Melista crossed the street, taking her life in her hands. Her heart beat faster and her palms grew sweaty, but she reached the other side, tripping up the curb onto the pavement, without hearing the screech of brakes or any angry shouting from a motorist. She sighed just a little bit, adjusted her oversize sun-glasses that were stopping her seeing just about everything, and hoped she was still going in the right direction.
She was wearing a short white dress that showed off the dark-gold tones of her skin to perfection and had paired them with a pair of white high-heels that her mother had bought her for her twenty-first birthday. They were a little too high for comfort, and she tottered as she walked, her legs aching with tension as she tried to avoid falling over. A small black purse on a beaded strap was slung over one shoulder, and despite her only having condoms and a rape alarm in there it felt like it was pulling her over all the time. She gritted her teeth, keeping her purple-lipsticked lips pressed firmly together so no-one could see, and resisted the urge to put her hand out in front of her. It wouldn't be lady-like.
Two minutes later she walked into the side of the recording studio, catching her knee on the brickwork of a corner and knocking her sunglasses from her face and into a muddy puddle. Somewhere behind her came laughter, and she flushed. Hot blood rushed to her face and she felt the tiny pinprick sensation of her scalp starting to sweat; a minor disaster as it would loosen the wax and gel holding her hair in place. She swore, mostly under her breath, and pushed herself away from the wall, praying that her shoes were undamaged. She swayed a little, placing one hand on her stomach to help her get her balance and swearing continuously. When she felt steady again she looked round for her sunglasses and saw a small child – male, blond and shocked – holding them out to her. The child's mother (presumably) looked like she had a few choice words of her own to say about Melista's language in front of the young and impressionable.
"Give her a break," said a voice behind her, and hands rested on her hips, both startling and steadying her at the same time. "She just walked into a wall, it's not like she's clever. She doesn't really know what she's saying, it's like Tourette's."
"Oh, his grandfather has Tourette's," sniffed the mother. "It what's she wearing that I find offensive. Little Jimmy here keeps looking up her skirt, and you can tell from the sheerness that she's not wearing knickers."
"Doesn't even know what they are," said the voice, which she realised now was her co-vocalist Samandra. "Getting her to dress herself in the morning is the first challenge of the day for her carer, and frankly, they think it's a victory if they can get her wearing something that's recognisably an outfit. They said she came down to breakfast a few days ago wearing a shower-curtain, and a few days before that she tried to leave the secure facility with a bath-mat wrapped round her feet and a bag over her head."
"Should she really be out on her own then?" The mother pulled little Jimmy closer to her, protectively. Little Jimmy was fiddling with a mobile phone, probably taking pictures.
"Hah! No she bloody shouldn't," said Samandra immediately. "She should have people looking after her round the clock making sure that she doesn't hurt herself. She's not really a danger to other people, she's just a bit slow on the uptake and doesn't have any manners. Or social graces. Or knows when to wear clothes, but I think we covered that already. But you know what the government care programs are like."
"Oh yes," said the mother sounding enthusiastic. "His grandfather ought to have been locked up a long time ago, and instead I have to make chili on Tuesdays because it's his favourite. It's shocking what these mental folks make the rest of do."
"Right then," said Samandra. "Well, if Jimmy's finished being the next Mapplethorpe I need to get this poor girl inside and sedated. If you'll excuse me...?" She left the words hanging on the air as she gave Melista a push in the general direction of the recording studio door and smiled a full 100-Watt beam at the mother. She hurried after Melista, several ungentle shoves making sure that she didn't stop moving in the right direction until they were in reception and the man behind the desk was dialling up to George McIntern.
"What just happened out there?" said Melista. Her leg hurt, she thought she'd bitten her lip, and she had a feeling that her reputation had been dragged through the muddy puddle. "And where are my sunglasses?" she said as an afterthought.
"I got you in here," said Samandra. "We have an album to record, Mel, and it's going to be big. George has finally picked the title: Let's Cough. The theme is emphysema.
"Where are my glasses?"
"I left with them young Mapplethorpe," said Samandra. "He can Ebay them after he puts your pictures up on the internet."
"Let's cough," she said impatiently now. "Let's get upstairs and show George your lungs. We have an album to make!"