Dear World, I am such an idiot. What is simple for other people becomes so complicated for me. My mum has cooked vegetable stir-fry for dinner. This touches me somewhat. I know she has done this for me, for my diet. We never used to eat this kind of food. We used to basically just eat crap. Which is how I got as fat as I did. I have only eaten three crisps all day, so I am well and truly ravenous. I sit at the table, enduring the heavy silence that exists between her and my stony faced sister, and I tell myself that I am just going to eat half of it, or maybe even less than half of it. But before I know it, Sara and my mum are making snide comments to each other across the table, which leads up to my mum announcing that Les is bringing his stuff around tomorrow, which leads onto a full scale screaming match between the two of them. I bow my head, unhappily reminded of all the screaming rows my parents used to have over the dinner table. I suppose you can spend the rest of the day avoiding each other, pushing past each other and walking out of rooms. Unless you all eat separately, you are forced together at the dinner table. I do not want to add to, or join in with their row. I have no personal views on Les, or his moving in, or nothing that springs to mind right now anyway. No doubt there will be plenty of sneering bile spilling from my pen later on, especially if I get drunk at the party. But right now I am silent, and I eat, and before I fucking know it, I have eaten the lot. All of it. The whole dinner. I have not eaten an entire meal in over a month. I am sickened and horrified, and I want to jump up and shove back my chair and point to my empty plate and scream at them; look what the fuck you made me do!
But I don’t do this, of course. I get up, guiltily and shamefully, and I wipe my mouth, and already I can feel the vile heaviness in my belly, stretching it out over my waistband, and I excuse myself, and leave them to it. I go up to my room and get changed, and only look in the mirror long enough to put mascara on, and a slick of lip gloss, and then I poke my head around the door and interrupt their fury long enough to tell them I am going to Marianne’s and sleeping the night.
I leave the house, wretched tears in eyes, and decide right away that I better jog. It is my only hope. Try to burn it off. Try to cancel it out. I pick up my pace and jog across the estate, and over the fields to Marianne’s house. I feel like an idiot in every possible way. In fact I want to slap myself in the face, if I am honest World. I want to go back in time and be more disciplined. My body is full of violence as I tear across the fields.
Half an hour later, I am feeling calmer again, as Marianne’s parents have left us to it, so we are helping ourselves to their well-stocked liquor cabinet. They have gone out, dressed up smart, to some dinner party somewhere. I want to laugh at this, and Marianne cannot understand why. “Don’t think my parents ever went to a dinner party in their lives,” is all the explanation I can give her. She frowns at me as she snatches the vodka from the cabinet. “Just piss ups and parties,” I shrug. This means nothing to her.
“Drink up,” she says, and pushes a glass of vodka and lemonade into my hand. We slump and sprawl across the sofas in the living room. She puts on one of her dads records. She is dressed for the party in black trousers, black vest, and a silver cardigan. “So where’s Joe?” she asks me. “You two are usually joined at the hip.”
“He had to go home for some reason. I think he’s meeting us there with Ryan and Josh.”
“Ooh, we have to enter the party alone? Could be scary.”
“Well we’ll be fashionably late,” I suggest. “That way they’ll be there already.”
“So Joe’s brothers invite us to say thanks? For not calling the police on them or whatever?” I shrug at her, because I really don’t know.
“I think so.”
“Weird,” she says, narrowing her eyes, and she is right. I glance sideways at her and I really want to ask her about her arms, and tell her about my meal, but all I do is sigh, and look down at my feet. My ankles are crossed, and all I can think is that my trainers are in pretty shoddy shape, and when I get to the party I am going to kick them off somewhere and go barefoot. “I find it all very intriguing you know,” Marianne says then, curling her little legs up under her on the sofa, and holding her glass in one hand, whilst the fingers of her other hand trace circular motions around the rim. “Joe and his family. You’ve known them your whole life, what do you think?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, and drink more vodka.
“Well the brothers of course, and the drugs, and the other brothers, and the parents and everything! Maybe my life is just totally dull, but it does kind of fascinate me. I have no brothers or sisters remember. I just can’t imagine having that many, all in the same house. All that drama and testosterone!” She has this huge smile on her face World. Her green eyes sparkle and I realise for the first time how pretty she really is.
“Marianne, did your twin really die at birth?” I have no idea why I say this, or what I am thinking, but it just comes out. I think I am beginning to realise, that in some ways, Marianne is a lot like Joe. You can say anything to her. I have known her for a year now, and I cannot ever remember seeing her get offended or upset about anything. Either my friends are excellent at keeping their feelings well hidden, or they are simply far more balanced and positive than I am. My feelings about everything are spewed out violently all over my bedroom wall. And Joe has not noticed yet, that I have started to write on the ceiling as well. I used a chair to reach and wrote ‘I want to fly away, I want to run away, I want to go away, I want to fade away,’ up there, in a circle around the light bulb. Fucked if I know why.
“Yes, she really did,” Marianne says softly, and looks at me carefully. “Why? Didn’t you believe me?”
I shrug my shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m sorry though.” Sorry is the most useless, pointless, tedious thing you can say to someone when they’ve lost a loved one. Well, everything is really. In fact, most words are rubbish when humans speak them. Nothing ever conveys what you want it to; nothing ever gets across what you feel inside, or what you fear. There are never any words. I am beginning to realise this as I search and search to find ways to articulate how I feel. I remember when my Nana died, all the people saying sorry to each other, over and over again, that little useless word, as if they were all partly responsible for her getting old and just fading away. Sorry, sorry, sorry, what good did it ever do?
Marianne gets up suddenly, with a little gentle smile on her face, and crosses the room. She snatches a photo frame down from the massive oak bookcase that is next to the fire, and marches back to the sofa. She thrusts it at me as she plonks herself back down. “Melissa,” she says.
I take the photo frame, and I have to concentrate to make my fingers hold it properly, because suddenly they do not seem to want to work at all, and it is heavier than I expect and I fucking nearly drop it. I almost don’t want to look. The photo is of a newborn baby girl. She is wrapped tightly in a white blanket. Her eyes are closed, and she has thick black hair. You can see right away that she is dead.
I gulp, and swallow, and sort of shake my head, and I want to hand it back to her, and find some fitting, sorrowful words to say at the passing of this tiny child, who never knew life, never knew anything, but I can’t say a word, and I can’t stop looking at her. “I came out alive,” Marianne tells me. “And she came out dead.”
That just about sums it up, I suppose.
“I’m really sorry,” I say again, and hurriedly pass it back to her.
“It’s okay,” she says brightly. “It’s not like I knew her. It’s not like losing someone that is totally part of your life. I just feel fucked off about it really, you know, cheated.”
“I don’t blame you. It’s not fair. Did they know why?”
“No, no one ever knows why. Just life I suppose.”
“Your poor parents.”
“Oh I know. They act like everything is great and cool, and they do a pretty good job of it, don’t you think? But they’re not. They never have been. They missed out on her.”
I feel the intense urge to cry. In fact I feel the intense urge to wrap my arms around Marianne and try to pass on my sorrow somehow, not that she needs it, for fucks sake. She is staring at the picture, and I wonder then how many times she has sat and held it like that, sat and stared into the face of her own twin sister, who she never even knew, yet was conceived and formed alongside. It’s bizarre. It’s soul destroying. It makes me want to take my glass of vodka and hurl it at the wall.
“We should go,” she sighs finally. “Melissa won’t mind.”
Later, this strikes me as an odd thing for her to say, but right now, it is fine by me to get going. It is fine by me to put that picture back where it came from, where I had never even noticed it before. It is okay and great to be getting out of this empty, echoing home, and get our arses to a party where getting shit faced is an absolute given.
Wick Lane is just down the road from the men’s club. Handy for Hogan, I think, as we arrive, Marianne and I. Flat 12a is a ground floor council flat. Hogan and his girlfriend, who I later discover is called Fiona, have the front garden and the driveway, and the first floor tenants, who are also a young couple, have the back garden and the shed. It seems a fair divide to me, when we show up, and see the hordes of young people milling about in the front garden, smoking and drinking. Marianne takes my hand and squeezes it in excitement. I just feel bowled over.
I start searching for Joe. I don’t want to bump into Leon or Travis without him. I don’t really want to talk to anyone, until I have Joe. They are all older than us, these people. They look like they could eat us alive. Some I recognise, but most I don’t. I just slip through them, dragging Marianne with me. Inside the house it is stuffy and hot, and each room seems a stark contrast to the next. The lounge is too dark, with the curtains closed, and no lights on, and too many people bumping and grinding against each other to music. The hallway is cold and empty, with the front door hanging wide open, and a smooching couple taking up the whole doorstep. The kitchen is too light, too bright, with a huge window, and the lights all on as well, and a gaggle of people crowded around a makeshift bar. This is where I finally find Joe, and my immediate instinct is to wrap my arms around him and bury my face in his t-shirt, but I can’t do that, I know I can’t do that. Christ, they’ll all start saying I’m pregnant or something. Instead I roll my eyes at him, letting him know I have been anxious without him, and he smiles a big wide smile, a real Joe smile and reaches out to us. He is pleased to see us, I can tell.
Marianne and I allow Joe to hug and greet us. He is holding a bottle of beer in one hand, and uses his other hand to pull us close to him. “You look good! You look good!” he is saying to us excitedly, as if this has surprised him. “Let me get you a drink! I’ll get you a drink!” He is obviously drunk already, which slightly unnerves me. I don’t like being sober, when my friends are drunk. Who does?
“Any vodka?” Marianne shouts over the music. Joe holds up a finger, as in I will have a look for you, and spins around to the table, the bar, behind him. I look around, rubbing at my arm with my hand. Ryan and Josh come bounding in at that moment, knocking into us and nearly sending Marianne flying. Ryan and Josh are in the same year at school as us, and apparently they are already drunk as well.
“How long have you guys been here?” I ask Ryan suspiciously, as Josh throws an arm around Joe and starts trying to get him into a headlock. Ryan is extremely tall and thin, with a host of amusing nicknames that have followed him about since infant’s school; beanpole and lanky streak of piss being the most repeated ones. He has been learning to play the guitar for the past two years, and is now utterly convinced that if he, Josh and Joe start a band together, it will sound good. This is despite the fact that Josh and Joe have only just started having music lessons, and do not own any instruments. I know, pretty funny hey? Ryan has white blonde hair, a long, angular face and bright blue eyes. He lives with his mum and younger sister in a council flat and she lets him do whatever the hell he wants, and always has done.
“Got wrecked at mine first,” he explains, lolling all over me, and I should have known this was the case. “But they got plenty here! Look, you can help yourselves!” he leans against me, hugging me to his bony side, and swiping his arm across the air in a gesture towards the copious amount of alcohol that has been laid out on the kitchen side. Joe finally shakes Josh off, and turns back to Marianne and I with our drinks. I taste mine and immediately grimace. There is way more vodka than coke. Joe holds up his bottle of beer.
“To a great night!” he roars, clinking his bottle into my glass, and then into Marianne’s. I smile, drink my vodka and try to ignore the uneasy feeling that rests in the pit of my belly.
“I’m gonna’ pull tonight,” Josh states, and necks the rest of his beer. I just shake my head at Marianne. Josh wears glasses, and reminds me of Harry Potter. He is just small, and gangly, and awkward looking, and his mother is extremely overbearing and overprotective; the complete opposite to Ryan’s. If he thinks he is capable of pulling, when apart from Marianne and I, the rest of the girls here are older than him, I mean practically women, for Christ’s sake, then he’s drunker and more delusional than I first thought. I look around us, holding my vodka, and wonder for the first time, what the hell we are all doing here. We look like twelve year olds compared to this lot. Worse than that, we look like we’ve been brought in as the fucking entertainment or something, the fucking bait for when these animals get really hungry later. I shiver, and drink more vodka, and try to calm myself down.
We huddle together in the kitchen, feeling too small and young to venture further. We make full use of the supposedly free bar. No one seems to notice or care that we help ourselves. Marianne and I stick to the vodka, as that is what we started on, but Joe and the boys drink anything they can get their hands on, and it isn’t long before all three of them are steaming drunk. Every now and again I spot Leon or Travis, walking past the kitchen, or hanging around in the hallway. Leon, as usual, pays us no attention whatsoever. We do not even register on his radar, which is fine by me. But Travis looks over at us sometimes, and gives the odd lazy smile.
“It’s gonna’ sound like REM,” Ryan is leaning into Joe and telling him, in a loud, drunk voice that makes me cringe. Marianne and I have hopped up onto the side, as this seems safer. We are out of the way of the increasingly drunken people who keep bumping into us as if we are invisible, and we are up off the floor, which has puddles of alcohol all over it. “But rockier…like The Black Keys, but like REM, ‘cause I really like REM, they’re like my favourite probably, but sometimes they’re not rocky enough for me, do you know what I mean?”
“So how’s it gonna’ sound like REM?” I feign interest and ask Ryan.
“Well,” Ryan lifts his head, which looks like it is getting difficult for him now, and tries to focus his eyes on me. “Because Lou, because of the lyrics, that’s how. The lyrics are gonna’ be shit hot, ‘cause they’re gonna’ really mean something, you know what I mean?”
“Will it make me want to dance?” Marianne questions.
“It will make you want to puke,” I whisper to her.
“Yeah, dance,” Ryan nods emphatically at us. “Dance around like you’re in a mosh pit, yeah? Leaping around, that kind of thing. Not dance like fucking pop music, or anything. Not like that.”
“Can we be your groupies?” Marianne asks him, and his eyes bulge and his mouth drops open.
“Oh yeah,” he nods again. “Oh yeah, course you can. Only if you wear skimpy clothes though!”
“It’s a deal,” she grins at him, and drinks more vodka. I wonder if she is close to her limit yet. There is a line that she never crosses, and it must be getting close.
“So have you got a name yet?” I wonder, rolling my eyes at Joe, who is leaning next to me. I start to run my fingers through his hair. This is not in a pervy way though World, just so you know, not at all, it’s just something that I like to do. He has extremely soft hair for a boy, and you can really play with it. You can move the parting about, spike it up, and squash it flat, because it’s thick, without being coarse or wiry.
“Crash Landing is one idea,” Ryan tells us, looking to Josh and Joe for support, but they just look totally out of it to me. “What was the other one? Oh yeah, The Maggots.”
I burst out laughing at this one. I just can’t help it. The fucking maggots? Do they have no self-worth? Surely it’s for other people to judge them as maggots? Joe and Marianne laugh at the fact I find this funny, but in his drunken stupor, Ryan seems genuinely hurt.
“Can you think of something better then?”
“No, stick with The Maggots,” I tell him, giggling. “You’re onto a winner with that one.”
“I like Crash Landing,” Joe tells me sleepily. I pull his hair back and frown into his face.
“Can you even play anything yet you slimy maggot?”
“Course I can. I’m the drummer.”
“Oh trust you to get the easy bit!”
“Easy? It’s not easy bitch. It looks easy. But it’s not easy, is it Ryan?”
I just laugh, and hop down from the side, because I am suddenly dying for the toilet. I pat Joe on the shoulder reassuringly as I pass him. “Sitting on your arse, and banging about, yeah, that sounds really hard to me!” He makes a face at me.
I am obviously drunk now, because I walk out of that kitchen, and start hunting for the toilet, as if I fucking own the place. Being inebriated really does give you a unique kind of confidence. Ordinarily if you were to walk about in society, and suddenly couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, or couldn’t walk without having to hold onto the wall, and your clothes were all skew whiff and your hair was all a mess, you wouldn’t exactly be glowing with courage, would you? You would think what the fuck are they doing letting me out, and you would run home to hide. But when you are pissed, you’re a bloody walking mess of pathetic human delusions, and yet you feel great about it! More than that, you want to show it off, and you have the adamant belief that everyone else will think you are shit hot too. It’s bizarre. But you can sort of understand why certain people become alcoholics World.
So I wobble and stagger out of the kitchen, and away from the safety of my little group, and I do not care one bit. I have to keep one hand flat against the wall as I walk, partly so I don’t trip up, and partly so I don’t get lost, because the place suddenly seems far more complicated now. I have to kind of stare at my feet as they walk, have you ever done that? Really stare at them to make sure they are doing what I tell them to do. I pass people, and I even touch them, which is something I normally loathe, but I have to touch them, otherwise I can’t get past them.
I finally locate the toilet, but there is a queue. So I lean back against the wall, and promptly knock a framed picture off its hook. “Oh fuck!” I say, and bend over to pick it up. “Whoops sorry,” I say to no one, and hang it back on its hook. The girl in front of me is smoking, and smiles at me.
“I just did that too,” she says. That’s okay then. We hear the toilet flush and another girl comes out of it, looking a bit worse for wear. I vaguely recognise her from school, a few years above us though, and her blonde hair is all over her face, and she is wiping at her mouth apologetically.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, but I am not sure whom she is saying it to. “Bit of a mess in there.”
The smoking girl just shrugs and goes on in. I move up. My turn next. Someone bumps into me, hard, as I am waiting, and I turn to glare at him or her, feeling my first wave of drunken aggression, and nearly tell him or her to fucking watch it. But it is Travis.
He is wearing a black shirt, which is open, and a white t-shirt underneath and for some reason I have to take an extra breath then, just looking at him like that. He is smiling at me, and holding two bottles of beer. “You all right?” he says over the music, which has got steadily louder. I narrow my eyes at him, and in that moment, for some insane reason, I want to tell him exactly what I think of him, and Leon. How they’ve been shitty, shifty, no good brothers to Joe, and how unfair that is. How I’m glad he’s not like them, because I can trust him, and feel safe around him, and he’s also funnier and cleverer than them.
“What do you want?” I ask him instead, in a tone that suggests I dislike him intensely. He looks slightly taken back, but also amused.
“Toilet,” he says, nodding at the closed door. “Here. Take one. I’m gonna’ drop it.” He shoves one of the beer bottles at me. I don’t need any more encouragement to drink, and that is just one of many things he does not know about me. I keep my eyes on him, on the lookout for danger, and lift the beer to my lips. He does the same, then leans back against the wall, his elbow touching mine. “So you guys having a good time?” he asks me.
“Suppose so,” I shrug. “Apart from the music, which is awful.”
“You don’t like dance music?”
“I don’t like dancing, so why would I like dance music?”
“Oh. Okay. Fair enough. Lots of drinks though, eh?”
I nod, and drink more beer just to show that I agree. “So why did you invite us?” I ask him. He scratches his stubbly chin and looks bemused.
“Just thought you guys would enjoy it. You know, why not? You’re not little kids anymore, are you?”
“That’s the second time you’ve said that.”
“That we’re not little kids. Did you only just notice we’re not three?”
“Well, yeah, maybe.” Travis winks at me then, and I don’t get it, so I just shake my head at him, fold one arm across my chest and drink more beer. I want to ask him about the bag and the drugs. I want to know what they’ve done with it, and where they got it from, and what kind of people do they think they are? I want to grab him and shake him, and call him an idiot, but I can’t, so I don’t. Is it my drunken imagination, or has he moved closer to me? I bite my lip and look away, only realising now, how utterly hammered I am. But I am sure, at first, it was just his elbow poking into mine. Now his whole arm is resting heavily against mine, and he keeps staring down at me and grinning like a lunatic. I assume he is laughing at me. I gather he is taking the piss, so I turn my back on him and reach out to tap politely on the toilet door.
“Are you gonna’ be much longer?”
“Sorry!” comes the startled reply. “Got a bit sick!”
Oh no, not another one. I sigh, and shrug and lean back on the wall, and try to ignore Travis, so that he will get bored of laughing at me and just go away. He could, in all honestly, go and take a piss outside, couldn’t he? I feel drunk and aggressive and pissed off, and out of patience. He taps me on the shoulder. “What?”
“Christ, why are so always so moody?”
“I’m not! What do you want? Why are you even talking to me?”
“Why is it such a problem? I’ve known you your whole life.”
“Yeah, and you’ve never bothered talking to me before. Not unless it’s to be mean.”
Travis looks down at the floor briefly, looks to one side, then the other, while I frown at him and shake my head, and think hurry the fuck up in the toilet you dopey bitch, and then suddenly he puts his arm around my shoulder. I freeze. I am dumbfounded. I know I am pissed, but I am literally stunned into silence. I am so confused I could weep. For some reason, I start to smile, and before I know it, my smile has stretched into a grin, and I am fucking laughing. Well, good! See how he likes being laughed at for once! “What the fuck are you doing?” I laugh at him. He is smiling too, and he has a pretty fantastic smile to be honest. In that moment I kind of don’t want him to open his mouth and speak, as I am pretty sure that whatever he says will ruin it. In that moment I feel bizarrely close to him, but it’s the drink, you see World, it’s the fucking drink. That’s what it does to you sometimes. It encases you in these warm, yet fake, moments with people you barely know. With people you probably hate. You feel a warm rush for them, not of love, but of understanding and unity. But you have to remember World, it is a transient and passing thing. It is not real.
“I think you’re looking pretty hot tonight, that’s all,” he leans forward and whispers in my ear.
“Really? You must be drunker than me.”
“Why do you put yourself down so much?”
“To save other people the trouble.”
“Well I’m not taking the piss Lou, you look hot. You really do. I’m just being friendly and telling you what I think.”
I suck in a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. I think I must be fucking dreaming or something. I do not know what the fuck is going on here. Travis is looking at me in a dopey way, and there is a part of me that wants to believe him, there is a part of me that longs to believe someone like him could really like me, in that way. There are two parts fighting over my consciousness right then. The sober me, the negative me, the realistic me, poking me in the ribs and telling me to snap out of it, shove him away and storm off, because there is no way he is not taking the piss. Then the drunk and confident and brash me, doesn’t give a shit, and is telling me just to go along with this crazy unexpected shit and see what happens.
Travis keeps smiling, and so do I, while I let the two sides of me fight it out. I am not quite sure who is going to win. He keeps one arm around my shoulders, pulls me in a little closer to his chest, and then uses his other hand to stroke my arm. Okay. That’s kind of nice. But also kind of frightening, to tell you the truth. Then he goes and ruins it all, just like my real self knew he would. “I have always fancied you,” he fucking says.
Fear shoots through me. My smile falls away. This is not true. This cannot be true. He has known me since I was born, and until recently I was always fat. Chubby. Unattractive. Whatever. I know it, and he knows it, and for him to say he has always fancied me, brings the truth of this crashing in. He is up to something. I am a pawn in something; I am the butt of a joke, or something! I feel suddenly horribly self-conscious and out of my depth, and wriggle away from him. “We can’t do this,” I mutter. “Sorry.”
“What do you mean?” He looks confused. “You’re sixteen. You’re all grown up now, you know?” He strokes my arm again, and I want to believe him, I want to think he could actually mean it, but I can’t let myself believe a word he says.
“Joe,” I mumble, looking around awkwardly, wondering where he is.
“What about him?” asks Travis. “It’s time you two stopped acting like little kids, you know anyway?”
What the hell does that mean?
“This isn’t right, I don’t know what you think you’re doing.”
He suddenly moves forward, his face towards mine, and I jerk back, but not before I feel his lips brush my cheek. “What?” he asks again, throwing up his hands in exasperation. I just stare at him, blinking dumbly, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I feel totally trapped and unprepared. I want to let him kiss me, but none of this feels right. “You’re not doing anything with him, are you?”
I assume he means Joe, and I wonder what he means by anything? I feel resentful and put out then. I want to cross my arms and stamp my foot, and tell him that Joe and me do plenty of things actually. You know, like walking the dogs for our lazy parents, and drinking cider in the park for a laugh, and taking the piss out of each other and everyone else we know, just to make ourselves feel better. But somehow I don’t thing those are the kinds of things he means.
I want to cry suddenly. I am reminded of that fat little girl who just wanted to hide away, and not be seen by anyone. My mind jerks around frantically, piecing together images and voices from the last few days. My sister asking if I had lost more weight. Travis holding onto me in the bedroom, and how I had let him, and not struggled. I look up at his face and try to read every part of him then. I so want to believe he means it. I so desperately want to be the kind of girl that boys like in that way. Like the stick insects at school. Flicking their glossy hair and making the boys trip over at their feet. I feel useless tears in my eyes, when suddenly I guess Travis gets bored, and he grabs my face and presses his lips down upon mine.
I let him. Just for a moment. A second. I allow myself it. I allow myself one moment of pretence. One moment where I believe I am worthy of this attention, and this is not just a cruel piss take, and not only that, I deserve this. And then I pull quickly away from him, slapping my hand over my mouth and dropping my beer all over the floor, and that is when I see Joe. He is standing a little way back. I can see his staring face over his brother’s shoulder. He looks horrified, and he turns and runs into the kitchen.