by Laura McGlashan
“Let’s bunk a train,” I mouthed. There was no point shouting against the music. Vanessas’s smile told me she had managed to retain some lip-reading ability despite our condition. As escapism hits, we escape too. Everyone’s too high to care anyway. We don’t offer an explanation. We make our way to London Bridge. There’s something about South London that makes the air heavy. The poverty. The grime. The graffiti. Commuters clutching their trauma like briefcases. We slip past the train guards onto the 7.15 to Brighton. I swallow the heaviness into my chest where it buries itself. Slinking into the chair as we depart, the air gets lighter and lighter with each passing field. My eyes flicker from right to left as they fight to absorb the new stimuli. Vanessa fidgets beside me until she rests her head on my shoulder, slinking downwards in agreement.
We are woken by a collective shuffle. Passengers grab their belongings and step onto the platform. They are probably all thinking the same thing, “Conformity.” We don’t conform. We are Thirteen, nearly Fourteen and believe in life. Believe that there is good in the world. Chase release. The air here is like the south but with a slightly different overtone. It’s cold and we didn’t think this through.
We sit in the station making roll ups; two guys sit down next to us. One white and one black. They are probably in their late thirties. They have a heaviness about them. Tattoos and heaviness. South London, personified. We flirt and innocence stings our lips.
“Can you get us some alcohol?”
“Course we can babe. How old are you guys?”
“Fourteen” Vanessa states proudly. I dig her in the ribs.
“They’re only 14” the white guy says, as if pleading with an unspoken sense of morality he left on the worktop with his keys.
“So. We can just say we didn’t know their real age.”
I know this means that they shouldn’t be flirting with us, but I let them. We need alcohol. Protection from the conformists – bogged down by all that gray. We feel sorry for them. All of them, beach stones that disappoint the masses. I think about how many children have felt excitement form like butterflies at the thought of going to the beach, only to arrive here, a pebbled monstrosity. The prison guard of beaches. Harsh, sadistic in nature as if he carries a childhood that outweighs him.
When the guys come back, they greet us with Watermelon Bacardi Breezers. I’ve been drinking these since I was Twelve. We talk about things that make recollection difficult. The things teenagers with a grief complex do. It surfaces in excitable bursts. If ADHD were a language, I would be fluent. I’m free. No one to pick apart my choices like the wishbone of all that is wrong in the world. I wanna get drunk. I wanna be adored. I wanna stay here forever.
One of the guys throws his arm round me and pretends to engage me in intellectual conversation; he leads me away from the others. He pretends I don’t notice. I do. The other guy has his arm around Vanessa and is leading her in the opposite direction. I say nothing
and pretend to be a conformist. A grey rock. A prison guard. Vanessa and I take one last glance at each other. He leads me to a block of flats. We sit on the stairs smoking cigarettes, flirting. He kisses me, and for a moment, I am adored. He touches me, I tell him I’m a virgin. He says it’s ok. He is on top of me on the floor. A cold, hard shitty floor full of chewing gum and dirt. The cold permeates my back and takes refuge there. It clings to my bones. I feel his dick when he asks me to. It’s big. I get scared and tell him I’ve had enough. He hands me my Bacardi Breezer. I’ve only had about a quarter of the bottle. After a few more sips, everything fades. I wake up on the beach. The guy’s cuddling me. The rocks draw my attention back to the harshness of the place. I can taste vomit in my mouth, and I’m confused about the whereabouts of my memory. I must have got blackout drunk.
“I need the toilet.” I say, shrugging.
He holds my hand and walks me to a café. People pass by and say nothing. A few glance at us, noticing my age. They glance back at the floor, clutching their umbrellas and their conformity and their grayness. Fuck them. We sit in the café sharing a tea. He doesn’t have enough to buy me my own. We’ve run out of cigarettes too. I ask around. A middle-aged woman offers me one. She keeps looking at me and smiling. I can’t work out why. When the guy goes to the toilet she finally turns to me and asks if I’m alright.
“Yeah” I smile.
“Are you sure?” She says, gesturing at the toilets with her eyes.
“Oh. Errr yeah.” I say, not quite grasping her urgency.
She conforms. Embraces the gray. Embraces the rocks and the smell of the greasy ass bacon fat that poisons the air when you inhale.
“Where’s my friend” I ask when he returns.
“Oh, she’s fine she’s with my mate. We must have got separated last night but I know he’ll look after her.”
Upon seeing his efforts to keep me all to himself I think he’s enjoying my company. I think he adores me. I think I’m flying. I finally go to the toilet. My pussy hurts. The urine stings when it leaves me. I look down and there’s blood in my knickers. Did I lose my virginity? What the fuck? I return to my seat as I should.
“Did we have sex?” I ask casually.
“Kind of. Don’t you remember? Damn, you were drunker than I thought.
“Probably why you threw up.”
“But I only had a Barcardi Breezer?”
“You had more after.”
Accepting the events, I shrug and tell him I need to go home. I have no money and the barriers are now up. He offers to help and gets me onto a train. People pretend not to see. I pretend not to be there. He’s handsome enough, but I feel like a Martyr for an unknown cause. Why don’t I remember the sex? Did it even feel good? Did it hurt? Was I loved? The smell of piss ricocheting from nostril to nostril as I cling to his T-shirt to contrast the pain. Did he find himself when he came? Did he find me? Doubtful. All of it, doubtful.
We get to my area and I go to the phone box to call my mum. I know she’ll be pissed. I didn’t tell her where I was and didn’t call.
“Do you wanna come to mine?” I ask.
“I’ll tell my mum you’re my boyfriend.”
“Ok cool,” he says smiling.
When we arrive, she is with Dianne, a friend who she’d called for moral support when I didn’t come home. They look at the us in horror.
“I feel sick” Dianne says.
“The police are on their way.” My mum announces.
“I called them last night when you didn’t come home.”
No one speaks to the guy. No one speaks at all. We all just await the inevitable. He must have known it was wrong. He sat there anyway. Didn’t even flinch. The police arrive and take him downstairs to talk. They keep coming back to ask questions.
“Did you have sex?” The officer presses.
“Your friend Vanessa was sexually assaulted by the other guy who was with you.”
My heart sinks. I knew it deep down but there is a difference between knowing something and hearing it out-loud. It becomes somehow.
“No. We just kissed.”
I don’t know why I lied. I felt sorry for him. He’d been kind to me. He’d adored me. I didn’t want to admit that I’d left my virginity on the piss-streaked architrave of some block of flats somewhere either. Not in front of my mum. Not in front of myself. They left shortly afterwards, accepting my lie. Why can’t I remember the sex? Did it hurt? I hope I was loved.
During my twenties I see a news article about the date rape drug, Rohypnol
. Ten times more potent than Valium, they say it induces immobility and amnesia. Immediately I am back in that tower block. There is vomit on my shoes. My pussy hurts. I make a slight sound when his dick goes in, but I grip his T-shirt in perfect conformity. The beach smells like sewage. I am not loved. I am not loved. I am not loved. I am a fucking prison guard on a grey beach. I am the smell of the bacon grease. I am the shitty ass 7.15 to Brighton. I am South London, personified.
About the author
Laura McGlashan is a mature creative writing student, mother, and lover of written word. Laura is a poet and passionate about bringing a raw renewal of energy to creative nonfiction.