Twice – A Short Story by Charlotte Dingle, in three parts


Look out in the next weeks for the next installments of this not-quite-so-short story….

Emma Brains is bored. Bored of the filing, Post-Its, instant coffee and irritating hum of garbled soap opera synopses and fluorescent lights to which she is now forced to return. She’s also bored of the colour of her nails, and bored of the way cars beep and birds fly. She is bored, too, of the way Greenford Close is now bending into Chingford Avenue, the moss clinging damply to the edge of the grimy sign. As she turns the corner, a text message bleep punctures her reverie, and her heart simultaneously stuffs up her mouth and thuds down into her size 6 Converse. It’s him!
Have fun in Egypt? Emma is confused. She’s not going to Egypt for another three months! Does he not plan to see her before she goes? She shuffles up the path to work, promising herself she will make an effort to get through to 5.30pm without checking her phone again, knowing he’ll be ironed into her consciousness for the rest of the day even if she manages it.

“Emma, did you send that email?”
Emma didn’t send that email – she was checking MySpace for the eighteenth time, lingering on that picture where he’s snarling at some girl, sunlight chequering across both their faces. I wonder where it was taken, she thinks, as she does every time she dares herself to click on it his profile and have one ‘last’ peek at it before she puts this crazy obsession to bed… “I sent it, yes.” She taps out a frantic missive imploring the recipient to confirm a meeting time as a matter of urgency, and presses ‘Send’.

Emma arrives late, as is her custom. The Cock is the usual hotbed of colourful clientele, her eye lighting first upon a green mohawk with purple highlights nodding its owner’s agreement with whatever a fat girl with canary yellow dreads has just said. She spots Dan and Karen in the corner, locked in vociferous battle as usual. A pint first, she thinks, and then, once more (twice more, thrice more, a million times more, I shouldn’t wonder) into the breach. It would be nice to go somewhere else for once, but somehow she’s on a sort of Cock autopilot most days after work and at the weekends. Nobody even bothers to specify locations anymore – ‘DO U WANT 2 GO FOR A DRINK TONIGHT?’ always means coming here. Everyone who drinks here complains about it, but most of them display a distinct lack of imagination when it comes to trying to find somewhere else to go. Emma sighs and plants her elbows on the bar. The bar draws them greedily to its sticky surface, and another night of drunken oblivion seems already written in stone… “A pint of Strongbow, please” Emma asks the dollishly cute barmaid, who is resplendent in an extremely frilly Gothic Lolita-style dress and bone white make up. Karen spots her just as she is opening her purse to pay, and waves her over with a heavily be-ringed hand. Emma navigates her way across a pub which is filling up fast for only 6pm on a Friday afternoon, and drags a chair across to join her friends at a table tucked away at the back of the room.

It is 11.34pm, as far as Emma can work out from squinting blearily through five pints’ worth of cider-haze. She starts to scramble out of her seat, feeling the contents of her stomach tilting as if she’s an overblown spirit gauge.
“Emma, you alright?”
Emma is not alright. She feels sick, she feels sick with drink and obsession and hopelessness and some kind of bored nihilistic invincibility which flies in the face of all these things.
“I’m gonnatext ‘im when I get back from tha toi-toilet”
“Emma, don’t, he’s a bastard, just forget him”
“But I wan’im”
Emma has spent all day trying to stop him peeking round corners in her mind; wafting into view and spoiling her vision while she’s trying to just get on with her life. She goes to the shops to buy cigarettes and he’s there, making her wonder if he’s buying cigarettes now too… Making her see white, suddenly choked up on the idea that so many of the mundane tasks she indulges in every day, he must also by necessity carry out too. Straining on the toilet evokes as many melancholy romantic thoughts as hearing a song that reminds her of him, because at some point, somewhere, he will be doing it too. Now she wants to be drunk and not care, but it’s not working that way anymore. Now she’s filled with crazed desperation, longing to prove that he’s real because she’s no longer sure he really is. So much fantasy, so little reality. She’s unutterably addicted to thoughts of him, but the glimpses of him in reality have been short, and yes, drunken… She types with wobbling thumbs. Her garbled text is beamed off into the atmosphere, then hits his phone with a bleep. Her own phone stays silent for the rest of the evening.

She spotted him in a club first – admired him, longed for him, but was too terrified to approach him… Then, by strange coincidence, she met him properly at a party the following week. It was strange that she noticed him at all because she had more or less just convinced herself that all her sexual urges had shut down. Complete disinterest greeted most overtures directed at her – she generally only gave in because she was always completely blotto, but never, these days, because she really fancied anyone. But what was this? She felt like she’d just been kicked in the heart every time she looked at him. Poison crept up the back of her throat. When she finally gathered up the courage to kiss him, she didn’t feel pleased. She somehow instinctively knew already what her fate was. She was the limp prey and he was a beautiful boa boy, hugging her to death. But the embrace was short, and he made sure he left his victim only half dead…

The party stretched on well into the next day, and at about 6pm, people began to leave. Emma and George left the party and made their way to the Cock, where she wolfed down four pints of beer and rendered herself distinctly tipsy. He sipped at a glass of wine and told her things she can now only remember bits of about his books… his garden… his friends… But he didn’t speak much. George has a habit of not speaking much, of letting Emma get drunk and witter as he sits quietly. It’s frustrating – she frantically tries to piece together some kind of memory of an evening spent with him, but all she finds is the sound of her own voice, and his face, and all the colours running into a messy drunken puddle… She doesn’t really remember that much about the sex that evening. Just slices of the action, random glimpses. She was taken by how tight, toned, slender his body was. He fucked her quickly, noiselessly. She woke up in the morning embarrassed, shot through with painful tiredness and longing for her own bed, for safety, for mother, for her cats – anything but the frightening passion she felt brewing in her gut. He rolled over, looked up at her, and said “I’ve got a lot to do today. Do you think you can find your own way to the station?”

This morning, Emma wakes up and sees strange shoes lined up along a strange wall, and then a strange glass of water with a strange black hair floating in it by her head.
“Ah, the Kraken awakes.”
It’s Karen. Emma relaxes, and starts to realise that the shoes and the wall and the hair and probably the glass are all things she’s seen before. She tries to issue a cheerful “Hello” but her throat is rough and swollen from the previous night’s festivities and a small croak is all she produces.
“I’m making coffee, do you want some?”
Emma nods gratefully at her friend, then sinks back into the couch to properly assess in her mind the level at which her hangover is operating. Tasting something salty in the back of her throat, she forages through the few snapshot memories of the latter part of the night before and arrives at the conclusion that she may have eaten some chips at some point. Great. Emma keeps trying to get down to a size 10, but the booze and the resultant late night snacks ensure that this Holy Grail of clothing sizes constantly eludes her. Still, Karen is a portly size 16 and not short on admirers, so it just goes to show… The coffee arrives, and with it Karen, who incidentally looks sickeningly pretty and chirpy for someone who was sharing in the same Bacchanalian revelries as Emma was only a matter of hours ago. Emma is sure she doesn’t look at all sexy. Quite sure, in fact, that she resembles the demon lovechild of Gene Simmonds and a chimney sweep. She starts to prepare to stand up. “God, I need to wash my face.”
“Yeah, you look fucked, mate”
Karen laughs, setting the coffee down next to the glass.
“You sure you’re OK?”
Emma glares at her.
“I’m not sure I’m OK, no, I never said I was OK! You’re putting words into my mouth… And chips too, last night, I think – I can’t really remember. Did we eat chips?”
“God, you really were shit-faced, weren’t you? Yeah, Dan wanted some before we went to the Royal Oak.”
“We never went into the Royal Oak… Fuck, did I do anything stupid?”
“You kept texting George. Mate, you got to let that one lie. He just wants to put his dick in you when he feels like it. An’ it’s probably diseased too, so just fuck ‘im, leave him alone. He’s a cock. Speaking of which, fancy going back there now for a sneaky lunchtime half?”
Emma does, but she also knows she’s promised herself she will do about a million other, more productive things today. She was going to write her novel, form a band, compose that symphony that’s been kicking around in the back of her head for weeks now, and…
“Yeah, wicked. Let me wash my face and we’ll go.”

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.