The abrupt cessation of music roused Elaine from her sleep. She shook her head and sat up, her hand feeling for her stereo. The red function light had gone out, telling her that the battery needed to be recharged. Rubbing her eyes she hauled her bag from the end of the bed and fumbled for her recharging plug. Clicking the battery into place she stuck it in the socket next to her bed and switched it on. Marvellous, she thought. No music for three hours because she had been stupid enough to leave her ordinary batteries back in the Port. She debated whether or not to eat the other ham salad baguette that she had taken with her that afternoon. It was probably best to eat dinner and save the sandwich for later, even if it did mean that she would have to sit in the same room with her parents. On the other hand, she could make one herself later, but she found that food invariably tasted better when someone else had prepared it. Standing up she gingerly picked her way through the mess towards her wardrobe and started to shovel the top layer of debris inside.
It wasn’t that she was a messy person: in fact she only really kept her room in this state to irritate her mother and sister. It also disguised the fact that she now kept most of her things at her cousin’s house in Port Malin where she lodged during the school week. Her room there was quite considerably different. If not spotless it was reasonably neat and tidy, and she gave a lot more consideration to the other residents of the house than she did to her own family when she was at home. This was partly for selfish reasons as she realised that if she did play up, she could be made to stay at home all week and commute daily to school as Gwendoline had done. She had said that she wanted to be near her family but Elaine knew that was all bullshit. She had only stayed at home because she couldn’t bear her cousin Bella’s slightly shambolic house and three noisy sons. The mismatching furniture and worn carpets had distressed her just as much as the alternative of sharing a room with two other people at the school hostel. In fact, that probably contributed to her return home from uni. A speck of mould on the walls of her flat probably gave her nightmares – the stuck-up, prissy little cow. She finished filling the bottom of the wardrobe and leaned against the doors until they unwillingly clicked shut. She meandered her way into the kitchen just as her mother was putting the perfectly done steak pie out on the table.
“I trust you are going to behave in a polite manner at the dinner table?” her mother queried. Elaine sighed and looked out of the window, not bothering to reply. Her father sleepily wandered in, stretching his arms.
“Is Gwen not having dinner with us?” he asked his wife.
“No, I made her something a bit lighter.She dosen’t like beef.
Elaine sat down at the table and waited for her father to say the grace.
Meanwhile, Gwendoline delicately nibbled a fun size Mars Bar, taking care not to let any crumbs of chocolate fall onto her bed or clothes. She gave the cat some more kitty-bits and reached over for her Pringles. I’ll just have these, she thought. And a Bounty, and some marshmallows, and then I’ll go to the bathroom and get myself ready. The thought of doing anything so exerting made her decide to add a jam-topped cake to her list of puddings. When she had finished she slowly pushed her skeletal legs out of the bed and hobbled over to the zimmer-frame that the doctor had brought with him that morning. She rested for a moment before slowly making her way out of the bedroom, across the narrow hall and into the bathroom. She turned on the bathroom light, and the extractor fan that shared the switch hummed into life. That would at least guarantee some privacy. Kneeling down in front of the toilet she carefully pulled her hair back in a bobble and began the task of keeping her weight at a bare minimum, running over in her mind the list of unguents she needed from the chemist. After she had finished she flushed the toilet, smiling to herself at the thought of the calories her body had not consumed. She then began the long and involved cleansing rituals that preceded any evening visit she received. Various lotions were used in a precise order to thoroughly prepare her skin for the thick creamy layers of make-up that she would spent up to two hours applying. She reached for her make-up case, sat down on a low stool in front of the mirror and started to lovingly apply her foundation.
Elaine crossed her legs and banged on the bathroom door with her fist. “Gwen hurry up. I need to piss!”
“I haven’t finished yet – just hold it in.”
“You’ve been in there for an hour and a half! If you don’t get out now I’ll pee in your bed,” Elaine shouted. “Don’t think I’m not serious.”
Gwendoline, suddenly unsure as to whether her sister would carry out her dire threat, reluctantly left the secure cleanliness of the bathroom and proceeded back to her bed glaring sourly at her sister. Elaine leapt into the bathroom, her body on auto-pilot while her eyes tried to convince her brain that yes, her twenty-year-old sister had indeed been using a zimmer-frame. When she had finished attending to her urgent bodily needs she opened the doors of both the bathroom and her sister’s bedroom and paced slowly from the toilet to Gwen’s bedside.
“Ten feet,” she stated. “I’d say it was ten feet. Twelve at the very most from here to the toilet.” Her sister glowered back at her.
“What has that got to do with anything?” she demanded coldly.
“You need a zimmer-frame to walk ten feet! Are you completely insane? Even granny can walk by herself and she’s seventy-eight! You are utterly loopy. Whatever is wrong with your brain, I hope it’s not hereditary!”
“You utter, utter bitch!” Gwen hissed. “How dare you!” Elaine turned to walk out of the room and passed through the doorway just as a small porcelain picture frame whizzed over her shoulder and shattered against the wall. Smothering a scream she turned and looked back at her sister. She was sitting ram-rod straight on the bed, her face as red as the cake of make-up she was wearing would allow.
“Gwen? Gwen, are you all right!” Their mother’s voice carried through from the living room.
“She’s fine,” replied Elaine. “I just knocked over one of her ornaments.” There was a moment of silence.
“Try and be more careful.” was the awaited reply. Gwen and Elaine looked at each other across the tucked and frilled room.
“You are going to have to be more sensitive to my needs,” said Gwen through gritted teeth. “I am very ill. I am a rare case.”
Elaine stooped and picked up the pieces of frame and threw them on Gwens’ bed. “Yeah, you are a rare case aren’t you?” she replied over her shoulder as she returned to her room, walking more quickly than usual in case she was chased by more small artifacts.
Gwen looked down at the broken frame on the bed. One of the small flowers that had clung to the top corner had been dislodged and there was a small crack down one side. It could be fixed but it would not be the same: it would not be perfect. She removed the picture and threw the pieces of frame in the bin, her calm mood destroyed. She looked down at the photo in her hands and attempted to compose herself. It was a snapshot of herself and Malcolm, taken at her sixth year dinner dance. That had been a very special night. It had marked the four year anniversary of their relationship. She had insisted on getting a dress made specially for the occasion and, as the photo proved, it had certainly been worth the expense. It was a beautiful pale pink and rose silk dress with a quite low-cut neckline, and she had looked feminine and beautiful. She still had it in her wardrobe, carefully wrapped to guard from moths. Placing the photo on her nightstand she sat back and attempted to relax. Malcolm would be here soon and it would not do for him to see her in an agitated state. She knew she didn’t look her best when she was ruffled. Closing her eyes she started to do her breathing exercises, attempting to block out the existence of her sister.
Elaine was also sitting on her bed, attempting to bring her nerves back into check. Gwen had obviously gone mad: absolutely barking. It wouldn’t be so bad if they shipped her off to a loony bin but she was obviously planning on rooting herself in her bed for quite some time. Maybe I can get put on the at risk list, thought Elaine. Then I could stay with Bella and Jim all year round. She wondered if her stereo battery was done charging. Probably not, but it would do for a while anyway, and these were extreme circumstances. She replaced the battery and re-attached her stereo to her waist. Pulling on a thick jumper she grabbed her remaining baguette and strode forth from the house, bumping into Malcolm at the gate. Pretending she couldn’t hear him even though she had not yet put her stereo on, she gave him a wave and walked on down the road towards the beach. She wondered why the idiot bothered with Gwen. They had been going out together for six years and she had hardly let him get past the kissing stage. Still, he apparently chased his oats in the Port every weekend to make up for it. Childhood sweethearts! It was utterly revolting. At least, marriage seemed unlikely at this point. Knowing Gwen, she’d be forced into a big pink bridesmaid’s frock. Elaine shuddered at the thought. Her mind cleared as she switched on the CD player and headed purposefully down the road, her short hair bouncing in time with the music.
Malcolm watched Elaine as she walked away, always unfriendly and in a world of her own. At least she sodding-well left the house though. He squared his shoulders and knocked on the front door, bracing himself for the evening ahead. Usually he would be off in the Port enjoying himself on a Friday. He deserved his weekends after his week spent working in the village shop, which was owned by his mother. The wages he earned and the money he saved by living at home were used to provide the drunk and raucous Friday and Saturday nights he felt necessary to his mental health. He was sure he was in there with one of the barmaids at the Thistle, where his best mate Innes worked. She’d been giving him the eye last Saturday night and he was sure they would have ended up together if he hadn’t been knocked out by a thrown pint glass outside the Providence Bar. He had been going to try his luck again tonight when Gwendoline had insisted he come to visit her. Mind you he could still make the last ferry run to Eilean Mor if he was quick. He had just managed to fix his face into a cheerful smile when Margaret opened the door.
“Hullo, nice to see you. How’s Gwen tonight? I brought her some chocolates from the shop.”
“It’s good to see you Malcolm. Come in; just go straight on through. I’ll leave the pair of you in peace. I’m sure she’ll love the chocolates.”
He gingerly made his way into his girlfriend’s bedroom, trying not to disturb any of the obtrusive ruffles of fabric which seemed to sprout from unexpected corners of the room. He had at one point thought that this was a normal room for a woman to have. Age and experience had taught him differently and he now found that the instant he came through the door his skin would start to prickle and itch for no discernible reason. Gwendoline had by now recovered her composure after the debacle with her sister and was sitting in queenly fashion upon her bed.
“Hullo Gwen, I uh … I brought you these,” he said handing her the box of chocolates.
She smiled graciously and nodded, thinking to herself that he was obviously nearly dumbstruck by her beauty.
“Look the thing is Gwen,” he began nervously, sitting down on the chair beside the bed. “I er … I’ve got something really important to say.”
“Well say it then Malcolm. You know I’m always ready to listen.” Perhaps he was going to propose marriage. A brief image of herself resplendent in an ivory wedding dress flitted across her mind. She leaned forward eagerly. “Do please carry on.”
“Well, I just want to say that I really care about you and all that, but I think we should maybe call it quits. I don’t think our relationship is going forward.” As he registered the look on her face he hastily added, “but I’ll still come and see you and stuff. We’ll still be friends.” Oh God please don’t let her cry, he inwardly pleaded. I’ve only got half an hour to make the ferry.
Gwen started to breathe heavily. Malcolm began to worry, she didn’t look like she would cry, but something definitely wasn’t right …
Elaine paused on the verge while she replaced a CD. The heavy and watchful silence that was so much a feature of the island was suddenly shattered by an almost animal scream of rage and disbelief. She looked back up road and felt certain that it had emanated from Avalon. Suddenly Malcolm burst from the house, a trickle of blood running down his face. Looks like her aim has improved, she thought. She watched Malcolm as he vaulted the wall and ran up the road at a speed which would have done an olympic runner proud. More wails followed him up the road and Charlie made his belated way into the garden, only just roused from his recliner. He stood in the garden, arms slightly outstretched, and confusion dominating his posture. The howling gradually subsided and Charlie, noting the twitching curtains of the nearby houses, made his way back inside. Bloody hell, thought Elaine. I really do hope this isn’t hereditary. Though she did not under any circumstances want to join in whatever family crisis had erupted, she was dying to know what the hell was going on. Guessing that Malcolm had probably made for his home behind the village shop, she started jogging up the road. She reached the door as he was coming out. He was carrying a bag and had not even put a bandage on his cut.
“What happened?” demanded Elaine.
“She’s fucking mad – your sister’s completely fucking mad!” he repeated. “I finished with her and she started screaming and smashed a mirror over my head. She could have killed me! Get out of my way, I’m going to the Port. I need a drink!” Pushing past her he threw his bag into the back of his car, got in and drove up the road, spraying gravel behind him.
Well, well! I bet that’s the only interesting thing that’s happened during their whole relationship, she thought. Deciding that it was best to leave her mother and father to deal with the latest hiccup in Gwen’s sanity, Elaine wandered up the hill towards the church. She did not venture home again until she was sure the lights of Avalon had all gone out.