She hung up. It was too much. It was not enough.
She cut her father off, mid-sentence. The wind sliced through Vicar Lane as she strode into it, blowing her hair across her face. Her hands were cold; she slid them into her jeans pockets, along with her phone. It was cold enough for snow, though thankfully still dry. The only thing worse than windswept tangled hair was wet windswept tangled hair. Nobody was looking at her, anyway. Unless somebody was watching her on CCTV.
Father had been lecturing her. She did not need another lecture. She needed money. It was as simple as that. He always said how complicated everything was, but some things are simple. She had rent to pay, and no way to pay it. Though she would not admit it, Jen was willing to contemplate many indignities, to make some fast, hard, cold cash. But she would not endure another lecture from her father. It was not worth it. The lecture was bound to be long. By its end, she would still be short of money.
It was funny how quickly the streets emptied, when the shops closed on a Sunday. She had stepped outside for a fag during her lunch break. Jen had watched the shoppers trundling by, whilst Barry watched her smoking his cigarettes. The consumers were laden with bags, each obstructing the otherâ€™s quest for the perfect new shirt, the perfect new lipstick. Jen saw where they were headed, and it was not to Topman or Boots. They were on the slow march to death. At 1pm, the streets were full of worshippers, praying to the god of capitalism, preying on every other worker, losing themselves in the contingent divinity of another new purchase. Jen knew where everyone was headed. For the time being, she was going to the place where she lived, if â€˜livingâ€™ was the right word for it.
Now it was 5.45pm. Within three quarters of an hour, the streets had turned barren, the sky had turned black. Thanks to the perversity of religion, come 5ish on a Sunday, Leeds City Centre might as well have been transported to one of those miserable East European communist countries, circa the 1970â€™s. This spoke of the limits of capitalism, for more eloquently than the crypto-Marxists on her course ever could. Capitalism might have defeated the Soviets and entranced the Chinese, it might impoverish and enslave people the world over, but even the mighty M&S was powerless to sell knickers come 5.01pm, on a Sunday in Leeds. Jen would have chugged a cigarette whilst waiting for her bus, but she had none, and the tall black man waiting behind her did not look the type that smoked. She looked at her phone again. Father had not called back. Fuck him.
The 51 finally arrived. â€œMeanwood Road,â€ she said to the driver, slapping down the correct fare. That fare was half an hourâ€™s work, near enough. She had stopped buying the student passes, though they were cheaper in the long run, because she lacked the funds. The black man paused as he walked down the aisle, looking like he might sit beside her, although there were pairs of empty seats elsewhere. She tried to appear indifferent to the possibility, though inside she recoiled at the thought. It was not that he was black. He was a man. She did not want his thoughts encroaching on the space for her thoughts. She had to think, about what was wrong with the economic order, and about how to pay her rent. Also, men always sat with their legs splayed outwards, as if their bulging crotch must emanate into the surrounding environment, demanding that everybody else make way.
At least father had called. But then, he was unlikely to pass up an opportunity to tell her how to live her life. Jen leaned against the window, as a few telltale drops of water streaked downed its outside. Father always spoke in code. Even his instructions were given in code. â€˜Your mother is worried about you,â€™ meant he was fed up with Jen. â€˜There are always other options,â€™ meant he expected her to move back home. But she liked it in the North. She fancied she increasingly sounded like a Northerner. Her father would not like that, but he could hardly complain. After two decades in the English South, his Scottish accent still proved immune to assimilation. In contrast, her native Bristolian burr was gratefully fading with every passing day.
The black man was getting off at the same stop on Meanwood Road. He rang the bell before she thought to. She stood behind him, waiting for the doors to open, looking at a wart on the back of his neck. As she waited, her phone vibrated in her pocket. She read the message as she clambered off, not forgetting to thank the driver. The message was from Seamus. He was far more tolerable than the other crypto-Marxists. And he had a tight bum, from running around playing football. His crowd of leftist fantasists, plus some housemates, would be down The Skyrack that night. She was welcome to join them. Maybe he would buy the drinks, like last time. His parents were rich enough, but then so were Jenâ€™s, and she was still on the brink of being homeless. Seamus was guaranteed to sub her cigarettes, at the very least. And a night down the pub might get her mind off things. That was hardly a solution to her problems, but no other solutions came to mind.
She called Father, as she walked to the house she shared with four other students. The drizzle was light, but the wind gusted, meaning it would be hard to speak on the phone. Jen would shower, get changed, then go straight out again, so she would not have another opportunity to speak to Father this evening. His phone was engaged, and she was put straight through to voicemail. Bastard. She did not leave a message.
That night, she sucked Seamusâ€™ cock for the first time. He was suitably pleased. Jen never understood why the girls at school had advocated blowjobs over penetration. At least with penetration there was the prospect of enjoying it too. What was the point of â€˜savingâ€™ yourself sexually, just to spend more time tasting boy’s willies? Blowjobs were a boring chore. Maybe things would have been different if boys knew what they were doing when they went down on a girl, and did it like-for-like. To be fair to Seamus, he knew what he was doing, from whichever angle he approached his quarry. He retained plenty of energy into the small hours, laying Jen back and holding her ankles in the air, whilst he banged away furiously. That was quite enjoyable, especially as she no longer had to do anything, though she would have preferred to be asleep by then. But Jen needed to butter Seamus up. Jen had found an interim solution for her problems, and it involved moving in with Seamus. She would tell him tomorrow.
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