Inside the flat, it looked like people had been partying. It looked like Mary had been, Mary and her boyfriend Nick, but they hadn’t, they had been drawing in their notebooks, smoking cigarettes on the sofa. Before Nick came home, Mary scraped away the cold noodles, cigarette ash and torn up pages from the night before.
He brought lemon chicken and rice home, and turned on the TV, some kind of show about plastic surgery. The nurses were getting someone ready with a golden solution, the face was greasy and sticky.
‘I can’t watch this,’ Mary said.
Pre-surgery, the face was horizontal and immobile. Mary got up and went to the bathroom and sat on the floor. She thought about when Nick had had his hair cut, the day after he’d moved in. He’d emailed Mary before he came home: I’ve been to the hairdressers and it looks like a peanut.
She was kneeling on the chequerboard floor.
‘What are you doing?’ Nick said.
‘I’m being sick’, she said.
They were going to a club in a hotel, Christ the Redeemer under scaffolding on the flyer. Mary sat close to him on the tube, their reflection far away. In the hotel, they sat in a red booth, ordered White Russians when the waiter came around. Nick glanced at his phone. It was his ex-girlfriend, Valentine.
‘Valentine’s texted me,’ he said, his voice above the music. ‘It says: guess where I am?’
‘Where is she?’ Mary looked around.
Nick's phone buzzed again. ‘It says: In bed,’ he said.
He went to the bar and Mary went to find the toilet. She started up the curved staircase of the hotel, but she slipped in her new shoes on the soft red carpet, right back down to the bottom. She got up, looked around to see if she’d been noticed. When she returned, he told her she was the best dressed girl in the hotel. She had a page in her notebook for all the things he’d said to her. Things like: We’re like ET and Elliott, when you hurt, I hurt. Things like: We’re like Velcro, we always stick together.
She had a page in her notebook for who they would be on the talent show Stars in their Eyes. Robert Smith, Bryan Ferry. She had a page in her notebook for all the girls she thought prettier than her. Sara, Mairead, Catherine. She had a page for what he said her “coochie” smelled like. Tinsel, Chinese takeaway. Then there were pictures of him asleep, pictures of her asleep with a plastic fawn he’d placed in her hair. On one page, she’d worked out how much she loved him. 89%, but it went down to 11 if she included both their middle names. There was a picture of his shoes on the floor next to her shoes, and a picture of girls rolled up in carpets. There was a picture of him holding LP covers over his face in bed, Changes One, and Changes Two, and pictures of bubbles they had blown.
When the hotel bar closed, nobody seemed ready to leave. People crowded around the bar, and Mary ducked down and stole a bottle of vodka. She leaned in to show him.
‘Things always end when they are getting good,’ she said.
‘I don't mind,’ he said, ‘because it makes you want more.’
At home they turned the TV on. A film was playing about hippies living in a repurposed church. Mary texted Alice who'd lived with her before Nick. Alice said she and Richard were watching the same film on TV. It was right for Alice and Richard, but it wasn't right for us, Mary had decided. She wished they were still at the club. She went to get the bottle of vodka and saw it was only water, with a fancy label. She poured them each a glass anyway.
It was at the Russian bar that she finally met Valentine. Valentine was smoking, her black nail polish chipped on small hands. She was dressed all in black and wearing a cape. Mary went up to her, trying not to shake. She put her hands in her pockets.
‘I really like your cape,’ she said.
After a while Mary went back to Nick.
He seemed to look pleased.
‘Did you talk about capes,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ Mary said.
She kept looking over at Valentine standing at the bar. She thought she looked really good from the front and really good from the side.
On his birthday she gave him a notebook with 320 white pages. She wore a blouse with cream frills. She let him get her ready, like every Saturday night. He scraped the hair removal cream away from between her legs, leaving just a cross. They listened to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack and when ‘Cheer up, Charlie’ came on, she skipped ahead to ‘Pure Imagination’.
‘Will she be there tonight,’ Mary said.
‘It’s my birthday,’ he said. ‘Everyone will be there.’
‘Then I don’t want to go,’ she said.
‘Okay,’ he said.
They never argued. ‘We are like the two Fonzies,’ he had told her at the beginning, ‘we never argue about anything.’
‘Make sure you take pictures,’ she said, ‘of the prettiest girls.’
She went back to the lounge and flicked through the magazines on the table. She was too drunk to read, so she looked at the pictures. Girls on dirty sofas, close together, in Prada and Gucci. She cut her favourite girls out and glued them in her notebook. She pictured herself in the clothes. She would wear them when she lived in a caravan park. She’d make birthday cakes for her friends, with royal icing, silver balls and jelly diamonds. Nick would live there too. They’d speak a different language.
Mary walked to the entrance of the club. A girl looked up from her clipboard, then walked away. Mary put her hands in her pockets, she felt something there fluffy and sharp. She wanted to get past the light at the door, and when the girl returned, Mary dipped her head, then got let in. At the bar it was dark, and she took the tiny straw between her teeth. She was mid-sip when she saw him coming. His coat and hair looked golden.
‘I didn’t think you were coming,’ Nick said. He had to raise his voice over the music.
She kept drinking.
‘Are you wearing your new shoes?’
She shook her head. She'd bought Mary Jane heels from Marc Jacobs, but she didn’t think she walked in them right.
‘I’m wearing my flats,’ she said, ‘with the lightning bolt. There’s a hole in them now.’
They looked down. Mary lifted up one foot and showed him the sole. White ribbed sock flashed through a heart-shaped hole.
‘No stubbing out cigarettes with your shoes tonight, doll,’ Nick said.
When Mary went to the toilet, Valentine came up to her and leaned in.
‘He’s seeing other girls,’ she said.
The pendant of Valentine’s necklace dangled in Mary’s line of vision, a small silver razor blade. Mary looked at Valentine, her cheeks were flushed, she looked concerned.
Mary asked Nick to go outside. There was a sucking sound as they left the club. It was Saturday night but around them it was quiet, and the roof of the club seemed low enough to see over. She saw the road going east with white broken lines down the middle. It was hard to say what they were together. She asked him and he said ‘no,’ and they went back inside. The song that had been playing when they had gone outside to talk was still playing. Dream baby, dream baby, dream baby, dream baby. Mary went to the toilet and Nick went to the bar. Then they went outside again. She asked the same question and he gave a different answer. Now Mary didn’t have to go back inside the club with him. She put her hands in her pockets while she watched him go. She played with the object in there, worked out what it was. It was one of those little Easter chicks, made from fluff on bent wire.
Mary put her feet up on the night bus. She’d taken a straw from the bar and she chewed it. She got the Easter chick out of her pocket and put it in her sock. She stared at the bulge it made. She got home just before midnight. She took all of his clothes out of his drawers and all of her clothes out of her drawers and put them on top of the duvet. She could barely breathe under the weight of everything. She held onto her phone.
Sometime in the early morning, he sent her a text. The text was a dog made from punctuation. The dog was lying on its side, the legs looked stiff, and it was excreting ellipsis, lots of little dots, way more than three, and then came the letters: D E A D.