How Not to Survive

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12

It’s another exhausting day trying to resist the temptation to poke Jessica in the buttocks with my spear midway through her death scene. Halfway through one bit where I have to bring on this table in the background, Jackson suddenly erupts in hives at me, apparently for ‘acting’ too much, and I can see the whole class giving me these dirty looks like they think I’m trying to upstage them, which is pretty ridiculous since they’ve got so little presence combined they’ll be upstaged by the table. He gets mad at pretty much everyone now though, and tells us all to be there an hour earlier on Monday and prepared to work like dogs. Little does he know that if things go well I’m not even going to be turning up, as tomorrow is the day of my appointment with destiny, aka First Class Rep.

I’m planning to veg out with a long bath, followed by a a long beer, followed by a long spliff, followed by a long sleep with an optional wank. But these plans are shot to smithereens by Eli, who texts just as I’m leaving school to say Whre R U? Got to be there 7.00 sharp or my mum wil Xplode! Px Somehow I’ve been so busy focusing on the meeting with Bob Hope I’ve managed to like, repress our impending rendezvous with Eli’s folks, and suddenly my nice chilled out evening turns into this black hole from which there’s no escape. I consider texting back that I’m too tired, or have contracted some gross out virus that involves coughing up blood, but I know Eli’ll never forgive me. My fate’s basically fucked for the night, and there’s nothing for it but to endure.

Eli is waiting outside the front door when I get back, hopping from one foot to the other like he’s channelling the Mad Hatter whilst simultaneously chewing on the nails of both hands. It’s a pretty impressive sight and I go around the building and sneak up the on other side of him, seizing his shoulder and making him scream.

Where’ve you been? he shouts, We’re going to be late!

I’m like, Chill already.

But Eli’s way too worked up.

He’s like, You don’t get it, Mum doesn’t do lateness. If you’re going to be late then you shouldn’t come at all. That’s how things work in my family.

I’m like, Great – an evening with Jewish Nazis. I can hardly wait.

Eli gives me this look like he wants to slap me.

Alright! I go, Gimme two seconds!

I dash up the stairs, half expecting to find Arse Face, as she’s been rechristened, waiting for me again with some new arsenal to try and ruin my life. I showed Eli the letter last night and he swore to me he’d write back to the landlord with me to say Arse Face is the one who’s disruptive and disrespectful, and we made up this whole list of things we’d say about her, such as how we live in a perpetual state of fear because of the big ugly tricks she’s always bringing back here, and how we’d be prepared to turn a blind eye to it if only she’d stop shooting up in the kitchen. Incidentally I didn’t tell Eli about Danny’s package. There’s no point really, since I know it’d only freak him out knowing we’re stashing it.

Fortunately Arse Face is in her room, I can see the light from under her door, no doubt sticking pins in a voodoo doll of me or something. I pull off my clothes and yank on some new ones, and since it’s a bit cold out I don’t really think about what I’m doing when I grab my jacket off the back off the door and slip it on before flying back down the stairs and taking hold of Eli by the shoulders.

I’m like, Speedier than light, see?

Eli gives me this withering look like I’m the ultimate retard and tries to twist away, but I can tell he’s trying not to smile. I refuse to let go until I’ve planted a big wet smacker on the left lens of his glasses. He lets out the sort of protest you’d expect to maybe hear from a 1950s debutante, and just for luck I give him another on the other.

That’s what you get for being so goddamn gorgeous! I tell him.

Eli hardly says a word the whole journey out there, which is very unusual for him and is obviously because he’s scared beyond shitless. I try to draw him out with some of my plans for school, telling him how I’m thinking of pouring ice water on Cleopatra’s bed on performance night so Jessica and Clive have to soak it all up while they lie there pretending to have sex, or how I might say ‘I quit!’ and march off stage when Tania orders me to go throw more pixie dust over the audience. I think these ideas are pretty funny, but Eli responds like I’m giving him a dissertation on the semantics of cement-mixing, and eventually I give up and we’re silent for the rest of the journey.

We wind up at Eli’s folks’ house in Muswell Hill just over an hour later. Their house isn’t really a house – it’s more of a mansion, or even a fairy castle, complete with like, turrets and terraces and a large pool with a fountain spraying out of a cupid’s head in the front drive. It’s totally gobsmacking, in fact.

I’m like, Wow Eli. I had no idea you were like, dynasty.

Eli ignores this. He’s like, What’s the time? in this small voice, like he’s almost too terrified to know the answer.

Five to seven, I go, So keep it together OK?

He nods then reaches inside his coat and takes out what looks like two little navy blue purses with yellow stars of David on them. He gives one to me and slides the other one onto his head, clipping it over his ironic quiff with a hair pin, then looks at me expectantly.

I’m like, Seriously?

Eli is like, Seriously.

I make sure he knows that this is beyond the call of duty, and clip the purse to my head. Piece studies me carefully, then nods like I’ve only just passed some major difficult test and rings the door bell, which creates this loud noise of wind chimes. There’s the sound of someone undoing some locks, which takes an age because there seem to be about fifty different ones to undo. Finally the door is opened by this tiny little round ball of a woman, who looks so completely different to how I remember Eli’s mum the one time I saw her that it’s like she’s shrunk to half her size. She peers up at me with these two massive goldfish eyes like maybe I’m going to rob her. I remember the point of this venture is to be charming and brilliant and so I hold out my hand and give her my handsomest smile.

I’m like, Good evening Mrs Levinstein.

Her eyes grow even wider and she stares at me like I’m this green alien blob who’s just unexpectedly spoken to her in perfect English. Then she starts to shudder all over, and for a nasty second I think I’ve somehow managed to give her an aneurism simply by saying her name. Then I realise she’s actually trying not to giggle, and that Eli is letting off this hysterical jittering too, and she bows her head and opens the door wide to reveal this hallway like something out of Gone With The Wind, and there sweeping down the stairs like Elizabeth Taylor somewhere between being young and beautiful and old and egg-shaped, is the real Mrs Levinstein, clad in a Cruella de Ville style black dress.

Eli, she goes coldly, extending a hand towards him as she floats over to the door in that way that only the stupidly rich can, at the same time totally ignoring me, You’re late.

She offers him her cheek and he kisses it and she looks him up and down and then lets out a big long huff of air and shakes her head like he’s failed her as a son in every way imaginable.

Oh Eli, she wails, And you look so thin!

For a second I think she’s going to make fountains, but then she takes a big sniff like she’s sucking it all back in and turns to the maid.

Thank you Esther, she goes, dismissing her with this deadly slice of her hand. Esther gives me one last grin, like I’ve given her a story to pass onto her grandchildren, and scurries off.

Eli is like, Mum – you remember Jarold.

Mrs Levinstein peers around myopically.

Who? she barks, as if by not acknowledging me I won’t really be there.

Eli shoots me this apologetic look.

He’s like, Jarold. My boyfriend.

I can’t help but inwardly wince at the word, since there’s something a bit incestuous than being referred to as a boyfriend by your best friend. But I quickly smile and go, It’s a pleasure to see you again Mrs Levinstein, cranking up the charisma once more.

I might as well be trying to charm one of the fish from Piranha 3D. Mrs Levinstein turns reluctantly to face me and I feel her eyes probing me up and down and I swear it’s like she’s scanning me for bombs threats and also my dress size, like she’s some high security expert and fashion stylist hybrid. It’s obviously a total Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner? moment for her. I hold out my hand, but she pretends not to see it and starts walking off, going on about how they’ve been waiting for us and what a crime it is to leave food on the table uneaten, as if it’s right up there with fraud and identity theft.

In this massive ornate living room that’s larger than our entire flat, we find Mr Levinstein lounging on an armchair. He’s also wearing a little purse on his head and is muttering to himself angrily over a copy of this paper, the Jewish Chronicle.

Idiots! he snarls as we come in, throwing the paper down on the table, They’ve only gone and reported that I earn over two million pounds a year! Stupid bloody ignorant kikes!

Simon! Mrs Levinstein cries, horrified.

Hi Dad, says Eli.

At the sight of his son Mr Levinstein like, morphs from red and enraged to awkward and frowning in one smooth transition. Eli goes over to him and he stands up, and they kind of shuffle their bodies around one another in this total send up of a hug. Then Eli steps back and his dad looks over at me like I’m this mad interloper, which is pretty much what I feel like too.

This is the young man Eli is special friends with, goes Mrs Levinstein, her whole face scrunching up from the effort of not looking revolted, His name is Jarold.

Eli is like, It’s called boyfriends Mum. You won’t be struck down just for saying it.

Both of his parents give each other these looks like they’re transmitting a secret message across to each other, and then Mr Levinstein peers at me again, like suddenly I’m worth taking note of. He offers me his hand all stiff and proud, like I’m diseased or something, and then holds it away from himself, like he’s planning to rush off and dunk it in a bucket of Carex the second he gets the chance. It’s like, What century is this?

So what exactly do you do Jarold? he goes.

I’m like, Well Sir, I’m studying business.

This is what me and Eli agreed I would do, since telling people you’re training to be an actor doesn’t exactly scream marriage material. Mr and Mrs Levinstein both look pretty impressed with my answer too, as if they were expecting me to say I was a rent boy.

Well, goes Mr Levinstein, It’s good to know that at least some young men out there have an idea of how to support themselves.

He glances at Eli and like, raises his eyebrows all meaningfully just in case no one caught the subtext that he’s a loser drop out art student.

God, goes this voice from behind us just then, Are we ever going to eat?

We all turn and a fat girl wearing this mistake of a tight gingham dress walks in. I know it must Ruth, Eli’s sister, though he never told me she looked like she could eat for Britain. Like Mrs Levinstein she ignores me and instead stares at her parents all accusingly like she just learned they had her for her kidney.

Hey Ruth, goes Eli, This is Jarold. My boyfriend.

Ruth glances at me.

Hey, she goes in this flat totally uninterested voice.

I’m like, I didn’t know Eli had such a lovely younger sister.

Eli makes a noise like he’s trying not to swallow his tongue, and even Mr Levinstein looks a bit incredulous. Ruth on the other hand just shrugs like she gets it all the time and whines, I’m hungry!

To this Mrs Levinstein reacts like she’s just been told they’re dropping a nuclear warhead and this is our last chance to eat before we go down to the shelter. She sweeps us all forward, out of the living room and into this grand dining room. It’s like somewhere you’d imagine royalty to eat, this long table with gold legs under this massive crystal chandelier. There’s a banquet practically laid out on it, and at the centre this explosion of tropical flowers. Mrs Levinstein directs us all to places around one end of the table, with Mr Levinstein at the head, and puts her hands together. The others all do likewise, including Esther. Then she looks at me expectantly.

Oh – Jarold’s doesn’t practise, goes Eli quickly.

I’m like, Yeah. That’s right.

Everyone looks pretty shocked for a few seconds, but then Ruth pipes up, I’m non-practising too!

Don’t be ridiculous Ruth! goes Mrs Levinstein angrily, Since when?

Since today! she retaliates, sitting down with her arms folded.

Mrs Levinstein bares her teeth and looks like she might be about to start barking at her daughter. But then she takes a deep breath and lets out a light laugh, as if kids will be kids. Then she closes her eyes and lets out this long stream of words that sounds totally arcane, like something out of Harry Potter. I glance at Eli since it totally sounds like she’s making it up as she goes along. but he’s got his eyes shut and is whispering it too, and so is Mr Levinstein. Ruth just stares at me all cockily like she’s planning to give everyone wedgies while they’re vulnerable and blame it on me. Then she does this really gross thing and sticks her tongue out and licks her lips all over in this total sex act. Before I can even process what just happened the Levinsteins suddenly finish their spell and open their eyes. We all sit down.

So Jarold, says Mr Levinstein, reaching for some bread, Who’s your father?

For the next half an hour I do my best to deflect this endless barrage of questions that ensues about where my family comes from and who they’re connected too with vague shrugs and murmurs and coughing fits. It’s like these people are on a mission to drag every last vestige of info out of me, and it’s pretty difficult to lie through your teeth while at the same time be charming let me tell you. Now and then Eli tries to help, but both his parents totally just talk all over him. I’d basically be fucked were it not for Ruth, who fortunately turns out to be loud enough to drown out an air raid and seems to have one agenda in life, which is to dominate all conversation no matter what direction it takes. In between cramming food into her mouth she repeatedly interrupts before I can answer with all these totally unrelated comments, such as announcing she wants to be a ballerina when she’s older, or listing her various allergies, or telling us all about the time she was thrown from a horse (which in reality probably like, buckled).

And what do your parents think of your... Mr Levinstein frowns and pushes his glasses up to the bridge of his nose while he like, contemplates on how to put it, Your choice of lifestyle?

Eli shoots me a glare, that’s basically warning me this is crunch time, as if I didn’t know. I summon up my most dazzling smile.

I’m like, It’s not a choice Mr Levinstein, and they’re extremely supportive.

I say it all gentle and quiet, rather than militant with the die-screaming look that’d normally accompany such a lame declaration. Eli gives me the smallest smile, and I get this totally unexpected sudden surge of emotion for him.

I’m hyper-extensive, goes Ruth, But only in the elbows.

For once nobody pays her any attention. Mr Levinstein is nodding to himself and Mrs Levinstein looks at her husband like she’s waiting for him to announce his verdict. While they mulling over whether or not they can ever like, actually believe in the concept of liberal parents (which admittedly is quite a big stretch) I reach into my jacket to work out what this weird lump inside is that’s been bothering me all night.

They must be extraordinary people, deduces Mr Levinstein.

I’m like, Oh they are.

Mrs Levinstein can’t contain herself any longer.

Have you always been a homosexual? she goes.

I’m like, Ever since I worked out how to –

Eli shoots me another warning look.

... I mean, who I was. Back when I was a teenager.

Mrs Levinstein’s eyes widen epically and she reaches across to her husband and takes his hand. Then she steals this glance at Eli, and it’s like for the first time she’s considering the possibility that maybe her son is a fag and that’s all there is to it. Eli smiles at her and she gives him this troubled look back. Mr Levinstein meanwhile has obviously been wrestling with something and leans forward in his seat.

He’s like, But how can a person really know something like that? Have you ever been with a girl?

It’s like, Woah! But instead of asking him the same question I smile patiently and say, I don’t need to be with a girl – it would feel wrong, because that’s not who I am.

It’s an answer worthy of like, Peter Tachell and Mr Levinstein sucks it in and sits back. There’s a long pause with bales of hay blowing through it. Nobody’s eating now, apart from Ruth, who chews noisily and looks from face to face like she’s trying to work out why everyone’s stopped listening to her. Mrs Levinstein is still looking at Eli and finally this ghost of a smile brushes over her lips, like she’s maybe even getting that having queer progeny isn’t the end of the world.

And right about here is the point where I do something that’s so mind-alteringly boobish it’ll make you wonder how I even manage to get up in the morning without accidentally killing myself. I’m still fiddling about all absent-mindedly with the lump in my jacket when I catch my finger on the lining of my pocket. Instead of working it free I give it this wrench, which tears the pocket open and sends the lump catapulting out into the middle of the table. Even as I do it, it dawns on me what the lump is, and there’s this slo-mo close up of my face like, absorbing the sheer scope of my retardedness as the transparent package containing Danny’s drugs crash-lands in the middle of the bread basket.

The silence turns deathly as everyone stares at The Package. Mrs Levinstein’s fingers tighten around her husband’s wrist and her face goes completely white. Mr Levinstein’s on the other hand goes completely red. Eli is looking like he can’t actually believe what’s just happened, and I’m having difficulty swallowing it myself. Ever so slowly all their eyes swivel up to my face. It’s like, Oh shit.

Is that heroin? breathes Ruth, finally interested in something besides herself, Jenna at school says she tried it once and it made her throw up!

Mr Levinstein draws a deep toke of oxygen.

He’s like, Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke? in a voice about an octave deeper than the one he’s been using so far.

Mrs Levinstein suddenly lets out a series of screams, leaps up and rushes round the table to Ruth, whose head she grabs and thrusts into her sizable bosom like she’s spontaneously decided to commit infanticide with her tits.

GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! she screeches at me, GET OUT AND DON’T EVER COME BACK!

I jerk into action, reaching forward and plucking the package out of the basket. Eli has dropped his head into his hands and his body is like, shuddering. I’m pretty sure it’s not with laughter.

Thanks for having me! I go.

I shove the package into my other pocket and hurtle out of the room, almost knocking over Esther who’s just entering with this baffled expression at all the commotion. I throw open the front door and run out onto the road, stopping at the other side and ducking down behind a Ferrari panting and waiting for the sound of screaming sirens, since I’m sure the Levinsteins won’t be making any bones of calling the police. After a couple of minutes I venture to look up and down the street, which is totally quiet.

I take out my phone and send Eli a text saying Don’t hate me. Outside. but I wait for ages and don’t get one back. It’s starting to get chilly and I’m just about to make a move when Eli emerges. There’s no one at the door to say goodbye to him, and the front lights of the house are off when he opens the door. He closes it behind him and trudges down the drive to the road, all hunched over like he’s carrying this great weight on his back. I stand up and give him a wave.

I’m like, Hey!

Eli looks at me.

I’m like, Look... I’m really sorry. I’m a tool.

Eli’s like, Stay away me OK?

He starts to walk off up the street, still hunched but a little bit faster. I run after him and like, confront his backside.

I’m like, For fuck’s sake – it was an accident!

Eli stops and spins round. From the look on his face I swear it’s like he could give Jerk Jackson a lesson in how to eye-fry someone.

Eli is like, Do you actually get what you’ve just done Jaz?

His jaw and fists are trembling. I hold up both hands.

I’m like, Look, just chill out and –

They’re never going to accept me now! he shouts, They don’t want to ever see me anymore! Dad said he’ll pay for the rest of my college and then that’s it, I’m on my own. Mum wouldn’t even look at me! She just walked out of the room!

I’m like, They’ll come round –

Eli holds up his hand.

He’s like, Just save it OK? You don’t know them. Leave me alone.

He turns and starts walking again and this time I don’t follow him because it’s like there’s nothing left to say. I try to tell myself he’s being melodramatic and needs time to cool down and remember that I was only doing him a favour. But in this like, secret chamber of my heart, I can’t help but feel like the biggest shit on the planet.

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