The boys call her Wardy, like she’s one of the lads, a bit of a laugh. Maybe she’s leading a double life; they all fancy her anyway. They just ignore me, most of the time. Same goes for the teachers. Jane Ward’s intelligent and independent. I’m invisible.
I do everything with my best mate, Carmen. We walk to school and tennis club and Guides and that keeps us on the right side of the good girls, even if we do smoke on the way. So I should have known better than to go round Harriet’s without Car. Jane Ward is already there, lying on the bed in Harriet’s room, reading. Wordy Wardy. She sends a half-arsed nod in my direction; her bob sways back and forth either side of her jaw, like abandoned swings. I collapse onto a beanbag in a fake swoon; Harriet laughs. I think she likes me – why else would she invite me? Not sure about her dad though. When I arrive he doesn’t speak, just holds the door open so I have to duck under his arm to get past. He smells of Imperial Leather and last night’s booze. I keep my head down and stomp up the stairs.
At the top I look back and he’s still standing there, giving me a funny look. I say tiny cock under my breath, which is something I’ve worked out you can do without moving your lips. And filthy ventriloquism is a talent of sorts.
The afternoon gapes, like Saturdays do, and we loll about listening to records. Harriet and Jane talk to each other and I talk to Harriet and try to make her laugh again. Harriet’s got a new album and the two of us sing along and act sad and sexy, like we’re in a video. Jane drifts about, not joining in. A hard ball of empty forward rolls in my belly, like I’m hungry or homesick, even though I’d rather be anywhere but. It’s the same with people; I hate Jane Ward but I still want her to like me. Then I remember how she likes the sound of her own voice and I have this idea that we should make a tape of the three of us messing about. Jane gets all enthusiastic then and we spend ages recording what we’re going to do that day; go to Asda, go swimming, go round the ring road on the number 9, even though none of us have got any money or swimming costumes and it’s already four o’clock and starting to get dark.
It’s quiet for a bit and I’m trying not to think about having to go back and I’m staring at the red light on the stereo, listening to the far away squeak of the tape as it strains on pause. Then I just start talking gibberish about being a Victorian maid. I don’t know why, it just comes out of my mouth and I jump up and start pretending to dust the room and asking, “Ew are you two?” and “What’s this new fangled machine what yer playing with?” I keep it up for ages and my voice gets higher and sillier and I start chucking stuff round the room.
It’s supposed to be funny and Harriet’s wetting herself but Jane Ward starts getting radged, she goes to me, “Stop it Nicole, you’re freaking me out” and even though her face is still as smug as the Mona Lisa’s I know she actually is bricking herself. Harriet’s still cackling away though and her braces are catching on what’s left of the light so her teeth look like that James Bond villain. I say, “You should be freaked out, look at Harriet’s face” and Harriet laughs even more in this sort of screechy, Halloween-y way and then Wardy starts proper blubbing and I say, in my best witchy voice, “Why are you crying little girl?” and loom right up in her face and she shouts, really loud, “Get off me you nutter!”
That’s when Harriet’s dad walks in. He doesn’t knock; he just puts the light on and says in a really calm, smooth voice like he’s a presenter off the telly, “What are you young ladies up to in here?” Harriet goes red and says, “Nothing, Dad” which is technically true. He looks at Jane Ward’s white, teary face, then at me, all out of breath, hair stuck to my forehead. He says, “Time to go home now, don’t you think” and I know he means me and it’s not a question.
I try to get my tongue round fuck off, silently, without moving my lips. It’s impossible.
Monica Dickson is the winner of the Northern Short Story Festival Flash Fiction Slam 2019. You can also hear an audio version of this story on the Chapel FM website here. This story was previously published on Dear Damsels.