Burnt Umber – Amanda Saint

I smear fake tan from top to toe after I’m finished with my home spa experience, which was nothing like the real thing. The cream is a lurid salmon shade as I squeeze it from the tube into my gloved hand. I hope it doesn’t look like that on my skin. Tonight I need to look amazing. It smells of burnt biscuits, transporting me straight back to Nanna’s kitchen. She always burned everything then blamed me.

Even when that boy at school set my hair on fire in physics class, she said, ‘I bet it was your fault. You said the wrong thing as usual.’

I can still hear that blue flame roaring in my ears. Smell my hair scorching.

Once the tan cream has dried I sit at my dressing table taking tiny sips of neat peach liqueur. Thick, oily, only vaguely reminiscent of the real thing, it coats my tongue and teeth. I smile at myself in the mirror. Nobody to tell me I’m doing anything wrong now Nanna has gone. I don’t miss her.

When I am perfectly made up, so that not a single freckle can be seen, I start on my marmalade hair. It’s been seven years since it burned and it’s finally back to the length it was before it happened. Another sign. I curl it and pin it so just a few ringlets frame my face.

Finally, I step into my dress. Burnt umber satin, skimming over my barely there curves.

This will be the place. I know it. Tonight is the opening night and I can feel it. This is where I’ll find him. All those other places weren’t right for me. But the name, it’s a sign. The sun is setting as the cab approaches the club. There’s a queue outside. A whole line filled with potential flame-haired partners. This is our place. The neon light over the door flashes “Tangerine” in red, then orange, then red again, telling the world that we are welcome here.

As I walk to the VIP entrance a man near the front of the queue catches my eye. He stares as I sashay past and just before the door closes behind me, I glance back. Give the barest hint of a smile.

Much later, he finds me on the dancefloor, presses past me then sways a few paces away, never breaking eye contact. He moves closer, grabs my hand. We dance for just a few moments before he pulls me towards the stairs.

He slams the loo door behind us, pushing me up against the sink, sliding my dress up my thighs. Breath is all I can hear as I reach for his flies. He’s not wearing underwear so I see straight away. My dreams shatter once again. He’s not really one of us.

As the cab pulls away, blue light washes over the inside of the car and the blare of the fire engine’s sirens throbs in my ears.


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Bio: Amanda Saint is a novelist and short story writer. Her stories have been long and shortlisted for, and won, various prizes and been published in anthologies and literary journals. She runs Retreat West, which provides creative writing retreats, courses and competitions, and has just launched Retreat West Books indie press.


Image: Steve Allison on Unsplash

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