Dear World, I fall asleep on the wicker sofa in Marianne’s conservatory, with my head in Joe’s lap. I just cannot keep my eyes open any longer. The party is over. The guests have all gone. There are a few random people still milling around and making coffee in the kitchen, but in the conservatory, there is just myself and Joe, and Ryan and Josh. As I start to drift away in Joe’s lap, I listen to the boy’s conversation about their band. They sound so enthusiastic, so worked up and into it, that I smile to myself, and think how utterly sweet they are. Josh sings a few lines from a song he is working on. Joe taps out the drumbeat with his hands on his knees. I have both my hands folded under my cheek. They are still talking and laughing softly as I slide into the blackness.
I am woken up by own dribble. You know how it is. You feel the drool start to escape and you suck it back in quickly, and realise that your hand, or your pillow is already fucking wet. I lift my head and wipe my mouth, and check my hand, which is already fizzing with pins and needles. I sit up slowly, and the room moves in that horrible, still drunk way, and I pull back from Joe’s lap and lean against the back of the sofa, yawning. He has his head thrown back and is fast asleep. I peer forward to check his lap for dribble, but it is dry. Phew.
I glance at the floor. Josh is lying on his back, with his head on a cushion and his arms folded across his chest. He is snoring softly. Ryan is curled up in the wicker armchair, also with his arms crossed tightly around himself. I listen for voices and movement in the kitchen, but they are all gone. I sit still for a while, while the memories of the night swim in and out of my mind, jostling for attention. I don’t want to think about any of them really. But I do need a wee.
I get up carefully, not wanting to wake any of the boys. I have no shoes on, and tiptoe cautiously across the floor towards the kitchen, dodging broken glass, and puddles of unidentified liquid. The kitchen is empty and bears the scars of the party like no other room. The counters are strewn with food and drink, and bottles and cups. There is vomit blocking the sink, and vomit under the kitchen table. Someone has ransacked the food cupboards, as the doors are all hanging open, most of the food gone. I don’t know what the hell Marianne will tell her parents, but I think to myself, that’s her problem, and anyway, knowing her, she will most likely already have a plan.
The downstairs toilet is in the hallway. I find myself sitting down on the loo, whipping down my knickers, and closing and locking the door at the same time as the piss streams out of me in an urgent gush. I fill with physical relief. I drop my head into my hands, my elbows digging into my bare knees. I seem to stay like that for ages. It is probably the longest wee I have ever had in my life. I start to wish I had timed it.
When it is finally over, I pull up my pants, pull down my dress and wash my hands. There is a mirror over the washbasin and I look at it accidentally. I try to avoid mirrors most of the time, the same way I try to avoid cameras. But every now and again I come across my reflection by accident, and usually this totally ruins my mood. I always look fatter in the mirror than I feel in real life. I can be feeling really good, having a drink, having a good time, and then come across myself in the mirror and the next thing I know I want to punch myself in my stupid ugly face. I always feel the life and the joy slide right out of me. It’s like, oh. Oh, so I look like that, do I? That’s me, is it? And I thought I looked good earlier. Oh well, looks like I was wrong.
But this reflection takes me by surprise for a different reason. It takes me by surprise because for a fleeting second I am confused, as I do not recognise the face in the mirror, and in my still drunken state, I momentarily think I have bumped into someone else in the loo. But then I realise that it is me, it is my face I am staring back at, and how very peculiar not to recognise myself? I do not know whether to feel glad or sad, and I suppose that I feel plenty of both. The face in the mirror looks far too thin to be me. The face in the mirror looks almost glamorous in its ruined state. The mascara is smudged around my eyes. My skin is pale, almost translucent, which makes my eyes stand out even more. It is like all there is are my eyes. Huge, dark blue eyes, and masses and masses of thick, long eyelashes. I frown at the cheekbones I never knew I had. I feel my hands grip the basin, steadying myself as a kind of fear washes over me, a shivering realisation of what I have done to myself. The face in the mirror looks beautiful, but only in a haunted, wrecked kind of way. I lick my lips, which seem very red, despite my lipstick being long gone. I toss back my hair, which is a mess, but still straighter than usual. I nod at myself. I nod at her.
I am still drunk enough to feel recklessly proud of what I have done to myself, and I come out of the toilet looking forward to curling back up on Joe’s lap, and wrapping my arms around my body, feeling for those ribs. I realise what a pointless fuck up I am, what a quivering mess of humanity I am turning out to be, and I don’t give a shit. I come out of the toilet feeling brave and careless, and I bump right into Marianne.
She is still wearing her silky dressing gown, and she looks both pleased and excited to find me there. She grabs my hand with both of hers and squeezes it tightly. Her face is pale, her eyes are alive, and her smile is unnerving. “Leon just left,” she informs me in a breathless tone. “What a night!”
My hand feels small and heavy between hers. “What happened?”
“Come and have a drink with me,” she breathes, and pulls me by the hand back through the kitchen. She seems totally unfazed by the state of the place, and searches the room for any unused alcohol. Eventually she settles on a bottle of whiskey which has a few shots left in it, grabs it by the neck, snatches my hand back up, and pulls me through the conservatory and out into the garden.
“Why outside?” I ask, tugging my hand free to wrap my arms around myself as I start to shiver. She plonks herself onto the bench where Travis kissed me, and crosses her legs.
“I’m hot!” she cries, unscrewing the cap from the whiskey bottle. “Aren’t you hot?”
“No, I’m cold,” I say, sitting down beside her and pulling up my knees to hug.
“You want my gown?”
“Have you got something on under it?”
She looks at me and raises her eyebrows. “No!”
“No thanks then,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”
“So what you been up to?”
“I just woke up. I woke up and needed a wee.”
“Before that, I mean. How was the party for you?”
“Oh, good.” I nod at her unsurely. I wonder how much she remembers herself. “Not bad. Could have done without the big fight, but you know. Boys.”
“Oh yeah, I heard about that.” Marianne takes a big swig of whiskey, and then hands it to me. I take it hesitantly.
“We should have got some coke.”
“Ooh it’s okay like that. It’ll warm you up.”
“Okay.” I take a mouthful and very nearly spit it back out again. It burns as I force it down my throat. I shudder from head to toe. But she is right. It starts to burn a fire from the inside.
“See?” she says. I hand her back the bottle and nod.
“Fucking amazing night,” she says then, but when I look at her, I see no joy behind her eyes. Only aggression and frustration, and I don’t get it. She drinks the whiskey, wipes her mouth and shoves it back in my lap. I have to ask her what happened. I have to get it out of the way.
“So, did you sleep with him?”
Marianne bites her lip as she looks into my eyes, and nods her head. I don’t know what to say. Congratulations, you had sex with a cunt? Well done on bedding a total bastard? So I just nod back, drink some whiskey and give it back to her. There is a silence as she knocks it back. I look out at the dark garden and a million thoughts and feelings fill my head and my soul and I want to swallow them all.
“Was he nice to you?” I ask her then, eyes on the garden. “I only ask because that’s why we were worried about you and came to check on you. He’s not the nicest person in the world.”
“He was lovely,” she says beside me. “It was lovely.”
“Amazing. Lou, have you had sex yet?”
“Hey?” I look at her, taken back. She hands me the bottle.
“Are you still a virgin?”
“You know I am. I’d tell you if I wasn’t. So you’re not one anymore.”
“I wasn’t one anyway, stupid.”
I swallow another mouthful of whiskey and the warmth fills my belly as the confusion fills my mind. “Oh? I thought you were.”
“I thought we already worked out we don’t know much about each other.” I look at her and she is viewing me very sceptically. It reminds me of the way my older sister looks at me when she is trying to give me advice.
“I just thought you were.”
“Nope.” She is not smiling, as she looks at me expectantly. She takes the bottle out of my hand and throws another huge mouthful down her tiny neck. I wait. I feel like she is preparing to eat me alive.
“So who then?” I ask finally.
“Josh and Ryan for starters.”
I stare at her. My jaw hits the fucking floor. “What?” I practically scream at her. She leans back on the bench, holds the nearly empty bottle of whiskey between her legs, and releases a huge burp.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Josh and Ryan?”
“Oh what!” I just cannot believe it. I want to laugh, but somehow that seems uncalled for. I smack myself on the head, and then leave my hand there, shaking my head at her. She curls her lip at me.
“What’s the big fucking deal?”
“I don’t know! When was this?”
“A while ago. I don’t know. Some time.”
“Who was first?”
“Oh my fucking God,”
“Lou, grow up,” she snaps at me then, and there is no more excitement in those eyes of hers. They are flat and cold and empty. Only contempt spills from her face when she looks my way. “You sound about twelve.”
“I’m sorry,” I say with a nervous laugh. I look back out at the garden, because I am increasingly unnerved by her mood. “I’m just surprised that’s all. It’s a lot to get my head around. You never said before.”
She shrugs her shoulders. “Oh well.”
“So was it good? I mean, did you enjoy it? I wouldn’t know, would I? Being a virgin?” I am almost deliberately acting like a twelve year old now, just to get her to spill the beans. She can look at me like I am a retard if she wants, fuck her.
“Leon was the best, obviously,” she sighs, and lifts the bottle to her mouth, even though it is my turn. I say nothing, I just watch her. She finishes it off and then hurls the bottle into the grass.
“You got a lot of cleaning up to do tomorrow,” I say.
“Are you okay?”
“Why do you ask?”
“You seem weird. Kind of angry.” She looks at me then, releases a slow sigh and then wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “Are you okay?” I ask again.
“I’m fine,” she says, and a faint smile touches her lips. “What else do you want to know?”
“Um. Does it hurt? You know, the first time?”
“Oh not really. Just a bit. If he knows what he’s doing then it will be okay.”
“Did Josh and Ryan know what they were doing?” I ask, and cannot believe I am even asking, but hell, fuck it. She looks at me kind of wearily and I smile at her indulgently, feeling more and more like a child.
“Course they didn’t,” she sighs. “I had to show them.”
“Just…I don’t know. I am just so shocked. Practically speechless. You are like two people, or something. I never knew you were so…” I look around, searching for the right word. “You know…sexual?”
Marianne laughs at me. “You are so funny.”
“Oh yeah. You’ll never know how funny you are.”
I frown at her. “What does that mean?”
“You. You’re like, talking in fucking riddles. You must still be hammered. Or high.” I look at her and make a face. “I forgot about that. How was that? Was that the first time?”
“I’m not going to sit here and answer all your dumb questions,” she complains and yawns at me. I roll my eyes.
“Well you dragged me out here!”
“Oh for god’s sake.”
“Why are you being such a bitch?”
She leans towards me then, with a tight smile on her lips, and a knowing look in her green eyes. I have the urge to move back, and in that second she reminds me horribly of Leon. The way he steals the space. I don’t move back. I stare her down.
“I’m not being a bitch at all,” she retorts. “I just wanted to have some adult conversation with someone, that’s all. But then you go and get all silly and girly, and it does my head in.”
I am appalled with her. “I’ll fuck off then shall I?”
“Don’t be such a baby.”
“Don’t be such a fucking bitch! I stood up to that tosser you shagged earlier, I’ll stand up to you too, you know!” I am suddenly aware that I have leant towards her, so I am effectively shouting right into her face. The neat whiskey was probably not a wise idea on top of everything else I have consumed. She stares at me, giving nothing away. “He’s a fucking nasty twat by the way,” I tell her spitefully. “Although obviously you don’t care. But he is. He’s an animal.”
“Maybe I like animals,” she purrs at me then. “Better than little boys, anyway.”
“Look,” she sighs then, finally moving back. “You can think what you want. I had fun with Leon. You hate him. Whatever.”
“Are you expecting to see him again? Because I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.”
“Course I’m fucking not!” she snaps at me, and in that instant I can tell that she is lying. Her cheeks redden slightly. She looks furiously at me. She is hoping to see him again, and there is nothing she can do to hide it from me. She wants to see him again, and she knows there is not a fucking chance. “Don’t be an idiot,” she says. “It wasn’t like that anyway. One night of fun. That’s how I work.”
“Oh lovely. That’s really nice. Really romantic.”
“Anything else is a joke.”
“Really? Is it?”
“Yep. Relationships. Marriage. All that shit.” Marianne lowers her feet onto the grass, stretches out her spine and stares indignantly at the dark shadows of her garden.
“So your own parents are a joke then?” I ask her. She nods, not looking at me.
“Yep. They’re a joke all right. So are yours. So are everyone’s.”
“Well aren’t you feeling cheerful? So you had a great night then? It really did you good? Sleeping with Leon and taking coke? Because you really seem happy about it mate.”
Marianne turns her head to look at me. “What about you then?” she asks.
“Tell me about your night then. See if yours has filled you with the joy mine so obviously hasn’t.”
“I got drunk and came to see if you were okay,” I say to her. “Joe got beaten up by Leon, while I checked on you. Then we went downstairs and got more drunk. Then I fell asleep.”
“And what about Travis?”
I feel something that resembles a knife, slicing through my heart. Not my heart again. This time it is sliced into two pieces of meat that slip and slide, trailing damp blood down the inside of my rib cage. Travis.
“What about him?” I try like hell not to let anything show up in my voice, but I know how fucking astute Marianne is. I know I have no fucking chance.
“He was here. Then he left.”
“He followed you out when you went to be sick.”
“He tried it on again, didn’t he?” She turns her body towards mine, and I can’t help but notice her left breast showing again. I want to tell her to tighten her gown, but what is the point? If I draw attention to it, and let her know it makes me uncomfortable, she will probably just whip it off and run around the garden naked or something.
“Don’t be stupid,” I groan at her. She laughs at me.
“He did! I know he did! I can read you like a book Lou Carling! He did, didn’t he? Come on, tell the truth. I told you.”
“For Christ’s sake,” I groan, burying my face in my hands for a moment. Marianne laughs and rocks beside me. I don’t get her at all. I have never met a person more complicated and strange than Marianne Sholing, and I think, she is just warming up, she is only just starting to reveal herself to me.
“Come on, spill,” she demands, slapping my leg petulantly. I drop my hands into my lap and stare at the ground. The whiskey is hitting me harder and harder. It is like someone taking random and savage pot shots at my brain. “Your silence says it all Lou Carling. Your silence says it all. So you finally let him kiss you then? Out here somewhere?” I look at her and bite my lip, and my eyes fall momentarily to the bench we are sat on, and then I look quickly back at her, but it is too late, she knows. Her green eyes widen greedily. “Out here on the bench,” she states it like a fact. “He kissed you right here where we are sat.”
“Yeah, so what?” I stretch and yawn. Try to play it down. I have the distinct urge not to give her any ammunition. “That’s all. Not like you and Leon.”
“Ah bless,” she smiles at me, her head tilted to one side. Patronising, I think.
“Yeah, well, I was drunk,” I shrug at her carelessly. “It won’t happen again either.”
“Have you told Joe?”
“No,” I look at her quickly. “And don’t you either. Not yet.”
“And why not?”
“I don’t know.” I frown wearily, and pull my legs up again, wrapping my arms tightly around my knees. “It’s just complicated. You know how it is with his brothers. I don’t want anything kicking off.”
“You don’t want them fighting over you again, you mean?” she asks. I shake my head.
“That’s not what I mean. I just mean, Joe is my best friend, okay?”
“So I don’t want to upset him. Anyway, forget it. It’s boring. I do not fancy Travis.”
Marianne leans back and folds her hands together in her lap. She watches me quietly, and her expression is peaceful and serene, and I wonder what the hell she is thinking when she looks at me like that. “Okay,” she sort of sighs. “Let’s forget it. You’re right, it is boring. Do you want one more drink?”
“I fancy one more drink.” She jumps up energetically and starts heading for the house.
“You’re crazy,” I tell her back. She laughs.
When she returns moments later, she is carrying two glasses of white wine. I take mine reluctantly. My head is spinning out of control. I feel a bit nauseous again. Marianne sits down and takes a sip of her wine. “Ahh,” she says. “That’s nice.”
“I’m surprised there is any booze left in there.”
“I knew where to look,” she says and winks at me. I look down into my wine and try to take some slow, deep breaths.
“What are you doing?” she asks me in amusement.
I look up at her through my messy hair. “I am just really, really pissed,” I tell her sombrely, and she throws back her head and bellows laughter. Well at least she seems cheerful again, I muse. I think I have seen her swing between every conceivable emotion tonight.
“You’re so sweet,” I hear her say. I nod helplessly. I can feel my eyelids trying to drop down. I try to fight it. They want to close down for the night, they want to slam the shutters down on my brain, and I don’t blame them, because my brain is totally fucked. In the end I let my head drift back towards the back of the bench, and rest it there. I watch the garden. I wonder what the hell the time is. I wish I were still curled up with Joe. I feel sickness spreading through my body and my soul and it saddens me. I want to cry. Alcohol is such a dangerous fucking thing. Getting drunk is a risky and vicious thing to do to yourself for no reason.
“Didn’t mean to ruin your fun,” I hear myself murmur, as my mind takes me back to the fight outside her room. I am leaning against her now. I can feel the glassy smoothness of her silk robe against my bare arm. I feel her sighing.
“You didn’t. We had our fun.”
I close my eyes. Just for a moment, I tell myself. “Good,” I reply. “I’m glad you had fun because we all deserve to have fun. We all need to have fun.”
“That is very true Lou. And have you had fun? Tonight?”
“In the confusion of it all,” I open my eyes and try to consider it. “Maybe. Yes. In a weird way.”
“Everything happens in a weird way.”
“Especially when you are pissed.”
“You are probably my best friend, Lou.” I look at her then. Her face is very close to mine. Her green eyes are startling in their colour. They remind me of cat’s eyes. They sparkle with all the hidden thoughts that flow through her mind.
“Really?” I ask her. “I sometimes think you sort of hate me.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she giggles, and nudges me. “I don’t hate you. You are lovely. And very funny.”
“Okay then.” I close my eyes again, because my eyelids are winning, because they are tied down with weights. My eyelashes bump down upon each other, top meeting bottom, then batting back open again as I struggle to stay awake. Then she rests her head on my shoulder, and I rest my head on her head.
I jerk awake, fuck knows how much later. I am totally disorientated and confused, and there is a glass of wine in my hands that I don’t recall being there, and as I jump out of my sleep I drop the glass, and it shatters into tiny pieces on the ground. I gasp and sit forward, staring with one hand over my mouth, at the shining shards of glass on the grass. I look at Marianne, and she is not there. I look up. How is it possible that I feel even more pissed than I did before I fell asleep? I rub my eyes. How the hell is that actually possible? Where does the phrase ‘sleep it off’ come from then?
Marianne is not sat next to me anymore, and I suppose her moving away was what woke me up. She is not sat next to me, because she is on the grass in front of me, sort of dancing around. She is flapping her robe about, revealing one side of her tiny naked body, and then the other. She is staring at the black sky, scarred with twinkling stars, millions of years away from us and our pointlessness. I feel my eyes widen at the sight of her there, like that. I have to shake my head, and then rub at my eyes, and still I cannot believe I am not dreaming the sleep of the drunk.
She is laughing, and swaying, and whipping her open gown to one side, and then the other. I feel embarrassed, but also mesmerised, because her little body, it is so fucking beautiful. I feel a deep sinking sadness then, far down inside my weak little belly, because something tells me that no matter how skinny I get, I will never feel like that about my own body. I will never dance around like that, showing it off, revelling in its perfect, and unique beauty. I only want to hide it and cover it up. I only view it as a means of transport.
She sees me looking at her and laughs at me loudly. She does not even attempt to pull her gown around her body. I sort of grin in embarrassment and lower my eyes. I feel a bit like a pervy teenage boy, spying. “Wakey, wakey,” she laughs at me. “Want to join me for a dance?”
“I just broke your glass.”
“So what? So did I. Look!” She points dramatically at the ground near her feet, which when I strain my eyes, I can see is sprinkled with shining glass.
“Watch out you idiot!” I hiss at her, as she carries on dancing.
“I don’t give a fuck!” she shouts back, throwing back her hair. She looks wild, I think. Untamed and fucked up. I shiver.
“Just be careful!”
“Careful!” she howls at me, laughing but angry at the same time. She shows me what she thinks of this by dancing in a crazy circle, even faster and harder on the glass. I cannot watch, so I cover my eyes. I imagine her little white feet getting sliced and diced upon the hidden shards of glass, laying in wait for her among the damp blades of grass.
I hide in my hands. I stretch my shaking fingers around my cold face, caressing my skin, comforting myself, and as I do I realise that this is what I need most right now, someone to comfort me, someone to look after me, not fuck me up. I drop my head into the palms of my hands, and my hands press against my raised knees. I can hear her laughing. I wonder, and I wince, at the thought of her dainty feet covered in nicks and cuts, like her arms. I do not know what to do. My friend, (is she my friend?) is dancing on broken glass. Is dancing on broken glass. For fucks sake
“What do you think pain is Lou?” I hear her asking me. I lift my head drowsily as she bounds back to the bench and sits down next to me. She pays no attention to her open gown, as she pulls her foot up onto her other knee and inspects the sole of her foot. I watch her, as my brains swells and throbs inside my head. I think, I don’t know, I don’t know what pain is. Except for my entire fucking life. I just shake my head at her, because I am barely able to speak. She is bent fiercely over her foot. I do not want to know if there is glass in it or not. “What do you actually think pain is? Have you ever really thought about it?”
I blink at her. “I don’t know. No.”
“Really? Haven’t you?”
“It fascinates me. Really, it does.” I look at her then, and she is pulling a slither of glass out of her heel. I feel my stomach turn over.
“Oh fuckinghell, Marianne.”
“Shut up. Don’t be silly.”
It is then that I remember her arms. I force myself to look at her. At her face. Her eyes are gleaming as she extracts the glass, and holds it aloft triumphantly. I watch a fat droplet of blood swelling at the tip of the glass, before stretching and falling. I watch it land, fat and red on her naked thigh. I am breathless.
“Look,” she says, and moves the bleeding glass, closer to my eyes. I feel like I cannot breathe properly. “Look,” she says. “It’s just blood. It’s just what we are all made of, Lou. Look at it.”
It means so much to her, so I look at it. My eyes focus in on the blood-smeared shard of glass that trembles between her fingers. I don’t know what to say. I do not know what she wants me to say.
“Ouch,” I say.
“No,” she says, quickly. “That’s not ouch. Ouch is for children. Ouch is a stupid reaction. You can be braver than that.”
“Look,” she says, and she brings the glass back down towards her exposed thigh. She whips it across the surface of the white flesh and I wince, and draw back in shock. I see her smiling. Laughing. I look back at her thigh. The bubbles of blood are pushing up along the lines of the white slash on her skin. I watch. I am transfixed. I watch the red beads forming along the line. I can hear her breathing get faster, and she sounds excited. The red beads grow fatter and fatter, and start to blend into each other, absorbing each other, and growing hungry. I watch the beads form an orderly line. A soaking, wet red line.
“Marianne,” I hear myself whisper at her. “Don’t do that.”
“Why not?” she says, matter of factly. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“Because you’ll hurt yourself,” I say, stupidly. “You’ll get hurt…”
“Hurt?” she questions, not looking at me. “What’s hurt? It does not hurt.” She pushes the glass towards my face and I move back fearfully. She laughs, and then whips it back down to her thigh, slashing at the flesh a second time.
“Marianne!” I cry out at her. “Don’t!”
“Why?” she laughs at me. She is laughing at me. I want to cry. I watch a second line of blood beads stand to attention on her thigh.
“Marianne,” I say. “Please don’t do that do yourself.”
“Why not? Because I don’t understand it Marianne. I don’t get it. Why would you do that to yourself?”
“It feels good,” she purrs at me, smiling from ear to ear. She seems oblivious to the pain. I watch the new line of blood springing to life next to the first one. The blood runs fast, this time. She has cut deeper. The blood pours out from the cut, and down her thigh, zig zagging down past her knee. I gasp uselessly. “It’s okay,” she tells me. “It really doesn’t hurt. It really doesn’t. It stings a bit the next day, that’s all.”
“Yeah. That’s just to remind me. I wake up and think oh yeah. I did that. I would forget otherwise.”
“And what do you think?” I ask her then. “What do you think when you wake up and realise what you have done?”
“I don’t mind,” she shrugs. “I think, oh well.”
“Marianne. It’s not right.”
“It makes me feel better. Lou, do you know what pain is?” She is leaning very close to me now. I can smell the wine on her breath. I want to move back, to pull away, but I don’t. I shrug my shoulders weakly. I am weak. “Lou,” she says. “It is something you can easily conquer. It is nothing really. It is only what it is. It is only what you allow it to be. Once you realise that, life becomes a whole lot fucking easier, believe me.”
I feel the sigh dropping out from my chest. I am so beaten down by everything. The alcohol has thrashed me. I keep my eyes on hers. Her smile. “Really?” I ask her. “Is that so?”
“Yes,” she promises softly, and she moves closer. I feel her wet, bloody thigh press against mine. I know, that in a less drunken moment, I would pull away in disgust and make my excuses and leave. But excessive alcohol pins me to the inevitable spot and I cannot move. “Once you conquer physical pain,” she is saying to me softly, slowly. “You can easily conquer emotional pain.”
“Can you?” my voice asks her. “Really?”
“Let me show you.” I look down. Marianne picks up my arm. She is still holding the weeping shard of glass. She holds my forearm with both of her hands and I see her staring at my waiting flesh. Then she looks into my eyes and smiles, and I know, that she knows, that I am totally fucked. “Lou,” she says to me. “You are very open minded. That’s what I like about you.” She presses one thumb against the skin on my wrist. She moves the thumb higher, pressing softly, towards the fold of the elbow. I think again, pull away. She has the glass and she moves it down towards my arm, and she lines it up, and drags it along my skin, just softly. When she hears my alarmed intake of breath she looks up at me. “Lou,” she says to me. “It doesn’t hurt. Open up your mind. Let your body take it. It only hurts if you let it hurt. If you think in those terms.” I don’t understand. I am locked within her eyes. She stares back into mine. I feel the glass pressing into my flesh and I don’t know what to do. She is holding my arm gently. I could pull away at any moment, but I do not, and she takes advantage of this, and she scrapes the glass against me harder. I hiss at the pain. I pull my arm out of her hands and bring it up to my eyes.
“There you go!” she cries, and I watch her hurl away the glass. And then she is up again. Dancing. Spinning. Laughing. Throwing her robe to one side, and then the other. I let her, and I look down at my arm. On the inside, halfway between the wrist and the elbow, she has made her mark. I stare. I watch the beads of red bulging and spreading. I watch them join forces and march a straight savage line across my weak flesh. She is right. There is no pain. What is pain?
I would probably be all right if I wasn’t such a fucking thinker.
I start thinking, what is this? What does this fucking mean? The booze lends me to paranoia, and paranoia does a real good job with me, and tells me this bitch is actually trying to kill me. I feel my body lurching, without my permission, lurching to its feet. I am lurching up. Reeling. That is another good word. Reeling. Because you do not walk normally when drink has done this much to you. You reel. So I reel and lurch towards the conservatory. I run away from her. It is my body moving me on, and not my mind. My body wants me out of there. My body has had enough.
I hear her laughing and dancing, and I glimpse my bloody arm, and I want to scream out; ‘you dumb fucking bitch!’ but I don’t. I hurl myself through the open doors of the conservatory. I straightaway see Joe, still lying where I left him. I want to get the fuck out of there, and I feel an awful drunken panic consuming me. It is terrible. I seize Joe by his arm and wrench him away from his dreams. He opens blurry eyes and sees me. “What the fuck?” his sleep slurred voice questions me.
“Joe,” I hiss this urgently into his ear. I am pulling at his arm. “Joe, we need to go. Take me home. Now. Please take me home.”
He wakes up quickly, alarmed by my closeness and my panic, and I tighten my hold on his arm, and try to drag him from the sofa, because I am so mortified, and so confused, and I just want to get the hell out of there as quick as I can. I keep pulling at his arm. I can feel the wetness passing between us. My arm is bleeding into his.
“What the fuck have you done?” he asks me, climbing out of groggy sleep. I pull and pull at his arm. I just want him to get the fuck up. “Why are you crying?” he asks me. I did not realise I was crying, but he is right, I am fucking crying. There are fat hot wet tears sliding down my cheeks.
“Joe,” I beg, pulling him harder. “Take me home. Please, please, you have to take me home.”
“Okay, okay,” he says, and thank God, finally, he gets up from the sofa and stretches. I have no time for stretches. I want him to get me out of there. So I keep pulling him. “What have you done you stupid bitch?” he is complaining at me. He is holding onto my sticky wet arm. “Jesus,” he breathes then. “What have you done?”
“Joe,” I beg, “Please take me home. Please, please, please.”
He is staring at me then. I have to get him moving. I pull him, I yank him, I force him away from the sofa, from his sleeping friends, and out of the conservatory. I say nothing, just become resourcefully adamant in my desire to get out of there, and I do not give up anything until I feel the cold air of the night again and I let the front door slam behind us. I feel the crunch of gravel under my feet and a grim determination takes over me. I can hear Joe moaning and protesting and worrying, but I do not slow down, or give in to him until I can feel the hard black pavement under my bare feet, and I am sure that she is not following us. And then I start to cry.
“Lou, Lou, Lou,” he is saying to me, over and over again. He has his arm around my shoulders, and he is squeezing me, trying to get me to calm down. I cannot calm down. I am a complete and utter wreck of a human being. I can feel my shoulders heaving and lurching with every gut-wrenching sob. Finally Joe has enough, and he holds me by my shoulders and stops me. “Lou!” he shouts this into my face. “Lou stop it!”
I am beat. I hide my face in his chest and keep crying. I feel him lift my arm and I hear him swear. “Lou, what the fuck is this? What the fuck have you done to your arm?” I hide in his chest and cry and cry, and it is not all Marianne’s fucking fault. It is not. It is fucking everything. I cannot speak, because I am crying too much. I let Joe lead me home.
“Can I sleep at yours?” I ask him at one point. I just know that I do not want to be alone.
“Course,” he tells me, rubbing my arm. “Course you can.”
Somehow we make it back to his. I have vague memories of crossing the black, silent fields. Leaning harder and harder on Joe. I think I sleep.
I am subtlety aware of entering Joe’s house. Of the shush noise he makes at me as he turns his key in the lock. I obey. I shush. I let him shuffle me in. I stare at the patterns on the carpet. He leads me up the stairs. They seem so huge and vast.
He pushes me towards the bottom bunk bed. The saggy old mattress is a welcome relief to me. I throw back the duvet. My head hits the pillow. I close my eyes, and I am dimly aware of Joe moving around the room, doing things. Finally I feel him climb into bed beside me. He pulls the duvet over both of us. He has something in his hand and he presses it against my wet arm. I hiss. Pain. I think of Marianne, and I examine the reality of the pain. She is right about one thing. It is only what you think it is.
“It’s okay,” Joe is whispering this to me in the darkness. How the fuck did I get here? “What happened?” he is asking me. I am cold and black and my closed eyes press against his soft chest, and I want to love him.
“Marianne did it.”
“What the fuck?”
“Marianne did it. She cut me.”
“Oh Jesus Christ, that is mental! Jesus Christ, Lou.” I can feel his hand rubbing my shoulder. His arm is around me, rubbing me. I close wet eyes upon his t-shirt.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him in the darkness. “I am a fucking twat…fuckinghell.”
“She’s a fucking mental bitch Lou! You stay away from her! Fuckinghell!”
He sounds angry, and so he holds me closer. I try to remember our journey through the darkness together, but I can’t. I am just suddenly here. I am here, and Joe has pulled the duvet right over us, and I bury myself in him.
I am sobbing again. But it is not Marianne’s fault. It is only because I hate myself so fucking much.
“Stay away from her,” Joe rants to me in the darkness. “Stay the fuck away from that mad bitch!”
“I let her do it,” I sob uselessly into his soaked t-shirt. He is still pressing the towel, or whatever it is, against my arm. “I could have stopped her.”
“You’re hammered,” he tells me firmly. He sounds like he is talking through gritted teeth. “It is not your fault Lou. She shouldn’t be going round doing that to other people! It’s sick.”
I cannot stop crying. I am not just weeping silent tears, I am really crying. My whole body is rocking with them. They are coming faster and harder, and I am not in control of them, and I start to get frightened, because it feels like they are trying to consume me and take over me from the inside. They just keep coming and coming, and I just don’t understand it, and I can’t stop it, I can’t escape. Joe holds me tighter.
“Lou, shh, shh, it’s okay,” he is telling me, and his voice sounds worried. He rolls onto his side and I push my head in towards his chest. I curl up into a ball.
“I can’t stop, I can’t stop,” I try to tell him. I can feel the horrible drumming panic rising inside my chest, and I think I will probably die, I will just die, because soon enough I will be crying so much that I will not be able to breathe.
“What is wrong with you?” he holds my face in the darkness and pulls it up to his. “You’re scaring me Lou,” he whispers.
“I don’t want to eat anything,” I blurt out at him then. “I just don’t want to, I don’t want to eat anything…I don’t want to get fat again.” I close my eyes and the tears keep coming. Joe holds me against his chest and his arms are all the way around me.
“Don’t be silly,” I hear him telling me softly. “You’re being so silly. You’re just really, really drunk, and Marianne has scared you, and you’re going to be fine in the morning.”
“Keep telling me that,” I shudder and beg him. I am trying to empty out my mind, and shovel away all of the thoughts that are driving me crazy. I don’t want to think them anymore. I just want to be normal for once. I just want to be happy.
“You’ll be fine in the morning,” Joe whispers into my hair. “You’re gonna’ have one hell of a hangover, but you’ll be fine, just fine. You are the loveliest person I know. You should stop worrying about everything all the time. You are just fine the way you are. You are lovely the way you are.” He repeats this over and over again into my hair, until his words, and my breathing start to hum a regular pattern. It has all slowed down. “I love you the way you are. Just be the way you are. There is nothing wrong with who you are.”