• Eric Rushton

My Friend Jane

1.


It’s Tuesday.

I’m pretty nervous. Usually Tuesday is my favourite day because it’s when we hang out and just talk nonsense, the thing we’re best at. But the last few times I’ve left her house, there’s been something wrong. I’ve either felt sad or anxious or constipated.

Tbf the constipation is probably unrelated to Jane. I don’t get much fibre. “I’ll eat fibre when I’m dead,” is my motto, and I don’t really know what I mean by it.

But today I’ve promised myself that I’m gonna sit her down and talk to her properly about what’s actually going on between us. And it’s terrifying because I don’t know what the outcome will be. I can’t guarantee it will make me any happier, or less anxious, or more able to squeeze out a poo. But even if I can’t squeeze out a poo, at least I will have squeezed out some truth.

“Has anyone seen my green jumper?” I shout.

No response.

“Mum? Danny?”

No response again.

“Jesus Christ – has nobody got ears in this house?!”

No response from Jesus Christ either. Maybe he also doesn’t have ears. What a knobhead.

It doesn’t matter. I’ll just go with what I’ve got. I get ready to leave the house wearing my best smile and my second-best jumper. “You can do this,” I say to myself in the mirror. “YOU CAN DO THIS!!”

2.

Eric is coming round today.

He said he needs to talk to me about something. I feel a bit weird about it. I mean, whatever it is, it’s probably something big. No one ever says they need to talk about something small. They just say it. It just falls out their mouth because it’s so tiny. “What animal would you be if you could be any animal?” They say. That’s classic small talk.

That’s what I want the conversation to be about. I’m too anxious for anything big today. One day I will be a big strong girl who can handle big strong chats, but not today. I keep needing to go for a poo. I think I’ve been eating too much fibre.




I just want things to stay how they are. Big chats change how things are.


3.


We first met at the Library, around 2 months ago now. I was having a proper Bad Day by Daniel Powter. Like you know one of those days where it all just goes wrong?

One of those days where you wake up and you realise you’re late for work and you’re like, fuckkkkk. So you lie in bed and you’re like, fuck it, I’m just not gonna go in. I hope I get fired.

Yay, free day, I’m gonna be so creative and productive.

But then you stay in bed and scroll through Facebook for three hours and feel sad because everyone else has more boyfriends and girlfriends and happiness than you do. So you rush out the house crying and head to the Library to do some writing, but you feel awful and you just stare at all of the books like, One of these books can fix me I know one of these books can fix me. But you don’t know which one and by this point there’s so much salty H20 on your cheeks it’s unreal.

Well that universally-experienced scenario happened to me that day.

As I was crying and pulling out self-help books from the shelf, a member of staff approached me.

“Are you okay?” She said.

4.


He was shouting at a self-help book written by Fearne Cotton. “Please tell me the answers, Fearne,” he kept repeating.

I felt bad for him, but also there was part of me that was excited. It was only my third day working in the library and up to that point nothing had happened. The thing about libraries is that they’re quiet. Really quiet. I’m often stood there contemplating all day. To the point where it seems sombre. It’s like it’s always Remembrance Sunday in that place. Except the thing I’m remembering is that I’m 26 and that life shouldn’t be this boring when you’re 26.

Sometimes Bev speaks to me. Bev is an old lady who moans about everything. She comes for the books, but stays for the moaning. Her Grandson, the Council, Iceland ready meals, you name it. Apparently, Iceland keep making the chicken kievs smaller. It’s weird because she’d probably have time to cook proper meals if she wasn’t so busy moaning all the fucking time.

But yeah, anyway, I talked to him and he was very awkward, so I decided to give him a hug. He reminded me of my little brother. Well, I don’t actually have a little brother but when I was younger I always used to wish I did. This is what I imagined he would be like. Crying, and me fixing it.

I felt like I had a purpose in the world while I was hugging him. He was a bit unclean, though.

5.

She was a good hugger. When someone is a good hugger and they give you a hug, it makes you feel silly for getting so worked up that you needed a hug in the first place. It’s a bit too humbling. What you need when you’re sad is a bad hugger. A bad hugger will make you feel a little bit better but also still justified in your opinion that other people are basically shit.

Jane wasn’t shit though. And things escalated from there pretty rapidly. We went from casual huggers to bezzie mates in the space of about a month.

Three crucial things happened in that time. I’ll explain them now in a way that’s pacey, funny, and almost in sequential order.

Firstly, I got bare fired from my job. I asked my boss why, and he pointed at a big pile of plates that were smashed on the floor. I asked him why again, and he pointed at the really expensive coffee machine I’d just broken. “Not much of a speaker, are you boss?” I said. He pointed at the door. Just before I walked through it he finally piped up and said he’d let me stay on if I just stopped breaking shit. I couldn’t make any guarantees. On the way out, I snapped the door handle.

Thirdly, Jane invited me round her house. I’d been going to the library every day to write and she’d always come over and talk to me. She even started bringing me cups of tea. I was slightly worried Bev – Stone Library stalwart and LEGEND -- would disapprove. But it was nice. I was getting big sister vibes from her. Then one time I started to tell her about this mad dream I had, but it was almost closing time. “I only live round the corner if you wanna come over?” She said.

And finally, secondly, I had this mad dream. Basically, in the dream, I was on the toilet. Bit weird already, init? Then I looked round and in the bathroom there were loads of chickens everywhere for some reason. And also there were these double doors and behind them was a big showbiz party and I was desperately pushing them closed because I didn’t want John Legend to see me.

What the fuck does that mean?

Well Jane didn’t know either. But she got really excited when I mentioned John Legend. She said “Ordinary People” was her favourite song and I was well happy because I was obsessed with it as well. What are the chances that two people could like the same song? It felt like an early indication we were gonna be soulmates and best friends forever.

6.

How good is that song though???

I enjoyed having someone round. I haven’t really had any proper mates since uni. All my old friends left home because they very shrewdly recognised that no one in the history of the world has ever led a happy existence in Stoke.

I’ve had a couple of boyfriends since moving back but they’ve both been pricks.

7.

Going round hers for a brew became a regular occurrence. We sit in her kitchen and talk about stuff. Anything we want. Mainly all the shit that’s been knocking about in our heads over the past week. Then if I don’t have a gig I stay over until late and we watch a film. I always suggest Mike Bassett England Manager and Jane always suggests I fuck right off. She insists on picking because she studied film at uni and knows more, whereas before I met her I’d only seen 3 films and they were Mike Bassett England Manager, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and Click starring Adam Sandler. Then I’ll say did you study “being a prick” at uni as well because you’re really good at it. Then she’ll say no. Then I’ll say oh maybe you’re just naturally gifted.

I like our banter.

8.

He started telling me about things. Opening up.

9.

It’s good to have someone to talk to. Often I go on about stuff for too long and my friends get sick of me. Instead of saying “long story short” I’ll say “short story long” and then transform a minor incident like stubbing my toe into an epic three-hour yarn that explores themes of romance, isolation and how we find meaning in an uncaring universe.

But Jane didn’t seem to mind me banging on.

10.

He bangs on a lot.

Loves to moan.

But I find him funny. He’s like Bev, but funny.

11.

I think it encouraged her to open up as well. She started telling me about all sorts of stuff. Sad stuff. Like she said she went to an all-girls school and everyone bullied her for being “too fat”. It shocked me because, looking at her now, she’s the opposite of fat. It would be like Andy Murray coming up to you and saying he was bullied at school for being “too interesting”.

12.


Then I started telling him about boys.

13.

Men are massive dickheads to Jane. They either lie or cheat on her or don’t value her scrambled eggs or do all three of those things. She had one good boyfriend who liked her scrambled eggs, but she cheated on him with an ex who cheated on her. It’s pretty messy stuff guys. Sex is involved a lot. It’s kinda reassuring for me because I haven’t had much sex and I always think people who have sex a lot are really happy and just spend all day in a state of absolute bliss, reminiscing about the intimate, connected moments they’ve had. But actually, sex causes lots of problems and its’s messy and there’re loads of hurt feelings and jizz that needs to be cleaned up afterwards.

She says boys are bad, but girls are worse. So she prefers being friends with guys. But then she’s says a lot of the time she finds out the guy just wants to have sex with her and it’s devastating.


14.

How can you trust anyone? Like, how do you know anything is real? Friendships, the universe, the difference between Pepsi and Coke. They all could be illusions. You think you know someone and then something happens and you look at them again and they’re a different person. Then you look at yourself and YOU’RE a different person. It’s crazy. Am I even real? I think therefore I am. I dunno. I think I think too much. I think therefore I am sad.

15.

Sometimes it’s like she goes into her own little world of thoughts. Like, we’ll be playing Connect 4 or something and I’ll have just slammed down my 4th red counter in a line and I’ll be like “Yes! Get fucked Jane” and she’ll just be staring blankly. I don’t like it. It makes me feel self-conscious. It makes me feel like I’ve got food on my face.

16.

I guess maybe you never know for sure whether something’s real, but you have to gamble. Maybe that’s what a strong bond between two people is: a leap of faith. Both sides forget about all the hopes and dreams and relationships that have let them down before, and they decide that this time it could work out. Maybe every connection between two people is, in a way, kind of spiritual.

Or like I said, maybe I just think too much.

17.

Her mum is the opposite. Big Helen just comes out and says what she’s thinking. She’s old-school. “There might be some nice ones, but that doesn’t mean I want my whole town full of ‘em,” she’ll say, talking about Costa Coffee. One time she told me I have the posture of a slice of ham. I was slouching and she came in and said, “Eric, do you think you’re a slice of ham or something?” and I laughed out loud. She’s consistently hilarious. She called me droll once. What does droll mean? I hope it’s a good thing. She’s also dead nice and will give me leftover lasagne and point out when I get it on my face.


18.


19.


20.


The annoying thing about that text is, throughout my whole life, she’s never once worried about me hearing HER having sex. She does it so loudly that it’s like she’s purposely trying to traumatise me. The first time I heard it I was 8 and I thought she was dying.


21.

One of my classic things I love to moan about is how no one will ever love me. It’s my struggle. My story. I’ll never get to spoon anyone, never get to hold hands, never get to kiss a girl on the forehead and whisper, “I’ll always protect you my little chicken.” Or whatever it is that couples do. Then I’ll die one day of a broken heart, aged 76, with nothing to show for my loneliness except for hundreds and hundreds of hilarious and poignant blog posts.

It’s a pretty terrible life, but it’s good to have a story. I was telling Jane and her mum about my story one time and Jane’s mum wasn’t having any of it. She called me dafter than a slice of corned beef. She loves her sliced meat analogies.

She started giving me a pep talk:

“You’re not Brad Pitt, but you’re not the Elephant Man either. You should see some of the dregs walking around Stoke that still manage to find someone. You’ll be fine. I don’t know why you and Jane aren’t having sex. It’s okay to explore each other’s bodies you know. Just not while I’m meditating.”

22.

She’s the worst.

23.

Jane just looked down when she said that.

24.

Literally, the worst.

25.

Awkwardness aside, Jane’s mum might’ve had a point. The pep talk made me feel confident anyway. I’d never thought about how I wasn’t the Elephant Man before. When I got home I looked in the mirror and felt my face and noticed the lack of lumps and I suddenly realised I was the most beautiful boy in the world.

26.

27.

I started feeling well confident. A couple of weeks later I did this gig in Manchester and it went really well and a girl came up to me afterwards. She was called Carly and she called me hilarious. Long story short we ended up going on a date. Short story long I wrote a blog about it.



28.


He has to make everything into a blog.


29.

I was walking on sunshine, and I thought it was time to feel good, but Jane didn’t seem interested. It really annoyed me. It’s not that I expect all my friends to have a giant party for me when I have some romantic success, but she didn’t even get me a card.

30.

Most people who go on dates don’t make a big song and dance about it. He literally had a dance. He would straighten his back, put his arms by his side, stick his tongue out, and kind of wiggle. He called it the “I’m in love” dance.

31.

I remember the day after the date I went to the library to work on the blog and I was well excited to tell Jane all about it. She came over with a brew, as per, but the more I talked about Carly the more her attention drifted.

It was like I was showing her a mediocre YouTube video that I thought was amazing. Her eyes were saying, “How long of this is left?” and my eyes were saying, “No, honestly, it gets good soon.”

Then she said she had work to do and walked off, which was bullshit though because the library was empty. She didn’t have anything to do. Even Bev wasn’t in. I got it in my head that Bev might be dead actually. Bev would be a nightmare if she was dead. I can see her now, in Heaven, moaning about how there’s nothing to moan about.

32.


33.

Then she didn’t react to my blog when I posted it on Facebook. Part of being best friends is that you Love-react each other’s things. You should see some of the weak shite she’s sharing that I have to put my stamp of approval on. I’ve gotta live with the words “Eric Roy Rushton reacted to this” appearing above posts like “BGT isn’t the same without Ant L L L”. Do you think I’m okay with that? No. I do it out of love.

34.

I think I was just in a weird mood. I didn’t need to be bombarded with how great things were for Eric.

35.


36.

I’ve been worrying about my weight again. Like, a lot. It’s so frustrating because you think it’s past you and then BAM it’s back again. It tiptoes up to you from behind, taps you on the shoulder and reminds you how fat and ugly and worthless you are.



37.

It was long. I thought she was just gonna say she was a bit sad and then we’d have a brew and a rocky and play Connect 4 and we’d be sorted. But she let all her thoughts spill out that night. She said she’d been struggling to eat and was throwing things up and it just sounded awful.

38.

“What triggered it?” he asked.

He looked really worried. I cried because he was so happy before about his date and now I’d thrown this into the mix and ruined it all. I told him how I couldn’t cope and that my life was awful and it must’ve seemed so intense. But he’s different to other boys. He sits there and listens and makes stupid jokes.

39.

She said she didn’t know what triggered it. I felt like she was holding something back.


40.

I felt better after talking to him. I guess I felt like I was losing him because he was seeing that girl Carly. But it was so silly to think like that.

41.

Things ended up fizzling out with Carly, anyway. We texted for a bit but then she got all weird after I wrote the blog about her. To be honest, she probably wasn’t the right girl for me if she worried about that stuff.

42.


43.

We watched Mike Bassett England Manager in the living room. It was sick. Jane made the brews and got some Rocky bars in and I was feeling better. It was getting late and I kinda didn’t wanna go home and be sad again. Then she said it:

“You can sleep in my bed with me if you like?”

The idea of sharing a bed with a girl terrified me. But I just kinda thought, “It’s only Jane, it’ll be alright.”

Then I remembered my lack of pyjamas. Shit.

44.

“I didn’t bring any PJ’s?” he said.

“Well, did you at least bring your Duncans? I replied.

He didn’t laugh. He just looked worried.

“It’s fine,” I said. “Just wear your T-shirt and boxers. It’s no big deal.”

45.

“Right okay, my boxers are also Family Guy boxers, just so you know.” “That’s also fine,” she said. “I wasn’t really planning on looking at them.” “Right, yeah, sorry.” She told me she was gonna change into her pyjamas, so I looked the other way and fixed my gaze on the wall.

46.

We got into bed and then he started shuffling around. Before I knew it, there was a pillow separating us in the middle of the bed.

“What are you doing?” I asked, starting to laugh.

“I just thought… like… so we don’t… erm… you know I don’t wanna touch you or for you to like worry about that or whatever.”

I laughed again.

47.

We lay there silently for about 5 minutes. Then Jane turned to face me.

48.

“I’m sorry again about Carly.”

“Ah, it’s okay,” he replied. “I think I’m meant to be alone.”

“Well that’s stupid,” I said.

“Why?”

“For a start, you’re not alone.”

“Hmm…”

“You’ve got me, your mum, your friends. Even my mum doesn’t stop banging on about you.”

“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “I suppose it’s just the romantic side of things always seem to go wrong for me.”

“Who cares about that?”

49.

“What do you mean?” I said, sitting up. “Everyone cares about that? It’s the whole reason people are here, because we care about it. Otherwise we’d just have died out after Adam and Eve, then there’d be nothing but like squirrels and shit. That’s if they care about getting together. It’s kind of a big deal.”

Jane turned away. “Well I think it’s stupid,” she said. “Relationships are shit. Every one I’ve been in has been shit. I’m into men though, maybe that’s why. Men are trash.”

She laughed.

“Am I trash?” I said.

“No,” she said, laughing. “I reckon you belong to mixed recyclables. There’s a lot of useful parts to you.”

I smiled.

“You’re one of the good ones,” she said. “I’m lucky to have you.”

“I’m lucky to have you too.”

She turned back to face me and said: “Anyway, let’s sleep, it’s late.”

She turned the lamp off and seemed to fall asleep quite quickly. I lay there awake, thinking. I can never get to sleep straight away, it’s like its night time for my body, but first thing in the morning for my thoughts. After about half an hour, Jane turned over in her sleep and placed her arm on my chest as I lay on my back, the lower half of our bodies still separated by the pillow.

50.

That was the other day, and now it’s Tuesday and he’s on his way to ‘talk about something’.


51.

“Hiya, Eric, we’ve just had Chilli if you fancy some?”

“Ah, thank you, I’m okay for now.”

I hate to let Jane’s Mum down by not eating her food, but my tummy can’t cope with food. It feels like there’s a boxing match going on in there right now. Not real boxing, maybe like Wii Sports boxing, but the two players are really into it and one of them has just accidentally let go of their controller and smashed their TV. I don’t know. I’m nervous is what I’m trying to say.

“That’s okay,” Jane’s mum says, before calling up the stairs. “Jane! Eric’s here! Oh just go up, she won’t mind.” I walk up the stairs and knock on her door.

“Hey, come in.”

I walk in and she’s sat on the bed.

52.

He’s wearing aftershave. Oh, god, he’s wearing aftershave.

53.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

“Yeah, good. How are you?”

“Yeah, good.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re good.”

“I’m glad you’re good too.”

54.

This is weird.

55.

There’s a silence. I’m still stood in the doorway.

“You got any gigs this week?” She asks.

“Yeah, Friday and Saturday. Hereford and then Coventry.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah should be good.” “So,” she says. “Do you wanna watch a film or something?”

“Erm… well I was actually hoping we could maybe talk?”

56.

He comes and sits by me on the bed.

57.

This time there’s no pillow between us.

58.

He looks at me straight in the eyes. This is all very un-Eric-like. I think it might genuinely be the first time we’ve ever made eye contact.

59.

She’s looking back at me and words start to fall out my mouth.

“I just think… maybe… maybe we don’t know it yet… but like…” “Eric, are you okay?”

My heart starts beating really fast at this point.

60.

He gets up and starts to walk around the room.

61.

I pace. I dunno why. I dunno what relation pacing has got to being able to say difficult things more easily, but it does, and suddenly I’m saying stuff.

62.

“So I’ve been writing this blog…” he says.

“Okay…?”

He has definitely not come here just to talk about a blog.

“And it was going well, like, maybe top five blogs of all-time contender – great jokes, an actual plot, driven by some real feelings and experiences I’ve actually had…”

“Of course.”

“But it’s the ending – I can’t figure out the ending. And every ending I think of just doesn’t fit – none of it fits with how I actually feel because I don’t really know how I feel and if I end it one way, well then, I’ve ended it, and it could mess up all the story I was happy with up til then.”

63.

She pauses for a few seconds.

“Well what’s the story actually about?”

“Err… just life, I suppose? I guess I started the story and I thought I wanted one thing from it, but now maybe want something else.”

“Isn’t that okay? Maybe the new story will work out better.”

“Yeah maybe, I guess it just hasn’t ever worked out like that before.”

64.

He lies back on the bed and looks at the ceiling.

“I think I know what you mean.” I say. I lie on my back next to him. We both stare up at the ceiling.

“So what should I do?”

65.

We’re just looking at the ceiling, only the ceiling, the ceiling, the ceiling.

66.

Nothing but ceiling.

67.

Ceiling and silence.

68.

And us.

69.




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