White Powder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is sort of a recount of my time spent in London, similiar irritating split-narrative style as "Spitting Games".

Submitted: July 06, 2008

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Submitted: July 06, 2008

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The pair sat apart. She stared at her bag and he, with red eyes, looked out over the lounge without really seeing. Every so often their eyes would stray to the board and look away quickly, as if the sight was offensive to them. They were too subdued to be taking the trip together.
The speaker cut over the soft buzz of conversation.
 
“Flight SQ 742 now boarding at Gate 12.”
 
He followed her down the escalator and they came together one last time before being ripped apart. He ascended while she walked through the barrier with passport aloft. Neither looked back.
 
*
 
Lize
 
 It had been two weeks since the plane touched, or rather grated, down on the Heathrow runway. Lize felt she had arrived on an alien planet. Thick fog, backlit by yellow, had settled underneath a starless sky at four thirty in the afternoon.
 It was hard to determine what she remembered and what had been romantically reconstructed regarding her impressions of Crouch End. The streets had narrowed, the buildings diminished in grandeur. The clock tower, framed on all sides by chain supermarkets, seemed merely an obstruction in the wake of harassed shoppers and tooting vehicles.
I came back for this.
 Lize took the short cut back through Priory Park. Here she had learned to run, and later, to ride a bike. This island of greenery, fenced in by black iron. Here she could have kissed someone for the first time; had her first draw on a cigarette. That is, if her family hadn’t emigrated to Australia eight years ago. She smiled faintly as she pulled her coat around her. It wasn’t like coming home so much as seeing what might have been.
 Walking on, she met a lone dog walker and two women with prams. Maybe in summer, couples lay on the grass and made the most of rare sun beams. She chased the thought away.
 
 Living with her aunt and cousin had its ups and downs. If she expected pastoral care, she couldn’t have been more mistaken. In the first few days she thought her voice would disappear from disuse. At the same time, she found the independence refreshing. She set herself the task of finding a job, printed out twenty copies of her CV and littered these amongst prospective businesses in Crouch End and Muswell Hill. It ended in one call back. It ended in three to five shifts a week, six hours a night, collecting glasses and emptying ash trays.
 O’Neill’s was part of a chain, an Irish pub with all the trimmings - and some obscure additions. Lize found the converted church building beyond ironic, yet despite the archaic décor, the pub attracted a fairly young crowd. It had attracted her with all the force she was now repelled by.
 “Oi you, Aussie girl.” It was past closing time and two punters remained.
“Could you drink up guys, it’s time to go.”
“You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. When do you get off?”
As soon as you finish your drink and lurch to the door so that I can clean up the mess you’ve made, polish the table and strain my back stacking these fucking ye old Irish chairs. Maybe an hour or so.
Lize just smiled and walked away.
 She had arrived back from her first shift rank with the odour of smoke, sweat and alcohol This was only a small contributor to the filth she felt within.
 
Liam
 
Liam stared at the computer screen, stunned.
 
Your Universities Admissions Index is 72.10
 
This was the sum total of two years work, the number that apparently counted for everything.
It’s not enough.
 He glanced around the room that had been his for the past eighteen years. Boxes were stacked neatly to one side, the breezeblock walls bare. A few items of clothing were draped around, odd pieces that had no place in his new life. He swept these up and dumped them on his closest floor with grim satisfaction. What would she say when she found these?
 Outside, the sun made the deserted road shimmer. The squat house seemed to absorb the heat, accentuating the stench of cat and curling the browned wall paper at its edges. Her presence was everywhere, even when she was locked away in her room with the day time soaps. Only in the cool glimmer of his computer screen could Liam find solace.
 A blip awoke him to the fact that Lize was online. He typed rapidly, not caring if there were a million type errors. School was over forever. Her message returned instantly:
 
I got 94.90 – what about you?
 
 The irrational stab of envy was quickly stifled, not least because of his pride at her incredible score. During their long acquaintance, Lize had always been the most motivated.
 They had become friends in the pre-teen days - before it was acceptable for boys and girls to have such platonic relations. Eliza, the quiet girl from England, and Liam, the pasty faced loner with glasses. Taunting and teasing had done nothing to separate them, and so they embarked on the rite that was high school together.
 From the sidelines, he watched her grow into a woman. She collected and discarded friends, gained the attention of more than a few boys and was, in almost every aspect, a normal adolescent.
“You give me credibility,” she had joked. “I wouldn’t be interesting without you, the dark horse.”
 She was the only person he invited home.
“Why do you hate her so much?” They had been in his room, Lize sprawled across his bed and he relegated to the revolving chair.
“She’s just an old woman.”
“Exactly. I will kill her one day.” A shadow of something – it could have been fear, revulsion, even – flickered across Lize’s face before she smiled and returned to the gaming magazine. Best friends don’t need to ask.
 Liam turned to face his empty room again, hoping beyond hopes that the stupid number was enough.  
 
Lize
 
 The pill burned a hole in her jean pocket. The dance floor was crowded, electric and sweaty; everything it should have been.
 I am going to have a good night if it kills me.
 Her cousin raised her glass at her, grinning, as she downed the pill and her beverage.
“We’re going to get out of here soon. It will be great once we get back to the apartment.”
 
 Fearing that speech was beyond her, Lize kept her mouth firmly closed in the back of the taxi. Instead, she watched the lights flash by outside, imagining the beat of the city to synchronise with her own rapid heartbeat. She tripped through the cement maze that was the gated estate, floated up three flights of stairs and pushed through a door to find herself in a dark womb of voices, soft music, blankets and sweet tea. Her own voice, when she found it, emerged with an ease she had never thus encountered.
 “Hey I’m Lize.” He was sitting around the corner from her, leaning against the sofa. She got the impression of long curly hair, glasses and a beard. All soft edges.
“Hi. Jack.” He proffered his hand. “I don’t know anyone here.”
 “I suppose it won’t mean much to you that I’m Roxanne’s cousin then? I’m just tagging along. I only met half of these people tonight.”
“Where you from then?”
“Australia – but I did live in London until I was ten. Now I’m back…”
“You get the best of both worlds then; the sexy accent and the city life.” Lize laughed, and made the usual quip about Aussie girls going mad for English accents. She didn’t know it worked the other way around.
 Three hours later, Lize found herself next to him again.
“I’m coming down.”
“Have another one. I’ve got these.” She took a fraction of the pill, feeling the bitterness of it at the back of her mouth. It would be daylight soon, in any case. He reached for the packet, and for her.
“I think I need some human contact.” Smiling, she swung her legs over his and pulled the blanket over them. She rested her head on his shoulder revelling in the warmth and comfort of the embrace.
 
Liam
 
 Most people take to university life like birds to air. Free from the restraints of the nest they soar and plunge, and have no one to hold accountable when they find themselves falling. Liam felt his first flight could have been smoother.
 The bulky carry-all slipped from his grasp for the second time since walking on to campus. He cursed, bending awkwardly to pick it up and feeling amused eyes on him. A hot flush crept up his neck which was already damp with clammy sweat. He knew that the jeans were too small, riding up to reveal pale hairless ankle. The shirt, too, seemed to fit him all wrong, dangling gracelessly off his narrow shoulders but clinging around his middle. But the office was in sight now.
“I’m Liam Clarke. I was issued a room in this college?”
The man behind the desk glanced up, seemingly surprised to find someone requiring his services.
“Ah. Yes. The thing is, that set of rooms is still undergoing renovation, which means we’ll have to put you in the dorms. Temporarily, of course.”
“Where are - ”
“I’ll have someone show you around.”
 Liam lugged his bag up what must have been the fifth flights of stairs. He felt the tightness in his throat that meant an attack was almost upon him.
Fucking brilliant.
 Mercifully, his guide turned right and motioned to the door a few metres on. The wheezing Liam heard his new room mates before he saw them.
 
Lize
 
 “Poppers!”
 “Oh, leave it Rox.” Lize put her coat down once again to search for the tiny bottle.
“Got it!” Her cousin unscrewed the cap, laughing. “One for the road.”
“This is as far from cool as it’s possible to be.” Almost perfecting the blasé ironic tones of her new company, Lize celebrated by taking the proffered bottle. The bright red flush took her five steps out of the door, compensating for the plunge in temperature. The house party was winding down fast and they were heading to a nearby apartment to escape the oncoming light.
 “Are you alright?”
I am numb.
 “I am fine. Let’s just get inside.”
 It wasn’t until she was settled on the sofa with spliff in hand that Lize allowed herself to recall the past few hours. It was as though someone has taken the film reel of her night, selected a few key scenes and edited them in a way that was now unrecognisable to her.
 
She had come out of the bathroom after inhaling the third line of the evening. Her nose didn’t hurt as much anymore and all was clarity as she went downstairs. Her jumper had come off and she was consequently attracting a bit more attention.
 His name was Alex and he was the bassist in Jack’s band; the sole pieces of information she registered.
I don’t even know if we had a conversation.
 He asked her upstairs and she had followed like the lamb she was. The bedroom, with the low divan strewn with coats. A natural progression, then, to sit down. The door had been open at that point. He had only closed it later.
Conversation had been stilted by the fact that he kept kissing her.
I’m so sick of playing the innocent card.
She had kissed him back and he had pulled her on top of him. He had seemed in awe of her body, or maybe his reaction to it. The thin fabric of her dress slid down over her shoulders. Somehow, he undid her jeans with one hand.
“Don’t. Just hold me.” Lize had never appreciated juxtaposition more.
“I wouldn’t dream of doing anything else…Just relax.”
Don’t think, just do.
 Maybe it was the fact that the door could have opened at any second, that she could hear familiar voices outside queuing for the bathroom; it just didn’t seem necessary to resist. Like everything would just stop in good time. A glitch, like a CD skipping. Her jeans had joined the coats and bags on the floor. By the time he was on top of her, it was too late fight it. Her conviction that she would be able to push him off evaporated as quickly as her desire.
 The lamp shade cast shadows in the far corners of the room. The voices outside grew neither louder nor quieter.
 
 Lize took a long draw on the spliff, gazed out the window onto grey concrete and a red sunrise. The buses would be running now.
 
Liam
 
 Liam woke with a start. The front door had burst open and muffled voices seem to fill the darkness.
“Shh, guys. The newcomer is asleep.” Laughter and crackling, then the smell of smoke.
His digital clock, one of the few things he had unpacked, flashed in the dark. He pulled the covers over his head, turned to the wall. His first lecture was in two hours.
 
 After dragging himself out of unsettled sleep and consuming an overpriced bagel from the campus café (there being no food to speak of in the dorm) Liam headed to the lecture theatre. He was grateful he left early; he found most of the seats still empty and was able to procure one towards the back, which he hoped would not be too crowded.
 The seat beside him had a Lize-shaped gap, and her witty whisperings that betrayed her nerves were irrevocably absent.
 Students trickled through the double doors, some in giggling groups anxious to find seats together, others sombre and alone. Judging from the state of some, his dorm mates hadn’t been the only ones to hit the student bar the night before. Gradually the theatre filled and the lecturer directed attention to the front.
 
 
 
 
 Lize (Snow Day)
 
It’s beautiful.
 The freak snow fall had rendered Park Avenue North almost unrecognisable. Globules of the white matter coated the trees, road, pavement; formed blankets over the parked cars. Small flakes still fell slowly from a colourless sky.
 She wandered around the park, accumulating the tiny crystals in her hair and eyelashes. It seemed London had taken a day off. Toddlers in puffy jackets ran and fell without injury, dwarfed by various the snow figures. Raucous snow ball fights had churned up the ground and showed no signs of abating. A couple of people had bought sleds and were coasting slowly down the shallow slopes. Alone, Lize was a spectator to the sights.
 Miraculously, she stumbled upon a patch of untouched snow amongst the evergreens. There was nothing for it but to fall back, shattering the crisp surface and sinking almost to the bottom of the mound.
This instinct for destruction. She smiled, crumbling the white powder between raw fingers. Through and through.
 


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