My Sister Says the Strangest Things
by Tom Ball | May 6, 2017
Press play to listen the accompanying music as you read…
Where was I? On the top of the night bus, coming back home. Pretty empty, in fact basically empty, which usually makes me nervous – you know? –
like remember that story that used to go round school about the kid who got ruffied by some sicko that offered him a beer and played around in his pants while he was out cold?
Yeah maybe it isn’t true, but whatever, that story always gives me the creeps. Where was I? Oh yeah, then on get these three, chatting loudly up the stairs
– which you always kinda brace yourself for, because the one thing worse than creeps are the loud drunks who think they’re coming off all Charlie Sheen when they drawl that they think your top looks good on you, but ultimately it’d look better on their floor– which I guess is pretty creepy anyway,
so these three get on, chatting loudly up the stairs, but they’re definitely not drunks at all, just drunk
he’s tall and she’s tall,
he’s bald and she’s not.
Both pretty moneyed I’m guessing, from the kind of drunk they were, which wasn’t shouty and slurred, but sorta sweet and giggly like a baby that’s just woken up.
And then the smooth swish of her velvety skirt and the smell of expensive unmixed alcohol. The other one, yeah the third one, is younger. She’s probably a year or two older than me, kind of artsy, maybe, got a septum ring, a fringe, lilac,
and she goes sits behind them, while the two in front carry on talking loudly, like they’ve hardly noticed I’m here, like two metres away from them, when they had the whole bus to choose from and they come and sit right next to me.
Which, you know, is quite annoying and I sorta huff and puff a little bit and fold my arms up like mum does to show it – when
actually I was quite grateful for the company, something to keep me awake when I could feel myself slipping away, when the long night and the long journey home were putting me to sleep. Nosing on randomers’ conversations is one of the great joys of travelling alone and
also, he’s clearly a bit of a wanker. He’s got this silk burgundy scarf, which he tugs on when he gets excited,
flings over his shoulder for emphasis.
He says shitty things like, ‘Without a shadow of a doubt, the Japanese are the most beautiful race on earth,’ and I can see her tense out of the corner of my eye, or look at her shoes and wince.
Then his wife says something like, ‘Oh don’t be so melodramatic,’ and laughs at this with her shaking tits, which is weird cos A nothing’s melodramatic and B nothing’s funny. But she doesn’t say this or say shut up because
she’s probably not that pissed, or as at least. I feel for her and she gives me this kind of embarrassed smile as if to say
yeah I know, I’m sorry about them but what can I do? and I like her and I wanna say something back like, hell, it’s fine you know, we’ve all got weird parents.
She has really long beautiful eyelashes that flap open and shut like the wings of a moth or something. She has dark hair, like the woman in front which makes me guess that she’s the daughter.
But then I think different and suddenly it seems so obvious now that they’re clearly not related, because it’s all so obviously awkward. That’s what I think. I mean, mum and dad – or not –
or let’s just call them Anne and Andrew – are getting on fine, gassing about the place they were just at (‘My tuna was overdone, my beef was underdone’/ ‘I’d never tried that before, is it liquor based?’)
and how in the metro in Paris, no one ever pays for their ticket after 8pm cos the guards go home and everyone just jumps the gate. But she says nothing and just smiles and nods and makes an awkward laugh whenever he raises his voice
to that stupid shrill that’s supposed to indicate a punch line. Anne sometimes reaches back and puts her hand on her leg, which is kinda weird, and then doesn’t say anything, just sorta giving this deep, knowing look.
And then somewhere along the line Andrew says, ‘Thanks, Mira, for doing this. We both really enjoy your company and are looking forward to getting to know you better,’ and he then turns around and puts his hand on her knee, giving his scarf a couple of quick tugs for luck.
I think by now I realise I’ve missed my stop, which is annoying, but I think whatever cos by now I’m quite intrigued by the whole thing. Some guys get on, and they’re properly hammered
like shouting and slurring a couple of seats behind us. I’m trying to catch the rest of what Anne and Andrew are saying to Mira but it gets drowned out by some wandering hazy melody of theirs. There are possible snatches, though, like, ‘We want to make you feel as safe as possible,’ and ‘Just say if there’s a problem.’
They all seem to relax a little now, as though soothed by the torturous rendition of Don’t You Want Me Baby coming from behind. Mira talks a little but I can’t hear what she says. She speaks so quietly, drawing Anne and Andrew closer to her, and all the time I’m just watching with my knees up in the smeary windscreen up front, seeing their faces flashing with the traffic lights and the stars. Andrew seems softer now, less eager to please;
I think it was nerves earlier. I smile at him and he smiles back. Some people get like that when they’re anxious or around strangers. He says, Not far to go now. Just a couple more stops, and Anne says, I really don’t know why we didn’t take the car, looking at me with her pretty, apologetic eyes. It was her eyes that first attracted me to Anne: so spherical and wide that the whole iris can be seen, like little drops of ink in milk. I like her clothes too, stylish and never inappropriate. Not like some older women who take their daughter’s clothes to try and shed a decade or two. Andrew is also attractive and also wears nice clothes. I suppose I’m one of those people who can say they’ve got a ‘weird thing for older guys’ – like I remember rushing upstairs to the bathroom every time dad’s friend Lazlo came over, and feeling the hot anger burn up in my cheeks when mum would say, You don’t normally wear mascara, do you?
No, don’t worry, it’s fine, I say. By now it’s quite late but I’m not tired at all. I guess I drank quite a lot earlier, which normally makes me subdued, but I needed the fortification or the courage or whatever you want to call it.
The drunks finish off the Duran Duran number with one final protracted note, just as their stop arrives, and Andrew goes, Bit flat on that last one lads, but not bad at all. They grumble something back as they head down. The engine starts up and it’s just us again. This far out of town the streets become unfamiliar and I lose track of where I am. Where are we now? and Anne replies, Not far. I look into the smeared windscreen ahead and watch the lights cascade down like a slot machine.
Outside now and it’s cold but I don’t feel it. I think how much I drank, how much more than I usually do. A third of a bottle of wine, a spritzer and two mojitos. Still, probably not as much as them. Things were edgy to start with and we all drained our first couple of glasses fast. I remember, after about our third glass, Anne said, I’m really glad you said yes, and we all knew what she meant. Yes, as ever, I agree with my wife entirely, said Andrew with a goofy smile, Here’s to a great evening, clink clink clink.
Their house is large, or at least larger than I had expected. Around the walls curl wandering melodies of ivy and in the driveway sits the car they didn’t take out. I notice a slight awkwardness between them in the pause after he takes my coat and glances quickly at his wife.
Well how about a night cap?
Only if you want?
What d’you fancy, wine, G and T? Whisky?
Or there’s that sake we brought back? I think it’s still upstairs in the bedroom.
No, you know what, I’m fine for the moment. I’ll just have some water.
Are you sure?
Is everything alright?
Oh don’t be so melodramatic, of course she’s alright, she just doesn’t want a drink.
The sake is unopened in a box on the dresser. Sake is made from rice. That much I know. People who have never been to Japan think that sake is always warm. It’s one of those bits of common trivia, like when people say that we only ever use five percent of our brain capacity. In fact, sake is only served warm if it’s low-grade; the high-grade stuff is always room temperature. This is the counter trivia that people who have been to Japan like to tell you. Anne is going down on me while Andrew watches from behind on the bed, still fully clothed and supping at his whisky. Anne had explained to me before that he likes to watch, which sounded fine. I’ve been with girls before, probably just as many times as I have been with boys. I like how sex with girls is less frenetic, and I like how I’m not made to feel like I should be grateful for it. This is my first time with someone older, which, like I said, has been a long-standing fantasy of mine. My first time with two someones also, though, if I’m honest, I would have been happy enough to spend the night with just Anne; Andrew was an addendum that felt rude to refuse. He just likes to watch, she’d said the week before. Oh, kind of like a voyeur? Well, I’m not sure that’s the term he’d use. He likes to pretend like he’s not there at all. Says it intensifies the whole thing enormously. Vicarious was the word she used. I nodded and pretended to understand. But I don’t understand the psychology of the person who claims that the joy of the spectator supersedes the joy of the participant.
Behind my head I can feel the addendum edging towards me in the rumble of the mattress. I hear the chink of the empty vessel as he puts the tumbler on the bedside table. He’s close enough now for me to smell the unmixed liquor on his breath. There’s a soft scuffling noise and I see Anna flick her eyes up momentarily beyond my shoulders. In the corner of my eye he places his trousers, pants and spotted socks in a neat little pile at the side of the bed. He doesn’t touch me but all the time I can smell that iced whisky flowing out his nostrils in little warm jets.
Then two surprisingly hairy legs appear either side of me and suddenly the whole scenario seems laughable. Short, supressed grunts are slipping from his nose and all I want to do is turn around and say something sexy or friendly or anything. I reach out to stroke the dark brambles of his leg, but jerkingly he recoils it, exhaling loudly, and pulls the other back after it. Anne flicks her eyes again, then returns to meet mine. I think if I weren’t already I would begin to blush with embarrassment, but Anne soothes me with her eyes and strokes the indents of my buttocks with the slippery pads of her fingertips. I arch my back slightly and begin to breath deeper, filling myself slowly and heavily, and she flicks her eyes again, spreading my legs further back so that they quickly begin to ache in those taut little muscles beneath the hips, until it feels like they won’t go back any further, straining and pulling at the tendons and ligaments, and all the while he’s watching vicariously through the cut glass of the tumbler, rumbling the mattress louder and lounder until I want to scream for the pain but I find myself screaming for the pleasure.
And when I open my eyes again, I turn to see that they are gone and that only the smell of whisky is left. I smooth down my hair and check myself in the glass. I didn’t bother getting the bus back again because it wasn’t that far to home. I like the walk anyway, especially when it’s so bright. Where was I? Oh yes, the buses, the traffic lights and the stars. My head ached from the long night and the sudden jolt. I decided to cut through the backroads and across the common even though people always say that that’s where the creeps go hang out at night.
They’d probably all gone home by now. I walked alongside the playing fields and tried to dodge the puddles. In amongst the dark bramble bushes I could see little fox faces watching me with their round white eyes, like drops of oil in milk, and on the horizon the black sky was shading into a grey sludgy day. The daytime buses were out again and the night buses were all back at the depot. Where was I? Or maybe they just keep the same ones and changed the numbers around with that little pole you see the drivers sometimes winding. That seems more likely. Where was I? I’m not so sure. Somewhere between the night and the day,
which is strange don’t you think?
Illustration: Megan Black
Audio: Thomas Ball