Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Bus

The thing that Ellie likes best about her new school is the corridors. They didn't have corridors at her old school. Ellie feels important when she walks down a corridor; like some kind of silent animal that knows things. Ellie likes it. But as soon as she realises she likes it, Ellie becomes self-conscious and doesn't know what to do with her hands. They feel too big and too heavy and too part of her body.

Sometimes, when Ellie's walking down a corridor, she sees Laura-Jane. Laura-Jane is half Italian. Laura-Jane says, alright? instead of hello. Laura-Jane is beautiful and dangerous and the boys think she’s fit and Laura-Jane absolutely knows it but doesn’t ever talk about it because she just knows it too much. Once, at lunch, Ellie was sitting near Laura-Jane and Laura-Jane looked over to Ellie and said, alright? and Ellie nodded and said, yeah and Laura-Jane said let's see your shoes so Ellie showed her the shoes she was wearing which was an awful moment. And Laura-Jane said cool. And now, whenever Laura-Jane sees Ellie, she says alright? and Ellie gets an adrenaline pain in her chest.

One day, Ellie is on the bus home from school and someone at the back shouts, hey.  She looks behind her and there's a boy, a man maybe, looking at her. He’s got stubble and dark, dark hair and big shoulders and his voice is deep; the kind of deep voice that you only have after having had a deep voice for a few years. He's the one shouting hey and he's shouting it at Ellie. Ellie says, do you mean me and the boy or man says come over here a sec and Ellie says why and he says cos we wanna ask you something. So, Ellie walks over to him while the bus is still moving which makes her wobble from side to side. She doesn’t know where to go after she’s arrived at the back of the bus. But then the boy or man says fucking move over, Matt, let her sit down, you prick and Ellie sits down next to him. She can smell him and his smell is sweet and thick and she likes it. He says what's your name then and Ellie says, Ellie. And he says cool, what do you think my name is and Matt and some others start laughing and looking at her. Ellie says, you’re Mark, aren’t you And the boy or man looks at Matt and says, wicked. Ellie looks out the window a bit. Then, Mark nudges her thigh with his thigh and says, how old are you and Ellie says twelve and Mark says fuck off I thought you were much older than that. And then he says how old do you think I am and Ellie says, I dunno, maybe twenty five and Mark says fuck off I'm eighteen. And his friends laugh into their jackets. So does Ellie. Not into her jacket, though. Mark looks at Ellie up and down. And Ellie says did you really think I was much older and Mark says fuck yeah, like sixteen. And his friends laugh into their jackets again.

Ellie looks out the window and doesn’t know if she’s smiling or not. She rubs her hands for no reason and she can feel that the skin on them is really dry. This is because she had swimming today. The skin on her hands and face is always really dry after swimming and she hates it. She hates how her hair goes after swimming, too. It feels like it’s made out of a cold, liquid metal.

Mark says, oi, I wanna ask you something and Ellie turns to face him and she can feel the sun coming in through the window and warming the back of her head. Has anyone ever told you that you're beautiful? Ellie feels like she needs to swallow but that if she does, it will make a stupid noise, so she doesn't swallow and when she starts to speak, there's quite a lot of saliva in her mouth and she nearly spits a bit out. And she says no, not really. And Mark says well you are. You're well beautiful. And Ellie says that's cool and clenches her jaw and gets a griping pain in her stomach.

At home that night, Ellie's mum tells her she has to have a bath. She has to get in the same bath water as her sister. The way the water looks reminds Ellie of that milk with no fat some people drink. In the bath, Ellie thinks about Laura-Jane. She thinks about the way Laura-Jane walks and the sound of her voice which is husky and cool. Ellie hears her own voice in her head doing Laura-Jane’s voice. She can tell that she’s really good at doing it. Ellie wonders what Laura-Jane’s handwriting is like. She bets herself it looks like foreign writing, in a good way. Ellie wonders what Laura-Jane’s bedroom is like. She bets herself it’s like an eighteen-year-old’s. Ellie thinks about Laura-Jane being with a boy. She thinks about Laura-Jane climbing on top of a boy and taking her top off and letting her hair fall down over her face and saying something amazing at just the right moment. And she thinks about how much the boy would like it and how lucky the boy would think he was to have Laura-Jane on top of him. And, after a little while, Ellie shakes her head quickly and involuntarily, and then she says no out loud without meaning to and feels ugly.

On the bus the next day, Mark sits next to Ellie without asking. He tells her what aftershave he's wearing (Fahrenheit), what he has for breakfast every single day (one and a half pieces of toast with marmite), who his favourite super model is (Claudia Schiffer), which football team he supports (Juventus) and what NVQs he's doing (Business, Media Studies and Health & HFitness). He gets Ellie to repeat all of it back to him so that he knows she's listened. She has listened. Mark makes jokes about Ellie being in Year Seven and asks her if all the boys in her year have squeaky voices and no stubble. Mark shows Ellie his own stubble and gets her to feel it. Ellie can see that some of the older girls on the bus are watching her do it which makes her really, really want to stop. And Mark says, a bit too loudly, you know what I said yesterday about you being beautiful, it's still true. You're really beautiful and you've got fucking good legs for a twelve year old. Ellie does a laugh that’s more a noise than a laugh and goes red and looks out the window and wants Mark to stay and go at the same time.

Mark and Ellie discover that Mark lives really close to where Ellie's dad lives. He asks her how often she goes to her dad's and she says every Wednesday night and every other weekend. Mark gives Ellie his phone number and says you can call me whenever you want. He says, you should call me tonight actually. Ellie tries to think of a secret place near her house where she can do this.

Mark sits next to Ellie on the bus every day now. His friends say, so, are you two going out now and Mark says fuck off, you bunch of pricks. He gives Ellie a picture of him so she can look at it at school. In the photo, he's wearing a suit and a bow tie because he's going to his end of year ball. She looks at it about twenty times a day.

One day, at lunch, Ellie sees Laura-Jane who's talking to some of her friends about being fingered. Laura-Jane looks over at Ellie and Ellie says alright? and Laura-Jane says have you ever been fingered and Ellie lies. Laura-Jane says to her friend, if she can get fingered so can you, Lucy, you frigid slag . And everyone laughs. Including Lucy. Laura-Jane asks Ellie if she's got a boyfriend and Ellie says yeah, he's eighteen, he's doing NVQs. And Laura-Jane says you fucking lying bitch and Ellie says do you wanna see a photo of him and Laura-Jane says yeah go on then, so Ellie shows Laura-Jane the photo of Mark in his suit and bow tie. Laura-Jane passes the photo around the group and someone says fucking hell I know him, that's Mark Hardy he's a fucking pedo.

On the bus a few days later, Mark tells Ellie that his mum and dad are going away for the weekend and that he has to look after the dog and that she should come over. Ellie wants to and doesn't want to at the same time. And she says yeah ok cool. Mark says will your mum let you and Ellie says I'm at my dad's this weekend and he'll drop me off anywhere I want.

Ellie gets to Mark's house a bit too early and he's still wearing a towel from the shower. Ellie's wearing jeans and trainers and a jumper. Mark's house is small and old and there's lots of red furniture and a dog. Ellie doesn't know how to look at or talk to the dog. The dog sniffs Ellie between her legs and Ellie laughs even though she hates it and Mark says, he’s got good taste, hasn’t he.

Mark's bedroom is downstairs instead of upstairs. There are loads of pictures of super models on his wall and he's got a double bed and his own shower room. Mark gets changed in front of Ellie and Ellie laughs a bit and picks at her sleeves. Mark says we should sit on the bed and watch some TV. So that's what they do. They do it for ages. Ellie starts to need a wee but doesn’t say anything about it because of having to walk to the loo in front of Mark.

Mark puts his hand on Ellie's leg and says I wanna kiss you and then he kisses her. He kisses her for ages until her lips and cheeks are sore from his stubble. Mark lies down and brings Ellie with him so that she's on top. They carry on kissing and Mark's face gets red and he starts to breathe a lot. He holds onto Ellie's hips and moves them up and down so that she's rubbing against him. They stop kissing so much but Mark keeps moving her up and down on top of him and closes his eyes and says fucking hell a lot. Ellie looks out the window which is at the head of Mark’s bed. She sees an old woman in the next door garden hanging out the washing. The old woman's arms are shaking and it takes her a few tries to get the sheet over the washing line. But she does it eventually.

Mark's eyes are still closed and his face is really red and really hot and really sticky. His hand moves towards the buttons on Ellie's jeans and he starts to undo them. Ellie looks down at his hand and then she sees her own hand grab his and move it away. Mark tries again and Ellie moves him away again. He tries again. She moves him away. Mark says just fucking get your jeans off and Ellie says erm, but... and sits up. Mark says fucking hell, you're a cock teaser and then his doorbell rings. Ellie gets the same adrenaline pain in her chest that she got when Laura-Jane first said alright? to her but this is the bad kind.

It was Paul at the door. Paul is Mark's mate. Paul says are we going then and Mark says yeah yeah and Paul says is she coming and Mark says, I dunno why don't you ask her

They all get in Paul's car. Ellie sits in the back. She really needs a wee but she didn't want to say before they left. Before Mark gets in the front with Paul, he puts his hoodie between Ellie's legs and says keep that warm for me will you.

They drive for ages. Ellie really needs a wee but she doesn't want to say anything. Mark and Paul talk about people Ellie doesn't know and tell stories about girls' tits they've seen and say stuff about women they drive past.

When they get to the cinema, Mark and Paul make a joke about Ellie seeing a PG. Ellie is bursting for a wee now but she still doesn't go to the loo, even though the loo's right there in front of her. She just keeps quiet about it. During the film, Mark puts his hand on Ellie's leg and squeezes her thigh and kisses her neck and whispers in her ear that she's got amazing tits for a twelve year old. Ellie crosses her legs for the whole film and when it's finished her feet and bum are numb and her bladder is screaming.

Outside the cinema, Paul bumps into a girl he knows and they all talk for a bit. Nobody talks to Ellie though because she hasn't been introduced. Ellie doesn't know what to do with her hands, but it’s much worse than when she doesn’t know what to do with her hands when she's walking down a corridor at school. When the girl leaves, Mark says she is so fucking fit. And then he says to Ellie, you could be that fit if you wanted to be and looks at her as if he's a bit angry. Paul calls Mark a pedo and punches him on the arm. Ellie can't believe how badly she needs a wee.

In the car on the way back, Mark and Paul play a game about who they'd rather fuck out of a list of famous women. They ask Ellie who she'd rather fuck out of each of them. Ellie tells them she can't decide and Mark calls her a fucking whore as a joke. Ellie starts to get really scared about wetting herself. She nearly asks if they can pull over but then she changes her mind.

After a while, Mark says to Ellie are you coming back to mine and Ellie says she can't because she has to babysit her little sister and she needs to get back before eight. And Mark says to Paul I told you she was a cock teaser.

As soon as Ellie closes the front door at her dad's house, she runs up the stairs and into the bathroom. She sits on the loo for about ten seconds before any pee comes out. She pees for ages. Maybe even two whole minutes. She hears her brother and sister playing a computer game in her brother's bedroom. They play a lot of computer games together. They know all about them. When she's finished peeing, Ellie stays sitting on the loo for quite a while. She suddenly feels tired and kind of empty. She closes her eyes for a bit and tries to remember what the film was about. She thinks about how she wished she’d bought some popcorn. And then, after a few minutes she hears her dad's voice shouting dinner! from the bottom of the stairs.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Tim sits on a patch of grass near the cathedral and asks people for cigarettes and money. His face is red and puffy because of drinking and his glassy eyes look like they’re too young to belong to his desperate body.

He calls passers by sir and miss. Like at school. But Tim didn’t go to school much.

I left when I was about 12. Just sort of ran off a lot. Went for big walks around Sheffield and out to the peak district. Fucking beautiful there though. Really sorts your head out. I mean, I was just a boy really but I had a lot going on in my head, you know? Like, my mam was fucked and my dad was a right cunt.

Tim sort of chuckles, as if it’s all water under the bridge. He says he had to get out of Sheffield when he was about 17 because people were after him. Bad people; real nasty bastards. I’d got this girl pregnant and like, her brothers and their mates were gonna kill us, you know. But there was loads of other bullshit too. Like, gangs and stuff. I dunno, I reckon I would’ve died. Yeah, I’d definitely be dead by now. I was a right cocky bastard.

Tim started drinking when he was about nine. He used to steal tinnies from the shop and drink them in the park. I got caught once, by the shopkeeper. He was a Christian. He said I’d be dead by the time I was 20. That shat me right up. Didn’t stop me though, did it? He chuckles again.

He says he does think about his child. He doesn’t know if it was a boy or a girl but he has a feeling it was a boy for some reason. He’ll be about 30 now. Tim was in and out of prison for much of his thirties, mostly for violent crimes and stealing. He talks about anger and sadness and forgiveness with the kind of language that makes it obvious that he’s picked up some of the go-to, self-help phrases from the group therapy he had when he was inside. I’m not as angry as I was but there’s still a lot of pain, like. I still don’t know what to do with myself half the time. He says that he felt more at home in prison than anywhere else. People understood each other there. There was a sense of belonging, like a family. He misses it, in a way; the security, the routine, the stories he heard, the stories he told.

He still sees his mum every now and then. We don’t really get on, we never did. But, you know, she’s my mam, so… She lives in sheltered accommodation in Chesterfield. She won’t be around forever. She’s not well. A lifetime of drinking has given her cirrhosis. Tim says that the wardens in her accommodation just leave her to it these days. She’s just wasting away to be honest with you. Bit like me; like mother like son. Another chuckle. He has a sister but he doesn't see her. She got married and moved down south. She's all posh now. She washed her hands of me ages ago. He tells a story about when he and his sister were kids and she caught him drinking behind the house. He says she was furious with him and nearly broke his arm trying to get the can out of his hand. I dunno what she does. She's probably a fucking policewoman or some shite like that.

Tim’s dad died about ten years ago. He just dropped dead in the pub. Just like that. Good riddance, I say. The world’s a better place without him to be honest with you. Tim pulls up his t-shirt to reveal a scar from when his dad stabbed him at the age of 22. They had a fight that got out of hand and the next thing Tim knew, he was on the floor in a puddle of his own blood and his dad had disappeared. I had to walk to the hospital. I dunno how I did it. Fuck’s sake. Tim shakes his head and looks around at the people walking past him. He nods hello to someone and asks if they have any spare change.

It starts to rain. Tim’s badly rolled cigarette starts to come apart in his oversized hand. He takes a drag of it, coughs violently and spits out the contents of his lungs onto the grass. He looks up at the sky and raises his eyes to heaven. Fucking Manchester weather, he says, and starts to chuckle again.