Like Deanna’s first gymnastics class, like her first swim lesson from her brother, Cambridge was another lesson in “Jump!” Totally immersive, pray to land upright or come up for air. She didn’t have time to breathe. An overloaded schedule, overlapping classes. An average week could be between 800 and 1,200 pages, sometimes more. There were no weekends, only days where the food was different. There was no conversation with her classmates or flat mates about anything but what happened in class, was happening in class, what needed doing for class that could be put off and exchanged for sleep. Her personal life had come to a standstill except for the tapes she kept playing in her head of better times.
She’d discovered early that being belligerent or cocky or profane trying to direct the constantly present study advisers, study assistants, monitored discussion groups and peculiar, eccentric lecturers did no good. It wasted time none of them had and pissed everyone off. The only time she could manufacture for herself was when she ditched the inter-college weekend brunch bonding at Newnham. She studied then, too. Between classes and study sessions, between passing out and waking up she wished she’d hear more from Jackson than a rose and a cryptic note. It didn’t matter now how he’d been when she’d told him she was leaving, all that mattered was that he was still there. Maybe she had it coming, being ignored, maybe not. Yeah, it had been wrong, all of it, for a long time, and now every day it felt like what she’d paid for what she’d thrown herself into had come at too high a price.
Her letters from February had told him the truth of how she felt, sort of. And they begged, a lot, for him to understand and not abandon her. To wait for her. The memory of him had become her light at the end of the endless tunnel of Cambridge, his picture on her dresser her lighthouse in the cold, foggy nights.
Both of her letters to Jackson boomeranged back to her letter drop on the same day, Friday the thirteenth. Good Friday. Beat up, torn, dirty, unopened and unread. Undeliverable as Addressed, No Forwarding Order, Addressee Unknown.
After several minutes staring at the cold mist outside the window, the pain in her stomach doubled her over, her head banged on the table. She sat up, arched and leaned her head back against the pain in her stomach before she ransacked her purse for any folding money and ran outside in the drizzle wrapped 43 degree evening. No coat, no scarf. No hope. A perfect target.
She banged the door of “Little Red,” a small, bright red pub that had been stuck on the side of a building at the end of a block as an afterthought a hundred years ago. It’s real name was The Red Door, a nod to the die-hard Rolling Stones fan owner who hoped one day Mick Jagger would drop by and ask him to paint it black.
She walked to the bar hugging herself, dropped the wad of bills and pushed them at the stout, furry barman. “Beer.”
“I’ve one in six of a prop —”
“Strong. A strong one. A boiler whatsit.”
“Boilermaker for the Yank,” came from behind her. Deanna turned, saw a tallish rake handle thin guy. Ridiculously tight, pegged black jeans and and a deep green jacket. He was grinning. He raised his chin at the barman. “Go on, then,” he tilted his head at the wad of bills. “Her money’s good.”
Furry the Barman wiped out a glass, said, “You and that lot with you, take your brand of shit outside.”
“No, he’s right.” Deanna tapped her pile of notes. “Boilermaker. I remember now.”
“Mmm.” The barman pulled her a headless dark ale, splashed a shot glass full of whiskey, set them in front of her.
Deanna rarely drank. It wasn’t that she was opposed, she never developed a tolerance. She stared at the two glasses in front of her. “Jackson used to say I had a two beer projectile return policy. It came standard with anything I’d eaten the same day. Well…Fuck him.” She dropped the shot glass in the thick black ale, slammed it down, coughed and came close to bringing it back up.
“Again,” Green Jacket directed.
Barman eyed Green Jacket off. “Give that one time. As we’ve come to know, you and Cat are…connected, so —”
“Look,” Furry’s glare went hard, “keep your mates shut or all of you, get out.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Green jacket waved his crew outside.
Barman scooped the beer glass, wiped up the beer displaced by the shot glass. “Maybe you should call her? Yeah? Cat? Get her around –”
“No.” She smacked the pile of bills. “Another. Please?”
“Take your money and go home.” Looking past her he’d taken note of Green Jacket’s sneer. “While you can still walk and find it.”
“Be a mate, Percy. Give her what she wants.” Deanna turned, Green Jacket’s grin was more expansive. Or maybe…The glasses were in front of her again, the beer short to accommodate the shot glass. She slammed it with less effort and only a slight coughing fit. One more and head spinning she went outside to give them all back to the mist slicked street. Green Jacket and friends watched her stagger and barf and stagger and handed her a bottled beer. Two more bottles appeared and they egged her on to drink and keep them down.
They assisted by heaving her up on the lone picnic table on the tiny pub patio. One held her head down with one hand so she had to choke the beer barf back or drown in it, flailed his dick across her face, in her “lovely” hair with his other. One on either side pulled her sweater and bra up, held her torso down, kissed and bit her in crosshatch motions like eating corn on the cob, another fumbled with her belt while Green Jacket laughed, offered commentary, told her how it would be better for everyone if she’d just calm down. The one on her belt had given up kissing her stomach and pulling her belt with his teeth, pulled his hand from where he’d been randomly squeezing between her legs like what was inside her jeans was a gripe exerciser, and tried to pin her thighs to the end of the table with his elbows while he worked her belt with his hands.
She drunkenly kicked at him and burbled out “no” between bursts of choking beer barf. The two on her upper body laughed and dodged it, Green Jacket upped the pacing to a nervous dance around her, drinking from one bottle and holding another.
“Are ya always this much fun at a party, love? Ohhhh ho, not another.” He’d dodge, laugh and pinch her nose when she coughed up beer.
“Will ya have a shit an’ a piss for us as well, eh?” Green Jacket pinched her nose again, poured more beer down her, all over her face, laughed louder when it came foaming out her nose when he released it.
“Get her bloody belt off, you clumsy fuck.” He poured the end of the beer in her face, hoping more beer might slow her down, or make his drunken friend more agile. “Come on, mate, I want a bit of a scream before she goes.” He handed his remaining beer to the left tit man and reached in to help with the narrow, double tongue belt that was impeding access to what he was after.
Cat and Merriam arrived at the flat, found their door unlocked, the returned letters and the contents of Deanna’s purse scattered on the table and floor, her coat still on the rack. Merriam checked her watch, hunched back into the coat she had started to shed.
“Half an hour or less since the post, Cat. These,” she held up the letters, “never made it to the lad on the dresser.”
“We didn’t take her to raise, Meri. She’s not the first or the —”
“No, but if it was one of us she’d come along at a run.”
Cat leaned her head back, stared at the ceiling for a long five seconds. “Get her coat. The Red Door’s all she knows of where to drown a sorrow.” She shrugged back into her coat as well. “Couldn’t have had a mathematician instead of a dreamy-eyed poet, could we.”
They heard the noise from the patio when they rounded the corner, Cat stepped through the metal gate, pepper spray blazing. The party director and his clumsy, hard humping belt klutz and the tit man facing them took the worst of it. They all bolted, screaming, arms over their faces.
With the party boys gone Deanna convulsed onto her side heaving and wheezing. They pulled a her up to seated on the darkened table, yanked her bra and sweater down, arranged their contents as best they could while dodging whatever she was draining from her nose and spitting out. The top button on her jeans was gone, her double tongue belt still intact. It took them a few minutes to find her missing shoe.
Merriam swiped a fistful of paper towels across Deanna’s waist, ran them across the belt line of her jeans. “Look at the bloody mess of her.”
“The belt’s what saved her, him at it that way Couldn’t get to it so in or out he was having his.” Cat made a face, lifted Deanna’s shirt tail with the tips of a finger and thumb. “It’s still all over her belt, her belly. Was it out, did you see?”
“I wasn’t having a look for it but the mess says it was.” Merriam dropped the wad of paper, kicked it away, grabbed another from the table top dispenser she’d found on the ground while looking for the shoe. “I saw the lad was on her other end tucking as he ran.”
“Tempest on the trousers then for the one down here. Lucky for her he couldn’t think through two things at once with his little head. Give us a hand, love.” They each grabbed an arm, slid Deanna off the table and onto her feet. “That’s the girl, up we go. Mind your feet, Deeeee…Oh bloody hell…I’d stay out from in front of her, Merriam.”