'I’m crying cos I feel like everything’s different, like I’ve lost something. And I’m crying cos I’ve found something. I’m crying cos I know things now.'
Here we present another of the shortlisted entries in this year's SMHAF Writing Awards - a short story about friendship by Alyson Lawson.
Mhari and me are in sync. We snap oor nose clips oan tight and dive intae the pool – smooth and strong. We pop up taegether before ducking back doon, then we scull, scull, scull like mad unnerneath the water, arms waving roond and roond in crazy circles. Yet everything is calm and controlled oan tap as we lower oor legs, perfectly aligned, intae the pike. Then it’s back roond and up, big deep breath, big cheesy grin tae where the judges would sit, backstroke one, two in time tae the music. Back doon and unner, upper arms pinned in tae keep us dead straight, lower arms circling take keep us afloat. Oor legs reach up towards the steamy glass roof of the pool, toes curled tight, stomachs crunching intae metal tae control oor line. Except tonight, I cannae hold it, ma legs wobble and I keel tae one side like a ship that’s sprung a leek. “Maintain yer core, Jenny. C’mon keep going girls,” shouts oor coach.
But I can feel the wee thing fluttering inside me so I push masel doon tae the bottom of the pool and sit for a few seconds, eyes closed, delaying the inevitable do over. When I open them Mhari is there glaring at me, her nose sooked in by the clips and her wee angry face saying, “Whit the hell Jenny? Finals are next week.”
The water polo boys call us the mermaids – no exactly original I know, but we like it anyway. When we were wee we would giggle and run by them but now we take oor time and smile as we exit the pool. Sometimes they even give us a clap, though they don’t bother the night.
When we get intae the changing rooms Mhari asks me whit’s wrong. “I’m jist no feeling good the night. Mibbe I’m getting the cold.”
“Oh Jesus, I hope yer alright for next week. Still up for the pictures tonight?”
“Yeah, sure. Don’t worry I’ll be fine.” It’s date night. Double date night actually, cos well, me and Mhari do everything together – swimming, school and dating.
I sit at ma usual seat in Maths and I’m wondering if everyone knows. I’m wondering if they can look at me and tell the difference. Is it like when someone gets a new haircut or a new jacket and they saunter intae class as usual except ye know something’s different aboot them, even if you cannae place whit it is?
I can feel the thing deep doon inside me. It’s swimming away, stretching oot and growing. It’s making the Diet Coke and crisps I had at lunch dance aboot in ma stomach.
Mhari comes in and gives me a quick smile and an eyebrow raise, like here we go again. David isnae far behind her as usual as if she’s got him on a leash. David gives me a wave and then Mr Thomson comes in and we all settle doon tae another endless double period of Maths.
I’m meant tae be working oot some equations but actually I’m wondering who is and who isnae. It felt like I wis walking aboot with a big V brandished intae ma foreheid for ages and then as everyone else’s disappeared mine started flashing like a lighthoose beacon. V, V, V for Virgin. “We cannae still be virgins in sixth year,” Ritchie had said. That’s how he persuaded me. No, “Yer eyes are as deep as the ocean” or “Jenny Sinclair you are the most beautiful lassie on earth and I will love you forever”. Naw, none of that romantic stuff. Jist, we don’t want tae be virgins in sixth year. And since I fancy him like mad, since I mibbe even love him, I said yes. And I’m no one of those daft girls who thinks that if a shag him it’ll mean he’s gonnae fall in love with me but I didnae think it would end up like this either. With him sitting in the class across the corridor making eyes at Julie McGlynn.
At first he was quite sweet. Texting me after, asking if I was ok. Telling me how great it was. Even though it probably wisnae, because c’mon it wis never gonna be like the movies wis it? But then he went a bit cold and then he didnae turn up tae the cinema last night and I’m left standing there like a right eejit, playing third wheel tae Mhari and David. They were really sweet and we still went tae see Tom Cruise jumping oot of various windaes but I just kept checking ma phone and wondering where he was. The pictures finished and we got ootside and he still hadnae replied tae me or David.
Still nothing from him this morning when a woke up either. Yet there he was in school laughing with his mates and no even one peek in ma direction. So it’s official, Ritchie’s dumped me and he cannae even be bothered tae tell me. Great!!
Mhari says he’s gutless and I’ve no tae worry aboot him anymore. They’ll set me up with one of David’s pals, cos David’s a nice boy and so are his pals. But I’m no interested in any of David’s spotty, gangly friends. I want Ritchie with his shiny blonde hair and his smooth tanned neck. The Ritchie who’s texted every morning for the last month saying, “Have a good day babe,” no the one who sits with his back tae me and sniggers in the corner with his pals.
After we’d done it the first time I messaged Mhari and told her. “That’s a big step,” she replied, sounding like ma mum. Later she said that her and David were waiting, “till they were ready”. I smiled at her but really I wanted tae punch her in the face.
At the end of class Mhari kisses David goodbye and we walk the fifteen minutes intae toon tae the pool, or as ma dad calls it, “yer second hame”. He’s right. Me and Mhari have grown up in the place, given up hours, days, weeks, years of oor life ducking in and oot ae the water and now we’re so close tae making it. One more year of school and then we can train full-time with the national team.
As we dive in I clear ma mind. Forget the cinema, forget the blanked texts, forget Ritchie, jist swim. And I do it. I work ma muscles harder than ever, every move extended tae the max, I hold every position and we make it through the routine. Coach is pleased enough but Mhari isnae. She can tell. She knows we’re no in sync.
In the changing rooms she gives me a wee pep talk. “Ritchie’s a scumbag for whit he did Jenny and me and David both hate him now but in a few months time it’ll no matter, school will be finished and we’ll be moving on. You’ll never have tae see him again.”
I try tae nod along but I cannae lie tae her. I put ma hand on ma stomach and rub it cos holding yerself upside down unner water is pretty sore on yer insides. I’m wondering if I’ve done something tae the thing.
She looks doon at me rubbing ma tummy and frowns. “Wait a minute Jenny, yer no…?”
I nod, then a shake ma heid, then a shrug. “I don’t know,” a shriek at her as a grab ma bag and run oot.
The lassie in Boots knows us. No oor names or anything but she recognises us cos we come in here every Saturday morning fir the meal deal – sandwich, crisps and juice for £3.50. We’ve usually eaten it all by 11.00 am and then we heid oot for chips at lunchtime. The best thing aboot synchro is ye can eat whitever ye want.
I browse the usual sandwich selection for a bit longer than normal while Mhari does the deed. The lassie smiles at us as she scans through oor food. “Have a good session,” she says and nods at oor swimming club bags. We give her one of oor big fake grins and hot foot it oot of there before she notices a thing.
Coach is waiting for us so we snap oor swimsuits oan quickly and go through oor drills. During the break we slink aff tae the changing rooms and I pee on the stick. The pee is warm against ma cold hand and some of it dribbles right doon ma arm but I don’t care. I try tae wrestle the damp swimsuit back oan, which is almost impossible whilst holding the stick.
“Let me in,” shouts Mhari through the cubicle door.
“No, I’m coming oot. Here hold this.” I push the plastic stick unner the door and she bends doon and takes it aff me really gently. She holds it carefully in her upturned palms like it’s the wean itself she’s carrying and we walk ooer tae the wooden bench.
I’ve got ma towel roond me, but I’m dead cold and I start tae shake. She holds the stick in one hand and puts her free arm roond me, pulling me in tight. We sit like that for a bit until I feel her stirring. “Jenny,” she says in almost a whisper, “it’s a minus, it’s negative.” I reach for the test and examine it and there it is – one blue line = NOT PREGNANT.
I start tae shake even more and then big sobs are rolling oot like waves. “Oh Jenny, it’s ok, it’s ok.” She cuddles me for ages and then she says, “Are ye crying because yer sad or because yer happy?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” I whisper. But I’m crying cos I feel like everything’s different, like I’ve lost something. And I’m crying cos I’ve found something. I’m crying cos I know things now. And I’m crying cos I’ve lost Ritchie but I’ve got Mhari and me and Mhari are in sync.
70 Stories is an online project curated by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival to mark the 70th anniversary of the Mental Health Foundation. The project connects stories from our Writing Competition, stories from SMHAF participants, and more in a compelling portrait of mental health in 2019.