Marnie Marie inhaled a lungful of cherry smoke and blew it out the corner of her red mouth, which she thought, rightly or wrongly, was a very sexy thing to do. Even though she was not smoking a real cigarette she was carrying a pack of matches. The matches had two white swans on the cover; Marnie Marie liked the sound of a match striking, which was why, despite having only ever smoked an e-cigarette, she always made sure to carry some.
Marnie didn’t like to call it “vaping” because the word vape reminded her of the word rape and Marnie didn’t even like to think rape because she believed that thinking a word like that could will it into being. Like most of the sixteen-year-old girls in her school Marnie Marie carried a rape whistle. It made her think of a referee shouting “FOUL!”
Marnie Marie was wearing the same clothes that she lost her virginity in, which had happened only the night before. It was high time, she felt, having done everything else available to her. Her tights were laddered because her boyfriend had ripped them. Ripped tights, he said, were hot. Marnie Marie disagreed: those particular tights had cost her a tenner and were the best pair she owned. They had gold and silver thread running through them and now they also had holes. But what can you do?
Joshua had torn her tights before they had sex. Afterwards she had to pull them back on very carefully so that they didn’t fall to pieces in her hands. The sex had hurt, to begin with. Then it had hurt a little less, and, then, just as Marnie Marie was beginning to like it, Joshua came inside her and pulled out. He hadn’t worn a condom because Marnie was secretly on the pill, and because they had both been virgins, and because Joshua didn’t want to.
Marnie wondered if having sex without a condom made her a slut.
Three weeks ago her father had left, packed two bags and his sugar tong collection, and abandoned Marnie and her mother. Marnie wasn’t there when he went; she was on the school football fields with Joshua’s cold hands up her skirt and his warm, wet tongue in her mouth. She came home, late, to a dark house and her mother, dry eyed in the kitchen with a bottle of wine.
“Your father has run off with a slut from Great Yarmouth,” she told her. She said slut like a gunshot. It hit Marnie Marie in the chest and she started bleeding.
“Are there a lot of sluts in Yarmouth?” Marnie asked, nonsensically.
Her mother nodded sagely. “Throw a stone,” she said, “and you’ll hit one.” Marnie Marie’s mother wasn’t one to beat around the bush. She called a spade a spade. She had as much tact as a shovel.
If Marnie was talking to Jessica she would’ve told her all this. She would’ve told her the noises Joshua made when they were having sex and they would’ve laughed. She would’ve told her how much wine her mum had drunk and how she was worried her mum could sense it on her: everything she’d ever done and every boy she’d done it with. Two years ago Marnie Marie’s sister had been found half-undressed on her knees in front of a boy one Sunday afternoon when she was seventeen. Their mother had thrown her out of the house, and they hadn’t spoken since. It was Edwardian, Jessica had said. Positively Victorian. Marnie Marie’s sister lived with a friend now, and worked in a supermarket. She was quite happy, but Marnie was still afraid of it happening to her.
But Marnie and Jessica weren’t talking, because Joshua had been Jessica’s boyfriend and Marnie had, slowly, carefully, and with the help of a push-up bra, stolen him away and fucked him first.
Not that it mattered now. Half an hour after she had gently rolled her ripped tights back on and Joshua had walked her home, she’d received a text from him. It read, simply: this was fun, but i don’t think we should see each other anymore. And then a row of emojis: a distressed yellow face, a yellow face with a blue bead of sweat, a red cartoon broken heart. Marnie Marie had thrown her phone at her bedroom wall, put on her shoes with the sharpest heels, and ground the broken glass pieces beneath her feet. Then, like her mother, she had sat in their dark kitchen drinking wine. Her eyes, too, had been dry.
Marnie Marie was standing outside Joshua’s house. The air around her smelt like cherry smoke and paraffin. A thought had come to her, at three in the morning. The only way to guarantee a secret is for the only person to know about it be you. On the kitchen table sat their family album; her mother had systematically gone through every photo and burned her sister and father out. Cancerous black holes where her family’s faces should be. Marnie Marie refused to become a black hole.
Outside it was cold, the way only early mornings are. Everywhere was sleeping. She tucked her e-cigarette into her jacket pocket. Her shoes were wet from the grass. It had taken her a long time to transport enough fuel from their garage to Joshua’s house, but the downstairs windows had broken quickly and quietly in the dark. She felt high. Inhaling fumes will do that to a person.
What can you do? Less than twelve hours after Joshua had spread her legs and entered her, Marnie stood in his front garden. She pulled out her match box with the two white swans on the cover.
Marnie Marie lit a match.
Rumpus original art by Lauren Friedlander.