I wake with the cold, tight-headed, empty sense of an impending family day. Annual leave is precious and it galls me to waste any of it with cousins' brats, my foul auntie and my mother's inevitable tears after a few glasses of Asti Spumante.
There's an unpleasant and unfamiliar odour in the bed beside me. Rolling onto my back, I feel too warm. The side of my thigh suddenly touches flesh, the slight contact eliciting a grunt from someone at my side. Gently retrieving my leg, I lie rigid, trying to recall something, anything. It's not until I hear the burr of light snoring that I can bear to look. Extremely hazy recollections of the latter part of the office party make this almost unbearable.
Who the hell is that? There's a teenage boy in my bed. A smelly angel with a dirty face. I haven't been in bed with a teenage boy since the neighbour's son used to babysit when I was nine. What the fuck is going on? Afraid to move or breathe, I wonder if this is what being scared-stiff feels like. It's not just the fact that my bedmate could be anyone a sleepy burglar, a sensitive rapist. It's trying to remember what happened and none of it explaining this.
There was the thing at work. God knows how much wine I had with the lunch before moving onto serious G&T's. Socializing with colleagues always puts me terribly on edge. Outside our work-roles it's as if we're complete strangers. Did I ask Bob about promotion? Oh Jesus. I've just had this vision of Marion, Bob and me in the Bistro. How did we get there? Didn't Bob buy champagne and keep trying to snog me? I definitely remember cold, wet lips bearing down. Beyond that there's just this bad, scary feeling.
Quietly extricating myself from the bed I stare at the boy. Is he naked? Not really wanting to know I nonetheless lift the duvet a little and stare underneath. He is naked - slim, pale, beautiful, dirty and naked. He'll think I'm a pervert if he suddenly wakes up, but despite this, I can't seem to stop looking. Have I already had him?
Reluctantly curtailing my voyeurism, I trace a path of clothes to the living room. My bra and screwed-up dress entwined, muddy Dr Martens, superman tights (sunny-side up), dirty jeans encasing suspect yellow-stained white y-fronts. Checking he's still asleep I rifle the pockets of his inordinately heavy jeans for some clue to his identity. A mobile number scribbled on a betting slip looks vaguely familiar. Who do I know with a mobile? I'm sure Evelyn's 0374. The front pockets are so crammed with coins they can't even muster a rattle as I search. I find a packet of Rizlas and a lump of hash wrapped in a rag of tinfoil in the little pocket at the front. Then I think I hear a noise from the bedroom and haphazardly stuff everything back.
'Hello,' I endeavour, shakily. No response. When I go through to the bedroom he's still snoring. Closing the door quietly behind me I accost the phone. It's no good, I'll have to pick Marion's brains. I'll be cagey, though, as I hate confessing to black-outs. People fill your memory gaps with things they can use against you. Never get drunk with work-mates. I'm always telling myself that. I dial the number.
It's worse than I thought. Marion tries to say I dragged Bob, my boss, shy-Helen-the-Finance-Officer and her to the Bistro. They supposedly had other things arranged but I became persuasively aggressive. I knew she'd make up bullshit like that. Bob and I were allegedly all over each other. Helen left because he tried to neck her on the way back from the Ladies.
'He actually offered us a lift. After what, about a litre of Grouse and that bloody champagne. Unbelievable. And remember him grabbing that girl's breast at the bar. Why didn't they chuck us out?'
'Pretty excruciating,' I agree, clueless.
'Sorry, Cath. You know I was going to come for the meal but after all his shite with the waitress, God, why do people like that drink?'
'The three of us went to a restaurant?'
'I mean just you, me and Bob?'
'Don't you remember? I left before we got a table. Did you stay for the meal? God, Cath, how could you? Did he keep trying it on?'
Jesus, this isn't making any sense. Mystery boy will wake up at this rate. 'No Marion, see, it's just like . . .well . . . I met someone. Was anyone else with us when you left?'
She laughs. 'What, a man?'
'Is he there now? Sure it's not Bob? I thought I was going to have to throw a bucket of water over the pair of you.'
'Oh please, I feel sick enough as it is.'
'So what happened? Did you shag this bloke?'
This is hopeless.
'Look, Cath, I better go, I have to get into mother-mode. Merry bloody Christmas.'
'Not as merry as yours by the sounds of it.'
Putting the phone down, I go back through to the bedroom. Rummaging in the bedside table for my Prozac, I'm aware of the duvet at my side, moving.
Grabbing my wrist, he pulls me gently towards him and gives me a grubby kiss. I recoil at the smell of me on his breath. He flutters his long eyelashes, sleepily.
'Thanks for letting me stay.'
I'm aghast. A man is actually thanking me for sleeping with him and I've no idea who he is.
Ruffling his spiky hair he asks if he can have a wash. His request makes him blush. Pointing out the shower, I get a couple of bath towels from the airing cupboard. Once I hear the water going on I start picking up his things, folding clothes over the arm of the settee, then moving them to the upright chair when I realize how filthy they are. I take the cannabis out his pocket again. By now the tin-foil has effectively disintegrated. I loved getting stoned when I was younger, but all my friends are straight these days, sobered-up by childbirth. Impulsively I bite a bit off, smoothing the teeth-marks with my finger and hide it amidst the Christmas cards.
Anticipating a silence when he gets out, I switch on the television - cartoons, a sickly American children's film, a throng of singing Christians, or the fuzz of Channel 5. Switching it off, I go to make some coffee.
Did we meet him in the restaurant? Surely they wouldn't let someone that dirty into a place where people eat? I remember Bob standing with his rain-coat on. Did he leave when the urchin appeared? Where the fuck did he come from?
A vision in steam, naked to the waist comes out the bathroom. Beneath the grime he is even more beautiful. I invite him through to the kitchen for coffee. He has a lovely smile.
Sitting opposite each other, I watch him spoon four sugars into his mug. Taking a cigarette from a packet on the table, he offers me one. Where did they come from? Were we through here last night? Why can't I remember?
'Or do you fancy a Christmas spliff?'
Oh no, the blow.
'I don't mind.'
Retrieving his jeans, he comes back, fumbling through them. What if he notices they've been interfered with? He'll see teeth-marks on his dope, I know he will. 'I should have a wee bit left,' he says, taking it from his pocket. Oh God, he's noticed. 'Aye fine, plenty,' he reassures, proceeding to roll a joint.
Let him do the talking. He has an unfair advantage s he knows what happened and I don't. He looks up as he crumbles hash.
'Have you recovered then?'
'From what?' I ask tentatively. He raises his eyebrows and grins.
'I was pretty drunk,' I explain, but it is really a question.
'I think we all were.'
He shuts his eyes and looks like he's imagining something extremely amusing then hands me the joint. Lighting up, I inhale deeply. Maybe this'll help me work up the nerve to ask him. Oh, but I can't admit not remembering whether we had sex. I'd be devastated if someone said that to me.
'No offence or anything, but I didn't think much of your mate.'
'What mate?' Was Marion lying to me. Was she here?
'Bob, wasn't it?'
'Bob, my boss?'
'Boss?' he chuckles in seeming disbelief.
'What about him? What was wrong with him?'
He looks at me as if I'm mad.
'Strangely enough, the recovery position for someone having an epileptic fit isn't throwing them out in the snow. Thanks for letting me back in, I felt terrible. Someone stole my medication when I was sleeping.'
I return the joint to him, even more confused now.
'Where? Here? Someone pinched your medicine when you were here?'
'No, outside the shop, where you met me.'
'What do you mean?'
'Argos, my room-with-a-view, you know? Phenobarbitones too. They'll end up having a fit themselves. Divine retribution, I suppose.'
'Sorry, I still don't understand.'
'That's where I sleep. It's compact but it's home, you know.'
My jaw does a Gordon Brown. There's a homeless person sitting opposite me, a fucking down-and-out, drinking my Gold Blend. I picked up a dosser outside Argos in front of my fucking boss? This is ludicrous. 'When did Bob leave?'
He's obviously amused that I can't remember.
'You threw him out after he tried to throw me out. You were great, my hero.'
He crosses his heart with his hands.
That's maybe not so bad. Bob was so pissed he was probably completely obnoxious. How could I forget someone having an epileptic fit on my carpet, though? Please make Bob have left before anything happened between me and the Artful Dodger. I don't even know his name and can't conceivably ask now.
Downing my coffee I take the mug over to the sink, lightheaded from the drugs.
He offers me another puff and I decline. 'No, no thanks. I'm going to have to get my act together. I'm going to my mother's. How about yourself?
He shrugs, finishes his coffee and goes to get dressed. When he returns, I can't stand it any more, I have to know.
'So where did we meet you? I don't mean to be rude but my memory's gone.'
Blushing again, he pulls on his filthy combat jacket.
'I asked you for money. Your pal invited me for a meal with the pair of you. He said if he gave me money I'd spend it on drugs. I've not had a proper meal in weeks, so thanks. It was my Christmas dinner, I suppose.'
What a patronizing bastard Bob is. What must they have thought in the restaurant? Two extremely drunk business people and a tramp. To my relief he walks towards the door. I'd feel such a heel having to ask him to leave if he's just going to be sitting in a shop doorway for the day. God, I've shagged a homeless person.
He kisses me as I unlock the door. Soap disguises the sex smell from earlier.
'Thanks for everything, pet. I don't suppose you'll want to see me again, but I want you to know, you're a really kind person.'
Could it be that innocent? Have I actually done something extremely charitable? Bought a homeless man a meal, saved him from having a fit in the snow, let him stay at my house on Christmas Eve and given him what was probably his first fuck in years.
'I'll know where to find you if I do,' I say, making a mental note never to walk up the South Bridge after dark again. As I wish him Merry Christmas and begin closing the door, he suddenly looks extremely perplexed. Don't let him ask if he can stay, please.
'One thing. I have to say it. I'm sorry.'
Dread renders me incapable of responding.
'It's just... I would have preferred if it had just been you and me, you know, not the three of us. I only joined in because you asked me to. I don't usually go with guys. You won't think any less of me, will you?'
|© Laura Hird 2003
This electronic version of "The Happening" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the author. It appears in the anthology Strictly Casual: Fiction by Women on Love, edited by Amy Prior, Serpent´s Tail, 2003 (seeTBR review). Book ordering available through powells.com (US) and amazon.co.uk
This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.
Laura Hird lives and works in Edinburgh. With
her short story collection Nail and Other Stories (Rebel Inc, 1997; short-listed
for the Saltire Society Literary Awards 1998), she was swiftly recognised as one of the
hottest literary talents on the Scottish scene. Her novel Born Free (Rebel Inc.,
1999) was shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread First Novel Award. Her writing has
appeared in numerous magazines in both Britain and abroad. She is currently at work on a
second short story collection and a novel. Click
here to vist her website.
tbr 35 March - April 2003
Alexei Sayle: Barcelona Plates
Laura Hird: The Happening
Barbara Lefcowitz: Medea, The Girl from Albania, The Walking Tree
picks from back issues:
Des Dillon: The Blue Hen
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Buried in Shit and Stars and Losers
Gretchen McCullough: March 2003: Letter from Cairo