Part Two of Charlotte Dingle’s novella Twice


There are a healthy number of familiar faces dotted around The Cock. Karen and Emma sprinkle the requisite number of “Hi theres” amongst them and then install themselves at their favourite table. The gods are evidently smiling on them, because getting a table in here on a Saturday afternoon is usually akin to getting blood from stones, finding cherries without stones, chickens without bones, etc etc. As it is, they arrive just as a group of clearly underage Emo brats are moodily vacating their seats (presumably under Management-applied duress). The sound of Rancid emphatically suggesting that everyone “Jump around, jump around!” is assailing them at ear-splitting volume, but they decide to pass. A good four or five minutes pass before Karen decides to brave the ravening hordes of hungover goths, punks and random confused tourists and make her way to the bar. Emma decides the time is right to turn her phone on. She going to have to do it eventually, and her earlier plans to leave it off for at least a week are starting to seem a bit unrealistic. She presses the button, and closes her eyes for 10 seconds to steel herself. Opening them again, she is greeted with silence. For a few more seconds, the silence continues. And then… Beep.
Oh bollocks, not that fucker again. Emma so doesn’t fancy Karen’s dodgy mate Peter. She wishes he’d get the hint. Another beep…
Emma is suddenly struck by a sense of how futile it all is. Whatever. She’s already a bit drunk. What can possibly matter when she’s spiralling once again into beery oblivion? She deletes his number. Again. She’s knows from previous experience that it’s not lost forever. She can always check her phone bill and get it back…

They manage four pints each before hunger drives them, blinking and swaying, into the mid-afternoon sunshine and across the road to Breakfast Café. Emma idly wonders why some establishments have such stupid names. I mean, calling it Breakfast Café is immediately going to put you off going there for your lunch, isn’t it? Unless you’ve already absorbed four pints of snakebite and black, that is, she supposes. Karen pushes the cracked door open with her shoulder. She’s wittering animatedly about some fight that took place last night at a club they were too broke and drunk to go to…
“… and then guess who turns up? Fucking Jen turns up, and gets the boot in too, and it’s carnage. Phil’s head was bleeding!”
Emma is still reeling from her decision to delete his number. What if he changes his mind and comes out later? She feels suddenly as if she’s alone on very choppy waters, clinging to a lurching raft.
“Emma, wakey wakey! What you eating?”
Emma, stuck in her painful reverie, hadn’t noticed the trip from door to table. She shifts in the plastic seat. The stubbly beginnings of thigh hair smart as her sweaty legs pull away from it. Emma woozily shuffles back through a cloudy weekend of half-memories, and is reminded that that she hasn’t sat in a bath since about… Thursday. Her sharply ironed, clean-on pinstripe skirt is now a soft, festering rag against her body. She can almost see the odour lifting off her outfit in green waves, as if she was in a cartoon. I am a broken mess, she tells herself. No wonder he doesn’t want me. No wonder my mobile is as silent as a churchyard. Emma looks at her phone, sitting there on the cafe table. She takes in its baby pink outside curves, the sharp lines where its casing joins. How bizarre that this innocuous looking piece of machinery is the epicentre of her universe, the focus of so much of her attention. So many other objects the same size and weight are packed away in boxes in her parents’ attic, disregarded and unimportant to her life.

Gaunt boys shimmer through the strobing sadness of the Endymion Club dancefloor. This is a place of distorted recollections, of speed-spun half-truths etched into its sordid walls. This is a place which completely scours the joy out of you the moment you step through its doors, but infects you with a masochistic longing to return the moment you leave. Emma feels as if she left something here once, and never got it back. It was here she first saw him, leaning back against a pillar, attractive enough but nothing special amongst these hordes of vampish androgynous beauties. God alone knows what made her stomach lurch when she first saw him, but it certainly lurched again threefold when she met him properly at that party the next weekend. Emma knows it’s a futile attraction, knows he doesn’t want her, but she’s built up this fantasy around a man she hardly ever sees. Every weekend she longs to see the back of his head in the crowd here. Often, she thinks she does see it – only to discover upon rushing to greet him that he’s gone, and that it can’t have been him at all. Every weekend she gets drunk and sends him messages he usually ignores. About once every few months, she gets drunk and texts him and he actually replies… and then she gets the train to Brighton (either with him, if he’s already in London, or without him if he’s not) and they fuck. Afterwards, she is granted a few hours’ sleep in his bed, and then he wakes her up very early and throws her out into the porch of his rather grand Edwardian house without so much as a cup of tea. She longs for him with a vengeance, because she knows she’ll never get him. It is the deranged romanticism of Dante and Beatrice. It is the sickening stuff of irrational adolescent fantasy, of pop star poster-kissing 14-year-olds.
‘She watches from far above me, ankles resting in craters on the moon, her eyes glistening back at me from the slippery motorway…’
It mightn’t be so bad if it weren’t for his books. Such an unfair advantage. He must barely know who she is from the sporadic drunken burblings – indeed, he probably thinks she’s just a silly little tart. But she knows all too well who he is, and who he is she is in love with. His sentences wind through her brain as if they’re on a mechanised loop. She’d dearly love to stop it but the machine is so much stronger than her and it just keeps on churning away, grating at her sanity. She stares and stares at him but he has no idea she is watching from behind the two-way mirror which fame affords him. She’d smash the fucking glass but she knows he’d run away forever.

The coffee shop blurs into familiarity as Emma lurches through its doors. How the fuck she failed to notice the last three hours of Endymion Club, she’ll never know. Every time she gets into this state, she is convinced she can somehow put the brakes on – not necessarily stop drinking or snorting or swallowing so much, because that makes her terrified the effects will desert her, but just push back the loss of awareness and the descent into garbled idiocy and ride the waves of pleasure. She is convinced she can outwit the bitter golden bubbles, twist the effects of the little pile of powder to her will, triumph over the little tab. It never works like that. When she reaches her peak, the point at which whatever it is is making her feel perfect and reckless and invincible, she cannot help but gorge herself on more and more in case the feeling goes… And that gorgeous power is torn from her grasp as quickly as it came as she coasts down the other side of the slope. She becomes a stupid rag doll, limp and half-dead, helplessly buffeted about like so much rotten flotsam and jetsam… When the morning comes, she feels so poisoned, so hollowed out, so bleak, she invariably has to reach for the bottle again. Emma lives a series of deranged half-blind scrabbles out of one hole and headlong into the next. But Karen’s kicking her now, looking down at her with eyes wide from speed, the pupils spread out and swallowing the iris all up.
“Emma, did you want soya milk in your coffee?”
“Urgh, I’ll fucking hurl if I drink coffee now. Can’t we get some beer?”
“You were wrecked last night, lady. You don’t need any more beer!”
“Oh god, what did I do? Was he there?”
“Fucksake, no, he was not there… Can you really not remember anything at all?”
“I remember James putting that girl’s skirt on… And snogging you in the toilets. Then nothing.”
“You were asleep on the top floor of the club for about three hours. James was trying to draw on you with my lipstick but you smacked him in the face in your sleep so he stopped, ha ha!”
Emma groans. More lost hours, another wasted night. Sometimes she feels as if she’s half-dead, she spends so much time wine-drenched and comatose in the corner of clubs and pubs. She lives only half a life, so many hours in it eaten up by inebriation. She blames it on her job. She blames it on being bullied at school. She blames it on the sad state of the world. She blames it on being lonely and single. She blames it on unhappy past relationships. She blames it on a late great grandmother who had a fondness for 4pm sherries. More recently, she blames it on him. Whatever.

Londoner Charlotte Dingle is 30 but feels more like a strange mixture of seven and 70 most of the time. She wrote this story when she was 24 and living on lettuce, gin and broken dreams. She eats more potatoes these days and her dreams are just slightly skewiff.