Chelsea+Dagger – Kirsty Logan

Chelsea belongs on stage. When she struts, the spotlight is on her: feathers flicking, pasties swinging, eyelashes glittering. She’s a Fellini girl, her backcombed hair gleaming ebony under the lights, her lips red and wet.

       When Chelsea dances, she keeps her eyes shut tight. If she opens them she might be tired-eyed with wrinkles around her lips. She might be tangle-haired and bow-legged, barely balancing on her stilettos. If she opens her eyes, she’ll be in Glasgow, just another stripper in Glasgow, where the lighting is never right. Elizabeth Taylor was never lit by streetlights, and no-one looks good in the rain. Movie-rain doesn’t make your mascara run or your hair frizz; it makes your skin glow, a sheen on your cheekbones. But real rain falls from a grey sky and makes your make-up slide off and soaks into your socks so you feel cold and gritty for the rest of the day.
The music pulses and Chelsea reaches the climax, arching her back and kicking up her heels. She sways offstage before her name is called.

Dagger belongs in the alley. Every night he walks Chelsea to Diamond Dolls, but he never goes inside. He stands at the stage door and smokes and scowls.
He writes songs in his head and decides which body part to tattoo next. He thinks maybe he should pierce his nose again.
— Got a light, mate?
Dagger shakes his head and exhales a cloud of smoke.
— Aye, ye do.
Click-swish of a flick-knife. Dagger shakes again, watching the smoke dissolve against the black bricks.
— Fuckin gies yer light or ah’ll fuckin take it.
Dagger inhales to the bottom of his lungs, watching the filter paper burn red. Sid Vicious would throw the first punch: so does Dagger.
The first time Dagger sees the man’s face, his knuckles are connecting with it. Head snaps back, something cracks.
— The fuck….
Blood sprays out with the words. The man swings his arm round; Dagger ducks. Fist hits brick. Dagger tenses his thigh to kick, but the man has fallen to his knees.
John Wayne wouldn’t kick a man on the ground; neither does Dagger. The showdown is done, so he tucks his thumbs in his belt-loops and walks to the stage door. He regrets that the door won’t swing outwards behind him, like saloon doors.
This is Dagger’s last thought before the bottle hits his head.

Chelsea sways her hips when she walks, the way Marilyn Monroe does in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She doesn’t make eye contact with any of the men she passes. Porn-star-for-hire might work for the blonde girls with their acrylic nails, but Chelsea is above the realities of flesh.
A hand reaches out, brushes against the sparse blonde hairs on her forearm. Chelsea turns.
— I…. The man seems nervous now he’s so close to her. I don’t want a dance.
— That’s good, because I don’t want to dance. Chelsea presses her lips together and pouts them out. The man stares at her mouth. So what do you want?
— I…. Drink?
Chelsea sighs prettily.
— Tragically, I don’t drink. She waits for the man to dazzle her, to sweep her away like she’s the heroine in a romantic comedy – Pretty Woman, maybe, or something with Meg Ryan. The man looks at her with his mouth open, picking at a cardboard coaster. His breath smells like beer and chewing gum. Chelsea shimmies away. She feels… she feels… she doesn’t know how she feels. She tries to imagine how Elizabeth Taylor would feel instead.
The men always full of the chat until she sits beside them. Then they can’t take it. She’s too much, too real, too female for them. For all of them, except one.

Dagger can see up Chelsea’s skirt. She bends her knees, and he watches as her face flickers into focus. The streetlights halo her hair. Her lips are red and wet, like she’s kissed blood.
— Did he break the rules? she asks.
Dagger nods, and pain arrows across his skull. Chelsea steadies herself with a hand on the black bricks, and pulls Dagger to his feet. He leans his forehead against the wall and pats his pockets. All he feels is his leg through the fabric. Chelsea pulls out her own lighter, lights a cigarette, puts it in his mouth. Dagger inhales, his head pulsing with his heartbeat. He feels like the guy on the losing side of a bar fight, and that is a feeling John Wayne never knew.
— You done? The cigarette wobbles as he speaks.
She twists his wrist round to look at his watch, then nods.
— Anything interesting happen tonight?
Chelsea thinks about the lights glowing pink and green on her hair, the men wiping their palms on their thighs, the music loud enough to make her earrings vibrate.
— Let’s go home, she says.

Chelsea and Dagger go back through the rain-slick streets, back to their castle. Newspapers and drunk men clutter the alleys, sometimes escaping to spread themselves across a bus stop.
When the rain comes on, Dagger arranges his leather jacket across Chelsea’s pale shoulders. She pulls it up, holding it over her hair, letting the drops run down her legs and into her shoes.
She is in Singing in the Rain, skipping through the raindrops and clicking her heels together. Dagger is Gene Kelly, suave and silent, the rain sliding off his shaved head and onto his eyelashes, making them sparkle.
His eyes are always moving, and every now and then he moves to Chelsea’s other side to be between her and some danger she can’t see. She sends out waves of love for Dagger to catch, to strengthen him against this world of danger that he lives in so she doesn’t have to.

Dagger steps in time with his heartbeat, in time with the throbbing in his head. His eyes dart around, always checking. Bruce Lee never got caught out: neither will Dagger.
He puts his arm around Chelsea as they cross the bridge. Battered metal gates lean between them and the river, but a beast might still rear up with fangs dripping slaver and swallow them with one bite. Or swarms of leeches could suck out of the water, squishing through the holes in the gates before he and Chelsea have time to run. Or crumbling zombies could stagger up, searching for brains to feast on and pawing at the clanking gates until they fall.
Dagger pulls Chelsea close, his steps speeding up with his heartbeat. He’s glad when they reach the supermarket: fluorescent lights make it easier to scout for danger. Although, he thinks, a well-trained assassin could still hide behind that tin-can pyramid.
One of Dagger’s hands wraps loosely around Chelsea’s, the other he keeps in a ready fist. He relaxes a little when Chelsea chooses a few bottles of wine: glass makes an excellent weapon. When Chelsea isn’t looking, Dagger slips a box of gingerbread men under the whisky bottle. She’ll whine that she couldn’t possibly eat that, it’ll go straight to her thighs, but the box will still be empty in the morning. At the checkout, Chelsea pays with the night’s crumpled notes, still damp with sweat.

Chelsea has finished the wine and moved on to the gingerbread men. She selects one, bites off his arm. Dagger hears the bone-crack, waits for blood to spurt. No, that’s not right: he shakes his head.
— Dagger, what am I doing wrong?
— Nothin, love.
Chelsea shifts on the couch, her legs squealing against the white leather.
— Of all the girls there, I have the reddest lips, the blackest lashes, the biggest hair, the fullest cleavage, the longest legs. I am everything a woman should be! I tick every box. And still! Still they know… Her voice cracks. She stamps her stiletto on the floor and Dagger thinks punch gunshot explosion. His head throbs.
— You’re gorgeous, darlin. Perfect. You’re more woman than any woman could be. Uncertainly, Dagger slides a hand around Chelsea’s waist. The corner of her mouth curls into a tiny smile, so he pulls her close. The smell of her overtakes the throb in his head. They kiss with their mouths pressed tight together, like Scarlett and Rhett.

_______________________

Kirsty Logan writes, edits, teaches, reviews books, and works in a tea-shop in Glasgow, Scotland. She is currently working on her first novel, Little Dead Boys. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Chroma, Pear Noir!, Flatmancrooked, >killauthor, and Best Women’s Erotica. She is the co-editor of new flash-fiction magazine Fractured West and is the reviews editor for PANK. She likes coffee cupcakes and sticking pins in maps. Get in touch at kirstylogan.com.

Photo credit: “Picture Rack” © Screenpunk, 2009. Follow Screenpunk’s Flickr photostream here. Used courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.

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