#323: Frank

I call it decompressing, although I’m not sure that’s the right word. It’s just what I’ve begun to call it. It happens just before a party, or any kind of social event. I sit in my car and turn the engine off. I breathe slowly, I listen to the whine of the engine fading away. Breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth, and try to calm my pulse. Try to rein in the buzzing electricity shooting through my capillaries. Try, at least.

It takes about twelve minutes. So I’m twelve minutes late. I have a reputation for being late.

I haven’t been to Claire’s house since a half-remembered New Year’s party during college. It was around that time that I kissed her, though it wasn’t at her party. It wasn’t anything serious. I don’t think she’d kiss me now. She’s nice, but we’ve drifted apart.

I can feel myself drifting away from the focal point of this friendship group. I’ve felt it for a while. It’s not that they dislike me. It’s more like disinterest. I think that might be worse. I think that might be why I’m so nervous.

Claire opens the door with a smile that stops somewhere between her lips and her eyes. A few of the girls are congregated in the hallway, and we share some lukewarm greetings and a round of quickfire hugs. Sonal says you made it first out of all the guys. My heart sinks: I was banking on having some close friends for company. This is the whole reason why I decompress. Sonal says Oh, except for Frank.

She leads me into the kitchen, which is meticulously decorated. Claire’s wearing a striped one-piece pantsuit and she seems happy and confident, but I barely even notice. Frank is sat on a chair in the corner. I’d forgotten he would be here. He goes out with Abbey. He goes out with Abbey, now, years after I’d thought I would never have to see him again. I nod at him, awkward, almost deliberately awkward, awkward because I know I am awkward in his eyes and I act awkward almost to appease him. He doesn’t react. He just stares at me with flat brown eyes.

When I was in Year 10, Frank sat nearest to the teacher in my English class. She would get him to hand out our books. Frank would stand up and drop the books on each of our desks. When he got to mine, he stopped a few feet away, and stared at me, the same stare he was giving me right now, and he dropped my book on the floor. He went back to his seat, and stared at me again. I got out of my seat and picked it up and went to my desk, knowing he was watching me the whole time.

I didn’t know him at all then. I don’t know him at all now. But I know that he hates me. Without reason or rhyme, as an unviolable rule of the universe, I am hated. I am just, hated.

My friends arrive — my real friends. They’re always late too, although I doubt that’s because they’re decompressing. My friends are very relaxed people. I’ve always struggled to be friends with people who are as taut as me. Too much friction, I suppose.

We’re immediately chatting about stupid jokes from bad movies, and I feel bad for forcing my friends to be talking to me instead of the others, who don’t dislike them. Drink and anxiety mix to form a heady brew, and I laugh a little too loud at one point, and I catch Frank’s eye again. He’s leaning against the kitchen counter now, perfectly relaxed. Everyone here will tolerate him: he’s in the golden boyfriend zone. His bottom lip hangs open in a subtle sneer, a hint of grimace at my bulging eyeballs and blushed cheeks, pores clogged with —

My friend looks to me for a response but I haven’t been listening. The conversation peters out, awkwardly, but we linger because that’s easier than walking away. I pretend I need to go to the toilet.

I go upstairs, then remember I could have mud on my shoes, and head back down, then hear someone coming into the hallway and think it might be Frank, then turn around and head back upstairs to the bathroom. I pee and wash my hands without looking in the mirror. I kneel beside the counter and hold my hands out, pressing my wrists onto the cold surface. Left hand visibly shaking, right hand a little better.

Downstairs. The guest of honour arrives: she is wonderful and a loyal friend. She’s leaving for New Zealand. I wish she wouldn’t. I’m glad I can be one of the first to say hello. She is loved by everyone in the room, so much that for once, I don’t view it through the prism of my own inadequacies, I just accept that she is loved because she is lovely. She gives Frank a hug. He says, hello darling.

I watch, and maybe something shows on my face, because he looks at me again, and this time there’s something else to his face, like barbed wire deep in his iris.

My friends love games. Board games and quizzes, the foundations for lifelong bonds. I’m paired with Archie, but I know he would rather be paired with Tim. I have to act out celebrities in front of six of my closest friends, and I hate it. I hate it less as I drink, so I drink more.

Frank and Abbey come to play. It’s my turn to guess Archie’s celebrity. He grabs a pen for a mustache and struts down the table, and there’s a roar of laughter. The mustache becomes a cigar, lit with a casual elegance. Still I can’t think who it is. I’ve seen the film. I can see the face. Still I don’t know the name.

Time’s up. Archie shakes me and says, Sean Connery! It was Sean Connery. I thought it was perfect for you!

I start to say I just couldn’t think of the name, but before I finish, I can hear Frank behind him, Sean Connery, who the fuck doesn’t know Sean Connery. And my sentence falters, and I’m caught in his eyes, eyes like penitentiaries. He grins now, worse when he’s closer, the hatred radiating in some frequency only I can detect.

I feel like prey. I decide to leave.

Work tomorrow. I have to go, yeah, sorry. Work tomorrow.

I shouldn’t drive back, but I get in the car and put on Led Zeppelin. No, Neck Deep. No, Joy Division.

I drive faster than I should. This is not a boast, it’s a stupid thing to do. I drive fast so I need to stay alert and focused so I don’t dwell on another gut-twisting evening. I can’t get his eyes out of my head. A car up ahead has its lights on full beam, blinding me as it zooms past. I frown, and glance into my rearview mirror.

Frank’s eyes.

Frank’s eyes are in the mirror, they’re in my head. They look six feet into me, and if I have a soul, they look into that too. I open my mouth wide, wider than I thought possible, taking a deep breath of him, his disgust for every morsel of my being, my physicality and my consciousness sucked into the void at the centre of him.

He grabs my face from behind, sticks two fingers into my eyeball sockets and the velvet dusk overwhelms me. His other hand grabs my jaw, his thumb jutting into my lower teeth. His fingers, rusty and scabbed, sink deeper into my eyes, wrenching through my skull, descending into the soft tissue of me, clawing through every repressed desire and nascent hope, driving it through and into blackness.

And with one foul twist of his wrists, he ends me, for no reason at all.



Stories, travel writings and other ramblings by Ben Creeth

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