She was fourteen same as me. I was taller, but she was somehow older. Skinny arms, ginger hair, and short white eyelashes fringing the palest eyes you’ve ever seen. She was a new girl at my school, and I was assigned to puppy-walk her. She said she could find her own way around, but because I’m not that popular and a bit ginger too – not like her, but a bit – we sort-of stuck together. I showed her the bus route to school, the swings in the park. She showed me how to keep look-out while she shoplifted. Glenda, Glen, if you didn’t want to be ignored, didn’t give a toss about anything much. ‘Fuck off four abreast,’ was something she said quite a lot. She had this knack, telling outrageous lies while staring you straight in the face, not blinking, not once.
She said her dad was a bodyguard in Saudi, but I doubted it. Her mother had a job as live-in manager of an old peoples’ home, and that was true enough. The oldies there thought Glen was a ray of sunshine and she helped out sometimes. Helped herself to money from their purses, and to their little trinkets, helped herself to their pills which she sometimes tried, but sold the rest to a sleaze-ball called Phil who we had met in the park. Glen liked to get the oldies reminiscing; she liked it best if they cried. She said she could always get them to cry if she pinched them hard enough.
Back then, I often used to go round to hers after school, do her homework for her, and because she had a Soda Stream. One time, somewhere between the bus stop and the home, we fell out.
She said she had done it with Sleazy Phil.
I said, ‘Glen! You never! You’re shitting me, right?’
‘If you’re calling me a liar, you can fuck off.’ She glared defiantly with those unblinking eyes.
‘No, course not … it’s just, he’s so old,’ I said, thinking how come Phil fancied her? Was he blind?
‘Thirty’s not old,’ she said. ‘My last boyfriend were older than that.’
‘But you’re only—’
She shrugged, ‘Told him I’m seventeen.’
‘Urgh, I don’t know how you could. He’s revolting.’
‘He’s alright. He used a condom and everything, and he gave me an extra tenner.’
‘Is that his scarf?’ I asked. A ratty mustard-yellow silk scarf that I hadn’t seen before. Not on her anyway. Why her?
‘Might be,’ she said.
‘You know what? You’re full of shit. He’s not your boyfriend,’ I said, ‘He’s just stringing you along. For the pills, you know?’
‘And what do you know?’ she hissed. ‘You’re such a child.’
We walked in silence. Hating each other.
When I’d done sulking, I noticed her eyes were wet; I’d never seen her cry before, and I looked away while she wiped her nose on the sleeve of her navy-blue jumper. We finished our ciggies – my mum’s Silk Cut – and stubbed them out at the corner of her road. Then she punched me and laughed.
‘Race you back to mine. Last one’s a turd.’
‘Shhhh’ said Glen’s mum as we burst into the big downstairs kitchen. ‘Glenda, I mean it. Keep the noise down. Mr Antrobus passed this morning, the undertakers will be here soon. Show some respect.’
We went through the hallway that had that smell, that over-cooked dinners and pine disinfectant smell, and raced up the stairs with our two bottles of newly-made fizzy cola, and over the noise of the television in the day-room I could hear raucous laughter and a voice calling out; ‘Well, girls, I’m paying twenties, twenty-ones, pontoons and five-card-tricks,’ and I thought about my nan’s house, so tidy, very quiet, just the hiss of the gas fire, the tick of the clock and the occasional clickety of knitting needles.
At the top of the stairs, Glen suddenly barred the way and said, ‘Have you ever seen a stiff before?’ and she knew I never had.
The room was dark, Glen put her cola on the dressing table and pulled open the curtains. Mr Antrobus was lying on the bed with his eyes closed. I thought dead people got covered with a sheet, but he was tucked in, like a child, his bushy hair was swept back from his temples, white as seagull’s wings, and his spectacles were neatly folded on the bedside cabinet beside him.
‘Touch him,’ Glen ordered, and her small face was pinched and intense so that I would understand that she was punishing me for before.
I shrank back.
With her finger and thumbnail, she pinched the back of my hand till it hurt, and I reached out and touched him. I stroked his papery cheek, but he was no longer a person, and I couldn’t imagine him ever hunched over his Battle of Britain jigsaws.
Glen was going through his stuff. A wallet with library cards and two five-pound notes. Tobacco pouch and a silver lighter.
‘What?’ she said. ‘It’s not like he needs it anymore.’
She offered me half the money.
‘Suit yourself’ she said ‘but you’re not having the lighter. It’s a Zippo and it’s mine now.’
She found an old black and white photograph of two women, arm in arm and smiling for the camera. Dressed in tightly belted gabardine trousers and patterned jumpers, they both had hair styles like swiss rolls. On the back in spidery writing was written, Dumfries & Galloway 1944.
‘Do you think that’s their names?’ asked Glen, glaring at the women, and I wasn’t sure if that was a serious question or not. Sometimes it was hard to tell. The photograph was too big for her skirt pocket, so she kissed it, and folded it in two so it would fit.
‘Do you want to see his cock?’ she asked.
Biography: Jupiter Jones lives in Wales and writes short and flash fictions which have been published by Aesthetica, Brittle Star, Fish, Reflex Press, Mslexia, and Parthian Books. Her most recent novella-in-flash, Gull Shit Alley and Other Roads to Hell is published by Ad Hoc Fiction. Twitter: @jupiterjonz