Authors: Maxine Linnell
Five Leaves Publications
by Maxine Linnell
Published in 2010 by Five Leaves Publications
PO Box 8786, Nottingham NG1 9AW
Â© Maxine Linnell, 2010
Five Leaves acknowledges financial support from Arts Council England
Cover design: Darius Hinks
Typesetting and design: Four Sheets Design and Print
With thanks to the team at Nottingham Trent University's creative writing course, especially David Belbin, Leicester Writers' Club for their support and feedback, especially Rod Duncan and Chris d'Lacey, and to Penny Luithlen for helping me through this book.
For Benn and Kate
Maxine Linnell trained as a psychotherapist and later gained at distinction in the Nottingham Trent University MA in Creative Writing. She lives in Leicester where she chairs Leicester Writers Club, an organisation of published writers.
I'm out of the shower, dressed and drying my hair, so I don't hear Kyle come in. It's about three. Friday. Day off college. He puts his head round my door.
“I've got the car!”
I see him in the mirror. “Great! I want to check out the retro shops. We can get there before they close.”
He's over at the table, messing with my make up. “For the project?”
I nod. “Sixties. 1962. Vintage. Before the obvious stuff. The Beatles and hippies and all that.”
“Cool. Can I try this on?”
My new mascara. I hesitate. But he's my best mate. “Okay. I wish there was some way of getting back there. It's like another world.”
“Has to be better than this dump.” He's laying on the mascara, thick. Smudging it. His face â could be a boy or a girl, small nose, big dark eyes. A bit pale. He's taller than me, thin. Always looks sad, ever since his mum died. I'd go for him myself.
“Does your brother know? That you've got the car?”
“You're joking. He's sleeping off last night â out till three.”
He scrubs at his eyes with a tissue. “How do you get this stuff off?”
I check to see if the bath towel's got dye on it. It's one of Mum's best. There's a thick grey streak across one side. I throw it in a corner. Maybe she won't find it. Not that I care if she does.
“Where did you get this? It's rubbish.”
I put down the hair-dryer and give him some remover pads. I get my straighteners and nudge him out of the way.
“What's your real colour?” he asks. He's watching me at work. His head's on one side. His hair's covering half his face. Good cut.
“Some kind of brown. Don't remember, it's been black so long.” My hair's shiny. And the cut's fantastic. Long underneath and choppy on the top. So cool. Mum hates it. Even though she's always going on about being positive. Even when something terrible happens, like Dad leaving.
Kyle picks up a hair band, tries it on in the mirror. It flattens his fringe so it's even longer on one side. The rest spikes up behind. He back-combs it. With my comb. He looks demented but cute. He smiles at himself, turns round to show me. When he smiles, you'd die for him. Really you would.
“You're done, now let me at the mirror. I hate this place. The only decent mirror's on the landing.” I sigh.
“Looks okay to me. Your dad still â away?”
I wait before I answer.
“I think they'll get divorced now.”
I miss Dad. I hate this house. It's miles from where we used to live. Nobody's got any money since the split. My life is crap. I want out. Somehow. But I can't tell Kyle. Even though he's my best mate. Not since his mum died last year. He doesn't say much. But there's the poems. Not that he shows them to anyone. Except the one he put on facebook. So sad. I cried.
There's a noise across the road. Kyle is over at the window. He's got the attention span of a head louse. Looking at where the new people are moving in.
“Who's that? He's beautiful,” he says. I'm over there. It's the new guy. He must be eighteen, nineteen maybe. Tall. Very tall. Brown. Longish dark hair, falling over his face. Tight jeans. Blue tee with a logo. Carrying a fridge out of a lorry like it's a CD, like he's been working out for ever. He is fit. I've never seen anyone that fit.
I wonder what he's like without his clothes on.
He looks up at us. I see his face. I could fall right into those big brown eyes. It's like the world just lit up. Puts down the fridge. Turns and stretches, like a cat in front of the fire. Flat stomach in the gap between t-shirt and jeans. Muscled arms. So hot. I sigh.
“Wouldn't mind him,” says Kyle. He's pulling at his hair, preening.
“Back off,” I say. I push him out of the way. “He's mine.”
The guy grins. He picks up the fridge. Goes into the house. I so want to get my hands on him.
The talent across the road should brighten theday. Give me a lift. The sun is out. Don't remember seeing it since last summer. I bet it will rain later. Again. We're going into town. Me and my best mate. It's Friday. But it's still crap. All of it.
“How do you know he's straight?” I hear Kyle say. “If we're going to go, you'll have to stop perving at the window.”
There's no sign of the guy.
Kyle's over at the mirror again. Misting it up. Dragging eyeliner under his right eye and smudging it.
I string my mobile round my neck on a black shoelace. Sad, but I made a promise to Dad. I lost mine again, and he had to pay loads on the insurance. He told me to hang it round my neck. So, I'll just look like a loser.
The mobile hangs with the brilliant pendant Kyle gave me for my sixteenth. I zip up my jacket over them. Still cold out there.
Kyle picks up his keys. His eyes are smudged. But they look okay. “Ready?”
I manage a grin. For a moment, I almost feel it.
“I need to see the sad old cow at the coffee shop before we go â find out if she wants me tomorrow.”
“Why do you keep working there?” Kyle's over by the window again.
“I need the money to go out tomorrow night. Mum won't give me anything. She is so tight.”
We're leaving the house. The guy comes out to the lorry again. Like he's seen us. Seen me.
“Well, hello there.” I do my best Marilyn Monroe impression. A little wave. Hands on hips. Chest pushed out. I've seen the films. I know how it's done.
He looks surprised. He jumps in the lorry and gets busy with the boxes.
Did I do something wrong?
We get in the car. There's no central locking or aircon. No anything.
We stop outside the coffee shop. Kyle stays in the car. The place is empty. Except for an old woman sitting by the window, hugging an empty cup. The radio is on. Drowning out the silence.
Mrs L is wiping down the counter. She looks tired. She always does. Her hair looks stringy. Her skin needs some help. Everything about her looks worn down. Worn out. She runs her hand through her hair.
“Do you need me tomorrow?”
She looks round at the six pine tables. “The morning will do. That's the only time I suppose we'll be full.”
Shrugs her shoulders.
“See you then â tomorrow.” I have to get out. Before I die of depression.
I run to the car. Kyle's got his iPod wired into the speakers. Loud.
He drives off.
I slide down the seat as we go back past the house. That's when it happens. A puppy. Golden colour â like a labrador or something. It's sitting by the bus stop, on its own, like it's waiting for a bus. Then it gets up and runs into the road.
The lorry on the other side screeches to a stop, just missing the puppy. It dashes on in front of us.
Kyle slams on the brakes.
I shut my eyes, tight.
Wait for the crash.
Marilyn was on her way home from school. She had a huge amount of homework to do at the weekend. She got on the bus, last of the bunch of friends going the same way. They all went upstairs and Marilyn followed. She lugged her bag full of books and folders and staggered to a seat near the front. Her tie was crumpled, her shirt was grey, her hair was a mess. She knew that. She didn't care, not much.
“Don't mind me!” Sheila made room for her on the seat and leaned forward to talk to Liz and Di. Marilyn wished it was just her and Sheila. She shrank back in her seat and pushed her glasses back on her nose. She hated the glasses.
“It's on!” Di shrieked. “We always get them late, it's ages since they had it in London.”
They were going past the cinema.
. Marilyn Monroe. Just look at her on the poster. Doesn't look much like our Marilyn, does she?”
Liz was at the window too. “Look over there. Can you see him? That's the one that asked me out. Over there, the one at the bus stop across the road.”
“The one with eyes on stalks?” Di had a loud voice and Marilyn squirmed. Everyone on the bus must be looking at them.
“He's terrible. He goes to City Boys. I saw him at the sixth form dance that time, can't dance for toffee,” said Di.
“Get the black specs,” said Sheila, watching him as the bus moved off.
“Four eyes,” said Di and giggled. Marilyn folded her arms over her body and slumped down. They didn't seem to realise. Laughing at someone else for wearing glasses was as good as laughing at her. Not that she'd say anything. They should know. She hated them all.
Di waved out of the window at the boy, and sheand Liz fell about giggling.
Marilyn looked out of the window. She recognised the boy. Tony. He'd asked her out, two weeks ago. She didn't know what to say. She mumbled something about having loads of homework. He'd gone.
Nobody had asked her out before.
She rewrote that scene so many times in her head that she hardly remembered what had really happened. She didn't care that Tony wore glasses. She liked it. She didn't care what he looked like.
Tony hadn't looked at her since. Or maybe she hadn't looked at him. But she'd wanted to.
She took off her glasses and stuffed them in her pocket. She looked down at her inky hands. She wanted to escape. Not long now before her stop, and Sheila's. She hoped nobody would notice her, and they were busy yakking for a while. She wanted â she wanted so much â to be anywhere but here. Anywhere, any time, anyone but herself, here, now, on this bus, in this life, waiting for Liz and Di to say something mean.
She did not have to wait long.
“Who do you fancy then, Marilyn?” Liz and Di's attention was on her.
“Nobody.” Marilyn turned towards the aisle, her shoulders hunched over.
“Bet you can't see far enough to tell, eh? And who'd be interested anyway, fatty? How about that Tony? He'd be your type. Careful kissing him with your glasses on, you might get tangled up.” They all fell about laughing. Marilyn wanted to say something, she wanted to yell at them all, but the words wouldn't come out. They never did.