TRIO OF SOPHIES
By Eileen Merriman
The boy has watched her for weeks. His eyes tattoo a pattern on the back of her neck in class. At lunchtime she feels his gaze sweep over her as she walks past with Sophie-P and Sophie-G. A trio of Sophies, Mr James says in PE. But it’s only her hips his hands linger on when he is helping her balance on the beam, only her breasts his fingers brush past when he is adjusting her tennis serve.
She is Sophie-A. A for Abercrombie, A for the grades she used to get. Lately there are no As, just Cs and Ds and try harder.
In some trios, one is worth more than others. You’re the best Sophie, Mr James tells her, when he gives her a lift home. You’re the beautiful one. He tells her this as he puts his fingers inside her, one-two-three.
She doesn’t even like the other Sophies much. Sophie Paige calls Sophie-A sweetie and honey, grinning at Sophie-A like a chimpanzee, until Sophie-A wants to punch her in the mouth. Sophie Grey is colourless like her surname – pale eyes, insipid hair, and a watery personality that endears her to no one.
The Spanish boy appeared in her class six weeks ago and has looked at her ever since. Not in the way Mr James looks at her, like he wants to get inside her (and he does, he does) but as if she is a puzzle he is trying to figure out. Everyone sniggered when they heard his name was Jesus.
Is your last name Christ? Jason Ngata asked. Can we call you JC? But in the end they call him HT, after the Holy Trinity. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So he is singular, but a trio too.
Sophie-A is never by herself. At home she is one of three girls, their names spilling out of her mother’s mouth like a string of sausages, Sophie-Natalie-Jessica clean your room, Sophie-Natalie-Jessica get off the computer. At school she’s always with Sophie-P and Sophie-G, and after school she is with Mr James. He will always be in her head. He will always be in her body.
One day Mr James calls in sick. Sophie walks home slowly, the damp leaves soggy beneath her feet. The damp-soil scent is so strong she can taste it. She wonders if that is what it would taste like if she were dead.
She has to walk through the subway to get home. The other Sophies don’t like walking through the subway, not since Sophie-P had her bag snatched by a man wearing gang patches. Sophie-P went on and on about how he could have raped her. You can get raped in subways. You can get raped on the mats in the gym, and in the back of an SUV too. Sophie-A isn’t scared of the subway.
She has reached the bottom of the subway steps when she hears footsteps. She turns, and glares at him.
‘Are you following me?’
HT shakes his head. Unlike Sophie-P, HT hardly ever smiles. He is the opposite of Sophie-G-insipid, with his obsidian eyes and glossy black hair.
Sophie-A shakes her head back at him, starts walking again. HT falls in beside her. His limbs move smoothly, sinuously, as if they’ve been freshly oiled.
Sophie-A says, ‘Why are you always looking at me?’
HT says, ‘Because you’re always crying.’
Sophie-A stops walking. ‘That’s a lie.’
HT halts too. ‘I never lie.’ The graffiti-covered walls of the subway loom above them. The stale scent of urine is making her stomach roll. She moves toward him, inhales his cocoa scent.
‘You are lying, because I never cry.’
HT touches his finger to her cheek. When he takes it away she sees it glistening in the halogen glow of the subway lights.
‘Are you scared?’ He asks, as she starts shaking.
‘No. No.’ She sinks to the ground, the subway floor like a mortuary slab beneath her thighs.
HT contemplates her for a moment. ‘I think you’ve got lots of thoughts inside you, waiting to get out. Interesting thoughts.’ He doesn’t know how dirty she is, doesn’t know that Mr James has been inside her so many times that she feels as if she has been turned inside out.
‘I think you should stop looking at me,’ she says, but he doesn’t. He sits beside her, his breath warm in her ear, his arm barely touching hers. And for a short time, the urine-stench, the cold, the obscenities scrawled on the walls, the ugliness inside her – it all melts away. She is not Sophie-A or Sophie-Natalie-Jessica or Sophie-A-who-gives-good-head. She is Sophie, just Sophie, singular but not alone.
HT stands up, extends his hand towards her. His fingers are cool, like water. He walks her to the end of the subway, lifts her hand to his lips. ‘Maybe we can hang out at lunchtime tomorrow.’
Sophie smiles back. ‘I’d like to.’
HT turns and walks back into the subway. She watches his white t-shirt fade into the gloom, and the inside of her chest feels glassy and pure and good. It’s as if HT has found something inside her that she thought was lost, forever.
When Sophie arrives at school the next morning, the police are there.
She hears gang patches and chased across the railway tracks. She sees a beautiful boy, the Holy Trinity, scattered over the hard, cold rails, and she feels all the Sophies inside her scatter too, until there is nothing left.
She isn’t Sophie-A or Sophie-Natalie-Jessica or Sophie-A-who-gives-good-head. She isn’t Sophie, singular but not alone. She is the girl without a name.
The girl without a name walks to the gym. When Mr James walks into the office she asks him to kiss her, fuck her, anything to take away the desolation inside, and as he enters her she bites his bottom lip until he bleeds into her mouth.
And all she can taste is soil and rotting leaves.
Eileen Merriman’s work has previously been published in Flash Frontier, Smokelong Quarterly, Blue Fifth Review, Literary Orphans, the Bath Short Story Anthology, Headland, the Sunday Star Times, Takahe and F(r)iction. Her awards include second in the 2015 Bath Flash Fiction award, and third in both the 2014 and 2015 Sunday Star Times Short Story competitions. Her YA novel, Pieces of You, will be published by Penguin in 2017. More details can be found at: eileenmerriman. co.nz.
One thought on “Stories No. 57 – Eileen Merriman”
Oh, man, this one is so good — one of the best stories I’ve read in a while. The language, the characters, the breaking of her heart, and of the readers’ hearts, and this: “The damp-soil scent is so strong she can taste it. She wonders if that is what it would taste like if she were dead.” Brilliant, top to bottom.
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