Dear World, I have not written to you for the last two weeks, and I can’t really tell you why, except for that I didn’t have much to say. Maybe I thought I was going to be all right on my own. But things are still concerning me World, and my wall is still overflowing with it all, so if you could bear to listen a little longer, I will fill you in.
So guess what? I now weigh eight and a half stone, and I am a size ten. This is like a miracle to me. This is like a dream. A fantasy. Something I have yearned for my entire life, yet never believed would truly happen. My mum seems pleased when I tell her I have reached my goal weight and size, and she ruffles my hair and tells me how beautiful I am, and how proud she is of me. But she looks anxious when I tell her I really, really need new clothes again. She even rolls her eyes, and lets out this big heavy sigh. It’s as if she expects me to go around in trousers that keep falling down. Tops that hang off me like tents. How would she like that? She says she will have a word with dad about some money, because she has none.
In the end though, I don’t need either of their money. Joe takes me shopping in town, and we drag Marianne along for the fun. She always has money, but never seems to want to buy anything, except music and books. Joe shoves me into New Look and stands about awkwardly, telling me to hurry up and choose something. I choose two new tops, both closer fitting than I would ever have dared to buy before, and a short denim skirt, and some rather small shorts. I try them all on with Marianne, and for the first time in my life, when I look in the mirror in the changing room, I honestly, genuinely like what I see. I smile, and Marianne smiles at me smiling. “You look lovely in all of them,” she tells me, and I feel tremendous. I feel on top of the world. I feel like I was right. Everything is all right now that I am slim.
I mean, it should be shouldn’t it world?
Joe insists I have all of them. He pays the girl at the till with cash. I swap looks with Marianne, and she just grins. She knows what he’s up to for his brothers, but typically, she gets off on the thought of the danger, and thinks it’s all cool. I thank him with a kiss on the cheek, and we all link arms and head to a café for a milkshake. Joe pays again, and Marianne spends most of the time fiddling with her phone and making us repeat the parts of the conversation she has missed.
After that we wander down to the quay, and this time Marianne puts her hand in her pocket and buys us all an ice cream. All the schools break up today, so we are reminded that this is the last time for six weeks that we will have all the parks, the fields and so on, to ourselves. Soon enough there will be screaming brats and stressed out parents in our way wherever we go. Joe groans that he will be expected to watch Tommy and Will even more, and asks us to remind him he needs to be home by four o’clock at the latest, as his first babysitting duty commences at that time. We determine we must enjoy this last day of total freedom. “We’ll do whatever it takes!” Marianne informs us brightly. Only six weeks left now until we go back to school. It’s a horribly grim thought and drapes me in a momentary cloak of depression.
Marianne invites us back to her house, so my mood lifts again in curiosity. As usual, her parents are not at home. While she puts the kettle on to make us all a cup of tea, Joe spreads his cigarette papers out on the large oak table, and starts to roll a joint. “Yippee, great idea,” Marianne enthuses. I say nothing. I think he has been getting his little tin out far too much lately, but who am I to tell him this? He has a lot he wants to escape from, I guess. He has a lot he wants to block out. We take our cups of tea out to the garden. Marianne grabs a packet of chocolate chip cookies and brings these too. She leads us down to the summerhouse, which is beautiful. “I could live in here,” I tell her, as we pull out the deck chairs and set them up inside.
“I’ve kind of adopted it lately,” she grins. She has certainly put her teenage stamp on it, I think, as I look around. There are posters stuck on the walls, and she has shoved all her dad’s packets of seeds and gardening tools into a cardboard box on the floor. She has set up a little radio and she stands and fiddles with this, while Joe sinks into a chair and lights his joint.
“I could pay you rent,” I say, sitting down next to Joe and gazing around me. The summerhouse is gorgeous; it is painted white, and looks like a little log cabin. Marianne laughs, finds a station she likes on the radio, and passes us our teas. “I am not joking,” I tell her. “I really could. When the shit hits the fan at my house, I am moving in here, I’m telling you.”
“Me too!” agrees Joe, smiling widely.
“We won’t even tell you,” I go on. “You’ll just come down here one day and find us here. We’ll claim squatter’s rights and everything. You’ll never be able to get rid of us.”
“I won’t mind that,” Marianne says, shrugging her tiny shoulders. She has been brave enough to ditch the long sleeves today. She would have melted in this heat. She is wearing tiny black shorts, and a deep purple vest top. The scars on her arms stand out like tiny white and pink flecks, like her skin is mottled and covered in veins. I try not to look too long, but there is one new one on her right wrist, that looks pretty nasty. The scabs are huge. She seems happy though, I think, looking at her face. She seems fine. Like nothing in this world can touch her. “I’d like the company,” she tells us, and then she holds her cup of tea out to me, indicating that we clink cups. I oblige, and Joe holds his out too. “To you, Lou,” Marianne says sweetly. “Well done on the new you.”
“Yeah, well done,” Joe agrees with a snort. “Though I still say you looked fine before.”
I shake my head at Marianne. “Yeah, right.”
“Well I thought that too,” she says, “but it’s what Lou thinks and feels. That’s what important. It doesn’t matter if other people tell you that you look great, does it? If you don’t believe it yourself.” I nod in agreement. Joe makes a face at us, drags for the third time on his joint and passes it my way. I take it.
“So this is a celebration?” he asks, sitting back in his chair, looking very chilled out and relaxed.
“Yes I think it is,” replies Marianne, her eyes on the spliff and me. “A celebration of Lou’s hard work.”
“Well I think you’re both stupid if you really believe any of that shit matters,” Joe says to us. Marianne frowns at him and crosses her thin little arms.
“It matters to Lou,” she tells him.
“But it doesn’t really matter,” he argues. “You know, in the grand scheme of things, that’s all I’m saying. I think Lou looks great, yeah, but I thought she looked great before as well. I’m not going to encourage her to go along with all that superficial shit.”
“I am here you know,” I speak up, exhaling, and passing the joint onto Marianne.
“Not if you get any thinner,” says Joe. I laugh at him, but I do feel slightly annoyed at him really. It’s like he’s pissing on my celebration, making a mockery of my achievement.
“Oh Joe,” Marianne sighs, smiling lazily at him, and evidently enjoying her turn with the joint very much indeed. “We can’t expect you to understand, being a male. You can’t possibly understand what girls have to put up with.”
“Oh yeah, like what?”
“The whole society that surrounds us! Everything! It’s all geared towards looks and sexiness, isn’t it? For girls. All the magazine, all the TV shows, the pop stars, everything. You’re made to feel fat if you’re any bigger than any of them.”
Joe gives her a look of pure contempt and drinks his tea, shaking his head slowly. “Crap,” he mutters.
“No, she’s right,” I butt in. “It is like that, you know. It’s not like that for boys. You don’t have to care what you look like.”
“Neither do you! You don’t have to.”
“Oh he doesn’t understand does he?” Marianne touches my bare knee with her little pale hand and smiles at me as if we share a secret.
“No, he doesn’t understand.”
“You’re both so stupid,” Joe leans back in his chair and tells us. He has his legs crossed at the ankles, and I look him up and down. He is wearing old jeans with grass stains around the knees and a Rolling Stones t-shirt that he’s had since he was about fourteen.
“How are we stupid?” I ask.
“You’re stupid if you think any of that stuff matters. All this weighing yourself every ten minutes, and starving yourself just so you can be a fucking size ten? What’s that about you moron? You’re you! It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, you loser.” The scorn that he drips onto me is never-ending and vicious and I can’t help but love him for it. “Idiots,” he tells us again. “Brainwashed. Think you’re modern feminists, but you’re not, you’re sheep!”
Marianne stands up for me. I don’t have to say a word. She launches a counter attack in her deadpan, emotionless voice, staring Joe right in the eye and refusing to release him. “It’s not her fault,” she says, neatly excluding herself from his insults. “She’s a product of this male dominated, consumerist society. Look at every ideal that has ever been forced upon her, from fucking Barbie dolls, to princesses in fairy tales, to all the famous people who are all fucking skinny. Go to your mums shop now Joe. Look at the covers of the celebrity magazine. So and so and their magical weight loss! Diet shame! Who’s lost and who’s gained? People scrutinising every pound they lose or gain. Cut her some slack Joe. It’s hammered into girls from the moment they are born. It matters what you look like. Boys can roll in the mud, and have torn clothes, and get their food all over their faces, but girls can’t, because it does matter what you look like. Bollocks if you think any different.”
Joe raises his eyebrows in calm surprise, looks to me, and starts to laugh. I start to laugh too. I can’t help it. “I’m not saying you’re not wrong,” he tries to speak over his own giggling. “I’m not saying I don’t agree with you on that.”
“Shut up then,” Marianne tells him curtly. “Don’t try to have opinions on things you don’t understand.”
“I just don’t want you to go along with it,” he tells her, his shoulders still shaking with laughter. Marianne is smiling silently. “Don’t fall for it!”
I am laughing so much, and I am not really sure why, or what at, that I lean back too far in my deck chair and the fucking thing suddenly collapses under me. I hit the floor with a bang, and they stare at me in amazement, before bursting into hysterical laughter. “What a bunch of fucking freaks we are!” I say to them from the floor, where I am so weak from laughter that I have no fucking chance of getting back up again.
“Speak of yourself!” Joe yells at me.
I point a finger at him. “You and your drugs you fucking stoner!” I point at Marianne, “you and your cutting, and me and my weight obsession. Fucking bunch of freaks!”
“She’s right,” Marianne is smiling at Joe and nodding. The joint is on its way around again, and she opens the cookies up as well.
“I’m surprised we’re not beaten up on a daily basis at school,” I manage to croak, trying to pull myself together.
“Me too,” says Marianne, holding out the cookies to me. I take one, thinking oh what the hell, it won’t suddenly make me fat again. I am ravenous. I get onto my knees, give up on standing, or sorting the chair out, and eat my cookie.
“We should be dead meat every day,” Joe agrees with me.
“It’s only because of your family,” I tell him. “Everyone knows how hard they are. No one will mess with you because of them.”
“True,” he nods. “That’s one thing to thank them for I suppose.”
I stay where I am on the floor, which I realise I seem to be doing a lot of lately. It just seems easier, that way. I finish my tea, take two more cookies from Marianne, and tell myself it is a reward for fitting into my wonderful new size ten clothes. The warmth of satisfaction fills me again, and I feel giddy, and girlish, and brimming with happy confidence. I know deep down that Joe is right. It is superficial to care about such things. It is sad to want to be like everyone else. But it is easy for him to say. He has good genes, looks wise. He has always looked good, damn him.
Plus, he’s a boy. He doesn’t know what it’s like to look in the mirror and see every little flaw. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be name called for being fat by your own stinking family. I feel a closeness to Marianne then, which I have never experienced before. I want to be alone with her, even. I want Joe and his good looks to sod off and leave us alone. She understands. She’s tiny and skinny, but she is odd looking, and she cuts herself up, and I don’t really understand why or what sadness drives her to do it.
I roll onto my side, and find myself gazing up at her strange, calm little face. I think we ought to get a bit drunk one night and have a conversation. Take things a little deeper. Right now is not a good time though. I feel sleepy again. I put my head down on my arms, and close my eyes, and listen to the conversation going on between Joe and Marianne.
I wake up suddenly when one of them kicks me in the backside. They start giggling immediately. I roll onto my back and glare at them. “You fell asleep,” Joe tells me. He is on his feet; hands on hips and grinning down at me like an idiot. Marianne is stood next to him, looking even tinier from where I am lying on the floor.
“Really?” I ask, hoping my tone is as laced with sarcasm as I intend it to be. I feel groggy and light-headed. “Was I?”
“Been out for ages,” Marianne giggles. “We thought we better leave you to it. You obviously needed the kip!”
“It’s the lack of calories,” Joe says, faking concern, nodding his head at Marianne. I roll my eyes and sit up.
“Shut it idiot. You could have left me alone.”
“I need to go,” he replies. “Back to look after the little shits, remember?”
I groan again, feeling rushed and irritable. “Is it that time already?”
“Okay, okay.” I haul myself slowly to my feet and pick up my shopping bag from the floor.
“You don’t have to come too,” Joe points out. “I’m just telling you I got to go.”
“No, it’s okay, it’s okay, I’ll help you,” I say with a yawn, and we head out of the door together, while Marianne remains inside the summerhouse. “What else am I gonna’ do? Go home?”
“Bye Marianne,” Joe calls back to her. “Thanks a lot.”
“Oh yeah, thanks,” I say over my shoulder. She just watches us go, and nods her head once. It is not until I am on the front driveway that I realise what I bitch I have just been. Why didn’t we ask her to come too? I flick my hand out at Joe, slapping him on the arm.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Forget it,” I say grumpily. I look back at the house as we leave. Why didn’t I stay with her? God, I am a bitch. I could have stayed with her. Oh Christ. I decide to chat to her properly next time I see her. Or maybe text her later. I remember my thought about getting a bit pissed and grilling her about a few things, and I nod to myself. I am definitely going to do this. I am going to make more of an effort with her. She’s actually pretty cool.
“Good day, wasn’t it?” Joe says, as we start across the sun-parched fields towards his house. He links his arm through mine and I swing my New Look bag back and forth as we walk.
“Yeah,” I grin. “It was a really good day. Thanks so much Joe, for the clothes.”
“You’re welcome Carling. You look good in them.”
“You ought to spend some of the money on yourself though. You’re the one earning it.” He looks at me and rolls his eyes and shakes his slim shoulders with a little laugh.
“It doesn’t scare you yet? Not at all?”
He looks down at the ground as he kicks along. “Not really, no.”
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“I just get on with it,” he grins at me, as if he is talking about mowing the lawn, or washing the car or something.
We turn into his road, and walk slowly up to his house. I am not relishing the thought of helping baby-sit Tommy and Will, but I am less keen on going home. Sara is not at dads anymore. I knew that wouldn’t last long. They are just as fiery and outspoken as each other. She has moved in with her boyfriend Rich, who she has been going out with for nine months. Mum and dad are both concerned and angry about this, and so poor Les is practically living under the fucking bed. I just can’t be witness to it World, I just can’t!
We are grinning and feeling stupidly warm and fuzzy and at ease as we open the front door and go into the hallway. But almost instantly, that feeling changes. There is something wrong. My body knows it, and Joe’s body knows it too. There are four silent faces staring at us from the lounge. Tommy and Will are nowhere in sight. Joe and I hesitate in the hallway, our smiles falling away, our eyes meeting, our bodies stiffening with caution.
It is Mick that moves and speaks first. He gets up from the sofa where he has been sat rigidly beside Lorraine. Leon and Travis are behind the sofa, Leon looking shifty and nervous, and Travis even more so. I feel the urge to reach out and hold Joe’s hand.
Lorraine rises from the sofa behind Mick. Her face is pinched and scowling, her eyes are blazing. She cannot wait to explode. Mick thrusts his hand towards Joe and I in the hallway where we have frozen. We can see his open palm is full of what look like scrunched up fag ends. A horrible realisation floods me then. I feel my skin turn cold. I do reach out for Joe. I slip my hand around his arm, just above his elbow.
Mick’s wrinkled up, bashed in face is a mask of barely contained rage. “Are these yours?” he demands.