They won’t! Will they?
The door closes slightly. The camera moves closer to pick up the sound.
Chris, have you given Frank a father-to-son talk?
No. Have you given him a mother-to-son talk?
I bought him a book. It had pictures of…you know.
Did it? What kind of pictures?
Yes you do. You can imagine.
I don’t want to imagine. I want you to describe them to me, very slowly, in a French accent.
(half giggling, half cross)
Chris, stop it!
Why should Frank have all the fun?
The door opens and DAD comes out. He is a handsome man in his early forties, wearing a suit and holding a scuba-diving mask. He jumps as he sees the camera.
Audrey! What are you doing here?
I’m filming. You know, for my project.
Right. Right, of course.
Sweetheart, Audrey’s filming…
Mum appears at the door, dressed in a skirt and bra. She claps her hands over her top half and shrieks when she sees the camera.
That’s what I meant when I said “Audrey’s filming.”
Oh, I see.
She grabs a dressing gown from the door hook and wraps it around her top half.
Well, bravo, darling. Here’s to a great film. Maybe warn us next time you’re filming?
(glances at Dad and clears her throat)
We were just discussing the…er…crisis in…the Middle East.
The Middle East.
Both parents look uncertainly at the camera.
OK, so the backstory. You’ll want to know that, I suppose. Previously, in Audrey Turner’s life…
Except, Jeez. I can’t go into it all again. Sorry, I just can’t. I’ve sat in enough rooms with teachers, doctors, regurgitating the same story, using the same words, till it starts to feel like something that happened to someone else.
Everyone involved has started to feel unreal. All the girls at Stokeland Girls’ School; Miss Amerson, our head teacher, who said I was deluded and seeking attention. (Attention. Irony God, are you listening?)
No-one ever quite found out why. I mean, we sort of found out why, but not why.
There was a big scandal, yadda yadda. Three girls were excluded, which is a record. My parents took me out of Stokeland instantly, and I’ve been at home ever since. Well, and hospital, which I told you about already. The idea is that I “start again” at the Heath Academy. Only to “start again” you need to be able to “get out of the house,” which is where I have a teeny problem.
It’s not the outside per se. It’s not trees or air or sky. It’s the people. I mean, not all people. Probably not you; you’d be fine. I have my comfort people—people I can talk to and laugh with and feel relaxed with. It’s just, they make up quite a small group. Tiny, you might call it, compared to, say, the world’s population. Or even the number of people on an average bus.
I can eat supper with my family. I can go to see Dr. Sarah in my safe little bubble of car-waiting-room-Dr.-Sarah’s-room-car-home. All the people in my therapy groups at St. John’s—they’re comfort people too. Because they’re not a threat. (OK, OK, I know people aren’t really a threat. But try telling my stupid brain that.)
It’s everyone else who is the problem. People on the street, people at the front door, people on the phone. You have no idea how many people there are in the world until you start getting freaked out by them. Dr. Sarah says I may never be comfortable in massive crowds, and that’s OK, but I have to “dial down” the thoughts that are telling me to panic. When she’s telling me this, it seems totally reasonable, and I think “Yes! I can do that! Easy.” But then a postman comes to the door and I run before I can even stop myself.
Thing is, I was never exactly out there, even when I was OK. In a bunch of girls, I was the one standing alone, hiding behind her hair. I was the one trying to join in chat about bras even though, hello, a bra? That would surely require a female shape. I was the one paranoid that everyone must be looking at me, thinking how uncool I was.
At the same time, I was the one who got shown off to all the visitors: “Our straight-A student, Audrey.” “Our netball star, Audrey.”
Top tip to all teachers reading this (i.e., none, probably): try not showing off the girl who cringes when anyone even looks at her. Because it’s not that helpful. Also, it’s not that helpful to say in the whole class’s earshot: “She’s the great hope of this year group, so talented.”