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Starfish

Digital photographs, 2012

Tessa was about to make her third mistake of the day. A big, steaming, multi-headed mistake, bristling in anoraks and coats, between the condensation on the peeling door and the fake-wood counter.

About two feet from the spot where they should have been greeted, the family was waiting for a signal to release them from the confines of the cool, cream corridor into the warmth of the restaurant. The man had checked his watch several times and taken care to make just enough eye contact with Tessa to elicit a response.  But Tessa could not and would not respond, no matter how much he stared at her.

It had been seven minutes since the family had crossed the threshold and collectively inhaled the sweet traceries of Louis’s Sunday roast.

Tessa’s attention traveled a precise and involved route around the intricacies of lace-work on her apron. After a third trip round, the uniform stubbornly refused to offer anything that could realistically be considered to be of interest – and she realised she would have to look up. If she could just make it through the next few minutes, Sarah, the senior waitress, would be back from table 3. She would greet them properly. Tessa lacked confidence.

The man coughed.  Eight minutes.  Tessa could almost feel his impatience growing under those thick, black fatherly eyebrows. Her face felt hot and dirty. She looked at her watch, willing the time on, watching the second hand crawl around its circuit. Sarah had told her to wait, but the man was looking at her. She was the waitress. She was there in black and white and it didn’t make sense for her to ignore them. The boy would get restless soon. Tessa’s hand searched blindly for the pad that hung at her side and stopped its gentle swinging. She could go over to them and confess that she did not know what she was doing, but she had already lost two customers that morning by doing that. She tried a smile.

Download a pdf of the whole sorry tale here

Minestrone was originally published in Fash N Riot (2001), edited by Flora McLean and Anne Hardy.

In 1984, I didn’t kill the things I loved, I simply wore them out. I gorged myself on TV, music, food; anything that came along. Bright, coloured objects; plain, grey, casual clothes; and clinical, electronic music were the axis around which my body revolved, trying to find substitutes for love. Because love was everywhere, but just out of reach; in the records I listened to, on the radio, on TV, in magazines and books…everywhere. I wanted it, but I just couldn’t get love. From the trials I had done on my own I was certain that, with another person involved, its possibilities were inexhaustible. But I didn’t socialise, (outside college), and thoughts of specific girls, or love in general, always brought with them a whispering, jealous anxiety, for example: Once you’ve got your girl, what will you do with her? Where will you take her? How will you keep her entertained?

I did not act on love, until September. In the meantime, I paced about my family cell, listening to the same songs over and over again; hearing nothing beyond the stylus crunching into position on the record’s edge; the songs merging with my longing and the nights that always accompanied it…

Download: A Lemming Named Desire

Originally published in Girlboy (a Pulp Faction anthology edited by Elaine Palmer)