I paused in front of a stall selling tea towels with red cups and saucers embroidered on them. ‘Not five pounds, not two pounds . . .' The man’s skin looked too big for his face, like the foreskin I’d labeled on my Higher Biology worksheet and yet the crowd of auld wifies hung on his every word as if he was Tom Jones. Their eyes were glued to him as his meaty hands came together – bang and the deal was done. The women breenged through the crowd and waved their one pound notes in the air like knickers they were about to throw on stage. And all for the privilege of buying a couple of rags of cotton. The showman threw the bundles of tea towels into the adoring group; his stock was dangerously low. I wanted to wait to see if it turned violent when the tea towels ran out but Lorraine had already wandered off. I saw her pause at a stall selling jeans and remembered why we were at the market. Lorraine picked up a pair of jeans with white piping down the leg seams and stroked the denim.
‘Try them on in the back of the van darlin’.’
The guy had a beard like a balaclava and smelt as if he’d eaten a big plate of Chicken Kiev. He shouldered the door and pulled on the plastic handle. A faded sticker on the back window said, ‘DRIVER CARRIES NO CASH. HE’S MARRIED’ and some other smart arse had written on the muck splattered rear, ‘also in white.’
I nudged Lorraine’s backside with my knee and she climbed inside the rusty Transit. I followed and closed the van’s door. Almost shut. Lorraine unzipped her pencil skirt and rolled it down like she was peeling a banana. She lay on her back to yank the stone-washed jeans up over her hips. I sat on my hunkers on top of a pile of dark jeans; the dye from the denim honked, and reminded me of burning hair, just like the time I crimped Lorraine’s hair for the school disco in fourth year when she was going through her Cyndi Lauper phase. I left the crimping irons clamped shut a lot longer than I should have and a whole clump of blonde hair came away in my hands. The singed patch was at the back, she never noticed at first and she didn’t dare to blame me; I never claimed to be a hairdresser.
Lorraine struggled with the jean’s flimsy zip and her peach pair of tanga briefs snagged in the zipper’s teeth. We knew Hairy Face was watching. Lorraine’s giggles turned to snorts and I guessed what was coming next.
My mam said it was because of Janine that Lorraine was an attention seeker and a show off. Lorraine liked to tell lies too. When I was seven, I begged my mam to let me go to ballet lessons and get a pony like Lorraine. I didn’t believe my mam when she said that Lorraine was lying. And yet I knew that she only went to the Brownies at the community centre and I’d never known anybody to have a pony in their back garden. It took me a while to accept that my mam was right, Lorraine was nothing but a drama queen and always performing. I didn’t love Lorraine any less; in fact I realised that’s why she needed me to wipe her eyes when she came off-stage and the applause died.
‘Let’s give him a proper show.’
The zipper was pulled free; the teeth had bitten a hole in Lorraine’s knickers. Her hands groped for the hole and she pulled the cotton apart. I held my breath at the sound of the knickers ripping. The tear was big enough for her to insert three fingers. The door of the van creaked open an inch or so too.
I kicked Lorraine’s thigh, hard enough to push her on her side and her face into a pile of denim jackets.
‘Fuck off, that hurt!’
The van door slammed shut. Lorraine rolled on to her back, rubbing her thigh as she tugged the jeans off. She threw them at me and I batted them into the corner of the van. Lorraine slipped her school skirt on and grabbed her school bag.
‘So are you gonnae get the jeans or what?’ I asked.
‘I might’ve got them cheaper if you hadn’t stuck your neb in. I was just having a laugh.’
‘You took it too far. And someone needs tae tell you when tae stop.’
I swung the door open and jumped out on to the tarmac. Hairy Face was folding a pair of wide arse jeans into a red and white stripy carrier bag for a wifie but he turned round as we shimmied round the side of his stall. The wifie looked us up and down, tutted then walked off with her skanky jeans.
‘Any good darlin’?’
‘Ah’m no sure, they’re a bit tight,’ replied Lorraine.
‘That’s how the boys like them, trust me.’
She rummaged in her school bag for her purse.
‘C’mon Lorraine. Chelsea Girl has got new jeans in. Better looking than these shitey market ones.’
‘But they’ll be a lot dearer.’ Hairy Face’s beard did nothing to hide his smugness. The mere mention of Chelsea Girl was enough to side-track Lorraine. She shoved her purse back inside her school bag.
‘You’re right Angela, it’s no as if I’m skint.’
‘You looked cheap to me when you were lying with your legs open,’ Hairy Face sneered.
‘Fuck you! C’mon Lorraine, we need tae tell the polis that there’s a dirty paedo working doon the market, forcing school lassies tae strip for him.’
Helen MacKinven writes contemporary Scottish fiction, with a particular interest in exploring themes such as social class and identity, using black comedy and featuring Scots dialect. She graduated with merit from Stirling University with an MLitt in Creative Writing in 2012.
Her debut novel Talk of the Toun is out now through ThunderPoint Publishing, and you can find out more about her here.