>>Content Warning: Sexual Assault described at end<<
Hi there, I’m Margo.
The rumbling engine of Rufus’ beat up rover, reverberates round my room and sets my teeth on edge. I look out of my window and I can see him sitting on the ash stained seat in his car. Smoking a cigarette out of the window. The muffled sounds of K.Flay floating up to meet me.
It’s too hot. It has been for the past few weeks. England’s cold grey landscape slowly baking away to brown. The radio in my room splutters out a news-story about people being rushed to hospital with heat stroke, ‘Stay hydrated folks’, the nasal broadcaster repeats.
I pull on my black snap-back and grab my sunglasses. Snatching up my backpack I leave my room and peer into the living room. My mother is lounging on her sofa. Playing candy crush on her ipad, with a tiny glass of Limoncello next to her. I let the front door slam shut behind me. Knowing it annoys her.
I roll as I walk down the stairs of our flat block. Its white walls and fluorescent lighting hurt my eyes. The neat silver plaques on the wall list the three flat numbers. I push open the heavy door and am hit by heat. Like I’ve walked into the Caribbean. Only it’s not. It’s High Wycombe, a cheap, old town on the outskirts of London. I think to myself that I hate it here as I reach for the door handle of Rufus’ broken-down car. It smells like smoke and raspberries (the latter permeating from a pink ‘Jelly Belly’ car freshener).
Rufus looks tired. Dark shadows ring his pale skin. He’s leaning with his head on his palm. His arm propped on the open window. His eyes are shut and he breaths quietly. I wonder whether he heard me get in. I turn down the music suddenly and his eyes jolt open. He looks angrily into the distance for a second. Then sees me and smiles.
“Heyyy man.” He hugs me awkwardly over the gear stick.
He smells like gin and cigarettes. He’s wearing a deep navy shirt. I think it’s new.
I adjust my hat and smile, “Hey, what have you been up too?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. But I’d asked anyway. He sniffs, “Oh you know, bit of this, bit of that.” I ask if he’s been with Hugo, “Oh… yeah, no… I’ve kinda been having a bit of a break. You know? Needed to recharge my batteries for a few days.” I laugh in disbelief and say he has to call him.
He turns the music up again and we drive to Turville, a quaint country town a few miles away, in silence. It’s early afternoon and the scorching sun pours down on us. We walk into the Bull and Hammer pub. The town consists of this pub, a shop and a church, and one street of houses. It’s idyllic. Surrounded by hills on two sides. We get our drinks and Rufus orders Nachos and tells me he hasn’t eaten in days. We head out to a bench with an umbrella.
He sits smoking for a while in silence. So I look at the windmill a-top one of the hills. Its black and white wood gleaming in the sun. I remember my mother telling me it was the one from Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. I imagine soaring away from Wycombe in my yellow flying car.
Rufus seems ready to talk now. He clears his throat and starts grinning. He takes off his sunglasses and starts rolling again,
“So what have you been up to 'Go?”
“I’m back from Berlin for the holidays.” He passes me the cigarette. “Thanks.”
“Oh cool, right. Yeah… you should come to this party tonight. It’s gonna be all the old gang. Lots of drugs.” He laughs and takes a toke of his rollie.
“Yeah, maybe.” I think about how things had been awkward whilst I was away. And wonder why things feel strange now. I don’t want to go to the party. I’ve only been back a day and I need time to re-adjust. I need to pick up from C. My dealer.
“So how’s Berlin? Still in love with the place?” He sneers at me. The waiter brings over his Nachos. I think about my flat, with it’s Berlin style and comforting, peaceful décor. I think about my housemate. Nikita. His crooked smile and intense work focus.
“Yeah I am. More so I think.” I look at an older couple sat on a bench across from us. I notice that they appear to be crying. Holding hands and staring at each-other. With love and hope seeping from the lines of their aged faces. I wonder if one of them has received a bad diagnosis. Or if their dog has died.
I realise Rufus has also turned to look at them.
“Oh. How sad. I wonder which ones’ dying.” He takes a sip of his pint and squints his eyes, as if weighing up which one looks most frail. He seems to make up his mind as his eyes settle on the woman. “Oh well. At least they have each-other.” He turns to face me. He looks stricken with sadness, like a lost puppy. “I’ll be there for you. If you get sick when you’re older. I’ll hold your hand and cry whilst looking at you endearingly.” I smile, and pat his arm,
“Thanks man.” I reach over and take a nacho. He swats me away. Seeming to forget his soft-hearted moment.
“Away. Away with you.”
It’s too hot. I realise I’m sticking to the cushion on the bench and I stand up and take a turn around the garden. Rufus is engaged in a furious text conversation. He huffs and sighs. Completely oblivious to the world around him.
A bee buzzes past me and lands on a pink flower. What will I wear tonight. I feel tired just thinking about getting ready. I should go. I don’t want to sit in the flat with mother for another painful, alcohol fuelled rant about the government. I should wear my new dress. It’s too hot for jeans.
Rufus comes over to me and says he wants to leave because the old couple are making him sad. We climb back into his car and he puts on The Front Bottoms. I role the window down and trail my
hand through the air as we drive. The music is too loud. It fills my head and makes me dizzy. My hand is cold. My fingers feel numb and I frown and slowly bring my hand back in. I roll up the window. Rufus has been talking and I realise I have no idea what he was saying.
“…you know?” He looks at me for too long. I want to reach over and grab the steering wheel. Look at the road.
He looks back at the road.
“Sorry, yeah I’m gonna wear my new dress.” The words fall out of my mouth. I realise I had subconsciously listened. I hope that the trait sticks.
“I think I’ll wear this new waistcoat I have. Or do you think it would be too much.” I smile and say that no matter what he wears he always looks great. He smiles too. “Aw, thanks man.”
He’ll still have a panic attack later, when deciding what to wear.
“I think she’s going by the way.” He grins and I know gossip is to follow.
“She’s not?” I say enthusiastically. The two things that unite Rufus and I the most. Drama and shade. The excitement is building and Rufus nods gleefully.
“Uhu, yep. I’m not even kidding. Jenny found out from Isaac, obviously. And Isaac was told by Nic, who spoke to her sister.” He lights a cigarette. I roll my window down again. “I don’t know why. No one wants her too.” He smirks, checks his mirror and indicates right.
I smile and put my feet up on the dashboard, “Well she can’t be going on her own. Ooh this is going to be so much fun!”
Rufus reaches over into the glove-box. He removes a small black bottle. Just big enough to perch between his forefinger and thumb. A pretty, grey label reads, ‘Full Moon’.
“No way!” I grab for it. “Dude how did you get that?”
Rufus checks his mirror anxiously then cracks a smile. “Isaac. But he’s running out so we gotta be sparing, ‘kay?” He pushes the vial into his shirts top pocket. I think about trying to get it when we hug goodbye. I could reach in and take it without him noticing, I think.
I shake my head and sigh, looking out of the window as we pass through Desborough Avenue. It’s grey dilapidated buildings, sagging into the crumbling road. There’s a couple having a fight on the zebra crossing. We sit in silence watching them. Waiting for them to move.
They don’t. The woman throwing her fists at the man’s chest repeatedly, barely having an impact. I wonder what he’s done.
“This is ridiculous.” Rufus slams on the horn of the car. The couple react startled, the woman’s hands flying up to her ears. The guy who is stood not a foot from the bumper, stares down at Rufus. The men hold their eye contact, as a queue of cars forms behind us. The accumulated traffic is getting anxious. People start shouting and horns begin beeping and blaring from each vehicle.
Finally, the woman grabs the man and they continue across in stony silence,
“Wanker.” Rufus slams on the accelerator.
The sun has fallen behind a row of buildings and the town is cast into dull hues of brown and blue. We pass three homeless people begging for change near the main roundabout. I wonder when Wycombe became so poor and avert my gaze from them.
“Jenny is going to be so pissed if she’s there.” Rufus chuckles, still contemplating tonight.
“Yeah but Issac will just ignore her. I mean, Jesus, they ended two years ago.” I shake my head. I look at the Rye, it’s green edges merging into mud where football games have destroyed the grass. The water shifts awkwardly in the cross winds.
“Yeah, she needs to get over it.” He taps his fingers on the steering wheel, and quietly sings along to the music, ‘I can’t begin. Begin to tell you, the way it all felt, when everything fell through.’
“Mm, yeah.” I focus on my reflection in the wing mirror, as the lyrics circle in my head. I can’t, I think to myself.
When we pull into my allocated parking space, I see my little sister walking on the path by the river next to us. This is the first time I’ve seen her since I’ve been back. She looks older than I remember. Tall and thin, I hope she doesn’t grow anymore. She had her birthday a couple of weeks ago, she turned fourteen. Or maybe it was her fifteenth… I can’t remember. She’s with another girl her age, and the two chat excitedly. I nudge Rufus. He smiles and starts repeatedly tapping on the horn,
“Yoo-hoo!” He waves out of the window. “Heyyy Ro, how was school?” He elongates the words and speaks too loudly.
She turns red and I see her apologising to her friend. She waves limply, “Hi Rufus. It was shit. As usual.” She turns back to her friend. They embrace and the girl continues on down the path.
I get out of the car. Drop my bag on the pavement and hug her. She’s still shorter than me. Good.
“Hey sis, I’ve missed you.” I kiss the top of her head and squeeze her cheek. She brushes me away with a groan.
“Missed you too…” She mutters looking at the ground. I wonder when she got so embarrassed to show me affection. A couple of years ago we were inseparable. When our parents split, she and I had formed our own group of heroes. Running around the garden with sticks, shouting spells at imaginary monsters.
Rufus comes over and hugs her so tightly, her feet lift off the floor and she wheezes,
“Okay, put--put me down!” She tries to remain cool, then seems to remember that her friend isn’t there. She lets out a big grin and hugs me again. “Mum’s been driving me crazy! She’s dating someone new by the way! Oh and I moved the furniture around in my room too! And Tommy in History, asked Lucy to go out with him, he folded her a note and then the teacher found it
and read it out!” Everything rushes out in a blurt of excitement and she starts pulling me towards the door.
“Go ahead, I’m gonna grab my stuff from the car.” Rufus turns back and I see him pull out his phone. His attention instantly somewhere else.
“Rowan?” Our mother calls as soon as we walk through the door. “Rowan?” Ro looks at me and whops her eyes. She dumps her bag in the hallway and goes into the living room.
I go into my room and turn on my fairy lights. I sift through the pot of incense on my desk and find a red-stemmed one. Dragon’s Blood.
I think about living in a world where dragons still exist. Walking out of your front door and being bathed in flame. The thought makes me shiver. I shake the image out of my head and pull off my boots.
I climb over my bed and out onto my balcony. Rufus is leaning against his car, talking anxiously on the phone. His hand brushes through his hair and he twists a strand around his finger. I wonder who he’s talking too. My door opens and I climb back inside. Ro is holding a glass of apple juice and she jumps onto my recliner.
“So you know Katie? Her mum’s just booked a job in LA with one of those cheesy reality shows. So the whole family has to move over there.” I busy myself with laying outfits on my bed, and ‘ooh’ occasionally to show I’m listening. She continues at a sickening speed. “Katie’s excited because the other day, we looked up the other families that are on the show. And one of them has a 16-year-old son. And he’s blonde and really tall and has a tattoo of a girl on his arm. He’s SO hot! So she’s hoping that they’ll get to date for the show.” She giggles, picks up my copy of American Psycho, and starts flicking through its pages.
I roll and sit on the edge of my bed, smoking out of my doorway. There’s a slight knock on my door immediately followed by our
mother. Tanned to the nine and wearing a neat cream dress with boats on it. No doubt the first and last time she’ll wear it.
“Margo!” She scolds and snatches the book away from Ro. “I’ve told you not to let her read your books. They’re far too filthy.”
“It’s Bret Easton Ellis mother. It’s not filthy. Anyway she’s fifteen for fuck sake.” Ro smirks and I’m reassured that I’d remembered the right age.
“Don’t talk like that Margo. It’s disgusting. A girl shouldn’t speak like that.” I turn and blow smoke at her. She waves it away and coughs dramatically.
“I’m sorry, did you want something?” I say bitterly.
She looks at me and frowns, “You’re so like your father…” She goes to say something else then turns and puts her hand on Ro’s shoulder.
“Have you got homework?” That’s it, try and be a good parent, I think. She pets Ro’s hair. Ro looks at me stony faced.
“No, I had a free period today, so I did it then.” The good thing about how out of touch with the world our mother is, is that we quickly learned that we could say pretty much anything, and she’d believe it. Or wouldn’t care enough to question. Ro’s 15. She doesn’t have free periods at school. Most parents would be well aware of this, but not our mother. Our poor, drunk mother. I think to myself that it’s sad, and start feeling sorry for her. Then I think about all the things she does wrong. The empathy quickly fades away.
“Oh well that’s good then.” She cups Ro’s chin in her palm and smiles. Our mother is tall and thin and has blonde hair that shines. She has a round jaw and a straight nose. She’s honestly quite beautiful, meaning she sifts through boyfriends like sand through a sieve. Rowan is the spitting image of her in every way - much to her distress - and our mother does very little to hide her pride at Ro’s genetic likeness. “I’m going out for dinner and drinks tonight… and I’ll be staying at a friends. Margo make sure your sister gets something to eat.” She kisses Ro’s head and leaves.
Ro shakes her limbs as if trying to dispel the touch of our mother.
“Unbelievable.” I mutter and throw the butt out onto the slatted balcony. “Hey, I’m going to a party tonight, with Rufus. I guess you could come along and hang out with Nikki?” Nikki is the younger brother of the host, and has had a crush on Ro since forever.
“Ew, no. I’m going to Poppy’s house for a sleep-over anyway.” She downs the apple juice in one go. She wipes her mouth on her sleeve.
“Oh okay, would you like a lift with us?” I lean out of the French-door to check on Rufus. He isn’t by the car. The buzzer goes off in the hallway.
“Ooh yes please. I’ll go pack now.” She jumps over the arm of the chair and spins out of the room, leaving my door wide open.
I hear the front door shut. I listen to my mother greeting Rufus.
“Rufus! Oh look at you, you look thin! And those eye bags! I have something for that-” I hear her rustle about in her bag, “-will
clear them right up.”
“Thanks Shelby. How’s the jewellery business these days?” Rufus sounds aggrieved. I imagine that he’s stood there running his hand through his hair.
“Oh you know, wonderful. My customers expect great taste when it comes to my expensive décor.” Mother refers to her jewellery as Décor. ‘Décor for the body’… I smirk to myself. Lifting the needle on my turntable, Father John Misty pulsates through the room. My mother raises her voice unnecessarily. “…we’re going to expand to Marlow and Henley soon too.” Rufus slowly appears in my doorway, back to me, as he listens to her.
“I’m pleased for you. Love your hair today by the way.” I just know that he’s said this with a wink. Mother chuckles and massages her up-do gently. She looks past him into my room, at me and lets her hand slowly fall.
“Thank you sweetie. Well, have fun.” She goes into her room and shuts her door, as Rufus shuts mine.
He sits in my recliner. His hands massage his face and he sighs. He stairs blankly ahead for a few seconds. I put on another incense.
“How are you?” He says and snaps his eyes to me. The conversation has begun.
“I’m fine thanks, you?”
“Fine, yeah. Looking forward to tonight?”
“I am… are you?”
“Have you decided what to wear? End of the Wold and all that.”
Why is this so awkward I think. It was fine an hour ago by the car.
He’s walked over to my bed and started laying clothes out next to mine. I clear my throat as he lays down a dark grey shirt, flecked with red and blue checks. Time to re-start our twin connection.
“Ooh I like that.” I smile and touch the fabric softly.
“Me too! It’s my favourite shirt, I’ve been looking for it for months! And guess where I find it? Folded in my little brother’s drawer. Why does he have it? All he wears is t-shirts, tucked into caki’s and shin socks with the tops rolled over. Not scrunched, or folded, but rolled down slightly.” He stops and breathes then flicks his hand back. “I’m sorry. That’s been really, annoying me.” He scratches his beard. He looks down at our clothes. “What if…” He moves a deep green dress towards me, then chooses the sheepskin wrap, and soldiers jacket from my costume drawer. Ummm, and do your hair in a messy low bun. Yeah” He squints his eyes and smiles.
“Okay.” I put those to one-side and look at his options. “So what about this…” I pick up a light blue t-shirt. “With… bear with me on this one…”
“Okayyy…” He leans his hand on his mouth. Propping it up with his other arm. Frowning.
I move it to the middle of the bed and pick up some skinny trousers with short legs that reach his upper ankle. “Pair it with your tan brogues. Make sure your fringe is curly, and maybe add the Jesse jacket.” A jacket worn by an actor in a musical he wrote five years ago.
“Ooh yeah. I like it, we’ll look kinda apocalyptic.” He smiles and takes the clothes out into the bathroom. I undress and stand looking in the mirror. I look at my arms. My stomach. My legs. I look at everything. I pinch the skin on my hip and close my eyes. Squeezing my palm around my side, wishing myself thin.
“Do better.” I open my eyes, and challenge myself in the mirror, “Come on cunt.” I light a cigarette and put on Private Agenda. I dress quickly and apply orange eye shadow then eye liner. I tie up my hair into a high pony and look in the mirror again. There’s a sharp rap on my door and Rufus saunters in with two wine glasses and a bottle of red. He smiles and sings along to the words, ‘treat me well, treat me nice.’ I think about her. Brown hair. Blue grey eyes. Thin wrists. Her laughing. The way she kissed me. I look at Rufus and think, I’m in such better company.
“You look hawt. Total toot.” Referencing a Drag Review youtube channel we binge watch.
“So do you.” I pour the glasses and pass him one. “Cheers.”
“To a good night.” We drink.
We stand and look at ourselves in the mirror. Rufus is tall with broad shoulders and a small waist. We refer to each-other as twins and are often mistaken as them by strangers. We both have dark brown, thick hair. Both have light eyes. Both radiate a sense of dark melancholia that people seem drawn to.
“Uh, you’re such a skinny bitch.”
“Fuck off. You are.” I gesture to his waist and he turns sideways with his hands silhouetting his outline and giggles.
Rufus and I grew up together. From the age of six we were playing make believe in the garden. When Ro came along we taught her how to build houses on Sims and to play with Lego. As we got older our interests grew more and more linked until one of us could think about cutting our hair, and the other would feel it. One time he swore that he’d be trying to psychically contact me before he went to bed. I brushed him off. I didn’t tell him that I’d suddenly woken up that night thinking about him.
Ro comes in and sits on my bed texting. Rufus and I are finishing a tarot reading.
“Do you think I should bring them with me?”
“For sure. Everyone’ll love it. Unless Isaac is there, then you’ll look like a bit of a nob.” I look at the time. “Right come on, we should go.” Ro jumps up and runs to the bathroom shouting I’ll be really fast. I slip on my boots. Checking I have my filters and tobacco. “Are you wearing your Kyanite?” I open my chest from Thailand, inside laid on its red silk interior are several crystals. I run my finger over my flame aura, carnelian, amethyst.
“No, Malachite.” He pulls from his shirt a smooth green crystal.
“Okay, I’ll wear my Amethyst.” I pick up the purple stone and touch its cold surface to my lips Mano Pantea, I mutter the blessing spell to myself.
We step out into the evening. It’s still light. It’s still too hot. Rufus rolls down the windows of the car. I tell Ro to put on her seat-belt. Bugs flutter around the interior light whilst Rufus messes with the music. I wonder what’s going to happen tonight. I think about the old couple at the pub. I think about my mother’s words and her pinched face, You’re so like your father. I look at Ro’s neck in the rear view mirror. I see the little half moon burn by her ear and make fists with my hands. My knuckles turning white and my teeth grinding.
“'Go?” Rufus is looking at my hands and he crooks an eyebrow as I unclench. “You okay?”
“Fine. Let’s go.” We pull out of the space and speed away.
The words Oh war, drift out of the radio as bits of dead underbrush and discarded litter pass by us. I lean my head on the window. My breath fogs the glass as we drive through the dark. Ro’s directing Rufus to Poppy’s house. We pull up into a posh private street. A guard leans out of his hut and eyes us suspiciously. He’s asking what our business is with the Manor Road Residents. Ro leans forward out of my window,
“Hi Ronnie! How’s the football?” The old man sits back and smiles.
“Oh hello little Rowan. Well we lost. Again. I swear…” Ro puts her hand on the old mans wrist.
“I’m really sorry Ronnie but I’m late to Poppy’s. I promise I’ll come and have a chat when I leave tomorrow morning. Okay?” She taps his wrist and sits back in the car. The old man smiles with creased eye-brows. I notice a tan mark where a wedding ring once sat for a lifetime. We drive away. Ro leans forwards and puts her hands on the side of my seat, “So, him and his wife were driving to their anniversary dinner one night and their car was hit by a group of students who were drunk driving. They flipped twice before rolling off the motorway and down an embankment. The car caught fire and he was dragged from the vehicle first. He’d run round to help Cally, his wife. He said she wasn’t even screaming, just crying quietly, knowing she was about to leave him alone here. As he tried to undo her seatbelt his wedding ring got caught. The students dragged him away from the car just as it was engulfed in flames.”
We sit there in silence as we round another neat corner, lined with white stones, bright grass, and plush trees. I frown thinking about how the rest of the towns greenery is shrivelled and dying.
“Did he tell you that story?” I look at my fourth-finger and imagine wearing a wedding ring my whole life, only to lose it in the same fire that takes away the rest of my world. The tan mark on his finger will fade, like a memory forgotten. But he’ll never forget the ring. Or his wife. Or that fire. Or the students who’d saved him and killed his partner.
“No Poppy did. Her parents remember it happening. Apparently Cally was a volunteer. She had Cystic Fibrosis but refused to have help, she said she only needed Ronnie’s love. Why do awful things happen to good people?” Ro looks at me in the mirror. Waiting.
“I…” I look down at my fourth-finger again. I want to tell her that nothing in life is certain. That there is no reason for terrible things happening to good or bad people. They just happen. I want to tell her that nothing in life is fair. And that nothing is forever. Explain to her that life will fuck you over until you’re broken and alone. But looking at her face, this little girl that cares so much about people. The little girl who stops everyday to speak to an old lonely man in a hut, just to make his day feel less empty. How could I? I clear my throat. “Sometimes, good people who deserve so much, get dealt a bad hand in life. And all we can do, as their friends, is be the best we can to make sure that their lives are full of what they need and deserve. If life screws them over. Then it’s up to us to make sure that we try and right that balance of good and bad for them. Even if it’s just speaking about football to an old man, to make sure he isn’t lonely.”
“But isn’t there more we can do?” Ro says. Rufus is smoking out of the window looking troubled. We pull up outside Poppy’s three story house. A perfect sloped lawn, leading the way to privilege.
“Ro, you’re so sweet, you care far more than most. Look, go and enjoy tonight. We can talk more tomorrow if you want.” I squeeze her knee and blow her a kiss as she gets out.
“Thanks for the lift Rufus. Enjoy the party.” She skips up the path.
“Have fun!” Rufus calls. “We should stop and get some booze.” He does a U-turn and we head back the way we came.
We pass Ronnie who is pouring himself a coffee. He waves to us and we pull up next to the hut.
“I’m guessing that little Rowan is your sister?” He looks between us. We both nod. “You best watch out for her. She’s a very kind girl but she puts others before herself too easily. That young man-friend of hers may not be the best influence…” He raises an eyebrow and leans back in his chair.
“I’m sorry. Which boy?” I put my hand on the gear stick to make Rufus wait.
“The one with the scar down his lip. Bit on the skinny side. I didn’t like him the first time I saw him with young Poppy. She always says there’s nothing to worry about. But I get a bad feeling with that one…” He trails away. I thank him for the warning and we carry on to the main road.
A memory surfaces as we pass through the endless sets of traffic lights on Marlow Hill. Ro showing me a picture of her and Poppy from a camping trip a few months ago. They’d gone to a camp site in Wales with their friends and a couple of parents. The adults had set up their own site a little way away, so that the kids could have their own fun without having to be watched over. There were 12 of them there. Including some older kids around 16-17. The picture was of the two girls by the fire. Smiles from ear to ear and flowers circlets in their hair. I remember noticing a boy on the other side of the fire, in the background of the photo. He seemed unaware of the photo being taken. I’d felt uneasy looking at him. His eyes were fixed on something. I couldn’t tell what, but his stare was intense and so full of anger. The image had repeated on me several times that night. The next morning I’d dispelled it without another thought.
We pull into Tesco. I saunter down the aisles and pick up tzatziki and humus. Rufus goes and gets a bottle of gin and some tonic. I stare at the bright lights. I hate advertising, I think to myself as I look at boy and girl birthday cards neatly stacked on a display stand next to the tills. The boy cards blue and green, depicting cars and super-heroes. The girls, pink with flowers and princesses. Fuck gender stereotypes. Fuck everything.
We get back in the car and Rufus switches on We Are Enough. The brass reverberates around the car. I close my eyes tight. We are enough, we are enough, we are enough. We drive for another fifteen minutes then pull off the A-Road and onto a dirt track. It continues downward until we see a pink cow-boy hat tied to a gate. Pulling into the field we can make out Jonty stood at the other end, by the entrance of trees. Ice blue fairy lights slowly fade in and out behind him, marking the entrance to the party.
We pull up and get out. Sam and George walk out of the trees to join Jonty. Followed by Martin, Rufus’s best friend. I can’t help but grin as we make our way over to the four of them. It’s been six months since we’ve seen anyone.
Jonty and Rufus embrace.
“Hello Darlings.” Jonty squeezes him then me.
“Heyy Margo” Martin drapes his arm over my shoulder and embraces me. He’s grinning. I realise how much I’ve missed it.
“How was your flight?” I ask him over his shoulder.
“It was good. I was thinking about the Christmas album.”
“Did someone mention the xmas album?” Rufus comes over.
I embrace George then look at Sam.
“Hey man.” I smile.
“Hey ‘Go.” He loosely hugs me. Then steps back and smiles softly.
“Right. What’s the plan Capi-tan?” Rufus looks over to Jonty.
Martin asks me for a paper to roll.
“So tiny hiccup” Jonty laughs. He points into the woods towards the scout hut. “There’s a bunch of old people in there. So we gotta wait half an hour to get in. But we can still use outside. So let’s go and put up the DJ tent.”
The boys are finishing with the tent when Henry and Andy phone and say they think they’re here. I walk up the hill to meet them, and direct them back. I jump in Henry’s car.
“Lucky you, you get to sit with the Interface.” He puts the equipment on my lap. “So listen to this right…” He tells me a story about his day. I smile and laugh as he talks rapidly. Henry is shorter than most of the guys in our group. He has a dirty blonde beard and a cheerful face. Rufus and I once got stoned and decided that Henry and Tom were our favourite people. In the whole world. We sat staring at the sky, our heads laid back. 'They’re just the best. They’re so funny. I love them. They’re my favourite humans.' I ask Henry when Tom’s going to arrive. “Next twenty minutes I think.” By now we’ve pulled into the field and are travelling towards Rufus’s car at a ridiculous speed. “Are you ready?” He grins widely. Music booms from his portable speaker on the dash.
I grip the seat, one hand on top of the interface. Not sure what I’m supposed to be ready for. He waits till the last minute then pulls on the hand-break and turns the steering wheel violently. The car does a drag race half-spin then skids to a stop. Perfectly lined up next to the Rover.
I exhale suddenly, in a gush. Henry’s laughing.
“Oh my god.” I stutter then laugh as well.
He shouts out of the window to Andy who’s slowly pulled up in his Range Rover.
“Did you see that!” He laughs again.
I think to myself how much I’ve missed him. I get out of the car. Henry and I have only ever met at parties. I’ve known him about three years yet know nothing about him. I think how strange it is that you can be in such a close group of friends, and yet have so much left to discover.
We empty the cars of equipment and take it over to the tent. Once it’s set up someone starts passing round beers. We’re all sat on the decking at the back of the scout hut. The old people have just left and we’re talking about getting into costume.
Let’s get it started… in hereeee. Fergie’s voice blares out of the sound system around the corner. We look between each other. The Black Eyed Peas start beating through the speakers. Everyone is at the table. Suddenly the mic clicks on over the music.
“Hello boys and girls of Jonty Stock. My name is Tom. And I shall be your DJ for tonight’s excursions.” We all start laughing as he appears round the corner. He’s tall and has black hair. He slides towards us and bobs his head to the music. “Alright fuckers. How you lot doing? Hello” He turns to me and raises his fist. “Bump me.” I do. I instantly feel ridiculous but I can’t help grinning. Everyone greets him and start heading off to get changed. The theme of the night is ‘End of the Wold’, due to the current state of politics.
I go and put war paint on my face. A red line down my chin, and a blue one across my cheek. More people have arrived and I see Cicely and Martin in the kitchen preparing dinner. Martin has ski goggles on his head and is wearing a silver top and sequin hot pants. Earlier he’d told me he’d hand stitched them from trousers, I’m the future messenger sent by Her, to deliver her children from the apocalypse. I marvel at the costume. Cicely is dressed as a bee keeper… I stare at her for a moment. Why a bee keeper? I decide I have to ask her later.
I head into the forest, following a scattered line of four hundred glow-sticks. They create paths through the wood. Leading to an area dubbed ‘The Far-Away Fucked Up Forest’, and then branching off toward the fire pit. Come on, slap on a smile. Don’t let them see that you’re hollow inside. Just a poisonous void. I walk between a procession of trees strung with several criss-crossed lines, of warm-white fairy lights. The lights grow brighter and more frequent, then start creating a roof above my head. Until I reach a bench in a space between four trees. It has a chandelier of trash above it. Empty beer cans clink from its strings. Someone has tied a noose in the middle. It unnerves me and I look away. Jump, cut, hang. Above another make-shift table, is a tire hanging from thick rope. It’s been filled with fairy lights. It makes pillars of light dance over the space, as the tire turns in the breeze.
Sat at the middle bench is a guy with fluffy brown hair, in a brown and white geometric shirt. He has his arm around a petite girl with long ginger hair. She’s wearing an orange two-piece crop top and shorts. They look like they’ve stepped out of the sixties. I instantly like them and sit opposite.
“Hi I’m Carys. What’s your name?” The girl delicately stretches her hand across the table. Her voice is light and breathy. She has a gentle smile.
“Margo.” I shake her hand and look at the guy.
“Hey I’m Dougle, nice to meet you.” He smirks. They’re both so approachable and sweet they could probably get you to commit crime for them, without even realising that’s what’s happening. “How do you know Jonty?” The guys voice is kind of slurred in a stoned way. His eyes are relaxed and he looks totally calm. I envy his easiness to socialising.
“He went to school with my best friend, Rufus. So I’ve grown up with him since I was eleven. How about you guys?” I pause and smile inwardly. That was so easy. How does Jonty do it? His events are always such a mix of people. Yet Rufus and I are rarely anxious. Events like this, with any other group of people. Would have had me quivering in some corner. Digging my nails into my palm. There is something about the people at these parties. A vibe that radiates from everyone in the group.
“Oh cool, cool. Well I’m an architect. I work with Nat if you know him?”
“Oh awesome, yeah Nat’s another one I’ve grown up with.”
The three of us talk for a while. Dougle talks about his drawings and work. Carys tells me about this new technology that can translate language instantaneously for you. She and Dougle argue about who invented it. They ask me about what I do and I tell them about Berlin and my music. They ask me to play them some later. I agree then excuse myself. I’m walking to get a drink. Great, why did you agree to that? Egotistical Bitch. What are you even going to play…
I head further into the woods. The glow-sticks start to thin and spread. I push past a dense bush. Sat in the middle of a circle is Jenny, her short blonde hair bobbing around her shoulders. She’s watching a girl opposite her shuffle a deck of large white cards. Sat outside the circle, watching Jenny intensely is Isaac. Neither of them sees me so I sit down and watch. The bass from the DJ tent echoes through the woods around us.
I study Isaac. Isaac studies Jenny. Watching her movements and words. His ginger hair looks like fire cast from the warm fairy lights above. His beard is messy and unkempt and I think to myself that he looks exhausted. Jenny strokes the pleats of her dress and does a blessing symbol towards the girl. The girl thanks her. Jenny dispels the circle and they both step over the salt on the floor.
Once Jenny has moved I see a little sign next to her, ‘Tarot Readings. £1 a go.’ Isaac is talking to her rapidly. She nods and he puts his arm on her shoulder and smiles. He notices me and beckons me over. Jenny spins round and hugs me.
“Hi baby!” She smiles at me and takes a roll-up from the table.
“Isaac” I smile and we embrace.
“How are you Margo?”
He gestures to a small wooden lean-to. It has an American flag hung upside down from a supporting tree. We all sit around a tire inside it.
“I’m okay. Not much has changed since I last saw you.”
“How’s the music going?” Jenny taps her glass to mine.
I cheers Isaac and we all drink. Letting the silence settle over us for a moment.
“It’s… not really, happening, at the moment. I’ve hit a sort of wall, gone as far as I can go on my own. With recording I mean.” I pinch the skin on my hand under the table. Isaac studies me and smirks. I think about her again. I clear my throat.
“You shouldn’t give up though. With the music I mean.” Jenny smiles at me weakly.
“I know. It’s just hard trying to record, perform, and mix on my own. Just frustrating” Jenny stubs her cigarette out on a green-fly. For some reason this too unnerves me and I have to look away. I think about how my music has started slipping away. How it used to come so easily, and now I spend most of my time resenting what I’m playing.
“Jenny, you should give Margo a tarot reading.” Isaac’s voice breaks my internal dialogue. I look between them. I’ve always wanted to go to a clairvoyant, but have been too afraid of what they’d say to actually go.
“I’m afraid I don’t have any money on me.” I reach for my glass. Isaac eyes my hand where three little crescent moons have now set into the skin.
“Oh, no matter! Free of charge of course.” Jenny takes my hand and leads me into the circle.
LTB comes over to us. He sits down next to me on the wooden pallet and lays back, propping himself up on his elbow.
“Belated birthday present.” He dangles a small baggie in front of me. White powder compressed between the plastic.
“You sure?” I turn away from Jenny and Isaac and face him.
“Of course. Let me.” He takes a silver key from his pocket and scoops out of the baggie. I lower my head and sniff, hard. My eyes water and my throat closes. I shake my head and laugh.
“No problem. So…” He looks down at the wood. Scratches away a glob of candle-wax. He grins and looks up at me, through bushy eyebrows. “You got a boy in your life? Or a girl?” His feet rock gently from side-to-side. I laugh awkwardly.
“No, not at the moment. What about you? There a girl? Or guy?” I smile. LTB has always been the straightest guy in our group. He laughs loudly.
“Well there’s definitely no guy. But no girl either.” My arm tickles and I frown and look down. He’s brushing over my tattoo with his fore-finger. His hand trailing my skin and his eyes calculating. He breaths deeply and puts his hand on my leg. I go to ask him to move it, but he leans over me and asks Isaac to pass him a beer.
“It’s a shame.” He turns back to me. His hand still grounding me. “Don’t want to miss out on the best sex years of your life.” He moves his hand higher. I feel sick. “Cause, you’re not exactly the-” He seems to catch himself. “- I mean, you’re not my type, per-sé. But who knows, couple more of these in me…” He lifts the beer and laughs, then forcefully slides his hand between my legs.
“Thanks for the mandy. I’ll see you later.” I get up and grab a bottle of water from a table. I push back through the brush that hides the witch circle. I run through the trees and off the glowing path. I push through branches and shrubs. My feet carrying me blindly. I stop. My mind crashing forward with voices. What the fuck, really? You had to run away? Is it because he’s a guy? Still scared little girl? Fucking Pathetic. You should be ashamed. LTB is out of your league. You should be flattered. Then something clicks and I forget about LTB. You ate so much bread today. Fat cunt. There’s a grumble in my stomach and I fall forwards onto my knees. “Okay so you’re gonna tactical now, you need to do this. You’re gonna feel so much better.” I realise I’m speaking out loud. I look around and see the lit path a little way through the trees. No one will bump into me here. “Okay. You can do this.” I pull my hair back over my shoulders. I tuck my necklaces into my collar. I stick two fingers down my throat and gag. Huh, this is the blessing symbol, I realise. I repeat it until my stomach lurches suddenly and I’m sick. I feel slightly better. But I’m sweating now and my hands are shaking. “Okay you need to empty your stomach. That’s what you’re gonna do now.”
I repeat the process over and over again seven, eight, nine times. Until suddenly my mind clears. I stop sweating. The breeze on my face feels cool and I sit back and gulp the water down. I bite into two bits of chewing gum and sip some of the water. I swish it around in my mouth. The mint tingling my soft palate. I spit it out and sit back. My arms start rising from my side. Then my legs too, start floating a few inches from the ground. I laugh and wave my hand through the empty space below my boots. A butterfly flutters onto my floating hand. I feel it’s tiny wings beating against my skin. I smile and float higher until I’m in line with the tree tops. The night is thick and navy around me. My eyes trail over the view. The miles of fields and trees. I notice a pulsing in the air around me. It gets louder until my heart’s beating along in time. I close my eyes and smile. What… want… a voice drifts through the air faintly. I got… You need… Know I got… I frown and focus harder. …I’m askin’, is for a little respect.
I need to dance. My eyes fly open and I stand up and run back towards the lights. I race down the glow-lit path and stumble through a branch and out onto the open-air dance floor. Aretha Franklin is barely audible as the twelve people dancing are all belting Respect along with her. I laugh and a hand drags me into the mass of dancers. It’s Jenny.
“Hi baby. Where did you go?” She smiles widely.
“I went for a walk.” I grin.
“Oh look at you!” Rufus and Isaac dance over to us. Rufus puts his hands on my cheeks. “Ah! This might be a bad thing to say. But you look adorable when you’re on drugs. Your pupils are huge. You’re like a kitten.” We laugh.
We dance for what seems like an hour straight. Tom plays classic song after classic song. I feel incredible and I let myself be absorbed into the music. At some point someone set up a trampoline next to the DJ tent. It’s covered in glow sticks that dance on its surface as people jump. Jenny and Isaac jump on as soon as the two girls who had been hogging it, leave. I watch them and laugh. They keep bouncing higher, Jenny screaming happily every time Isaac sends her soaring into the air.
“Have you been on it yet?” Rufus nudges me and grins.
“No. I’m too scared!” I laugh back.
“Oh, mate. You have to go. I promise it’s not scary. You’ll love it.” He pushes me towards it.
“Okay…” I smirk and grip the side slowly. Raising myself up as carefully as I can. As soon as I stand Jenny drags me into a jump. And I’m sent reeling into the air. Free.
An hour later. My head is fucked. My body moves independent to my directions. My hands float through the air around me. Seeing the invisible energy barriers I puncture with each movement. There’s a smile on my face but it feels alien. An attempt to placate the people around me. My name is Margo, I’m happy. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m just fine.
There’s a dance battle by the DJ tent, Tom spits into the mic, riling up the circle around the two dancers. It’s Verity and Sim. Their movements look janky and unnatural. As if they’re breaking bones to perform. It feels like the rest of the world has dropped away. If I zoomed out now, there’d just be us, and then a blank world. A world of water. Our island the only haven, peace of mind, safety. I smile as I realise how much I wish we were the only ones alive.
Suddenly everything is too much. The music, the lights, the people. A guy is talking to me, mid word. I don’t remember the conversation we’re having. He’s saying something about the bees disappearing. Something about the heat. The earth is dying he says. This repeats on me, getting louder each time.
The earth is dying.
I frown and push him away. Stumble away. Holding onto sapling trunks as I fall away from the party. I follow the dirt path past the scout hut. Past the fire-pit. Out onto the yellow dust road, behind the outcrop. It’s quiet here, and dark. The lasers and fairy-lights won’t breach the tree line. I sit with my back to the festival. A yellow cornfield stretches up the hill opposite me. And just above the horizon, a perfect full moon crests. I laugh and imagine it’s a balloon. As if I could prick it with a pin, and send it cascading away into the navy night.
I sit crosslegged. My fingertips exploring the lines of my uneven face. My palms brushing over my collarbones, trying to dispel the ugliness that clings to my skin. Isn’t it strange, beauty. Imagine holding beauty. Seeing beauty is like seeing sun rays. What am I saying? Words are lost, westward. What am I saying?
I shake my head and laugh to myself. Thank Her for drugs. I hear the words, look up.
I look up. The moon is still sat there, dutifully shining over the yellow field. The music comes to me very faintly. Only the bass pulsating the air. The moon calls me to focus on her. Suddenly she doubles in the sky. I laugh. I wonder if anyone else is seeing this. Then it doubles again. Now there are four moons, creating a grid against the blue. They jump apart, then jump up, down, left, right - all in time to the beat.
Once they’ve stopped moving, I let myself marvel at what is happening. I know it’s not real. But it feels more real than anything I’ve ever seen. I look at the moon. There’s a slight disturbance in the air. Like a low vibration. Thin blue, electricity spikes out from one of them. It stutters in the air then connects to one of the others. This goes on for a while. The four moons taking it in turns to spew out energy to the other. I watch in a blissful bubble.
“Hey ‘Go.” I look up. Cody stands over me, his hands are blackened to his elbow, and he has black smudged up half his neck. His clothes are torn, and it takes me a moment to remember the theme of the evening. He looks beautiful. The now solo moon illuminating his head like a halo. “You alright?” He chuckles.
“I’m—” I look past him. Sick of lying. “Fucking fantastic.” I hang my head in my palms, and instantly feel myself come down. Oh hello anxiety.
He looks back into the woods, clearly deciding whether to re-join the party or stay with me. Go, save yourself. I’m toxic. I’m nothing. Fuck.
He sits down next to me and sighs,
“It’s peaceful here.” He looks at the moon, I wonder what he’s seeing.
“Mmm. They can get a bit much sometimes.” I gesture behind us.
Somewhere covered by the blanket of shrubbery, there are bodies. Bodies gyrating and grinding in a trance. You suck. I sigh and push my hand through my fringe. Fuck you. You’re such a fat cunt. You deserve nothi—
“What’s it saying?” He’s looking at me with pity.
“Your head. What’s it saying to you?”
My brow creases,
“How do you—”
“I can tell. There’s something you do… it gives you away.” He smiles gently and I realise it isn’t pity I’m reading on his face. It’s something else. Something calmer. More controlled, like an expression of hope that he can help.
“Well shit, tell me what it is and we can go back to being happy.” I laugh.
“No. I won’t tell you. You can fake it for everyone else, but you need someone to know what’s going on in there.” He brushes a piece of hair from my face and taps my temple. Unlike every other touch from a guy. This one is so soft. As if he’s worried he’s going to hurt me. It feels comforting, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel vulnerable when on my own with a guy. I search his face for any sign of mocking. Anything that will solidify that he despises me. That he’s disgusted by me, or just teasing. “Find what you’re looking for?” He laughs and holds my eye contact.
“Sorry. I just—” Pity parade Margo. Self-indulgent bitch. I try and clear my mind, push a smile to the corners of my lips.
“Go on, ‘Go.” He stretches out and waits. “I’m not leaving till you tell me.” He takes out his rolling tin and rolls us two cigarettes. “I have all night.” He lights them and passes me mine.
“Fuck you.” I smile and exhale. I sigh. I know the reason I’m so hesitant to talk to anyone. “I find it difficult to talk about.”
“Well I’m here, I’ll listen to whatever you need to say, and just maybe I’ll be able to offer some sort of comfort, or help. Maybe I won’t but it’s worth a try right?” I shake my head. Unbelievable. Does this happen? A genuinely good person, doing something genuinely good. He has an ulterior motive.
“My anxiety? It’s like having a group of people standing by my shoulders. And…” How insane do I want him to know I am. I shake my head and smile, defeated.
“If it’ll help I’ll look away. Just talk.”
I take a deep breath, then prepare myself to lose a friend.
“Basically, it’s intrusive thought. My brain tells me things that I fear about myself. Things that I fear other people think about me.”
“Like what? You don’t have to say. But,” He flicks his cigarette away into the field. I imagine what would happen if it caught fire. “I want to understand it. I can’t even imagine what it’s like, and I can’t help you if I don’t understand.”
“They say things like… Ugh they’re just viscous. Malicious even.” I flick my roll up away, careful to land it, not on a dead plant. “They tell me that my friends want to hurt me. How I am so deserving of pain. You don’t want to hear what they say. ‘They’, I mean, what my brain says, fuck! What does that say about me? That I refer to my anxious thoughts as ‘them’? I’m losing my fucking mind. I swear…” I hang my head in shame. Embarrassment dragging its way over my shoulders, like a demon with knives as claws. I try to stop myself, but fail - tears mask over my eyes and run down my cheeks, in slow cinematic droplets. I turn away from Cody, not wanting him to see me. Weak. Fragile. Pathetic.
He doesn’t say anything. He just pulls my hands from my face and puts them over his shoulders. I go to resist, but don’t have enough energy to worry about what he might do to me. Whatever it is, I deserve it. I relent and let myself sink into his squared shoulders, which only makes me cry harder. It’s been five years since I had an embrace from someone who cares. Someone who isn’t trying to take advantage of me. A man, who isn’t trying to assert his dominance over me. Or prove that I’m worthless. Fuck you. You take things and twist them. Ruin them. I sob involuntarily and he hugs me tighter.
He whispers in my ear,
“You have no power over Margo. She is stronger than you know. She has a power within her, and one day, when she’s ready to recognise it. She’ll destroy you, and be free, and happy.” He pushes me away, and then wipes my cheeks. My brain prepares itself to rush into a rant about the fat of them, but before it can he puts one hand on the back of my neck, and looks into my eyes. Sees me. Understands me. It’s like a giant wave, that has the power to destroy the bank, only it doesn’t. It breaks before it reaches the shore, and the foaming, cool salt water rushes up the beach and reasserts order, and calm. “Take a deep breath.” I do and he breaths with me. The tears subside, and I laugh quietly. Suddenly exhausted.
“Thank you. I can’t even—” He stops me,
“It’s nothing. Right, let’s see what we have in here shall we?” He grins and lets go of me. He opens the tin again and takes out a box, inside -glistening white powder. Compact and waiting. He puts two lines on the tin lid and offers them to me. I take them, fast and eager.
“Aren’t you doing any?” I close my eyes tight.
“I already dropped, a little while back.” He smiles.
We chat shit for as long as it takes to kick in. But what I’m expecting and what happens are two different things. Instead of a calm, like the ocean, I feel hazy. My head swims and I feel an uncontrollable urge to lie down. My head hits the ground as soon as the thought occurs. Cody is still next to me. I’m aware of him, but I can’t see him clearly. I just feel him close by. Then there’s his hands. His fingers exploring my body. A blackness creeps in around the edges of my frame of view. Not again, is the last thing I think before the dark encompasses me, mind and body.