“Inside me lives a skinny girl crying to get out, but I can always shut the bitch up with chips,” Clare muttered, examining a lean crisp chip. She sat on a bench outside the fish and chip shop, her cod and chips hot in her lap on their polystyrene tray. Her thoughts brimmed with vinegar and cooking fat, her lips rimed with salt, her insides warmer now but never content. After this she had a doughnut planned in the cafe, after that perhaps a big Mac, fries and a nice thick milkshake at the new McDonalds. Oh yes, she had Saturday all planned out, all right. People said she had a pretty face, as if her face was all she was worth now she’d surrounded it with soft white padding. She hated them for that. Hate made her eat; she wrapped her hand about her hate right now and crammed more of it into her mouth. Hate tasted good, but it had a high fat content, it might one day clog her arteries and kill her. But right now, at fifteen, she didn't really care. She wasn't supposed to be here in this boring town but at fifteen your parents just bundled you up like luggage and carted you about. This town, that town. Never keeping still. Why were her parents still together at all? They ought to be divorced by now. They should be arguing and throwing things but no, they were like a couple of teenagers slobbering over each other every night. That was their version of normal.
A man waved at her as he weaved down the path, as he tilted up his head and yelled at a seagull. He came and sat next to her. Shouldn't tramps smell like pee and sweat? Shouldn't he be drunk? Shouldn't they be the last person you’d ever want to talk to? Clare chewed, swallowed. “Hello Doug.”
“Hello.” His voice was always diamond sharp. “A man painted me the other day.”
“Really? What colour?” She smiled. He didn't.
“Sandy. He painted me sandy. Like the beach, so no one can see me.”
“I can see you.”
“That’s because I'm not on the beach.”
He really was insane. She always wondered what he'd look like without his beard. Ugly? Handsome? Young? Old? “Who are you Doug?” she always asked him that. He always shrugged.
“Who do you want me to be?” He always said that too and she always came up with a silly answer. The Prime Minister. My Aunt Lilly. Roland Rat.
She just wasn't feeling so silly today. “Somebody normal.”
His blue, blue eyes stared at her, through her. “Might manage normal for a chip.”
She offered him the tray and he plucked one from it. He held it aloft, fingers reaching into the sky. She squinted and watched Whitey swoop. “He'll get fat,” she muttered.
“He'll be all right, Clare,” Doug returned, his voice suddenly as silky smooth as warm butter. “God gave him a pretty face.”
Clare huffed in disgust. “I hate normal.”
“Me too,” Doug said in his usual brittle tones. “That’s why I gave it up.”
Rona J Frith