August 2017 Contest Winner
Lynn Love is a florist, blogger and novelist-in-training living in Bristol, UK. When she’s not writing blog posts and being distracted by the internet, she’s tripping over ghosts and demons in her current Urban Fantasy novel. She has written three other as yet unpublished novels, won and been shortlisted in several print and online competitions and her short fiction has appeared on Mash Stories, Every Day Fiction, Micro Bookends, Dark Tales and in her writing group’s anthology, Still Me. Her ambition is to give up playing with flowers and become a full-time writer. She blogs at https://lynnmlovewords.
I wasn’t long back from school and was lying on my bed, stocking feet up on my Duran Duran poster. I’d grown tired of pretending to be Jayne Torvill, socks slipping over the icy surface, Bolero pounding in my head like a traction engine My left heel covered Simon Le Bon’s face. It had been over John Taylor’s, but I’d shifted position so John’s glossy pout was free of sock. The door opened hard, denting the lilac woodchip wallpaper.
‘Out!’ said Angie.
I gazed up at John’s perfect cheekbones. ‘I was here first,’ I said.
Angie looked flushed and her blusher was lopsided, making her face look wonkier than usual. Last time she’d stormed in like that, she’d given me a dead leg so hard I’d almost told Mum. All I’d wanted was to escape the drone of the six o’clock news — and to imagine how good John’s lips tasted.
‘Bugger off!’ Angie flopped to her bed, disturbing the smell of old mattress and washing powder.
‘Good day at work, then,’ I said. If I adjusted my feet, I could get John’s head to rest neatly between them. I imagined I was standing on a glass floor and he was looking up at my pants. I tucked the back of my skirt up between my knees.
‘Mr Dobson stinks of fags,’ said Angie.
‘He smells like a pub ashtray. He’s got yellow fingers and greasy glasses and a strip of hair across his bald patch that flops down when he talks.’
John’s stare was as intense as a trapped tiger’s. ‘Sounds gorgeous.’
‘Are you listening?’
I sighed and let my legs drop to the duvet. ‘So he’s a horrible old man. You only have to work for him.’
She bounced round to face me and whispered, ‘I saw Mandy Critchlow today.’
‘Mandy from the year above you at school? Wasn’t she going out with that dick? Ian something.’
‘Not for ages.’
She shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter. Anyway, shut up. You know what Mandy told me?’
‘Ian’s a dick?’
Angie had been picking silky threads from her overall, black, red and hot pink strands dropping to the carpet. Her hand stopped in mid pluck.
Neet, she calls me — always. Only teachers and our Nana Soph call me Anita.
‘Go on, then,’ I said, propping myself up on one elbow. ‘What she say?’
‘She’s training to do the wages. Stays late some nights. A few weeks ago that dirty old bastard …’ Her hands clasped in her lap. ‘Mitts all over her. She’d been crying, Neet, and you know what a hard faced cow Mandy is. ’
I imagined the stink of cigarette breath in my face, clammy palms sticking to my skin. ‘She should tell,’ I said.
‘He’s the owner. If she tells, she’ll lose her job.’
‘What’s she gonna do?’
‘Leave town, she says. Be a Page Three girl.’
‘Page Three? Tits out like the girls on the peanut cards at the Queen’s?’ I had a hazy memory of Mum hustling me in to use the loo, glancing up at a Sindy doll smile peeping from behind shiny foil packets.
‘They get paid a ton,’ said Angie. ‘And Mandy says at least that way the blokes are only looking.’
I lay down, closing my eyes. ‘Sounds a daft idea to me.’
Angie didn’t say anything.
Two weeks later, I walked into our bedroom and Angie was standing on my bed, staring into the little heart shaped mirror that hung from a nail over our shared chest of drawers. A dark pink nipple flashed in the glass before her tee shirt dropped.
‘Can’t you knock?’ she said.
‘It’s my room too. Get off my bloody bed.’ I gave her thigh a stinging slap and she swung at me, clocking my ear with her plastic bangles, making a sound like a beaded curtain.
‘Ow!’ I said, and though it didn’t hurt, I rubbed my head anyway. ‘You were looking at your tits again.’
She’d taken to gazing at herself in windows, poking her chest out until her top strained over her A cups. I scuffed to the window, lifted the sash just a crack and sparked up a half burned cigarette I’d nicked from Dad’s ashtray. The grey smoke was snatched away by the wind, joining fat clouds that sagged over the chimney pots.
‘Gi’s a drag,’ said Angie, kneeling beside me. She puffed a perfect smoke ring, then handed the fag back. ‘Do you think my boobs have grown?’
‘I dunno,’ I said, staring out of the window. ’Who wants big tits anyway? Nana Soph’s pretty much just boob and head. It looks weird.’
‘Mandy says mine need to be bigger if we want to do Page Three.’
I flicked the butt into the darkness and closed the window, shutting out the smoke. ‘Wanna Juicy Fruit?’ We sunk to the carpet, backs against the wall, the bumps at the base of my skull rubbing on the windowsill. I chewed for a few seconds, then said, ‘Mandy talks out of her arse. Not all topless models are big. She’s just saying that cos hers are weirdly humungous and she’s got nothing else going for her.’
‘I think she’s pretty.’
I pulled a length of gum from my mouth and folded it back in, between my tongue and teeth. ‘You know that Pekingese that lives on the corner of Nettleton Lane? The evil one you have to walk in the street to get round? Mandy looks like him — all droopy eyes and pushed up nose.’
Angie sniggered. ‘Less hairy, though.’
She dug her elbow in my ribs but I didn’t mind.
Angie wasn’t around much over the next few months. She was being asked to work late a lot, some big order they had to get out. Though Mum was a machinist at Dobson’s too, and she was still home for tea and telly.
One night, Angie didn’t come home.
When Dad looked on top of the wardrobe, he found the suitcase was missing. It looked like leather, but flaky grey cardboard showed where the corners had been knocked. She’d taken her stone washed jeans with her, tops, leggings, and the black mohair jumper Mum had bought from the market at Christmas.
It wasn’t until after the police had left I saw the heart shaped mirror had gone from the wall, leaving a bright lilac shadow behind.
I closed the front door behind me and saw a square of newspaper on the hall carpet, pinned down by a pair of grubby work boots. A fuzz of fair hair and a naked shoulder were partly hidden beneath the steel toe caps. I looked away before I could make out the girl’s face.
Dumping my bag, I headed through the middle room towards the back of the house.
‘What you doing home, Dad?’
He stood on the kitchen step in his socks, big pink toe visible through a hole in the fabric. He pressed a hand to his ribs. ‘Shit. I thought you were your mother.’
I stood beside him and we both gazed out at the yard. The latch had come undone on the old outside loo door and each time the wind tugged it open, I glimpsed a tin of lilac paint, the drips down the sides stiff and gummy.
‘Here.’ He held a crumpled fag packet.
‘Go on, take one,’ he said. ‘Stop you stealing ‘em off me.’
I lit my cigarette from his and all I could hear was the rain dropping off the roof and the kitchen step creaking as Dad swayed back and forth.
‘Nights are drawing in,’ he said. ‘Cold in the morning now.’
‘Why’re you home, Dad?’ He was never back early, never alone, standing on the kitchen step.
He shrugged. ‘Why’re you back so late from school?’
I thought of waiting outside the headmaster’s office, of that twat of a school secretary, piggy eyes staring at me through milk bottle thick specs. You here again, Anita?
Dad had purple smudges under his eyes and a square chunk out of his bottom lip where he’d been chewing. He looked down at his feet then away, watching the smoke disappear. He bent over, letting his fag fizzle out in a puddle.
‘Get rid of that,’ he said, nodding to my cigarette. ‘And don’t chuck the end in the yard or your mother’ll tear a strip off me.’
I decided not to tell him about school.
I turned the corner, and there it was by our house — a long white car with a thick red strip down the side. The blue lights on the top were off.
I stood by the post box feeling sick, not wanting to go on. Our front door opened and a head popped out. Brown hair thinning on top and grey Teddy Boy sidies. Dad. He looked away along the road, and before I could think I was running. Back onto Dale Road, past our old primary school and The Sweet Cabin, over the bridge and the stream where me and Angie used to go paddling.
The last time a police car came to our house, Mum cried into the night. She’d just stared at the telly, volume off, the test card girl and her creepy clown staring back. Dad had sat at the kitchen table, smoking until stubs spilled from the ashtray.
Finally, I reached the railway embankment and flopped down, the grass damp under my hands. In my pocket was a bag of sweets I’d bought from the Cabin — pink shrimps, cola bottles, jelly dentures. Angie and I used to go there on the way home. Black Jacks for her, Fruit Salad for me. Not for years, though. I sucked on a shrimp, my pulse easing, pink foam dissolving on my tongue.
A line of coal trucks rolled past, stop-start clanking until the train sped up and the trucks snaked smoothly behind. A magpie cawed from his perch on a telegraph pole, his tail dipping and rising. One for sorrow.
After a while, all the sweets were gone, the bag a tight wad in my fist, my stomach churning with sugar. I wished I’d bought Black Jacks and Fruit Salad. The cold made me shiver and my knickers were wet from the grass. Time to go home.
When I finally reached the house, the sun was shining low through the gasometer. On the pavement, the tower’s shadow cage tried to catch my feet. The police were gone. Every light was on in our house, from the front room to the landing, to the bathroom. To my bedroom.
Blood thumping in my ears, I went through our gate. The front door swung open before I reached it.
‘You’re late.’ Dad’s voice was higher than usual and he was still wearing his boots and work overalls. He must have been watching through the window. ‘Where’ve you been?’
‘I saw the police car.’ No other words came.
Dad nodded. ‘Better come in, love.’ As I went past, he squeezed my shoulder. ‘Up in your room.’
I climbed the stairs to the chitter-chatter of Mum’s voice. I stopped outside the door. Reached out one finger, pushed. The door creaked open.
She was pacing the carpet. Two strides and she pulled a duvet straight, two more and she tucked a stray bra strap away into a drawer. Her face was puffy from crying, her nose red and swollen, though she smiled when she saw me.
‘I was just tidying up, love. For Angie coming home.’
I looked at the lilac woodchip walls, the drawers with the pony stickers to show which were Angie’s, all her things that had been waiting. For six months, I’d filled the room with Radio One, playing endless tapes and singles and LPs, pretending not to hear the quiet, or notice the way her smell was fading.
‘She’s not coming home, Mum.’
‘You wish,’ said a voice behind me.
I turned to see my sister in our spot under the window, knees pulled up to her chest, the hem of her knitted dress stretched covering pale, bruised shins.
‘I brought your mirror back.’ She nodded to where it hung lopsided, a sliver of bright lilac paint showing along one edge.
‘I’ll make some tea,’ said Mum. A few seconds and her slippers were scuffing down the stairs.
‘She’s been like that since I got back,’ said Angie. ‘Got a fag?’
I pulled a disposable lighter and a pack of B & H from my coat pocket. ‘You missed my sixteenth,’ I said. The flame shook, but I managed to spark two cigarettes and hand one to her.
‘Yeah. Sorry.’ She nodded to the blank wall above my bed. ‘Where’s John Taylor?’
I shrugged. ‘He buggered off just after you did.’
I opened the window a crack and we knelt side by side, our elbows resting on the sill as twin smoke rings sailed over the rooftops.