She leaves class and heads for the toilets. The corridors are bustling – swearing, phone camera clicks, shrieking laughter. The noise of teenagers.
That Neanderthal from the year above, Callum, deliberately barges into her side as he passes. He always does, whenever he sees her. The pain goes through her uniform and straight into her weak shoulder.
“Excuse you,” she shouts back at him. He turns, smirking. The swarm of monkeys that he calls friends turn as well.
“Watch where you’re going,” he says. “You don’t own the hall, you know!”
The tears are coming. If she doesn’t get out of here soon, they will spill over and give this lot more ammunition. It’s just what they want, she tells herself. Every time, they are just looking for a reaction. She has already given them too much. Now they will actively seek her out, not just go for her whenever they happen to pass her by.
She can hear his friends saying his name, trying to get his attention, trying to tell him some pathetic joke at her expense. Insects. She hopes one day to stamp on them.
The tears are nearly here. Might as well go all out.
“Fuck off!” She screams. Her throat feels like sandpaper.
“Excuse me…” She hears that sickening voice behind her. Mrs Marsh; not an actual teacher, but one of the assistants to the headmaster. Behind a pair of circular glasses, her owlish eyes regard the girl with disgust.
“Get into my office now,” she sneers. “How dare you use such filthy language like that in this school.”
She feels like hitting Miss Marsh. Throwing her books at the woman or giving her a sharp, painful shove. Apparently her husband is in the army, constantly being sent overseas. I bet that’s a lie, the girl thinks. He only goes in the army to get away from her.
“Now, please, at once!” With one final, vicious glance at the band of apes, she makes her way to Miss Marsh’s office. Her lip is trembling. She can feel her hands shaking.
This is always the way – the pupils who constantly misbehave in class are sent to the office, where the administrators have become so used to the sight of them, they are nearly friends. Plus those guys always have wealthy, self-important parents who come in and shout at the administrators if their precious children are reprimanded in any way. The good ones, like her, never see these staff members. When these people do see her, it’s always to make some jaded comment about running or loitering in some corner somewhere. Never mind that she always has the highest score in her classes, or has read nearly every science-fiction book in the library. If she is caught sitting on a wall with her skirt ridden up just a little too high, off to the office she goes. She makes no attempt to adjust her uniform now. When the two arrive at the office, Miss Marsh shuts the door and removes her cardigan. It’s a dark green colour, doesn’t suit her at all. She reminds the girl of a dried up, mouldy tea bag. No, the girl tells herself. Who does this woman think she is! She doesn’t know what happened, what happens every day. I have a right to stand up for myself.
When Miss Marsh sits in her lumbar-support chair, upright and very important, the girl is ready.
A brightly coloured folder is dumped onto the desk. The woman starts leafing through it, searching for a photograph. The girl stares at layer after layer of smiling teenage faces, frozen in front of the blue canvas. Beneath each one is contact details for parents and guardians.
“Right. What’s your name?” Miss Marsh actually sighs as she leafs through the folder. The girl isn’t anyone unique, anyone memorable. To Miss Marsh she is just another name, adding to the list. This whole thing appears to annoy the woman.
“Right.” The pages come to a stop at her photo. In it, her smile is glued to her face. She recalls how hot her cheeks felt that day. How insulting it was to have the teacher lingering behind the photographer, shouting at her to smile, in case the school’s shiny reputation was tarnished by a trace of uniqueness. Or worse, the hint that someone might be unhappy there.
“So, what was happening just now?” Miss Marsh asks.
“They were harassing me,” Catherine replies.
“Well, what did they do, exactly?”
“Callum pushed me. Then they all started laughing at me.”
“A little push is nothing to get so angry about. That’s how all boys behave at their age.”
“They do it every day. You don’t see it. I want to report them.”
“Are you sure?” Miss Marsh’s voice is hard and uncaring. “Because to accuse someone of harassment is a very serious allegation and you have to have proof.”
Catherine can sense this is going nowhere.
“You need to know what’s going on in this school.”
“I do know what’s going on in this school, thank you very much.” Miss Marsh’s voice is slightly quicker now. She is getting annoyed. “And you need to know that you can’t just go around accusing people of things you’ve made up to get yourself out of trouble.”
“I’m always in trouble because of people like you,” Catherine snaps. “They never are because they take the piss out of people like me and you let them get away with it.”
“How dare – ” Miss Marsh begins to say.
“They’re a fucking disgrace and so are you,” Catherine shouts. She rises and storms out. She makes sure to slam the door extra hard behind her. She begins to run. She has to get off school grounds before anyone comes after her. The halls are empty now – another class has begun.
She clears the entrance hall and flees, into the sunshine and through the front gate. She doesn’t know if she’s being followed. She can feel her heart slamming every which way in her chest. She has never done anything so reckless. It feels good, she realises with surprise. She feels light and powerful.
She wants to buy a bottle of vodka. It tastes like what she imagines petrol tastes like, but she always drinks it. She started a few months ago. It is the only thing that helps now. She can’t explain it. The way she always feels herself loosen, as if her mind is being gently swept away. Her parents don’t know, of course. They don’t know about any of this. She doesn’t want to think of them right now. That bitch Miss Marsh will be phoning them right now, interrupting their days at work, telling all sorts of lies.
The shop she’s heading for is on the corner in a quiet neighbourhood. Oddly enough, it is just across from another school, a primary school. Catherine wonders how many kids in that school are as unhappy as her. In the cramped shop, she makes her way past stacks of cheap toilet roll and questionable sandwiches. The alcohol takes up an entire wall. There are bursts of neon colour here and there – signs pointing out deals. She takes the smallest bottle she can see. Yes, good. Smirnoff vodka, £8.99, which fits snugly into the palm of her hand. A withered old hand takes her money, not paying attention to her face. Her height is good for something.
Outside, the sun is glaring. The puzzle of tiny streets with tiny houses leads to the park. She finds her usual spot, a bench hidden behind the shrubberies that adorn the pond, makes herself comfortable, unscrews the bottle and drinks. One large, quick gulp.
Callum and his herd like to brag about how much they have drank at their parents’ birthday parties over the weekend, but they can’t handle spirits the way she can. They are still stuck in class. She smiles thinking about it. They are probably making up bullshit stories about their excesses right now.
As the vodka finds its way to her head, Catherine stares down at her hands. Her nails are nibbled down to the bone. She wants to stop biting them, desperately. But she has no means of distracting herself. It’s not like she has anyone at school she can talk to. And being so much taller than everyone else, she sticks out no matter where she goes.
She’s always hated being a part of someone’s focus. Even smiles make her suspicious. But what’s stopping her from asking someone? As she takes another sip, Catherine dwells on it. Why can’t she just go out and make some friends of her own? This is nothing more than the vodka doing whatever it does in her head. She likes it. Yes, just strutting into school and choosing some friends doesn’t seem so mad all of a sudden. What about Melissa and her friends? The ones from her English class? They’ve never been rude to her. They actually seem alright, when she thinks of it. She tries to count the number in Melissa’s friends on her fingers but she can’t- her hand just won’t stay still.
“Excuse me, love?” A man is standing in front of her. He’s wearing a dirty, ripped denim jacket and jeans to match. There’s a tattoo on his neck, but his red football shirt obscures it. On his shoulders are old flakes of dandruff. He’s short and fat – she can see bulges of wobbling skin poking out of his chest. She can see his nipples.
“I just wondered if you need any help, that’s all. You’re alone, aren’t you?” He sits next to her. There is a stench of old cigarettes coming from him. He must have about three chins. She swigs some vodka. He’ll realise she isn’t interested and go away, surely.
“Can I join you?” He smiles and gestures to the bottle. She shifts away from him. Her head seems too heavy for her shoulders and she almost loses her balance. She doesn’t like the fact that he is seeing her in this state. It makes her squirm.
“It looks like you’ve had plenty.”
Catherine scowls at him. Who does he think he is?
“You’re very pretty. Why don’t you give me a smile?”
There isn’t anyone nearby. The bushes look like green disco balls, and are too big for her to see past. This has never made her nervous before. She tries to imagine how he would react if she swore at him – she genuinely can’t tell. She tries to ignore her worry.
“No.” She says. She hopes she sounds more confident than she feels.
“Oh cheer up – it might never happen!” He is laughing. She doesn’t want to give him any more ammunition. He’s just looking for a reaction and an excuse to carry on talking – why can’t he just leave her alone?
She takes a defiant swig of vodka and rises, stumbling. Her hand swings down for her bag and just manages to pick it up.
“Piss off.” She slurs, walking away.
“Hold up – you don’t own the park.” He rises and follows her. “You can’t tell me to piss off! I was only being friendly!”
She can feel a wave of panic rising in her stomach. With a swing of his body he blocks her path.
“Don’t be rude.” He warns. Catherine suddenly wishes she were back at school, of all places. She barges into his side and storms past, but he suddenly grabs her. She drops the bottle in shock. She’s lost her only weapon.
“I said piss off!” She screams, but the park is still empty.
His grimy hand is clutching her wrist painfully. But that’s the way all boys behave at his age. He pulls her close. The smell of cigarettes chokes her.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?”
About The Author
Jennifer is in her final year at university studying Writing and English Literature. She spends a lot of time worrying, and worrying about the fact that she spends a lot of time worrying.
Bandit Fiction is an entirely not–for–profit organisation ran by passionate volunteers. We do our best to keep costs low, but we rely on the support of our readers and followers to be able to do what we do. The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.