At twelve, I spend most of my time at Helen’s, sunk in a stained leather sofa, the lounge lit by a crack in the curtains drawn against daylight; the blue shaft of second-hand smoke from her mother like a cinema projector. We’re watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist. Her mother lets us do this because she’s past the giving-a-shit stage of parenting; Helen’s brothers being grown up, unemployed, and upstairs stamping to The Jam, while we’re in the dark, considering puberty, wondering if that head spinning’s a thing we need to worry about.
One day Helen’s brother Guy comes out of his bedroom. He doesn’t slam into the lounge, point at my brown cords and scream-sing ‘What the fuck are you wearing?’ As he does. He comes in and says, hello. I don’t reply because I still don’t want, nor know, how to talk to boys. My dad’s the only real male I interact with on his weekend visits and he just sneers non-stop about mum’s weight or her job. I’m not sure I’m ready to handle that level of banter yet. Guy’s decided he wants to be a professional photographer and because there’s fuck all else to photograph, he’ll photograph the pair of us idiots. Tells me to sit on a chair. I’m McCartney and should make my arms into V shapes. Helen’s Lennon. She stands behind me, rests her chin on my head. He takes some shots then disappears into his bedroom, converted into a darkroom by hanging dirty towels in the windows.
Helen’s mother comes for her ciggies. Asks if we want a cup of tea. She always makes a comment about me taking sugar which hurts me, I don’t know why. Who has sugar in their tea? she asks. And I add that to my list of not knowing how to be in the world. Thinking about the photos makes my stomach bloat like I’ve eaten too many sugared fangs. Helen’s mum inhales then blows smoke rings at the cat. I imagine Guy stirring and developing images of me, my face floating in his liquid chemicals, the gelatin layer of the paper swelling as the perm I cried about for three days becomes visible.
Guy kicks open the door. Grins. He’s pleased with himself and the photos he’s pegged up. We’re to go and look. But I shrug, say I’ve got to go back for tea. He dashes out to get the photo, brings it back, says something about next time, and cool isn’t it, but I hear only the jibes I’m sure he’s going to make the moment I’m gone. I don’t get to see my McCartney. I slam out, head bowed beneath my fur-lined hood. Terrified he can see it spinning.
Kathryn Aldridge-Morris writes English teaching materials. Her flash and micro fictions appear in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual 2020, Bath Flash Anthology, Reflex Fiction, Lunate Fiction, Blinkpot, Paris Lit Up, Retreat West and the fundraising anthology ‘From Syria with Love’ (Indie Books). Say hi @kazbarwrites