Dear World, well the rest of the week is a shitter. I only get through it by thinking about Friday. About me and Joe, Marianne, alcohol and a huge fucking party. My mum watches everything that I eat, and clicks her tongue and rolls her eyes every time I go out of the door for a jog. “Don’t get any skinnier,” she warns me time and time again, as if it is somehow up to her how thin or fat I am. “Size ten is small enough. You don’t want to be any thinner than that.” I don’t know what to say to her half the time. How does she know what I want to be? Why does it matter to her? I just want to be healthy for gods sake.
The strange thing is, I have reached my target weight, my target dress size, and all that. This is where I am meant to be, this is who I wanted to be. But somehow it doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. Instead I feel restless, and on edge. I feel like I can’t relax, or take my eye of the scales, or the fat will find its way back to me. Insane and laughable, I know, but I can’t seem to help it. I am starting to panic about every little thing I eat. I am starting to worry if my runs are long enough to cancel out what I have consumed. I am starting to view all meals with suspicion and caution. It is getting harder and harder to satisfy my mother, without panicking myself into a right old state. Instead of feeling happy, I am wound up and tense. I am verging on an argument with almost everyone. I feel a kind of anger and frustration spinning around inside of me that I just cannot pinpoint or understand. The only time I feel good, the only time I feel truly at ease and free, is when I am running. I feel like I am running away from it all World, that’s how it feels, but you know what? I’m not really am I? I’m just running in circles.
Food is increasingly disgusting to me. Especially the remnants of it. The leftovers. The smears and crusts on last night’s dinner plates. It’s just vile. It gets to the point when I can barely stand going into the kitchen, in case I see an unwashed plate, or a cereal bowl filled with uneaten brown mush. Ugh, it’s awful. That’s when you realise what you have really eaten, when you see the remnants of it like that. The way tomato sauce darkens and hardens, and you have to scrape it off the plate. It makes my stomach turn over. Takeaways are even worse. I won’t go near these anyway, but mum and Les designate Friday as their takeaway night, and Saturday mornings now reek of stagnant curry, or cold fish and chips. I can barely stomach the hallway, let alone the kitchen, where I can see the stained plastic containers, and the plate all the leftovers have been shovelled onto. Looks like a plate full of worms and maggots. It makes me heave.
I feel like I am going privately insane. I start to scrawl longer and longer ramblings on my wall, none of which make any sense. They just serve to express the way I am feeling. I write about food I have eaten and how it has looked, smelt and tasted to me. I don’t know why I do this World, or what purpose it serves. I feel alone and scared when I think about how much I used to love chocolate as a child, and how much it horrifies me now. I bury my head in my arms and sob more than once that week, I can tell you. The misery of it, the panic and the fear, the self-loathing, it makes me want to punch myself in the face. It makes me want to smash my fist into the wall, just so I can feel something else for a change. More and more I think of Marianne, and her razor blade, and wonder what it is she is escaping from when she does it to herself.
Joe is busy with the brats, the dog from hell, and housework. He is looking forward to letting loose on Friday as much as me, so he does it all for them, he keeps his head down and gets on with it. He goes back to being their servant, their whipping boy, and their good middle child who never complains nor gives them reason to worry. I seethe on his behalf. I cannot wait until Friday night. I feel like it will somehow be ours. We will get ours. Whatever the fuck that means.
Marianne sails through the week on a cloud of excitement. She buys more food, more decorations, more everything. She spends hours going through all of our CD collections, trying to decide on an order of play for the night. She even half considers hiring a DJ, just to get it right, but I remind her that there is no way her neighbours would not complain about this. I find myself at her house almost every day that week, just watching her, just taking her in, trying to work her out. I have a lot on my mind, so I don’t say much, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She just swans about and chatters constantly, and rings lists of people to check and recheck that they are still coming. She helps me decide what to wear, and we spend one bizarre afternoon trying to straighten our hair with her new hair straighteners. It seems insane. It is like ironing your hair, for fucks sake. Your hair gets so hot it scalds you to touch it. But I must admit, it makes me look totally and utterly different. For some reason, I almost smile at my reflection in the mirror when she has finished experimenting. My hair looks longer, thinner, straighter and glossier. It looks blonder. I struggle to recognise myself, and even this makes me want to fucking cry. Where did I go, I wonder, where did I go?
Thursday night I receive a phone call from Joe. “Got to make a delivery tonight,” he hisses down the phone at me. “Are you up for it?”
“Why not?” I sigh back at him. “Usual place, usual time?”
“Yep. Thanks Carling.”
After the phone call, I find myself lying on my back on my bed, staring at the ceiling, while my hands caress my hip bones, my stomach, my ribs. It has an almost hypnotic effect on me. I go through what I have eaten today, like a list in my head. Breakfast, coffee and an apple, and a flapjack that I took from the tin to please mum, but then fed to Gremlin when she went out to hang out the washing. Lunch, mum was at work so I just had a yoghurt, a coffee, and two mints. Dinner, mum cooked Les’s favourite shepherds pie. I joined them, but sulked. I pushed my food around, and I dropped bits under the table for the dog. I ate about half, then felt grotesque, and came up to my room for a cry. I punched my pillows and pretended they were my mum’s face, for making me eat that much shit.
Now I feel calm, stroking my fingers across my pelvic bone. I close my eyes and try to see the old me in my head. The chubby one. The chunky one. The one who liked her food. Oh she loves her food, mum used to say proudly to relatives. Never have any trouble feeding her; she’s not fussy at all, no. You’re bigger boned than your sister, people used to say. You’ve got puppy fat. You’ll grow taller and stretch out. You’ve just developed earlier. It’s puppy fat. You’re just a different build than your sister. Last Christmas, Maria’s oldest son James, looking at me like I was a piece of shit on his shoe and saying; is that arse all yours, or have you borrowed someone else’s? Fuck them, I think now. Fuck them all. I clench my teeth. It serves me well to remember these things.
That night I meet Joe and we head to the bridge. “Someone you know?” I ask him as usual. He looks unsure.
“It’s the one who got funny.”
I shoot a dark look at him. “What?”
Joe looks troubled and embarrassed, and has difficulty meeting my gaze. “Well I think it is,” he shrugs. “I kind of forgot his name.”
“Oh Joe,” I say, slipping my arm through his, and automatically looking around me, into the darkness. “Is this a good idea? What if it is the same one? What if he gets funny again?”
“I’m not handing anything over until he gives the money,” Joe replies, nodding his head at me, as if trying to convince himself. “That’s what Leon said. Make them pay first. Any one of them could take the stuff and leg it.”
“Oh God, I’m worried,” I tell him, helplessly. “I don’t think we should do it.”
“I can’t back out,” Joe shakes his head. “But you don’t have to come. Or you can wait at the bottom of the steps?”
“I can’t let you go up there alone,” I argue. “Oh Christ Joe, are you sure about this? Are you really sure this will be okay?”
“It’s okay,” he tells me. “It will be okay.”
I have no choice but to believe in him. We keep our arms linked; we keep close together, and start to head up the steps. Joe is peering into the darkness, trying to distinguish the figure we can just make out up on the bridge. I can see it is a bloke, a bit on the weighty side, and taller than Joe. He is smoking a cigarette and walking across the bridge towards us. “That him?” I whisper to Joe.
“Still not sure,” Joe whispers back. I look back at the bloke on the bridge. He has that way of walking that makes me think he is trying to look hard. That side-to-side swagger. Leon does it. All tough guys do it. Mick does it too. It’s a ‘don’t mess with me strut’, and I find it menacing and a bad omen. He shows no sign of slowing down, as he comes upon us, and sucks the last drag from his cigarette before hurling the butt over the side of the bridge and onto the road below. I look tentatively at Joe and see him swallowing nervously. I think again to myself, why does he have to do this? Why? Why is he so hell-bent on putting himself through this? Is it really for the money, or is it all just to impress his brothers? The bloke stuffs his hands into the pockets of his dark tracksuit top. He has a hooded top under it, and the hood pulled up over his head. He instantly sticks his hand out to Joe, practically thrusts it aggressively into his face. Joe moves back slightly.
“All right mate?” he asks.
“Yeah,” the man says quickly, irritably. “Come on then,” he nods at his own hand, stuck out towards Joe. Joe swallows.
“Money first mate,” I hear him say. It all kicks off then. It happens so fast I am shocked into a dumb stupor. The man on the bridge kind of grunts a laugh at Joe, then seizes him by the front of his top, and shoves him back into the railing, pushing him back as far as he can go. “Hey!” Joe calls out in surprise, but there is nothing he can do to free himself. I am frozen to the spot in fear. I watch the guy search Joe’s pockets quickly and expertly, and it becomes horribly obvious to me then that he knows exactly what he is doing, and has in fact planned it all. “Oi!” Joe shouts again, and I see the guy shove something into his own pocket. He then thumps Joe in the stomach and lets him fall. He turns and walks away, without even looking at me. I am stunned and horrified. I watch him go. Then I look back at Joe, slumped against the railing, grimacing and gripping hold of his belly. “Fucks sake!” he is grunting at me. I kneel down next to him. I can feel tears in my eyes.
“Oh my God, are you okay?”
“We have to get the money!” he hisses, grabbing hold of the railing and hauling himself up to his feet. I stand in front of him and hold him back.
“Lou, he didn’t give the money!”
“I know that, I fucking know that, and you are not going after him!” I have one arm around his waist, and my other hand holding onto his arm. If he decides to run after that psycho, he is going to have to drag me along with him. He rubs his belly and pants in pain, and wipes his hair back from his forehead angrily.
“Fucks sake!” he cries again. “Fucking bastard!”
“It was gonna’ happen sooner or later,” I tell him, and start to shove him back towards the steps. “Let’s just get out of here, let’s go. Let’s never fucking do this again!”
“Joe, no! He could have fucking thrown you over!” I scream at him suddenly then, giving him a harder shove towards the steps. “I thought he was going to throw you over!”
“Jesus Christ,” I hear Joe mutter, as he stumbles reluctantly down the first few steps. I am in a panic. I am looking back over my shoulder into the darkness, totally convinced that thug is going to come back and have another go. I cannot get down those steps fast enough. I just cling onto his arm and drag him along. He looks properly pissed off, never mind scared like me, just really pissed off.
We reach the bottom step, and I start to breathe a little easier, but all the same, I have had enough of this shit. I keep hold of Joe’s arm, and march us towards home, looking back over my shoulder every now and again. I try to remember the guys face, in case I need to, but his hood, and the shadows mostly hid it. I can feel this awful, tight knot of dread in my stomach. It is making me feel ill. I keep looking at Joe, and maybe he is trying to save face, being male and everything, because he is just slouching along, hands in pockets, face dark. “Fuck’s sake,” he says through his teeth as we round the corner to his road.
“Was it the same guy as before?” I ask him then. He shrugs and nods at the same time.
“Guess he saw me coming, hey?”
“You didn’t stand a chance,” I sigh, trembling now. “And I don’t even like to think about what could have happened if I hadn’t been there!”
“It’s all right,” he says then softly, and stops walking. He turns to face me, and looks utterly bereft. “What a pain in the arse. What a stupid prick.” I am not sure if he means the guy on the bridge, or him. He rolls his eyes up to the night sky for a moment. “Can’t believe he did that.”
I glance over to his house. Leon’s car is parked out the front, and the headlights are gleaming. Joe follows my gaze and releases a heavy sigh. “Oh great. Now this is going to be even more fun.”
“I’ll come with you,” I say quickly. “I’ll tell him what happened. It’s his own fucking fault! He should be doing his own dirty work!”
“Come on then,” Joe says and starts walking towards the car. I squint into the glare of the headlights. I cannot tell if Leon is alone or not. As we near the car, the engine shuts off and the lights go out. The driver’s door opens and Leon climbs out, lighting a cigarette. He slams the door shut and nods at us as we approach.
“Hard night at it?” he asks, amiably enough for him. Joe and I look at each other, and the knot of fear in my stomach tightens dramatically. I almost feel that I cannot breathe.
“Shit,” Joe tells him, stopping next to the car. I keep my arm linked through his, and watch Leon’s dark eyes flick down to me, then back to Joe’s face. He sucks on his cigarette and breathes the smoke over his brother’s head. He is waiting. “Really shit,” Joe says then, biting his lip.
Leon does that thing where he spreads his legs, and squares up. He is frowning at Joe, waiting. “What?” he prompts when Joe is reluctant.
“That guy that was funny last time,” Joe tells him, hardly managing to meet his eyes. “It was him, and he didn’t pay. He robbed me.”
I watch Leon’s eyes grow wider, and his mouth tightens, his forehead creases.
“He nearly threw Joe over the bridge,” I speak up quickly, and Leon’s dark eyes switch to meet mine. “He just grabbed him and punched him.”
“He took the stuff and ran,” Joe shrugs sheepishly. Leon blows out his breath, shakes his head and narrows his eyes.
“You fucking prick,” he mumbles. Joe makes a face and nods.
“That’s all right, I know who the bastard is. I’ll go and pay him a visit.”
“He could have thrown him over if I wasn’t there,” I feel the need to point out angrily, glaring at Leon, who simply raises his eyebrows at me.
“Lucky you were there then.”
“You can’t blame Joe.”
“What’s with you two lately?” Leon asks, looking back at Joe and gesturing towards me with his cigarette. A suggestion of a smile tugs at his lips. “Why’s she always speaking for you? Something we don’t know about, eh?”
Joe sighs and rolls his eyes and says nothing. Leon looks back at me and smokes his cigarette. “My friend Marianne is having a party tomorrow night,” I tell him then. “For some reason, she wants you and Travis to come.”
“I’ll tell her then,” I say stiffly, and I want to get away from him as quickly as possible. I slip my arm out from Joe’s. “You don’t have to walk me home,” I tell him, but he shakes his head at me.
“Don’t be stupid. You haven’t stopped shaking. Come on.” He steps around his brother, who is merely smiling at us, and takes my arm again. We walk on, like that, and I feel the strange and enquiring weight of Leon’s eyes on our backs as we go. I cannot speak. I can barely breathe. Everything is just too much sometimes. Sometimes World, I think this life just makes a big churning mess of my stomach. A big churning mess. Just about sums it up, I think, and decide to write it on the wall when I get back. I’ll draw a picture of me next to it.
“See you tomorrow night?” Joe asks me when I am at my house. I nod at him silently, wondering if I am in shock or something. Joe smiles at me tenderly then. “It will be a cool night,” he suggests, and I nod again. “Don’t worry so much Carling,” he tells me then, as he turns to leave. “You worry too much. Everything always turns out all right, you know. Always.”
I release a shuddering, near tears sigh, as I watch his back walking away. Hands in pockets, shoulders down. I wonder how the fuck he can say that, or believe that, after what just happened, but that is Joe. That is Joe.