Cover art by W. Jack Savage
She's 17 by Angelica Poversky
Cold. Cut. Wasted. Drunken street corner, Whistling the shack as her home, She’s left with her angel dust, the powder, Alone. On her own. Teeth gritted, Black ink clenched with a sore arm, She checks the calendar days with a price tag, From every man, growing on her wrists To disarm. On her knees, she forgets the ring, Selling her misery through cheap perfume, To mask the smell of what her life would Bring. Cut. Like her flesh’s heart. She’s 17, modern art.
Corner Bar by Dennis McHale
It always felt familiar and safe; not like home, but filled with that same tragic scent of failure, futility, and confusion. In this darkened chapel, night after night, we feigned brotherhood, but watched our backs. We found religion in tall tales and twisted notes floating softly from the jukebox. The enormity of the lies exchanged was staggering, yet not once was truth demanded. Here, we worshiped and blessed ourselves at the mahogany and brass altar of amber absolution, our sins washed in a flood of cheap whiskey and stale beer. Our bottles filled the night with dead words and hungry ashtrays and all these incessant “maybes” while shameless calls for “another!” filled the tepid air. We licked the back of our teeth and bought rounds for the prostitute sitting there all alone, hunched over to entice our drunken libidos. We adored her, this faded Madonna, with her chipped teeth and sagging breasts, reeking of a stale alcohol and tragic perfume. Where once there had been beauty and life some bastard had beaten it out of her;
taking everything that made a woman good and reduced her to this. Our prayers were answered in the way this whore swallowed you whole in the back roomâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s secret confessional where you keep her words tightly knit in the dark corners of your heart. This was the flip-side of our saintly home-lives; our souls consumed in the repetition of it all. We whispered our hallelujahs as the clock struck two; last call and a slow retreat into the shameless shadows of wretched existence, as God soundly closed the doors behind us.
The Color of Touch by Ramona Pina I tried to wake up to the sound of color: purple melodies and sea green thunder. I touched the scent of cherried nostalgia and rode its wave. Held humidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hand as we drifted away and I tried to taste the salty sadness. crystalized on the bed of riverbanks; Tip of tongue SANK into silence touching the blue of blood. We just had to run through liquid skies ripe like sweet apple pies. As my eyes cried airy tears and dreamy drops, I tried to wake up to the sound of color but fell asleep to the color of touch.
An Open Letter to Mr. Bobby Franklin by Jenni Wiltz
They float above Seoul’s jagged skyline, drawing the eyes of the faithful and blasphemers alike. A series of red neon crosses—against the deep, dark, polluted night, they glow as brightly as the blue and green Hangeul signs advertising whorehouses, fish, and computer dens, in that order. I saw them through the fogged window of an airport shuttle that took me to a place I didn’t want to be and carried me farther from a place I didn’t want to leave. Asia had nothing to do with me beyond the fact that most of the items in my home were sewn or constructed there. I liked curry and tofu and I didn’t disgrace myself when I used chopsticks, but I shared nothing with the short, unsmiling people I found there. Seoul was a place on a checklist that was easily accessible thanks to the circumstances of my life. I didn’t expect the least savory of those circumstances, cached within the pulpy confines of my heart, to rise like Lazarus at the sight of the symbol that his savior’s champions adopted. In that respect, and perhaps only that one, I’m jealous. That red ghostly glow means the inhabitants of Seoul will always know where to find a church. Even in the dark of night, they can always find forgiveness if they look for the appropriate neon sign. The idea appeals to me. Forgiveness as a certainty is something I don’t understand. The night it happened, I saw a shooting star. I’d never seen one before, not in all my twenty-three years. I was far from home, on the border of another country, invited to attend a New Year’s Eve party because a cheating lover was lonely and bored and his first choice couldn’t make it. She of the rose-red lips had to work in Tahoe and couldn’t fly down; me of the size 12
hips had the requisite bus fare and a proven track record in punctuality. T.S. Eliot would have approved; I was a typist, after all. In the common parlance of love as flame, his was a match while mine was a taper. He blew it out before it could singe his fingers. I held on long after the wick had extinguished in a pool of molten wax. All the partygoers were Mexican and they spoke Spanish instead of English. They were beautiful, with slicked-back black hair and spicy cologne and cinnamon-colored skin. Their words made sounds that curled like dark wood shavings. He spoke in fragrant cedar to them and in the balsa wood of English to me. He whispered in my ear, “You look good enough to take in the back and rape.” Something was wrong with me because I thought that was a compliment. I blame the champagne. It made me mistake balsa for cedar, lust for love, wine for water. A strange form of alchemy, that—Jesus should have left well enough alone. You can’t trust a man who offers you alcohol and then asks you to make major changes in your cosmology, philosophy, doxology, hauntology. Alcohol makes everything pliable, including the number of people in the room. Three weeks later, a second pink line proved the perfidy of Dom Perignon. When I called to give him the news, he said he would figure out what to do. His new tablet had the answer to everything, including what to do when too many people came downstairs for dinner. The answer, as it turned out, was in the city of fourteen hills where they took care of problems like white elephants. Because it was easy and because I was afraid, I let him bring me to a place where methotrexate makes everything go away. I withdrew five hundred dollars from my savings account, leavened with decades of ten-dollar bills donated by wellmeaning relatives who never intended to contribute to population control. With the money
burning a hole in my uterus, I let him walk me into a waiting room with a female receptionist seated behind a hulking island of a desk. A dozen turquoise chairs floated around the room, upholstered the color of a friendly saline sea. The receptionist threw me a life preserver—a clipboard with pen and triplicate release form in white, canary, and pink. “Why don’t they call it yellow?” I asked. “Canary is yellow,” she answered. “Sign and date, please.” I thought about the people who worked in the factory that printed the form. Who set the type on the press? Did they read any of it? Were they all atheists, or were there devout Catholics and Christians who worked there and experienced strange temporary fits of illiteracy? What copywriter or junior pharmacist wrote the instructions that explain what happens when methotrexate wrings your uterus like a wet sweater? Did he or she go home at night and eat veal? Maybe they all pretended not to understand, like people who lived a mile away from Auschwitz. I signed my name and resigned any hope of marrying a politician. The thought made me cry. It did not seem fair that the future me could be so grievously punished for one stupid act on one stupid night. He slouched deeper in the blue vinyl chair next to me and asked me not to cry. It made him uncomfortable, he said. I blinked and looked at him with red-veined eyes. I told him that when they called my name, I would stand up and walk into a room where people I didn’t know would look at me from the inside out. All he had to do was hold my coat. That made me uncomfortable, I said. He was quiet after that.
A few minutes later, a nurse wearing purple scrubs performed a blood test and an ultrasound. A doctor in blue double-checked her work and proceeded to question me on how I found his clinic. He filled a hypodermic needle and quizzed me on the marketing methods that were most likely to reach me, his desired demographic. I lay before him with my nether regions covered in a crumpled dinner napkin, all dignity dissolved. I know why he did it, though. Until that prick of a doctor stuck that needle in me, I could have walked away. He was giving me the chance to say no. I didn’t take it. I turned my head when the needle broke the surface of my skin and calculated the difference between the minutes I’d spent in the office and the minutes I’d put on the meter. “Are we done here?” I asked. “I’m out of quarters.” On the way out, the receptionist handed me a gray appointment card with my name misspelled. We would need to return in seven days for the rest of the treatment. In the meantime, I was to eat as little folic acid as possible. I thought of the cereal boxes lined up in the cabinet at home, each and every one of them fortified with one hundred motherfucking percent of my day’s recommended intake of folic acid. “What am I supposed to eat?” I asked. “Have a nice day,” she said. “See you next week.” As soon as our feet were on pavement, he turned to me and cleared his throat. “There’s something I need to do. Do you mind walking a few blocks?” He pulled me down the street to an old stone building, vaguely Gothic in style. A plaque beside the door identified it as a church, named for a saint (one of the innumerable Marys) and founded over a hundred years ago. Squeezed between a Chinese restaurant and an apartment
walk-up, it had buttresses and a tiled roof. There was even a rose window, albeit one with impossibly precise quadrants revealing modern and thus inferior rose window craftsmanship— only medieval sculptors knew what they were doing when it comes to rose windows. It looked dim and dirty from the street, but on the inside, a trompe l’oeil ceiling revealed fluffy clouds, soft blue sky, and frolicking angels with cotton-ball wings. He dipped his fingers into a metal bowl, knelt, and crossed himself. I stayed put behind the wooden railing separating the pews from the entryway. He looked back over his shoulder as he rose. “You don’t have to do this part,” he said. I already knew that, though. Martin Luther explained everything a long time ago. He knelt before a pew and folded his hands. I stepped backward against the entry wall and felt the doctor’s stab wound throb beneath the square of gauze taped to my ass. While he prayed for whatever it is lapsed Catholics who have just taken their ex-girlfriends to the abortion clinic pray for, I stared at the gilt molding on the ceiling, glinting in the flickering shadows cast upward by the prayer candles. I thought about all the riches collected by the Catholic church over almost two thousand years. People were willing to give their money, their time, their jewels, their lives for the glory of God, and I stood beneath the result while a drug created to treat ulcers choked the life out of what was probably the most visible gift God had ever given me. Fuck. I looked at the floor, away from the cherubs. I closed my eyes and felt the room begin to tilt. The cherubs were doing it. They were tossing me around, trying to shake loose the conscience that must have been lodged under a lobe or a bone. I took a deep breath to calm the sudden vertigo, but the church’s air—sanctified and perfumed with funereal lilies—infected me.
It incubated a leprosy of the mind that desiccated any will I had to remain in or near a church. Church was for people who did not murder their babies, or for people who were able to be sorry about committing said crime. I was not sorry. I couldn’t be sorry. That’s why I had to leave. I turned my back on the altar and waited for him on the sidewalk. I looked down at the dried blobs of gum stuck to the concrete. They were arranged into small galaxies, some of the globular planets sporting pale spots or smaller orbiting moons. Most people think it’s a terrible thing to step on gum, but maybe it’s just a reminder—a reminder that there are other galaxies besides ours, other worlds, other dimensions, other places that contain people who might be happy. A week later, I called him. “It’s tomorrow,” I said. “11 a.m.” “I’ll meet you there. Be careful driving.” I imagined the double-whammy of repentance God would require of him if I got into an accident on the way to the clinic and died. It almost made me want to try. But I thought of the calendar on my wall, with a picture of Neuschwanstein rising like a turreted rocket out of the fog and clouds below. I might see it someday, might see the proof that madness sometimes produced things of extraordinary beauty. There was nothing beautiful about a funeral, least of all the fact that the coroner would call my parents and tell them how many creatures were in the casket. I drove slowly and carefully to the doctor’s office, obeying all traffic laws. I parked on a hill, curbed my wheels, and walked into the saline sea where drowning women awaited the call that would save them or sink them. He was not there yet. I clung to the turquoise vinyl life raft for an hour. They called my name three times, and each time I told them to wait. “He’s coming,” I said. “He’s just not here yet.”
He made me a liar. Two hours later, I let the nurse to lead me into a white room. I laid on the metal table and allowed her to put chalky white tablets inside me with a metal instrument that was cold and hard. She wrote me a prescription for Vicodin and told me to take it to the pharmacy nearest my home. “You’ve got about two hours until you start bleeding,” she said. “You gonna make it?” I lived ninety miles away. “I think so,” I said. I felt the first pain while I was still in the car, about twenty miles from home. Five hours later, when the time came to give birth to something that was already dead, I came face to face with what a six-week-old human being looks like. Mostly it looks like a pink, bloody lima bean, except for the eyes. They were oblong black dots that would have become green like mine, or brown like his. They never saw what I looked like. But they saw whatever those painted cupids saw, whatever earthly manifestation of God’s grace is possible in a world as fucked up as this one. I never filled the prescription. I never wore those clothes again. “I just couldn’t do it,” he said afterward. “Why?” I asked. “I felt too dirty. I’m so sorry.” “No, you’re not,” I said, and hung up. So you probably hate me by now. It’s okay. I hate myself a lot of the time, too. In medieval and Renaissance times, new mothers weren’t allowed to go back to mass until they’d been “churched,” or purified, forty days after the baby was born. Maybe that’s how long it took to empty the fear she felt for bringing a child into a world that is filled with things
that long to take it away from her, or, depending on the circumstances of the baby’s birth, to cry a flood’s worth of tears for her lost innocence. I don’t know about you, but I have more than forty days of tears inside me. I just can’t make them all come out at once. I’m guessing this means that in terms of purification, it would take a nuclear containment unit to deal with me. For this reason, I still feel it’s not a good idea for me to go into a church. Those cupids know what I’ve done, and they’ve had plenty of time to spread the word. But something was different in Seoul. Maybe it was the ghostly glow caused by errant chemical pollutants, drifting through the air like a cheap celebrity-endorsed perfume. The crassness of neon combined with the sanctity of communion reminded me of my own life: the best of intentions combined with the worst of actions. And if two things like polluted air and the night skyline could produce something so beautiful, maybe the inner wasteland occupying the corners of my heart could be turned into something arresting, too. Maybe the most beautiful sight in the world is a sign of forgiveness lit up in the medium beloved by advertising executives the world over. Maybe this is what the thunder said. And even if it wasn’t, maybe this is what the thunder meant. They say that God is love, but if you read the Old Testament, he’s also a God of asskicking. If I’m sorry on judgment day, I imagine I’ll be presented with the kinder side of this Judeo-Christian Janus. If I’m not, I’d better find some four million SPF sunscreen. I’m not crazy about the idea of burning eternally in hell, but it seems equally wrong to pretend to regret something I’d do over again. Maybe hell doesn’t really exist, because it’s already here in the hearts of people who have too much hate or fear inside of them. Maybe heaven doesn’t really exist, either. If it does, I imagine it looks a lot like Louis IX’s Saint-Chapelle. All those
beautiful windows, all that light, all those stones hammered and mortared by people who believed the world was flat. We find that concept so silly now, but they are the ones laughing at us for what we believe heaven to be. In case you’re wondering, this isn’t one of those stories where everything gets tied up neatly. I, your humble narrator, don’t have a facile life-affirming synthesis for the image of neon and the concept of redemption. I don’t have an apology for you. I didn’t wake up one morning and realize I did the wrong thing or the right thing. I didn’t go into one of the churches in Seoul and become magically penitent. My pictures didn’t even come out all that well, so they’re as blurry as my sense of regret. I’d like to say I had some magical epiphany that allowed me to cleanse myself and live like a normal person again, but I’d be lying to you. Don’t think I wouldn’t lie to you. I have no qualms about it, as evidenced by my willingness to commit what the Bible Belt considers stone-cold murder. Everyone knows you can’t trust a murderer. I suppose that’s why Georgia State Representative Bobby Franklin proposed a 10-page bill that criminalizes abortion, making it punishable by death or life in prison. If this man had his way, I would either be dead or silenced, which might not be so far apart. I do not know what purpose this would serve. Would the world be a better place if I weren’t in it? Mr. Franklin believes so. I don’t think my presence or absence could possibly make a difference to a planet choking on its own waste. I’m a fictional character, for Christ’s sake. But the representative from Georgia would still like to send law enforcement officials after women like me, just to be on the safe side. If this ever happens, and they do come after me, I won’t go without flinging a galaxy’s worth of gum on the sidewalk.
Pig Party by Andy Hickmott
Somewhere in the cloud of sweet smoke, my cousin Philip was methodically rearranging mesquite sticks and charcoal briquettes, trying to juxtapose white-hot and reticent black so that the meat could go on. I decided to be helpful by restocking the lily pond with beer. By the time I returned from the stables, where the beer crates were stacked, the smoke had diminished, and I watched partygoers migrating, glacially, towards the aroma of belly pork and sirloin. I put fifteen bottles in the pond and kept one out, prising the crown off on the rim of an ornamental fountain, then I strode ahead of the gravitating guests to the head the food queue. Philip eyed my beer. ‘You bring me one?’ I took a swig. ‘Sorry, old chap. I’ll pop one straight over soon as my hands are free. Those strips nearly ready?’ ‘Pretty much, if you don’t mind them a bit pink.’ He started flipping the pork strips over to smoke the B-sides. ‘Mmm, smell that,’ he said, as we copped a mesquite-flavour facial. ‘First ones off are always the sweetest.’ Didn’t I know it. I picked up a plate with a napkin and held it out like Oliver Twist. ‘Go on, then. Put those two on here and I’ll fetch you a cold one.’ When I turned round, an orderly queue had formed. I took another swig of beer and walked back along the line towards the fish pond. Philip would have his hands full for a while. I decided I’d honour my promise when I went back for seconds.
Meanwhile, I sat on wall rimming the pond admiring the view. Philip’s barbecues were always a thong-fest and this year’s was no different. Strictly speaking, they were corporate bashes, but as Philip ran a modelling agency, there were high hems and low waistlines in abundance. God, all that midriff. My bike leathers didn’t really fit in, but I like people to know that I’m family, not employee, not client, not prospect.
I saw her sitting on the steps of the main house with her mile-long legs crossed at the knee. From the tilt of her wide-brimmed hat, she seemed to be only half-listening to a girl sitting on the next step up, some fierce redhead with her hair lacquered upright like a flare. I must have been staring, because I noticed her suddenly freeze, like a startled deer. Then she raised her hand and waved to me, tentatively or surreptitiously, like she was unsure if it was appropriate. It was a day of frosted light and crisp shadows. The sun was on the back of my neck, her face hidden in the shade of that hat. I checked over my shoulder, thinking she might be waving to someone else. When I turned back round, she was standing and seemed to be making excuses to flare-hair. She walked—glided almost—across the lawns and gravel paths, directly towards me. As she drew nearer, I could see her face, and my God was she beautiful! I stood up, or at least began to do so, already cringing inside at the inevitable shared embarrassment. I reasoned that with my own face in shadow, she had mistaken me for some six-packed Adonis from the circuit.
I could see now she was smiling. ‘Jase!’ she called, and she broke into a clumsy high-heeled trot. ‘Jase! My God! What are you doing here?’ Bloody hell, she knew my name. I stepped towards her, but still had no idea who she was. ‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I wasn’t sure...’ ‘Hi? Is that all you can say?’ She pulled off her hat and tossed it on the lawn. Dark hair fell over her brown shoulders. She put her hands either side of my neck, her thumbs on my cheeks, held me like a long-lost brother. ‘You must have known I’d be here,’ she said. Her smile was mischievous, as though she knew my game. I wished I did. She ran her thumb nail over my cheek. ‘You might have shaved.’ Then, without warning or preamble, she kissed me. Her eyes closed, her mouth opened. My eyes stayed open wide, startled, prone, and I dreaded her finding strands of pork meat on my teeth. I darted my tongue around my teeth to clear any debris, and as I did so, my lips parted and she rushed into me like a thirsty dog into a cup of water. She lowered her hands, found mine and pulled them on to her hips. I felt her bare flesh. Hastily, I moved my hands lower, looking for safety, some sexual neutrality—and found them resting on her arse. She slowly drew back. I’m sure there was a string of spittle between us like spider’s silk. Her poppy-red lips parted in a smudged smile. ‘Christ, Jase,’ she said, ‘it’s been ages.’
‘Yes,’ I said, taking my hands off her pert bottom, ‘long time, no see.’ She looked down at my trousers and saw my arousal. She laughed—a short, percussive, ironic laugh. ‘Still dressing on the left then?’ Suddenly, music started playing. It brought me crashing back to earth and an awareness that I was standing with an intimate stranger in a garden full of my cousin’s business clients. ‘Ah, there you are, Lynse.’ We both turned toward the speaker, a woman approaching us like a Messerschmidt out of the sun.. My mystery lover put her hands to her face, wiped the edges of her lips with one painted fingertip. ‘Look who’s here, Margie’ she said, ‘look...It’s Jase.’ ‘Yes,’ the Messerschmidt said, ‘of course it’s Jase. Who did you expect—Peter Rabbit? Come on, now, you’re needed in the tent.’ She—Lynse—gazed longingly at me, as though I were a forbidden treat, a second helping of gateau, but Margie was walking away and she clearly felt obliged to follow her. ‘You’ll wait for me?’ she said as she walked away. I told her, of course, that I would.
Philip looked up from the heat-hazed grill and wiped sweat from his brow. He looked at my empty hands. His face dropped. ‘Can’t you find someone else to cook the food?’ I said. ‘Come on, I need to speak with you.’ Luckily, with the show about to start, he agreed to relinquish his self-deprecating post. We stopped off at the pond, fished out a couple of cool beers, then he walked with me around the lawn, where we could talk in confidence. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t know any Lynse. It’s an unusual name. What’s it short for?’ ‘How the devil am I supposed to know? I only just met her.’ He looked at me the same way my boss does when I show up bright-eyed the day after a sickie. ‘She seemed to know you,’ he said, ‘pretty bloody well, from the sound of it. She knew your name, you say? That hardly sounds like mistaken identity, does it?’ ‘But who is she?’ He slapped me chummily on the back. ‘I don’t know why you’re so worried. You said she was a babe.’ The truth was, I was worried about my sanity: I’d either forgotten the most beautiful woman in my life or I’d just had the most bizarre hallucination. As the minutes passed and the taste of her washed away, I began to feel certain I had imagined the whole thing. Perhaps I had sunstroke and it would pass. ‘Maybe you should keep a note of your conquests,’ Philip said, ‘just in case they come back to haunt you.’
But she can’t have been an hallucination, the Messerschmidt knew her. ‘Do you know someone called Margie?’ I asked Philip. He frowned. ‘Of course I know Margie.’ ‘She knew the girl, she called her by name.’ ‘Well then,’ Philip said, pulling out his phone. He scrolled down and dialled a number, and seconds later Margie answered her boss’s call. I already knew what she would say. She knew no Lynse. And yet her aftertaste was still on my lips.
Lynse doesn’t have long now. Even on a drip, the doctors say there is little they can do, little hope of recovery. She’s too far gone, too wasted. I never imagined I’d see anyone this emaciated. My big, loud friend, lying under a sheet in a greyed-out silence, with ridges at her knees and hips, and furrows upon her chest. Even now, she still looks so pretty. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Her downward spiral started two summers ago in Albufeira. We spent our days on the beach, beside the sign warning of ocean currents. It said nothing about sharks. We were there on holiday with Marian and Colette, and together we made more noise than anyone else on the beach. We had come to party. We were the girls the boys would always get a come-on from—because for us chance would be a fine thing. Nice
boys would blush or laugh, others would scowl or shout glancing insults that didn’t stop us undressing them with our eyes. Jase, though, was in another league, as bastards go. He and his mates worked the beach, selling cold drinks and melon cups. He had the tan, the looks, the here-all-summer chic. And he had a radar that zeroed in on vulnerability, I’m sure of it. He came up the beach, out of the sun, throwing a shadow across Lynse as he approached. ‘Do you girls want some?’ he called ahead. Lynse propped herself up on her elbows and smiled, all dimply, white teeth flashing in the shade. She pushed up her sunglasses. ‘Not half,’ she said. I’m not sure if he was meant to hear. But he laughed as though he had. ‘I’ve got cold stuff here,’ he said, indicating his tray of drinks and fruit cups, ‘or do you girls want something hotter?’ He looked straight at Lynse. ‘What about you, darling?’ he asked her. ‘Leave off, you,’ I said. ‘You’re all mouth. Anyway, she’s got a feller back home.’ ‘Jealous?’ he said. He crouched down beside Lynse’s lilo, knees splayed, a big grin on his face. ‘Your boyfriend isn’t here is he?’ ‘Ex-boyfriend,’ Lynse said. ‘I’m playing the field now, mate.’ ‘Ooh, you tart!’ one of the other girls said. ‘Just advertising my availability,’ she said with a grin.
‘In that case...’ Jase put down his tray and I think all four of us stared at the bulge in his tight yellow shorts. Dresses on the left, if you get my meaning. ‘There’s a party down at Herman’s place tonight,’ he said. ‘You’re all invited—if you want to come, that is.’ He spoke like a rugby player, posh but rugged. His voice was as manful as it was sensuous, like a deep ocean with dangerous currents. Suddenly I could see how those girls jump into James Bond’s bed, something that had always puzzled me. ‘More like you there?’ I said. ‘More than you can handle,’ he said, rising in one smooth, practiced movement. But he was looking into Lynse’s eyes, clearly having gravitated to the prettiest of the bunch, like they all did. ‘Back to mine after, if you play your cards right.’ He left us on the beach, four fat birds suddenly transformed into Cinderellas.
Drink was flowing, free and easy. We were all used to drinking to forget, to suppress that sadness of being wallflowers. Better to be a party animal than a bit of furniture. Jase and his mates hunted as a pack. They’d sortie into one or other group of girls, humour us with teasing caresses and innuendos, then go and laugh among themselves. There were several groups of girls, and I guess several groups of lads too—good looking lads—though we weren’t bothered with any of the others, and they didn’t approach us either.
Soon, everyone was high and wild. The innuendos became lewd suggestion, the caresses became snogs, with hands slipped into gussets and breasts manhandled like melons. If you were a ripened melon, wouldn’t you long to be consumed, to be cleft in two and drip your juice down some parched man’s chin, just once before you pass your sellby date? Jase came over clutching a couple of bottles of Thunderbird. ‘We’re heading back to Marcus’s loft to carry on. You girls coming?’ I don’t think any of us knew or cared who Marcus was, and we could hardly stand on our heels let alone climb into any loft, but we filed out with the boys, noisily, into the night.
I woke up the next day at lunchtime. And I was the first. Marian, who shared the sofa-beds with me was sleeping and grunted at me when I tried to wake her. In the bedroom, Colette was sleeping beside a bowl overflown with cold vomit. Lynse wasn’t there. I shook Colette by the shoulders. ‘Where is she? Where’s Lynse? You know what a state she was in. Where is she?’ When we’d last seen her, she’d been going crazy, drinking anything that came to hand, feeding herself to the slobbering boys in great coffee-cream dollops. She had suddenly thrown away any inhibitions, any self-respect so far as I could tell. And from
what I could see, she was giving as good as she got. Last I remember, she was leading two lads into a bedroom. Colette looked wetly into my face. ‘I thought she left with you.’ Then she yanked herself away and collapsed back into her stupor. I went back to the other room and shook Marian. ‘Oh, fuck off, Kim.’ She rolled over. I kicked her fat arse, but she didn’t seem to notice. Lynse turned up about an hour later. She came in like a zombie, still in her black dress. There was sand on her skirt. She had lost her shoes. ‘What happened?’ I said. She said nothing. ‘Lynse! What’s happened? Where did you go?’ She stood in front of a tall mirror and gazed into it. ‘Would you unzip me, Kimmy? she said, her voice quiet, flat. I unzipped her dress and she let it fall about her ankles. She had no underwear on. She’d lost the gold necklace she’d worn last night. She had nothing on but her little pink digital watch. She stared naked into the mirror. ‘They called it a pig party, Kimmy. Easy sex, no hassle, no come-backs.’ Tears fell down a well-worn trace across her cheek as she stared on into the mirror at her own naked body. ‘What did they do to you?’ I asked her.
‘We’re pigs.’ She laughed, still crying, still staring. ‘You’re a pig, Kimmy.’ Suddenly she wheeled around and shouted, ‘You’re all pigs, all of you!’ I grabbed her bare shoulders and she swept my hands away. ‘Get off me!’ She went back to staring into the mirror. ‘It’s alright, Lynse’ I said. ‘It’s okay. It’ll be okay.’ She sniffed and wiped away the tears with her fingers. ‘I’ve made a decision,’ she said. ‘I’ve decided not to be a pig. You say I’m pretty. I could be anything, a trolley dolly, a stripper, a model.’ ‘You’re beautiful, Lynse. You know you are.’ ‘No, I’m not,’ she said. ‘But I could be.’ ‘You’re beautiful as you are.’ ‘You’re queer.’ Maybe I was. I know I loved my friend. I’d have given anything to have her looks, or to have her love me like I loved her. Anyway, I let the comment pass. She put one hand on her hip and posed naked in front of the mirror. ‘I think I’ll become a fashion model,’ she said. And she set out from that moment on to mould herself into her new vision of beauty.
The long, steady, lifeless tone of the monitor draws my attention back to my friend lying wasted on the hospital bed. Is that a smile on her face?