Dear World, is it wrong that I am finding all this drama so intoxicating? Personally I think it says a lot about my own life. No one would want my life. My life consists of cynicism and traipsing around. I told you.
So anyway, we have no choice but to hide out at my house until we can get hold of Marianne. I get my mum to call Lorraine and tell her Joe is staying for tea, and having a sleepover. My mum’s lips pull into a grimace at this part, because they all worry about us having sleepovers, of course. You know, in case I get fucking pregnant or something. I ask you. I just stare at her with big hopeful eyes, and I know she is feeling guilty about the whole Les thing, because she picks up the phone and calls Lorraine. My legs are wobbly as I start back up the stairs. Mum hangs up the phone quickly and comes after me. “What shall I get you both for tea?” she asks me. “Sara is staying at her friends house. It’s just us.”
I shrug at her. “Don’t mind.”
“Sausage chips and beans?”
“Can we have it in my room?”
“Of course you can,” she sighs, and I turn to go. “Hold on Lou,” she says. I can’t hold myself up anymore so I just sit down on one of the stairs and wait for it. “Look,” she begins gently. “I know you don’t really know Les yet, but what’s happened is his flat he was living in, it’s his sisters, right? And they’ve had this awful fight, and now she wants him out, and it’s just dreadful really.”
“Yeah, it is,” I tell her, but my sarcasm is lost on her. Her eyes are full of the pity she feels for Les. She is holding a tea towel and wrings it between her hands.
“So it’s not forever,” she goes on. “It’s just until he gets sorted with another place, okay? That’s another reason why there is no point telling dad. He’ll go off on one for no reason, because it’s not going to be for long.”
“Does Sara know about this yet?”
“Not yet. I’ll speak to her when she comes home.”
I can’t see my older sister liking this news any more than I do, but this is the least of my problems right now. I heave myself back up, and my mouth waters just slightly at the idea of sausage, chips and beans.
Joe is still lying on my bed, and sits up when I walk in. “Mum’s bringing us tea up in a bit,” I inform him, stretching back out beside him.
“Brilliant,” he says, with a smile. “I love your mum.”
“She’s better than yours, that’s for sure.”
“We go back to Marianne’s in the morning,” he tells me, as if he has been thinking this over by himself. “If she’s still not answering her phone. We sit there and wait till she comes back. It will all be fine. We’ll get the bag back to Leon, and make sure he keeps it out the house. It will all be fine.” He nods with the certainty of his own predictions and I frown at him from the bed. I have my pen again and I am doodling lazily on the wall.
“Is that what you do Joe, to get through life?”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell yourself everything will be fine, and believe yourself.”
I hear him snort at me. He does that a lot. “It’s better than what you do.”
“What do I do then?”
“Expect everything to be shit so you don’t get disappointed when it is.”
“Ha ha, I call that being intelligent. Like this thing with Les, you know what’s going to happen don’t you?” I sit up suddenly; pen in hand, a flurry of unexplained aggression washing over me. He waits. “He’ll move in, dad will find out, dad will be a prize knob, mum will cry, Les and dad will fight, mum will cry, Sara will probably throw a hissy fit and move out. Mum will cry. Les will stay, and dad will want to throw us all out of his precious fucking house. That is what will happen. And they should be able to see that too, if I can.”
“And in all of that, what will you do then?”
I lie back down, and jab my pen at the wall. “I will get drunk with you.”
Joe gives a little laugh. “Fair enough.”
I feel grumpy and pissed off at everyone. I wonder if that is what not eating much does to you. I expect my body to react violently when my mum comes in with the food. I expect my mouth to water again, and my eyes to fixate on the food, and my stomach to growl louder than ever. But when she puts the tray down on the bed, and Joe picks up his plate, I feel a kind of disgust and loathing that takes me by surprise. I put my plate on my lap, and push the chips around with the beans, and I see it for what it is, just like I did with the doughnut that day. It was not a tasty snack to fill a hole. It was a vile and lard filled trick. I eat one sausage, three chips and a forkful of beans, and then I feel like crying. I have no idea why. I have no idea what is wrong with me.
Joe tucks into his dinner like he has never been fed so well. I reach out and scrawl doodles on the wall behind me. Joe looks hungrily at the rest of my food. “Do you not want that?”
“No. Feel sick. You have it.”
“When can we get drunk again?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“It’s fun. Takes your mind off things.”
“I know, I’ll trade Leon’s bag for a bottle of cider. Reckon he’ll go for that?”
“I think I like the sound of drinking cider in the park with my retard friends. How wrong is that?”
“It’s not wrong. It’s fun.”
I sit up, resting my back against the wall and dropping the pen. I rub my arms and this brings back the memory of the rough warmth of Travis’s hands closed over them. A shiver of what I can only describe as lust runs through me, and I smile. Isn’t it meant to be teenage boys that get all horny and hormonal and hot under the collar at inappropriate times? I realise I have never witnessed this in Joe, and fleetingly wonder if he is gay, like his older brothers sometimes accuse him of being. I honestly do not know what is wrong with me. I think Joe would kill me if he knew what I was thinking right now. What I am picturing in my mind.
Leon scares me. I don’t like being in his presence. He makes me feel uncomfortable, but I am unable to really articulate why. He wants to be a hard man; he wants to not care about anyone or anything, as if somehow he believes this to be the best way to go through life. It is what he seeks to achieve. Not giving a shit. Dealing drugs, if that is what he is doing, and we can strongly suppose that it is, is just his latest ploy to try to achieve this. He is bizarrely determined to live as crooked and brutal a life as possible, and you can see it in every inch of him – his empty, hard eyes, his lack of remorse or empathy for anything or anyone. The way his body ripples and bristles, as if every muscle within it has been injected with pure blind rage. I wonder whom he is trying to impress, and I can only imagine that it is himself.
You might be wondering about Travis, World. Well he is a bastard. All the girls say it. That’s what I hear, so I don’t trust him, but I can see some of Joe in him. Some. His eyes give away more than Leon’s ever do. His voice reflects his emotions – his frustration when he loses at Grand Theft Auto to Leon. His humour when one of the little ones does something funny. Leon barely acknowledges their existence, but Travis sees them. He has human qualities, where Leon seems to have none. I wonder how far he would go for his brother. For either of them? I wonder these things World, because I am a curious person. You wouldn’t believe how much of my life has been spent standing back quietly and just watching, just listening. It is a skill I have honed well over the years, and it means that I know far more about everyone else, than they do about me. It only occurs to me in rare drunken moments, that this is not necessarily a good thing.
When I finally look at my clock it informs me it is half past six. Why does it feel so much later? Joe and I stretch out on my bed and stare at the cracks in the ceiling. “I’m surprised you haven’t written anything up there yet,” he muses sleepily. We pass the evening feeling like we are on death row. When I close my eyes I can see redness behind my eyelids. It reminds me of blood, shifting and building, like a blood clot growing. I blink as I involuntarily imagine Leon’s fist slamming into my face. I picture blood exploding from my nose and lips, and the bridge of my nose collapsing and folding in on itself. I am good at this. Picturing violent and bloody scenes inside my head. Sometimes when I look around me, all I can see is all the potential for physical damage. Windows that could shatter on top of your head. Knives that could slip in your grip and plunge into your wrist. Cars that could skid and career towards you, helpless on the pavement, the brute force of the gleaming metal pinning you to a wall, pulverising your organs. Blood pumping like a fountain from your mouth. I do it when I am speaking to people sometimes. Especially people like teachers, and other grown ups who are not my parents. I will find myself drifting off as they speak, and then picturing me smashing them in the face with something really heavy, like a brick or an iron or something. Once, in science, I imagined Mr. Foster’s eyeballs flying out of his face after I lifted a stool and cracked him over the head with it. They flew right across the science lab and splattered against the windows, sliding down slowly, leaving bloody snails trails behind. I don’t know why I do this World, except maybe just for amusement.
Every time the phone rings we expect it to be trouble. We turn the music up and down, imagining we can hear the doorbell go. Mum drifts up the stairs again later, and starts shoving blankets and pillows through the door. You can tell she is on edge about Joe sleeping over, even though we have known each other since we were foetuses. It is sad indictment of adult stupidity, that as soon as we entered puberty, they all started acting like we ought to fancy each other. They had decided that we would, and nothing we could do or say would remove this idea from their heads. ‘Watch them,’ even my dad said to my mum once, and he very rarely has anything to say that involves thinking about me. ‘They’re getting too big to go around like that.’ Luckily my mum ignored his insightful wisdom about my friendship with Joe. She retorted with the well used, ‘Oh they are just like brother and sister.’ But you could see the worry in her eyes every time we went up to my room alone. You just know that if I were stupid enough to get pregnant, the first vicious words he would say to her would be; ‘I told you so.’
That night, Joe falls asleep before I do. I can hear him snoring gently on the floor. I am lying awake, I am staring at the ceiling, and I am smoothing my fingers up and down the curves of my hipbones. I am savagely proud of myself for barely eating today. I tell myself it is the only way to get rid of the fat. It is the only way to get the body I have always wanted. In a strange and childlike way, I truly feel that when I am slim enough, everything will be different.
Dear World, well here we are again, and the saga drags on another day…
The plan was to wake up early and run over to Marianne’s before she can do another vanishing act. But we do not wake up until the bedroom door is kicked open, and when I roll over to groan at the clock I despise, I see that it is nearly ten o’clock. Not good. It is Sara, my sister, who has burst in on us. She is taller and slimmer than me. She has blonder hair. It is straighter and silkier than mine. She slams the door behind her, throws a bag onto her bed and looks as if she might explode. “Jesus fucking mum!” she growls, hands in her hair. Joe sits up on the floor, rolling the ball of his fist into his eye and yawning. I swap a look with Joe. You don’t really need to bother speaking when my sister is around. She is very good at having a conversation with herself, on your behalf, and filling in the blanks when you do not speak. “What the hell is she thinking? Do you know about this Lou? About her bloody creepy boyfriend moving in? Is she insane? Dad will go mental!”
I quite simply, do not want to have this conversation. Joe is already looking alarmed about the time, and hauling himself out of his makeshift bed. I pull my quilt around me, so that I can get changed under it. Joe passes up my cut off jeans from the floor, and I only have to rummage around in the mess at the foot of my bed to find a suitable t-shirt. Sara is ransacking the wardrobe for a change of clothes. “I cannot believe it,” she continues to rant. “I cannot believe that woman. She knows how dad will react. She knows how he feels about the stupid house. And we’re supposed to keep it a secret for her? Bloodyhell! Great one. Nice one mum. Well done.” She plonks herself on her bed to pull off her shoes. “When is this supposed to be happening anyway? Do you know?”
“No idea.” I get out of bed and brush my hair in front of the mirror.
“Have you lost more weight?” Sara asks, frowning at me. I look myself up and down.
“I don’t know.”
“What size are you now anyway?”
“Twelve,” I say, and smile at her proudly. “Fourteens are too big now. I had to get mum to get me some new clothes.”
“Bloodyhell, well done!” My sister is beaming at me for some reason. I mean, really beaming. It catches me off guard to tell you the truth. My sister and I have always got on really well, but these days I am old enough to recognise why this is. I was always the quiet, calm one, and she was the opposite. See? No competition there. Apparently when I was really little she used to pretend she was my mum, and choose my clothes and get me dressed and stuff. I used to play with her for hours, and I loved it, but everything was on her terms you understand. She doesn’t see life any other way. Her beaming takes me by surprises and sends a warm rush of something like pride through me. I smile, despite myself. “You’ve done really well. You’re looking amazing you know. Isn’t she Joe?”
Joe looks up with a start. He looks exhausted and confused. “Hey?”
“Oh trust you not to notice,” Sara groans, rolling her eyes at me. “Men are all the same. Take Rich. Did he notice I’d had my hair cut and coloured? No he did not. And when I told him, do you know what he said? He said, oh it doesn’t look any different to me!”
Joe has his trainers on and is hopping about impatiently. I tie up my hair and follow him to the door. “We’ve got to go,” I say to Sara.
“Don’t worry, I haven’t finished with mum yet,” she says, not looking at us as she goes back to the wardrobe. “She’s not getting her own way that easily! I’m getting changed then going back down there for round two.”
“Okay, good luck,” I sigh, and we leave.
I pause in the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth, while Joe heads to the front door. When I come down the stairs, he has the door open a crack and seems to be scanning the street. “Really surprised they haven’t come looking for us,” he murmurs as I come up behind him. He tugs his phone from his pocket and frowns at it. “No calls either.”
“Maybe they trust you to get it back.”
“Lou?” Mum calls from the kitchen. I know what she is going to say. Take the fucking dog. I want to just slam out of the door and not even look at her, but something pathetic in her voice makes me turn around. She has been crying, there is no doubt about that. Sara does not mince her words, or hide her feelings. She is the opposite of me in that respect. She has the unfathomable bravery to say exactly what she thinks at all times. I only have this bravery when it comes to my wall. As I suspected, mum is holding out Gremlins lead to me. “Would you mind?”
“No, course not,” I mutter and snatch it from her. I clip the lead onto the dog and we go out of the door, leaving her in her own sad silence in the hallway.
Outside the pavement is wet from yesterday’s downpour. There are puddles everywhere. But the sky is impossibly blue and vast and clear, not a cloud in sight. We head for Marianne’s, and our legs feel heavy. Gremlin trots a jaunty walk alongside me; oblivious to the disgusted looks Joe affords him, and I bring up her number one more pointless time.
We start to cross the fields that surround our estate, and the grass is wet and squishy underfoot. A hell of a lot of rain must have fallen yesterday. The fields wrap right around the housing estate, enveloping it in green. There are two parks on the entire estate. A small baby one just around the corner from my road, and a bigger one for older kids on the fields. It has a slide built into a hill, two swings, a battered old paint flaked roundabout, a climbing frame and a wooden castle with another slide coming out from the top chamber. The bottom chamber is like a little hut, with a table and benches inside. You can choose either wooden steps, or a rope ladder to climb up to the bit where the slide is. We glance across, hearing voices from that direction. There are kids circling on their bikes, weaving in and out of the apparatus, and whizzing down the hill. “Park and cider,” I say, more to myself than Joe. He nods grimly.
“You better fucking believe it Carling.” I look at him and wonder if he was serious about getting his brother to buy us some cider in return for their bag. I wouldn’t put it past him. He may not be a fighter, in any way, shape or form, but Joe has guts. He may not be able to fight them back physically, but I know he is not as scared of them as I am.
When we reach Marianne’s we breathe a collective sigh of relief, as both her parents cars are parked in the driveway. We are assuming, and hoping desperately that this means she is with them. Her dad drives a silver Renault Megane, and her mum has this nippy little black jeep. Just as we approach the door, it opens and her mum comes out. She looks a lot like Marianne, small and delicate with black hair. She does a double take when she sees us there. I wonder morosely how scruffy and sleep deprived we appear to her. She is a nice lady, always polite and welcoming, but I can’t help detect a bit of uncertainty from her about us. It’s like she is too polite and well brought up to act on the instinct she has not to trust us. Funnily enough, that is pretty much how I feel about her daughter. “Hello there,” she says, one pale hand falling back onto her own chest. She is wearing crisp white trousers and a blue and pink floaty, chiffon blouse. She is holding a small watering can in her other hand, and starts to water the many pot plants that surround her front door. She wrinkles her nose at Gremlin. “Marianne is in her room, go on up. But you wouldn’t mind leaving the dog out here, would you? I am terribly allergic!” She gives a little self-deprecating laugh at this.
“Thanks,” Joe says rather gruffly, heading for the door. I tie Gremlin up to one of the drainpipes.
“I would leave him at home,” I feel the strange need to explain to Mrs. Sholing. “But my mum makes me take him everywhere.” I shrug at her. I suppose I want her to know it is not my fault I keep bringing my dog to the house of someone who is allergic to him. She smiles at me sweetly, and we go on in. We remember to wipe our shoes on the mat, and head up the stairs to find Marianne. I can sense the urgency in Joe now. I imagine he is thinking about what he will do, if she doesn’t have the bag for some reason. Either that, or he is repeatedly telling himself that everything will be fine.
Marianne’s door is closed, so we knock on it. It seems to take forever for her to open it, and I watch the sweat gathering on Joe’s forehead. Eventually she unlocks the door and looks at us vacantly. She is rubbing at one arm, and pulling her long sleeve down over her hand. She doesn’t need to try to hide it from us, because we know exactly what she has been doing. Her face looks even paler than usual. Joe glances once at the drops of blood we can see on her palm, and then crosses his arms.
“Where the hell did you go yesterday? We came back for the bag and you were gone. My brothers wanted it back! And your phone’s been off!”
Marianne holds the door open so we go in, and she closes and locks it behind us. “I lost my charger. You said to give you a day, so I went out. I am so sorry.” She says sorry like it is the last thing she means. Joe looks around her room. It is huge. She has a double bed, a double wardrobe, and a massive oak desk at the window. She has a view of the garden, so I walk over and stare out at the adventure playground beyond.
“Where is it?” Joe spins around and demands.
“Chill out,” she tells him. I wince.
“Don’t tell me to fucking chill out,” he warns her. “I need it now. You have no idea what shit I’m in if I don’t get it back right now!”
Marianne merely rolls her eyes and sighs, and crosses the room to her vast wardrobe. She opens it, puts one hand in and comes back out holding the Adidas bag. Joe nearly collapses in relief, and so do I. He snatches it from her and unzips it to check the contents. “I didn’t try any, don’t worry,” she says to him. He zips it back up and slings it onto his shoulder. He runs both hands back through his hair and closes his eyes for a small moment.
“Thanks Marianne,” I speak for him. “We’ve got to get it back now.”
“You’re welcome,” she sighs again and sits down on the edge of her bed. “Do you want to do something later maybe? Go out or something?”
“We’ll see how this goes,” I say, glancing at Joe. “He had to stay at mine last night. We’re both totally fucked to be honest.”
“Well you know where I am.”
“Thanks again,” Joe says, and lets himself out of her room. You can tell he doesn’t feel thankful at all, and he has not yet forgiven her for the panic she gave him yesterday, despite it not really being her fault.
“Are you all right?” I ask her tentatively, as I head for the door. She fixes me with a bright, brave smile, and her eyes are challenging me, but I do not understand why or for what reason. World, I do not understand her at all.
“Oh yes,” she says, mysteriously. “I am now.”
Joe wastes no time in getting the fuck away from Marianne’s house, and I can’t blame him. We grab Gremlin and run for it. We are half way across the field, and on our way to his house, drugs in tow, when I finally say something. “She was cutting herself before we got there? Wasn’t she?”
“I saw blood.”
“It’s fucking gross.”
“It makes her feel better.”
“Better about what? How can it?”
I shrug, and think back to the first time we found out about her self-harming. It was at my house. We were up in my room drinking cider. Having a giggle. Marianne is a very controlled drinker though. She never lets herself get wasted like us. She will just have a few sips of a pint and make it last all night. You could tell the small amount she did drink loosened her tongue and her body, and made her pale face flushed with daring. But she never lets herself go overboard. I suppose she doesn’t want to make a fool of herself, whereas we don’t give a shit. We were playing monopoly. It was one of those phases, one of those things you get into as a group for a few weeks, and then forget all about. Monopoly is hilarious when you are pissed, take my word for it. I was getting ridiculously aggressive about having to pay extortionate amounts of rent to Marianne. Joe was just a giggling mess. I reached across to slam the rest of my money down in front of her, and knocked my pint of cider everywhere in the process. It mostly covered Marianne. She found it funny, and merely stood up and pulled her wet top off over her head. Joe had covered his mouth, and then his eyes, as she dropped the wet garment to the floor and stood there in her neat white bra, asking to borrow something of mine. It was not until I had fetched her something to wear, and she reached out to take it, that I saw the scores of little white scars on the inside of her arms. Some were tiny. Just little nicks. Others were longer, more jagged. A couple were covered in scabs.
I think if I had been sober I would have pretended not to notice out of politeness and awkwardness. But I was pissed and I held onto her arm, lifting it up for Joe to see, which in hindsight was just horribly insensitive and vile of me, but she let me. She just smiled and let me. “What the fuck have you done to your arms?” I asked her.
“It makes me feel better.” She had taken the top from me and pulled it over her head, before sitting back down to our aghast faces. She had shrugged her tiny birdlike shoulders at us. “It’s no big deal. Some people get pissed to feel better about life, like you do. Some people take drugs. I cut myself a bit. I just do it when I feel like I want to explode or kill myself or something. It makes me feel better. That’s all.”
She made it sound so normal, I remember now. So plausible. So everyday. We had just accepted it. What else can you do? Marianne, in my opinion, is not the kind of girl who needs looking after or protecting. Marianne, in my opinion, is possibly the kind of girl who could eat you alive if she wanted to. But now Joe is looking at me as if I am somehow in on it. Just because I sort of understand her.
“She’s not hurting anyone else,” I shrug uselessly. He shakes his head. We are nearly at his house, and right away we can see no sign of Leon’s car. Fuck it, I think angrily.
“It’s warped,” he tells me, his eyes scanning the road for the Fiesta. “It’s not right.”
“You could say the same thing about getting pissed in the park,” I point out. “And you know that’s exactly what you feel like doing right now. So you can forget all this shit when it’s over, and release it. It’s the same thing.”
“His car’s not here,” Joe stops walking. “What the fuck is going on?”