This time you’ve been moved to another continent as well as country, and the change in climate is making your skin reptilian. You’ve been showering with your head down lately, watching your feet slowly change from golden to sheep’s-brain pink, and helplessness slips down the drain with the water, yeah, you watch it go down.
Your new friend has her warm palm flat on the small of your back and propels you forward into dark and noise. It’s a depressing country, immutable grey chill to it, but the kids here keep it at bay as best they can. Another one of your new friends is upstairs, banging and kicking at her own unyielding bedroom door, a bra strap hanging loosely by her elbow, her mouth open and full of howls of fury you can’t hear.
It’s like she’s yelling at herself on the other side of the door and it’s off-putting, makes you feel a bit sick as you’re guided deeper into the house.
You and your new friends wear the same kinds of dresses and drink the same kind of alcohol — you’ve taken pains to ensure you slot right in. There are less people making out at this party than there used to be in the hot fever kick of your old country, there are fewer dark corners to retreat into. It’s like Big Brother here in your new friends’ house, square-bright phone torches flashing all over the place — no one can do anything without being filmed. It’s a better surveillance system than the FBI, honest to god. Tomorrow you will watch the you of tonight about twenty separate but identical times, you’ll watch yourself like TV, like someone anonymous wrote your script for you, penned Authentic Teen Dialogue. Yeah, tomorrow you won’t remember doing anything that your phone screen plays back.
This morning it was your third day at your new job. They gave you a fleece as well as a jumper because the establishment was cavernous with big glass doors opening and closing constantly. Outside the doors was an inflatable snowman that was wired to shiver uncontrollably. It always seemed to be juddering in your periphery, seeming to you that it was having some sort of medical catastrophe, a death rattle. You sat at the tills all day on a chair that didn’t roll as much as wobble, and was covered in a scratchy, conductive kind of fabric, kind of like the jumper they gave you. An eerie, meandering version of “Greensleeves” played through the overhead speakers all day and it was so deliciously depressing you even managed to enjoy it for the first hour.
A Christmas tree in a cardboard box lay on a trolley in front of your till, waiting to be collected. You kicked your heel against the chair until it ached, sat on your hands until the chair was imprinted in them, took a bath in the overhead strip lights; they washed over you thorough as anything. They were floodlights, they were too bright to even be a color you could discern. In the distance, at the back of the shop, it was dark, and in the middle distance, there was the shop’s own gigantic Christmas tree — a sentinel, decorated only with lights that hadn’t been switched on. It watched you, darkly, and you watched it back darker, “Greensleeves” stuttering and repeating itself, white shirt collar turning your neck pink and red.
Tonight you’re sitting outside at the party with just a dress on, but you’ve had enough to drink that you’re disconnected from the cold now so it’s fine, you can leave your jacket buried underneath all the others on that kitchen chair.
One of your new friends careens past you and lands on all fours in the grass, starts to vomit. You get up out of your seat. The party’s been going on long enough that the grass is frost-encrusted, thousands of little sparks of cold, and they twinkle like fairy lights as you lurch towards the new friend. She holds a hand up to ward you off, long strand of whatever came up swaying from her mouth — the tendril hangs with a glint on it as it reflects the phone-torch light of someone taking a photo of her. You sit back down again, so implausibly heavy and leaden that you’re not sure how the chair holds you. Another new friend collapses onto your lap, hand around your neck, cheek against your forehead. This new friend of yours is a prophet. She always knows what’s going to happen before it does. Her finger is a pretty shade of lilac from the cold and points without accuracy but with melodrama, points through the window into the house where the couple she knew would get together are getting together. At least four different phones are filming them but they’re aware of that, yeah, they know.
This one song comes on for the third time that night and there’s a collective yell. You try to glean as much catharsis as you can from the moment but you’re bone-dry, you’re all out of stock. New friend is still on your lap and you feel really quite untethered so you just watch her black-ringed eyes, watch the shapes her face makes as she talks to you.
You’re rid of the mosquitoes and the rolling, itching sweat now, at least — you should think about that, that’s something you should try to focus on.
Damp wooden chairs and your new friends, three different layers of chatter that over-arch and undercut each other like a tangle of motorways. Your breath clouds and you forget it’s the cold — in the moment you justify it as ashes and embers in your stomach being turned over, giving off one last flush of warmth.
Hana Rowan-Seddon is an 18 year old living near Brighton, UK. Taking a break from college has allowed her to focus more on her writing.
This is Hana’s first literary award and her first work to appear in a print publication!
MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #22
FEBRUARY 24, 2019 | BEGINNINGS & ENDINGS