LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection Short Story, 'Tarred' by Donna L Greenwood
When you walk into our class, there is a snuffle of scandalised whispering. Your black back-combed hair hides most of your face apart from a purple lipsticky sneer. When you sit at the desk in front of me, I smell soap and skin.
In lessons, you talk with easy swagger; your confidence is infectious, and it becomes clear that the teachers are frightened of your bright intelligence. You tell our class that a truly socialist society is the only way the planet will survive. That night I look up socialism and learn the definition off by heart because I don't really understand it.
The next day I lie in wait for you.
"I'm a socialist too!" I yell and walk quickly to catch you up, " I believe that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
"Sit down," you say, and we sit on the window ledge of a boarded-up pub whilst you explain socialism in a way that I understand.
You crack open the world for me and let me take a peak at the light beyond. At home I listen to the tapes you make for me - The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson. I tell my mum to read some Germaine Greer and set herself free. I write existential poetry about existentialism that I imagine you reading whilst curling cigarette smoke from your slick lips. You invite me back to your house and teach me how to play base guitar. If you’re good enough, you say, you can play at our next gig. I light up. I can’t wait to tell my friends that I’m going to be in band. Not that they’d listen, they stopped talking to me weeks ago.
At first, I don't understand the snickering and the vulgar comments that snake down corridors and follow us wherever we go.
"Lesbee ‘aving you!" shouts an old friend as we walk by. You tell the boy to fuck off and grow up. I ask you what’s going on.
“It’s because I’m a lesbian,” you tell me. “Small-minded idiots don’t understand anything that isn’t in their narrow, plaster-cast version of normality.”
I love the way you talk. You remind me of the words you read to me at lunchtime – from the poems of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich and Anne Sexton. You talk like poetry.
“I think I’m gay too,” I say as we walk home through the park to avoid the mean boys who’ve taken to following us and throwing stones.
“No, you’re not,” you say and stroke my cheek.
I’m shocked when Heather Jacobs rings me. She hasn’t spoken to me since I refused to go to her bourgeois, middle-class party.
“You need to distance yourself from her. People are talking. They’re saying you’re a lesbian.”
“I’m not gay,” I reply with conviction.
“Well, you need to be careful or you’ll get tarred with the same brush.”
It takes one lesson for the betrayal to happen. It’s a Politics lesson and Mr Fuckup (as you call him) is being his usual sexist self. You respectfully close him down. But there is a different vibe in the class today. The students side with the teacher. They turn on you. On us. The words they use are vile and disgusting. Mr Fuckup sits at the front of the class smiling like a reptile. He waits for a long while before bringing the class to order. I leave the room in tears and you run after me amidst the laughter and jeers of the crowd.
I am sitting on the cold concrete of the girls’ toilets when you find me. You put your arm around me and tell me it’s okay.
“No, it’s not okay,” I shout, pushing your arm away. “It’s not fucking okay and you’re not okay. Leave me the fuck alone, I hate you, you dirty lesbian.”
I try not to see the hurt in your eyes. I watch your back shudder as you walk away. You’re crying but I’m too angry to care. What was I thinking? I look down at my tie-dyed skirt and Docs. I look ridiculous. I am ridiculous.
The next day in class, your seat is empty. I’m wearing jeans and trainers and I’ve brushed out my faux dreadlocks. I sit next to Heather Jacobs and talk about boys. She invites me to her party on Friday and I gratefully accept.
I don’t see you for weeks and when you return to college, you don’t look at my eyes. My gut wrenches when I see the white bandages on both your wrists, but I still don’t speak to you.
I go to parties, meet boys at La-de-Das nightclub, dye my hair blonde and learn how to apply lipstick so red it looks like my lips have been slashed off. When I see you walking down the corridor, I walk the other way.
You find new friends and when I see you chatting with them in the courtyard at break time, a small flame of envy rises in my heart. I quickly extinguish it.
At the college leaving party, tequila slammers are on special offer and I’ve already drunk eight of them. Paul Simpson dumped me over the phone and I’m getting revenge pissed. He’s sitting in the corner of the pub snogging his new girlfriend and I’m hoping I’ll get drunk enough to ruin their good time. Turns out, I just get drunk enough to spew up outside and fall over head-first into the puddle of vomit.
As I lie there in my cold mess, I see a black shape with back-combed hair walk towards me. You pick me up and wipe my mouth. You tuck my hair behind my ear and say,
“I’ve rung a taxi – d’you want to jump in with me, I’ll take you home.”
I can’t speak because I’m too drunk and ashamed, so I nod and start crying snottily as you hold me and rub my back.
We sit in silence on the way home and I sober up a little. I don’t know how to say I’m sorry. I watch your profile in the dark shadows of the cab. Your pale face is creased with concern and you’re nibbling your bottom lip.
The taxi stops and you pay the driver and instruct him to take me to my house at the other side of town. As you turn to leave, I realise I don’t want you to go. I want to keep you here in the taxi with me so we can talk about poetry and Nietzsche. I grab your hand and pull you towards me and kiss you on the mouth. I can feel the rough skin of your lips and taste the cider on your tongue. You pull away and smile at me. It’s the smile of a disappointed mother looking at her wayward child.
“Goodbye,” you say as you climb out of the taxi and disappear into the shadow-bleeding night. The driver looks at me in the rear-view mirror and purses his lips.
“Nora Street?” he says.
“Yeah, I just want to go home.” I rub my mouth with the back of my sleeve but no matter how hard I rub, I can’t get rid of the stain of your lipstick imprinted onto my lips, silently accusing me like blood-spill at a crime scene.