Eliza Gearty is from London, and currently lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She works for a housing charity and writes anxious anecdotes in spare moments.
1 story by Eliza Gearty
I was living in a room with two other girls on the dole who rose late, and every morning I rose early and washed and dressed and went to lock myself in a tiny box of a room with you. All we did was tweet all day for a living. You represented a model who'd started a clean eating brand; I represented a company that made bubble machines, and other such high-tech, useless items, for children's parties. Occasionally, you played singers like Fiona Apple quietly, and sang along in a soft, distracted church-choir voice, like somebody used to singing in crowds.
Outside, the small city we lived in was like a paradise. The warmest place in the country. Blue skies; balmy air. We got out at five. I hesitated, waited, office key in my hand. “You walking back?”
We shuffled downstairs, desperate for air. Five steps from the door, and I shut up. My small talk was beneath everything – every time I said something dumb I became aware that you didn't have to, the tiny electricity that formed your mouth. I stopped talking. I became aware of the way you walked. It wasn't butch or feminine, it didn't have attitude, it didn't tell me where you were from. It was neat and straight. It was just walking. We were walking, somewhere. I wanted to clean my mind of everything, all the terms and assumptions, and the jokes, and the wry way we all spoke to each other, to prove we were funny, to prove we were worthy of being known.
"Hang on," you said suddenly, “I’m just going to get a chocolate bar,” and you dipped into a newsagents. While I waited, I twisted one of our business cards in my pocket. I’d given up smoking, and kept shredding them without thinking. When I got undressed at home the dole girls, who were vegans and environmentalists, told me off for wasting paper; I always sent a clutter of it falling, like laminated confetti.
“Caramel,” you said when you came out, and I said, “Weird craving when its so hot.”
You glanced at me – a strange little slint of an eye, sideways.
“I eat it when I'm nervous.”
“Why are you nervous?” I asked.
“I'm going to the doctors.”
“Oh,” and then: “I hope you're okay.”
That sideways look again. A decision.
We moved on. It was Friday; the dole girls would be cooking dinner, some big soup probably, out of almost-stale food from dustbins. They went at night like foxes, and took what they found and didn't eat up the seafront during the day, tossing it out to students and homeless people.“ Why do you do that job?” they asked, bemused, when I came home and complained about it, my eyes sore from the screen light. “It's easy,” I said, and in my head: “I don't want to be like you.” Their friends would come and it would be a joke, my strange, unhappy job – and their nervous freedom, tight with worry, dear to them, would be justified, reassured.
“Some days when I think about coming in,” you said now, “I feel physically sick.”
“I get what you mean,” I said. “But its a job.”
“Its a job.” You laughed slightly. “I don't know anyone who enjoys it.”
“Neither do I.”
“I'm looking for other work.”
We looked at each-other.
“What's going to happen when we both leave?”
“She'll get two robots.”
“Two much expense,” you said. “And she'd lose the 'personal touch.'” You looked down at your chocolate, bit into it cautiously, then peered down the street.
“Isn't this your corner?”
It was getting dim; royal blue now, not light and sunny. My heart was in my mouth. My heart was in my mouth, and a stupid club song was in my head, making it hard to concentrate, to even say 'see you later.' The chorus kept going round and round, pleasurable trash tossed from the windows of taxi cars. Nothing was happening, it was a Friday, it was a warm pleasant evening; we had walked through town, the sea glittered at the end of our vision, running through the city like the vein in a body, the workday was over, the atmosphere was jubilant, nobody looked like they were sick.
“Have a good weekend,” I said, to you.