I sit on the park bench, the slats poking at my curved spine, paper bag in hand. I take sips from the gin bottle, enjoying the flavourless heat.
The square in the middle of the city at lunchtime is home to a mixture of vagrants, drug dealers, kids drinking hot chocolate with their parents and women balancing in stilettos wrapping blood red lips around yellow filters, inhaling nicotine for lunch.
I catch a smell of myself as the breeze shifts direction. Sweating onions in a hot pan comes to mind, but the mother and daughter who sit down on the other end of my bench don’t seem to care.
The girl, no more than six, leaps up and dances around her mother, a red balloon with a white ribbon clutched in her hand.
‘Shall I tie your balloon to your wrist?’ her mother asks.
‘Yes please,’ says the girl holding out the balloon to her mother.
The mother ties the balloon and then caresses the top of the girl’s hand with her thumb.
That show of motherly devotion hurts.
I dig my thumb nail into the pad of my index finger, enjoying the pain, and do the same to every other finger.
I don't break the skin.
‘Worry dolls, worry dolls. Can I see my worry dolls?’ the girl asks her mother.
The mother opens a brown paper package, breaking the tape with her nails. She brings out a swatch of rainbow coloured material, not bright and garish like Barbie or everything Disney, but the colours Inca women wear – deep blues, rusty reds and oranges. Lined up on the strip of material are five dolls, each the size of my pinky finger. They are made of felt, each baring thread slits for eyes and mouths and wearing a knitted outfit of wool.
‘They don’t look very worried,’ the girl said.
‘That’s because they don’t hold on to all your worries. You tell them your worries and they send them away.’
The girl seems happy with this. I, however, am dubious.
The mother consults a diamond and gold timepiece around her slim wrist. ‘Come on, your father should be done by now.’
The girl rolls up her dolls and runs after her mother with the balloon anchored to her wrist following along like a faithful dog.
As she runs by me one doll tumbles out and falls to the ground.
I scoop it up and look at the girl’s retreating back. She already has four. Surely she won’t miss this one. Surely I need it more.
It's still warm from being grasped in her hand. I hold it to my cheek for just a second. I rub the coarse material with my forefinger, ready to tell it my secrets. I’d try anything.