THE SEA BISCUIT
July 1, 2022
by Hazel Lockey
At Sal Silverstein’s fancy dress party, you came as an inflatable Custard Cream. Everyone wanted a bite right out of you.
Annie Madox and I were the pioneers of minimal effort. She had stabbed a few ladders into her tights with a fork, crushed the crimson tip of her lipstick into a smear across her face, and called it a day. I’d thrown on some cheap Cigarettes after Sex merchandise. Sal, from his throne in the centre of the room, was looking me up and down with disapproval and a hint of disgust.
Annie and Sal had had the odd liaison in the past, famously in the ladies’ at Wetherspoons, much to the horror of a few first-years who were only hoping for a quick toilet break. Annie really was the talk of the campus. We had been childhood friends, joined at the hip, before her mad descent into grunge and fishnets and bubblegum hair. She had about as much personality as a cardboard cutout—yet by virtue of her flings with Sal Silverstein, she had been invited to this party, and I came dragged in tow.
We were mixing Smirnoff and fizzy lemonade into John Lewis mugs with cheap printed catchwords on them. For half the night she clowned around cracking dad jokes into unsuspecting ears. And then, la grande révélation: she would present the mug to the non-consenting party, boasting the line: Dad jokes are how eye roll.
If we were Americans I’d be dancing with you, Solo Cup in hand, but we had to make do with our garish crockery. While Annie went off, I planted myself at the back of the room, swiveling my cup round and round mindlessly until a whirlpool of vodka started to form. Out of anxiety, I had been doing it so violently that a wave of cold fizz came slopping out and the spindrift stung my eye.
"What the hell are you doing?" said Annie, who had reappeared out of nowhere. I was cringing and trying to wipe away the vodka which may have been slowly burning my retina. But the pain evaporated when I caught sight of your grand entrance. Sal had rushed to your side and was desperately trying to squeeze your costume through the door. Annie’s jaw hung a little lower than usual, but I was hoping that was possibly an inebriated aberration and not because she fancied you.
"You know you’re in love a boy when he’s dressed as a bloody Custard Cream and you still can’t take your eyes off him," I slurred. I was burning with embarrassment the second I’d said it, but I had to: it was my pitiful attempt at territory marking. Still, less of the pissing dog act, more of the I would very much appreciate it if you would leave him alone as I rather like him, thank you act.
But she didn’t seem to notice, or if she did, she blanked me entirely.
I noticed then that you were chesting your way over through the heaving crowd, and I felt the grip on my mug loosen as my palms moistened with sweat.
You acknowledged me briefly. I was fumbling around for my words, and within a minute you’d lost interest in me and had sidled up to Annie. It was almost comical how she dropped the dad act whenever she was within a ten feet radius of you. You, on the other hand, wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot pole.
I felt, as the sweaty mass of bodies coalesced around me, which made the air entirely impenetrable, that the simple act of taking a breath was to me like choking on a hundred breadcrumbs. Knowing well that you were blind to my presence, I skulked away.
I’d made it about halfway to the bathroom when Sal grabbed me by the arm and said, "You look cheap." How dare he insult my ‘costume.' I wanted to spit in his face, and really by that point I’d had enough of him, so I did. It was essentially trench warfare. From the dirt-depths of my gullet emerged the biological artillery that was a pure and unadulterated string of saliva, traveling at five hundred knots, liquidating the air and everything in its path, landing squarely on the bridge of his nose and dangling over his upper lip. Sal was too shocked to do anything then, but if he’d had his senses about him he would have drop-kicked me all the way to Dunkirk.
Spitting in people’s faces was a kind of art.
In the aftermath of that altercation I stalked off to the bathroom, though not without sneaking a glance over my shoulder to check if you’d seen me. But you hadn’t even noticed I’d gone. Annie had sort of burrowed into your chest, and though you weren’t reciprocating, you weren’t pulling away either. She slowly wrapped a strand of your hair around her finger, catching you in a limbo, and reeled you in.
When I slammed the bathroom door behind me the air split in two and everything was quiet. I looked at myself in the mirror and smiled ear to ear, and saw two rows of metal clamped against my teeth, and wondered if that was the reason you didn’t like me. Or maybe it was my downturned eyes, drooping like dissolving clocks; or better yet, the acne that had founded a colony on my forehead, Est. 2009. I was a square biscuit, nothing like you, with every claim to fame for every girl who wanted to take your name.
Then I started bawling my eyes out and I heard Sal put Cigarettes after Sex through the blasting JBL. I wondered if he’d done that on purpose to mock me. I clambered into the bathtub with tears dribbling down my face and found my trainers then to be incredibly uncomfortable, so I tossed them into the sink. One of them missed and struck the floor.
All of a sudden it hit me that I’d forgotten to lock the door. In a cruel twist of fate, I heard voices approaching the bathroom. It was too late to act and so I drew the shower curtain, sunk into the empty tub, and held my breath.
In what barbaric world do I live in that, of all people, it was you and Annie?
She lurched over the sink and retched, and I uttered in my mind a solemn prayer for my shoe. It was a pretty sturdy pair my mum had gifted me last Christmas, which was deeply upsetting, but things took a turn for the worst when Annie grabbed what I assume to be some sharp metal object—a razor, most likely—from a cup on the sink surface and started stabbing at your costume to deflate it. No room for pragmatics in the world of romance, I suppose. You were both so all over each other and the music was so all over us—your lips, my lips…—that you didn’t even notice as I climbed out of the tub and stumbled into my left shoe. I slammed the door on the way out.
Sal was waiting for me outside the bathroom. "Get out of my flat," he said.
I told him all right, I was leaving.
I walked out with as much panache as humanly possible given I was shoeless. I was wearing bright orange socks with those Roy Lichtenstein patterns on them and every time my right foot touched the ground I heard a voice go Whaam! or Ouch! and I thought I was going insane.
It was dark when I got out. The moon was round and full like the stub of a chalk, and for a moment I was full and alive without you. But I couldn’t let go and I didn’t fancy walking home alone just yet, so I sat on the front wall watching the light in Sal’s flat blink their way through all the colors of the rainbow. In the muddy reflection of the ground-floor window I saw the wet of my face catch the iridescence.
Someone came out of the building; you, half-clad in your deflated costume. You, coming to apologize to me, to say that it was all a show, and that I wasn’t some ghostly back-stager or a shadow-faced audience member. That you had uncovered my face once buried in a crowd; that to you, I was no longer lost in a sea of heads.
But it was Annie. She hitched herself up on the wall beside me, and I knew then that she wasn’t a real friend. She was looking even more disheveled than before. Clumps of vomit dangled off her babypink hair. I suppose she could always blow it off as part of the look. It was an axiom of life that Annie Madox could get away with anything.
I sat there, swinging my feet back and forth, one loose-laced and the other shoeless entirely. My sock was drenched in mud and grass-dew and possibly no longer orange. I asked her if she’d seen you and she simply shrugged.
"How are you doing?" she said. I shrugged back.
"You look like you’ve just cried," she said.
She took out a pack of cigarettes and offered me one.
"No thanks," I said. If you’d offered, I would have said yes. Instead I fished out a lighter from my pocket. I’d done this instinctively; we used to do it a lot when we were closer. She tucked the cigarette between her lips and I brought the flame right up to her face, so close it could’ve licked her.
"Heard you spat in Sal’s face," she said, after sucking in, long and dry. "That why you’re out here?"
I imagined she was smoking a cigarette full of crumbs, and my throat immediately stiffened.
"I would’ve done the same, but… coming from me it’d probably have turned him on. You know." She snorted. The night offered a silent refuge from the thrumming noise of the upstairs party.
A brown apple of a bruise was forming on her neck. She looked up, almost ponderously. "The moon has watched billions of us do the dumbest shit over and over again."
I laughed. "I wonder how many people it’s seen fall in love."
As the night drew on, I realized that I was too tired to care.
Glancing up at the window, I saw Sal watching me. He mouthed something obscene and stuck up two fingers. I jumped down from the wall and Annie kept on looking up, grey wisps trailing from her lips. I was going to go home and do tomorrow’s reading. Nothing mattered anymore. It was the first time my heart didn’t drop when I looked at you, standing at Sal’s shoulder and staring straight into me, no costume. You’d probably left it in the bathroom, along with my other shoe.
You had looked better in that costume, where no-one could see you. Now, without it, you were empty.
Hazel Lockey is an undergraduate studying English and French at the University of Oxford. She can be found on Twitter or Bandcamp @temporalsoup.