Excerpt taken from A.V.A., a novel in progress. By painting a picture of his twin sister Lolly’s corpse, protagonist Lux reconstructs the events that led to her death in the hope that they will show him how to avoid his own – but unable to find meaning in the meaningless, Lux faces the knowledge that he, like his sister, will rot. As their milieu is transformed, heroin takes over and the glamour fades, their lives disintegrate and Lux tries to resist the fate of his sister. The story is loosely based on the Narcissus and Pygmalion myths, exploring themes of beauty and rot, and desire and revulsion – as well as being a story of sexual jealousy and male friendship.
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I came home to find the kitchen full of my sister’s friends (early 20s, indistinguishable) and a strong smell of weed. The one called Pinky had a giant bleached afro and was dyeing the one called Mauve’s hair at the sink. They screeched and cackled when I walked in and Rouge wrapped a towel around my head to make a turban and said I was their slave. I pretended to be sullen as they seemed to like this. They ordered me to roll joints, fetch them things, kiss Cherry on the lips (Cherry said that was fine by her, Lolly glanced at me, then away, smiled to herself), and when I said no they’d burst out laughing. Nearly all the girls had the rainbow coloured hair that Lolly had.
‘Shall we give Lux a dip-dye?’
‘He’s beautiful enough,’ said Cherry.
Rouge pretended to be sick. More squealing.
Lolly was wearing an African print tunic from Ridley Road which made her look more Spanish than normal and more like some of the pictures of our mother, maybe because her skin had gone darker in the sun and she’d got a few freckles on her nose, which actually, when I thought about it were quite like
Bright coloured bottles of dye were scattered around and the ashtrays overflowed. I liked the Cobalt Blue best but the Bismuth Yellow was pretty nice too… I felt Lolly watching me. I glanced at her. She didn’t look away. Yeah and also the Mars Violet… I picked it up. Ingredients: Aqua/sodium, citric acid, ammonium hydroxide… I peered at Lolly out of the corner of my eye. She was examining her split ends, deep in thought. Her face was uneasy.
‘Oh please,’ said Mauve. ‘This boy I like left me a love doodle on my Kindle.’
The doorbell rang and a new girl (about 20) came in and shrieked at Mauve’s hair. Lolly checked out the new girl’s tits and I thought, Hello, but then – why was I disappointed? – she said, ‘Your cardigan’s like one I’ve got.’
‘I should hope so,’ said the girl. ‘I searched everywhere for it.’
Lolly flickered, raised her eyebrows. ‘Really?’
The girl puffed out her chest proudly. ‘This is basically your outfit that day I saw you in Tesco.’
‘Really? What was I wearing?’
‘Well… this,’ said the girl, standing up on her chair so Lolly could get a good look at her outfit: mohair cardigan, pink velour shorts, some sort of surfing T-shirt. Everyone was impressed and the girl raised one foot then the other to show us her espadrilles. We all laughed and Lolly acted surprised, although for some reason, I didn’t believe that she was.
Pinky pulled off her rubber gloves with her teeth and rolled another joint. ‘So Rose had a baby the other day?’
They all made disgusted faces and there was a chorus of Really and Oh my god.
‘Yeah she’s been hiding since she got fat?’
One of them shivered and they all made disgusted noises.
Pinky grinned. ‘I went round and held it?’ She said it in the spirit of a little boy dangling a worm in his sisters’ face. But the girls were bored already and were passing round Coral’s new iPhone case. ‘Oh yeah?’ one of them asked half-heartedly.
‘Yeah?’ Dramatic pause while Pinky took a long drag on the joint. ‘I felt nothing?’
‘What did you expect.’
‘Do you know what else?’ Pinky leaned in collusively and passed me the joint. ‘The baby’s head was too big, so, you know..?’
‘What?’ She’d got their attention now and they were all looking at her. I was intrigued too – this girl stuff was brilliant.
Pinky made a noise that sounded like something ripping but also somehow still like a question and I groaned gleefully – did that really happen? who cared, it was brilliant. Lolly’s mates were more fun than mine and we were getting on great and we had to hang out together more often and there were more moans of horror and Oh my gods. ‘And then?’ Pinky was really getting into it now, ‘guess what else?’
‘Please. I don’t want to know,’ said Mauve, backing away.
‘Oi, come back here, you’re dripping bleach everywhere?’
Lolly looked at me and sniggered. This set Rouge off who started giggling and I laughed too, not really sure what at but just really enjoying the girl scene, sending out vibes of gratitude to them all. Tears blurred my eyes I was laughing so much and all the colours – rouge, mauve, coral, pink, violet, rose, cherry – blended into a brown smudge.
‘All that pushing? Sometimes you can..? Oh come on – if you need to..?’ Pinky screwed her eyes shut and made an opening movement with her hands.
‘Oh my god,’ they cried and some of them hid their faces.
‘Yep?’ Pinky was triumphant.
‘That’s horrible,’ said Mauve. ‘Please. What if I was covered in shit when I was born?’
‘You probably were?’
Mauve looked like she might cry and I laughed hysterically.
‘It’s not funny, Lux.’ She scowled at me.
Lolly laughed too. ‘Maybe that’s why you’re scatophobic,’ she said, and I felt we were finally on the same side.
Mauve stuck out her bottom lip. ‘I am not.’
Lolly and Pinky bent double with laughter, clung onto each other’s arm and Lolly couldn’t breathe and was this really the same girl I’d heard crying in the bath? I laughed too, out of sheer joy. Violet passed me the joint but I shook my head, tears still in my eyes and she placed it carefully on the rim of the ashtray.
‘Yes you are?’
‘I am not.’ Mauve paused. ‘Maybe, you know, with the right person or something…’
They all squealed in delighted horror. ‘What the fuck are you talking about? Oh my god.’
We all laughed until we cried, except Mauve who looked confused and kept asking, ‘Whaa? I don’t get it?’ and Rouge chatted on and on about nothing at all…