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Stories - Fiction

Excuses
November 15, 2004

Sometimes Ricky wants to evaporate

by Sally Hilton

Ricky is taking another day off today but he’s got a good enough excuse so it won’t matter this time. He has taken a lot of days off lately (he sells advertising space for an industry catering magazine) and he’s not even sure why that might be. He hasn’t given it much thought. Today he told his boss, Albright, that his friend had been in a car accident. A serious accident. Ricky’s not sure whether his friend will live. This is what he tells Albright. When Ricky speaks he hears the words come out of his mouth and is surprised at the ups and downs of his voice, the high and the low, the croak when he says 'my friend'.

This isn’t a complete lie. Ricky’s best friend Dool was in a car accident but that was years ago and Dool has been dead ever since. Ricky thought about whether using Text Bitethis excuse was okay and decided it was okay. It couldn’t be tempting fate afterwards, and he didn’t believe in fate anyway.

A part of Ricky thinks Dool might find it pretty funny. Ricky isn’t sure about this though. It’s been so long since he’s seen Dool he’s not sure he knows what Dool finds funny anymore.

Ricky had a late night last night and this morning, with the taste of last night still in his mouth, he doesn’t want to get out of bed. Sandy had come over with three bottles of wine (she said because it was three for the price of two, but Ricky knew it was really because Sandy wanted to get drunk so she had an excuse. An excuse to do things that she had told him she would not do again.)

“There’s nothing to eat and there’s nothing on the telly,” Ricky said, “So what do you want to do?”

Ricky knew Sandy didn’t like that. She put her finger in her mouth and chewed the end of her red-polished nail. When it came back out it was saliva-wet and glistened like she’d given it a fresh coat.

“Whatever,” she said in the end, and Ricky knew that she meant ‘whatever you want, Ricky.’

Afterwards Sandy told Ricky about her brother who works as a TV producer and how she’s got this idea for a show herself and she’s going to be talking to her brother about it tomorrow afternoon and he can come along if he likes, it might be interesting.

On her way out she said, “I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ll call you and let you know.” Whatever, he says, doesn’t say.

Sandy isn’t Ricky’s girlfriend. She’s just a girl. There’s a few of them and he jingles them around like loose change in his pocket. Ricky used to have a real girlfriend but that was a long time ago. The real girlfriend was called Sue. Sue was older than Ricky, by two school years, not much but at that age those couple of years mattered. Dool called Sue ‘Ricky’s real woman.’ But Sue wasn’t a woman, she was seventeen and still new to it all. Sue liked to get drunk a lot. She didn’t like Ricky to touch her when she was sober but she changed when she’d been drinking, she’d be tugging at his belt while they were still in the taxi on the way home from the pub.

Sue said to Ricky, “Tell me what you want me to do,” and he did and even though he could see that her cheeks were wet with tears as she did it, it felt too good and he didn’t tell her to stop. This is something Ricky tries not to think about.

Sue cried a lot in general. Often about things Ricky didn’t understand. She couldn’t take things, Sue. A wrong word would make her hate herself (always herself). Sometimes he wondered whether she liked thinking things which made her cry. One Friday night she sat on the pavement outside the pub saying over and over, “I want to die. I want to evaporate,” while Ricky tried to pull her to her feet. Sue was fine the next day, she didn’t want to evaporate anymore but she wanted to talk about why she felt that way. “Sometimes I just don’t feel comfortable in my own skin and I want to…” she didn’t know. But Ricky thought mostly Sue just liked having feelings, big feelings that she couldn’t easily walk around. She liked the sight of her own suffering. It made her know herself better and that’s what she was after.

Sometimes Ricky wants to evaporate too. This morning, and a lot of mornings lately, he wakes up and something isn’t right. When this happens he tries to remember Text Bitesome bad dream he might have had in the night. Mostly he doesn’t remember any dream but he feels as though his fingertips are finding the outside of something big, something that could knock him to his knees. Ricky isn’t like Sue. He doesn’t like feelings, especially big ones that threaten to flatten him. When he thinks he might be getting one, like now (maybe he shouldn’t have used Dool as an excuse after all), he tends to call a girl. This time he calls Janey.

“How’s my favorite lady today?” he says.

“Wondering why you didn’t return any of my calls last week,” Janey says.

“Shit. I was really busy last week. You know that, Janey. I have shit-loads on at the moment. You know that. Don’t give me shit about it. If you give me shit about it I’m just going to hang up.”

“A call would be nice, that’s all I’m saying. Even if you’re just calling to say you’re busy. It’s not fair Ricky.”

Ricky feels like saying, “Life’s not fair! Get over it bitch!” and hanging up, but he stays on the line without saying anything. His hand hovers above his crotch.

“I don’t think you’re really any good for me,” Janey says eventually in a voice that says something else entirely, something pleading, like, “Ask me to come over.” He thinks she might be crying.

Ricky finds a lot of girls cry around him. Janey cried the night they first met. Janey had said, “Shouldn’t we use a condom?” and Ricky said, “Why? I’m not going to have sex with you.” And he’d made a noise, through his nose, like a lazy laugh. Ricky didn’t know why he’d said that as he fully intended to fuck Janey. He didn’t like her presumption, maybe that was it, although she was entitled to her presumption he had to admit, he was just about inside her at the time. He wasn’t going to use a condom either, that was true. Ricky didn’t notice that Janey was crying (she told him later when everything was okay again and they’d laughed about it). When Ricky fucked her he could tell she was grateful, she’d thought he’d rejected her but in the end he took the rejection back and that’s a hell of a gift for a girl. Janey was so grateful she never mentioned a condom again.

Ricky would like to wring her out, get all those tears out once and for all. Girls. Sue, Sandy, Janey. They’re so full of tears, they’re like a full-up sink, all you need to do is dip your hand in and there’s water spilling all over the place.

Ricky isn’t ashamed to cry, although he never does.

Sue was in the car accident too. Sue had to be cut out by the fire brigade. She was trapped inside and she was dead by the time they got her. Ricky was watching from the side of the road. All the kids from school were watching. Ricky heard the noise of it from the window in the fifth form common room. It was a noise that was brutally unfamiliar and screamed out ‘accident’ and ‘death.’ Everyone rushed outside, everyone had heard the same thing, everyone had heard disaster. Not far from the school gates Sue’s car was half way into someone’s front garden, where a wall used to be.

Ricky saw the car and the silence around it which somehow said: ‘it’s bad, it’s really bad’. He saw Dool and Sue in the front. Dool and Sue weren’t moving. He had never been here before, in this strange place where people, friends, part of his life, died. He had no instinct for what to do. In his mind, characters in American television shows were screaming out, ‘It’s gonna blow! It’s gonna blow!’ So everyone stood at a distance, urging each other forward then pulling each other back and giving themselves a part in the show. ‘I tried to help but Donna pulled me back, we thought it was gonna blow.’ I, I, I. Me, me, me.

Kids who didn’t even know Dool or Sue were crying. Ricky hated that. Dool was his, his friend, and Sue, he didn’t know what Sue was. Sue was someone who had been something to him for a while though she wasn’t supposed to be anymore. He loved her from here though, with her head against the windscreen and blood seeping from a gash in her cheek. Sue, Sue, Sue. Ricky heard himself say her name, Sue, Sue, Sue, not loud enough for anyone to hear, but calling her name in his head, however loud, couldn’t be loud enough. He needed to hear it all around him. Sue, Sue. He needed the words to come out of his mouth and go back in his ears and encircle him completely.

When Ricky remembers Sue and Dool, which is never intentional, Sue and Dool are as they were back then, on a normal day, not on the accident day (that was a different Sue and a different Dool). Dool in a bottle-green uniform, shirt un-tucked and Text Bitetrainers, no shoes and Sue as a sixth former in a denim mini and vest top, no bra, flip-flops, pink toe-nails, but their faces have grown older. They always look his age, however old he is at the time. He thinks of Sue and her strawberry hair on summer days and when he sees teenage girls with bare brown legs and when that song I’m Free comes on the radio and when someone mentions car and crash in the same sentence and when he hears a small voice cry out in pain and when a girl’s quick fingers tug at his belt. And when some girl’s got him in her mouth. Then too.

Dool didn’t like Ricky having a real girlfriend. Dool liked to have fun girls, Mandy today, Mandy’s best mate tomorrow. Dool didn’t want a real girlfriend. Dool just wanted something to talk about, some girl’s tits to grope and tell Ricky about afterwards. Ricky didn’t tell Dool too much about Sue. Ricky didn’t really get why he said no when Dool asked if she’d given him a blowjob.

Janey can’t come over now. She’s at work. She has a very important meeting this afternoon. She told Ricky she’d see if she could get out of it. She calls him back an hour later (he is asleep) and says she can’t get out of it, her boss is going to be there and his boss and… Ricky has forgotten he’d even called her. She texts him later and the text says, “What about tonight?” Ricky doesn’t reply.

He wishes Janey hadn’t woken him up. He’s got that feeling again, of something not right. He wants to call Albright and say he’s not on his way to the hospital really. That his friend didn’t die. (Albright will never ask. He speaks in looks, nods, a firm grasp of the upper arm.) Ricky worries for a second about fate, about another friend, another accident, but no one comes to mind to be driving the car.

When Ricky gets out of bed and after he showers and shaves and gets dressed and gels his hair and eats a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes without milk, he decides to go for a drive. He needs to get out of here. He needs to breathe, he thinks, and takes a deep breath, the deepest he can which seems to stop halfway down his chest.

Ricky is driving in his car and Dool is with him. Dool is in the front and Sue is in the back. Ricky has a feeling that this was the way it always was, but it wasn’t, Ricky and Dool couldn’t drive back then. Ricky turns the radio off while he makes some calls. He calls Kerry (straight to voicemail) and Sandy (straight to voicemail). Ricky imagines saying, “Just calling to say how cool it was to see you last night. Call me later and let me know how it goes with your brother’s thing.” He imagines this while he listens to Sandy’s lazy voice telling him slowly and in detail what to do after the beep. After the beep he says exactly what he imagined.

Ricky is off work today because his friend has been in a car accident. Ricky tries to imagine Albright telling the other guys on the desk this but the words don’t fit Albright’s mouth.

Ricky drives to school. He has not ever driven to school before, this is what Sue did. He has driven roundabout ways to not drive past school but he holds firm to the wheel as he drives up through the front gates and round the back to the playground where the sixth formers used to park their cars nosing right up to the playing field. The playground is empty. The field is empty. The school children are on holidays. Ricky doesn’t believe he was a child when he was here and the playground wasn’t for playing. It was for chasing girls and ducking down between parked cars with your hand up a girl’s skirt.

Ricky steps out of the car. He goes to the edge of the playing field. He thinks of simple things, kicking a ball, small kisses, little loves, small life, a girl with strawberry hair making daisy chains behind the goal post, a friendship he could hold tight in one hand.

He breathes in deep.

He touches the grass, feels it in his hands, smells it on his fingers. He goes inside and feels the walls, runs his hand along peeling-paint banisters, inhales the rubber-soled sports hall, bounces a ball, shoots a hoop. He closes his eyes and Dool and Sue are there with him. In these semi-moments where he thinks at all, in these moments where he has enough time in a millisecond to see everything, the breadth and depth and height and width of it, he sees them up close, he knows how they felt dying. And he opens his eyes because he doesn’t want to know how they felt dying.

Ricky takes his phone out of his pocket. He doesn’t know which one to call of Kerry and Sandy and Janey. He wants to say, “Help me,” but he doesn’t want to say it to any of them.

He calls Sandy and she’s still voicemail and Janey doesn’t answer. Then he calls Kerry and she’s glad to hear his voice, glad to rearrange things, and he goes back to his car and drives away without looking left or right and drives to see Kerry who doesn’t have tanned legs and isn’t a girl anymore. He doesn’t know how to ask, “Hold me,” but she puts her arms around him first so it’s okay.

Ricky holds Kerry and thinks he might stay with her for awhile. He doesn’t really know what he’s going to do or say next but so far it feels good just holding on to her. He feels an ache that spreads up from his toes. And he remembers holding sticky hands in the art room back when everything, everything that doesn’t matter, mattered.

He holds on to Kerry tighter but Kerry could be anyone.

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