When I was eleven I was given my own gun. I kept it in a black case beneath my bed and once a month on Sunday mornings I would line up with the other preteens and respond to the commands, “watch and shoot!” with genuine dedication. Standing in the sports halls of elite schools we would interrupt the intense silence as we lifted our pistols and unleashed the tiny bullets. We aimed at mechanical turning targets that hissed and issued a solid clunk as they rotated to face us, trying our best to blast a hole in the smallest ring in the hope of scoring a ten. I rarely managed to hit the target at all. More often, my poor aim would make dents in the archaic wooden plaques that hung proudly on the walls, engraved with the names of the school’s prolific ex-cricketers and rugby players. Sometimes I got lucky though and then I would take home an ugly medal with an illustrated rifle embellished on the silver plated metal. I kept these in a hand-painted box along with the Valentine’s cards I mailed and addressed to myself.
Towards the end of primary school I was obsessed with the idea of having pseudo-serious romantic interests and spent days cultivating an image of myself that I found attractive in florid verse. When these lyrics were complete I would scrawl them inside the cards I bought from the village shop, using unfamiliar handwriting to mask my own identity. When these cards arrived I would show them to everyone in my family, as well as to the girls in my class and read snatches of them aloud during mealtimes or morning break. Mostly, I wanted people to think that I must be very popular and universally adored, but I simultaneously hoped that my listeners might compliment the prose. They never did. I’ve looked back on these examples of my early writing and can’t fully understand why. The love notes are even accompanied by neat illustrations drawn in scented gel pens, although the fragrance has long since faded.
I turned thirteen in December and in the spring that followed I developed my first real crush. Her name was Kate and I thought that she was impressive in various ways. A typical Capricorn, I went about the flirtation diligently and methodically, exhibiting the determination often attributed to the most hard-working sign of the zodiac. Like a goat traipsing up a hill I noted down her choices in the canteen at lunch, observing how often she opted for a baked potato and which days she neglected to eat at all. Like a lot of girls our age, she skipped the midday meal on Wednesdays because she had PE straight afterwards, which I supposed meant that she didn’t like exercising on a full stomach. It didn’t bother me particularly, but then I ate egg mayonnaise on sliced white everyday which was light and fluffy in my digestive system unlike, for example, a large hot panini, which is what Kate ate on Thursdays. I tried to note her tastes beyond the lunch table, but to be honest, I never saw her with a book. I had also never spoken to her so I couldn’t ask her what films she liked outright, or if she enjoyed watching Eastenders and The Simpsons. Both of which I was immensely fond of. Yet even from afar I did manage to gather a surprising amount of information:
- On the days she missed the bus she arrived at school looking sweaty and red in the face because she had been forced to cycle. A side note: she seemed like the sort of girl who would make being late a habit as she progressed through secondary school. However, the fact that she made it to school, without the help of the bus was a sign of her good character and commitment to learning, which I liked
- She never wore her blazer and as a consequence I automatically hid mine under my bed and told my mum it was lost forever
- She had four main friends and was on the outer circle of two other friendship groups
- She could do the splits
- She drew horses on her organiser
And from Instagram I learnt:
- She stayed up late (much later than me) and on average she posted her final Instastory of the day at 12:10am
- She didn’t like her mum or her brother very much because they failed to respect her privacy – something which as her friend (or possibly her romantic interest) I would never do
- Her favourite filters on Instagram and Snapchat were the ones that enlarged her eyes even though I felt that they were the perfect size to begin with
- She liked swimming
- She didn’t have a boyfriend
To summarise, these are the reasons I fancied her:
- She was probably the eleventh prettiest girl in her year, which was the year above mine
- She was really good at basketball (as of recently, we both played on the U14s and she was much better than me. I had mainly joined the team because Kate played on it and in reality I tried to avoid the ball as much as possible)
- She got a lot of likes on Instagram and if we were friends (or girlfriends) I would undoubtedly get more traction on that platform too
- I liked that she wore her brother’s clothes sometimes
- When she got on the bus it gave me a fluttery feeling in my legs which I found highly addictive
These lists probably don’t offer an altogether convincing assessment that Kate and I were the best match exactly, but I was willing to put in the ground work. Armed with my findings I googled images of horses, printed out my favourites and stuck them onto my own weekly planner. At home I practised doing the splits in my bedroom. I undertook these exercises in my tights and created holes in the crotch of three pairs and pulled a muscle around my groin. I already liked swimming, but to make this more apparent I repurposed other people’s images of swimmers and embellished them with inspirational quotes such as, “why diet when you can swim fifty lengths instead!”. I also started posting a lot of selfies using filters that gave my face a surreal golden sheen, plump lips and a halo. My mum followed me on social media and was confused as to why I was obscuring what she referred to as my natural beauty with such bizarre and unrealistic cyphers, but I told her that she wouldn’t understand. She was old and single after all.
Now that I’d begun to execute my plan to seduce Kate – by cultivating new hobbies and interests – I thought I might be ready to take the next step. Kate got on the bus one stop after me and alighted one stop earlier, so as she walked down the aisle I thrust out a packet of liquorice allsorts (a variety I knew she enjoyed as I’d seen her eat them before) and asked if she’d like one. She looked at me as if I was completely strange and possibly mad, but wordlessly took a handful which was just as well seeing as I abhorred them.
I thought it would be best to initiate conversation on the bus as the vehicle acted as a relatively liminal space outside of the parameters and expectations of regular school social codes. It wasn’t as if the rules did not apply, but in certain circumstances they could be relaxed. For instance, a hierarchy determined where you sat: generally, the older you were the closer to the backseat you were likely to sit; but if you were slightly cooler than your age bracket suggested, the normal order could be discarded in favour of a more permeable and amorphous structure. As I mentioned, my increased activity on Instagram had aided my (very) steady rise in popularity. As such, I moved one seat back and thus one seat closer to Kate. Although this could also be attributed to the fact that I told Billy Badger that my place by the window had a better view which encouraged him to swap his seat with mine. Billy Badger was an idiot and would believe anything.
After my offering of the pastel coloured liquorice, I waited for the next opportunity to present itself. The morning after I liked a bunch of Kate’s photos I complimented the make up tutorial she’d done on her live video, especially the experimental red eyeliner. She smiled at me and said she’d do mine sometime. This was definite progress and I contemplated whether I should pretend that I hadn’t already had my birthday party so that I could invite her. But deep down I knew you couldn’t begin a friendship – or a relationship – based on lies.
On Monday we both went to basketball practice and it was there that I took charge of the situation, which I felt wasn’t moving fast enough. First, I asked her if she wanted to be my partner for the drill exercises. She seemed slightly surprised but said yes all the same. It might seem strange that she acquiesced, given that the politics of partners in PE is notoriously complex. But, possibly it helped that I am actually quite cute: I’m small for my age; I have a lot of freckles and in primary school people always used to want me to sit on their laps. These traits didn’t hold quite the same currency now that I was in year eight as they had done when I was nine, but I knew how to be charming, and more importantly, when to hide just how precocious I really was. Happily partnered with Kate, we practised passing the ball to each other and I could feel myself improving under Kate’s tutelage and when we moved on to playing a proper game I even made an effort to keep hold of the ball.
Because of basketball practice we both missed the school bus and ended up walking along the same route towards the bus stop in town. Earlier my mum texted offering to pick me up, but I firmly told her that I would not be needing her help. My relationship with Kate was hardly going to develop if I was being driven home in my mum’s Peugeot 306. So I followed Kate into town but then to my surprise she unearthed a cigarette from her bag and began smoking it nonchalantly as she walked along. A few steps behind her I was forced to reassess my judgement of Kate’s character: was this a normal thing for someone in year nine to do? Especially an athlete! Obviously I hated smoking and regularly berated my mother when she inhaled deeply on a solitary roll up in our conservatory. For the first time in the three weeks since I realised my crush, I began to have doubts. Perhaps Kate wasn’t right for me. Even at thirteen I was acutely aware that I had no interest in any of the boys in my year who frankly, were beneath me. But what I hadn’t contemplated was the possibly that Kate wasn’t quite as impressive as my initial intuition suggested. I held this thought in my mind and continued walking until we both arrived at the bus stop; a terminal that would transport us away from the soggy, bleak market town to the even wetter depths of the surrounding countryside. Standing in the shelter I watched her flick the cigarette butt into a puddle and it was like a silver-tinted cloud was lifting from my eyes – and it wasn’t just the cigarette smoke that was beginning to dissipate. Feeling sad and disillusioned, I searched for my copy of The Virgin Suicides from within my school bag and began to read.
When we boarded the bus, Kate proceeded to pull out a sandwich and a packet of Monster Munch from her burgundy Fjallraven backpack. The bread roll was filled with pink fleshy ham and butter, and as I watched, Kate carefully placed individual crisps between the meat and the bread. Inside the sandwich, I imagined the crisps were becoming smeared with a thick layer of Lurpak spreadable, making them slimy and moist. As the bus rattled along, the smell of pickled onions wafted from her seat to mine and lingered in the air while she crunched her revolting snack. The sound was vile and I lamented my lack of headphones. I had a pair in my bag which I tended to place in my ears when I wanted to pretend to ignore people, but they didn’t actually work, and would therefore be utterly useless in trying to block out the unsavoury noise Kate was making while she ate. The journey passed slowly and I tried to concentrate on the mysterious sadness of the Lisbon sisters, but all I could think about was how creepy and annoying those nameless male narrators were and how much I disliked the sound of Kate eating. I put my book away.
When we finally reached Kate’s stop she turned to wave goodbye to me and I plastered a false smile on my face to return her farewell. Little did she know that I wouldn’t be offering her my sweets or my company again. When I finally got home no one in my family was there. Which was just as well given that I hadn’t announced to them that I thought I might be a budding homosexual yet and they might find it strange if they came home to find me performing an intricate goodbye ritual to mark the erasure of a girl I barely knew. To begin I selected the pictures from Kate’s Instagram grid that had first enchanted me and printed them out. My mum was an artist and had really thick paper that she used sometimes, so I printed the photos on that. I took the images and stuck them over the top of one my practice targets. With Pritt Stick I glued a picture of her face right over the top of the number ten. Carrying my gun in its special case, I marched into the barn next door and went straight to the makeshift shooting range that the farmer had helped set up for me. I pinned up my former muse and took my position ten meters from the target. Steadily, I loaded the gun and relinquished myself from my brief obsession with Kate Albright.
Brodie Crellin lives in London and works as an assistant to a Literary Scout. Previously, she completed an MA in Sexual Dissidence at the University of Sussex, where she focused her research on lesbian visual culture, particularly the recurrence of both hands and equine imagery in queer women’s art and writing. Currently, she writes on film, art and literature and her essays and reviews have been published in Tank, Another Gaze, Diva, Sleek and Emotional Art Magazine. This is her first story.