The eye-shaped tree knot on the coffee table looks at me with unblinking intensity. The graffiti of sun rays coming out of the window frame extends onto the floor, ceiling and the adjacent wall. It says: ‘No limits’. I’d love to see Mum in this place. She who rummages around for the house keys four stops before ours. But it’s ok. When I grow up, I’ll understand.
I put my hood up and shove the headphones in. My scarf prickles my neck. I try to pull it out from under the headphones without putting the hood down, but it gets tangled up. I yank it off along with the headphones and throw it onto the littered floor, sobbing. As if on cue Max’s bed creaks in the next room. A second later I hear him fumbling around for his slippers. He appears at the door tying up his dressing gown, half smoked cigarette stuck to his bottom lip. He sits on the arm of my armchair, his gown softly touching the back of my hand.
“There, there, sweets,” he says pulling out a pre-rolled one and putting it in my mouth, like a baby’s dummy. “Good girl,” he grins. I sit back, close my eyes and exhale slowly.
This feels so grown up. Shutting the door behind me, like plunging into the depths of the ocean with David Attenborough. The rules of the game are unknown and so are your opponents. It’s mad to think that I’m only a few streets away from Mum and Dad. This house, with all the dirt and mess feels so much more like a home than theirs ever did. In the last three weeks my old life fell away pixel by pixel. Here every moment is a new experience. I’m never going back.
Max lays on the giant beanbag, smothered in quilts that smell of mould. On his right hand side there is a plantation of seedlings in biodegradable cups. He’ll plant them in the garden when the weather gets better, he says. Behind him is a mountain of traffic cones, an old sink, some garden gnomes and a couple of unidentifiable objects. He wants to make sure we’ve got everything we need in here.
We watch Trixie get ready through the hole in the ceiling. The shadows move, accompanied by the sounds of tights and bra straps snapping, a dozen makeup boxes opening and clasping shut. She sighs, twirling by the mirror. Still not skinny enough. When she comes down the stairs, her nurse’s uniform is a piercing white, as if from another world that has no place inside this house.
“What’s the new scrubs for?” Max asks, breathing smoke down his chin.
“Bob’s coming in today. We’ve all got to look good.”
“Bob Mickelberg. The big boss.”
“That’s a stupid name, innit? How d’you spell that?” Max sucks the dregs of his tea from last night.
“M, I, C… Ah, why does it matter?” Trixie holds her ciggie between her lips whilst she pulls up her tights. Her knees are bony. I imagine them piercing the nylon. Max shrugs.
“You want some of this food for your lunch?” He spreads his arm over the dinner she prepared yesterday that’s been getting stale overnight. As he moves his arm Trixie flinches.
“No, that’s for you, guys.”
Max sniggers. “Of course it is. Yous don’t need to eat. I told you. I want curves on my girl.”
“Got the stuff for me?” Trixie interrupts.
Max motions her over and pulls out a small glass vial. She inhales from it briskly. He pulls her in and kisses her. I look away.
“There was an email at work about someone drinking soap in the toilets to make themselves puke. People are cruel.” Her eyes turn red.
Max exhales loudly.
“We’re gonna need some money, Trix.”
“God’s sake…” She picks out a few notes from her wallet and throws them into his lap. “Don’t bring any more of this in here!” She nods at the mound of objects by the kitchen.
“We need that stuff, man.”
“No, Max. What we need is for you to get a job!”
“Yeah, them people at the job centre are rubbish, innit? They ain’t even got a proper job themselves.” He clicks his tongue.
“It’s that or I’ll leave you!” Trixie slams the door behind her.
“Baby, baby, baby. What if I don’t want a freaking baby?” Max mutters. He fingers the buttonhole on a cushion and I feel it in the centre of my stomach. He searches his pockets for a credit card. He grins at me, knowing that I know what’s coming next. Two lines of white are side by side on the corner of the table. I measure them in my head. They get longer every time.
“Just pick one, man. We haven’t got all day.”
I go for the one closest to me, a twenty pound note rolled up, chemical aftertaste dissolving the back of my throat. Max taps the bag with the powder with his index finger.
“We’re gonna need her to get us another gram.”
“She said that was the last one,” I say.
“She always says that. I’ll have a word,” he says.
I think back to the last time Mum and Dad ‘had a word’ with me.
“Dropping out is not an option,” Mum said. I can’t remember at which point my parents became caricatures of themselves. Dad did crosswords every night. Mum cooked. We ate in silence. After the first time I ran away, their routines felt new and exciting almost like I loved them again. Then, slowly, like one of Jupiter’s moons, I separated from the family orbit and floated into the darkness. A single shining dot. Trixie came up with that image. Now every time I close my eyes I see it.
Today’s mission is to stay on the bus until we get to somewhere we’d like to explore.
The bus scrapes the pavement as it arrives. The seat is warm and someone has already wiped the condensation off the window. I imagine Max touching my hair, his cigarette breath on my cheek.
“Don’t keep chasing being in love,” Trixie once said. “If you lost it, you’ve got to stay still and it’ll come back to you, like a dog. You’ve got to trust it to find you.”
He puts his arm around me and I move away.
“What?” he says. “Them probably think yous my daughter.”
“That’s not the point,” I say looking at the pores on the side of his face. Someone keeps pushing the bell and Max’s eye twitches.
A young man with dreadlocks sits by the bus stop next to a large puke stain. Three paramedics, with belts fastened tight around their fat bellies, are speaking to him. The man places his bottom lip over the top one in an upside down smile. The puke is bright yellow and orange.
“Max,” I say watching the man as the bus pulls away. “That won’t be me, will it?”
“You? No, we’ll look after you.”
“Yeah, we’ll take you home, clean you up and stuff. You’re safe, innit?”
I nestle into his armpit.
“Why does she twitch when you move your arm?”
“Trix?” He rubs the bridge of his nose, then says quietly, “It’s cause I’ve hit her, innit?”
“Trix is Trix, you get me?”
Trixie’s voice in my head says, “They’re all cheaters. Even the ones that love you. Might as well beat them to it.”
“Man, check that!” Max raps his fingers on the window.
“What – that wet old mattress?”
“We need it for your bed!” His eyes are wide open.
“I’m fine with my armchair. Plus she said not to bring in anything else.”
Max is already downstairs, ringing the bell. If he takes it back on the bus, I’m walking.
A girl in a red playsuit pulls pints. I flick through a booklet from the pile in the box. Refugee crises explained in illustrations, £2, all funds go to the fund. The bar girl turns her bare back to us. Trixie watches her. Her eyes go dark and feline when she’s ‘in the mood’.
“She’s a bit of all right, isn’t she?” Trixie says as we walk to the table. I think Max clenched his fist just then. Or perhaps it’s the effects of the cake we shared before we left the house. Trixie had baked it for my birthday.
Now we sit at the table by the window and I pick at the cracked pot on the windowsill. Trixie reads The Bristolian to us out loud.
“Homeless news. Mayor housing boss Nick ‘Drooper’ Hooper is threatening to evict homeless people living in parks in tents, because they’re ‘a nuisance that attracts anti-social behaviour.’”
Max shakes his head.
“How’s the supermarket?” Trixie asks, her voice is broken.
Max shrugs. “The people’s harsh, the lights too bright and the job’s boring, innit?”
“Please stick at it,” she says. “We can’t have a baby if you’re not earning.”
“Trix, don’t start.”
“I’m not starting, I’m just…” She looks around the ceiling, covers her face with her hands, then takes them away to look at Max. “You’ll be ok paying for this, right?”
Max rubs his eyes.
“What?” Trixie turns to face him. “What’ve you done with your paycheck?”
“I’ve bought Abbie a present.”
“You’ve spent all your money on her present?”
I am suddenly conscious of sitting between them. The only way to escape is to crawl under the table.
“Yeah, well, you don’t buy her nothing.”
“You don’t buy me nothing!”
“You ain’t a kid, Trix.”
She wells up and slides off the seat.
“C’mon, girl,” Max shouts as her spotty coat disappears in the depths of the pub. I know I should go after her, but my legs are cotton candy and I want to stay here with him, feel the warmth spreading around my body. I want to stay put and watch the fairy lights and the music and the bar girl – melting, melting, melting. Until there is nothing left except for one gooey multi-coloured mess, like layers of candle wax on a bottle.
Trixie is puking in the bar toilets, so I knock on the cubicle door.
“Trix, let me in.”
“No.” She comes out wiping her mouth. Her face is red and patchy. “You’ll only run home to your mummy, to your cushty life. And me -” She stabs herself in the chest with a pointy finger. “This is my life, you understand?”
“Trix, I won’t…” I start and cut myself short, then stroke her arm.
She dabs her smudged mascara, sniffles.
“You will.” She nods looking at me in the mirror. “Of course you will. And I…” She does a fake smile, it looks evil. “I’ll find a way out too. Not with Max, obviously.”
“Trix, he loves you.”
“Max?” She chuckles. “He’s probably out there now, stealing cutlery.”
We walk back in silence. At home I get into my armchair with the present – bought by Max, packaged by Trixie. It’s wrapped in used Christmas paper, sellotaped on in layers. Parts of it hadn’t been unwrapped completely and still hold the shape of the box they originally covered.
I put the headphones on to stop myself hearing them having sex. They always have sex after, no matter how bad the argument.
The Psychedelic Fairy stands in the morning sunlight smoking a pipe.
“What are yous doing?” Max’s voice is muffled, as if he’s been squashed down by something.
The Fairy pokes at the windowsill with a biro.
“I’ve got a mouse stuck in my telescope,” she says after some consideration.
My throat is the bed of a volcano. Snippets of memories float up in my jumbled mind. Rave on the Grave. DJ Mermaid. Green laser tentacles feeling the darkness around me. Stuff went up my nose, it tasted bitter. I was a Lego girl climbing up the stairs on all fours.
And then there was the licking… Max looked on impassively. I guess he must have been mashed too. I’d lost my coat and shivered all the way back. Max didn’t offer me his jacket.
It’s hard to tell how exactly, but some of the structures in my mind have collapsed and today I walk on their rubble. Most of all I want to go back and undo it. Max and Trixie are adults, their words and thoughts are so much more concrete than mine. I feel crushed by the weight of the things they understand.
My jaw trembles and twitches. The front door slams. We all jump.
“It’s Trix,” Max mumbles. “You better get out.” But the Fairy is motionless. I’ve been sucked in by the armchair. My limbs are lead weights. I tuck them in the best I can, as if preparing for launch. I look over at the coffee table and the wooden eye winks at me.
Trixie bursts in. Her eyes are ashen as she looks around the room. They stop on Max. A boxing ring erects itself around the two of them and the Fairy slips away. I can hear her tripping over traffic signs on the stairs, then clopping down the street. I wish I could leave too.
“What the hell is this, Max?” Trixie throws a piece of folded A4 paper at him.
He unfolds it tenderly, then smirks.
“Spoofed exec fraud?” He nods. “S’ok, only a couple of them bought it. We can split the money if you want?”
My mind flashes back to the time Max asked her to spell out her boss’ name.
“The money – you weren’t even going to tell me.” Trixie pulls her hair back, then collapses onto the bean bag, almost disappearing in the throws. The shadow from the window frame draws a scar across her face.
“I’m going to have to tell them,” she says looking at Max, “that it was you.”
Max’s face hardens.
“You can’t, you knows you can’t!” He points at her. “You tell them, and I’ll tell them to check their ket supplies. All them burns victims just been getting paracetamol, innit?”
“I don’t do that, I haven’t nicked for ages!” Despair peaks in her voice.
“Yeah, but a leopard don’t change them spots, Trix. You’re one of us.”
Trixie covers her face in her hands.
“I’m not like you,” her tone is threatening. “I’m not like you two living in this dirt.”
I become very aware of being made of flesh and encased in skin. Nausea overwhelms me. I try to ask for water, but my lips won’t move.
“Why did you have to get her so smashed?” Trixie reads my mind.
“She got herself mashed. Nothing to do with me, sweets.”
“If she retches, her mum will have to come and clean this place up.”
“What are you talking about, woman?”
At the thought of Mum being in this house, sweat collects in the creases of my skin and my stomach empties itself onto my jeans and the armchair. I try to move my arm, but it’s heavy with shame, so it stays put.
“You’re her daddy, you clean it off.”
“I’m not no one’s Daddy, sweets.” He thinks for a moment. “C’mon, Trix, have a puff on this. C’mon, have a puff.” Max’s hand shakes as he passes it to her.
She pushes his arm away shouting “Don’t you get it? I’m done with it!”
There is a silence.
Trixie looks around, adjusts her cardigan.
“I’m not staying here with all this.” She nods at the room. “Bob’s got me a job at the office, I was going to tell you, but…” She sniffles. “I’m moving in with him.”
“You what?” Max gets up and stands over her. Now Trixie is only a little girl looking up at him.
“Bob likes them skinny, does he?” he says. His nostrils flare out.
“I’m…” Trixie says as her eyes grow large. She doesn’t flinch as Max raises his fist. I’ve never seen facial expressions like these before.
“Is this what you want?” Max asks in a foreign tone.
Trixie’s eyes turn red, but she holds the tears back. She locks his gaze until his face softens. He lowers his arm, shakes his head and gets back into the old rocking chair.
It’s the day after. We are sat on the porch. I can’t remember if I’ve slept. Millions of chemical ants run in circles under my skin.
“Everything has to end badly, sweets, you know?”
I dart a quick glance at him. I can hardly admit it to myself, but I thought I loved him. I thought that living with them was the most exciting thing that would ever happen to me. I rub at the stain of shame on my jeans. It still reeks.
“Perhaps if she really goes, I’ll stop hoarding,” Max says to no one.
I think of ways to explain myself to Mum and Dad when I get home. Perhaps they won’t be mad with me.
As Max and I walk back into the house, Trixie pours boiling water over the seedlings in paper cups. Max pretends he can’t see her.
My eyes are drawn to the window. Mum sits in Max’s rocking chair in perfect silence. Trixie rushes around collecting her things.
Mum only says one word.
I kneel by her and smile and all I keep saying is:
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry!” But I am worried that because I’m smiling whilst saying it, it might come across sarcastic.
Mum doesn’t seem to care. She pulls me along the path, away from the house. With every step the memories of the time I spent there drop away, pixel by pixel. As I hear the keys jingle four stops before ours, my moon spins back into its orbit, attracted by the gravity of the main mass.