Impostors: Comfortable in Your Own Skin: Extract Two
They met on a cold, bleak washout of a day in a twee little coffee shop with paper doilies. Outside the drizzle mixed indiscriminately with the sea spray and the herring gulls waddled along the rain-slick front, gorging themselves on spilled ice creams, forgotten chips and the promiscuous contents of discarded kebab wrappers. But inside the coffee shop, gazing over a prim white pottery tea service, Alec found himself face to face with Dreamcatcher74.
She was small—probably not more than five foot two—with fine birdlike bones and pale translucent skin. Her movements were quick and dextrous, and she spoke with an eager intensity, her face by turns sarcastic or playful, gleeful or serious, mocking or mischievously histrionic. But then, quite suddenly, this merry pantomime would silence, her face would become immobile, and the twinkle in her eye would harden into a glassy stillness. At such moments, she seemed to be looking beyond the café, with its white china cups and its chunky glass Dalek sugar shakers, into another place, a different world only tangentially related to this one. At such moments, Alec felt his soul tremble within him, as when one strokes the wet rim of a wine glass and the fragile sides vibrate into song.
Kate said she worked in a library, stacking shelves. Alec said he liked to read. Kate wryly admitted she actually spent most of her time daydreaming. Alec told her how he passed his dull days at work imagining he was a spy or an ex-con with a dangerous past or a fallen angel incarnate in human form. Kate told him how she was planning to write a science fiction story about a species of bodysnatching aliens. Alec said that was really weird shit. Then confessed he’d once dreamt he’d lived on other planets as an intelligent salamander and as a giant carrion-eating spider.
Worried he’d said more than he ought, Alec swiftly retreated into the accepted platitudes of Guardian Soulmates, declaring with fervent insincerity that he was just looking for someone with whom He Could be Himself. He was about to revert to script and talk about sofas and country walks and how much he enjoyed a good Meaningful Conversation, when Kate calmly explained she would much rather find someone with whom she could be someone else.
‘What did you say?’ he said, suddenly alert.
‘I just said sometimes I’d prefer to be someone else. But I was only kidding,’ she hastily explained. ‘It was a joke.’
‘Were you joking?’ Alec persisted.
Alec gulped, swallowed, felt his gaze lock with hers. He noticed the curl of her lips, the sardonic lift of her eyebrow. Then, he saw his moon face mirrored in the big black pupils of her eyes. He leant forward across the table and then stopped himself, hesitating an instant, feeling the moment too perfect to be brought too swiftly to completion. His lips softly touched hers and then he fell back into his chair. Never once taking his eyes from hers, Alec took a paper serviette from the canteen of the table and, slowly, skilfully, twisted it into the shape of a single rose.
‘Do you feel Comfortable in Your Own Skin?’ he asked trembling, tweaking the little leaf he’d fashioned, so that it stood out from the twisted stem. He handed over the paper rose.
‘Do I feel what?’
‘Comfortable in Your Own Skin—like it says on the website?’
Kate screwed her mouth to one side. ‘Sometimes,’ she answered, faltering slightly.
Kate nodded faintly, glancing down at the rose.
‘No. Not always. Not very often, in fact.’ She twisted the paper stem between her fingers and straightened out the leaf. ‘That’s why I like to write.’
‘Because you can be someone else?’
She nodded again, first bashful and then defiant.
‘These aliens—’ he murmured breathlessly, his eyes never leaving Kate’s for a moment—‘what are they like?’
‘They snatch the bodies of other species.’
‘All over. On different planets— everywhere.’
‘Even our planet?’
‘Yeah. Even ours.’
‘What do they do when they snatch a body?’
‘They take it over, tapping into their brains and nervous systems.’
‘Why do they do this?’ Alec felt his heart beating hard against his ribs. He felt out of breath. There was a kind of hissing in his ears.
‘Because they have no bodies of their own,’ explained Kate absently. ‘They have no self of their own. They just listen in— and then they gradually take over.’
Wordless, they reached across the table and kissed a second time. Then, Alec led her out into the cold and the rain, and they splashed through the puddles, running hand-in-hand to the bus stop, Kate still clutching the paper rose in her clenched fist. They spent the rest of the day alternately sleeping and making wild, self-annihilating love, and then later, as they lay together side by side, naked in bed, they solemnly vowed they would never see one another again.