises her hand again and the boy shrinks. Her finger outstretched, she points to his face.
“That’s not your colour.”
The boy doesn’t respond. He sees a smear of the coral lipstick on her mouth. She turns to walk out of the room. Before she leaves the doorway, her head turns slightly over her shoulder.
“A lighter shade, perhaps. Rose.” She looks at him fully, body half turned, hand on the door frame. “Would look better with your skin tone.”
She leaves the room.
About the Author
Kelly Aiello’s previous work has been featured in various publications including the University of Toronto’s The Varsity, UC Review, and Minds Matter Magazine. She has recently completed a Certificate in Creative Writing with University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and has completed two novel manuscripts. She is currently working on a third.
Kelly lives in Toronto where she writes and advocates for mental health awareness.
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