28 October 2001

Friday, Oxford St, 4.15pm

Knit caps, berets, belts, stockings. Pick and Mix. Bangles, necklace, earrings, wigs. Hello Kitty. MUSIC. A girl pulls on a hat and grins at her friend and starts to wiggle to Kylie. I slip past her: my face can't decide what to do. Ignore; always the best choice, but am I too grown-up now to select that option? Smile, indulgently - no, that marks me as the outsider for sure. Scowl - for why? She's, what, fifteen, a mass of hormones, her unraddled skin stretched tight across her face, wings of yellow hair down the side. She's undeserving of hatred, doesn't merit my measured frown. Ohhhh, Top Shop, how you taunt me.

We push through the crowds, flow across the road. H&M for men. This is the scented chamber of my fantasy. Boys swarm around; I am an interloper. I touch: brown drill. Grey tweed. Plaid. Tan corduroy. Striped shirts dangle on high. Duffle coat boy pushes past like a lost sixth-form prefect: I study under lidded lashes. Boys tag-team between scarves and hats, socks and pants. I stand aside to let them pass, looking up at their foot-higher faces; a blur of smiles shouts grimace teeth and hair. The louche and dusty slung-armedness of Tommy posters, of Ralf Lauren ads.

I am here to 'help'. To help myself more like. I study man in his unnatural habitat. Surruptitious. We fondle fabrics. A sling of trousers weights his right arm. I lose myself: kneel between racks, smooth powder on my face and gloss on my lips. Return to study tanks and pants. I picture grey argyll peeking from under my friend's trousercuff. We wll make of him a dandy, a British teddybearboy.

The changing room is the forbidden zone. It breathes. It sucks boys in: it spits them out. I picture: arms crossing to lift a jumper: a glimpse of a hip over low-slung trouser; lips puckered in curious ponderance. A duffle coat on the floor, a golden fringe trapped for a second under the grip of a jumper's neck, then springing free. A hand in the hair, ruffling. Turning to study the back. Lifting the jumper: do the jeans hang low enough? I sense it all: loiter like a burglar outside, tinker with a dufflebag, toy with the fringe on a scarf. Someone stole my sexless girlbrain and replaced it with this. It tingles, it hovers, it watches, it wants. It is alive, heavy; sizzling with connections, observations, desire.

We pay and go.

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