Friday 10 June 2022

No Strings Attached by Mike Turner, a frothy cappuccino with two shots of espresso


Boy, they could have put me somewhere nicer, warmer.

When those trains hurtle through, the blast of cold, stale air that follows whips-up a chill that sends shivers down my spine. I’m not entirely dressed for the occasion but I guess they didn’t think of that when they put me here. Probably wouldn’t have attracted anywhere near the attention if they had. I mean, it’s all about hooking passers-by and whisking them away to another, fantastical world where everything is wonderful and perfect.

Perfect: that’s what I am.

At least, that was the objective.

I’ve been here a few days now. The response has been both liberating and hugely disturbing, and nothing at all like I expected. Not really what they expected either, I’m sure. But provoke a reaction was what they’d intended, and positively kicked up a firestorm, I have.

I’ve had many admirers, I can’t deny: mostly gawped at, in my yellow-stringed bikini, by salivating gents in shabby suits and scuffed shoes. I’ve caught the eye of a woman or two as well though, admiring everything I have to offer with slight, almost apologetic glances, believing they shouldn’t look but they do anyway. I’m there for them, and they can’t help it. No one can. I’m attention-seeking and I hold no prejudice. Some, too, pass oblivious, cocooned in their little worlds, but that’s okay. I don’t hold it against them. Everyone has a right to do as they wish, even if it does mean directing their gaze at the dirty slabs beneath their feet.

That said, there’ve been twice, maybe three times as many crude and obnoxious hecklers. All of whom claim to be thoroughly outraged by this innocent nonsense, blowing like Krakatoa at this simplest of statements: Are You Beach Body Ready? Only yesterday someone came, armed with a black marker, and proceeded to scrawl obscenities over me. The words weren’t amusing. Nor did they convey any intelligence, though, in this day and age, where ignorance strolls hand in hand with intolerance, they form a perfectly common expression. Hey, it’s not my fault, I wanted to scream, but I had no voice.  ‘Fuck Off’ is what she had written. Like I said: not clever. I sensed a warm glow had developed in her belly as she hurried away to board the next tube mercilessly grinding its way through the narrow, bored-out tunnels of London’s underground.

She hadn’t been the first and there have been plenty more since.

The day before that, two girls appeared. Not the slimmest I ever saw, but then not everyone can look like me [Ordinarily I’d wink at this point]. The thing is: they had the nerve to strip right in front of me. Not totally naked, but to their belly-warmer floral bikinis, purchased especially to resist the mounting pressure of flesh threatening to spill over. They’d seemed determined to make their point in front of a friend’s camera, the purpose of which went way beyond my understanding. I’d presumed their intention had been to object and denounce but in reality the shoot descended into a pitiful excuse for cheap exhibitionism. But don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude and I’m no judge. I am who I am and that’s all there is to it. Take it or leave it. No strings attached.

And they weren’t the only ones. Another enraged provocateur, with flailing hands and wild eyes, delivered a furious diatribe to all those who cared to listen, but also to those unable to escape her vehement frustrations until the next train arrived to ferry them away. I’d have planted fingers in my ears, had I been able. She’d been one very angry woman.

Eventually, she tired of her rhetoric, providing a moment’s respite to those who remained, then announced there would be a protest gathering in Hyde Park this coming weekend, and that any and all who harboured shared concerns were cordially invited.

No one spoke up.

She left.

It had been utterly disheartening, though hardly extra-ordinary. Not down here, not where the frequent stampedes and unholy air were sufficient to scramble even the most tolerant of minds. Ordinarily decent, metropolitan citizens could turn on a sixpence if properly provoked. In fact, moments earlier someone had yelled at me, actually at ME, as if there was anything I could do about it. She ordered: stop encouraging women to starve themselves. I mean, really?

Another train passed through, blustering unattended newspapers in its wake. A rat squealed then hurdled a sleeper below.


A youth with a metallic can appeared from nowhere, a ring in his nose, seven in his ear. He was smiling, staring at me, right at me. I felt a little exposed, troubled by what he might do next. The platform was deserted, though not for long: there’d be another train in a minute. But that would be long enough for what I sensed was going on behind those piercing grey eyes of his. He shook the can. It rattled. Like a pea caught in a whistle. He removed the cap. Raised the can and pressed. A veil of pink mist masked my face. I expected to be sporting glasses or a moustache or some crude phallus between my legs before he was finished. But this one had no imagination. He block-sprayed from left to right, then right to left in great sweeping arcs.

Oh God. It’s not going to wash off. It’s even in my hair. It’s going to be the death of me. I’m never getting to that beach they so proudly claim I’m fit for. And I was so looking forward to going. I worked hard for this. A body like mine doesn’t come easy, it takes hours in the gym … in the studio … on a computer … air-brushed … photo-shopped. Oh, all right, so it’s not really me. I mean, it is me but it’s advertising. Nothing’s for real. Who wants to see some spotty, freckle-skinned, inadequate sex object in a one-piece? Sex sells. No two ways about it. Put an “ordinary” woman up here―even the real me, before all the digital work―and no one is going to bat an eyelid. No one is going to pay the slightest attention. And if no one sees then no one is going to buy. That’s just how it is. Am I proud? No, not really. I’m like you: give me “real” any day. But it’s a living, isn’t it? I need to earn money, too. We all need to earn money. I’m just blessed with a look that sells. There must be things you’ve done that you aren’t proud of, hundreds probably, assuming you’re decent enough to own up.

You are? See, there you go.

A flurry of footsteps caught my attention. The kid heard them, too. But he was almost done. And so was I. The illusion I represent, virtually destroyed in a monochromatic blur. Until now it has been nothing short of enlightening: jabbed middle fingers, squeals of derision, vivid and comedic graffiti, plus all manner of verbal abuse from narrow-minded individuals with little to no personal aspiration. Let’s be honest, if given half a chance, who wouldn’t entertain the notion of losing a few extra pounds?

I posed for these pictures in a bikini they gave me, but it isn’t really me. My stomach isn’t this flat or my waist this narrow―well, actually they are, but I guess I’m just lucky like that. The rest is a conjuring of male-dominated marketing ideals. A fleeting image of fantasy, designed to sell and nothing more. It’s aspirational for those obsessed with honing their bodies, and for those who prefer to live a more normal life, good for you, I say, for staying true to yourselves.

About the auhtor 

Mike has a Diploma in Literature & Creative Writing, has attended courses run by agents, professional tutors & published authors, has been short- and long-listed in competitions, has published a novella, three short story collections and two writers’ group anthologies, and his novels have received positive feedback from agents. 

See Mike's auhtor page here.  

No comments:

Post a Comment