She poured herself a beer and looked at her new room. Everything was finally in place- books on the mantelpiece, clothes in the wardrobe and drawers, shells and cones in the hearth; the squared duvet spaced out on the bed.
But that was exactly it, she thought; looking around. The room was spaced out- even the torn out photos and pictures on the walls seemed vacuous although between each one there were equal amounts of white newly painted plaster. And where she’d placed the table in front of the long red curtains- really a long flat board on trestle legs still mucky with cobwebs from the garden- made it seem like a sacrificial altar.
She looked back at the bed again. All hers, no his and her side. No pyjamas scrunched up on the floor or screwed up knickers hurriedly torn off for some joyous romping, only a few wine bottles like audience members watching a characterless play. To get away from the spectacle she looked out into the garden- long, narrow; green, broken up by fir trees, themselves old tramps in need of a preen, a rockery on the right where there lived a grumpy old toad and a half finished and now abandoned pond on the left.
It was the silence. As she stood there drinking her frothy beer she became aware of it. It carved out the room, fleshed it out; pushed up the ceiling and prised apart the walls. It created a draft actually, an icy hard one even though it was mid summer and hot, the fir trees; as it was early evening, already casting long bluey shadows through the windows.
She was as restless as the house cat who was zig zagging around the room and bouncing off the corners excitedly.
She opened the front door and looked out. Not much was happening, Herne Hill was heavy with the weight of women plodding up the long slope to the Methodist Church for evening Mass. Hardly anyone was walking the other way, everyone else – boys and girls; were flung out on the parched grass in the park, or throwing themselves- flesh wobbling, shining or throbbing; into the Lido to cool off.
She was pensive. It was the weight of the beer in her belly probably- the bubbles popped around in her stomach and she felt languid, leaning one hand against the tired wooden porch to prop herself up.
And then she saw them. It was the skip skip of the girl first in her cream white high heels, black fish net tights, black short skirt and leather jacket. She carried a gold sparkly clutch bag and was tripping along humming. Her boyfriend- she assumed anyway- trailed a bit behind whistling a nonchalant whistle and watching her ass, his hands dug deep into his skinny jeans. She’d just moved from East Ham and was unused to this free and easy nonchalance of folk. They were perfect, the boy with his flat cap on his head at a jaunty angle and red checked shirt open at the neck.
Hey! She called out; as they sauntered past.
The boy giggled.
Did you hear something Bennie? The girl said.
Sssh! Ssssh! He was taking her hands and laughing in her face.
Hey? She called again, to add her voice to the mix.
There? See Benny, there!
It’s ghouls in the trees come to get you! Bennie guffawed, grabbing his girl by the shoulders and shaking her.
He was high and his accent was Irish thick with it.
But then Bennie turned and caught sight of her.
Here Honey, He said. Look!
And Bennie and Honey both turned to stare at her as she danced – a little skip and jump on the porch, clutching her beer. She ended by looking coyly at them.
Want to come in? She said. I’ve got beer, wine. Music. My room’s big.
Bennie burst out laughing but Honey just stared at her, one hand twirling a curl of blond hair.
But why should we? Honey said suddenly, her Australian accent as flat as marshes.
But why should we?
Sure but why not Hon? Said Bennie. Shouldn’t we? You said yourself we had no money?
Honey took Bennie’s arm and led him away a little up the road.
But what if she’s a psycho or something and she’s gunna murder us? She whispered.
S-h-e-‘-s n-o-t a p-y-s-c-ho-! Bennie laughed in between the letters. Look at her! Come on, it’ll be fun and something to talk about later!
Alright then, Said Honey uncertainly. OK we’re coming in! She called out to the girl who was sitting swinging her legs on the steps.
The girl jumped up immediately and led them inside.
Phew, well at least we’re out of the heat! Said Honey, looking around the room. Not much of a room though is it? Although it is BIG I’ll grant you that!
And Honey suddenly ran from wall to wall to prove her point.
What’s your name anyway? Said Bennie picking up a beer immediately.
Melanie, The girl said.
She was shy now, nervous and hopping from foot to foot, moving forwards and then backwards as if being ridden by an invisible Jockey digging into her with his stirrups. Her dark eyes flashed everywhere.
Melanie, She said again with a small laugh. I don’t like it much you know. It sounds like- Lemony.
She looked nervously at this, as though testing them. Honey started to chuckle.
So Melanie, Said Bennie carefully. What’s a girl like you doing inviting people like us into your room for?
Yeah Lemony! Said Honey, What?
In the pause Melanie poured herself a huge red wine, her back to Honey; she felt already the situation was not in her control.
Oh there’s no occasion, She said shakily. I’ve just moved in that’s all.
Oh cheers! Said Bennie, raising two bottles now.
Honey too was helping herself to an unopened bottle of whisky in the corner.
Yeah cheers for you moving in! Said Honey.
She stood back on her heels and began leafing through Melanie’s books, throwing various ones down to the floor with a snort. Bennie flung himself, uninvited, on the bed.
Well this is nice, real nice, He said.
We could do with a place like this, couldn’t we Bennie? We’re moving in together soon, Said Honey over the top of Bennie’s head, as if imparting something confidential to Melanie.
Bennie grunted. Honey dropped her hand staring at Bennie.
Well aren’t we Bennie? She asked.
I’ll put on some music shall I? Said Melanie.
How about some Dylan?
Oh Bennie, not that shit again! Whined Honey.
What do you mean- shit?
Let’s have something a bit more – with the times- have you got some Winehouse?
Jesus, you want to get off to some of that then? Bennie was wide eyed.
It’s not getting off music Bennie but I’m feeling a bit bluey again…
Well quit feeling bluey Honey and feel red or yellow or whatever you’re meant to be feeling- anything but blue please!
I’ll put both on OK? Said Melanie anxiously. Please don’t argue.
I’m not arguing, it’s him; Said Honey, Stupid man.
Honey and Bennie glared at each other and then Bennie held up his hands- Melanie stood in the oasis of this hostility not knowing what to do.
Lemony, Said Honey suddenly. Do you live with other people or what?
Yes, there are three others.
So where are they?
I don’t know, I’ve not seen them, As if the thought was suddenly striking her.
Don’t they like you or something? It’s not much of a welcoming party is it?
No, no. Oh!
For by this time, in time to the music Melanie had finally put on; Honey had worked her way into Melanie’s drawers and was riffling through them. She held up some of her underwear.
Gawd, not very sexy Lemony is it?
Come on, let’s dance! Shouted Bennie suddenly. He had been eyeing Honey’s haunches since the argument and he grabbed her by the hips, shuffling her back into the middle of the room.
Oh get off, not to Dylan you bastard!
But Melanie, standing back and watching; saw she didn’t mean it. Honey bowed her head, her long hair hanging over her and sticking to her sweaty cheeks- she pretended to Bennie she was angry but Melanie could see a small smile of indulgence on her face- she sucked in her breath and blew out, lifted her arms to Bennie and gave herself up.
Melanie sat on the bed uptight in her own space, her hand fumbling for a bottle of anything and watched the two falling over each other and tripping up.
She watched Bennie- his shock of brown hair combed into a kind of order, his light blue eyes reddened round the edges; his body lean and lithe- his arms were hairless she couldn’t help noticing. She liked men’s arms. She couldn’t help wondering if the rest of him was like that, hairless.
What? She shouted suddenly.
The music had stopped. Honey was collapsed on the floor, one foot stuck in the hearth, asleep. Bennie stood in front of Honey gazing into her eyes.
What? She said again.
I’m not going to shag you, you know! He said in a gentle Irish lilt. If that’s what you’re thinking.
Oh no, no; I didn’t mean, Began Melanie.
Oh come on, I saw you watching! Your eyes were all over me darling! At least, He said moving closer, I can’t shag you whilst she’s there, know what I mean?
Bennie placed his hand on Melanie’s belly and moved it to rest under her breast, cupping it in his hand. He began to stroke.
Is this nice eh? Is this what you want eh? Hmmm? He whispered.
Yes, yes, Melanie whispered back.
Melanie’s eyes glazed over, she felt a warm fuzzy feeling and imagined she was a cat basking in a hot ray of sun. She began to purr but then her eyes, flickering shut; caught hold of something in the corner. Honey, fully awake, was lying on her stomach, chin rested in hand and staring at Melanie with an odd smile on her face. Then she threw her shoe at Bennie.
Oh come on Bennie, stop messing around!
Bennie jerked up and laughed.
Stop your teasing! Anyway we have to be at Beebee’s soon. I’m sorry for you Lemony, he’s just leading you on.
Bennie let his hand fall.
She was just dropping off Hon!
Come on Bennie, we have to be at Beebee’s.
Bennie stood up and stretched, going on tip toe and reaching his hands up to the stars. Honey came up behind him and flung her arms around his chest in a bear hug. She peered out from below his arm pit with a look at Melanie as if to say- did you really think you could have him? Her eyes laughed at Melanie and Bennie brought his own arms down and across Honey’s back. They stood there, rocking from side to side in one motion and grinning at Melanie.
Thanks for the drinks Lemony, Said Honey. No really. But we must get going.
Honey picked up her jacket and skipped to the door; passing through it and humming, not giving a backward glance. Bennie slammed down his beer and ran after her.
At the door he turned back and flashed Melanie a quick grin and ran out.
Later Melanie was the subject of a great story at Beebee’s party.
She was just standing on the porch you know? Said Honey. Gawd knows what she wanted. But we went in anyway into this gawd awful room just to see, didn’t we Bennie? And I mean she has no taste, no taste at all. Obviously she hadn’t got a boyfriend or anything. And you should have seen her underwear. Gawd. Hideous.
And everyone listened agog to Honey’s story about the strange woman living on Herne Hill. But Honey didn’t mention Bennie’s hand on Melanie’s breast. No, she didn’t mention that.