Amanda is out for the night with her new school mate, Lea. But when her so-called friends – an assortment of symptoms from her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) – turn up, she finds it hard to determine who and what is real.
I’ve only known Lea a week, which, I reckon, can be the only reason she’s asked me out on the town tonight. No one must’ve mentioned to her yet why I was alone that first day she came and sat with me at lunch. I looked up and stared at her, mistaking her for a new one of mine, and then wondering if she was one of the old ones wearing a new face. They do that sometimes to mess with me, twist my brain around.
The number 75 bus slides to a halt and the doors gasp open. Little Su’s already in – I can see her bouncing on the front seat up top, grinning down at me through the misty glass. I spy Lea a few rows back.
Bim and Alba are in the seat behind, which makes me blink. To say those two don’t get on would be an epic understatement. Alba slags Bim off for being boring and Bim ignores Alba so pointedly that Alba gets even spikier than usual.
I take a deep breath and climb on board.
“Take your time, love,” the driver growls. “These folks have nowhere special to go.”
I want to ask how he knows that, then realise he’s being sarcastic. Creep. I scowl at him and slap my pass over; my cheeks flush hot.
I want to run right off the bus and go home. But Lea is waiting for me, with her face full of smiles. I make myself go upstairs and hurry towards her. The bus starts and I nearly lose my balance; Bim reaches out an arm as though to steady me, but I keep my focus on Lea.
My embarrassment evaporates as I grin at her. I want to yell at that driver that I, if no one else on this bus, have somewhere special to go for once. Thanks to Lea.
Lea’s new at school, which is how come she’s mistaken me for a normal, which I most definitely am not. Ask anyone. Ask my parents. Ask the doctors who’ve diagnosed me with D.I.D, when I’d much rather be D.O.N’T.
Lea knew no better than to invite me to go with her to that club in town, The Go-Get-Gone, which lets underagers in on Sunday nights. Surprised she’s not backed out. Surprised no one warned her she was sitting next to Mental Manda, Mad Manda, or my personal non-favourite, A-Man-Der, as in “It’s a man, der!”
Just because I’m tall for my age and, some say, a bit butch. If you’re good and solid, people don’t take advantage so easily.
I have a feeling Dreak might have started that last nickname anyway. Type of thing he’d do. He’s not, what did that psychologist say? Not my most supportive influence. He’s the manifestation the doctors most want me to get shot of.
’cause that would be so simple, right?
Most of the time Dreak wears my Uncle Nev’s face, which is how come he’s got that name. Nev always used to say All right, treacle? when he saw me and for ages I thought he was saying Dreacle. Kids, eh?
Nev’s face isn’t the prettiest choice, but it looks a lot better on sixteen-year-old Dreak than it did on his seven-year-old self. That was plain freaky.
Alba, now, I’m not sure how she became part of the gang. Just raised my head one day and there she was, acting as though she’d always been with us and that I was the weirdo for not having noticed. She’s the daredevil, always egging me on to do things I probably shouldn’t, but she bolsters my confidence too, telling me how cool I am, how go-getting brave, so I don’t mind her getting me into conflict occasionally. Not really.
Bim, on the other hand, she minds. Bim, with the curly hair springing out around her face as it has all the time I’ve known her. Don’t know why, but it really bothers her when Alba, or any of the others, gets me in trouble. She’s always telling me I should ignore them; trust my instincts to do the right thing and tune that lot out.
Yeah, well. It isn’t always easy to separate my instincts from theirs. Not sure anyone really gets that, though. The doctors definitely don’t. They just tell me to stay safe, be sensible. Like that’s the simplest thing in the world when there’s a throb of voices demanding different things.
Bim is the kindest of the whole lot, gentler even than little Su who’s the only one that hasn’t grown up to keep pace with me, somehow stuck forever as a kid in a grotty school smock and scuffed patent leather shoes.
I don’t see Su as much as I used to. Not that she’s much to notice when she is around. Barely opens her mouth to squeak these days.
She’s excited tonight though, going on an outing. We all are, thanks to Lea.
Lea gives me a quick hug as I reach her. She smells sweet, like pomegranates and cough medicine. “Right?”
I squidge in next to her. “Right?”
Dreak slumps down by Su in the front seat, which worries me a bit. I know Su’s nervous of him and his wandering hands.
Turns out he didn’t only get Uncle Nev’s face.
But Lea’s chattering and I know I’ve got to pay attention, block out what the others are up to. She’s on about snogging and boys and god knows what else. I try to join in, but I’ve never kissed anyone, so I just grin and bob my head in what I hope are the right gaps to agree.
The bus grinds to a halt and Lea announces: “We’re here!”
We rush off down the stairs and onto the street. The sun’s dipped while we were travelling and town looks different in the thickening gloom.
The Go-Get-Gone is aglitter; lights and bass spilling out. They’re letting in the first punters and we trail in after, Lea sort of wiggle-strutting and me trying to mimic her but feeling like I’m doing a bit of a pigeon-walk.
Bim and the others follow, like they always do.
Inside it’s dark and glowy at once. Beautiful. I want to stand still and take it in for a moment, but the music is loud enough that my head wants to cave in on itself. I walk so close to Lea she must think I’m trying to rub up against her. We get a couple of colas from the bar and loiter near the dance floor, checking everyone out. Seeing if there are any fitties, Lea says. She’s chattering again but I can only make out a few words here and there. I carry on nodding and grinning, rolling my eyes occasionally for good measure.
I see Alba circling the room, giving everyone a good ogle like she wants to jump them. Dreak is to my left, beyond Lea, glowering at the pair of us, and Bim is to my right.
Not sure where Su is, if she’s even still here. She shouldn’t be at a nightclub anyway, not in that child’s body with her hair in straggly plaits. It’s indecent.
Lea leans forward and her words tickle my face. “I brought something.” She manoeuvres me into the least lit area near the toilets, fishes a bottle out of her bag, trickles some liquid into each of our drinks. “Cheers!”
I knock it back and hear her exclaim something that sounds impressed. Whatever it is tastes rank. Nearly comes straight up again.
My stomach churns. We go and dance and I mirror her moves, making out like it’s just for a laugh when really I have no idea what else to do. We have more drinks, dance more, and then there’s a warm arm around my waist.
“All right, sexy?”
I don’t know this one, and I’m sure he’s not one of mine. Reckon he’s a normal, like Lea. He’s tall and broad, with large dark eyes that reflect the disco lights back at me. He stinks of aftershave and cigarettes, and definitely looks older than eighteen.
“Right?” I echo and wriggle against him, because I can see Lea doing that with another lad.
We dance like that for a while, and then he pushes his face against mine. “Wanna go outside, sexy?”
He chuckles at that and I smile, hoping he might think I was being funny.
“Because it’s a gorgeous night,” he says, and his teeth gleam in the half-darkness. “And you’re a gorgeous girl…”
I like hearing that – no one’s said anything like it to me before. I see Alba giving me a thumbs up, and then Dreak says, right inside my head: Yoo’ll neva git anutha chans like this, yoo sad, mad cow.
I shake my head a tiny bit, sort of trying to dislodge him and his negativity, and then I beam at the lad with his shining teeth, let him take my hand and lead me to a door I hadn’t seen before.
I glimpse Lea heading for the loos with the other one, giggling as his hands dart all over her.
Beyond her, I spot Su standing alone in the middle of the dance floor. Rainbow shards from the glitterball cascade right through her. Three-foot-three Su – so pale it’s like she’s been whited out. She watches me leave, eyes swimming with shadows.
It’s cold in the alleyway, so when the lad tries to get me to take my tights down, I don’t want to. He reaches up under my top and sticks his fingers beneath my bra like he’s trying to warm his hands on my skin. Then he shoves them down my top over my stomach towards my knickers.
I squirm. “Don’t,” I say. “I don’t like that.”
Wot a baby, Dreak hisses in my head.
“I’m not!” I yell and the lad removes his hands fast like they’ve been burnt.
“All right, sweetheart,” he says. “No need to frigid out!”
I watch him go.
The door to The Go-Get-Gone shuts with one of those clicks that means I’m stuck out here. I don’t care. I lean against the wall and realise the lad was right – it’s a beautiful night despite the cold. The moon is high overhead, gleaming light only to discard it. My breath clouds like fog.
The door nudges open and I see Bim standing there, frowning, “What happened, Amanda?”
“Nothing, got locked out,” I say, then glare at her, remembering what the doctors say about them each being part of me, not separate at all. “Don’t be thick, Bim, you were here the whole time. You know what happened.” I’m tired of the whole lot of them and their stupid pretences, always messing with me.
She shakes her head and walks right up to me. There’s a softness in her eyes that makes me let her take my arm and steer me from the alley onto the street where light is pooling in golden clumps.
“Want to head home?” she asks, and I nod.
Bim sticks her hand out. A taxi pulls in beside us. “My treat,” she says, and opens the car door for me.
I slide onto the cab’s plastic-smelling seat, glad that for now it’s only us. I know Dreak and the others will show up later, but in this moment at least it’s just me and Bim. Best mates since childhood, since before Uncle Nev, and everything that followed.
As we speed along, I glance at Bim, trying to remember what it is I’ve almost figured out. My skittery mind shrinks from whatever it is. I wonder about Lea, wonder if she’ll freeze me out in the morning for leaving without her. But she was busy with that boy, and I’ll tell her I got locked out. No need to mention Bim.
Bim’s arm is wrapped warm around me. I put my head on her shoulder and feel her press her springy hair against mine. She’ll get me home in one piece, and right now that’s all that matters.
About our writer, Judy Darley
Judy Darley is a British author whose short stories, flash fiction and poems have been published in magazines and anthologies in the UK, USA, Canada and New Zealand, including The Mechanics’ Institute Review, Unthology 8 and SmokeLong Quarterly. Judy was a judge of National Flash Fiction Day’s Micro Fiction Competition. She has shared her work on BBC radio, in pubs, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church, as well as at literary festivals and charity events. Her writing often centres around the fallibilities of the human mind, and is growing increasingly obsessed with dreaming up and writing original twisted fairytales. Judy’s second short fiction collection, Sky Light Rain, is out now from Valley Press. Her debut short story collection Remember Me to the Bees was published in 2013. She is working on a novel. Judy publishes weekly writing prompts at her culture blog, SkyLightRain. Find Judy on Twitter @JudyDarley
About our artist, Sara Rivers
Sara Rivers is an artist who works in different media. She completed her foundation diploma at Brighton School of Art and her BA in Fine Art at Canterbury School of Art. She has also studied Art Therapy at St Albans School of Art, Hertfordshire. Sara founded the Creativity Centre, a space for outsider artists and those recovering from mental ill health, at Isledon Road (formerly Corsica Street), London. She is a founder member of the Otherside Gallery, and has created three short films, all of which were funded by the NHS. Sara is passionate about improving the services available to people experiencing mental ill health, and has led many campaigns against the continued cuts to day services in the borough of Islington. Sara is the current artist for Lucy Writers, and has designed all the artwork for the website to date. To view more of Sara’s work follow her new Instagram account @pixbysararivers and see her profile on Outside In.
This short story was commissioned under our new theme Night / Shift
For Night / Shift, we at Lucy Writers want to close our eyes to the rituals of the day and open them wide to the possibilities, sites, moves, sounds and forms visible only by night. Using Leonora Carrington’s work (see image above) as an entrance into this broad theme, we welcome writing – reviews, features, essays, creative non-fiction, (flash) fiction, poetry – and art work that explores night and its multiple shifts, liberating and otherwise, for womxn in particular.
Is night, as Carrington suggests, a feminine and feminist zone in itself, one which subverts daily codifications and rethinks day’s conditions? Or is night – also known as Nyx in Greek mythology, the maternal goddess of death, darkness, strife and sleep – still a period of discord, a stretch of time that threatens as much as it frees? For more information, see our Submissions & Contact page.