The girl had curly hair. She studied French. Before university the girl had spent a number of her school summers working on camp sites in the Dordogne and Loire Valley. The first summer had been chosen as a way to build on the basic French learnt in secondary school but the work suited her, it was varied and her naturally cheerful personality was appreciated by the campers. The English holidaymakers were grateful that she spoke English, and the French holiday makers, though surprised, delighted in her ability to speak French. She returned the following two years and in her final summer, the summer before university, she fell in love with a French boy who worked on the site. She lost her virginity to him but, though he was her first love, she had seen him have other holiday romances before at the site and had no intention of seeing him again once university had begun. French classes at the former polytechnic were hard, but the fluency she had already gained in the language was a benefit. She was on nodding terms with a number of people in her French classes but she drew her friends from the people she lived close to and saw every day. She made friends easily. The French sun had given her a deep tan and her hair already blonde, had grown lighter. She weighed ten stone exactly, and had done so for the last two years. Though she was the largest of her friend group she did not look overweight, and instead the weight gave her an innate sense of strength, something that fitted well with her practical and outgoing nature. When she undressed the curves of her body were firm and smooth, and suggested a sexuality that was sometimes otherwise hard to see. She had a thin white scar on her stomach from where her appendix had been removed. Continue reading
Category Archives: People
This was written for the Electric Literature Holiday Contest (a short short of 30 to 300 words, that uses each word only once). This being the holidays though I got distracted and didn’t manage to submit on time. Still, 111 words, no repetition. Worth posting up I think:
He beats the shit out of James.
Pounds his knuckles flat against soft pink skin.
Shatters cheek bones.
Me, huddled in a car park corner; streaked mascara, salt tears.
Tell myself: Close your eyes.
Two cracked ivory stumps glisten wetly by my foot.
Say: Scrunch them tight.
Imagine green grass and dappled sunlight.
Blood pools on oil-stained concrete.
Forget everything else.
Silence echoes off hard grey walls.
Crack each lid open. First one. Then another.
See him turn.
Thin, spittle coated lips now split apart.
A drunken grin.
Huge arms, giant belly, muscle turned half to fat.
I am screaming.
I left Strongrooms after being there all afternoon, stumbled a bit as I walked out from under the trailing ivy, and turned down Curtain Road. The pavement was dark from rain but the brief downpour that had rolled across London hadn’t cleared the air of the dirty humidity that furred the air.
As the rain had stopped so people had started to move outside of the bars and gather together in twos and threes. I hugged the edge of the pavement to avoid the small groups and rough lines of smokers and thought to myself that I should have gone the other way, up along Rivington Street and out.
There was a man ahead of me walking, slowly, in the same direction. I gained on him a quarter-stride at a time. Two angel wings of sweat stained the grey fabric of his t-shirt and in his left hand he held a white plastic bag, low down by his side. I slowed my pace as I drew close then, unable to pass, timed my walk to his, mimicking his steps as I waited. The angel wings lost their definition at this distance. The plastic bag had a blue and red Chicken Cottage logo printed on it. There was a roll of fat at the back of his neck, visible above the line of his t-shirt. When I did move past I walked too quickly and my leg knocked the bag he held. It bounced and swung in his hand. I said ‘sorry’, but with my earphones in I couldn’t hear myself speak, and I didn’t look across at him.
Ahead of me the pavement ended and cars drifted along the road like cut logs floating down a river. I waited at the bank and watched the logs as they passed, my eyes following their slow unceasing jostle for space. A crowd gathered and I could feel the presence of Angle Wings behind me, close among the mass of assembled bodies. My back was tensed slightly; in my mind Angel Wings had become an avenging angel. I craned my neck upwards and concentrated on the traffic light.
Thin and pale and undersized. Big cheekbones and dark eyes. Dark hair and a light loose t-shirt. When he was young he had been bullied and jeered at; gay, queer, effeminate, the flaws of others visited upon him, or when he was young he had not been picked on, had not been bullied; quiet, shy, harmless, close friends. I saw him outside a bar in December, smoking a cigarette. As he smoked he looked straight ahead at nothing, his eyes invisibly narrow against the cold. I saw him another time in Soho, and another time somewhere else. He wound a scarf around his neck through the autumn and the winter, and in the winter his skin looked translucent; a matt epidermal varnish on sub stratum layers of alabaster. In December I was at another bar, across the street from him,waiting for friends to arrive. I looked down to check my phone, looked left, down the road, to where my friends should appear, soon. I saw the boy at the edge of my sight, saw him flick the cigarette away and turn inside. His jacket billowed slightly as he spun, the bouncer held the door for him, the door closed, the bouncer turned back to the street. My friends should have arrived then but they didn’t and I waited another twenty minutes before I sent a fucked off text and went home. A soft thread of smoke rose from the discarded cigarette. I think it was him.
When I eat I gobble I devour. I take three bite sized bites in one bite. I don’t stop eating until the thing I’m eating is gone. I compact a sandwich in my mouth, condense the whole thing in to three or four heightened moments of flavour. On bigger sandwiches (or cakes, or chips, or bags of crisps) this means that my throat will feel dry and swollen before I get to the end. My throat constricts and I eat in slight, then mild, then noticeable discomfort, until the thing is gone. Then I drink the glass of water or, more often, the can of Coke that sits in front of me. I drink it down in one swallow.
Tip a whole packet of M&Ms in to your mouth in one go and the flavour becomes almost unbearable. Your mouth stings with sweet sharp citric acid and fills with saliva. The juice of the sweets runs down your throat for twenty seconds, thirty seconds, forty. And then the flavour dims and all you’re left with is a mouth full of sticky crunchy rubber that you chew and chew until it is gone. Then, if you have thought ahead, you can open the second packet.
Weight gain is a side effect of this need for flavour. Excessive eating is only a problem if you swallow, and I haven’t yet got to the point of spitting out food once the flavour goes. Not yet. And I can’t stomach bulimia. Fingers down the throat, bringing food back up; the taste of bile and vomit and stomach acid, all rising and swilling around your mouth. In my mind I see the acid corruption of a million taste buds. I cannot stand acid reflux.
In the last few years my weight gain has become more of a problem. When I was young I ate foods with natural sugars and delicate flavours. Pulses, vegetables, fish. At first I was content but later I sought more instant gratification. I left these gateway rations behind and I lost myself in the salts and sugars and chemically boosted flavour of fast food. Corruption worse than acid. The delicate flavour of steamed fish no longer registers in my mouth, al dente greens taste of starch and water and nothing else.
I live alone and now, each evening, I phone and wait for the doorbell to ring. I open the door to the motorcyclist and he hands me a white plastic bag filled with a pile of takeaway boxes. I tip him and thank him and close the door. I turn and find that on the journey back I lean more heavily on my walking stick than before. I find that when I sit back down in my armchair my heart is beating fast in my chest. I sit there and feel it and I wait for it to slow. My heart, beating beating beating in my chest.
Speaking personally, I’m not one to exercise that much. I’m not some endo behemoth or steroid meso or skinny heroin fuck. I’ve been to the gym before and bulked up, a little bit. I’ve eaten Chicken Cottage five nights a week (the first week, four nights a week the second) and fatted up slightly, but not that much. That’s how I’ve stayed so far. Johan wasn’t like that. He was a big guy, not a fat big guy, though he had been when he was young, fat I mean and, actually, big too probably; he was big boned, big in structure. He hulked. He’d lost the fat by the time I met him, most of it anyway, but he was still self conscious. When he came out of the shower at the gym or stood by the side of the pool you saw a stomach that was mostly smooth, with a crease across the middle from being sucked in all the time. And he had that bulge of flab under his ribcage that ex-endos sometimes get, that little bit that sticks out no matter how much you breath in. Actually breathing in makes it worse, more pronounced. Johan went to the gym a lot and his arms got thicker and his shoulders got bigger but that layer of subcutaneous puppy tissue, not much but enough, it lay like a blanket and hid the definition he desired. Another friend, Seymour, obsessed with abdominal muscles. Obsessed. Determined to get a six pack, an eight pack was the dream. He bought the Men’s Health and the Men’s Fitness magazines, drank the protein shakes and did the crunches. But he still fried fish fingers instead of grilling them, ate takeaway four nights a week and had a genetic makeup that was default set to pale and pasty. Brown rice, lentils, boiled fish, we told him he’d need to eat right but he didn’t listen and after a while I stopped thinking he was determined and started thinking he was a fucking idiot. He should have joined the runners on the Common, always there, morning, evening, going raaand and raaand and raaand. Charlie didn’t live with us, but him and Johan would go running sometimes. Charlie waited at the door while Johan tied his laces, big looping bows. Every time I watch Johan tie his laces I hear in my head the bunny ears rhyme and see him five years old, tongue stuck out, concentrating. Then his mum claps her hands together delightedly and hugs him and says oh you’re such a big boy! Johan stands and Charlie says hey, Seymour, you wanna come with? Seymour never joins them though and the last time he just shook his head and carried on to the lounge, a half loaf heap of toast on a plate in his hand.
Photo taken from This Semblance Of collection, Emma Turpin
Photo of a friend, taken by her friend, that was included in Spectrum – the photography section of the Sunday Times magazine – a couple of weeks ago. See more photos from the collection here: