The Temptation of Evie
Evie often dreams about death. Not the actual process of dying or some kind of afterlife, but actually being dead. Lying there, glassy-eyed, waiting for somebody to find her. She sees it as though she's somebody else, walking in to find her gracefully spread across the floor. No mangled limbs or ripped flesh, just her still lifeless body lying somewhere.
She practices being dead in the bath. Her hair swirls around her face; her arms hit the side of the bath with the movement of the water. She parts her lips slightly, trying to look surprised, maybe, or as though she was in the process of having a wonderful idea.
There is a thud on the bathroom door, muffled but still too audible through the water rushing against her ears. And as she sits up, reluctantly awoken from reverie -- her hair heavy and dripping over her face -- the thud is followed by a voice: "Evie? Hurry up, will you?"
Her eyes begin to sting and she rubs them uselessly with her ink-stained fingertips.
She isn't morbid, she reflects later, sitting on the edge of her bed, shivering in a towel. (She wants nothing more than to curl up in bed, to go to sleep, but not while she's so wet and with her hair dripping down her back). She isn't suicidal -- she just likes to imagine. She daydreams too much, can't concentrate on anything.
When you're dead, you don't dream at all.*
The next morning, Evie’s mother drives her back to boarding school for the new term. Somehow this feels more like coming home. Her mother chats to her about Benjamin and Emily, friends who Evie sometimes feels are more like family. She’s known Emily so long she’s not even sure if her feelings are of friendship or of familiarity, and as for Benjamin, she hates him to death sometimes but he’s always there, nonetheless.
Twenty minutes away from school Evie reaches backwards and pulls her make-up bag out from a suitcase. She ties her long dark hair into a ponytail, draws dark lines around her eyes, coats her lashes in thick mascara, and slicks gloss across her lips, and by the time the car pulls up in the driveway of the school, she looks like herself again.
Evie sees no need for the chorus of “you look so different
” that greets every girl. Nothing ever changes. Evie doesn’t look different. She still frowns too much, stares too hard at the little details.
Georgina passes round a bag of chocolates and Evie wishes she wasn’t so eager to take one.*
Georgina’s snores punctuate the otherwise silent dormitory, but if Evie concentrates she can tune into the other girls’ breathing, one by one, a habit she has trained herself into over the years. Emily sleeps in the next bed over, as she has done since they first started at this school, and so her breathing is the easiest to spot.
Emily sighs in her sleep, and Evie shuts her eyes tight and rolls over to face the wall.*
Benjamin waits until the third day of school to say hello. Evie is in the library and as she turns away from a shelf she suddenly finds him standing behind her, leaning against a bookcase with a smirk on his face.
“Hello, yourself,” she says, and walks away from him towards her table, conscious of her hips beneath navy pleats, thighs encased in shiny synthetic tights. He sits beside her, and she says nothing, because nothing comes to mind. She picks up her pen, and writes something, anything, about history and revolutions and battles and nothing about real life.
His hand brushes her leg under the table and her pen pauses. She can feel him staring at her but she refuses to look up. Her fingers grip her thigh and she slams her legs shut.
“Goodbye, Benjamin,” she says briskly. She picks up her pen and her books and walks away, his smirk still burning through her blouse, as a thousand and one retorts race too late around her mind.*
“You’re going to be a spinster ‘til you die,” Emily declares, when Evie relates this encounter to her over dinner.
Evie shrugs, and says nothing.
“Isn’t there even one boy you like?” Emily persists, staring at her intently, looking for anything that will betray hidden romance. Evie doesn’t give her the satisfaction.
Evie is a virgin, holding out for a theory she can never explain. She hates Benjamin and all the other stupid boys, and there’s that thing about girls but… Georgina is too blunt and slow and Emily giggles too much and there isn’t one girl she could name as being somebody
Evie lives a life of contradictions.*
Evie stares blankly at her homework and doesn’t know where to start. Imagine if she were to die tonight, slumped over her books with a pen gripped tightly in her hand. Imagine everybody’s regret -- Benjamin’s stunned realisation; Emily’s wails of guilt (“I shouldn’t have gone to bed without saying goodnight!”); her teacher might even wish she hadn’t set such lengthy homework if only it might’ve made Evie’s last few moments on earth a bit happier.
She picks up the pen, resolved to concentrate, and then notices the ink stains on her fingers. She angles the desk lamp, and stares at the blackness buried in the whorls and grooves of her fingertips, looking as though it is leaking out of her rather than trying to get in. She imagines drowning in ink, floating in a dark that swallows you up. You wouldn't sink to the bottom, you'd be eaten alive instead, ink crawling inside you until you vanished into thin air.
Evie jumps and turns to see Emily standing in the doorway, wearing one of the long t-shirts she wears to bed. Her arms are crossed over her chest, the hem rises over her thighs.
“I just wanted to say goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Evie says stiffly, and watches Emily walk away.*
Tuesday is somebody’s birthday and most of the girls are in the common room, squealing over chocolate. Evie takes one look at them and decides to go on a diet. She heads outside for fresh air, leaving the giggling girls behind her.
Evie lies dead on the grass in the shadow of the trees and stares up at the sky until her eyes water. She hates Benjamin sometimes. She hates everyone sometimes.
What would Benjamin do if he found her dead in his bed, staring glassily at him in accusation?
“What are you smiling at?”
Evie blinks in surprise and sees Emily standing over her, a dark figure against the harsh light of the sun behind her. Her hair is spilled over her shoulders, sleek and shiny, free of its usual ponytail, and she seems to have forgotten to do up the top few buttons of her shirt.
“You’re crying.” Emily kneels down beside her.
“I’m not, my eyes were watering because I was looking at the sky, that’s all.”
Emily leans forward to brush the wetness from Evie’s cheeks, and a glimpse of white lace is suddenly visible beneath her shirt. Evie swallows.
“I’m fine,” she repeats, and sits up hurriedly. Emily knows
, she must do. That’s what all this is about -- testing a theory. “It must be nearly time for lunch, mustn’t it?” she babbles, desperately.
“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Emily says, smiling, and gently pushes Evie down again, her hands on her chest. Evie says nothing, but gazes up at Emily for one second of confusion --
-- and then Emily kisses Evie, lips pressed hard against her own, fingers deftly undoing Evie‘s shirt buttons. All Evie can taste is her own lip-gloss, smeared against her lips, and all she can think is (oh, can‘t she ever stop thinking for a second?) is a madness shared is a madness halved. Her elbows give way beneath her, as Emily pushes her down onto the grass, leaning further over her. She takes Evie’s hands, pushes them firmly against her breasts and Evie can feel lace against smooth skin that makes her fingers feel rough and dirty.
Evie tries to fight off the impending sense of gloom. The reason why nothing happens in her life is because she resists all temptation, disregards real life for a life of fantasy. If she never does anything, nothing will ever happen to her and then she might as well be dead. She catches her breath, pulls herself together, and begins to move her fingers, tugging at Emily’s shirt buttons.
Emily’s other hand is moving across Evie’s stomach, to the top of her skirt, hovering around her hips and Evie urges herself to take in every sensation. She’s never got this far in her daydreams, never dared picture possibilities in full, but now --
There are footsteps behind her, soft on the grass and Evie flinches, twisting her head round to see who it is. Benjamin, unbuttoning his shirt, smirking, leering.
She won’t let Benjamin ruin this, her best chance of actually living. And what -- does he actually expect they‘ll share this with him? She opens her mouth to tell him to fuck off, she doesn’t care about a thing now that she has a refuge -- but then she sees the smile on Emily’s face, and the way she turns to look at Benjamin with pride.
Evie comes to a realisation that makes her stomach churn horribly and she wishes she were dead. She stumbles to her feet, pulling her shirt closed again, tugging her skirt down over her knickers. Emily reaches a warm hand to Evie’s leg, smiling gently. “It’s alright,” she says.
“No, it’s not,” Evie says, and isn’t sure what she really
wants to say right now. She chokes something back -- tears? anger? nausea? -- and runs, stumbling as she attempts to do her shirt buttons up again. They don’t follow her, but she doesn’t stop running until she’s up the stairs and into the dormitory, flinging herself onto her bed and ignoring Georgina’s surprised stare.
When you’re dead, you don’t dream at all.