I must stop doing that. I just downed that glass of wine and although the flurry of jokes and laughter came, I guess they’re now wondering what sort of new neighbour I will turn out to be. I have to learn everything. All over again. And talk about getting thrown into the deep end. Two weeks ago I lived on this street but I mean the actual street. I slept in the doorway of the fish and chip shop and ate the leftovers at the end of the night out of the bin.
They know they’ve seen me somewhere before. I’m sure I look frightfully familiar darlings but they can’t or won’t associate me with the dirty faced woman in the alley with the forlorn look on her face. And here I am, at a dinner party which makes me want to run out into the night, find Old Jack and tell him so we can laugh our bloody heads off and go in search of a drink.
I’ve been found a home. After all these years of imagining what it would be like I’m living it. Some charitable young do-gooder signed me up on some project, clicked her fingers with immaculately painted nails and gave me a house to live in. I have a job, I’m training to sit on the checkout at the little supermarket and scan and beep foods, I’ve always dreamed of, on the conveyer belt all day.
I’m just not used to this, people giving me the time of day, wishing me a good morning, inviting me to dinner. I forget that it’s ok now; I know I will eat every day. But put a feast before me and I will simply show myself up, grabby hands and piles of food on my plate, eating with my fingers with a ferocious speed because I think someone’s going to come and take it all away again and say oh come on Rose, you know you don’t deserve this, and kick my sorry arse back into the cold street.
I used conditioner tonight. I’ve never done that before. My hair looks funny, like it belongs on the head of one of those mannequins they have in shop windows. I found this dress and these shoes in the charity shop and I don’t look a million miles away from these people; my judges. I’m dreading all the questions. I lied and lied when I first moved in and they invited me round. I said I’d been staying with my brother, looking after him as he’d been seriously ill and that he’d sadly passed away and that I needed a new start. God knows where that came from. I guess that’s from the streets, you have to think on your feet.
I went to the bathroom when I arrived and I was so in awe of all the posh things that I stole one of the little soaps in the shape of a rose. I regret that now. I feel bad. I’ll wait until I need to go again and put it back.
This food and this wine will keep me up half the night, I can feel the heartburn creeping up on me. Still I shouldn’t complain should I? This is what I wanted isn’t it? Warmth and safety are such luxuries I barely allow myself the privilege of turning on the fire. I think of Old Jack and how conditioned he is to his shitty environment now, that there’s simply no other way of life for him. I hope I’m not the same, that it isn’t too late for me to turn it all around.
I watched a homeless girl die last year, six months pregnant she was. She wouldn’t go home, it felt better to hang around and freeze than to return to her own father. I can identify with her. You don’t forget things like that and, selfishly, you’re thankful it wasn’t you. And that’s the thing. You are nobody. Nobody gives a shit, ultimately, if you live or die. You’re a nuisance, dirty, a pest; they never ask themselves how you got here, to be existing in this state. Because it’s not important or relevant. You’re as good as a rat. You see it in their faces, the disgusted look of disdain, noses crinkling at the mere sight of you. Or, sometimes, a brief, rare look of pity that lasts as long as they care about it all: one, two, three, four, five seconds.
Having had so much time on my hands before all this, I used to watch the people come and go. I’d watch them shopping, meeting with friends, rushing to work. I’d wonder why barely anyone ever looked any happier than I did. They had it all didn’t they? A home, people to love them, food, heat, gadgets that the TV and magazines said they ought to have, that week in the sunshine after saving up all year, Christmas trees, children, hobbies. Why did everyone look so glum behind painted lipstick smiles and work day masks? Is nobody ever really happy? Does everyone just want more and more and more?
That’s sad if that’s true. You kind of wonder what the point is. If all you’re here on the planet for is to bicker with your spouse and compete over trivial, petty matters. I bought myself a newspaper yesterday. One report covered a story in which a man killed his next door neighbour after a row about the height of his hedge. Can you believe it? Over the height of a hedge? A life snuffed out, someone’s husband, someone’s Son, someone’s brother. Gone.
I’m not saying I’m anything special. I’m clearly no more than a speck of dust. It just worries me that there is such an alarming lack of perspective in the air. Maybe it takes losing everything to see that? What would I prefer? That none of this had happened; I was just some blasé young woman with a head full of horoscopes and soap operas and was as self-obsessed as everyone else? Or to keep my peculiar life and all the torment and heinous memories that sometimes brings? At least I see what’s going on, what natters and what doesn’t.
Looking around this table maybe I’ll choose to be the blasé woman after all. With my bubble still intact, because nobody ever popped it, beat me up on the way home from a club, propositioned me for sex for the price of a sandwich. I could be the most entertaining dinner guest couldn’t I? I could recall all my weird and wonderful tales, regale them with hilarious Old Jack sagas, confess they all look frightfully familiar to me too, because they’ve cursed me, ignored me, despised me.
But I won’t. I’ll fit in, the best I can, and play the game. I’ll guffaw at your jokes, put your little soap back and pretend I share your political views. I’ll learn how to eat in a sophisticated manner and develop my back story until I weep real tears over my poor dead, fictional brother. You win. You always win.