Authors: Araminta Hall
Mavis didn’t know how Dot had managed to persuade her to go shopping for a dress she didn’t want to wear to a party she wished she didn’t have to go to. But maybe it would be a good opportunity to say sorry for how she’d been behaving, perhaps even to explain. She longed for her friend’s advice in a way she’d never felt before and yet she’d never felt further away from asking for it.
They met at the bus stop, aiming to catch the 11.06 into Cartertown. Dot was late and Mavis stood in the cold, stamping her feet and slapping her arms around herself. She looked at the timetable for something to do and thought how only a town planner who drove a four-by-four and talked too loudly on his BlackBerry would devise a route which turned the bus the wrong way down the Cartertown Road in order to take in three other villages before heading towards the mecca of the town.
Mavis sometimes wondered what people a hundred years ago would think of their cities. Had they stood on the cusp of the modern world and thrown their minds forward into a future of shiny chrome and marble and structures which reached into a sparkling sky? She wondered why, despite all the evidence, they now in turn imagined their own future filled with alien domes and cars that whizzed through the air. In reality nothing changed and it was maybe time to accept that.
Dot arrived just as the bus was drawing up and they silently made their way to the top deck as they always had done, although Mavis felt heavier now, less like pulling herself up the stairs.
‘I think we should start in Topshop,’ Dot said, pulling out a copy of
in which she’d marked a page depicting an impossibly beautiful girl wearing a dress that their Topshop would never stock. Mavis groaned.
‘Any other ideas then?’ Dot asked, turning to her friend.
Mavis shook her head. ‘I’m not buying anything so it’s your call.’
The bus puttered onwards or backwards, depending on how you looked at it. Cows and horses were eating grass, birds were flying in the sky, cars were overtaking them; Mavis had to swallow back her tears.
‘You are still coming though, right?’ asked Dot and Mavis hated the whine in her voice. She had to pinch the inside of her hand to stop herself from screaming.
‘I said I would, didn’t I?’
‘I don’t want to force you.’
‘For fuck’s sake, Dot, I’m coming, don’t ask me to be happy about it as well.’
‘Mave, what’s wrong?’ Dot’s tone was tender and concerned, so that without planning it, Mavis turned to her friend to tell her. This was the perfect moment, this was the point that could make it all better. Dot might even have a solution.
But the words slipped and slid around her head; saying them out loud would make it real and she didn’t know if she was ready for that yet – ever. She chickened out. ‘What colour’s the sky?’
Mavis knew she was starting to piss Dot off and who could blame her. ‘What colour’s the sky?’
‘Blue? Are you on something?’
‘Ha! Why d’you say blue?’
‘Mave, you’re scaring me.’
‘Because the sky’s always blue, right? Because that’s what all the fairy stories tell you, because you painted it blue with your mum.’
‘Look, just answer the question.’
‘OK.’ Dot looked out of the window. ‘Right, it’s completely grey. So?’
Mavis sat back, pleased with herself but lost as to how she might go on now.
‘Are you trying to say something?’ Dot asked and the question made Mavis want to punch her.
‘We don’t all spew our feelings everywhere you know, Dot.’
‘Are you talking about me and my dad?’
‘Fuck, no! Not everything’s about him. He left, Dot, and you need to get over it.’ Mavis knew she’d gone too far, could feel the tension radiating off her best friend like electricity. ‘Sorry, ignore me, I’m a bitch. But I mean, what do you want from him now anyway?’
Dot shrugged. ‘I dunno. I wonder that myself sometimes. Like, it’s probably too late, right?’
Mavis wanted to put her arm round her friend because they were both alone, really. ‘I’m sure it’s not.’
‘I wouldn’t mind asking him why he called me Dot.’
‘Come on, it’s such a crap name. A dot is the smallest, most insignificant thing there is. And it’s a full stop, so an ending. I mean, who on earth would call their child Dot?’
‘How d’you know it was him? Maybe your mum thought of it.’
Dot snorted at this. ‘Come on, Mave, can you imagine my mother doing anything as definite as choosing a name?’
‘Fair point, but at least you’re not called Mavis after your dead gran.’ Dot laughed and for a moment they could have been anywhere, but the thought scared Mavis in its possibilities and she shook her head, trying to shake the tears away from the corners of her eyes. Her fear mutated into a desire to sabotage her life. ‘Look, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’m not going to go to Manchester.’
‘I said you should go for Oxford. I don’t mind, really.’
‘No, no. I’m not going, to university at all.’ Mavis fixed her eyes on her hands; she could feel her face reddening under Dot’s persistent gaze.
‘What are you talking about? We’ve only just applied and you’ll easily get in. I’m the one who should be worried.’
‘I’m not worried. I’m just not going.’
‘Even if you get in?’
They sat quietly now, all the intimacy gone, the rough seats of the bus vibrating gently beneath them.
‘I don’t get it,’ Dot said finally.
‘There’s nothing to get.’
‘So what’re you going to do? Go to Cartertown College of Further Ed with Debbie?’
‘Maybe I won’t do anything.’
‘Are you depressed or something?’
‘Probably.’ Mavis felt something bubbling, as if her insides were itching, as if there was no way out any more. ‘Look, I’m not depressed like that. I don’t need Prozac or anything. I just think it’s all a bit pointless. Three more years studying when I could be …’
They both waited for what Mavis could be doing, but her mind was blank. In the end Dot said, ‘You’re not making any sense.’
It was raining now, the drops streaking the window like grease, the road looking sleek in front of them. If you would only ask the right question, Mavis said, but not out loud. She was struck by a vision of herself in ten years’ time, bumping into Dot on the street in Druith when she came back for a visit, because of course by then Dot would be living in London or Paris or New York. She’d be glowing and tanned and well dressed, her hand lazily holding an equally attractive man. Mavis would try to hurry on past them, but Dot would stop her, wanting to reminisce because the past is fun if your present is great. Finally Mavis would be able to get away and she would hear the man asking Dot who she was and Dot would say, Oh we used
to be friends once, a long time ago. And Mavis was suddenly filled with the knowledge that life is only moments, that the thing we are doing now is past as soon as it is done, that nothing is real, nothing guides us, nothing holds us. Her heart pumped with the fear of the knowledge.
The bus stopped on the high street, which was a new development, born out of the fact that this was the only reason anyone went to Cartertown any more. The industries were long gone and factories and offices lay abandoned on stretches of concrete wasteland where disaffected youths went at night to sniff glue, drink cider and break windows. They raced stolen cars in the weed-infested car parks, played music too loudly and fucked in cold rooms if they were lucky. In another time, when Mavis had still been interested in the news outside of herself, she had read in the
how residents from the nearby estates, both private and council, formed groups and lobbied the police, but nothing was ever done. The police simply didn’t have enough officers to approach these children who roamed in packs like animals and were so emboldened by their mass that they were capable of any wrongdoing. Instead the police resorted to responding as quickly as they could to the muggings and burglaries and intimidation that found its way out of this feral environment, as if acting after the event was as good as preventing it in the first place. Mavis suspected that this was a more accurate vision of the city of the future.
Topshop had always reminded Mavis of a joke, if that was the right word, one which she had heard being played on Primrose Duncan in the first week of secondary school. Primrose Duncan who was so badly bullied that her father found a new job, sold their house and moved her hundreds of miles away to a school with a great reputation. Primrose Duncan, who Mavis had read about in the
last year, was the youngest solo cellist to play at the Royal Albert Hall. Two year nines had approached Primrose and told her a complicated story about a fish riding a bicycle, and then they’d started to laugh. Primrose had obviously copied them and they’d stopped as suddenly as if she’d slapped them and asked her what was funny, a question she’d been unable to answer because nothing was and so they’d started laughing again, but this time most definitely at her. Dot and Mavis had watched them walk away and Primrose cry and they had assured each other they’d never have fallen for such an obvious prank, but now Mavis wondered who they had been kidding. She imagined Primrose telling this story to an interviewer in years to come; she imagined turning on the television to find her laughing over it with Graham Norton or Alan Carr. Now that’s what you called revenge.
The clothes on the rails wilted under Mavis’s touch and she found herself simply following Dot, sucked into an ennui so deep she feared she might never have another useful thought again. Of course the
dress was nowhere to be seen, the shop assistant didn’t even recognise it and Mavis thought it probably only existed on the pages of magazines. Dot ploughed on until she found another, infinitely inferior version of the dress which she held in front of her, held away from her, wondered at, rubbed between her fingers, squinted at.
‘Just try it on,’ said Mavis wearily.
‘You really not going to try anything?’
‘No.’ The changing rooms were being guarded by Stacey Young from their class and Mavis felt the last vestiges of energy drain from her body.
Stacey lazily handed Dot a tag, her expression doubting the wisdom of trying on the dress, of them even being in the shop. ‘You can’t go in without something to try on,’ she said to Mavis.
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ Mavis grabbed the nearest thing to hand, a pair of lime-green hot pants, and held out her hand for a tag.
Stacey laughed. ‘You’re never trying those on.’
‘Give me the fucking ticket, Stacey. Or shall I call your manager and tell her you won’t let me try on any clothes?’
Stacey slapped the numbered plastic circle into Mavis’s hand and mimicked a Jamaican gangsta accent to say, ‘It’s not my fault you is mingin’.’
‘And it’s not my fault you’re too thick to even speak properly,’ answered Mavis.
‘There are some parts of the new you I could get used to,’ said Dot as they made their way inside. But Mavis didn’t agree. Dealing with people made her feel sad now.
The changing room was bright and there didn’t seem to be any other option than to take your clothes off in full view of everyone, so Mavis slumped on to the floor by the mirror as Dot struggled out of her jeans and into the dress. She looked quite pretty in it really and Mavis was moved by the slight rounding of her stomach and the curve of her unblemished upper arms. But at the same time none of it seemed real. Dot looked like one of those cardboard dolls Mavis had played with as a child, with the cardboard clothes that never stayed on however hard you pressed on the ineffectual tabs which were meant to hold them on to the body. You would try a dress, then a skirt and shirt, move on to a pair of jeans, try in vain to get any footwear to stick, end up with a hat. The memory of dressing up simply for its own sake made Mavis laugh.
Dot looked down at her. ‘Problem?’
Mavis shook her head, but the laughter was rumbling inside her, as though it was riding a rollercoaster in her body. She held her hand to her mouth but the sound bubbled out, escaping like a naughty child. The other occupants of the changing room were looking round and Dot had gone red.
‘What the hell’s your problem now, Mave?’
‘It’s not you,’ she managed to spit out before the laughter erupted, unbidden, inappropriate.
‘Thanks a bunch,’ said Dot, struggling out of the dress so quickly that it stuck, exposing her mismatched bra and pants, until she emerged sweaty and fuming.
Mavis stood up, composing herself. ‘Dot, it looked great. It wasn’t you. I was remembering something.’
Dot was dressed now and she marched out, pushing the dress at Stacey who shouted after them for the hot pants. They didn’t stop to answer and were outside in minutes with Dot walking fast so that Mavis had to run to catch up with her. She pulled on her friend’s arm and Dot turned round, anger flickering in her eyes.
‘Dot, I’m sorry, really it wasn’t you.’
‘I don’t know if I care any more.’
‘Look, I’m starving. I really fancy a Maccy D’s.’
‘You hate McDonald’s.’ But they started to walk towards it anyway. ‘You went on that protest in year eleven, remember? You stood outside this very McDonald’s and handed out leaflets about how they were ruining our environment and our health.’
‘Yeah, I know.’ They walked through the doors and the smell of reheated grease assaulted their nasal passages.
‘So, what’s changed?’
‘Nothing I expect, I just want a Big Mac.’ Mavis heard Dot sighing. ‘Look, who am I to change anything? Me not eating a Big Mac isn’t going to change the world. I was a prat for thinking it would.’ Mavis recognised this argument as dangerous and was shocked to hear it coming from her own lips.
They stood in the queue behind a girl their age with a crying toddler and a gaggle of spotty young boys. ‘If we all thought like that nothing would ever change,’ said Dot.