Carlo is concerned about his looks; it’s important to him how his ‘outer shell’ – his coat – appears. Decent clothes make it easier to earn money, easier to approach people on a more or less equal level. But the coat also comes with a second purpose: it’s the smallest possible of homes, a sleeping bag and a comforter. ‘Since childhood we’re used to feeling something on top of us when we’re sleeping, something heavy,’ he says. ‘Turning a coat into a duvet is better than wearing it, somehow. It feels more secure and warm.’
‘An actress who lives in California brought in a dress that felt like hard paper, a material you couldn’t really clean. Another dry cleaner had tried it. It was white with big flower and it had brown smudges on it. I went to the stationary store art department and found some marker paintbrushes and drew the flowers back on to it. She loved it and started hugging me. I’m really good at drawing and I redrew the flowers. It was like redoing a tattoo. Afterwards she Yelped: “Mike Pagano is an artisan.”‘
You looked once again at your phone and wondered if you had time for a quick rub. Your record was seven and a half minutes and right now you had twenty-five. You cupped your breasts over your T-shirt and squeezed them so hard they hurt. You grabbed your throat with your left hand, lined up your fingers on your jugular and slid the right hand down. Good for the nerves, yes, but is there enough time?
Having your ashes placed in a handbag by Louis Vuitton is another way of writing a love-letter, not to a man, but to commerce. If Marilyn had only meant what she sang in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ she and Zsa Zsa and Anna Nicole would have been in agreement. There was never any question of landing a man until death do us part in ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’; the part that mattered was having the diamonds to die in. The thing that people without a great fortune always say about riches is: ‘you can’t take it with you.’ The thing that rich, dead women seem to say is ‘watch me.’
Prison literature and theory often focuses on the oppressiveness of the system, the callous discipline enforced on the prisoner, the strict rules which often seem arbitrary in their focus and the often patronising attitude of the authorities. We often assume that prison is an environment so infused with control and discipline that the inmates have no choice but to bow to the authorities. This is of course not the case. Prison life is full of upturned collars and resentful squints, as well as a myriad of other ways to subvert the rules, however slightly.
I never knew when or what I was going to lift. The Time to Take was a calm, concrete feeling that would spread like room temperature butter on toast. Walking around the store, my body would casually scan for cameras, peruse the aisles, and when the time was right, I’d surrender to an emancipation pure and brief: a feeling much like leaving the stove on while attending to a phone call in the other room. And though I knew what I liked, it usually wasn’t what ended up mine: somewhere I think I knew that if I began to rely on this method to fuel my actual desires, I’d be losing my own game. This was not about the things themselves, of course. Every so often I had to remind myself that they had no value, and that like most shoplifters, I lost attraction to them soon after attainment. To take was to feel oneself justifiably tampering with a system to find that it is the system itself that is flawed — a bit like opening a lock with the wrong set of keys.
They have a drink on her balcony. She pretends they’re sitting on the terrace of a bar, like they might have in virus-free times. Instead they’re alone, inside her home. Two strangers in soft clothes and plain faces. The sun sets. The conversation stumbles, accelerates. They talk of fears, politics, childhoods, their intimacy growing in the darkness. The street is quiet. The buzz of cicadas and their own voices the only sounds cutting the air. Until they run out of things to say, and the cicadas alone save them from silence. Yet they refill their glasses, and move inside. She puts on music.