Sophie's embedded objects

Sophie pulls a wire coat hanger from her face as she tells me what an awful day she's had.

"I keep getting all these nagging calls from my boss. And he's such an idiot. He never listens to what I say, even though he employed me for my opinions. Or that's what he says," she says. A paperback travel book falls from her hair.

"It's such a waste of time, constantly extricating myself from all these awkward situations. People give me funny looks, you know."

Sophie looks hurt and upset as she says this, and I cast my eyes downward with a feeling of supressed shame and embarrassment - after all, I used to give her funny looks too, before I really got to know her. I hand back a tie pin that's fallen on the floor, and she accepts it and puts it in her bag of objects without saying thanks. We know each other too well for that now.

I tell her about my encounter with Doreen the other week, how Doreen's parents won't let her leave the house after she started shedding rodents, light fittings and angular wall brackets. Sophie makes a twisted grimace, and a tetrapod fossil escapes through her teeth. She catches it, of course, and puts it in the bag with everything else.

"Doreen needs to stand up for herself," Sophie says with some anger. Her feelings are mixed, I know. There was a time when Sophie kept herself hidden away from the world in exactly the same way, and used her parents as a convenient excuse. She used to say they stopped her roaming. When we were childhood playmates, I believed her. Now I know better.

Sophie's day was made worse by an idiot who chased her down the street, waving some small piece of food wrapping and saying it had dropped from Sophie's shoe as she'd walked by. Sophie describes walking fast to get away from her tormentor, then running, before finally relenting and turning to face him. He was a small guy, young-looking but not young. He had a cruel smile and long dark hair, flicked back at the fringe and tied into a knot on top of his head. He had no bag of objects, just the one piece of litter.

Sophie tried to humour him at first, saying "Thanks" and reaching out her hand to take the wrapper. But as she did so, a cylinder of hardened plastic dripped out of her hand and fell on to the guy's foot, making him hop and jump around, his face reddening. He swore at her, shook his fist. He dropped the food wrapper, and Sophie picked it up and put it in her bag along with the lump of plastic, then turned her back and walked away.

She looks at me unhappily as she recounts this episode, the latest of many many incidents that trouble her almost every day. Then she jerks slightly, gives me a rueful smile, and bends down to pick up the packet of cigarettes that has just dropped from her trouser leg and under the chair.

"How about that?" she says. She reaches into the bag for a lighter that must have been there for years. She offers the top of the packet to me. "Fancy a smoke?"

(19th April 2004)