Camilla Garcia. Like the cherry ice cream. She took me into the bathroom and shaved off my eyebrows. She dyed my hair grey-green and gave herself chestnut highlights. Peaches and cream. She exfoliated her skin every day until it was pink.
On Camilla’s thirteenth birthday Jennifer Kirkby twirled a baton, squealing like a pig on the kitchen table in front of twenty guests. Camilla handed her a blue tumbler full of nail varnish remover. “You must be working up a sweat Jenny, have some Ribena.” Camilla stared at Jennifer’s pink pants while she vomited in the garden onto her shiny stick. After Jenny had gone home, wrapped in towels with stomach acid on her meringue dress, Camilla sang a Whitney Houston song and her mum cried. I only hated Camilla sometimes and she always convinced me that I loved her again. She’d pinch me and lick her teeth.
We all chewed on our pink nails and fidgeted with our party dresses while we waited to see what Mr. Garcia had sent. Camilla said his suits were made of silk and that he wore patent shoes that he tap, tap, tapped. Or thump, thump, thumped. We never heard them. One Christmas Eve he let her get drunk with her cousin Daisy. They danced on the table to a jukebox, in his pub that had marble pillars and barmaids that wore tight t-shirts, somewhere near Milton Keynes.
We thought there might be an explosion of pink or the booming horn of a new silver convertible. But instead Camilla coyly propped a pearlescent frame next to the chocolate birthday cake. Girls scratched at each other to see the snow-white pony who stared out of the photograph with huge muddy eyes.
Camilla talked about Mr. Garcia every day and even more on the third Monday of the month. The Sunday would have been spent at Madame Tussauds’ or on a day trip to France where she drank wine and nearly fell off the top of the Eiffel Tower; or she had galloped around the giant field that her father owned and that was filled with daffodils all year long, wearing a tight silk riding suit. Each time she came home with a diamond stuck on her finger or in each ear or hanging lightly around her neck.
Big fat rain drops hit the kitchen window like seagull shits. They hit, splat and then exploded, bang. Camilla opened the door and said nothing, just rolled her eyes as if she hadn’t been expecting me – like she did every morning.
“Is that Alice love?”
“Hi Marie,” I shouted around the door frame. I had been Camilla’s best friend for three years.
Camilla stood with her foot stretched onto the banister looking past my shoulder at the rain. She pulled at the end of her sock dreamily and slipped a finger in between her largest toes, then hopped into the smoke shouting “Mum! Mummeee!”
Marie’s feet were resting on the coffee table. She was blinking her eyes at a fuzzy video of a Christmas party.
“Hello there Alice love.”
A thick toweling band held Marie’s frayed black curls, the tips of her fingers wrapped around a wide glass, and a short cigarette smoldering from the heavy sleeve of her grey dressing gown. She didn’t look over, just kept her wet eyes on a man in a grey suit with a wide collar. He smiled at the camera and twisted down to the floor holding the hands of a little girl with curly black hair. She lifted off the ground as he span her around and the pink of her skirts swirled. Balanced on his hip like a trophy he kissed her fat cheek, winking at the camera. The child stretched her lip-sticked mouth and showed all her little round teeth.
“Is that me mum?” Camilla perched on the sofa arm, peering through the smoke.
“Mmmm. Isn’t your dress lovely? Pretty in pink.” Marie laughed softly.
“Who’s that I’m with? Who’s that man?” Camilla waved her arm at the TV, the diamonds in her rings glistened.
“How d’you mean love?”
Marie smiled and smoke drifted through her parted lips. Camilla sighed and skidded up to the TV in her long white socks. She pushed an emerald fingerprint onto the man’s face. “Who is he?”
The tape finished and the man’s long yellow incisors flickered on the screen. Marie pushed at her leg and laughed. Camilla laughed too but her face was blank. The three of us looked at the screen in silence.
Mike strolled through the hallway, running his hand through his fluffy ginger hair and adjusting his penis in his tight trousers. He drove buses and we hated him.
“Whassamatter? Who the fuck is that babe?”
Marie’s knees shook as she pulled herself up from amongst the fluffy pink cushions.
“That?” Marie pointed at the screen. “That’s only her fucking father!”
“Oh. Yeah I thought it was. Don’t get pissy! Fuck.”
Camilla echoed, “fuck” carefully. I thought it was probably for my benefit.
“How can you not know your own fucking father?”
The wide glass slipped off the table leaving dark red liquid to pool on the floor.
Camilla’s dad disappeared and was replaced by fuzzy dancing dots.
“Fucking, fuck it,” Marie’s slippers slapped out of the room. “If you want some lunch Camilla, the bread is on the counter.”
But there were only the end bits of the loaf left and Camilla said she’d rather die than eat them. So we left for school, the rain sliding down our collars and dripping off our noses.
She pulled me into a doorway before we reached the bus stop. The place where we had prodded that tramp we thought might have been dead last Christmas. Her eyes swept the green stone and the looming graffiti, she parted her lips and I waited. The doorway stank of piss.
“I was just winding her up. I knew it was him.”
“It’s fine Cam...”
Her eyes flickered. She stood on tip toes and held my shoulder, her breath carried a strand of my hair.
“Gareth fancies you,” she whispered.
My face went hot and she giggled.
“But he fancies me more.”
I could see Gareth waiting at the bus stop over her shoulder. He had eye brows that joined in the middle and big round brown eyes with thick lashes. There was a chart on his wall measuring his penis growth. I saw it once when he left the door ajar, snaking along his Manchester United wallpaper. Camilla said she always saw him in the laundry room checking out her arse and tits.
When we got on the bus that day she winked and swung her hair over her shoulder. I winked too but she said I did it with the wrong eye and that meant I was a lezzer.
“Don’t worry,” she said and dipped her hand into her crocodile bag. “Look at what my dad got me.”
She paused for effect and then snapped open a pink oval box. I looked at the fleshy plastic roof with thin metal hooks that sat lopsided on a pile of cotton wool.
“Yuck! What is it?”
“A retainer. Durrrr!”
She rolled her neat green eyes at me for the second time that day and arranged the metal branches between her teeth.
“It coshed shix hundred quid.”
A light spray left her mouth she smiled broadly. Tiny bits of metal gleamed aluminum between her little teeth.
When we walked across the field after school she said that having a brace was gross but having a retainer was okay. Jessica Palmer had a brace and she had snogged Spotty Phil who had his face all bandaged up when we next saw him. We chewed on Hubba Bubba and looked through the thick bars at the boys playing football. Camilla tapped her diamond rings and scraped her fingers along the metal.
“Isn’t David Sloane just the fittest? Just look at his thighs.” She cocked her head thoughtfully. “I love muscles.”
I looked at the amount of leg that was showing between his football socks and Puma shorts. It was white with soft black hairs.
“I thought you said he was rank?”
“Nahhh Alice. I’ve been in love with him for like two months now. Jess told me he’d been talking about these to all the boys.” She pulled her bra straps which made the padding move up and down under her school t-shirt.
By the time we reached Tesco we were dying for a cigarette. “Once my dad was so desperate he had to pick one up off the floor. A butt like.”
“Ewww. Didn’t it have germs all over it?”
“That’s what it’s like when you are addicted, Alice. Jesus.”
Camilla had taken me into a hut behind the long school playing fields and made me smoke ten cigarettes when we were twelve. She’d blown a smoke ring and told me how cool I’d look.
“Couldn’t he have just bought some?”
“No.” She pushed her hair behind her diamond-studded ears. “That was that time he left all his credit cards at home. It was terrible; apparently his bird… Hold this.”
Make-up case, maths book, hair brush.
“Oh my God. There it is.”
She held the little pink box and sighed with relief. Her face was flushed as she opened it, her painted fingers lifting pieces of damp cotton wool. But it was an empty oyster shell. Missing the pearly pink retainer.
We walked back past David Sloane who was still playing football. His white thighs had turned red and mottled. We got down on our knees and parted the weeds where we had climbed through the gap in the red gate. By the bins we looked under crisp packets and burger wrappers. I hoped she would wash it before she put it back in her mouth.
“Can you remember where you last had it?”
“If I knew that it wouldn’t be lost!” She spat.
Three times we walked around the field. That was more than on cross country in P.E. Finally she flung the pink case against a tree where in burst open, little clouds of cotton wool floating into the mud. Tears spilled down her cheeks while her fat fingers pulled at strands of grass and crumbled clumps of mud.
“Can’t your dad just buy you a new one?”
I touched the polyester of her t-shirt. She was hiccupping.
“It…. It… cost six hundred pounds! He can’t just buy me a new one.”
“But he’s got loads of money Camilla. I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“NO! He…my dad gave it to me. And now it’s lost.”
She hid her face in her hands leaving a streak of mud on her cheek. Slowly we walked back along the field looking at the sheet of dark grey sky. David Sloane had gone home in his dad’s Volvo Estate over an hour ago. We kicked the heads off dandelions until they gave way to Tesco’s car park and then we kicked at bottle tops instead. Camilla didn’t want to go home so we lay under the blossom tree at the end of her road until it was dark.
While the sky turned black I thought about that birthday party, the one where Jennifer Kirkby had retched into the plant pots. I felt Jennifer’s hot breath in my ear telling me that someone had unclipped the imitation pearl frame and seen neat rows of newspaper print. “Liar, liar pants on fire.” I imagined Camilla cutting her birthday pony out of the paper and pasting him neatly behind the glass, her eyes wet. I could see the girls, their mouths sticky with cake and sweets but sour with anticipation, as they lifted the small chipboard square. I could hear them exploding out of the yellow hallway of Marie’s council house and down the road to tell the world the truth about Mr. Garcia and the pony Camilla never rode.
She winked. She chewed on long sticks of gum and blew bubbles bigger than mine. She rolled her eyes like crazy. We lay on the floor and she spread her arms and legs like she was an angel. The pleated skirt inched past her knee and showed a thin ladder in her tights. I could hear her cherry breath “Whatever.” She sat with her elbows in the soft dirt. The stars glittered like the pieces of glass in her ears and the shining rings on her plump fingers. Camilla flicked a ring pull at the tree and a pink blossom fell into her black hair.