Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for August 2013

Bad Everything

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My girl put her headphones down on the table and frowned at them like they’d offended her, the ends of her hair drooping down parallel to her chin, tips about to meet in the middle like an old lady’s headscarf knot.

‘What’s up?’ I asked.

‘It’s all gone wrong somewhere,’ she said.

‘Bad day at work?’ I said.

‘Bad everything,’ she said.

I got off the couch and walked over to her, ready to hug her from the back, cover her arms with mine, kiss her exposed neck, be the good man to her. But as soon as I got close, she threw her hands up over her head as if she had given up in frustration, and turned back to the hallway.

‘Hey,’ I said, watching as she fought her boots back over her heels. ‘What’s up? Where are you going?’

‘Out,’ she said. ‘I need a walk. I need to be myself for a while.’

‘Oh. Okay. Should I make something for dinner while you’re gone?’

She stopped and leaned against the hallway door. Half-in her left boot, the cheap leather of its back crushed underneath her heel, pink socks with grey kittens poking out underneath her black work jeans. I took a step forward, like she’d become a wild animal, a bird about to fly away at the slightest sound.

‘You’re too good to me,’ she said to the floor.

‘If something’s wrong, you can talk to me about it,’ I said. ‘Was it work?’

‘No, it’s just…’

She pulled off her boot and threw it towards the door. It fell short and thudded to the floorboards. So she stood there, half-up and half-down with one heel on, looking at me, the me who was wondering why she looked like she was going to cry, wondering what I could do to make her stop.

‘The letters came back, and they got my phone number as well. They sent me a text saying I have to call them, that they’ll take me to court if I don’t pay up.’

‘We’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘We can borrow off my parents.’

‘I can’t, already owe them so much,’ she said.

‘They’ll understand. Don’t worry, we’ll get by.’

She tore the other boot off and threw it at the door again, whole arm into it, and it banged and skidded by the plantpot.

‘Hey,’ I said, taking another wary step, ‘hey, we’ll be fine, don’t worry-‘

‘It’s not fine!’ she cried, spinning back to me, voice cracking. ‘It’s all my fault – if I’d just managed to get this job a few months ago – and I fucking hate it, I had a shit day all day and I messed up everything and customers complained and Brian shouted at me – but I don’t have a choice, do I? It’s my own fucking fault for not working through high school and uni, I don’t have any experience for anything. If I’d looked for ones that I was more likely to get – if I’d just gotten off my arse and gone out on the street more – if I hadn’t chosen to do a useless fucking degree in the first place – it’s all my own fucking fault!’

She slid down to the floor, defeated.

Now the problem was out, the issue filed, it was safe for me to do what I had wanted to do all along: sweep her up into me and hug her to my chest.

‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘we’ll be okay.’ Her tears dripped into my t-shirt and she shook her head in disagreement but I held her tight, saying it with the force of a real adult: ‘We’ll be okay.’

‘I’m such a fuck-up,’ she said, breath hot against my torso, voice muffled but words painfully audible. ‘If I end up in court they’ll want me to pay a fine, and I can’t afford it – I can’t afford any of it – and if they give me a criminal record then I’ll never find a job –’

‘That’s not true, but you won’t end up there – and if they give you a fine for not being able to pay tax, well, that’s stupid, isn’t it? You can’t get blood from a stone –’

‘And the bank, if I don’t pay the bank charges then they’ll permanently fuck up my credit rating –’

‘Who cares about that, you’re not wanting to borrow anything –’

‘It’s you it’ll fuck up!’ she said, turning her face up to me: red eyes with purple bags, pink-and-white blotched cheeks. I thought at that moment how much I loved her. You know you truly love someone when you see them at their weakest and ugliest, and it doesn’t detract a thing from how you feel for them.

‘If I have no credit, we can never buy a house – or even a car – we’ll never be grown-ups, because I have no career and no money, and I don’t have any skills, I’ll never make something of myself. I’m holding you back,’ she said, turning away from me, detaching herself from my arms. ‘I’m just leeching off of you. You’re better off without me.’

My girl, saying I was better off without her, when she was the light in my day. Here is the statistic, I had said to her once: I am one out of seven billion, out of a hundred and seven billion who have ever existed, hurtling through space that is so large our weak animal minds can’t even comprehend it. On any scale, I am nothing, less than nothing, a smidge of a blink of an eye, but you, I said, you are something to me, you are worth everything to me – and I don’t know why, logically I don’t know why you are more special than anyone else, rationally I know you’re not – but yet you and your faults, your bad decisions, your temper, your laughter, they are all worthwhile, they are all precious, they are all reasons to get up in the morning when I know the world would change little if I was gone.

I had never said that to her, of course. I had tried to say it in a drunk rambling stutter, words that could never convey what I meant, all she meant, because she was the one who was good with words, like I was the one who was good with numbers, and – she said – that was one reason why I was better than her, because the world preferred numbers, because numbers were useful and word-people were as numerous and useless as autumn leaves.

So she said I was better off without her, and I pressed her tight into me and wanted to laugh into crying about how wrong she was, but I didn’t want to fail her, so I replied as calmly as I could:

‘No you’re not. And you’re not leeching off of me. We’re a team now, remember? We face things together. What’s mine is yours.’

She didn’t reply for a while, and in a way that was worse, because I knew from experience that she didn’t believe a thing I had said – she had only given up fighting me.

‘What am I going to do?’ she whispered.

‘I’ll borrow money of my parents,’ I said. ‘And there’ll be people you can talk to, Citizens Advice, stuff like that. We’ll be fine. Even if you lose your job, even if you get fined or go to court or we can never buy a house, we’ll be okay – because we’ll be together. Right?’

She sniffed. That was one thing she would nod to. We’ll be together. No matter how directionless or penniless she was, I hoped she would always trust that I loved her, love beyond practicalities.

‘I’m such a fuck-up,’ she said.

‘You’re not a fuck-up,’ I said. ‘Everyone has money problems. Everyone has crap jobs sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with you.’

‘Such a fuck-up,’ she said again, implacable, so I just held her tighter.

Maybe one day, I thought, I can squeeze all these bad thoughts out of her. Maybe one day she’ll understand.

I didn’t say any of that, though. After a while, she pushed away from me and wiped her face, nodded when I asked if she was okay, though we both knew it was a lie.

She settled down on the couch and we decided to order to takeaway instead of bothering to cook. As I got us two big mugs of tea, she said what she was going to do about looking for another job, and the money problems, and we made plans, concrete, rational plans that a numbers person could approve of. But, as we snuggled together and watched TV, I wondered how long it would be before she’d fail to act on one of the plans, lose her courage, or do something impulsive with bad consequences. There was nothing I could do to prevent it. I would just have to stay by her side, and wait for the next meltdown to occur.


Written by G.J.

27/08/2013 at 9:48 pm