It was weird living at Eve’s house, which we all called Mum’s house. Eve was fifty-six, so she was old, but not, like, grandma old. Everyone at school said she was batshit, but she was good to me. Even when she wasn’t so good, she wasn’t so bad.
For about six months, I slept on a bed next to her bed. This was right after my fifteenth birthday. And my bed wasn’t a real bed, just a single mattress on the floor. But I liked lying next to her in the dark. When she sucked on her cigarette, I heard it crackle, and saw the orange ember pulse in the dark. And when cars drove past, I saw the smoke swirling up through the lights that swerved through the window.
“You ever kissed a girl down there, Kim?”
“Would you like to?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
In the mornings, she hung her head off the bed, and spat into an empty wine bottle, or an ashtray, or a bowl of mouldy pasta. She really went for it too. Coughing up goops of bright green, radioactive phlegm with hard lumps in them.
Even then I wanted to be around her. She was one of those magnet-type people. She told great stories. Like the one about her ex-husband, Ethan, the gambler. He lost their life savings on a horse race, so at the next race, he jumped the fence, ran onto the track, and got hit by the horses. “Getting trampled stopped him from walking,” Eve said, “but it sure as shit didn’t stop him from gambling.”
One morning, as I headed off to school, she said: “Let’s throw a party tonight. Ask all your friends.”
“Can we get some beer?”
This gave me a buzz. I went to school on a high. I mentioned that my name is Kim, but it’s actually Ross. I hated the name Ross. It made me feel like the kind of dude with a weak chin, acne, and an S-shaped spine, which was exactly the kind of dude I was.
Due to my genetic inferiorities, I was slightly obsessed with plastic surgery. You probably know this, but men are judged by the squareness of their jaws. If yours is strong, people will see you as strong, with the heart of a lion. Mine was weak. Recessive. I had researched all the procedures, knew the operation I needed, how much it cost, and the goodness it would bring to my life. But some Chads at school got hold of my diary. There were sketches of jaws on every page. I had a ranking system and everything: class 1, class 2, class 3. From that day on they called me Kim, Kimmy or Kimbo, after Kim K.
But if you live in a house with a fridge full of beer, and that house is owned by a woman with lax morals, despite your weak chin and your plastic surgery obsession, you will be popular.
The first party was pretty small, just a handful of kids from school, but Eve got dressed up anyway. She wore her favourite dress, made from blue paisley silk. And she styled her hair in a bun, holding it in place with these black lacquered chopsticks, which seemed to me like a classy move.
She stood in the kitchen most of the night, smoking cigarettes, refilling her glass from a cask of wine in the fridge, telling stories to the kids that stood in the cloud of smoke hanging in the air.
“My sister was the beautiful one, brainy too–”
“What was her name?” asked a girl.
“My name is Susie! Well, Sue, but close.”
“You look a little like her, right around the eyes. Hers were brighter than yours, but yours are still pretty.”
By the second and third parties, word had spread, and things were getting out of hand. But that’ll happen when you put a bunch of kids in a house with free booze and weed and sometimes pills. On one of these nights, when I climbed into bed, I felt my toes slide into a wet and chunky puddle. It was vomit. And it was still warm, so it was like putting my feet directly into someone’s stomach.
On another one of the big nights, some Chads from school cornered me, and made me tell the party about my favourite plastic surgery procedures, so I went to bed early. But I woke up around three with a bladder on the verge of bursting. On my way down the hall, I heard a kerfuffle in the spare room. When I poked my head in the door, I saw Eve sitting in a chair, adjusting the chopsticks in her bun, as a cigarette burned in the ashtray by her bare feet. She was watching two guys from school, Alex and Craig, hook up on the bed. It was pretty weird, but they weren’t naked. They had their shirts off, but they went to the gym a lot, so they took their shirts off every chance they got.
A few nights later, I was brushing my teeth before bed. Eve’s bathroom had one of those mirrors with light bulbs round the outside, like what actresses have. As I brushed, the harsh light magnified my many imperfections. Eve walked in, sat on the toilet, and lit a smoke.
“What’s so wrong with you?” she said.
“Can you be more specific?”
“Why do you want plastic surgery?”
I spat in the sink. “My jaw, mainly.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Who told you that?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I don’t have a chin. I mean I do if I jut my jaw forward, but when it’s normal it looks like it’s been punched to the back of my head.”
“No one thinks that.’”
“Yes they do.”
“What colour are your eyes?”
“They’re like, the colour of a shitty rotten leaf.”
“They’re a beautiful deep green. And your lashes, I would kill for those. They’re dangerous.”
At the next party, pretty much the entire school turned up. Kids from other schools too. Eve held court in the kitchen, chopsticks in her hair, smoking from a long ivory cigarette holder. Some girl chugged a flask of vodka, passed out, and puked up what looked like spaghetti bolognese. Her friend tried to call an ambulance, but Eve convinced her not to. I put the passed-out girl to bed in the spare room. Her name was Rose. I sat with her, to make sure she was breathing, and that she didn’t puke up a fresh batch of bolognese.
Everyone cleared out around two. I could hear Eve laughing upstairs. I didn’t feel like talking, so I washed the dishes, collected the bottles, and swept up the broken glass.
When I went up to bed, the sun was coming up. Eve sat on the bed with Craig and Alex, and this girl Jessie. Craig and Alex were shirtless, again, showing off the chests they earned in the gym. Jessie wore black jeans and a purple bra. The room was super hot, and smoky, and everyone had a thin film of sweat clinging to their skin. The smell was one of luncheon meat mixed with sweet liqueur. I didn’t like Craig and Alex. They were okay for Chads, I just didn’t want them in our room. But Jessie I liked. I sat next to her, and she talked a raging river of words at me. I tried to focus on her face, not stare at her boobs. I wanted her to think I was mature, not obsessed with boobs like most teenage boys.
“Let’s play spin the bottle,” said Alex.
“Ooooh,” said Craig.
“Oh lord,” Eve laughed.
Jessie looked at me, I looked at her boobs, her cheeks flushed red, and mine did too.
Alex spun first, and the bottle pointed to Craig. They put on a real show, with lots of slurping and soft moaning. As Eve watched, she toyed with the chopsticks in her hair. But Jessie stared, like she was in a class she found super informative. Jessie spun next, and she got Craig. He grinned at her, and my stomach knotted up. When they kissed, she closed her eyes. She looked so into it. I wanted to turn away, but I forced myself to watch. I stared at her throat, her eyelashes, the way her hair fell on her ear. I forced myself to take in all I would never touch.
I spun next, and I prayed for Jessie, but the bottle pointed to Craig. He flashed me a snarl, but I didn’t want to kiss him either. I looked to Eve, hoping she’d tell me not to worry. “You have to sweetheart,” she said. “It’s the rules.” Then I realised: Craig had kissed Jessie. His mouth would have traces of her saliva. There for the taking. I lurched forward, grabbed the back of his head, and jammed my tongue between his lips. I’m sure I heard him yelp.
The next Saturday was Eve’s birthday. Fifty-seven. She didn’t want a fuss, but she let me bake a lemon cake, and we ate it together, with a bottle of white wine, like a real Mum and son.
“So, because it’s my birthday, I need you to do something.”
“Admit you’re beautiful.”
“Don’t tell me to shut up!”
I wanted it to stay like that, just me and her and the cake. But of course she wanted to party. And who could blame her, it was her birthday.
It wasn’t the biggest party, but it was by far the loosest. I lost count of the vodka bottles, the bongs and the bumps. The air had a manic feel to it, like constant TV static. Craig and Alex came of course. They bought Eve a bottle of cheap champagne, and spent the night acting like her pets, saying, “Mummy feed us,” and rubbing on her.
But I didn’t care. I was with Jessie. That’s right. She felt sorry for me maybe. It felt like a sympathy hook up, but that was fine by me. We lay on my grimy mattress, kissing for hours, the party thudding through the floorboards. She tasted like what I imagined wild raspberries to taste like. I wanted it to go on forever. But right before dawn, the bedroom door creaked open.
“Pssst, Kim,” said Eve. “I need your help.”
“What is it?”
“Please, darling. I need you.”
I whispered to Jessie: “I’ll be back.”
When I slipped out the door, I saw Eve walking down the hall, her blue paisley dress floating behind her. I followed her to the bathroom, where she had run a bath with lots of bubbles. The air was hot, the mirror all steamed up. She let her dress fall to the tiles, stepped out of her underwear, and slipped under the bubbles. She lay her head back on a folded white towel, and closed her eyes.
“I need you to sit with me.”
“Darling, please, I can’t fall asleep in here.”
“But I’m with Jessie.”
“I need you, Kim.”
When I looked down at her face, I swear the corners of her mouth twitched in a satisfied smirk. She had me and she knew it.
I sat on the toilet. It was so hot in there. I wanted to open the window, but Eve wouldn’t let me. The steam made me sleepy. My lips were chaffed from kissing, and my eyelids drooped. I rested my chin on my hand. At some point, it slipped off. That jolted me. I had no idea how long I’d been out. When my eyes focused, I didn’t see Eve, just the bubbly, steaming bath water.