'Starry-eyed' by Rachael Smart

I lived in the coat from the charity shop. A real find it was: Highland chic with a Coney fur collar. Almost missed it because it was so well hidden under a convoy of men’s waders and hunting boots in the two quid bin.

Racing home in its tartan landscape of rolling minks and olives made me feel green as the country and my cheeks fired up ruddy against the plush collar. Under its cover, I became quicker. Still me, just leaner. Invisible for decades because of my plain face but now everyone wanted a look.

My appetite changed. I scanned the supermarket shelves for fat blackberries and boysenberries, my mouth watering for the peppery taste of rocket and something else I couldn’t pin down, something seedy I really wanted to sharpen my teeth on. I settled for flax in my cereal. I quit playing the comedian to compensate for the way I looked and instead I nibbled on raw crudités to avoid the monotony of small talk.

Nights, I felt the draw of the wild. Out under Radford’s charred sky, my eyes glistened back bold and luminous as tarns in all the distorted car windows and I ran for running’s sake. The girls at work made comments about how fast I’d got skinny. Weight loss usually gets the stamp of approval but they reckoned I’d gone too far when they saw my downy brown arms, the taut sinew.

I noticed the rhythm of violence around town in ways I never had. Diggers obliterating the kid’s park. Pigs hung by their trotters in the butcher’s bay window. Vendors in the subway selling off their black market goods. High rise flats now obscured the kitchen window’s former view of clouds and on late nights, I heard brawls cracking off outside The Shrewd Fox. Their voices taunted me even from the safety of my sofa and it made me reach for the mantle of my country coat. Blokes in high visibility jackets wolf-whistled me on stubby fingers as I jogged along King Street to work, but I only felt the swell of rising hills in my hips, a call to follow my hind legs.

By December, I couldn't open my left eye. Glued shut it was. I fancied it must be the town making me sick. Either that or the men. When I left the doctor’s with a prescription for antibiotics, I saw a guy with dreadlocks selling winter furs in the subway and he put his hand on my shoulder to stop me passing, asked after my glossy mane. Quick as a hare, I legged it. Heard hurried voices on the chase, felt a thunderbolt fear in my blood.

On the Industrial Estate, men were still at work but I didn’t flinch to their whistle. Off came my coat and on thumped my legs, the pavements oily with puddle skies and urban mist dampening my pelt, on and on I went, over and under, heading north for hedgerows and honeysuckle.

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