Short Fiction by Alice-Louise MacGillivrary
See through me. See through me.
The base picks up, my nerves spark and the words slow down, stretching over me.
Spin, spin, sugar.
I cannot help but move my mouth to this song. Make noise in alliance to these lyrics. Because music solidifies a sense of things, something to latch the mad shit in life to, to help me understand why these very mad and very shit things happen. And that I am, realistically, just everyone.
I’m everyone, I feel used.
I’m everyone, I need you.
I want perfection, I am real need. I’ve seen attention, see through me…
I push my croaky, fagged-out voice as the weed’s smoky fingers creep beneath the tiny toilet’s cardboard door, latching onto my face, pulling down the heavy bags beneath my eyes. A pull, that would surely help me go to the loo after two bloody weeks. Just one puff for moral, to help the pain. Many say it is good for my disease. No. I really can’t. I have a proper job now. I cannot be high because I am being normal. Working a normal job, in a hope to feel normal. One of my two flatmates turns up the volume.
Stinks on me. Spin, spin, sugar.
Fuck, puff or no puff, my uniform is going to stink.
Twist for me. Spin, spin, sugar.
I carry on singing, to try and forget the actual now (sat on the loo, quite literally, praying for a poo) and enjoy how these words resonated. Made me feel alive. Still do. I have exhausted them, like I have exhausted me.
Overthinking, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Call on me, spin, spin sugar. Crawl on me, spin, spin, sugar…
I loved spinning around that pole to this song while singing. “It’s a strip club Luv. Not a karaoke bar!” Remembering some of the gratis critiques from the club’s ‘lads’ will always make me chuckle. “Here to see your body, not hear your voice.” There were a lot of laughs to be had as Angel, Angel felt like an everyone; to spite people telling me I was not medically alright. I was always fooling around the club, actively, despite a so-called disability that gives you fatigue. Because I was usually on speed. Making customers laugh being that I was 6 foot 6 inches in Perspex platforms, a wig and false tits, joking to some of the smaller men that I was going to pick them up, put them over my shoulder and make them have a £20 dance. And it usually worked, though some did comment I was not right in the head. And ironically, physiologically, apparently I’m not.
Like when the club owner asked me to don the 10-12 year old uniform from Woolworths for Fantasy Hour because that’s all he had and Gia had sold a double dance with me, and Gia was dressed as a schoolgirl, and he wanted another schoolgirl. Well, he ended up telling me I was the “Biggest schoolgirl I’ve ever seen” laughing, red-faced whilst unzipping his trouser fly. So, I kicked him between his legs, and I hope I put him off schoolgirls for life.
As Angel, masquerading as we all do, misogyny moulded, I was giving two fuck-you fingers to those stupid words weighing heavy on me. To just get on with it really without actually acknowledging anything. Survival via approval. So, they don’t see a degenerative disease but Angel instead, the epitome of cliché male masturbation.
I was happy spinning around that dirty pole covered in false tan and make-up and everything else we felt we had to put on our bodies in a hope of being more appealing naked. That cold, steel, manmade pole, covered in layers of dead skin and sweat and want. A grit would actually help us grip that sticky, stinking pole we worked to open doors in our different worlds. Spinning, surviving, denying.
“You can’t come crying to me because people don’t understand you, when these poor people don’t know what they are meant to be understanding in the first place?!” My Welsh mother. Always a cracking way with words. My poor mother who discovered my night work after my uncle was on “business” in the audience watching me topless on stage. “AL??!” he had inquired walking up to the front of the audience. I froze. “It’s Huw” he said like seeing a long-lost friend who doesn’t recognise you.
“Who?!” I said, grabbing my Asda George bra from the floor whilst covering my big boobs with my arm. “Angel” I stated, falling into the changing room thankfully next to the stage. But now I had a proper job to help my poor boarding school-paying mother’s sanity. A proper job for the family to talk about, and to build my CV. A good job, like a good girl, with a shiny capitalist company whose name drop causes people to widen their eyes and inquire about the benefits now available to me, and by association, to them. A clean job that sparkles on social media, guaranteeing you lots of Likes from people you hardly know, even DMs from people who hated you in school. Would I at all consider upgrading the bully and her boyfriend on their honeymoon. Stroll on Sweetfart.
Because now I am a real person working for real company, finally, after 6 weeks of training and exams, and a “Sorry but we are not actually sure if you will be able to work for us with your disability”. Turned out I needn’t have tried to hide my naked dancing for money. A lot of women working the ‘proper’ job had danced or still did, because the ‘proper’ pay was so shit. In the end, my little health thing, that little tick box, was overlooked, as luckily in the age of HR and equality, my disability was a bonus on their payroll. I was in. Changing for the better, for the sake of my health, in spite of the categorising words I hated so much it had driven me to dance, because surely no-one associates a stripper with fake DDs with being disabled.
I’ve not slept for 72 hours, sat here on the loo. I’ve been jet-lagged and traumatised from my last shift, seeing a pair of fake boobs burst. I glance queasily down at the stretched skin, two half-footballs, stuck on my chest and for the first time feel uneasy with my decision to inflate. The toilet is rocking slightly. I close my eyes and carry on croaking to the classic noughties dance tunes my two, also false tit-ted, flatmates play. I must try at least to rest, and shit, before pushing my body machine to the extreme, again, masking myself in order to appear what I am not.
As Angel, you’re worth it. A spectacle. Angel, with perfect DD’s and a disability, goes climbing up and up that pole, temptingly titivating in time to the tune. Up and up, while men watch and cheer from below, and throw notes at me in awe and delight. I can, I will, reach the top. For them. For me, so I can forget about this patronising, pissing disability. And they can get a bloody good view of my always shaven, always rashed, relentlessly itchy, pussy in scratchy sexy lingerie.
But I can’t climb anymore. I’m really hot. I feel beads of sweat on my forehead. I wink awkwardly at my audience. My arms are suddenly dead weights, palms slippery with perspiration. I let go and grip just with my thighs, for dear life.
“Done too many drugs that one, look at her.”
I hang upside down on the pole, helplessly, like a big boobed, blonde bat. I slide, covered in sweat, down and down and
“Get out!! Else I’ll have to shit in the kitchen sink. Then you’ll really have something to moan about”. My flatmate.
I look at my watch. Fuck. I have to be glam and preened to perfection in an hour. God, give me a line to get me moving. To get everything moving. Energy and rid me of the shit factor. My flat mate’s face in my face. She laughs noticing my sweat, “Shouldn’t push that much, you’ll get piles”, and gleefully pushes past me to claim the loo. Lucky bitch, I think as I hear her drop her load with ease. Doctor said it could be early menopause, the sweats, another label explaining why I feel like a 6-foot sack of shit. “Get a grip and get on with it,” my mother’s tongue again slaps encouragingly.
I slump to the coffee machine, select an Intenso capsule which boosts the flat’s already pungent smell, and pop the big blue tablet that is meant to help me. The anti-depressant, the anti-real life, anti-give a fuck about anything you think matters on the carousal of crap in your mind. Because you are now giving it a go in the real world. Proper job. Where I can wear proper comfy pants and not worry about hairs on my fanny.
Unsteady and jittery in a second skin-like skirt and 4-inch heels, topped-off with a painfully pinned hairpiece, I steer past slower, more graciously gaited crew. I wish I hadn’t had 4 Intenso coffee shots, but I was resisting a line of cocaine from the flatmate. Seems God really can answer your asks sometimes. I’m glad of my two suitcases either side of me for some Zimmer-like support. Any decorum I should have in the uniform I’m currently sweating in is dissipating swiftly, I can’t be late again. I check in at just on one-minute past. The Check-In lady assures me, the flight is delayed. I now have time to kill and the Check-In lady, eyeballing my make-up which I know is out of place on my face, points me in the right direction. “You can sit down over there” she says with a smile and a wink. Over there I see beauties sat down in front of uniform rows of spotlight mirrors. Just like dancing days, but with more clothes. I slap my sweaty ass down like I’ve finally made it, but I know I still have to travel halfway across the world before I really make it. I am not ready for the mirror yet. I look around at the others, their beautiful, flawless faces happily exchanging stories about Pilot Daddy gifts, parties, celebs, weddings, babies… One flawlessness notices I’m staring. I reach for my phone which, knowing everything there is to know about me, suggests an inspiring video of a girl who lost her legs but is now a life positive guru. She must be on drugs, I think.
“Best put on a bit more lipstick babes. The FSM is Michelle.” One of the mirror gorgeousness’s breaks my contemplation of the video. I look at her and she smiles, “You’ll be fine. Just a bit more lippy.” I am jump-started into a handbag excavation for my make-up bag, I will take the mirror face-on, conform, make the most of me, and my achy, tingly, tired legs in Active leg tight tights. Well, least I have legs.
I think back to my first flight, when the Captain had called ‘new crew’ – this being just me – into his Flight Deck.
“You’re a tall one. How tall are you?” he asked.
Taller than I you, I thought, as his small yet round, sparrow-like body craned from the controls to take a good look at me. His co-pilot followed suit.
“Shouldn’t you be looking where you’re going?” I said to the ogling. “Eyes on the air and all that?” I quickly added as the comment hung.
“Haha! A funny one. Alice is it?” he said, observing the name badge pinned on my left breast. “Sit down Luv,” the Captain said.
I did, then acted shyly to save me having to speak. I listened to where the Captain had flown and celebrity parties he’d been invited to and a whole list of ball-bulging conquests. At least the view of the sky was immense.
“What’s your tea-making like then?”
“No sugar for me dear, I’m sweet enough”
On my return with the tea, Captain Cock stated, “I’ll take you for shopping and champagne down route!”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s kind. But would your wife not mind?” Unable to hold back, looking at the ring on his finger.
My response turned him red and to my relief I was dismissed. Later that night at the bar, he cracked it again. I was drunk, and, weighed with a guilt I think I will always feel from having stripped for married men and determined not to sell myself again, I told him to stick it.
I was not allowed to fly on the return flight he Captained, resulting in an extra day in LA. Yeah. And a talk with my very understanding Line manager.
“Briefing for the VS601” a husky voice shouts out.
In a small windowless room, nine of us sit in a semi-circle. I look at the Crew around me, it’s like a line-up for Britain’s Next Top Botoxed Babe. We await the Flight Service Manager (FSM) to address us on our forthcoming 11-hour flight to Johannesburg. Minutes pass to the sound of her paperwork flutter. There are few curbed whispers from the Crew. There’s a hierarchy to survive – the laws of nature always in play. Funny how the world has changed, yet one creature still cowers in front of another, submissive in fear. The new fear coming in from not making money.
“Welcome, I’m Michelle your FSM for this flight!”
My tangential thoughts are broken.
“Any new crew with us?”
I raise my hand. Michelle looks at me with permanent high, high eyebrows. She smiles in a way I find frightening.
“Is this your first… ”
“Third flight” I interject. (Interrupting people is a habit of mine, never failing to give myself a terrible introduction. Maybe it’s the neuro/disability thing.)
“Ahhh” Michelle sounds relieved.
“Not a complete novice then” she chuckles.
“You will work with Jay in Economy”
“Jay will be your buddy,” she adds, taking her intense stare from me to a gorgeous, golden guy sat across.
“That ok with you Jay?”
“Yes of course” he eagerly flips out, smiling at Michelle, then smiling at me.
“Great” she Cheshire Cat grins to him, to me, to the room.
Michelle continues to fire individual crew questions about the Airbus 300 we’re all about to board, breaking only to take sips from her bucket of coffee.
“Alice?” Acutely accented, making me lift slightly out of my seat. I feel so nervous and her breath is so strong, I feel I could finally go for a poo. “You are at Door R4, there is a fire by Door L3 – you’re second on the scene, Alice. What do you do?”
Blankness blatantly oozes from my face. What the fuck do I do? I try to recall the A300 manual and not to think about MS and menopause and needing the loo.
Everyone’s looking at me. Waiting. What do you do Alice? What Do You Do?
“At least tell me where you would find a fire extinguisher?”
I make a right guess.
“Are you okay, Alice?” “It’s just your face is a bit” Michelle tries to make a vacant, spaced sad face.
Would now be a good time to mention my disability thing?
“It’s just my face” I say to the amusement of the room.
“I’m going to mark you down for more training before your next flight.”
Jay’s wide pretty eyes on me in agreement with Michelle, whilst he applies yet another layer of Carmex to lips that can’t be real.
“And the hairpiece, Alice. It’s not exactly a match for your hair, is it lovely?” cocking her head questionably. I am fully aware that the hair piece is peroxide-blonde and my roots are a shade of Satsuma, but it’s a box from Boots job. Because I don’t strip anymore and work for you and I am poor. Is my face speaking this, while Michelle’s face is fixed on mine?
“Maybe try some purple shampoo lovely.”
Fake blondes know of this, Michelle.
“Thanks.” I lighten my face. And think about the Irish doctor ‘friend’ who offered to do me free Botox and pay for my hair in return for a blowjob.
We board the A300, the smallest plane of this Airline’s fleet.
“Off to cattle class darlings,” Jay declares waving to the others who move towards the front of the plane as we head to the back.
“Feel free to tell me what to do Jay,” I say to assure him of his pecking over me.
“Don’t worry babes” he says, eyeballing my stature in approval. “I will.”
“We’ll put some glamour in this service. Hopefully we’ll have some South African fitties to serve. Poor ones, but still, cock is cock” He winks gleefully. The last thing I feel like is cock, Jay. But I am going to start working on my wink. Angel used to wink.
Captain PA: “It’s a full flight guys, so let me know if you need the Seat Belt sign switching on!”
Not sure what this means. But his tone is co-operative over cocky.
“Would you like to stand at the 3 doors to welcome the passengers to the shit section babes? Say Jay. “Also, I’ll go on first break if you don’t mind?” he adds. Not a question.
The A300’s 3 doors are over-wing exits. ‘Doors’ that need throwing out after opening in an evacuation as they don’t have hinges. So really, they are not doors, but jump holes. At R3 I notice there is considerable ceiling curvature to the space at this ‘door’. I have no choice but to angle myself in order to ‘stand’ at R3. I manage to fit myself in, knees slack, shoulders, head and hairpiece slightly hunched over. I wait to greet the passengers, soothing the ache of my body positioning by recalling an Air Crash Investigation naming a wing as the safest place to be on a plane. I hear foot stomps approach, Michelle on her final swoop to check all is in order.
“For God’s sake Alice,” she exclaims
My head awkwardly rolls to meet hers from my sleepy willow tree-like stance.
“What are you doing?!”
“Sorry,” I stammer from my concaved position, “Jay told me to stand by the door.”
She dramatically rolls her eyes.
“You don’t stand if you don’t fit Alice!!”
“Sit down on the seat! Honestly.” She quickly marches on.
I hear Michelle regaling this later to Senior crew, laughing, “Something not right with that one.”
It wasn’t until my 6th flight, returning from Washington where I’d managed to buy then drink a whole bottle of sodium phosphate and consequently acted so incredibly strangely, as I had severely overdosed on surgical bowel cleanser causing me to evacuate from trolley service and dash to the loo multiple times, that I was tested for drugs (thank God I had been abstaining), and that it became my duty on every flight to inform the FSM of my MS. And that it could often explain why I appear so strange.
10,000 feet in the air, the passengers are released from their seats.
“You pay for your seat, not the aisle,” says Jay as we try to move heavy trollies around the people obtruding our way. The penny of the ‘Seat belt’ sign chicanery announcement finally drops.
Jay and I repeatedly say:
Jay had emphasised that speed in the service was key to allow us more time on our break. I keep up with him until near the end of the service when my fingers get shaky and a Beef dinner slips from my hand. Jay halts his momentum and gasps. He had stressed to be careful – the catering’s exact. I quickly drop to my knees to try and render my mess. The dinner is face down – can it be saved? I try to flip it over without losing too much beef. I hear an American whisper within the catastrophe’s reach:
“You see that honey, that’s what you’ll be doing if you don’t do well at school.”
What?! I’m still paying off a no-use nor ornament degree. My predicament here on the floor has been my choice. I want to stand up and put the remnants of the beef dinner in her face. And I could’ve/would’ve had I been Angel. But I can’t. So, I just carry on cleaning up the beef juice from the floor, with a cloth I had stashed in my pinafore. A concerned passenger comments, “You look knackered love.” Why do people feel a need to point out the obvious?
Clearing up in the Galley, Jay finally notices my state.
“You alright babes?”
“I’m shattered,” spills easily from my now red lipsticked massacre of a mouth.
But instead of offering his first break, he mutters.
“What you need is a Thinz.”
“A Thiinnzz” he whispers.
“What on earth is that?” I say.
“Shhhh,” his eyebrows making every effort to rise.
“They’re diet pills.” he whispers.
Diet pills! I don’t need diet pills.
“They’re for energy babes,” he explains. “I’ll give you one of mine”.
He knows my increased energy levels will benefit him in the long run.
I’m excited at the thought of feeling even the slightest energy boost over yet another coffee.
“All the crew take them,” he winks reassuringly.
I ask no more questions and within seconds Jay has popped a little capsule into my hand, and it’s gone down my trap.
“Must keep on the hush babes as they’re not legal in most places.”
This does not concern me. I need energy and I need it now.
“Right, I’m off on my break. Remember to do a juice and water service babes.nI’ll be back in two hours.”
“Oh and,” he circles a finger around his shiny mouth. “Red is such a nightmare for you girls.”
He winks again. He goes. The Economy cabin is dark, I can hear snores. I can finally take a seat in the back Galley and eat my food whilst keeping an eye out for Call Bells. Strangely as I eat my appetite fades. Must be Jay’s pill. So, I just enjoy being sat down in the quiet of the little kitchen, with the meditative sound of engines buzzing beneath my feet. I reflect realistically on my choice to fly.
My fight to forego any label giving me life limitations
The perpetual need in me to feed a fire that came alight after the diagnosis
But can I manage this flying? Will I cope?
I can’t fulfil every job on amphetamines.
Saved by the Call Bell. My body springs out of its seat like a Jay would to Madonna. I am ALIVE! And ready for action. I surge through the sleepy cabin towards the direction of a little light, knocking a protruding leg in my hurry.
“Sorry, so sorry” I spurt, forgetting my bell in every tooth, stirring even more from their slumber. They mutter something but I reassuringly recall what Jay uttered before – just ignore if it’s not an emergency. I carry on with confidence towards the Call Bell’s light, trying to keep steady and straight by holding on to the headrests whilst minding not to handle peoples’ heads (another error I had previously made). Reaching the seat that dinged, the passenger mouths something desert dry. I get closer. “Water,” heavily husks in my face causing me to jump back. Shit! The juice and water service.
“Of course, I’ll get that for you now”
I wait for a second, for maybe a nod or a thank you but the face turns back to the tv screen, slapping dry lips together as if to hurry me along.
I get the water, noting my jitteriness. There’s little left in the cup I give to Bad Breath. He looks at the 5ml water offering, looks up at me, huffs and knocks it back.
“I will bring you more shortly” I smile, wink a few times then get on my way. Astronomical amounts of energy now surging through me. I have to conduct the juice and water service on a tray – it’s protocol – but I take a huge trolley out into the dark night aisle instead. I am just too shaky and my heart feels like it could pound out of the plane. Although I am loud and clunky, passengers are all delighted to see more free offerings. Racing up one aisle and down another, I endeavour to quench their thirsts. The A300 is travelling smoothly through the sky, quite unlike myself.
When Jay returns, I’m in the Galley clattering around aimlessly. I turn and look at him, glistening with sweat with a manic smile.
“Alright babes,” he says a bit sheepishly.
“You can go for a lie down now.”
Alice has lived and worked with an invisible disability for 20 years. Her writing draws on this experience alongside humour. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She loves horses, dogs, lols and libations. And she hopes you enjoy reading her work!