By GEORGIA WETHERALL.
WHEN I WAS seven, my friend asked me if I’d ever sworn before. We were lying on the school playground, gravel biting into our backs where our shirts had ridden up, staring at the sun, feeling like grownups. People were running, playing games around us, but there we were, talking about swears. My skin had started to burn, but I couldn’t bring myself to move into the shade.
I said I’d never, and she dared me to do it right there. A teacher, not far behind us, was waiting to catch someone doing something naughty. I said the worst word I could think of, the word my mum had called my dad when she thought I was asleep: bastard. I said it quietly, pushed it out as I exhaled. If someone heard, I could blame it on the wind. We both laughed so hard I had to go inside for a wee.
After the Divorce
PICTURES DRAWN IN the condensation on glass never go away. Whenever the sun shines on the glass, the picture stands out clear as day.
I used to fog the car windows up with my breath, draw pictures of Mum, Dad and me with my finger. The fog would only last for a minute, so I had to draw fast, or keep puffing out air while I did it. When the condensation disappeared, the picture would go with it too, until the car passed under a streetlamp. Then, for just a moment, the picture would reappear. I had to look at just the right time, though, or I’d have to wait for the next streetlamp before I could see it again.
Mum used to get so mad at me for drawing on the glass. She’d wash the windows with hot, soapy water; make me take a cloth and scrub the windows until the picture was gone. But it never really went away. When the sun shone on the window, I could see it again. Just for a moment, before the sun went back behind a cloud.
THE DAY MY dad remarried, I cried. My closest friend, there to keep me company, held my right hand tight on her lap. The best man turned around and gave me the ring box because he thought it would make me happy. I held it with my broken left hand, tightening my fingers around it as best as I could. The pain made me think of something different to the other woman at the altar with my dad. My nan put her arm around my shoulders and I leaned into her side. She didn’t like this woman either.
At the meal, people asked me about my smudged makeup, and I told them I’d been crying because I’d not yet taken my ibuprofen.
THE EGYPTIAN MAN asked me if I’d ever tried shisha. I was fourteen, and had only just tasted alcohol. To seem grown up, I said I had. My dad and the man laughed. I joined in, but I didn’t know whether they were laughing at me or with me. The man brought a pipe to our table and asked me what flavour I liked. I said something fruity. With or without tobacco? With, I tried to say, but my dad interrupted and said without. My dad smoked half a pack of cigarettes every day, said he wanted to make the most of it in case they became illegal one day. I thought it was hypocritical of him not to let me try.
I inhaled, trying not to cough, as the Egyptian watched me. My dad laughed, so I chuckled too. A second pipe was brought for my dad, this time with tobacco, and we smoked together until my stepmum came back from the bar with two margaritas. She put one down and slapped my dad. I was just a child, after all.
THERE’S A KFC across the road from the Sphynx. Barely a hundred feet away. A man orders a BBQ chicken box at the drive through, the cashier’s voice loud and clear in response over the speaker. My guide tries to explain why the cat has no nose, but all I can focus on is the horns signalling the service is too slow.
As someone takes a photo of me, I look past the camera at the fast food joint.
EVERYWHERE I TRAVEL, I take a day to search the city for bookstores. When I was in Krakow, my favourite was a little shop so narrow I could reach out and touch both walls. There was just one room, but the walls stretched far higher than I’d ever seen. You had to get a store assistant to climb two ladders to reach the top shelves. There was a table pressed up against one of the shelves; the books on top had clearly once been stacked neatly, but as people had fingered through them they were now small piles. I had to stand on my tiptoes and suck in my stomach to get past.
I couldn’t read a single title, but I recognised a handful of the authors: Murakami, Tolstoi, Austen. Others I had never heard of: Schulz, Zeromski, Lem.
I took a copy of Anna Karenina to the little café in the back and sat down with a slice of cake. My chair scraped the floor; a man scowled at me. I smiled my apology and opened the book. It was in Polish, but there were illustrations every few pages, and I followed them, piecing the story together in my mind.
When I finished my cake, I took the book to the counter and paid 75 zloty.
Georgia Wetherall has completed a BA in Creative Writing and English Literature at the University of Chester, and will be starting an MA in the autumn of 2020. Her work has appeared in Pandora’s Box.