Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis

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Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis Page 4

by Ali Smith

  I am running along the riverside. I am so lucky to live here at this time in history, in the Capital of the Highlands, which is exceptionally buoyant right now, the fastest-developing city in the whole of the UK at the moment thanks to tourism and retirement, and soon also thanks to the growing water economy, of which I am a central part, and which will make history.

  We speak the purest English here in the whole country. It is because of the vowel sounds and what happened to them when Gaelic speakers were made to speak English after the 1745 rebellion and the 1746 defeat when Gaelic was stamped out and punishable by death, and then all the local girls married the incoming English-speaking soldiers.

  If I can remember the exact, correct words to all the songs on that awful Tracy Chapman album, which I can’t have heard for years, it must be at least ten years, I’ll be able to run for at least three more miles.

  It is good to be goal-orientated. It makes all the other things go out of your mind.

  I could go via the canal and past the locks and up over towards the Beauly road and then round by

  (but dear God my sister has been hanging around for weeks with a person who is a criminal and against whom the company I work for is pressing charges, and not just that but a person whom I remember from school, and a person, I also remember, we all always called that word behind her back at school, and now this person has turned my sister into one of them, I mean One of Them. And I mean, how did we know to call Robin Goodman that word at school?

  Adolescent instinct? Well, I didn’t know, I never really knew. I thought it was because she had a boy’s name instead of a girl’s name. That’s what I used to think, or maybe because she came in on the bus from Beauly, with the Beauly kids, from somewhere else, and because she had a boy’s name, that’s what I thought. And because she was a bit different, and didn’t people used to say that her mother was black, Robin Goodman, and her father was white, or was it the other way round, and was that even true? I don’t remember there being any black people living in Beauly, we’d surely have known, we’d all have known, if there was.)

  (I can’t bring myself to say the word.)

  (Dear God. It is worse than the word cancer.)

  (My little sister is going to grow up into a dissatisfied older predatory totally dried-up abnormal woman like Judi Dench in that film Notes on a Scandal.)

  (Judi Dench plays that sort of person so well, is what I thought when I saw it, but that was when I didn’t think my sister was going to maybe be one of them and have such a terrible life with no real love in it.)

  (My little sister is going to have a terrible sad life.)

  (But I saw Robin Goodman lean my sister into the hedge with such gentleness, there is no other word for it, and kiss her, and then I saw, not so gently, Robin Goodman shift one of her own legs in between my sister’s legs while she kissed her, and I saw my sister, it wasn’t just one-sided, she was kissing Robin Goodman back, and then they were both laughing.)

  (They were laughing with outrageous happiness.)

  (Neighbours must have seen. It was broad daylight.)

  (I might have to move house.)

  (Well, that’s all right. That’s all right. If I have to move house I have enough money to.)

  Thirty-five thousand, very good money for my age, and for me being a girl, our dad says, which is a bit sexist of him, because gender is nothing to do with whether you are good at a job or not. It is nothing to do with me being a woman or not, the fact that I am the only woman on the Highland Pure Creative board of ten of us – it is because I am good at what I do.

  Actually, I think Keith might ask me to go to the States, maybe for training with the in-house Creatives at Base Camp. I think Base Camp is in LA!

  He seems very pleased with the Eau Caledonia tag.

  He thinks it will corner not just the English-speaking market but a good chunk of the French market, which is crucial, the French market being so water-sales-established worldwide. Scottish, yet French. Well done, he said. They’d like you at Base Camp. You’d like it there.

  Me! Los Angeles!

  He seemed to be intimating it. He intimated it last Tuesday. He said I’d like it there, that’s what he said last week, that I’d like it, that they’d like me.

  I told Anthea he had intimated it. She said: Keith intubated you? Like on ER?

  I said: you’re being ridiculous, Anthea.

  (There is also that gay woman doctor character on ER whose lovers always die in fires and so on.)

  (Gay people are always dying all the time.)

  Anthea is being ridiculous. I got her a good position and now she is at home doing nothing. She is really clever. She is wasting herself.

  (I was sitting at home trying to think of a tag, I’d thought of MacAqua, but McDonald’s would sue, I’d thought of Scotteau, I’d been saying the word Eau out loud, and Anthea walked past the table as I said it, and she added Caledonia, we’re such a good team, we’d be a good team, we’d have been a good team, oh my God my sister is a )

  Well, it is bloody lucky Keith intimates anything to me at all after they did me that favour at Pure about Anthea. She is so naïve, she has no idea what an unusually good salary level she was started at, it is really lucky nobody has associated me with how rude she was that day and that thing happening to the Pure sign

  (which is clearly where they met. Maybe I saw the oh so romantic moment they met, last month, I was watching out the window, and the weirdo vandal came down the ladder and she and Anthea were talking, before Security took her away to wait for the police. I saw the name on the forms Security made her fill out. I recognised it. I knew it, the name, from when we were girls. It’s a small town. What else can you do, in a small town?)

  (Unless they were in cahoots before that and had decided on it as a dual attack on Pure, which is possible, I mean, anything under the sun is possible now.)

  (Everything has changed.)

  (Nothing is the same.)

  I’ve stopped. I’m not running. I’m just standing.

  (I don’t want to run anywhere. I can’t think where to run to.)

  (I better make it look like there is a reason for me to be just standing. I’ll go and stand by the pedestrian crossing.)

  That word intimated is maybe something to do with the word intimate, since the word intimate is so much a part of, almost the whole of, the word intimated.

  I am standing at the pedestrian crossing like a (normal) person waiting to cross the road. A bus goes past. It is full of (normal-looking) people.

  (My sister is now one of the reasons the man who owns Stagecoach buses had that million-pound poster campaign all over Scotland where they had pictures of people saying things like ‘I’m not a bigot but I don’t want my children taught to be gay at school’, that kind of thing.)

  (They were laughing. Like they were actually happy. Or like being gay is okay, or really funny, or really good fun, or something.)

  I am running on the spot so as not to lose momentum.

  (It is the putting of that leg in between the other legs that I can’t get out of my head. It is really kind of unforgettable.)

  ( It is so . . .


  I stop running on the spot. I stand at the pedestrian crossing and look one way, then the other. Nothing is coming. The road is totally clear.

  But I just stand.

  (I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I can’t get myself to cross from one side to the other.)

  (My sister would be banned in schools if she was a book.)

  (No, because the parliament lifted that legislation, didn’t it?)

  (Did it?)

  (I can’t remember. I can’t remember either way. I didn’t ever think that particular law was anything I’d ever have to remember, or consider.)

  (Have I ever noticed or considered anything about it? Should I have?)

  ( I did. I have. I remember reading in the paper about how people all across the world, and not just people but government
s, in Poland and in Russia, but also in Spain, and Italy, are getting more and more tough on people being it. I mean, you’d expect that in Russia and in Poland. But in Italy? In Spain? Those are places that are supposed to be like here.)

  (It said in the paper this morning that teenagers who are it are six times more likely to commit suicide than teenagers who aren’t it.)

  (I don’t know what to do with myself.)

  I stand at the crossing with no cars coming in either direction and I still don’t move to cross the road. I feel a little dizzy. I feel a little faint.

  (Anyone looking at me will think I’m really weird.)

  There’s only Dominic and Norman in the pub.

  Where’ve you been, you useless slag? Norman says.

  Don’t call me that, I say.

  Can’t take a joke? he says. Loosen up. Ha ha!

  He goes to the bar and brings me a glass of white.

  Norm, I said a Diet Coke, I say.

  But I’ve bought it now, Norman says.

  So I see, I say.

  Do you want me to take it back and change it? Norman says.

  No, it’s okay, I’ll drink it since it’s here now, I say.

  I texted you, Madge, Dominic says.

  (My name’s Imogen.)

  Did you? I say.

  I texted you four times, Dominic says.

  Ah. Because I left my mobile at home, I say.

  I can’t believe you didn’t have your mobile with you, when I’d told you I was going to text you, Dominic says.

  He looks really offended.

  No Paul or anybody? I say. I thought everybody was coming.

  Just us, Norman says. Your lucky night. Bri’s coming later. He’s bringing Chantelle.

  I’d bring Chantelle any day, Dominic says.

  I’d do a lot more to Chantelle than just bring her, Norman says. Paul’s gay, man. He won’t come out on a Monday night because of University Challenge being on.

  Paul isn’t gay, I say in a small voice.

  Paul’s hoping there’ll be questions on tonight about Uranus, Dominic says.

  Paul isn’t gay, I say again louder.

  You talking from experience then? Norman says.

  Scintillating conversation, I say.

  I make my face look bored. I hope it will work.

  Dominic doesn’t say anything. He just stares at me. The way he’s looking at me makes me look away. I pretend I’m going to the ladies. I slip into the other bar and phone Paul.

  Come to the pub, I say. I try to sound bright.

  Who’s there? Paul asks.

  Loads of us, I say.

  Is it Dom and Norm? Paul says. I’m only asking because they left an abusive message on my answerphone.

  Uh huh. And me, I say. I’m here.

  No offence, Imogen. But I’m not coming out, Paul says. They’re wankers. They think they’re so funny, they act like some nasty double act off tv. I don’t know what you’re doing out with them.

  Go on, Paul, please, I say. It’ll be good fun.

  Yeah, but the world now divides into people who think it’s good fun looking up pictures on the net of women fucking horses and dogs, and people who don’t, Paul says. If you need me to come and get you, call me later.

  Paul is very uptight, I think when I press the button to hang up.

  I don’t see why he can’t just pretend to find it funny like the rest of us have to.

  (Maybe he is gay.)

  So what about that other work experience girl, then? Norman is saying when I get back through. The one who’s not Chantelle. What about work-experiencing her?

  I’ve other things in mind, Dominic says looking at me.

  I look above his eyes, at his forehead. I can’t help noticing that both Dominic and Norman have the exact same haircut. Norman goes to the bar and comes back with a full wine bottle. He and Dominic are drinking Grolsch.

  I can’t drink all that, I say. I’m only out for one or two, I’ve got to get back.

  Yes you can, Norman says. He fills the glass up past the little line, right to the very top, so that it’s almost spilling over onto the table, so that to drink anything out of it at all I’m going to have to lean over and put my mouth to it there on the table, or pick it up with superhuman care so as not to spill it.

  We’re off for a curry in a minute, Dominic says. You’re coming too. Drink it fast.

  I can’t, I say. It’s Monday. There’s work tomorrow.

  Yes you can, Norman says. We work too, you know.

  I drink four glasses filled to the top like this. It makes them roar with laughter when I bend right down to drink it. Eventually I do it so that that’s what it will do, make them laugh.

  At the restaurant, where everything smells too strong, and where the walls seem to be coming away from their skirting boards, they talk about work as if I’m not there. They make several jokes about Muslim pilots. They tell a long complicated joke about a blind Jewish man and a prostitute. Then Brian texts Dominic to say he can’t come. This causes a shouted dialogue with him down the phone about Chantelle, about Chantelle’s greggy friend, and about whether Chantelle’s greggy friend is there with Chantelle right now so that Brian can ‘watch’. Meanwhile I sit in the swirling restaurant and wonder what the word greggy means. It’s clearly a word they’ve made up. It makes them really laugh. It makes them laugh so much that people round us are looking offended, and so are the Indian people serving us. I can’t help laughing too.

  The word seems to mean, on the whole, that they don’t think the other work experience girl wears enough make-up to work, regardless of the fact she’s sixteen and should really know how to by now, as Norman says. That she wears the wrong kinds of clothes. That she is a bit of a disappointment.

  That she’s a bit, you know, greg, Dominic says.

  I think I’m beginning to understand, I say.

  I mean, take you. You exercise, and everything. You’ve got a top job, and everything. But that doesn’t make you a greg. That bike you’ve got. You can get away with it, Norman says.

  So the fact that I look all right on a motorbike means I’m not a greg? I say.

  They both burst out laughing.

  So it means unfeminine? I say.

  I’d like to see her gregging, Norman says looking at me. You and that good-looking little sister of yours.

  They roar with laughter. I am beginning to find the laughter a bit like someone is sandpapering my skull. I look away from the people all looking at us. I look down at the tablecloth.

  Aw. She doesn’t like not knowing the politically correct terms for things, Dominic says.

  Greggy greggy greggy. Use your head, Norman says. Come on. Free associate.

  Dreggy? I say. Something to do with dregs?

  Getting there, getting there, Norman says.

  Go on, give her a clue, Dominic says.

  Okay. Here’s a great big clue. Like the man at the BBC, Norman says.

  What man? I say.

  The man who got the sack for Iraq, who used to run the BBC until he let people say what they shouldn’t have, out loud, on the news, Norman says.

  Um, I say.

  Are you retarded? Greg Dyke. Remember? Dominic says.

  You mean, the work experience girl is something to do with Greg Dyke? I say.

  They both laugh.

  You mean, she says things out loud that she shouldn’t? I say.

  She’s, like, a thespian, Norman says.

  A what? I say.

  A lickian, Norman says. Well, she looks like one.

  Like that freakshow who daubed the Pure sign that day, Dominic says. Fucking dyke.

  (My whole body goes cold.)

  Now there’s one trial I can’t wait to see come to court. I hope we all get to come to it, Norman is saying.

  We will, Dominic says. They’ll need men for there to be any coming at a trial like that.

  Just what I was telling Brian, Norman says. Be ready to step in, now, when the moment’s

  You know, I say, it said in the paper this morning that teenagers who are gay are six times more likely to kill themselves than teenagers who aren’t.

  Good. Ha ha! Norman says.

  Dominic’s eyes cloud. Human species, self-patrolling, he says.

  They start talking as if I’m not there again, like they did when they were talking about work.

  See, that’s what I don’t get, Dominic says shaking his head, serious. Because, there’s no way they could do it, I mean, without one. So it’s like, pointless.

  Freud defined it, Norman says (Norman did psychology at Stirling), as a state of lack. A state of lacking something really, you know, fundamental.

  Dominic nods, grave-faced.

  Exactly, he says. Obviously.

  Adolescent backwardness. Marked underdevelopment, Norman says.

  Yeah, but a really heavy case of underdevelopment, Dominic says. I mean, never mind anything else. Never mind how weird it is. Like, what gets me is, there’s nothing to do the job. Nothing to do the jiggery-pokery with. And that’s why Queen Victoria didn’t make rugmunch illegal.

  How’s that? Norman says.

  It was on Channel Four. Apparently she said there was no such thing, like, it didn’t exist. And she was right. I mean, when men do it, poofs, in sexual terms, I mean, it’s fucking disgusting and it leads to queer paedophilia and everything, but at least it’s real sex they have, eh? But women. It’s, like, how can they? I just don’t get it. It’s a joke, Dominic says.

  Yeah, but it’s good, Norman says, if you’re watching and they’re both fuckable.

  Yeah, but the real ones are really mostly pretty unfuckable, you have to admit, Dominic says.

  (Oh my God my sister who is related to me is a greg, a lack, unfuckable, not properly developed, and not even worth making illegal.)

  (There are so many words I don’t know for what my little sister is.)

  Dominic and Norman are somehow roaring with laughter again. They have their arms round each other.

  I have to go now, I say.

  No you don’t, they say in unison and fill my glass with Cobra.

  Yes, I do, I say.

  I shake them off at the multi-storey. I dodge behind a car so they don’t know where I’ve gone. I wait there until the legs I can see moving about have disappeared. I hear them go up the stairs and I watch them fumble at the exit ticket machine until finally whichever one of them is driving finds the ticket, works out how to put it into the machine the right way and their car goes under the lifted barrier.


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