He smiles down at her, takes her hand in his long, cool fingers and helps her up. She has all of his attention, as though he sees every fracture, clumsily stitched seam and poorly healed wound that makes up the mess of her. She is aware of herself: the stripes where her skin strained to contain her excess and the drooping swell of her breasts. She knows, intimately and completely, that she will never be good enough for him. But in this moment, when he touches her acne-scarred face like she is made more of tulip petals than nettles, her insufficiency does not matter. He is still looking at her, smiling with sharp cheeks and sharp teeth. His skin, so smooth and so pale, he could be made of porcelain or pearls. His hair, the colour of new gold and fresh wheat.
He pulls her to himself, drapes her hand over his shoulder and places his own in the centre of her back. This willow wand of a man is touching her, pressing her against his firm, cool chest. His heart is beating so slowly, so elegantly it is as though he doesn’t have one at all. He starts to turn, nudging her clumsy feet into a slow waltz. She tries to look up at him, but his eyes are too bright, his cheeks are too sharp, his skin is too fair. She cannot bear to know how much her wretchedness might mar this moment, so lays her head against his chest, willing her jackhammer heart to match his.
Even avoiding his gaze, so cool and so blue and so deep she would fall into him for days and never see the bottom, she knows that she is safe with him. She will be able to rest here, where this man can adore her and guide her in a dance that need never end.
“Come with me”
How can even his voice be perfect: clear and deep and rich? She looks at him, with his smile that promises her possession and a life free of cares. Contained there is the promise that she would never need to think again, never need to shoulder the awful burden of freedom. She could be his, kept here where he would take her and own her and keep her until she is spent and weeping and cocooned in his embrace.
He steps away, trailing his hand across her back and round her waist. This man, this perfect man with creaseless ageless skin and perfect lips and sharp white teeth can scarce stop touching her. He leads her to a low green couch, and lays her back against it.
She looks down at herself, at the gossamer light, forest green dress he wrapped her in. It shimmers and ripples like water, adorning the shameful glut of flesh she wishes he could not see. He can still see, is still looking at her like he would consume her and savour every mouthful. He licks his delicate top lip, a barest flash of pink against white that leaves a taste of sugar and musk on the air.
“Can I have you?”
His question pulls on her heart so perfectly, she wishes she could tear it from her chest and hand it to him. She barely uses it anyway, and even if she did, watching his perfect white teeth sink into it and his perfect pink tongue lap at her blood is something she knows she has to see. She needs to be possessed, shackled and kept with him so he will never stop looking at her.
There is a small wooden box nestled in his palm. It is pale as birch bark and carved with leaves and flowers she is far too ignorant to know. There is a space for her name on the top, a little patch of wood smooth and bare enough to make her want to weep. Her name would carve so wonderfully, scrape out all the excess and leave her naked and marked and that much more beautiful. Next to his, her fingers are stubby misshapen things she wishes she could hide, but he wants her to open the box so she lifts the lid. Inside is an apple, big and red with a single green leaf on its stem. She brings it to her nose, inhales its sweet fruit smell. Her mouth waters and she aches to take a bite and becomes his. She could be his, and loved, and never have to go back home, where people see her and hate her or don’t see her at all.
She meets his gaze, trying to show him how much she loves him. She tries so hard, until the gleam in his cornflower and sunshine eyes is too bright and she has to turn away. Dancing at the edges of her sight is the image of a forest, dark and damp and halfway dead. As she blinks, the apple in her hand shrivels and rots.
She looks down at herself and she is still dressed in her pink stained polo shirt and faded blue jeans. “This is wrong.” Her voice is stronger than she feels. Clearly, it remembers that she is made more for Doc Martins and carnival than ballrooms and fine gowns. When she really looks at him, ignoring the white silk susurrus trying desperately to crowd out her thoughts, she can see that he is made of polished marble and bone. His slenderness is gaunt, his pale skin pallid.
He is still beautiful, in a way she knows she is supposed to want, but it holds no draw for her. How can it when she knows the gleam of dark skin under street lamps, the smell of sex soaked sheets and faded perfume in the morning, the feel of soft lips and softer thighs? She throws away the apple and trips in her rush to get away from him. He cocks his head, his smile broad and fixed and feral in its intensity.
“You would have been an enjoyable pet. For a time.”
She backs away, knowing better than to turn her back on a predator. The exit must be here somewhere, hidden beneath the magic. The way home is here, a route back to wet February mornings and polluted air. Home is splitting cheap sausage rolls for lunch on Thursdays and making yam and beans for dinner on Sundays. Home is meeting Dev and Manny at her local, with its drag nights and cheap lager on tap. The floor opens and as she falls, the last thing she sees is his smile: so sharp, so white, and so hideously perfect.