DORA – My mother had this really nasty friend who once tried to get into the bathroom while I was having a bath. I never liked her and couldn’t understand why she had all those boyfriends. What did they see in her? Her appeal was completely lost on me. All those men cheating on their wives for someone whose party trick was to pull her neck fat three inches away from her neck? No thanks. The fact my mother went out drinking with her so much was something that also went over my head, straight into orbit. In saying that, my mother was going through a divorce, so she was entitled to a few parties. Her friend, who I’m calling Dora, was just entitled. Whenever she talked, the topic was herself, which of course was great for anyone without ears. Since I have ears, I had to listen. I had a bedroom, a place to escape. But there was no escaping Dora. She’d poke her head through the open door while I was watching Doctor Who videos to tell me she wanted a fulfilling career as a psychiatrist.
Years later, I saw her in a shopping centre. By then my mother had stopped speaking to her, which was great because it meant I could watch Doctor Who videos in peace. I darted into the Fruit and Veg shop, which wasn’t like me at all. Now she’s gone, except in nightmares and blogs where I can write about her with venomous glee.
WILBO – My sister was a sort of den mother who enjoyed creating safe spaces for her gay friends. These safe spaces were usually my house, her mother’s house, or another friend’s house. Not her own. She would never do that. Only once did it go terribly wrong when she (and this is true) got in a stolen car and drove it at her friend’s sister. No charges were pressed. I was always amazed at all the people she seemed to attract. They appeared, stuck to her, and stayed firmly there until the inevitable falling out. One of them was Wilbo. No, that’s not his real name. But it’s his name for this story. Wilbo was a quiet lanky lad who didn’t get on with his family because they didn’t accept his sexuality. He appeared at the door one night in black suit trousers, a plaid shirt – and no teeth. I gasped. Who was this strange person? His voice was quite deep, which made me terribly jealous. I’ve always wanted a deep voice, just like Barry White. My voice sounds like a boiling kettle.
Wilbo eventually spoke to ask a question: Is XXXXXXXX there? I immediately called for my sister, who bounded down the stairs to meet him. Inviting Wilbo inside, they filled each other in on the important topics of their social circle. Katy’s going with Debbie Boring. / I heard Debbie Boring was going with Natty. / Debbie Boring is the only girl I know who stays in to watch The Olympics. That sort of thing. They lived for their social lives. I lived for their social lives too. I found it fascinating hearing what other people did in their lives, all the small details that my sister and her best friend delved into with absolute relish.
Their feverish friendship ended badly when Wilbo started crowding my sister. She suddenly found his attention stifling. Soon, there was someone new at the door, and their conversations were all about Wilbo and how he was an arsehole for saying this and that.
THUMPER THE CAT – My aunt owned a cat named Thumper. He was the only friend of hers that she didn’t secretly hate. She loved that lumpy big cat, doted on him. She probably liked him better than her husband. I visited once to have tea and Thumper was waiting. A large black cat, he was the physical embodiment of every dire superstition ever prophesised across the ages, the black cat you should avoid lest he crosses your path and inflicts misery and darkness on your life. There he was in front of me, wearing wore a pink collar. My aunt assured me it was a red collar. No, I said, it’s definitely pink. She didn’t reply. I took this as the final word in the topic of whether her butch black cat had a pink collar around his wide neck. In those days, the world was very rigid about gender and colour – and that included the world of pets. My aunt fed Thumpera can of Whiskas then we drank tea and ate Blue Ribands.
Later that night, long after I’d left, Thumper went outside to do what he did best: beat up every dog on the street. I heard about it from my mother. All the owners in the cul–de-sac despised Thumper. She’s bloody evil, said my mother, making the same mistake I’d made. She is a he, I explained. My mother couldn’t quite process this information. But…why is he wearing a pink collar? I breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn’t colour-blind after all.