Where new writing finds its voice
Short Story


Vanessa Pelz-Sharpe

From the minute I saw him I knew he was going to be fucking brilliant. Our eyes met across a crowded warehouse and that was it: he had come to save me. No more nights at The Old Blue Last clutching a drink in my best make-up for me. Jonathan Cox. Say it out loud, I dare you. Jonathan Cox. Look how gleefully ordinary it is, hiding in a sea of exciting names, Jonathan Cox sprang out just for me. It wasn’t going to be easy; he didn’t know just how amazing our lives together would be. I was going to have to show him. 

You see he just doesn’t understand. I know him now; eight months haven’t been spent just staring across bars and over pint glasses for nothing. Fuck no. I’ve grown this like a flower and now it must bloom. I’ll make it.

There have been long, long nights, listening to drunk girls tell me tales of them stealing boats together in Portsmouth and hiding from security guards under bushes at Reading. Inside my head I opened a little box and put all the stories in. Imagine writing them out on beautiful notepaper in a Parker pen, then folding them over and over till they’re just tiny chiclets of paper. Folded, unfolded, I kept them to myself as I stared at him. The places we’d been together he’d never know. Missy laid her head on my lap and told me about his love of dolphins swimming through space and, when she fell asleep, I whispered into his answer-machine ‘Did you know that dolphins have prehensile limbs?’ but he never said anything about it. We shared a history of a thousand lifetimes and he was so beautifully blasé about it all.

Lectures started again in September and I saw less of him. The back of his head became my friend, the thick peaks of black hair and I had many a stare-off, but Lindy called me late one night and talked about how he’d tried to force her into a bath with him at a house party, and I rolled over in my bed laughing at him standing there in just a towel shouting ‘Why? Why?’ at her fleeing back. With every failed commitment I was a step closer to knowing exactly how to ensnare him when we finally met. Our first words were going to start a legacy. During a seminar about local government I crafted a four-page cartoon about the two of us going to Napa and falling asleep in a cab. Morag passed me a note saying she’d seen Jonathan in Glamour and thought he was hot. I started to write back that I’d tell him later, but I memorised it instead and stored it with all my other Parker pen notes.

When TV was dull and there were no parties to go to, I’d imagine a future made of Jonathan and all the fun we’d have. The two of us watching Punch Drunk Love on a rainy Sunday then rolling into bed for dirty dirty sex. The kind that involves trust and things from Coco de Mer. After the sex we’d go out for tea and lunch on Broadway Market – but this bored me too much. The dreams span on through to us buying our first house together, outfitting baby rooms and choosing names. Cora Cox, our little Ce-Ce playing in a sandpit at the bottom of
the garden on a sunny day, Thurston chasing the dog in the front room. Sometimes I reached a hand up and wondered why he wasn’t there.

Standing at his Christmas party, his big-jawed self mere metres away from me, I couldn’t say just hello to him. Didn’t he know all the things we’d been through? The arguments about which breed of dog to get had exposed flaws in our relationship that were barely healed when Ce-Ce was born, and what was he thinking when he put out that conceptual album? How could he just stare at me from under his hair like that and not realise everything I felt from him? Didn’t all this thinking about him send out tiny strings of love that drew him back to me in real life? Not even a tiny bit? Lindy said that I was whispering quotes from The Rules of Attraction into my pint glass by the end of the night, but I blamed a lot of Ketamine and she smiled and said she knew just what I meant. Steven and she took my hands and put me in a cab. I held the pint glass to my face and told it not to tell anyone. The scene replayed itself in Hoxton, in Dalston, Peckham, London Bridge. I was going to write him the story he’d never be a part of.

Then, outside Trash, I was standing there, my hair ironed and clean, the £400 dress I spent most of my student loan on fluttering just a tiny bit in the breeze, and I mean Lindy said he might be there, and so it wasn’t a waste of an outfit at all. He’d never see me look so tall and thin again, everyone kept saying how amazing I looked. This was going to be perfect. Our first conversation would, I knew it I knew it, be magical. But Jules stumbled out, neon paint smeared on his wife-beater, and I had the terror so I stepped back but he grabbed my hand

‘Oh Nessa you’re not missing anything inside, let’s just go and get something to eat.’ And the fear of someone getting paint on this dress, which would then render it impossible to sell on eBay turned me round to go but oh my God. Jonathan was there.

He was holding this girl’s hand and Jules slurs that she’s just like me, the eyes, the hips, the nose, the thick pudding-bowl haircut that I cut to be just like his ex-girlfriend’s. And he looked at me, and he was holding her hand like a big limp stick but it’s a fucking good thing Jules is holding my arm because if he wasn’t I’d have run and punched her out. They were going home together and all the wine gathered up in me and made a tunnel towards him and I’m staring at him at the end of this tunnel of shiny shiny lights and all the boxes of letters I kept in my head unfurling and my lips were wobbling and then I saw him do it.

He tipped his head to one side as the girl strode on, looked back at me, and mouthed ‘I’m sorry.’ Instantly it replays, twice, three times, over again.

Jules was tugging at my arm, pulling me back away from the tunnel and Jonathan’s big sad face, saying ‘Is he the one you wanted? Oh no, oh God no’ his laugh so high and faggy cutting through everything, and with a platform heel I dug into his calf but he just doubled over on the barrier and laughed so hard that he started to be sick on his own shoes.

Before I knew it I was running like a Dawson’s Creek character, tears streaking thick black mascara across each cheek and there was my bus stop and Lindy and Steven hauled me on, pulled me up the stairs and laid a jacket across my lap so that my tears wouldn’t mark the silk. They patted my arms and I could hear myself saying, ‘He’s going home with someone else.’ in a horrible voice full of phlegm and booze.

‘I know you like him, but,’ Lindy squeezed my hand ‘he sent me this message that said “I want to spend the rest of my life with you, you’re the most amazing girl I’ve ever met.”’

‘Fuck you Lindy. Fuck you.’

‘No, listen you idiot. He sent me that but when I was in the toilets waiting for Chloe to come back with some coke I heard four other girls all read the same message to their friends. I asked him about it and he just laughed.’ Through my snivelling fringe I saw her holding her phone and I blew my nose on a receipt I found in my bag. Steven and Lindy patted my arms and I wiped caked-on make-up on to my fingers then across the seats.

It’s like a Disney movie but in reverse. All the lovely things I imagined for us go back into a box in my head like tiny Russian dolls. Goodbye Ce-Ce and Thurston, goodbye talking, goodbye staring, goodbye you. Pop pop pop. I give the phone back to Lindy and nod a bit. The papers fold back up, slip back into the box, the lid swings shut, is gone. Why did no one tell me it would be that easy?