Ava had seen a vase. It was tall, sleek and sophisticated, sitting in the window of a charity shop like an elegant woman posing for a photograph. It sat there with a secret smile, as if it was there just for her. When she saw the vase it seemed to say, hello, just seen me have you? That’s okay. I’ve been waiting for you. Though in reality it was rather cheap, and quite chipped and cracked, to Ava it was perfect. When Ava saw it she wanted it more than anything.
(Buying a vase, Ava thought, meant you had a home.)
You didn’t bring vases in suitcases on holiday. They were fixtures of homes, things that sat on sideboards that were just there. The sight of the blue vase with its Chinese pattern made Ava forget about the now (hacking cough and runny nose, matted hair and reddened, gnarled hands that shook, unwashed stench and too-thin clothes that didn’t fit) and think about the maybe, in the future, what could be. Ava wanted the vase, badly.
It was December now, dark by four and getting colder every day. Today, the streets were slick from last night’s rain, and the wet and cold seeped through Ava’s boots and into her skin like a creature that crept and crawled, dragging with it a sinking sense of hopelessness and desperation. Her too-big coat seemed to be getting thinner. Her raspy breathing seemed to be getting heavier. And, sometimes, when she coughed (a hacking choke which made her whole body shake and flutter like a piece of paper in a strong wind) she threw up a little blood onto the puddled pavement, as well as the greying mucus which she had grown to expect.
(Spare some change please?)
Ava was sitting on the side of the road underneath the shops. Here, she was protected from the worst of the rain. The angry copper taste in her mouth made her think of how, as a child, she had put a two-pence piece in there to see how it tasted, to touch each peak and trough with the tip of her tongue, before her mother had noticed and shouted at her to take it out. Ava stuck out her tongue, to check no secret coin was hiding there in her mouth. It looked too pink beneath her nose. She touched it gingerly with a finger. Her finger came away red. She spat into the road.
Ava pushed her cup of coins further out under the fluorescent lights of the shops so passers-by could see it better.
(…Some change please?)
Ava remembered going into the shop with the vase that morning. Outside, the frozen air had burned her throat, reddened and numbed her hands and turned her breaths to great puffs of smoke. The shop was a little independent place, crammed in between two huge chain stores, like a lonely cousin at a family gathering. It was a relief to be inside; here it was dark and warm where out on the street it was bright and so, so cold. Here was the heavy, musty smell of old, forgotten things, and the sweet, safe scent of some cleaning spray that made Ava think of being in her mother’s kitchen when she’d been very young.
An old woman stood at the counter, with a fixed, sneering, yellow smile and dark beady eyes that followed Ava around, as if expecting her to steal something. She was like a rodent in her hole. Ava ignored her completely.
Ava made her way around the shop as usual, touching everything like a blind woman reading braille, saving it all in her brain: smooth china cups (not quite washed properly); a plastic electric fire (a smokey, dangerous smell); potpourri (packaged in crinkly plastic), gas lamps (like in films), a framed canvas print of Marilyn Monroe (fraying at the edges), piles and piles of old books and DVDs. These were the sort of things that you bought when you had a home to put them in. One day, Ava would buy a home, and fill it with things from this shop. She committed everything to memory. It was all important fuel for her fantasy.
That was when Ava saw the vase. A sudden hunger burned inside her. It struck her just then that her mother might have had one that looked similar, a very long time ago.
Ava was going to buy that vase. It was six-pounds-fifty. Ava checked inside her pot from under the lights. She currently had five-pounds-seventy-two. Soon she would have enough. She could ignore the growing, gnawing hunger in her belly for tonight (lie). Ava coughed again, louder than ever. Tiny flecks of blood splattered onto her hands and the road. Soon she would go back and buy the vase, which would still be in the shop, and everything would be okay. Everything would be different. Everything would be new.
just another starving artist.