We were at a party. The music was too quiet and the boys were too loud. A girl began throwing up on the carpet. The way she was curled up reminded me of a cat with a mothball. I heard Henry’s shriek: “Oh my fucking god!” Girl minions clustered round him, staring and sniggering. Then another group of girls swarmed round like a circle of angels, and blocked her from sight.
Before this happened, a very popular and lengthy song which required a specific dance routine had been put on. I was sitting in the corner on a mattress, watching, waiting for someone to come up and talk to me. What happened was this: each girl raised her left arm in the air, shook it, and then thrust her hip to the side. Then both hips wriggled, allowing the torso to drop suddenly to the ground, like a swing crashing back to earth; the buttocks, alone and suspended in the air, twitched – before the smooth back rose up like a wave of water, and the hair flipped back, and the body was whole and made sense again. All the girls kept shrieking and laughing in an exaggerated way, and looking at the boys. That’s when I realized I was sitting in the wrong place.
It almost pissed me off. My choice not to participate in the dance was meant to make me look mysterious. But it had gone too far and rendered me completely invisible. Furthermore, I was on my period. My skin was sticky and I could feel the throb between my legs that meant I had to change, but I ignored it. Every so often, a dancing girl zig-zagged up to a boy, let her hair fall all over his face, and then twisted back for the chorus. I felt like everyone was playing a board game I wasn’t aware of. I felt like the song was lasting forever.
But the vomiting girl disrupted the routine. Through the thread of legs I saw her kneeling on the floor, sacrificing herself. The dancing girls only noticed when they dropped their faces to shake their asses. I didn’t think they’d care much, and my head leant forward with all the boys, ready to watch the more fascinating movement of their disembodied lower halves. But as their lovely bodies unfolded, so did their screams; I suppose some of the vomit had got on their shoes. It started as a surprised gasp inside the lips and flowered into that theatrical bellow that is usually delighted, and always executed for other people’s benefit. The flock parted to reveal the shuddering, sick body at its centre. Until just a moment ago, she herself had been a dancing girl. Now, in the space of a second, she was a leper. The song went on and on. “Come on, fill up the dancefloor,” it taunted, as if to parody the emptiness of ours. The girl’s body heaved. A breast slipped out, and with it, a tragic trail of virgin-white tissue hung like shredded foam from the cup of her bra.
The breast peeked out through the tissue, and the sick-clodded hair, and the golden mesh material of her shirt. Perhaps she’d bought it that day. The people who get so drunk at parties are always the people who are so excited they go shopping especially that afternoon. The brown circle atop the mound of swollen flesh peered out at us cynically. It seemed to say, “Seen enough yet?” The boys were laughing. They liked watching girls’ asses wrapped up like sweets, but they ridiculed the weirdness of a bare breast, cradled in tissue. The girl looked like she was done. I noticed she was crying, too. But the crying was very silent; globular tears fell noiselessly and drowned in the vomit. Her body convulsed again and a fresh stream hit the carpet. “Oh GOD!” people screamed. Then there was the name we’d all been waiting for. “Courtney!” wailed a girl who’d just come through – “Courtney, why didn’t you go to the toilet?” That was the end: the girls enfolded her.
When I got home, my mother was sitting on the sofa in nothing but a pair of large beige pants and a vest.
“Where have you been,” she said, “It’s almost 2 o’clock in the morning.”
I went to the tap. “Why have you stayed up?”
As I poured the water my mother’s head turned towards me, and I saw she’d been crying.
“Don’t you know it worries me?”
Her voice was hoarse. I sat down next to her on the sofa. I felt bad that she hadn’t been able to sleep.
“I told you I was going to a party,” I said.
She didn’t reply; just stared out and bit her lip. Her body was so relaxed on the sofa she almost looked asleep. Only the pair of blinking eyes gave it away. The pants and the legs were such a similar shade she looked naked.
“I met a boy,” I said.
“He was dancing. The only boy dancing.”
“Girls dance because they have nicer bodies,” said my mother.
“There must be another reason,” I said.
My mother wasn’t looking at me; she was gazing at the wall with her head resting on her shoulder.
“You’re only 16,” she said quite fondly, “you don’t really understand these things yet.”
“I completely understand it.”
“No you don’t.” As she said this, her head rolled back towards me; her eyes fixated on the sofa and suddenly her face changed.
“Jesus,” she said, “get up!”
Her hand reached out and grabbed my ear, pulling me to my feet. The blood had soaked through my trousers. A pool of it lay on the sofa. My mother was ranting and raving. I knew she’d be like this for a while, so I headed to the bathroom. She followed me.
“You’ve stained my sofa!” she kept saying. “You’ve stained my sofa!”
“I know,” I said. “Repeating it won’t change the fact it happened.”
“Go clear it up now!” she yelled. “You’re sixteen! Old enough to know better! Don’t you know how to keep yourself clean? I thought I told you all about this stuff when you were twelve!”
I peeled off the faux-leather trousers and began running a shower. It was a real relief to take them off.
“Go clear up my sofa!” my mother harped.
“I don’t care about your sofa,” I told her.
Unexpectedly, this quietened her down. She said nothing for a moment but continued to hang around in the doorway as I took my clothes off and climbed into the shower. The warmth of it was beautiful. I opened my mouth to capture some drops.
“Christ,” she said, “Don’t you feel embarrassed? People might have seen.”
“They were too interested in the vomiting girl.”
“The vomiting girl.” I turned off the water and reached for a towel.
“There was a girl vomiting for ages. On all fours. They’ll talk about her on Monday. No-one will give a shit about period-stains.”
My mother was standing in the doorway, her arms crossed. Little wisps of black pubic hair escaped from her beige knickers.
“I don’t understand you girls now-a-days,” she said. “it’s like you don’t care about humiliating yourselves. You just don’t care about basic things like cleanliness, privacy, being ladies who don’t drink themselves into abandon. Ladies should take extra care to be clean during their time of the month. Let me tell you why: because it’s dirty and it smells. And young ladies should always drink less than men. You don’t care – ”
The water kept falling and her voice kept raging but there was something calm about it, and I loved her. It was getting light outside. I loved going to bed just when it was getting light. It was like saying goodbye to the world just as it woke up. After this shower, I would go to my room. The blankets would look lovely. Climbing in between them would be the biggest satisfaction of the night. I couldn’t wait for the morning, to wake up, make a peanut-butter sandwich and watch TV. Maybe apologize to my mother. I closed my eyes, and random images started flickering in my head. My mother’s vest, her peach-coloured legs that carried anger in them. Then she transformed into Henry – Henry’s face, big and sniggering: ‘you! you!’ I was sleepy. The images were like tiny dreams. I saw the vomiting girl’s breast falling out of her shirt. The nipple got larger and larger. Then I saw her face, smiling, smiling through a keyhole, saying: “Sorry about that.”
Eliza Gearty is a young writer who grew up in London and is now living in Glasgow, Scotland. She has been published in Peach Mag.