by Jen Campbell
They told me you had no inner feelings, that you’d given them out for free in your twenties, and that now you’re emotionally broke. But I didn’t hear it right; I thought that they said you had no innards, so I spent the entire dinner party imagining that the food you were swallowing went to the back of your throat and out the back of your white, stiff collar.
I convinced myself so completely I just about heard the pieces hit the floor. I drank wine to hide the grin bubbling at my throat, and when you caught my eye it made it worse. There we were: school children, and I was sure we’d burst out laughing any second; you’d start spitting food, and I laughter, and the guests would stare at us trampling over their unspoken etiquette, our backs stretching across the table towards each other as machine jack-in-the-boxes. Our concertina necks. They’d mutter about what our mothers bothered to teach us when we were young. Nothing. Always the parents, the ones with their backs turned while you hand-painted the kitchen walls. The parents to blame for the giggle of their twenty year old daughter who left home years ago.
But I managed to swallow the laughter down and, with it, the party.
You were talking. About car journeys and engines, and I don’t know what. You’d driven from Edinburgh, you said, all the way down the A1. Something about dual carriageways and tractors, and the way you said the words sounded as though you’d crossed the Amazon and were lucky to be alive. Tractors. Monstrous beings. You shook your head, laughing, and you might have just looked at me, on the very last syllable, just where the emphasis lay, but it’s impossible to tell with these things without balancing acres of dictionaries to weigh out the tepid flow.
You liked my dress, you said, and that was good enough for me.
Jen Campbell, 23, has been published in a few places, won the Penguin Orange Readers’ Group Prize, and has just finished writing her first book. You can read more about that over here.
*National Short Story Week concludes tomrrow with a few of our favourite TPG stories*