I always get undressed with my back to the mirror in dressing rooms and this one is particularly small so turning around to face myself will take some tricky manoeuvring.
The eight-inch clear Perspex stilettos and the small but potentially fatal pile of discarded clothing at my feet will not make it any easier either. And pulling on the stockings, it’s hard not to get my fingers caught in the industrial strength fish nets. But it’s the low-slung, shiny, black vinyl shorts with their slightly wonky little silver buckles either side the front zip, that provide the ultimate test. I pull and squeeze and zip myself into them but can’t bear to look.
I am ridiculous. I feel like crying.
‘How do they fit? It’s the young hovering shop assistant. ‘Come on don’t be shy. We’re all women here.’
Pushy. And that ‘we’re all women here’, is not strictly true because there was that man behind the counter who looked like an elderly Eastern European haberdasher busily rearranging his display of trinkets and condoms, scarves and handcuffs.
‘Yeah, come on out honey!’ Damn. There’s another customer in the shop now besides me and she sounds pushy too.
I am like an actress waiting nervously behind the curtain in the wings about to get on stage. Rosalind Russell said that ‘Acting is standing up naked and turning around very slowly.’ But I am a middle-age woman in a small darkish shop on a dusty street in Surry Hills, Sydney, on the brink of leaving her comfort zone to stand in front of a young shop assistant, an old haberdasher and some other customer who calls me ‘honey’. Most significantly, I am dressed like an ageing porn star. I part the red velvet curtain.
‘You look gorgeous!’ It’s her again: Honey Woman. But this time she doesn’t sound pushy but quite encouraging. She is tall. Broad shouldered. A dark bob. Chunky silver rings. Charm bracelet. I used to have one of those; a gold one I got when I was baptised. It had a tiny heart, a bull, an acorn, a bird in a cage and a caravan. A caravan? I turn around and face the mirror. Slowly, so as not to fall over on the skyscraper heels. I am not me. I am another me. I do not recognise myself. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
My mind goes into paranoid overdrive. I know what these women are thinking: Poor thing trying to resuscitate her relationship. She must be at least fifty. Women that age don’t care that much about sex anymore do they? Menopause kills the libido. As if dressing up is going to make him want her more. She’s still the same person underneath all the zips and shiny vinyl. It’s just embarrassing. Sad.
‘So who’s the lucky man? Or woman?’ It’s the picture-perky shop assistant. We all giggle. The old guy behind the counter doesn’t. He says nothing and I’m relieved. He just opens a small silver case, puts an unlit cigarette in his mouth and heads out the back of the shop through another red velvet curtain.
I want to believe these women. They seem sincere. I mean, what do they have to gain telling me how good I look dressed like a pole dancer. Well, the shop assistant probably does have a vested interest, but unless Honey Woman is a shareholder in Erotic Divas, then she’s just saying it like it is surely. Two hours ago I left my boyfriend at the hotel and went off alone to walk the unfamiliar streets.