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Stealing the Stolen Friend
   by Liz Welch

It was Friday and I was off-duty until Sunday night. I couldn't wait to get to the pub, but George was feeling tearful so I stayed, playing pool with him to try to cheer him up. His mother had just rung to say she couldn't visit him that weekend because she was going to Geneva. She hadn't even spoken to George himself, just got the Home manager to pass the message on. Rich cow; she rings all the time to say she's going to this place or that. I wouldn't put it past her to arrange these little trips on purpose so she doesn't have to come and see George. Anyway, she'd promised to send him a postcard, and that was the one bright thing he was clinging to. Fucking sad. Poor Georgie, he's thirty-two, almost ten years older than me, but he's been nowhere, seen nothing. He hardly ever gets to leave the Home; no swanning off to Geneva for him. Then he wanted to go and get some sweets. He's dreadful on the roads, still hasn't got the hang of the red-man-wait, green-man-go thing at all. The others were all frantic because Shams had managed to lock himself in the dodgy toilet again, so I said, "All right Georgie, let me change first and we'll go together, I could do with some gum myself."
     George was happy to wait. He likes it when I'm wearing my proper clothes, not the vile stylish-casual-football-shirt uniform that has "Oaks Special Needs Residential Home" plastered on the front of it. He thinks my clothes are cool—especially the black vinyl mini-skirts and the riot grrrl boots with all the buckles. So I put all my piercings back in, shed the shirt and put some human clothes on, did my hair and make-up—especially striking, for George, and for the evening ahead, and we went off to the shop. I saw old Here's-me-nose the manager glaring at us as we left. He's told me plenty of times about "dressing professionally on the premises to show respect to the clients and their families", but what the hell, I was off-fucking-duty. And anyway, the clients don't mind; they might have learning disabilities but that doesn't mean they all have fashion by-passes. George and I got our sweets and I brought him back. He stood waving, watching me leave, and I waved back, really extravagantly, trying make him laugh.
     It took me ages to get into London, so I was a super-late to the pub and the others were several drinks ahead of me. They knew of a party in Camden. Apparently Cy and his mates were squatting in one of those big Georgian blocks. They'd been living there for over a month. Old news, but what with doing shifts, and living out in the wilds of Hertfordshire, I tend to miss out on these things when they happen. I can't afford to live in London myself of course, not on the wages the Home pay me.
     Soon the pub closed and we went along to the party. It was great to see Cy; we've been friends forever but partying with him still feels like a treat. He had some more of those good pills and some base, new in from Holland, and he's a generous soul. Someone had brought their decks round, and we took some drugs, made Long Island Iced Teas and swanned around pretending to be Noel Coward.
     At about midnight some posh boys crashed the party. At first they huddled together, looking like an ad for washing powder and talking like news-readers. Then one of them took a fancy to me. He was a floppy-hair in a Gap t-shirt, and Nike trainrs that looked like mini space-ships on his feet. I asked him if he'd read "No Logo", and he hadn't, though of course he'd always meant to. But we kept talking and actually he was quite human. He told me he was "sort of" vegetarian, which usually I equate to being "sort of" a slave-owner, but somehow I felt there was hope for him. His name was Toby, I think, or maybe Tony. The music was cranked up really LOUD during the introductions, but names don't matter much to me anyway. It's how a person acts that matters.
     So one thing led to another with Toby/Tony. I could see Cy looking sideways at me, clearly thinking, "what is she doing? Maybe the drugs were a bit too good".
     But I'm not prejudiced. Never have been. If I want to play with a capitalist piglet now and again why shouldn't I? This one certainly had the cutest furry snout you could wish to see and little trotters that just begged to be squeezed. After a while he started asking me to come back with him to Mummy's house in Hampstead, just up the road. He said we could be alone there. He even said please, which I thought was really funny.
     I got my coat and we went. He said it wasn't far and I thought we'd walk but he flagged down a black cab and paid some stupid amount to go about five hundred meters. Crazy. I could see the cabbie staring at us as we got out, a bit like Cy had done, but the other way around, if you know what I mean. I took a look at us myself, and we did make a pretty funny couple; him all beige and vanilla and corn-fed, and me all black and day-glo and skinny white. I got the giggles and so did he, and I hardly saw the outside of the house except to notice that it was big and white and that the garden was pristine.
     Toby/Tony let us in. The house was huge and warm and smelled of new carpets and freshly ground monsoon-aged coffee darling. After a bit of fuss getting drinks we went upstairs. No-one was around, but I could hear tinkly music and a bog flushing so there must have been someone else home. He led me into his room, which was at the side, overlooking another big mansion. There was a single bed in one corner. He took some pains to explain that he didn't live here now. Now he lived in Cambridge, where he was at Kings, but this was his old room. There was a Greenpeace poster on the wall, and one of the Beach Boys, which surprised me a bit. He hadn't struck me as a Beach Boys kind of boy, and I thought he'd try to talk it away. But he went into a long story about how Brian whatsit liked to put his bare feet into a big tray of sand to remind him of the beach while he played the piano, and how the man had destroyed himself with drugs, but how it didn't matter because he'd brought the world California Girls—and I have to say I found him pretty sweet. He'd liked the Beach Boys when he was fifteen and put up the poster, and he was still going to stand by them now he was twenty. Even though they weren't cool and never had been.
     "You're pretty sweet," I said, and kissed him meaningfully. Then I fucked him. It wasn't bad. He wasn't very interesting; no tattoos, no piercings, no surprising kinks or predilections, but the plainness of him was novel, and it was fun to be playing away from home. I wouldn't want it all the time though. Afterwards he wanted to talk about University and give me compliments but I wasn't really in the mood. I was starting to think about getting back to the party.
     I got up and got dressed and told him I was going. He was disappointed I think, and made noises about seeing me again, but I laughed it off. Once was fine, but there was no way I could have a rich twat as a boyfriend, even a semi-human one. Cy would never speak to me again, for starters, and friends are more important. I wouldn't let Toby/Tony see me out, or get me a cab. He seemed to want to. He said he didn't think it was very gentlemanly to let me walk home, but screw that. I was looking forward to a bit of fresh air and some time to myself. I zipped down the stairs and let myself out into the cold night.
     I saw the statue in the front garden as I was leaving. It was a scale model of one of the Easter Island statues. The Stolen Friend, it's called. They have the original in the British Museum, just another example of imperial loot. This one was a garden ornament. Trippy, I thought, one of the Easter Island statues, now adorning a rock garden in Hampstead. It was pretty cool though. Cy loves all that tribal art stuff. He's the one who took me to see the real one in the museum and told me about it, and how it was stolen. Pity Cy's not here to see this, I thought. I went over and looked at it more closely. It wasn't that large, about the size of a baby. Cy would really like it. In fact, he'd love it. I thought about how his face would light up if he saw it. I reached down, gave it an experimental heave and it came away in my arms quite easily. It wasn't nearly as heavy as I'd thought it would be; it wasn't made of proper stone, but some resin stuff that just looked like stone.
     I tromped back across the garden with the Stolen Friend in my arms and was about to leave when I saw a light go on in an upper window, and a shadow move there. I should have scarpered, but I stood transfixed for a moment. "Oops!" I was thinking. But nothing happened. No old botox Hampstead bitch started yelling at me. No security lights came on. No filthy God of Mammon came to strike me down. The dark figure at the window seemed to be looking down at me, but there was no arm-waving or shrieking, just that unmoving silhouette.
     I took a firmer hold on the Stolen Friend and sauntered off. At that point there was a feeble rap on the window, but nothing more. Imagine being so pathetic you can watch someone pinch your stuff and not even care enough to make a proper fuss. It just goes to show that the people who have these things don't appreciate them. I wondered if I'd hear sirens later on and kept an ear out for them, in case it became necessary to nip behind a hedge, but the streets were quiet and peaceful. Lovely tree-lined streets they were, with big white houses and ugly conspicuous consumption cars. It made me sick after a while. Plus the Stolen Friend was getting heavy. It was a relief to get back to real life and the party.
     Cy was so pleased with his present that he hugged me for about five minutes. I was so glad I'd got it for him. He put it in pride of place on the mantelpiece so it could preside over the party. The other Hampstead boys were still there and I could see them muttering and mumbling, but in the end they didn't do anything, just took some more of Cy's drugs and carried on dancing.
     So we partied on until Sunday morning, then I had to go and catch the train back to the Home. I hoped George hadn't had too bad a weekend. Pity I can't take him with me sometimes, but life's fucked and it would never be allowed. Cy was busy when I left, so I just waved to him. I took a last look at the stolen Stolen Friend, perched on the mantelpiece, and waved to him too. He looked out from the deep shadows of his eye-sockets. His lips were clamped shut in a stern pursed line, and his broad nose cast a shadow over them.

Copyright©2004 Liz Welch

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