Wrtiting Prompt: “He took the pill and waited”
Writing time: 3 hours
Editing time: cuppla bloody minutes
Mark took the pill and waited. He had never done it before; the truth is that he had never wanted to. He didn’t even like music festivals very much, and yet here he was as well. He had good reason, and bad reason, to be. He was here because Jessica, his girlfriend of 2 years, was there too. She came every year; this was his first.
She enjoyed this type of thing more than he did; drugs, clubbing, booze. He preferred Friday nights in with a bottle of wine, or Saturday nights out at Guliano’s, the Italian on the High Street. “The only decent carbonara I’ve had in the UK, they do it the Italian way- without the cream,” he said every time he proposed it to Jess, as if he had to justify taming her night.
And yet he loved her for her hedonism. Most of the time, at least. She was deeply ingrained in her group of friends, who made her very happy, which made him happy. Mark knew a few of them from school, but lost contact with most people in the town when he went to university. He sat on the outside of the group, usually, talking to one or two. The atmosphere was most often respectful but, disinterested. He sometimes felt hurt at the lack of attention she’d give him in these social situations. He was sure they asked Jess why she was with him when he wasn’t there.
What Jess didn´t know was that whenever she went out with her friends, he would never fall asleep until he heard her come back in the door. As soon as she’d climb into bed- breathing deeply and reeking of gin, he’d finally doze off. The nights she didn’t come home were hell. Genuine hell. There is no way that she would ever do anything stupid, he knew that and believed that truly and thoroughly. It was his own problem. Given too much space, his brain had a tendency to wander. It was a master at painting scenarios in his head. Of Jess doing coke in some bathroom and keeling over. Or of Jess drunkenly being taken advantage of in a taxi. Or of Jess meeting some French hunk called Antoine (he even had a name for him) at The Den, booking a train to Paris to live with this turtle-neck wearing, poetry writing twat forever more. That there would be no French hunk at that shithole club was beside the point- his imagination was that good.
He could never tell her this, of course. He capitalised on her hangovers by asking passive aggressive questions about the night before, in the hope that she could tell he was struggling with something. To say it out loud would be to out himself as a psycho: goodbye Jess, goodbye stability, farewell self-esteem. She never clocked it, to his knowledge. In actual fact she did. But to her it was a minor issue.
One morning after, Mark let himself slip out of his mask. Jess had stayed on Stephen’s couch the night before (or so she said). He had no reason to not believe her. And, in truth, Stephen was pleasant in the eyes of Mark. Jess had known him since she was at primary school, her family were friends with his, they even went to the same university where they dated for three years. That was the hurdle (or mountain) that he had to mentally jump.
“Why did she still have to go for Sunday lunch at Stephen’s place like it’s some sort of fucking religion?” he had said. “Is it him who you message all the time? You probably tell him goodnight”. She didn’t talk to him for the rest of the day. Rightly so.
Mark used the thought of Stephen to torture himself at night when Jess was late home. “He’s better looking than I am, his arms make mine look like strands of wool, as does his no-doubt gargantuan penis,” and on, and on until Jess’ entrance into the bed snuffed out the darkness.
When Jess had courteously suggested the Mark should come to the festival, he said: yes. Stephen would definitely be there and he was the default tent-sharing option. With Mark there, however, everyone would think it abnormal if the couple didn’t share at tent. Mark even bought the tent to make sure they’d have to sleep together.
He felt terrible about this. Jess had no idea of his motives. If she found out, not that she ever could unless he said something—he was a good actor, by now—she would be perfectly in the right to break up with him. He would expect that, actually. Which made it all the more important to keep up the façade, to pretend to have fun, to try make conversation, even with Stephen if he had to. Most important and most secret of all; to keep an eye on Jess.
Did this mean he didn’t trust her? He supposed so. He often worried he loved her too much, but he also worried that he was just controlling. The irony was that whenever he had a dark moment, where a sort of grief boiled up at the imaginary scenarios he so masterfully created in his head, he knew it meant nothing. And yet, if he was alone, they had genuine mental consequences. He felt under attack. Fighting against his own brain to keep his head above sanity.
– – – – – – –
He took the pill and waited. He bided his time, holding it in his teeth for a minute or so, but the taste was so awful and, unable to spit it out without making a scene, he swallowed.
Sat in a circle in Mike’s tent, Jess and Stephen, Mike and Isabel had all done the same. Jess was sat next to Stephen, rather than himself, Mark noted, and she had linked her arm under his. Nothing, he thought, look at Mike and Isabel, try to make conversation with them.
They were too busy kissing. Mark couldn’t hear what Jess and Stephen were talking about, so he couldn’t properly join in. He found himself awkwardly poised in the group of friends, as if nobody actually wanted him there at all. He didn’t want to be there, but we’ve touched on that.
Half an hour passed and Mark had literally not said a word. Would anybody know if he left? He wanted to, but his desire to watch Jess was stronger. He felt a cold pang go through his stomach and down to his knees. Did it feel good? He didn’t really know. Everybody was by now looking at him, so he got up to leave the tent.
It was confusing outside. The overcast sky betrayed a setting sun. People were walking through the gaps between the rows of tents, tripping over guy-lines and singing the songs they expected to hear that evening. He felt sick, and spinny. He didn’t feel good; he knew that for sure.
He needed to leave. Find a porta-loo, sit down for a bit, just get out of whatever patch of air he was currently in. He trusted Jess again, he was being stupid before.
He wandered out, trying not to make eye contact with any of the fellow revellers. He trudged down the stinking, muddy trail to the row of stinking, muddy porta-loos. A queue, of course. He waited in line.
His head was thumping and waves of nausea lapped at the back of his eyes. He felt like death. Did Jess feel like this? Oh, fuck- Stephen! He’s probably shagging her already, he thought.
He locked the plastic handle and sat down on the seat. He definitely felt like he was going to spew. His hands were in his head and… wait.
He pulled his trousers down and pulled them back up and pulled them back down.
He threw up between his feet, into his boxers.
“Y’alrite mate?” someone called from outside.
He struggled a “fine” and drifted off.
No messages, no missed calls. To be fair, only an hour had passed. He tried to wipe his boxer somewhat clean. Thankfully it was mainly cider, but the smell of it made him gag again.
His head was, by now, pounding, but he okay. Okay enough to walk back up to the tent, at least. It was dark now and most of the revellers he saw sat outside their tents earlier were at the main stage. He was sure that people were looking at him worriedly as he clambered back up to Mike’s big orange tent. It was empty, of course. He looked around, saw Jess’ crumpled bottle of Strongbow, her cigarette butts and her jumper.
He picked up the jumper and smelled it. For a moment he was comforted by the smell of the perfume he’d bought her for Christmas. “She wouldn’t wear it if she didn’t love me,” he thought. He no longer had the mental strength to paint the horrific images of Jess’ dead body, or Jess kissing Stephen, or Jess meeting Antoine in his head. He simply stumbled next door and climbed into the tent he had bought for them.
He stared at the ceiling, counting the squares on the roof of the tent, flicking his lighter on and off, until he burnt his hand on the metal. He hated this. Really hated this. Perhaps I should just go, he thought. Leave now and see if Jess even bothers to text me in the morning. I bet she wouldn’t, he lamented.
He pulled the sleeping back over his head and held his breath for as long as he could. He might as well be at home, he could be with his brother, at Guliano’s, or watching Netflix.
The tent unzipped and he held perfectly still. A long drawn “Heyyyy” issued from Jess’s contorted mouth. She smiled at him and passed out.
He pressed his hand to hers through the sleeping bag and fell asleep.