the infuriating symmetry of fallible hearts

Holly wakes up in the sand dunes, from half a dream she forgets as soon as her eyes are open. There is sick in her throat, but none seems to have made it out.
She sits up slowly, because she can’t be sure if the sick is from the drink or the anaesthetic. She can feel her phone in her pocket, so that’s alright, and she’s lying on Danny’s jacket so him and Grace must still be there. If she’s honest, she didn’t want to come out tonight at all but the alternative was sitting on the unit and she knows without doubt that the staff would have found endless excuses to try and talk to her. Grace had been back to her mum’s and lifted a bottle of cinnamon Smirnoff with gold flakes. No fucking contest. Briefly, she wonders if the sick in her throat has gold flecks. Eugh. No. Why go there?
Danny’s jacket as she puts it on is warm from where she’s been lying on it, which is good because it’s getting cold now. All that thick grass that scratches at her legs is blown flat and when she stands up-slowly, because it still hurts-she can see Grace and Danny down on the beach with whoever Danny’s mates are. Tide will be in soon, she notes, trying to burrow further down into the jacket and wishing, not for the first time this evening, that she’d put some tights on. She knew when she got dressed it would get colder later and went to get tights, but something just seemed so grubby to her about going for an abortion and then putting your tights back on. Tights, she reasoned this morning as she spat the metal taste out of her mouth, are for girls who don’t get fucking pregnant in the first place.o
It’s nice, round here. Boring as fuck but having a beach this close should not be underestimated. The last time she saw Reece and Maisie they thought she was making it up, that she lived by the beach. She told them they could come up in summer and she’d show them where the rabbits make their burrows up in the dunes. She didn’t tell them Grace’s theory that they put children’s homes near cliffs so the scum have nowhere to run away to.
She did tell her mum that, though. She laughed. But fuck her.
She thought her mum might have texted today but at the same time as she thought that she knew she wouldn’t. At least she didn’t offer to take her. She’d specifically asked them to make her appointment on one of the days Lydia was working because she didn’t think she would be able to stand waking up from an abortion and seeing any of the rest of the staff, but in the end it didn’t matter because they didn’t put her to sleep. That was unexpected. Holly considered herself to have seen quite a bit for just fifteen, but she had to admit she’d never thought of being wide awake for that. Anyway whatever it was they gave her, it was nice and dopey for a few hours and she fell asleep in the car on the way back, burning her stomach a little bit on the heat pad thing Lydia brought for her, probably, Holly muses, because she escorts someone for an abortion more often than she goes the dentist. It was good, though. It was a good idea. She was glad nobody else had come with her. Although Holly gets the distinct impression Lydia’s career in residential will not be a long one given that she looks like she’s going to cry every time Grace calls her a fucking goth. Holly has tried several times to explain to Grace that nose studs don’t make someone a goth but you can’t tell Grace anything and anyway, staff are staff, they go home in the morning whether or not someone’s been hanging from the rafters. Especially That Cunt James. Never puts his phone down, him, even that night her and Grace were hiding in the bathroom when Danny’s mum said she didn’t want him back at hers for Christmas and he threw a fucking radge and ran round for two hours with a pool cue and smashed his own bedroom window, the dozy melt. 
Holly makes her way down the dunes, slowly still. She feels less sick now the air’s hit her, just warm and slightly spinny and still with that grim pain in her stomach and her legs that feels like something’s being dragged down out of her.
Which, really, is what happened. Holly does an internal smirk at that one liner then immediately worries that she should be feeling awful for thinking things like that because she should be grief stricken.
She runs another check on herself. She still isn’t sad, or guilty, or anything out of the leaflet. This mildly worries her. She just feels…
Danny and that lad with the froggy eyes and the fucking ridiculous Nike tick shaved into his head are trying to build a bonfire. As Holly gets towards them Grace looks up from drawing patterns in the sand with a stick and waggles the lemonade bottle, which is about one part Aldi’s finest aerated lemon beverage and three parts Smirnoff Gold, towards her. Holly takes it from her, though she doesn’t want any more, and tips it upside down to watch the gold flecks and the bubbles swoosh round.
-Danny’s mate has gone to get some cans, Grace advises, picking her stick up again -I might fuck off in a bit though, he’s a bad fucking knob, him.
Holly loves it when Grace calls someone a knob. Nobody can squeeze as much venom into that word as her. It’s not by any stretch her most creative slur, either. When Holly first moved in she was shit scared of Grace but it’s just mouth. Danny’s just Danny, he’s alright but he’s not that arsed, obviously got his own shit going on. Gave her a hug once when she was crying because her contact with Reece and Maisie was being dropped to twice a year so they could be adopted, other than that he just gets on with it. Only person Holly’s ever met who doesn’t have some proper involved Tale about how they ended up in the reject bin. She only knows he’s Section 20 accommodated because of the time with the pool cue. Grace thinks he’s a sex case on the quiet and that’s why his parents binned him off. But Grace is only in Northumberland because she kept running away from Cornwall to fuck gangsters for whatever bits of shit cocaine they gave her for it. Grace was in private school until about three years ago. She gives it all this, but she hasn’t got a fucking clue to be honest.
-Probably join you, Holly says

-Who’s on tonight? Grace scrabbles around for her bag. 

-Lydia til eleven, Karen’s on the sleep and That Cunt James is on the overnight.

Grace clicks her tongue. -Fucking nonce, she says mildly. 

This morning when Holly was going past the office, they’d updated the whiteboard with which staff were on and saw Grace had written FINGERS BUDGIES next to That Cunt James’s name. Who the fucking hell christened her Grace?

-Thought you’d stay in after the hozzy, Grace says, half hidden in her bag -was it alright then?

Holly isn’t sure how much Grace knows. Cold shoots up her legs and she’s grateful for Danny’s jacket, despite his habit of substituting a full can of Lynx Africa for any form of shower.

-Was what alright?

Holly is suddenly very aware that she is still bleeding. She pulls the jacket tight around her.

-Whatever test you went to have.Did they find any radioactive fanny cancer or anything?

-Nah, nothing like that, just checking because my mum had this operation once.

This is nearly not a lie. Her mum had something uncomfortably gynaecological done after she had Reece and Maisie and loves banging on about how she was twenty nine and she couldn’t have any more kids, as if she hadn’t had the first three taken off her or anything.

-Anyway cancer’s not radioactive, you daft slag. That’s the treatment

-Arsed, Grace says. Danny comes over to grab the drink bottle

-Fuck off! Wait for him to get back with your ale!

-We’re going now anyway, Danny says, idly kicking Grace in the shin-shite trying to get a fire going here.

-It’ll be all that water in the sea, Dan, Holly muses. She shrugs his jacket off and surrenders it in place of the bottle. She can taste metal in her mouth again.

-The water’s not by the wood, though

Grace cackles. -Fucking hell. Can tell which one of you two goes to school.
Holly shuts her eyes briefly and lets the pain drag across her middle. She’s going back to school in three weeks, GCSE year. Lydia reminded her this morning. She’d replied -Be fucking great when they ask me what I did all summer.
Of course Holly has no intention of telling anyone at school what she did all summer. She never tells anyone at school anything. Never has. Sometimes they found out anyway, of course. But this morning she just wanted to be a bitch to Lydia, who was working an extra day just in order to do Holly a favour, and who was the only person she could think of telling, or asking to come, but staff are staff and Lydia with her little stud under her nose and her flicky eyeliner gets paid to look after the reject bin. Miles away. Miles and miles.
-FUCK!
Holly jerks back into herself when she hears Grace, who comes into focus in front of her. 
-Holly! Shit, man, are you alright?

-Yeah, sound, just whitey’d a bit
She’s not. She’s warm, alcohol warm, the drink is sitting badly with whatever they gave her at the hospital, and she’s still being dragged from the inside. It occurs to her that she could just have stayed in her room all night with the door shut, and suddenly she wants to cry.
-You look fucked. Do you want to go back?

-In a minute.

-Fucking hell, Holl, you can’t stand up, mate.

-I’ll be sound, just going to sit down a minute.
Danny and his gobshite mate are up in the dunes. Holly can hear them shout to each other. Grace is having none of this.
-I’ll shout those fuckwits and we’ll walk you back, alright?

 

Grace doesn’t do sensitive but she seems actually worried. Holly imagines saying: I’m not sick, I had an abortion this morning, chill your beans. Dozily she wonders if she will ever tell anyone out loud.
-Nah. Can’t be fucked walking.

-Can’t kip out here.
Holly thinks for a second she could. The tide is coming in now. She focuses on the little waves, in time with the throbbing in the middle of her, in and out, trying to pinpoint the exact spot where it comes in further each time. On the third go, it dawns on her that she’s going to be sick. She just about manages to get close enough to do it in the sea, thinking about the gold flecks again.
When the sun’s out, this water looks really green. No, that’s Brighton. She went there for a contact with Reese and Maisie and their foster twats the other week. Maisie came barrelling out of the car and straight into Holly which is not good when you are eight weeks pregnant and your tits hurt like bastards, but that’s not Maisie’s fault. 
Grace is attempting to bodily haul her back up to the dunes.
-Mate, we’re going.
Go. Yes. Holly wishes Grace would go somewhere else. She can only shake her head because she’s trying not to be sick again. The tide rushes forward and breaks over Holly’s shoes.
Grace is having some trouble deciding how to respond to what she seems to think is Holly not being able to speak. She should just send her to get Danny but she truly, truly cannot be arsed to say anything. Grace waves a hand in front of her face
-Holly? Holly!

-What?

-Shit, girl. You’re fucked. You need to go home.
Holly doesn’t have a home. She hasn’t had a home since she was eleven. There isn’t anywhere in the world, ever, that Holly can go back to. She’s never seen her mum’s flat, even, and she doesn’t fucking well want to go back to the house full of strangers that the council pays three grand a week to keep her in, away from all the non-scummy, contraceptive using members of society, with That Cunt James and Grace who really has no idea about anything.
Holly wobbles to the right and bends in the middle, partly against the pain in her middle and partly to reach down and take her shoes off. It’s been hot out until about an hour ago but the sea is freezing and it feels delicious on her feet. She chucks her shoes at Grace
-Fuck are you doing, pisshead? Home’s that way!
It’s not home it’s not home it’s not home, Holly thinks. She’s never stopped to properly think that before, and suddenly that seems like a grave oversight.
-Staying out for a bit, she calls back -Go back the house, I’ll be in in a bit

-Holly! Grace clicks her tongue again -I’m going to tell Karen you’re off your tits on the beach

-Fine, then!
Grace is rapidly losing interest. She swears under her breath for effect, grabs the lemonade bottle and heads up to the dunes to see if Danny and Frog Eyes have anything to add. She may or may not have taken Holly’s shoes with her, Holly isn’t going to turn round to check.
She breathes in, in with the pain in her guts and the water lashing over her feet. The whooshing the water makes reminds her of the noise on the scan they had to do before at the hospital, to make sure it wasn’t too big they said. Holly quite liked the sound. Lydia expected her to be upset, she thinks, and the nurse did as well, but she wasn’t. She isn’t. It’s like-what the fuck is it like?
Holly knows, she knows absolutely, that she does not want a baby. She doesn’t have any hesitation about this. She never did. She’d gone online and done the dates calculator thing before she told her social worker, so she knew how long she had to sort the abortion. Not a second’s hesitation.
But, weirdly (she tastes sick and metal in the back of her throat), she thinks she will miss being pregnant. Not the mouth full of metal and the sore tits and the pissing like a racehorse, those she is counting the minutes til she is rid of, and they’ve told her it might take a bit. Fuck’s sake.
But when she was doing all the adding up and Googling about dates and abortion types and things and printing the stuff off to take to the meeting, she found out that you can’t pick up the heart rate of a foetus at six weeks from those scans because although it only has one of the four chambers, it beats 150 times a minute which is too fast for the machine. Holly loves this. She never, ever felt bad about knowing she would get rid of it, and she doesn’t, and she won’t, but there were a few nights when she couldn’t sleep and she heard the night staff banging down the stairs to make brews because nobody ever sleeps in that house, when she just lay in bed in the dark wiggling her toes and thinking about a microscopic little heart twice as fast as hers running away inside her, and kind of wishing she could just stop time there, in the dark, with nothing to say and nobody to explain to and just these hearts running past each other.
Her mum cried when she heard, which pissed Holly off. Then she said she was glad Holly understood she couldn’t look after a baby, which made Holly nearly laugh in the middle of it because all the soshe knew who looked after Reece and Maisie when they were little. That was why they placed her away from them for fuck’s sake. She had to bite back the urge to ask in front of the soshe who took them to nursery the day she found UncleDad?
Her mum fucking fumes when she calls him UncleDad, which is of course mostly why she still does. (That, and it’s quite funny. Grace nearly pisses herself whenever Holly says it) He isn’t her real dad. Wasn’t. Still got no idea who that is. She was supposed to have called him Uncle Dean when he first moved in and she was little, littler than Reece and Maisie are now, but she doesn’t remember ever calling him anything but Dean. Then the kids called him Daddy of course and sometimes they’d hear her say Dean and be like, what the fuck?
Holly’s heart hurts more at the thought of her little brothers face tilted up at her with that look in his eye than it ever did at the thought that she had made a possibly-baby and fucked it off, and it hurts more at the thought of whether this makes her a terrible person.
But really, it’s having kids you don’t give a fuck about that makes you a terrible person, isn’t it?
It was Maisie, though, on that day. Holly’s alarm hadn’t gone off, it was Maisie shouting that woke her up. Maisie only started kicking off when she was pissed through wet or starving, so she must have been crying for a while by the time Holly woke up
(She steps forward, churning cold, wet sand between her toes. Whoosh. In and out)
and when she went in, she’d been sick on herself and the cot and Reece, and Holly was already going to be late even if she left there and then. She could smell that they’d been smoking the night before and Holly hated the smell of that stuff anyway, it knocked her sick, and between that and Maisie sick and being late when she’d already got a bollocking in front of the whole Science group for going in late the other day she just couldn’t be arsed. When she got Maisie out of the cot the plan was just to take her into their room and dump her on the bed while she sorted Reece out, wait for the screaming and the smell of sick to wake them up to see to their own kid for a change
(She tries to breathe in time with the whoosing and the water bubbling past her ankles, over her shins. With the waves of dragging through the middle of her, pulsing down her legs)
and as soon as she walked in, right, it was like a film with the arm hanging out of the side of the bed, but maybe she’s put that together later, but she walked over and UncleDad, Dean, he had really dark skin, which obviously meant he wasn’t her dad straight away because Holly is ginger of all bastard things, with skin like the surface of the moon. In care, smartarsed and ginger, it’s no wonder she ended up pregnant
(she almost chokes out a laugh at that, but no, because she’s scared to be sick in the sea/on her feet. In. Out. Whoosh. Too fast to hear)
but she could see right away, he just looked wrong. When Maisie saw him she started crying louder and trying to wriggle away from Holly onto her dad, still all hot and damp from crying and sticky with sick, and he just didn’t move and then Holly screamed because his eyes were open and she knew, and even with the crying and the scream and the dead boyfriend her mum just carried on sleeping, and then Holly left Maisie on the bed which she hated doing with UncleDad lying there dead but now Reece was crying as well and she was shouting for her mum to wake up and she just didn’t.
(In. Out. Push your feet right down into the cold. Stomach dragging, in and out like a heart racing)
So there was nothing else to do. She tried ringing 999, but the phone was dead and Reece and Maisie needed sorting so she just got them ready because there was nothing else to do, and the nursery was only down the road so she took them and didn’t tell the woman Maisie had been sick, and when she got into school she’d forgotten her bag so she just went to Barb on Reception who sometimes let her sneak in without a late slip and said that her dad was dead and then she didn’t ever go home again.
The sea in front of Holly lights up as she tries to fill her lungs and stomach with air and blow it all back out again, back into the sea and the sky where you can’t tell where one starts and the other finishes. Car headlights, or Frog Eyes has got a torch, or whatever. The muscles in her stomach clench again, but she’s not going to be sick again now.
She wasn’t sad to leave that school because everyone thought she was a weird scruff anyway. She didn’t think much either way about the foster twats, the first ones, but she felt like someone had cut her arms off without Reece and Maisie. She hates her mum for that. It hasn’t dawned on her yet that this is still the only thing she dares to hate her mum for. Who still hasn’t even texted to make sure she didn’t die on the table, by the way.
Holly’s feet are numb from the cold now. It’s not bad. She wishes the middle of her, the hot, dragging, aching bit, would go cold and numb. She tries to keep her mind on the whooshing and not try and make herself feel guilty when she doesn’t, because that seems like it would make sense, like what a normal person would feel.
(Grace’s voice from the dunes. In. Out. Fuck Grace. This isn’t home. A human heart has four chambers, fully formed) 
Holly finds it very hard to imagine she was ever a one chamber organism inside her mum, going too fast to hear. It’s like when they did biology and all the kids in class were saying they were sick off the thought of their parents shagging to make them. Holly didn’t get that, but she thinks maybe she does now, standing in the sea with her insides dragging and her head still drink-warm and starting to ache.
Holly wonders, with her blood almost turning to ice as she acknowledges the thought, how much better it would have been if her bloody mother had just gone and done what Holly did. Twenty minutes, not even a scalpel, is that too much to fucking ask? How is it a better idea, she thinks suddenly angry at the injustice, to bother having kids for this..this shit?
In.

Out.

Whoosh.
Holly turns back to face the beach behind her.

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Saving Face

Saving Face – Read by Kim Scopes
Banged up in an OCD clinic, our heroine has to make her own fun. Cue group therapy sabotage, Peep Show quotes and lewdness in the laundry room …

A selected entry, written for the Liars’ League CLEAN & DIRTY event
on Tuesday 9th February 2016 at The Phoenix, Cavendish Square, London.