1 story

by Alice Ash

Alice Ash is a new writer from Brighton, UK. Alice was longlisted for the Galley Beggar Prize 2019, and her short stories have been featured in Mslexia, Popshot Quarterly, Galavant Literary Journal, and Squawkback, amongst others. Alice is represented by United Agents and is currently working on her first short story collection, Paradise Block.

Boyfriend

           ‘I think it shows how much he does actually care though.’

           Mel is picking something on the bedside table.

           Flo slaps at Mel’s hand.

           ‘My mum,’ she hisses.

           Flo’s mum is house-proud.

           ‘Sorry,’ says Mel, she pats the splinter of wood and looks into the midair

again. She isn’t looking at Flo.

           ‘But don’t you think,’ says Mel.

            Flo shrugs.

           ‘Well yeah,’ she says, ‘obviously.’

           Flo touches Mel’s foot with her own. Both of the girls wear turquoise socks.

           ‘Well,’ says Mel, ‘I’m going. We’re going together. Tomorrow.’

           ‘Tomorrow,’ Flo repeats.

*

Flo is angry with James.

           ‘Why are you always like this?’ she yells.

           Her brother is lying on the floor, on top of the TV remote. He turns his head

awkwardly to smirk at her. Flo kicks the side of his small body and it feels like she is

just kicking a pile of washing, she can’t tell whether she is hurting him properly.

           Flo kicks James again.

           ‘Why don’t you get a life?’ James still has his body on top of the remote, but

Flo can hear that he is injured now; his voice is strained. ‘Why don’t you have any

friends?’

           ‘I do have friends!’ Flo replies. She picks up her phone again, looking to see

if there is a message from Mel.

           Flo wonders what Mel is doing right at this moment. She can’t tell.

           Flo feels angry because she can’t even imagine what Mel might be doing,

what might be happening. Without realising it, she touches her bra strap. Flo is

wearing a new bra that has lace on it, but this doesn’t really mean anything.

           There is no message from Mel.

           Flo gets close to her brother. He is only twelve and he still has braces, no hair

on his face, obviously.

           ‘Mel’s having an abortion today,’ she hisses, right into his ear.

           Flo doesn’t know why she says this; she wasn’t planning on telling her

brother. James’s face looks very childish for a second, the way it used to when she

had broken one of his toys, or when she had hurt him so badly that he’d run

screaming into the kitchen.

           James rolls onto his front and he says, into his folded arms, ‘Your only friend

is a slut.’

*

There is a text from Mel at midday.

            He bought me a rose! So cute!

            And then loads of heart emojis.

           Flo starts typing a message: You’re not on a date.

           But then she writes, Cute, instead.

           He wants to spend time together.

           He thought it was cute that I was scared on the

tube.

           Flo lies on her quilt and looks at the roses that are printed on her yellow

wallpaper. There are stickers that say ‘Flo’s Room’ all over her mirror and on her

chest of drawers.

           Mel is in London with a boy.

           Flo gets underneath her quilt and lies very still.

*

Flo’s mum knocks on her door at 4.30pm.

           ‘Flo,’ she says.

           ‘What,’ Flo says. She doesn’t feel like talking to anyone.

           Flo’s mum comes into the room and says, ‘What have you done to your

wallpaper?’

           Flo’s mum is very house-proud.

           Flo opens one eye. Her fingers are sore.

           ‘Is Mel getting an abortion today?’ says Flo’s mum. She has her hands on her hips.

           ‘No,’ Flo says.

*

           Mel is at Flo’s house.

           ‘Your brother is getting weird around me,’ says Mel, she keeps playing with

this bracelet that the boyfriend has given her, ‘Does he have a little crush?’

           ‘He’s twelve,’ Flo snaps. She is flicking through her magazine without seeing

any of the pictures or words. Flo looks at Mel’s bracelet while she pretends to look at

the magazine.

           Flo’s mum comes in.

           ‘Do you girls want any squash?’ she says.

           Mel rolls over.

           ‘Do you have any coffee?’ she says.

           ‘Coffee?’ says Flo’s mum.

           Mel nods.

           ‘Okay,’ says Flo’s mum.

           ‘It gives me a buzz,’ Mel tells her.

*

           ‘Does Mel have a boyfriend then?’ says Flo’s brother.

           It is a Saturday and James’s turn to pick the film. Now the film is finished and

they are watching TV. Flo’s brother is staring straight ahead.

           ‘What,’ says Flo.

           ‘Well,’ he says, ‘she’s got to have a boyfriend, if she had a, well…’

           James is fidgeting and he accidentally nudges the TV remote off of the arm of

the sofa. The noise seems to continue for ages. Flo gets up and marches over to

James’s side of the sofa.

           ‘Mum’s going to kill you,’ Flo says.

           She wants to look and see if the remote has left a mark on the wooden floor.

The wood isn’t marked. For a moment, Flo thinks about marking the floor with her

fingernail.

           ‘Don’t be so uptight,’ says James, ‘You’re so boring.’

           Flo holds the remote on her knees, as if she is keeping it safe. She will never

let the remote go again.

           An advert shows a woman with a cloud covering her breasts and a man who

keeps praying for sunny weather so that the cloud might go away. It is late night TV.

Flo tries to relax but her body is very stiff. Flo feels hot in her tummy. She doesn’t

think that her brother should be watching this, but he is just sat there, grinning. The

clouds get fainter and fainter, the sun is shining down on the man and he is sweating.

           ‘Oh my god,’ James says, laughing.

           James isn’t embarrassed at all.  James doesn’t care, even though Mel has had

an abortion, just yesterday. James has no idea. Looking at his idiot face, Flo hates

him; Flo hates her brother.

           She whispers, in his ear. ‘She wouldn’t fuck you’.

           ‘What,’ says her brother, ‘Shut up. I don’t want to…’

           ‘Mel wouldn’t fuck you,’ Flo says again, and she feels better, then worse.

*

Mel is staying over at Flo’s house. Flo has missed her dance lesson to stay with Mel,

even though Flo’s mum doesn’t usually like her missing any of her ‘formative-

hobbies.’

           Mel is wearing a lot of make-up and when James opens the door he says, ‘

Wow.’

           Now, Mel and Flo are in the garden, siting on the edge of the ornamental

pond.

           Mel has cigarettes and she wants to smoke them.

           Flo is saying, ‘I don’t think you should,’ but Mel gets up and bangs on the

window, where Flo’s mum is stood. She is doing the washing-up.

           Flo sees her mum look up, surprised.

           ‘Okay if I smoke a ciggie, Mrs. P?’ Mel says. She holds up the cigarette so

that Flo’s mum can actually see it, so that she cannot be mistaken.

           Mel calls Flo’s mum ‘Mrs. P’ now.

           ‘It’s better to just ask, isn’t it?’ Mel says sweetly, looking back at Flo, who

shouts, louder than she means to, ‘I don’t want one.’

           ‘I should think not,’ Flo’s mum says, laughing, and now it is too late to say no

to Mel. ‘Just make sure you don’t drop the end,’ she says.

           ‘Would I do that to you, Mrs. P?’ says Mel.

           Mel knows that Flo’s mum is house-proud.

*

Flo is in a chat room, even though her computer has a lock on unsuitable content. It is

an under-18s chat room. She is talking to a boy who has a picture of a dog as his

avatar.

          What do you like to do in your spare time?

           I read a lot, Flo writes, but then she deletes the sentence.

           I spend time in London with friends

           That’s cool!

           I love London

           Yeah

           What do you like to do?

           Flo’s mum knocks on the door.

           ‘Dinner,’ she says.

           Flo looks back at the screen.

           Foot worship, the boy has written.

*

Flo comes into the kitchen and Mel is already there.

           ‘Oh hi,’ Flo says.

           James is sat at the table and he snatches his phone and starts moving his

thumbs very quickly. His face is bright red.

           Flo can see James’s phone in the reflection on the window.

           He is playing the Candy Crush game.

           ‘See you, babe,’ says Mel; she waves at James by fluttering her fingers.

           Flo stays in the kitchen and looks at James until he meets her eye.

           ‘Perve,’ Flo says.

*

Flo doesn’t care about picking the film, even though it is her turn. She sits up in her

room and listens to the TV.

           Flo is just about to go downstairs and make James switch the film, because

even the sound of Star Wars is annoying her, but then her phone starts to ring.

           It is Mel.

           Mel is crying and hiccupping and Flo says, ‘Wait, what?’

           Flo can hear Mel’s mum shouting at her from downstairs. Mel’s mum is much

more relaxed than Flo’s mum and she drinks in the house on a Saturday.

           ‘Flo?’ says Mel, ‘Just a minute, Mum!’ she shouts, her voice trembling.

           Flo begins to eat an apple that it is on her dresser; she bites right through the

core of the apple.

           ‘But he gave you that bracelet,’ says Flo, stupidly.

           ‘What?’ Mel says.

           Flo can hear Mel’s mum banging on her door.

           ‘Can I come over?’ Mel asks her.

           Flo looks around at her little bedroom, Flo’s room; her mum had wallpapered

again and Flo has draped some orange material over her lamp; there is a cosy glow

inside the room.

           ‘Of course,’ says Flo, ‘come over.’

*

Flo is sat on her computer chair with her feet up. She feels as though she doesn’t want

her feet to touch the floor. Mel is on the rug, sobbing.

           ‘I told him that he shouldn’t even bother calling me,’ says Mel.

           ‘That’s good,’ Flo tells her.

           ‘He was crying,’ Mel tells her.

           Flo nods. Flo isn’t sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the

boyfriend was crying.

           ‘So it’s over?’ she asks Mel.

           ‘Of course it’s over,’ says Mel, ‘What would you do?’

           Flo doesn’t know.

           ‘Did you try that thing?’

           ‘What thing?’

           Flo and Mel had read an article about making a man stay in love with you. The

article had talked about rubbing a part of the man, as well as covering him with

whipped cream.

           ‘Nothing,’ says Flo.

           Flo’s mum knocks on the door.

           ‘Do you girls want any hot chocolate?’ says Flo’s mum. She sees Mel on the

floor.

           ‘Oh Mel,’ she says.

           Flo’s mum comes into the room.

           ‘What’s up?’ she says.

           Flo’s mum sits next to Mel on the floor and Flo puts her big toe down onto the

rug. She messes the plush with her big toe.

           ‘Go and make some hot chocolate,’ says Flo’s mum, her arm around Mel.

           Flo goes to the kitchen and imagines rubbing the boyfriend. She hasn’t even

met the boyfriend, but she imagines that he is Ryan Gosling and that he is whispering

while she rubs. That’s right, the boyfriend is saying, you’re the one I love.

 

*

 

Mel is sat between Flo and James on the sofa. They are watching Star Wars because

James won’t switch it over. You said you weren’t watching.

           Mel has these sweets that she likes, bright pink and shaped like snakes or

worms. She offers the sweets to James and to Flo. James reaches into the bag very

carefully.

           It is the bit where Princess Leia is captive to the giant slug and Mel is

watching the TV quietly.

           Flo has her arm around Mel’s shoulder.

           When the slug part is over, Mel puts a cushion on Flo’s lap. Mel lies down

on the cushion and falls asleep. Mel’s feet are on James’s lap.

           Flo’s mum comes in at 12.30am.

           ‘Aw,’ says Flo’s mum. She starts to unfold the sofa bed and goes to get some

sheets. Flo’s mum puts the sheets on and gets some pillows. Flo’s mum lifts Mel off

of Flo’s lap and puts her on the futon. Mel doesn’t wake up. Flo is surprised that her

mum is so strong.

           ‘She had her feet on me,’ James says, to no one.

           ‘Shh,’ says Flo. She lies down next to her friend and stares at the blank ceiling; it is frighteningly clean and white. She waits for her mum to turn off the light.

 

            END