Friday 16 May 2014

Secret Fragments #5

            A few days before he had gone to Pest’s apartment in Tower Hamlets. Weeks before Pest and Buda had invited him to come along to the birthday party of a girl called Marseille who they had met in Cornwall on Buda’s eighteenth and he had subsequently met a few times in London. Buda was no longer going and Pest had said she wasn’t sure if she was but would let him know. She hadn’t let him know but he turned up at her flat on the day of the party anyway. In the doorway her lips tightened as she sucked her teeth but she let him in without a word.

            Sitting in her sitting room, tidy and précised as it has never been when Buda has been there, they drank coffee and he confronted it to break the silence.

            ‘I hear Buda has a new friend.’

            Pest looked at him sharply trying to gage from which angle he was approaching. She raised her eyebrows, turned away from him to look out the window and said, ‘Yes, they are certainly good friends.’ He watched her façade of indifference crumble as she turned to look out the window.

            Clouds lined the sky in white and grey clumps but through a parting bright sunlight streamed into the apartment and flooded Pest’s face. The blotches and faded make-up lines were lit up in sordidness. She looked exhausted. Neither her nor Buda had been looking well for weeks. Three years of living together in London with no parents and no boyfriends and no school they had hit the streets hard. While Buda had hollowed-out Pest had grown plumper, having left her father’s home cooking and farmer’s market vegetables for fatty Italian food and beer. But whereas in the past he had believed that the degeneration of her teenage good looks (blonde, short and rosy cheeked with blue eyes and a babbling laugh that flattered) had a kind of daredevil caution-to-the-wind glamour about it, all the wildness had now settled, crusting over and turning her tired in face and heavy in step. When not hanging loose, about the coffee machine or in the cupboard searching for sugar, her hands skittered over the mugs and plugs like blind rodents with determined spirits of their own.

            ‘You could invite yourself around,’ she said, fingers fumbling with the lighter. ‘You could just go round there, like you came here. They have all sorts of people there. Vang Vieng is always there with all her friends.’

            Vang Vieng was Buda’s sister, five years older than them and therefore when at school had appeared to them, with her dark eyeliner and tattoos, as a sparkling beacon of a life that could be after school. Between rows, with Pest in tow, Buda had tiptoed closer to Vang Vieng and made out a place for the two of them in this new thrilling world. Weekends when Buda’s parents were away she would frantically call Pest and gabble the news down the telephone line. At the party besides the cider and rosé that the two of them sipped in the corner of the kitchen and upstairs on Buda’s bed, flasks were handed round of unknown contents. A spliff was lit up in the shed and a stubble-chinned boy called Sam stole a hockey stick. On one occasion Pest had been taken into an empty room of the long haired brother of Vang Vieng’s boyfriend. Buda had sat on the sofa with the boyfriend and clenched at his wrist hanging loosely over her flat left breast and squeezed it and asked in giggles what he thought the two of them were doing in there, and when they would come out.

The others at school weren’t sure what happened in this new world, at this country brothel, but gazed with envy at their faces Monday morning.  Their faces soaked in glee, revealing that the morbid beacon could be found outside of school, not just after school.

            ‘Yes Vang Vieng’s lot are already there,’ Pest said as she sucked on a cigarette. ‘Sam and Carl too, always there. You know them, you could easily go round. We need to go.’ For a second he thought she meant to Buda’s, but then he realised it was already 7, and Marseille’s had already begun. After a last deep drag Pest stubbed the cigarette out viciously, grimacing into the ashtray.

            She lit another at the bus stop and then dropped it in angry sparks when the bus arrived.

            ‘Have you got a present?’ she barked at him as the bus roared away behind them.

            ‘Er no, I thought it would be OK? That I just came? Should I get one now?’

            She made to answer but the breath caught in her throat and she let out a spluttering cough, hitting her chest with her face shaking her hand at him. ‘No. I thought Buda had said to you to bring some chocolates or something. Never mind.’

            There were plenty of chocolates at the party. In exchange for the collage Pest had made for Marseille she received a small box of chocolates from Ghent, for her birthday that had been two months before. Pest shoved them deep into her bag and the two of them went to sit at the corner of the long wooden table, picking at the crisps in bowls and now and then made a little conversation with the jovial people either side of them. His enthusiasm for the party had dissolved at Marseille’s welcome which although warm was brief, and equally given he noticed to every other guest that arrived. He spirits rose each time his hand dived into the bowl of crisps, but evaporated again as he swallowed. He felt a little ill.

Pest drank the beer on offer at a faster rate them him. He started getting anxious that were being unsociable and that he was drawing askance glances for the mopey dollop he was sitting next to. Someone Swedish asked Marseille if he could smoke. When the singsong affirmative came Pest dived for his pockets. Her stubby fingers writhed about in his pocket, rubbing and pocking into the little flesh of his groin. He thought how he would have loved her finger to be down there when they were at school. In fact they probably had at one time. He felt nothing now but the memory of heroic times past but this was enough to lift him a bit. He grabbed himself another beer and opened himself to the table.

Seeing no other opportunity, he broke into the boys’ conversation next to him. It was a bit about politics and a bit about London and it was easy for him to find things to say. After a while he found he was enjoying himself. He took a cigarette from them and they laughed easily. Later, turning to Pest he saw that she was deep in conversation as well, with a short haired apple-cheeked couple. He tried to catch her eye but they skated over him.

            He turned back to his own happiness which became exuberant when biscuits began being passed around. They were covered in chocolate and inside between two slaps of biscuit was a caramel mesh, and when you bit into the biscuit this mesh held it fractured pieces together in stringy gloops. They all had plenty of these, smiling at each other and at their greed, and when they were gone the apple-cheery twins talking with Pest said there was some crumble in the kitchen which they could have. They found a bottle of cider here too. The couple were held up in the hallway and his friends had moved on. He was gloriously happy and in a moment of bubbling contentment he put his arm around her shoulder and kissed her check hard. She pushed him away instantly but he saw she was smiling.

            There was then a tinkle of glasses from the other room and some shouting. There was lots of swivelling of chair reaching for glasses and phones. Marseille had situated herself in the centre of a circle of people holding guitars and sheets of paper that had formed at the other end of the room.

            They started to sing. 


Bertie Digby Alexander

Berlin 2014






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