>DREAM OF THE SOFT LOOK

>Margo’s face was coated in makeup, shimmering unnaturally from under the lamplight. Her eyelashes wept snow, purple shadows falling back sadly into her face. Ted stood as if a shadow himself, cast back in the corners of her wide room, watching. Margo sighed, pieces of her soul escaping visibly into the air.

“I’m sorry,” said Ted.

Margo rubbed the back of her thumb across her eyebrows, sending little hairs spinning into the dark. “It’s nothing for you to apologise for.” Her voice strained to hold its accent. It flickered in and out, like water lapping at her lungs.

Ted stepped forward. He held his hands awkwardly at his sides: a child in a school play, uncertain of how to stand.

“It had to happen,” continued Margo. “It took too long, really.”

“It shouldn’t have happened.”

Margo laughed, a balloon’s final choke. “Did you think it was alright, Ted? Did you think what I was doing was right?”

“I just feel—”

“You had every right to do it. Don’t feel like you didn’t.”

There was a space between them, the echoless chasm of future moments. Something that swallowed the familiar and left white gaps of uncertainty.

Margo shifted on the bed. Her camisole rucked up at her thighs; she looked at her legs, her feet, white and withered things. “I paint my toenails so often,” she said. “I’ve painted them since I was eight. That’s what happens—the colours change, but you forget what was underneath in the first place. Underneath all this—” she gestured at herself, hands flailing with desperate gravity, “—underneath all this is someone I’ve never seen. When you come right down to it, I’m not really here.”

She looked sidelong into her mirror; she put her hands to her face. “Whatever this is, it’s not real. I’ve been dead for 50 years, Ted. I’m a ghost.” A tear pulsed from her eye and ringed her cheek.

Ted sat down on the bed, its springs silently accepting him. “None of us want to see you leave.”

“How can I stay?”

Ted cracked a knuckle on his left hand. “Margo, if you leave, it’s like … leaving a gap.”

“I’ll pay you out for the room, Ted. I’ve told you—I’ll pay till the end of the year.”

“No, I didn’t mean that. I meant, if you left … this town has to survive—it does survive, because the people in it make it work …”

Margo shook her head. “Ted, it’s never going to be the same now. I’m only one problem. There are gaps opening up everywhere. It’s started, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”

Ted looked up at the ceiling. “It’s just … this shouldn’t have to happen to us. It’s so sad.”

Margo reached out and took his hand. “Time moves on,” she said. “You only notice it after it’s gone.”

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