..........Bennie wedges herself in the doorway, left shoulder and right hip pressed into the frame, the rest of her hanging heavy. She is cloaked in black leather with many studs and chains, her boots are high and laced from heel to thigh. There is an inch wide strip of fish-netted flesh between the top of her boots and the hem of her skirt, which is ripped to suggest past violence. It shows between the open edges of her unbuttoned flapping coat. Her morning hair job is still standing, stiff black and silver spikes just wilting into a jagged frill round her neck. Morning ? Bennie had risen at 11.48 am still in last night’s clothes ( another version of the ones she is wearing) from beside the still body of Guiser. She had looked at the place where his ear had been ripped in a tug of war with another girl. The stitching was coming out. She’d have to do it again.
..........Her face is white with melting black lines and red shadow patches. Her clothes are enough to activate alarm, but she is also well over six feet tall and weighs eighteen stones. Passers-bys flick nervous glances at her but Bennie looks straight through them. She gobs onto the pavement. She is waiting for something, anything really. Bennie’s days are long without focus. If nothing else, Jimmie’s would open soon and Bennie could stuff her face with the comfort of chips before setting off for a night rampaging in the town centre. In the meantime she rubs at last night’s bruises remembering the fights, scuffle really, few of her victims would stay for a fight. Not even the guys, especially not the guys, who didn’t know that you had to fight Bennie as if she was another guy with fists and feet, because she certainly would. Bennie has knocked several guys out cold and it always gives her a rush, though never quite like the first time.
..........Bennie discovered that violence was her intoxicant at school. She was thirteen, a miserable fat kid with a history of being picked on, laughed at and humiliated. Guiser was her only comfort, even then, though she went days, sometimes weeks, without talking to him. Sometime in that year her genes released a chemical stimulus for growth that, in six months, made her a head taller than anyone in her class and a couple of stones heavier. Somehow it was harder for the other kids to follow her round the playground jeering ‘Lardarse’ when she could turn and look down on the tops of their heads. There was one persistent offender, Spittle Mason, who didn’t sense the change soon enough. In a games period when the teacher was busy collecting footballs, Spittle performed a parody belly dance for the benefit of his friends, and curving a finger at Bennie, inviting her to join him for ‘a good wobble.’ To everyone’s surprise, she did.
..........But while she crossed the grass between them she could have sworn she heard a voice inside saying ‘Ok. That’s enough.’ Certainly something drove her onwards so that she did not stop when she reached Spittle but walked her bulk straight into his dancing body and when he toppled over, kicked him in the side, once, with feeling. He curled up. The other kids fell silent looking at Bennie, then over her shoulder towards the advancing teacher. He was walking head down encumbered by a net full of footballs. When he saw the fallen kid, he dropped the net and quickened his pace.
..........‘Now then, what’s happened here ?’ he barked, kneeling beside Spittle. ‘What’s up, boy, are you not well ?’
..........The kids gathered round, Bennie too.
..........Spittle looked up into Bennie’s face and saw something there that finally did make the penny drop.
..........‘Stitch, Sir.’ He muttered, holding his side. The teacher frowned and glared round the circle of observers.
..........‘Funny kind of stitch that leaves mud on the outside. Are you sure ?’
..........He had already given up any interest in a true explanation. The truth was he had often wanted to clip the snide little bugger himself. Natural justice, he thought to himself.
..........But Bennie was radiant, glowing from her kicking foot upwards. With that kick something long locked inside had found a riotous outlet. She lived and re-lived the moment of contact over and over all that afternoon and the thrill did not diminish. She whispered it into Guiser’s fur. It made them friends again. He had mutely accused her of neglecting him. He had been feeling left on the shelf, but Bennie took him right off it by sharing her triumph with him. She hugged him, telling him he was her one true friend, and she felt an itch, a tingle in her groin so intense that she pushed him away, alarmed. How many new feelings could you discover in one day, she wondered. She spent an hour that evening polishing her boots.
..........Jimmie’s door lock rattled behind her. A queue for the five o’clock frying had gathered but no-one stood close enough to Bennie to speak. She straightened herself but turned around only when she heard the door open. Sometimes she amused herself by staying put in front of the open door until someone had to ask to get by. She might then prolong moving while they fidgeted, not looking at her. Jimmie or his girls never seemed to notice but today she was bored and hungry so she went straight in.
Jimmie took note of his first evening customer.
Bennie never said more than she had to. She was scanning the menu screens, thinking she might try something different. She was aware of people behind her shuffling. She liked that.
...........‘Shall I take someone who knows their order first ?’ Jimmie asked, on his own for the first hour and keen to get on.
..........‘I was first.’ Bennie answered, sweeping round to see if there would be any challenge. No-one spoke. She decided after all to have her usual.
..........‘ Steak pie supper. Onion gravy. Tizer.’
..........Jimmie gave the viscous gravy a stir and pressed a steak pie with his hand, testing its temperature, before shaking the first chips into the drainer. Bennie’s mouth watered.
..........‘Salt ‘n vinegar ?’ Jimmie chanted automatically.
..........‘ Just on the chips.’ Bennie likewise said what she always said.
..........She watched Jimmie pack her supper into a polystyrene tray, masking the pie with his hand while he shook salt and vinegar over the chips. Jimmie looked up.
..........‘If you want a cold Tizer, get it from the cooler, can you ?’ he asked.
..........The cooler was by the door behind what was now a queue of a dozen chattering people. She wasn’t going to push through that lot.
..........‘Someone get us a Tizer.’ She called out.
..........The cooler door sucked open and there was a shuffling of plastic bottles, then a thin voice.
..........‘There’s none. Just Irn Bru and Lilt and that.’
..........Bennie sighed. She didn’t want a Tizer if it wasn’t cold and she didn’t know what ‘….and that’ included. She would felt stupid if she said ‘Coke, then’ and there wasn’t any of that either.
..........‘Forget it then.’
..........Now she was annoyed, now she had a small flame of anger to nurse. She would eat her supper without a cold drink and she would empty Jimmie’s bin on her way past for not keeping his cooler stocked.
..........Jimmie had folded her supper in paper as neat as any Origami trick. He still had his hand on it while he waited for Bennie to pay up. She pushed a fiver onto the hot stainless steel counter.
..........‘Have you no change, dear ?’ Jimmie frowned, one hand dinging the till.
..........‘No I bloody haven’t.’ Bennie said, taking the supper.
..........‘It’ll have to be small change then,’
..........Jimmie was unaware of Bennie storing up grudges. No cold Tizer. Calling her ‘dear’. Giving her a handful of small change. This could mean the industrial wheelie-bin getting tipped too, even if it meant getting into his locked yard. Jimmie tipped twenties and tens and fifties into her free hand.
..........‘Sorry. Right who’s next ?’
..........Jimmie turned away as he spoke and two tens fell off her palm onto the floor. Bennie ignored the coins but noted Jimmie’s carelessness. A boy bent down to pick them up. She headed for the door through a sudden aisle that formed between the waiting customers. The boy trailed her and pulled at her coat to get her attention.
..........‘Here. Missus.’ He held out the coins.
..........Bennie turned on him in a small fury.
..........‘I’m nobody’s Missus!’ she snarled.
..........The boy dropped the coins and backed away.
..........Once Bennie was gone her strutting way in a creak of leather, a woman patted his shoulder.
..........‘S’all right, son. You just pick them up and buy yourself a sweetie.’
After checking the door and the street outside, she added loudly ‘ Cheeky bitch !’ to which there was wholehearted agreement.
..........Bennie was already in the yard. Not even locked, she thought with derision, looking around for likely trouble. Jimmie’s galvanised wheelie bin was just about full of empty potato sacks and peelings, empty oil cans, flattened cardboard boxes and other damp debris. Too heavy to tip though and she couldn’t see a hatch to open. Nothing else for it, she thought, and began to climb on its fittings until she could reach over the top. With the soles of her high heel boots wedged on two metal handles a quarter of the circumference apart, her legs were soon sore but she dipped into the bin until she could reach no further. Objects cart-wheeled from her hand. Before she got down she viewed the strewn contents with satisfaction then looked further round the yard. She made a small yip of satisfaction when she saw that Jimmie had just had a delivery. Trays of thirty eggs, six of them, were stacked by the door beside two new knee-high cans of vegetable oil. She was in luck. The cans had screw tops under a plastic seal that yielded to her nails. She emptied them over the rubbish from the bin then she tossed eggs into the mix. She was annoyed when an egg split in her hand and snotted down her coat. Right, she knew the wholesaler so he’d get one too. She looked at the back door into Jimmie’s house wondering, disappointed, why no-one had heard the noise but she knew Jimmie was busy and maybe his wife and kids were out shopping. Pity. She felt like a good shouting match. Or a fire, but she didn’t have matches and it was only a can of Tizer.
..........There was Tizer in the fridge at the flat. No danger of Guiser drinking it. He didn’t eat at all but he was always there, ready to listen to Bennie’s escapades and provide great hairy hugs when she needed them. He was the perfect friend, a great listener. He never criticised or made personal comments. Once, in a terrible frustration at not being able to get at a girl who had insulted her, Bennie, having no other victim, had knocked the stuffing out of Guiser. She had wept afterwards as she put him back together. Bennie was often tender with Guiser in her arms, like she was before her mother ran away.
..........Bennie makes a joke of it in the pub. ‘When I was nine my mother ran away from home.’ No-one, not even Bennie, knew anything about her Dad who was a slammed door in her head. She cackles and everyone laughs to keep her company but no-one thinks that a nine year living on her own is funny. It’s just what happened to Bennie. She wasn’t even huge then, just fat, but since she didn’t tell anybody her mother had left and, no-one knew, no-one told the Social. When the rent dried up the landlord moved another couple in but they were permanently drunk or stoned and didn’t seem to mind Bennie occupying a room in their flat. Perhaps they did but since she washed dishes and swept the rooms like her mother had told her to, it saved them the bother. By then she was an expert shoplifter – a little from a lot of different shops at least a mile away from the flat – she even made a shopping list - so she pretty much fed herself, sometimes them too if she had a good haul. She had no friends other than Guiser and he wasn’t any trouble.
..........The windows of department stores light Bennie’s way to the town centre. She hardly glances at the size eight dummies, at the matched sets of luggage, at the gleaming kitchenware. She shops at the open-air market, at the Eastern Harem Stores where she buys capacious creased skirts with embroidery and fringes, tiny mirrors and bells sewn into the patterns or at Skinz, the leather stall, where her more extravagant purchases are made. There is also Goth Goods, tucked into the alley space between a knicker stall and one that sells bagged sweets, where Bennie buys black and shine make-up for her bruised look. Bennie’s personal economy is as complicated as her morality. She will not lift things from any market stall that serves her, so she shop-lifts from the department stores and sells on goods she despises for money to buy clothes that she likes. Even though she appears, briskly stealing, on the department store closed circuit cameras often, she has never been stopped at the door. The store detectives are fond of their teeth.
..........She is heading towards a pub but Bennie has no use for alcohol. She has tried it to every point of excess, to dry retching, hallucination and unconsciousness, and found it only dulls both her aim and her excitement. If she could somehow maintain the just-intoxicated state, where people seem friendly and everything is funny, a state in which she could freely hug someone other than Guiser, well, she might have persevered, but her will and the fine balance required was too precarious. Bennie drinks Tizer or water and not much of either since a kick to the stomach might be part of the evening’s events.
..........On the wide pavement outside the pub there is a noisy gathering of Friday night revellers in the planning stages of their long drinking evening. The girls are squealing, the guys are shaping up, drinks spill on the pavement, stilettos clatter. Bennie approaches slowly, hugging the wall, listening and watching for her opportunity. One of the girls catches her attention. Technicolor and tall, tricked out like a Christmas tree in dangling glitter, a blonde girl with a spiky topknot tells a loud tale, gesticulating broadly with one hand. In the other she holds a brimming half-pint of lager. Her friends laugh at her punch line and the tall blonde has to hold her swilling drink away from her body to stay clear of the spillage.
..........Bennie comes closer.
One of the guys sees her, alone on the periphery. He digs his mates in the ribs so that they watch and he goes over to Bennie and leans on the wall beside her.
..........‘What’s a good………….’ He begins.
..........‘Fuck off.’ Says Bennie, quietly, finally.
..........He falters and is lost. Bennie doesn’t even look at him. There’s something of a slink in his walk as he rejoins his mates. Bennie watches the girl.
..........‘Slag !’ he comments.
..........Bennie hears and momentarily considers him as a target but he’s undersized and obviously the runt of the guys. Not worth the bother. The tall blonde puts her empty glass on the windowsill and is off an another tale, telling it between bouts of laughter, getting louder all the time. Her open cardigan is scaled with sequins that throw darts of light around her, the more animated she becomes the more it sparkles. Bennie is quite taken with the cardigan. It will rip nicely. A guy comes out of the pub with several beers jammed between his hands and his stomach. With difficulty he detaches one and hands it to the tall blonde, who laughs at him for wetting his shirt in the manoeuvre. She is now standing with a brimful glass.
..........Bennie makes her move. Walks fast and hard straight towards the girls, eyes locked onto the tall blonde, and barges her to the ground. Bennie doesn’t pick fights, she imposes them. The girls scatter outward, shocked, leaving the tall blonde lying in Bennie’s shadow, lying in the spilt beer, dazed. The glass rolls beside her, intact.
..........‘Fuck !’ the blonde shakes beer off her hands and looks up at Bennie.
..........Bennie is still, anticipating.
..........‘You want to look where you’re going…….’
..........It is enough. She’s lucky Bennie’s not wearing her Docs. Bennie begins kicking her, picking her points of impact with care. Legs and torso, shocking and softening the blonde so that when she leans down to pull the cardigan off, there is no resistance, only whimpering. The guys and girls have fallen silent, unbelieving, as Bennie holds her prize aloft and rips its cheap fibres apart. Someone flips open a mobile and rings the police. Bennie listens to him with some satisfaction as he describes the scene, keeping one wary eye on Bennie’s movements. She wouldn’t describe her actions as ‘unprovoked’ but she liked the sound of ‘fucking savage’. She would tell Guiser that one. She looks around the group to see if anyone wants any but they can’t meet her eye, their minds still half on their trashed Friday night plans. The blonde is crying now. Bennie throws the pieces of cardigan to the ground. She spots bright blue lights in the distance and walks away. The others suddenly find their compassion and lift the broken blonde to her feet. Bennie looks back once and spits on the ground.
..........‘Pathetic.’ She says.
..........Guiser is in the bed when she gets home.
..........‘Hey, remember that time at school, on the football pitch ? Action replay, tonight babe!’ Bennie is flushed with pleasure. ‘Whooomph !’ and she demonstrates her barging technique on the armchair. Guiser says nothing but his eyes are shining in the lamplight. There is a suggestion of a smile on his face.
..........She lights several candles and oil burners, puts on some music, drapes the lamp with chiffon and undresses slowly whilst giving Guiser a detailed account of the day’s excitements.
..........‘This bloke called me a fucking savage.’
..........Bennie is half-proud, half uncertain. He hadn’t actually said it to her, but to the police.
..........‘I would have thumped him if he’s said it to me.’ She assures him.
..........Guiser doesn’t disagree. He lies, his eyes on Bennie, quite still waiting for her.
She looks at his hairy body with tenderness and hugs him, accepting the thrill of physical contact with her only friend, her unquestioning love.
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