Amy liked to prod at situations. She was a stirrer. I remember when Grace, our flatmate, got a third for an essay she’d been stressing about, on The Winter’s Tale. We kept trying to change the subject and Amy kept changing it back, saying ‘I think you are upset though,’ over and over until Grace burst into tears. Amy stopped then, looking smug. She pretended that she was helping. Once, on a night out, I heard her say ‘she did call you that,’ before the person in question was in a massive fight. But I wasn’t affected by her behaviour until she started working at the ice arena with me.
I didn’t think that working with Amy would be a problem. She didn’t need the money, she said she was bored. Grace and Rach were home with their families for the summer. Amy wasn’t leaving until August. Her parents were on a cruise, apparently. I couldn’t stay with my parents. The ice arena was stretched over the summer, with less students around to squeeze cheap labour from, and a lot of people wanted to come just to feel the cool on them. I’d been working there for nearly a year, so I was seasoned. It was all temp work, you could choose what you wanted to do, be it concerts, ice hockey games or various relaxed skating sessions.
I spent a lot of time cleaning up spills. But I didn’t mind, because the shifts fitted in with my studies and I liked a bit of consistency in my life.
On her first day, we were cleaning up after a children’s party and she said, ‘God! Doesn’t it piss you off?’
‘Cleaning up all this crap, vomit everywhere! It’s disgusting. They think we’re their maids or something.’ She made a melodramatic retching noise. I noticed beads of sweat on her forehead.
‘They’re only kids, getting too excited at a party.’
‘Still, no difference.’ She was staring at me, like she was studying me. I felt my heartbeat quicken and I fumbled with some paper cups.
‘Nothing annoys you, does it Bonnie? You don’t get angry.’ She stopped scraping vomit into the binbag. ‘Why is that?’
I shrug. ‘I just don’t, I guess.’
I didn’t like losing my temper, but why was that be a bad thing? Before she could prod at me further, our manager, Sharon, came over and asked if one of us would be able to help out behind the bar. Amy jumped at the chance. She didn’t mention my anger, or lack of it, for the rest of the day. I hoped she’d forgotten about it.
The next day, Amy and I started at the same time but we weren’t timetabled together. I was in the bar, serving overpriced coffee and watching people with laptops pretend to work.
Sharon strode over to me, blunt brunette fringe and wearing a bottle green tabard. She put her hands on her hips.
‘Have you seen Amy today?’
‘I came in with her, but I haven’t seen her since then,’ I said. ‘Why?’
Sharon pursed her lips. ‘She isn’t where she’s supposed to be.’ My stomach dropped. I apologised and mumbled something incoherent. ‘Ok,’ Sharon sighed, and walked away.
A ruddy-faced man, or patron, asked me for a vodka tonic. It was 10am and he had sweat stains under his arms already. I said, ‘of course.’ I smiled benignly as I appeared to be measuring out 25ml of vodka. In reality, I was panicking about losing my job and my flat and thus being unable to finish my degree.
‘Make it a double, love,’ said the patron, conspiratorially. His voice was too loud.
I laughed and said something like ‘must be a good day’ even though I felt like I was going to be sick. I tried to calm myself down with breathing exercises I’d learned. I remembered not to jump to conclusions. Amy could have caught a stomach bug from a small child. I did that in my first month. She could have been helping a customer – or patron – though I doubted it.
I opened a bottle of tonic water and placed it next to the man’s glass of vodka. He enjoyed the brief moments of being the centre of my attention. He wanted to add a tip, just for me. I added the amount he wanted to tip into the machine and I smiled and said thank you, how kind, even though that wasn’t how the tip system worked here. I could reign myself in, be civil. I’ve hidden my feelings for most of my life anyway.
On my mid-afternoon break, I decided to go to Sharon’s office. I wanted to know if Amy was ok because I hadn’t seen her and I hadn’t received any texts. I could hear that Sharon was in a bad mood before I saw her.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were going to Brighton?’
She slammed the phone down, put her fingertips to her temples and slumped on the desk in front of her. She made an ‘ugh’ sound. I wondered why she worked here.
I was the only other person in the office so I had to ask, ‘are you okay?’
‘I’ve got no one to be Little John tomorrow lunchtime.’ Little John is the mascot of the ice hockey team that plays here. ‘Tom is back home in Brighton, apparently. Amanda refuses to do it now and Harvey is… I don’t know where Harvey is. He isn’t answering his phone.’
‘I’ll do it,’ I said, eager to prove that I was dependable.
‘Are you sure?’ she looked me up and down. ‘It’s fairly demanding.’ She looked at me like she’d misjudged me. She seemed to be calming down. ‘Let’s see if the outfit fits.’
She led me down a corridor to a small dressing room. She opened a locker. The light grey body, clad in a green hockey top, hung on a cheap black coat hanger. The grey bear head, with its cartoon eyes and green feathered hat lay below its big furry feet. It looked sinister with nobody inside it.
I tried it on and watched myself in the mirror. The kids liked him and I could see why, he had charm. Sharon watched me with an anxious face.
‘So?’ she said.
‘This’ll be fun,’ I said, feeling terrified. She almost smiled.
When I was leaving, back in my human clothes, I noticed that Amy’s coat wasn’t in the staff room, so maybe she had gone home ill. I had forgotten to ask Sharon. Amy might have fallen asleep or something, I imagined optimistically.
When I got home, I found Amy on the sofa eating a takeaway pizza and staring at her phone. A reality TV show shrieked across the living room. It was hotter inside than it had been outside. I opened the living room window.
‘You ok?’ I asked. Amy didn’t look very ill. She was wearing a white summer dress that looked similar to the one that I had been coveting.
‘Yeah, fine, you?’ She stuffed a pepperoni slice in her mouth. An inevitably grease soaked hand grazed the sofa. I shuddered. We won’t be getting that deposit back now. I hated fully furnished flats, but I couldn’t afford a sofa.
I doubted my next sentence even as I said it: ‘did you come home ill?’
Amy shook her head. ‘Well, I came home,’ she chewed. ‘I was bored.’
‘You were bored?’
‘Yeah they wanted me to clean the toilets and I was just like, ew! You know?’
I went quiet, I could see the visible grease smear from the pizza. That would never come out. ‘They’re short-staffed at the moment. It needs doing.’
‘Yeah but ugh I didn’t want to do it.’
Amy laughed at her phone and started texting away. I watched the reality show for a few seconds. American women were screaming at each other on screen. Their anger repelled me. No, I couldn’t be like that. I hadn’t seen this reality show before, but they were all the same. I went into my room. I had to get away from Amy, or I didn’t know what might happen. I didn’t like feeling like that, like being in a pressure cooker. I felt like I was a child again. I changed out of my work clothes. I thought about texting a friend and going out, but Amy would only tag along.
‘I’ve got a migraine coming,’ I told her. ‘I think I’ll just go to bed.’
‘Oh ok,’ said Amy, visibly put out. I relished making her sad and hated myself for it.
I spent the evening quietly watching mascot videos on YouTube, practicing my thumbs up in the mirror.
On our walk to work the next morning, the sun already as bright as if it were the middle of the day, Amy asked, ‘why are you so quiet?’
After a long pause, I replied, ‘I’m not quiet today.’ I changed the subject. ‘I forgot to tell you; I’m going to be Little John today.’
‘What?’ said Amy with a stupid look on her face. ‘What’s Little John?’
‘It’s the mascot. For the ice hockey game.’
‘Oh my God.’
‘The kids love him and Sharon needed someone.’ I didn’t know why I was justifying myself to her. I looked ahead, into the wind, and it made my eyes sting. I hoped she wouldn’t think I’m about to cry or lose my temper. Because I won’t. But she wasn’t looking at me.
‘Well Dan isn’t going to fancy you now!’
‘I think he has a thing for you.’ I didn’t know Dan might have a thing for me, that was interesting. ‘But not if you dress up like a bear Bonnie, it’s like you have no dignity at all. Like, do you repress all of your feelings or something?’
I did my breathing exercises. It was already humid, so the air felt thicker than usual.
‘Have I angered you?’ said Amy, a sinister smile on her angular face. I realised then that she looked like an evil imp, particularly with her hair tied up. ‘You should stick up for yourself, you know, let it out.’
I took a deep breath. ‘No, I’m not angry,’ I said. ‘I’m not an angry person.’
‘I think you’re angry with me. That I’m not committed to this stupid job. Who cares about this job?’ she asked.
‘I do,’ I said.
‘God, you’re so lame sometimes!’ she said. ‘This job doesn’t matter. Our degrees are the things that matter!’ I didn’t respond. It didn’t matter to her, because her parents paid all her bills. I didn’t want to involve my parents. Well, my dad didn’t want to involve himself. Amy smiled. ‘I think I’m making you angry. You’re not an angry person, you said.’
‘That’s right,’ I said.
‘Do you think angry people are, what? Scary?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘But they do scare people away.’
Later that morning, I was preparing myself, and the crowd, for the first friendly ice hockey game of the season. I’d been out for the warm-up and I’d been nervous but I’d enjoyed myself. The kids loved me! I waved a lot and did a lot of dad dancing and thumbs up. I wasn’t allowed to talk because I had a girl’s voice, Sharon said, and that would confuse the children. I thought that they could handle it, but I didn’t say anything.
When the actual ice hockey was on, I was able to take breaks. During my first, Dan was helping me drink, holding a glass of water for me, which I drank through a long straw. I saw my drenched hair in the dressing room mirror and felt it drip down my back. But I felt strangely proud of myself. I had managed to successfully flirt with Dan, sweating in a bear outfit. And then Amy walked in and strode over to us.
‘God, you don’t care about humiliating yourself, do you Bonnie?’
I felt something flash through me, something unrecognisable that I hadn’t felt for years. I felt like screaming at her, but that never helps matters.
‘What? Nobody can even see me. The kids love it.’
Amy rolled her eyes. ‘Nothing makes you annoyed or angry does it?’
I didn’t want to tell her that she was annoying me, so I didn’t. Best not to cause a fuss. I had no idea why she was needling me all the time. It was like she wanted me to lose my temper. I didn’t know why anybody would be like that. It isn’t nice when people lose their temper.
I thanked Dan for holding my water and got on with my performance.
After the game, the kids wanted to take pictures with me. I was buzzing by the time I finally finished and found myself back in the dressing room, where other members of staff were congregating. I took Little John’s head off again because I needed a drink. Dan asked how it had gone. He gave me the water and I was trying to hold it with my big grey paws. It was difficult and he said I looked funny. We were laughing about it. He took pictures of me so I could see how I looked. I thought that I looked ridiculous, but he said that I looked cute.
‘Hey Little John.’ Amy bounded up to us. ‘Good performance. Think you’ve finally found your calling.’
‘Someone has to do it.’
‘Ugh, I wouldn’t.’
I felt something flash through me, something deep and animal that I hadn’t felt for years. A shock of hatred.
‘Shut up, Amy. Just shut up, I’m sick of you constantly trying to get a rise out of me.’
‘Finally,’ she said, though she was less confident than before. There were about ten other staff members winding down and they were all watching. I saw myself in the mirror, a bedraggled 20-year-old woman’s head atop a grey cartoon bear’s body, little white tail poking out of its green shirt. But this time, my face looked distorted, I didn’t recognise it.
‘I’m sick of your smug face, you don’t need this job! You don’t take it seriously.’
‘It’s dumb! I thought it would be fun-’
And then I, with my big soft grey paws, spat the straw out of my mouth and threw my drink into Amy’s face as she finished her sentence ‘working with you.’ The water arched in slow motion before landing on her shocked face. I walked away, unable to meet anybody’s eyes. I imagined how I appeared to everyone around me; a lumbering bear with a human face, listening to the hush that followed my attack.