How Not to Disappear
Subject: On The Road
So, Reuben, I’m assuming you’re still alive despite the fact that I haven’t heard a SINGLE BLOODY THING from you since you got off the Eurostar THREE WEEKS AGO!?! I guess you’re just too busy leading the life of an international playboy to worry about your oldest and dearest friends. By which I mean ME, despite the fact that I am NOT old and dear at all, but young and relatively cheap considering.
How is St. Tropez? (Assuming you got to your dad’s as planned and aren’t still under a table somewhere in St. Germain in an absinthe-fueled coma like on the school Paris trip?) UNBEARABLE, I expect. Far too hot. All those beautiful people with their tans and their toned abs. The clear blue sea and sandy beaches. The endless sunshine and cocktails. I bet you find your
thoughts often turn mournfully to the drizzly London suburbs and all you’ve left behind. . . . Your dear coworkers in the men’s casualwear department at Debenhams, who I feel certain are still lamenting the loss of your unique approach to customer service. Warm snakebite at the Lion. Chips with curry sauce, and fights and vomit-dodging on the night bus. Didn’t think about the gaping hole all of THAT would leave in your soul when you decided to go off traveling and Finding Yourself and all that, did you, Jack bloody Kerouac?
So anyway, things can TOTALLY be exciting here too because GUESS WHAT???? I passed my driving test!!!! I KNOW!!!! As miracles go, this is right up there with Lazarus and water into wine and you not failing GCSE Maths. Who’d’ve thought I’d ever be legally sanctioned to be in control of a moving vehicle? It’s madness, I tell you. Celebrated by reversing mum’s car into a pillar in the parking garage. Oops. Haven’t told her yet.
Anyway, motoring-related marvels aside, the summer holidays are turning out to be a Disaster of Epic Proportions. Carl’s being such a pain in the arse about the wedding I almost hope mum calls it off. He’s booked a castle for the reception. Seriously. And he wants me to be a bridesmaid. In a PEACH DRESS. I’M NOT EVEN JOKING, REUBEN. Meanwhile, the twins are madder than ever. Mum’s working all hours, so when I’m not at the Happy Diner in my brown nylon air-stewardess-from-the-1970s uniform, my days are spent being tortured by Alice in the name of “science” (she’s SO going to grow up to be a serial killer) or reading Watership Down to Ollie AGAIN. I know it off by
heart, Reuben. Literally, I could go on Mastermind and answer EVERY BLOODY QUESTION ANYONE COULD EVER THINK OF about Fiver and Hazel and flipping Bigwig. And the worst thing is that no matter how many times we read it, it always makes both of us cry. Not saying I don’t like a good cry but seriously, my life is depressing enough at the moment without any help from **SPOILER ALERT** dying bunnies.
And the Happy Diner is pushing me beyond the edge of sanity. I actually DREAM about the all-day breakfast of champions. My hair smells of hash browns. It really does. I fantasize about ways of murdering Melanie the manager. It’s the only thing that gets me through the shifts. I can’t work out whether her cleavage is constantly expanding like the universe or her tops are shrinking, but either way it’s verging on pornography. She’s always calling the boys into her office for a coffee and a Little Chat. Mack had to spend a good five minutes in the walk-in freezer after the last one. Needless to say she never calls me in for a Little Chat. She just gives me evils and makes me clean the toilets. She told me yesterday I’d actually look quite pretty if I did something with my hair. She suggested a perm. A PERM!!! Said it would help with the lankness, although it might be prone to frizz. I tell you she’s evil. EVIL I tell you.
Kat’s spent the whole summer so far off with all her art college friends pretending to be a tree as part of some kind of guerrilla eco pop-up something or other. I’ve only seen her once, at the pub with the other trees. She’s irritatingly happy, although to be honest the trees seem like pretentious tossers to me, and I spent
the whole evening trying not to notice that their faces were streaked with some kind of indelible green. She’s still going out with Zoe-from-Kettering (remember, Kat brought her to the pub that time—the condescending one with the nose) and totally loved up. They’ve gone off to Edinburgh now because Zoe-from-Kettering’s ex is in a fringe show up there or something. I can’t keep up.
I stop typing and look out the bedroom window for a while, wishing I’d had a chance to talk properly to Kat before she went. I watch the wind gently wafting the leaves of the trees that line the road. Actual ones, I mean, not just students painted green. The movement of the leaves is slow and soothing. Then I type:
Oh and by the way, you know how we accidentally had sex a month ago? Turns out I’m pregnant.
I stare at the screen. It makes my stomach flip, seeing it there in black and white. Worse even than the line on the pregnancy test somehow. I delete the words quickly. Once they’re gone I feel a bit better. In their place I type:
So ALL my friends have abandoned me!! (Can you hear that violin playing in the background?) Mum and Carl and the twins are off to Mallorca soon and instead of the “shenanigans” Carl thinks I’ll be getting up to, I’ll be here on my own with a ready-meal for one and a mug of cocoa. No danger of even a single shenanigan.
Meanwhile, no doubt, you’re bathing in champagne with beautiful French heiresses or doing obscene things with cocktail waitresses. Again.
I feel tears pricking my eyes and I rub them away before they can fall, and carry on typing.
Anyway, if you have 5 minutes to spare between your many assignations, send me an e-mail, will you? Vicarious hedonism is better than none at all. And I miss you.
Yours a teeny bit resentfully if I’m honest,
I read through it a billion times, trying to see it as he will, editing it, hoping it sounds clever and funny and like I just wrote it in five seconds without even thinking about it, and not at all needy or desperate or like someone who might be pregnant.
I click send and then I hug my arms around my middle and lean forward until my forehead is flat against the desk. The wood is cool and hard and I press my head against it until it hurts a bit. And I find that I’m crying, horrible, big, silent crying that feels like it’s coming from a space inside me that’s bigger than I am, bigger than the room, than the house, bigger than the whole city. I haven’t cried like this in years. Not since Mum threw out all of Dad’s old clothes. It must have been a few months after he died. She stuffed them in a trash bag and took them to the charity shop along with a load of baby clothes the twins had grown out of. When she’d gone, I went
and looked at the empty wardrobe, the bare hangers swaying a little as I opened the door, and I cried more than I’d ever cried before. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like I missed Dad really.
I try not to think about that, or about Reuben, or what’s going on inside me and what’s going to happen next. I switch it all off and just let myself cry.
When the crying stops I look in the mirror. My face is puffy and sad and streaked with gray. I sort out my mascara and dab a bit of concealer under my eyes to make them look less red and blotchy. Bit of lip gloss. I smile at myself. Almost convincing.
All the time I’m doing it, I realize I’m half waiting for a reply from Reuben, waiting for my laptop to ping or my phone to buzz. As if. I should know him by now.
When I finally get a a reply, several days of denial and fried food and Watership Down later, it says this:
Subject: Re: On The Road
your hair smells of hashbrowns you say? thats actually quite alluring to a certain kind of man. so i’ve heard.
i’ll write more soon. phenomenally hungover.
oh and i am never ever ever getting in a car with you. ever. can
only assume you bribed the instructor. was it money drugs or sexual favors? all three? i’m guessing all three.
and who the hell is Jack keroauk>? dcos he play for Chelsea?
PS can you think what I might have done with my left shoe? and er trousers? they don’t seem to be where I am. was quite a night! least i think itwas
PPS also you have an over-punctuation disorder. all those CAPITALS and exclamation marks make me dizzy!!!!!!!!!!! or that could be the hangover
A whole week and that’s it? I’ve been sitting here, pregnant and miserable, waiting for hangover abuse and a lame football gag?
I type a reply saying:
FUCK OFF REUBEN AND NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN.
But, of course, I don’t send it.