She isn’t the most beautiful woman I have ever seen but I haven’t seen a woman in eight months or more and am turning, quickly, to dust. By haven’t seen a woman I mean haven’t seen Leanne, though either way it’s hot sand, glass and friction. It’s a wonder my cabin doesn’t go up in flames, everything made of wood as it is, working on myself at night as I do. It would only take one spark.
She is sitting out on a small mound of grass that I think of as the stoop, her back turned to me. It faces a dirty strip of road that leads to a potholed road that leads to a regular road that leads to the motorway. Here there are the caravan cabins, as I have come to think of them, given their oblong shape, their tendency to live where the caravans pitch. It’s autumn now. Gales of leaves, holidays over, wind a growing penetration. Almost all the cabins are empty. Caravans all dragged out of sight.
She’s wearing a dress that looks like a potato sack, but I realise it’s supposed to be that way. Despite its form, stiff and consuming, it has an honesty of colour which tells me it is brand new. Simple haircut. No shorts. Goosebumps surely. I squint.
The wind disguises the click of the door, so she doesn’t hear me coming. She is focussed on the maple tree in the grove just in front of her. It spits seeds to the ground like helicopters crashing. She watches their blades as they twirl. I am focussed on the back of her head, her short hair – mousy brown turning peroxide dead at the ends. Another helicopter bombs to the ground, only to be blown up to the sky again. Disaster here is bright. It plays constantly, on loop.
‘Ahoy’ I call, unsocialised. There is an owl who spends the nights screaming in my chimney. The blunt confusion of the sound has obliterated many things.
Potato Neck turns. ‘You,’ she says, and I get a proper look.
Freckly skin. Short eyelashes. Her features gnarled and dented. Intense. Almost troll-like, honestly. Her nose is a language I don’t understand. It has a mole. Not necessarily on it, but beside it. Around it. An ominous darkness, in the crevice of her nose and cheek. It pulls at my pupils like a black hole.
‘Me?’ I ask.
She nods, playing with the fringe of her sack. ‘I was just about to come over and ask you something.’ She points to the cabin beside mine. ‘We’re neighbours.’
‘But I can’t really think of how to say it.’
‘I think I’m going to put it bluntly. You seem like maybe you wouldn’t mind.’
‘It’s just that I have a bit of a habit…’
I accidentally tune her out. She turns and bends in the middle, reaches down to the stoop and returns with a new look in her eye. Her irises are a heinous pale blue; the skin beneath them yellowed; her hands are lavender; the bold bones of her knuckles, harsh pink; her palms are open and somehow… green.
Potato Neck is covered in goosebumps. I look down and realise she is holding the biggest jar of weed I have seen in my life.
‘… so, please don’t think I want to tell you this, I promise you, I hate this, but I just have to know – Do you have any tobacco? And does your stove have a light?’
The air waits and hangs. Prematurely begins to slow. I nod.
‘Yeah. Follow me.’
I set the jar down on the coffee table. It’s the only table I have, and the only thing that differs my cabin from the others. Sitting low on the floorboards, in front of the two-seater sofa, and the fireplace I’ve never lit. It’s oval shaped, made of strong mahogany and embellished round the edges. Bright little birdies painted in gold. It was Leanne’s and I took it when I left.
‘Oh my fucking god,’ Potato Neck says, staring at the jars, standing on my rug.
‘They look good.’
They look weird because they look like siblings. Glass-eyed. Gleaming. Matching orange lids on their heads. Identical, in size, shape and amour, perfectly opposite in every other way. Her jar, sweaty, reeking and ripe. It taints the air. Mine, weathered, old, and brown – dry like everything else.
‘Why do you keep it like that?’ she asks.
‘I buy it in bulk, and I hate the plastic packet. The pictures of lungs. The guy with the throat.’
‘Is yours a Rossini’s jar?’
‘The lid. Pasta sauce. Rossini’s, no?’
Potato Neck is slumped into my sofa and I am standing in front of her.
I start: ‘I used to work in a sweet shop, part time. I took home some bonbons,’ but she speaks over my final word.
‘Ash, I think we need to roll a spliff.’
I ask her, ‘Sorry, how do you know my name?’
But she’s gone. Already moved on. To the jars, to pinching and mixing. A pack of papers appearing from seemingly nowhere. Her sack has no pockets. No bra straps, so no way for her to hold things like Leanne. It isn’t until later when I am lying in my single bed and my head feels like the concept of a plum and my hands like two spiders who love me in turns, that I realise actually, they were probably mine.
One of us has one thing, and the other has the other, and neither of us has both. We live in holiday homes in Scotland, where summer is irregular, near a loch that is not Loch Lomond. October when it rains can be lonely. Circumstance makes life feel miraculous.
It has been ten months, ten, not eight, since I have seen anyone without pork breath and an Adam’s apple. My friend, Barry, lives next to a big supermarket, about forty minutes away. He brings me goods on a three-week rotation because I don’t know how to drive a car. Groceries, tobacco, a hell of a lot of soup. When Leanne’s heart froze and I went away, Barry offered to do the drops – because Barry is a good friend that way.
I do not know why Potato Neck is here. I ask and she doesn’t tell me.
The green tint sets in. The cherry glow at the end of a joint, the harsh vibrance of my burning throat – these things come, and they never leave. Everything that we do is either pre-smoke, post-smoke or during. My memory works without beginnings or ends.
The world falls out of its tight and inscrutable order.
The door slams open. Potato Neck tramps out from the bathroom, aghast. That distance, from the tiled square of shower, toilet, sink, to the part outside the door, dubbed ‘hallway’, is tiny. Still, she makes it look like a stride.
‘What?’ I say. I have a banana in my upturned palms, and I am impressed by its skin, velveteen, and stunned by the strange weight of it. You are a fruit, I think, and giggle. Potato Neck is wearing pyjama shorts patterned with watermelon seeds and my t-shirt, but I don’t know how. She doesn’t like to stay over. It has a bat on it. I ask her, ‘Did you take that?’
‘There’s a spot on my tit.’
‘A spot on my tit. A pimple on my breast.’
‘You’re telling me about your breast?’
She swipes me over the back of the head as she walks back into the living room, crossing the wires on the ground. I don’t know why I brought it with me, but I have a Gamecube here. A bunch of games. Even two controllers. We’re playing right now. I forgot that’s what we’re doing. She asked me – can we play your Gamecube?
‘Can you not be a weird fucking man for a moment.’
But I’m not distracted about her breasts. I’m distracted about the whole world. This is all new to me. This flavour in my mouth. Not unfriendly. Like spoons and bitter leaves. I didn’t realise how fucking huge a thought could be. I didn’t realise how much space there is between any two things. I am walking down a long hall of mirrors, shooting myself the finger guns and there’s one million of me, finger-gunning back. Potato Neck is still talking about her breast.
‘What’s wrong with your breast?’
She huffs. I’m leaning a little far to the left.
‘It has a spot.’
‘It’s a boob. I’ve never had a spot on my boob before.’
‘You can get spots everywhere. No one ever told you you can get spots everywhere?’
‘No. No one ever gave me the tit spot talk. I thought it was cancer. Then I popped it.’
Potato Neck crushes me at Mario Kart, whizzing around corners, dropping bananas as Toad. I thought she would have chosen someone more like Bowser, on account of her eyebrows, but what is that supposed to mean? I was right at least that she doesn’t play Peach. I’m Luigi but I’m not doing well. I’m finally catching up to the conversation we’ve just had. There is no outfit in which Potato Neck has breasts and so I think of them like a washing board. One single raspberry smooshed through slanted sides. She’s lapped me now, whizzing round the track without needing to control. She’s waiting. Has been waiting for a while.
Blood flows down my face. From the wound on my head to the corner of my mouth, as if I am both drink and straw. Potato Neck is touching the sweat on my back.
‘I think you’ve cut your spine.’
‘And my head?’
‘Obviously your head.’
We were sitting down on the stoop having our morning first when I said: We sit down here every day. Why don’t we go and sit up there? And Potato Neck grinned like I’d finally managed to be interesting. She stood up in her gummy sandals, put the joint to hold in her mouth. ‘You’re right,’ she said and climbed up the maple like a monkey.
I stayed sat for a moment, trying to look up her limp purple skirt. I thought I saw stripes, exactly like this pair of boxers I own, but I checked and I’m wearing those.
‘You hit every branch.’
Potato Neck helps me back to the stoop. Her hands are stained green from moss.
‘It’s funny because I had a dream like this as well.’
‘I’m not interested in your dreams.’
‘Except it wasn’t me. It was you that fell, and I had to carry you. I had goat legs.’
The stoop rises up beneath us. Potato Neck puts the cardboard roach back into my mouth. It’s made from a jaffa cake box. Blood pools, ruins my clothes. She sets fire to the ashy end. I feel like a cowboy. I tell her.
Potato Neck doesn’t respond.
I push the bitter end into the dirt of the ground and discover that I am woozy – but like two kinds of woozy that rub on each other. My thumb reaches out to hold the hem of her sack. I recover but it leaves a rusty stain.
‘What have you got? I’d kill for pizza.’
Potato Neck’s hands in my cereal box.
‘I don’t know. I don’t really use the fridge.’
‘Let me have a look.’
I’m zoned out on the sofa, legs dangling over the side. I’m having a waking nap. I haven’t had one in a long time which is weird because I used to have them always. Lying on Leanne’s loft bed, where the light had to bend to meet the ceiling. It was so nice up there, with all her stuffed animals, lined up like a marching band. My favourite was the elephant with the knob shaped nose – his name was Brian. Leanne herself could be gone for hours.
Potato Neck stomps into the kitchen, cupboard bang, bang, banging as she roots through each one thrice.
‘You don’t have basil?’
‘I don’t have fucking pepper.’
Sometimes Brian would stare at me when I wanked in Leanne’s bed. He looked like he understood. The rest I’d have to pluck by their scrawny necks and turn to face the wall. Leanne had this duck with mean little eyes, like he always had something to think. I was fond of Brian though.
‘I keep finding bruises all over my body,’ Potato Neck says. It’s true. I’ve been spotting them too. Rotten blooms all over her toothpick legs.
‘Are you clumsy?’
‘I don’t think so.’
She is clearing the table around me, bringing plates, knives, forks, water in a tumbler because I don’t own a jug. She takes our bonbon and Rossini’s jars and puts them on the windowsill. They look redundant and therefore purposeful. Like old lady potpourri.
Dinner is presented, made broadly of tortillas, found in the back of the cupboard; half a tube of tomato puree spread across the top. And what would be a pizza without grated cheese? It oozes slowly. A tranquilising vision. Potato Neck sets down a bowl of scabs.
‘For toppings. You don’t have any vegetables and I figure scratchings are still pork. I thought they should be optional.’
‘Thank you,’ I say.
She is wearing a bright red turtleneck and some ratty jogging bottoms. We sprinkle our pizzas liberally with scabs. I fold my first slice and put it whole into my mouth.
‘Uh fuh-hin luh fooh.’
‘You love me?’ she nips, sparkling.
‘Uh luh FOOH! FOOH!’
Potato Neck leans over and pokes the big bulge in my cheek. She tilts her slice above her head and the toppings go sliding into her mouth.
‘When did you buy cheese?’
She shakes her head.
‘It was in that fridge you don’t use.’
My jaw stops.
‘This is my cheese?’
‘Well, yeah. I mean, I didn’t think you’d care.’
My stomach and my mouth separate. I can taste so much fat and suddenly the foulness of the pork. It’s in my teeth. Coated like sand on the inside of my cheeks. That cheese has been there longer than I have, wrapped in cellophane, condensation growing, lit up by the fridge bulb. Behind a thin veil of plastic, I have been watching the mould. It blooms and then it sweats. I gag.
Potato Neck watches me. ‘What’s your fucking problem?’
‘I can’t eat that.’
‘It’s cheese. It ages. I cut the mould off.’
I stand and the cabin is a boat. Stumble drunkenly from dining room to hall.
‘Pussy,’ she mutters, as I shut the bathroom door.
When the smoke is inside of my body, nausea becomes an abstract thing. A thing that is held by my body but not is my body, not anymore. It’s stronger, more competent at ripping down my defences – but it can be spoken to. Persuaded. I wet my face and the excess drips onto my jeans. Yank them down and then fold in the middle. My asshole puckers and puckers and cannot shit. In front of the toilet there is a mirror. Desire has darkened my eyes.
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever eaten is Leanne’s custard tart. Her own warped recipe. It tasted only of nutmeg and eggs. The feeble hope of an erection helps to lever the ache of my bowels.
‘You’re fucking disgusting,’ I murmur, and wipe.
When she does stay, she’s awake before I am. Hands dipping from jar to paper to jar.
‘That owl is a fucking cunt.’
One night we listen to the same album three times in a row because it is very good. Potato Neck makes us go top to tail because she wants to lie on the bed. She lights up and gets ash all over my blankets.
‘Are you a lesbian?’ I ask her.
‘I’m just wondering.’
‘I don’t know. I thought maybe I was getting a… vibe.’
‘Do you hate women?’
‘You’d fucking love it if I was a lesbian.’
‘I didn’t mean to ask.’
Potato Neck sits up. She’s sitting on my pillow. A song is playing now that an hour ago we almost cried at.
‘Ash, you know I’m not even remotely attracted to you, don’t you?’
I don’t know why she feels the need to say that. I turn my head in disgust.
‘What is it?’ she asks.
We’re walking back to the cabin from the stoop and all of life is flashes and frames, strung out like the film of a film. Dirt road. Shaking tree. My shoes. The memory of Leanne’s ass, like a heart with a hole. A helicopter lands safely on my shoulder. I am looking into the night shadow of Potato Neck’s mole and at none of the space around it.
She grabs onto my wrist.
‘Don’t grab me. I might throw up.’
She grabs anyway. Drops.
I ask, ‘Are you okay?’
She’s crouching on the floor. On the slidey wooden step before the door of my cabin. She’s clinging to my leg.
‘Are you okay? I’m gonna fall.’
She doesn’t listen. Soles skidding.
Is she crying? I yelp, ‘Potato Neck, stand up.’
She looks up. Eyes tearless except for laughter.
‘Potato Neck?!’ she shrieks.
I don’t understand what’s funny. I shove through the unlocked door.
‘I need to lie on the floorboards.’
My knees collapse to the floor. Body flopping. Potato Neck crawls over and hangs directly above my head while I try to look up at the ceiling.
‘Potato Neck? What does that even mean? Poh-tay-toe Neck.’
Her hazy pupils have turned her eyes into eight balls.
I ignore her. ‘What were you laughing at?’ I whine.
‘Every time you smoke – you shit, or you puke. I think you’ve got IBS. Are you crying?’
‘No!’ I am. I’m crying.
‘Do you have chocolate?’ she asks.
‘No. I don’t know how to breathe.’
‘Stay on the floor.’
And then she abandons me. Sprints away, leaving the front door open. I rip my socks off, sobbing now, and the cool air soothes the soles of my feet – but something about that comfort is devastating to me. My body is confused and hard again. Leanne, Leanne, Leanne. Drinking vodka ginger, heavy on the ginger. Kneading me when I needed her. Now I can’t get anything out. Now I’m stuffed up and rancid. And when I try to think of her voice, I think wub, wub, wub and when I want to cum, I can’t. Was I so terrible? Potato Neck reappears with something purple in her freakishly small hand. Shining, crackling wrapper stripped easily to reveal the treat. Chocolate. Dairy milk. She kneels and drops a piece into my mouth.
I ask her, indistinctly ‘Will you sleep on the sofa?’
Potato Neck shakes her head no, but says, ‘fine.’
It’s late. I wake halfway, disoriented, inside a cloud that is not soft like hamster fur, but nauseating like smoke. They’re thick in the haze together. The heavy rub of a man’s voice reveals the needling crack of Potato Neck’s.
‘But why do you do that? Why pay for him like that? You could rent the place out and do anything. I don’t get it.’
It makes sense to me that she is saying these words.
‘I know – but it’s Ash. I’d do anything for that man. We’re like brothers.’
‘There’s no one I’d do that for.’
‘What about Francis?’
The sound of her sack, mid-shuffle. ‘Hmph.’
‘He’d do it for me,’ he says, ‘You have to be that person if you ever want someone to give you good back. That’s how that shit goes, you know?’
‘You don’t understand Ash. I don’t care how long you’ve spent with him. Around me he’s open, but he’s a little wimp around women.’
‘Maybe that’s the problem.’
‘Well, how about this? One time, I got my drink spiked at this weird disco night we went to. I was on the light-up dance floor when this wave hit me. I couldn’t breathe. All this shit was coming up through my nose. I had a panic attack that felt like a stroke. But Ash was on it. Holding me up. He saw it before I did. Didn’t miss a beat.’
Sounds of smoking, passing, smoking.
‘Then – right as we’re about to leave, his neck swivels and he turns like some fucking hawk to this table by the door. There’s a man with his fingers in a drink. Same drink as mine: pink lady cocktail. I think – makes sense. Who the fuck is trying to spike me? The cunt was having his second try.’
He takes a deep and shuddering breath. ‘You know what Ash did?’
‘Ash punched him in the face. Lights out. Goodnight. Bye bye. So, if it wasn’t for him then me and that girl could have died. That’s who Ash is at his centre.’
He reaches down and fondly pats my foot.
‘But, Barry…’ she says. The words wince with frustration. I never get to know what that thought was going to be. Instead, she tells a story of her own, about the day I fell out a tree, about blood and smoke and how I looked something like a cowboy.
She says, ‘You know. That didn’t really touch the sides for me. All the tobacco, I think. Shall I just roll a straight blunt?’
And without questioning her reasoning I fall back asleep. In the morning, she, and the weed, are gone. She does not leave me a note.
Alright, in fairness, it isn’t like I haven’t noticed her. Of course, I have – as disturbing as she is. I put my hand on her leg.
We were sitting in her cabin at the time, the only time I went. Waiting to smell this candle she had. The wax was the pale morning blue of her sack. It was scented A Calm & Quiet Place.
‘Where did you get the dress that looks like that?’
Her sofa was the same as mine, but she fit more easily into it. Her hands a little pile in her lap. Fingers heaped indelicately. Scraps.
Potato Neck watched the wick of the candle.
‘Do you mean the colour?’
‘I don’t remember.’
I nodded. The air wanted us to stay so still, and we did. Shoulders pressed together.
‘You must have gotten it from somewhere. It looks new.’
‘Maybe it was my sister’s. She gives me clothes all the time.’
‘You have a sister?’
‘I have three.’
‘Oh. I’m an only child.’
‘That makes sense.’
What else? She didn’t keep her clothes on the floor, so nothing for me to see there. She didn’t have a TV. There were some books, but no titles I recognised. I didn’t use her bathroom because I couldn’t work out how to say I wanted to. She didn’t care about stuffed animals. Her bed sheets were cream. There was a candle and a constant creak.
‘If I knew how to fix pipes, I would help you with that.’
‘My pipes are fine.’
‘They don’t whine like that if they’re fine.’
Potato Neck smiled, but with scrutiny. She considered me for a moment.
‘I’ll show you.’
She stood and led me round the sofa, up the hall and into the nook that was the bedroom. Beside the bed she had shoved a little table, dingy and covered in stickers peeled off. Atop the table, a bright red tray... white grate, spinning wheel. Hamster cage.
I gasped like a small boy, sat down and then stood up from her bed.
‘Can I sit?’
She knelt and ran a nail along the grate. The hamster came running. His fur was the softest grey, not like smoke, but like a cloud. His ears, brown and speckled, were made of a skin so thin so you could see the veins within like tiny purple rivers. She opened the door. He climbed into her palms.
‘He has petal ears,’ I said.
‘His name is Tomahawk.’
Tomahawk traversed Potato Neck’s fingers as if they were rungs on a ladder. He had bean paws and they clung to her wrist. His nose twitched and it made his whiskers vibrate. Before I could ask to, I was holding him.
‘He has the biggest balls I’ve ever seen! His fur!’
‘Now smell him.’
I cupped Tomahawk tentatively under the bum, lifted him up to my nose. I inhaled. Like printer paper and corn. I inhaled again. Tomahawk walked into my sleeve.
'You’ve kept him a secret,’ I grinned.
‘He’s mine,’ Potato Neck said – and she didn’t look pretty, but she looked something else instead. Can a girl be handsome? I had something of an urge to touch her, since we started smoking all the time, but I also had urges to touch everything. We faced each other. Cross legged on a military-style single bed. Tomahawk emerged from the hem of my jumper.
‘That’s my crotch, Little Tommo. Come here.’
I put my open hand on Potato Neck’s thigh, then left it there, upturned. Tomahawk crawled off. I left it there longer. Potato Neck gazed at her son. Beneath the sagging neck of her jumper, she was wearing my t-shirt again.
‘Ash,’ she said.
I moved my hand.
‘How do you afford to be here?’
I sniffed, ‘I used to work really hard.’
But it didn’t feel like the end of the question.
We stayed there with Tomahawk for a long time, passing him back and forth. Eventually the scent of peace had warmed to the air. Eventually we were tired of each other. We turned the lights on to destroy the flickering darkness. I walked back to my cabin alone.
All at once we’re running low on marijuana.
The tobacco levels are steady, but the weed is just powder. She’s crying. There’s a bloody tampon floating high in my toilet, too. When Leanne’s monthly came around, she would sob until I brought her chips and cheese. Earlier, I accidentally stubbed my toe and had to spend an hour in bed. I understand.
I go outside and ring up Barry, climbing up onto my roof for signal. I haven’t spoken to him in a while. I tell him only what I need to.
‘I’ve got you. I’ve got you. Dude, that’s so cool you’re making friends. I saw Leanne with her girlfriend the other day. I was like, oh what the fuck – dyke from hell! They were buying lottery tickets.’
‘That’s cool. Listen, I also need something else. Do you still know that guy, Dean?’
‘Man. Dean’s in the fucking Emirates. I know Kyle now. He’s alright. Good man. We play Warcraft sometimes. I place my orders on there. Right in the middle of Thunderbluff!’
Barry laughs at himself and it widens the phone line. A throaty friendly sound. I look inside my chimney and find a nest with three eggs.
I tell him my order. I tell him exactly how much.
Barry whistles in awe. His cheek and his stubble are close in my ear.
‘Fuck, Ash. Man, you’re living in the woods.’
Potato Neck emerges with me when Barry arrives in his big red van. He parks, making dust on the drive, outside of her cabin instead of mine. He drags open the door and my groceries appear, along with two stacks of flat boxes. They smell strongly of barbecue sauce.
Potato Neck leaps on them. ‘Oh my god, I love you.’
Her eyes are red from the J’s of the day. She’s wearing her potato sack – rusty thumbprint slightly darker on the hem. Her neck looks just as inhuman as it did when we first met. I’m proud, but then she looks up.
‘How’s Arthur? How’s Katie?’
‘They’re great. They’re living with Arthur’s dad. He’s a mountaineer. He helps with their business. Katie started taking her t-shirt thing seriously.’
‘Good for her!’
I am standing with two grocery bags, one in each hand. They’re filled with soup cans and again he has only chosen tomato.
‘You two know each other,’ I say.
Potato Neck shrugs, body floppy and happy. She explains, ‘Out of touch friends.’
Barry wraps her up in bear hug number two. She seems perfectly contented in his sweat.
Leanne’s table is moved so the pizza boxes can be laid like a tapestry. For some reason, I didn’t think that Barry would stay for dinner. He’s raking through my cupboards now and the wood sounds ugly and thin.
‘Where’s the spirits?’ he asks.
‘Don’t have any.’
‘Shit. Not even beer? Not even poof juice?’
Potato Neck emerges from the bathroom, grins momentarily at the pizza on the floor. ‘No alcohol. Only weed. And don’t call it ‘poof juice’. She collects the jars from the windowsill. ‘Do you want me to roll? It’s tight for three but I can manage.’
I stare at Barry hard until he catches my drift, and his eyes light up.
‘Actually, Phoebe… me and Ash got you a gift.’
He points drastically to one unpacked bag. I can see the orange lid. Potato Neck shrieks.
Barry’s jar is poorly washed, still scummed with smears of tomato – but it is packed. Full to the fucking brim. Barry knows what Rossini’s is. Barry knows Kyle.
We eat pizza in three sessions across the course of the night. We each smoke our own massive blunt, and then another, and maybe another. Barry says don’t worry, I won’t drive, I’ll sleep on your floor, I’ll borrow a pair of your underpants. I want to say, ‘you wouldn’t fit them’, but I can’t because she’ll think I’m a leaching cunt. She probably already does – she knows by now that this cabin isn’t mine. I barely even rent it because Barry is a philanthropist. I didn’t tell her as such, but it makes sense that she’d figure it out.
I don’t know why but I’m not in the mood tonight for some big, fun thing like this. I feel frigid, uncomfortable, covered in goosebumps. None of my tokes seem to go all the way through. Barry and Potato Neck talk sporadically about the people that both of them know and I deduce, through listening, that they once worked in some Mexican place together – and that means Barry has probably once spoken about her to me. Potato Neck nudges for a story but I don’t have one. I tell her that he never mentioned a Phoebe and Barry says, ‘I definitely did.’ I have been sitting in one position on the floor for a very long time and I realise I’m scared to move from it. I’m cold and my organs ache. Conversation is wandering probably towards Leanne. My eyes are closed and my head is by the leg of her table.
I make a decision to give up and pass out.
Most days I wish it was tomorrow.
I have IBS. The jars are still nearly full. Somehow the first comes last. Potato Neck demands a walk.
She dons my trousers, my jumper and my second pair of boots, pausing at the door to take my good coat. We press out across the turning dirt. Down to the forest and the spitting maple tree. It’s a helicopter elephant graveyard.
‘It’s a helicopter elephant graveyard.’
She snorts at me. ‘Feeling good?’
I nod a lot.
She says, ‘I’m glad.’
‘Woods are kind of spooky though.’
I look up and the sky is only an inch away from black and that means it is still blue. The night air is sweet down my stained throat. The moon is gripped by the trees, empty-handed. Wet leaves have been falling for weeks. They’re wadding under my shoes. Potato Neck’s hands look almost like the bare trees, but softer. Less spindly. Not spiderlike.
‘Little arms,’ I say.
‘Are you alright?’
She puts her hands on me. Steers me to the ground.
‘Sit in the mulch,’ she orders.
‘If I needed to vomit, would you judge me?’
‘Weed makes you sick too?’
‘No.’ But she says it kindly.
I keel over, getting mud up my wrists, gripping sopping handfuls of leaves for their coldness. My body heaves but I don’t let it puke. Instead, a negotiation. I’m in the foetal position. Here. In this random patch of land, somewhere nowhere. Previously inconsiderable. Who knew that could happen? The nausea passes and I grin up at the moon, grin up at the whole sky and at all the tall trunks that occupy it, but especially the moon.
I’m so stoned.
Above me, Potato Neck laughs. ‘You’ll get over it.’