‘The Purple Skirt’ fiction by Jennifer Horgan

Boys notice me. Men do too. Especially when I’m walking home from school. I keep my head down like, pretend not to notice but it would be easier if I’d smaller boobs maybe, or fatter legs. Then the back of my neck mightn’t hurt from keeping my head down so much. It’s annoying. 

Last week, there were two men in a big flashy car. They’d like beards, ties on – real men like. Their windows were down, both whistling and calling out gorgeous, sexy, the usual crap. It was sunny and my face must have looked all scrunched up. I wasn’t smiling at them or anything, just looked up… Once they passed, I saw my dad driving right behind them in his old red van. My face changed then I’d say. When I arrived home, he told me to put on chips for dinner without saying hello. 

It felt pretty shitty. 

He’d totally freak if he could see me now. 

Catherine got the vodka from her gaff, filled her mam’s back up with water when she wasn’t looking. 

‘Oh my god like, they’ll never notice girl. Sure, those two’d be drinking ev’ry night. Might be good for ’em, to get some HY-DRAT-ION.’ 

She says this last bit slowly, by the syllable, in my face and in a silly voice. It makes me laugh. She calls it voddie. She’s peeling the water bottle sign off, so it doesn’t look obvious. Her hands are slim, tanned like her legs. There’s chipped purple nail varnish on them. She’s chewing Hubba Bubba and I can smell the blueberry. She’s bobbing like she’s listening to a song in her head. 

I’m wearing a skirt, pale purple, lilac, with silver buttons down the front. It’s kind of velvety. I love it! But I haven’t worn one since I was small. I feel different in a skirt, different to how I feel in my uniform. I put it on there in Catherine’s gaff. Half the fun is getting ready together sure. 

‘Oh my god, there’s Gavin. Oh my god Sas, he’s here. How do I look?’ 

Catherine’s eyes have never been wider. I wonder if she should spit out her bubble gum and I give her a tissue. She takes it and puts it straight in her pocket. 

I’m not sure how Catherine looks, to boys that is. She hasn’t changed that much yet. She doesn’t have boobs and you can still see her big blotchy freckles even when she wears make-up like tonight. She’s got a bit of a moustache too. Not that I’d say it. But she’s got the nicest tan in our year and she’s really fit and sporty. 

‘You look great!’ 

She’s not listening. 

‘Oh my god, oh my god! I can’t believe he’s actually here.’ Her bobbing has stopped; she’s gone still. Her face has a fish-like quality; her eyes popping and her mouth tight and stiff looking. 

But I mean it when I say she looks great, coz she does to me. 

‘A’right, girls.’ 

Gavin comes through the ditch like he’s arriving at a VIP club or something. Not that I’d know what that looks like, but he looks cool. 

He swings his body round, drops a huge backpack onto the long grass, unzips it, pulls out a four-pack of cider, throws the plastic bit away and opens a can with his ringed finger. He’s wearing a black hoody and black jeans and his legs look tight and springy. He’s got a bit of a moustache too but it’s a lot darker than Catherine’s. I wonder will they notice that about each other when they kiss? Would their baby be born with a moustache if they had one?
‘You seen Johnno yet, no? I’ll lay into him. Told him to meet me here with the rest of me gatt.’
The taste of the vodka is gross; I’m glad I only have to drink the one bottle. Tonight is my first time. 

He hasn’t looked at Catherine yet, hasn’t said anything to her. He seems fidgety, like he’s nervous about something. Like, he’s really sure of everything he’s doing and saying, but kinda nervous too. The way he’s acting you’d swear there was a crowd watching from inside the woods or something, like they’re expecting a performance or something. 

He pulls himself up on the ESB box, spray-painted in blues and yellows, and digs out a pack of Johnny Blue; two of his fingers are hard and yellow and he’s got really long fingernails. The yellow ones look manky. Catherine takes one from him and I notice her hands are shaking; but there’s no way Gavin notices. He’s too busy pulling hard on his fag, flicking the ash more than he needs to, sending tiny sparks into the warm summer air. Some make it to the grass and hang there for a second before turning black, vanishing. They’re like the pinpricks of stars that’ll come out soon, but it’s not dark enough yet. Not quite. The grass is either overgrown or bald. It’s a bit crap, the amount of rubbish around the place. From people like us. 

When Johnno arrives, Gavin kind of nods and within seconds takes Catherine’s hand, leads her round the other side of the box. It’s weird coz they’ve barely spoken to each other but when he takes her hand it looks all romantic and familiar. Like they do it all the time. Like they’re a real couple in a film or something. 

I should mention Johno’s D-VINE! He’s way taller than me and he’s got a tanned neck with one or two dark freckles on it. He looks English, like a footballer, especially when he wears white coz his skin looks really tanned. He’s loads of deodorant on, Lynx I’d say, all the fellas wear it, and a silver chain that catches the lights of the cars as they pass. He’s got big lips and he keeps them open, hanging down a bit. 

We’ve never spoken before, but he smiled at me once when I was waiting for the bus. 

We’re standing next to each other now, taking sips every so often. The silence is a bit awkward. He isn’t smoking but I almost wish he would – it would give him something to do. A dog’s peed on the wall we’re leaning on and the wet stain looks a bit like a rose with a drooping head. Shit, I think he’s looking at my legs. They look nice in the light though. I play round with the can Gavin dropped with my foot so he can look a little more. I can feel the breeze travelling up my thigh. 

I thought the four of us would be hanging out tonight; it seems strange that it’s just me and him. I like the way his collar is turned up though. It looks ironed; I’d say his mam irons his clothes for him. 

My mam used to do that too, for my dad like. I sorta remember watching her. I can hear the radio in the background and she’s singing. She’d beautiful blond hair my mam and wore really colourful shirts and belts and ballet shoes. Her ankles were really light and dainty, and I remember her twirling to the fridge to get something. I can see her picking me up too, tickling me with her long fingers, thin gold rings on them. I’m not sure if I remember her right sometimes or if it’s from the photos. 

She died of cancer when I was seven, just after my birthday. 

I wish Catherine had met her, that all the people I know now had met her. Sometimes it feels like she only exists for me and my dad and I feel bad for her. 

I think she’d like Johno’s ironed collar; I think she’d like that his mam does that for him. 

He’s kissing me now. 

There’s a vague orangey taste off him. A minty-orangey cold taste. It’s not bad or anything but it’s not that nice either, almost metallic. His tongue is as big as his lips. Maybe even bigger. I’m glad I don’t have a blocked nose anymore coz I wouldn’t be able to breathe if I did. I’m kissing him back but I’m already thinking about what I’m going to tell Catherine. I open my eyes slightly and see his are closed. I hate when a boy opens his eye; it looks like they’re zombies or something. 

He’s getting excited now. I can feel it; it’s all warm and hard, like proper hard against me. Shit, I hope he doesn’t lift up my skirt. 

I’ve tucked my top in, but his hands are playing ‘round at my waist, searching kinda. Ya, he’s trying to get under my top. Shit. Shit. 

I suppose I better let him feel me up, but he’s not fingering me. No way. I don’t wanna be called frigid, but I don’t want to be a slut like Nicola O’Leary either. 

I hear Gavin’s cough and Johno’s hand whips away almost at the same time. It’s all a bit weird to see Catherine looking at me. Feels like we haven’t seen each other in ages. 

After a while we go back to drinking but the boys talk to each other more than they talk to us. They don’t hang around long either. 

‘Fuck’s sake like’
I’ve never heard Catherine sound so bothered before. ‘What?’ I manage, feeling dizzy.
‘I think we did it on nettles; my bum’s really sore.’ 

I don’t react but I somehow know she won’t be writing about Gavin in her notebook anymore. I feel bad for her but she’s not saying it in a way that asks for me to talk back. She’s saying it like she might say, it’s raining or something. Like God it’s raining, and I forgot my coat

She’s got her hoody zipped up now and I can see Goosebumps on her brown legs. She seems further away somehow or like when you meet someone you know really, really well, in an unexpected place like a supermarket or something. It takes a while to adjust to them; they look so different, so out of place or something. 

My dad arrives outside just as we get back. 

‘Are ye only here now?’ 

‘Ya, it was a long one’ I wave at Catherine and she waves at me and my dad, walks down her sloped driveway, past the bike she rides to school. 

I hope Gavin won’t talk about her the way boys talk about Nicola O’Leary. 

I know my dad won’t ask what film we’ve been to see in case I can’t answer. Once before he asked me why
I wasn’t going swimming, and I had to tell him I’d my period. If it hadn’t been for Catherine, I’d be a mess around my period. She’s so comfortable with all that stuff. Her body’s just there. You know? It’s like her clothes or her cigarettes or her bike. Just another thing in her world. She doesn’t seem bothered by any of it. 

I’m not like that with mine.
‘You look nice’ he says after a bit
I’ve no idea what to say. ‘Thanks dad.’
‘You know, you always look nice, whatever you wear. Your mam would like your skirt I’d say.’ 

He hasn’t mentioned her in a while. Why now? Can he smell the vodka? Does he know about Johno? Did he see us? I can feel my body sweating; I can actually feel individual drips down the dip of my back and the back of my legs. There’s a bit of a sting from the fake tan; I can smell it too. All his usual bits in the little cubbies, the elastic bands and pens, the tape and the keys and the screwdriver, they all feel a bit suffocating. 

I know I need to say something, but I don’t know where to start. 

I kinda want to tell him I think Catherine had sex tonight and that I’m not sure she wanted to, and that I never really want to have sex and I wish boys and men would go away for a bit and leave me and Catherine to talk about other stuff more. 

I wanna tell him I’m lonely as hell and I feel bad about myself sometimes around him and think he feels bad about himself too. 

And I wanna to tell him to start getting pads in the big shop, so I don’t have to ask him for them every month. 

‘Would mam like what you’re wearing?’ I watch myself smiling and laughing like nothing’s wrong. My dad’s wearing pyjama pants and a hoody, and his hair is all ruffled, grey around his ears. 

‘Ya, I think she would.’ 

His eyes shine a bit and I know he’s right. I remember them hugging a lot, quietly, in the kitchen mainly, when I’d get out of bed at night coz I couldn’t sleep. 

Seems like the right thing to do now is to be quiet too. So, I am. My mam would definitely be happy that he’s not smoking anymore. 

I really hope Catherine’s ok.
That she’s got somebody great to talk to like my dad. 

fiction by Jennifer Horgan

Jennifer Horgan is a teacher, freelance journalist, poet and lyricist. She was born in Cork, Ireland and spent twelve years in London and Abu Dhabi. She returned home in 2018 to work in Cork Educate Together Secondary School. Her work has been published in Crossways magazine, Idler, Euonia Review, Culture Matters – An Anthology of Contemporary Irish Poetry, The Irish Examiner and the Evening Echo

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