By Liv Francis-Pape
Jenny inhales on her cigarette and wonders how flammable her turquoise jumper is. A cloud is making love to her ears, pressurized thoughts in a propane tank resting just on her narrow shoulders. She tries not to spend too long on one or the other, tries to let them scurry over her – freezing in their presence like a B horror movie caricature. Her lips are sore. She thinks about Amy Winehouse lyrics, briefly, and lets them pass too. She thinks about canoeing as a child and skinny dipping in the rain as a teenager. But mostly she doesn’t let herself think about the house in Berkhamsted. About the, now bare, cupboards on her side of the bed. She tries to pretend she didn’t leave her grandmother’s crystal paperweight on the desk as she left. The little paper robins sat in the center, perched below oil painted clouds. She doubts he’ll have kept it, knowing how much it meant to her. She half expected him to hold it hostage, being so fond of leverage.
She can hear the neighbor playing the harmonica over the fence. It grates against her tunelessly.
As she stubs the cigarette out she has a sudden, inexplicable memory – of renting a pirated copy of ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ from a friend at school, Doug and her curled under a crocheted blanket with a bowl of untouched popcorn. She watched through her fingers for most of the carnage but, as the credits rolled, Jenny noticed that Doug was sound asleep. Who sleeps through this amoral blood bath? She couldn’t help clocking how beautiful he looked though, eyes fluttering, almost frustratingly porcelain. She brushed his dyed blue fringe from eyes and they stayed like that for a while. Never had voyeurism felt so serene. Somewhat biblical. He is as wearing his rainbow braces, she remembered because the next day he had a Y-shaped tan line on his back. She teased him mercilessly. The blue hair decision didn’t help his cause. He still became head boy though, even looking like a Smurf.
Something snaps her back to the sky, a lawnmower in the distance? The violence of the wind edging closer and closer? She isn’t sure. She picks up her coffee and goes back to the patio doors.
“Millie, come here girl,” Jenny whistles. Her golden retriever springs towards her, tail windmilling at 50 mph, and she slides the glass shut behind them. She goes to feed Millie and switches the radio on. Ed Sheeran sings something that sounds like almost all others of his, and she tries to stop her head from spinning again. She presses her forehead against the cool stonework of the wall. She can’t bring herself to look over at the cabinet, the envelope, the self-righteous ‘Sign here’ dots. Lily is still asleep upstairs, she can hear the audiobook still humming. She wants to go and watch her sleep but isn’t sure she can control her tear ducts enough, she doesn’t want to worry that gorgeous little head anymore. She has Doug’s eyes, curious, mischievous, so much so that all she has to do is forget herself for a beat and she can imagine she’s sixteen again, staring at him for an hour before the alarm clock sounded out like a call to prayer.
Instead, she gets a glass of water and swallows the memory.
Jenny gazes at the fairy lights in the window, replacing Doug memories with herself. She strains to rewrite her veins, to recall what she used to be before him. Who was that girl? Was she strong? No, she couldn’t have been. She pretended to be strong, she used to sit in windows and play the violin like nothing else mattered. She let her hair sprout down to the curve of her buttocks, she wore dungarees and baked pasta dishes. In the window, she can see how unlike that girl she is now. Calloused, loneliness smearing grease on her forehead. Mid-thirties and sadder than she has ever caught herself being. A glimmer of who she thought she’d be. Too much oil in water, spitting, caring, aching. Stuck.
Who knew adulthood would be so fireless?
Not all of us want to turn our sin into profit. But, seemingly, for some, it comes naturally. Doug seemed so light, easy, gentle until he wasn’t. Until the mask gets removed and you see dirt just under the skin.
Millie looks pleadingly up at Jenny as she places a bowl of chicken and rice on the floor. Jenny fiddles with her bra strap and notes how large it feels on her now. She needs to go shopping. When did she last eat? Yesterday? The memory escapes her.
Three things still paint the inside of her skull, not shaken by tapping her head.
1: ‘I’ll never wake up next to him again’
2: ‘How can I get the paperweight back?’
3: ‘Should I call him?’ She can’t exercise the slippery insistence of each thought.
She looks at the ceiling, there being some odd catharsis in looking upward. Upward to some molecular hope, some entity that she has never given more than a minute’s thought to. She closes her eyes are tries to pray like they do in the movies, she has only prayed once in her tatty life. When her father left, she looked up the mold ordaining the tactile ceiling of her childhood home and said one sentence. One line that has stuck with her ever since: ‘Please, let life get better.’. She murmurs the same sentiment now, hearing Millie scoffing her dinner, feeling her gut swirling in violent bubbles.
Jenny returns to the room before her, grasping at any grounding piece of furniture that she can. Her thoughts won’t listen, they’re unsure how to.
She locates her phone and re-downloads ‘Plenty of Fish’. This is not the first time she has deleted it and changed her mind. But at this throbbing moment of enmity, oozing pain, she needs a stranger to touch her. She needs an unknown hand getting to know her curves and lines, a scar from a lego incident, a bruise from a door handle. She needs fingers, fingers she can close her eyes to and imagine Doug is still that peacemaker he was at seventeen.
The app pops up eagerly, with hundreds of unnoticed matches. She picks one at random and types in the first line: ‘Hi. I need some fun, you game?’. Jenny’s unsure why she chose such an adolescent lexis, maybe it’s human nature. Dumb yourself down for something you desire.
She wonders why her cheek is wet and tacky. She stares at the stranger’s bubbles, wondering what he is typing.
A quiet, warm tear pauses on the tip of her nose and she waits.
About Liv Francis-Pape
Liv is a, mainly, confessional writer who experiments with themes of the self, mental illness, addiction, and strained relationships. She has been published by Drunk Monkeys journal as well as for performances of her poetry, but she is still a fairly new and unpublished author who welcomes any new opportunity. She currently studies creative writing at the University of Birmingham and freelances as journalist, usually reviewing music, medicine and horror movies.