‘‘It’s okay to change your mind.’’
About feeling, a person,
a promise of love.
I can’t just stay to avoid contradicting myself.
I don’t have to watch him cry.
(142, Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl)
While the terraces surrounding hers, thick with Barcelona fans, celebrated another goal, Scarbrough Diggery sat alone and pondered. With her spoon in a half eaten yogurt, she thought about love and the feelings behind it. Shaken by the cheers and a sudden burst of fireworks, a spoonful dribbled down her chin and onto her blouse. A clumpy stain, that would curdle and smell. She licked it, still distracted: Love and its many backing singers; pressure, resistance, expectation and obligation, each with a string of percussionists trailing behind. The crash of feelings, bangs of denial and the strum of expectation. Some planets had lots of moons, countries more people, even washing lines extra pegs. Thats it! That’s what love was, a something with lots of other somethings, different yet the same.
Mainly she thought about her relationship with The Catalan Corazon and the recent difficulty she felt when she had to say the words he had already said to her. He had been waiting for a response, expecting it and she felt obliged to love him back. It quick washed around in her head, turning and turning until a word slowed it. Stuck like an odd sock in a machines filter; had. She only returned the word because she thought she had to. Duty. Ropes. Tug of War. The No being on the other side of the yes.
Yet to return a word was nothing short of not wanting it anymore. Garments after christmas. Books in a library when the date stamped so. Flights. Really, without realising she had just returned his words: ‘I love you’ undigested. Biscuits. Her stomach was an empty sky, dark and colourless. The dull slab of spooning. The harsh slapping sound of sex.
Her friends questioned her one day after band practice, she didn’t seem happy, not herself.
“Wait a minute. He’s making money from you? Aren’t you supposed to be his girlfriend?”
When The Catalan Corazon moved away from Barcelona, Scarbrough Diggery was in an apartment pickle. Jars and a Polish room mate (who videoed the surfaces and sent them to her on whats app when there was a crumb or a spice left un-wiped). Ironically it was perfect timing, she needed to move out and The Catalan Corazon needed someone to move in. So she did and rented his room unaware that he was keeping an extra two hundred euros each month. After their many dinner date meals which she had pennied him up with, it was the stripe on the last straw.
“Tell us one thing that’s nice about him? Go on! Say one thing you really like about him?’’ They pressed her. Flowers and Grandmas.
“When I was having a hard time at work he said some nice things to me”
“Like what?” Stern and abrupt they locked her for the truth. She panicked and frantic for something to say, anything, she remembered a phrase. As it was delivered to the group she winced through each syllable:
“Don’t be lonely just be alone”
“Bullshit! You can get that on a sweet wrapper!”.
And as she failed to find anything else nice, she hung her head. One can always find solace and get such fleeting moments of ease from a sweet wrapper, a fortune cookie, a random homeless man in the street. Love was more than one nice comment. A relationship was more than thinking they were nice sometimes. Why had she tried so hard to love him, was it the panics and pressures of needing someone to feel whole? Or the expectations she assumed from others that one is a failure if they can’t co habit with another? Years of tormenting herself with man after man, fearing loneliness without realising the harsh truth of her autophobia: isolation was harder when that person made you feel alone. A hug only touches the outside, it can’t help the butterflies and fireworks that happen inside. Matches sat in a box and they were all matches, but not with each other.
“It’s true….your right… I always tell him to fuck me from behind so I don’t have to look into his eyes and lie”
It was a typical English local. Off white paint fading, single pane windows and a sign which wore it’s character: The Upton Vale. Clothes.The letters scratched and faded, not necessary as the name was already etched in the hearts of all who filled the bar inside.
It was run by Tanya, a crazy Liverpudlian and her matching husband Rod. They walked with tortoise backs, wore adidas poppers and fashioned haircuts like those vultures from The Jungle Book. My mum used to clean it, the bar not their hair, every Sunday and my siblings and I would go with her, happy to help her pick up the money the drunk people dropped.
The place stank of stale beer regardless. Dozens of red velvet chairs had absorbed the years of boozing, stained with ancient chewing gum and piss. Faded pictures hung crooked on the wall: Happy to have you beer and Beer is the answer but I can’t remember the question. Every November 5th Tanya and Rod extended an invite to their regulars for a firework display. After two years of cleaning we finally made the guest list and were invited. Mum made us chicken shaped dinosaurs and mash potato to celebrate.
The splender of a firework display always cut my mustard, yet I’d never had the chance to see one up close. My mum begrudged paying for something that was exposed in a communal area: “They already have our money on parking spaces and beaches I am not paying to watch the sky’’ . And so we watched fireworks from behind fences or on top of peaks of high land. ’Its like charging to see the eclipse’’.
But this was my moment. The chance to finally be a part of magic, inside it, underneath. I thought about it all day at school, writing little thoughts in my diary. Eventually Mrs Bloomer caught me and it seemed like I was in big trouble.
Can’t wait to sea the fireworks tonite. Its gunna b da best….
The pen scribbled off the paper as she snatched it. I don’t know who I was writing it to, a memory I would later read back, but she read it out to the class. Her tone changed from ‘let this be an example to you all’ to sensitivity, as my words touched and moved her. Her eyes and the placement of the book on her desk screamed ‘HOW SWEET’. As I was left the classroom she reached out: “here’s your book. Enjoy tonight. I hated fireworks when I was your age.’’
‘“Why Miss?’’ I said skipping out, ‘“they are just so magical.’’
I ran out into the flat black playground. There she was, my mum, in her purple striped tabard and a head of smiley curls. We were all in our uniforms. When we arrived the separation was immediate. Swapping our mother for a string of other little people. A divide between the E numbers of honesty and of the cold delusion of alcohol. Children and adults. Pubs. A divide only breached when the child needed more money.
Eventually as the English evening fell down we heard the scratchy pitch of Tanya’s announcement: ‘’Alriiiight kids, com over ere, we’re about ta staaaart!’’
We ran over. I held onto a railing and looked bellow at the decking where the fireworks were lined and ready. After two ‘ooohhhs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ I saw one firework in some trouble. I thought about it not being able to take off and imagined it burning me. However at 7, I reprimanded myself: ‘the world isn’t yours for all the drama. What makes you so special that out of all these people the firework will hit you anyway?’
Suddenly everyone was screaming and I was on the floor. The little firework runt had fallen straight down my school jumper. My mum started screaming, parents were crying and I was in shock.
‘’Whats going on?’’
‘’Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’’ Tanya screamed at Rod. He was hers, not his. ’’Get her inside, we haven’t got a licence. If the busy’s get wind of this we’ll be closed down’’
As I hung like a hammock between his arms, a weird sensation radiated. I enjoyed being centre of attention. From the sky straight back down to me.
‘Don’t just stand there! Give her a Ribena, crisps, a lolly pop, anything to shut her up!’ But I was the only one in silence. Sugar. After it I talked more.
‘’Listen kid! Don’t tell anyone about this okay? Have these treats. If you tell anyone we’ll close down and your mummy will be out of a job.’’
Years later I would go to school, a chubby 11 year old with hairy legs and Shelly would say, cool in her black hair and converse: ‘’hey Firework Girl’’. Then, sixteen, when my legs are smooth and my body more refined, make up and straight hair, we would become friends:’’I always remembered you Firework Girl, with your grey Upton St James jumper. I thought we might be friends one day. You seemed cool’’
Ice was cool. Cucumber was cool. Cats too. The Barcelona fans were still celebrating. Chants. Banners. Fireworks even though the sun was out. But fireworks lost their magic in a day, lit sky. The illumination blurry like a page seems, through a real pair of vintage reading glasses, the type your young and perfect eye sight doesn’t need. Something about the spectacle was lost. A photo without a frame.
Why did she say it to him? When the words were hard not easy. Scarbrough Diggery kicked herself. One shin and then the other, the back of each heel. A cilice of feathers. She asked a little old lady waiting, on a bench in a corner of her mind. ‘Can you kick me? Please?’. She never even knew her mind had corners. Now she knew, she would try and cut them more. Sharp like the straight, definite edge of a paper cutter, long like a classroom. Decisions.
‘No’, the little old lady spat. ‘Kick yourself and if you can’t, then get over it!’.
She had a past, everyone did. But being ‘fucked up’ described damaged, living life wasn’t damaging. If we all thought that way we wouldn’t take risks and grow in to the people that we are and supposed to be. As the game ended Scarbrough Diggery celebrated a deeper awareness of how those moments she remembered with a squint, were gifts, the sun wasn’t in her eyes. She was lucky to have lived.
She didn’t try to finish the yogurt she simple threw it away. Void of point; to finish something for the sympathy of waste. The sun had dropped off, the ball of the moon behind another set of fireworks. Each spark and each trail finally seen and viewed. She fell into her past like it was her place.
‘Hey Firework Girl’
Even fireworks wanted to be near her.
This is for our memories.
The featured image, a detail from a piece entitled ‘Promise’, was used with permission of artist, Terrie Shum. Terrie is a New Zealand-based illustrator currently studying a communication design major at Auckland University of Technology. She specialises in digital art, and has an interest in painting imagery from sci-fi and nature.