Rosie knew that she was sick. Rope always fascinated her. The way it twisted and turned and combined so many frail threads into something stronger would attract her attention and not let go. She’d never really owned rope, of course, other than in P.E. at school, she’d never even touched it. But even then, as a ten-year-old, she couldn’t bring herself to let go of it once it was in her hands. The weight of it, the burn against her palms, spoke to her like nobody else ever did.
She was 13 years old when she first thought of the rope as her best friend. She’d been playing with her class mate – ‘Amanda, but I get all my friends to call me Mandy’ – in her room, fooling around with a skipping rope and tying each other to the headboard. She was giggling, Mandy sat on her thighs with her head thrown back and her face flushed. Neither of them could stop laughing; the knots were too tight and she couldn’t break loose. It was all fun and games until her mum threw the door open and fixed them with a steely glare. She’d cut the ropes with a huff and made up an excuse to send Mandy home. She never came back to play again, and Rosie wasn’t allowed to skip.
The thing was, Rosie always kind of knew that she was different. When her friends would gush over a guy, Rosie would join in and confidently add that she liked his ass. She was never afraid to be vulgar, and was confident when she said that she wouldn’t mind looking at a girl’s ass either. Her parents would tell her off for vulgar language, but Rosie would never listen. To her, her mum and dad were just conservative, ignorant fuckers who couldn’t appreciate the finer things in life. She was 16 when she said the words out loud, and didn’t regret them for a moment. Around her wrist was a small red rope; the friendship bracelet she’d meant to give to Mandy but never had the chance to. It felt rough against her skin, but soothed her as they screamed and shouted.
‘We didn’t raise you to be so ungrateful!’
‘How could you do this to us?’
How could she do it to them? How dare she find people attractive regardless of what lay hidden between their legs? Rosie often wondered this when she lay in bed at night, eyes flying to the endless posters of shirtless Zac Efron tacked to her door. She didn’t even like him, hated the bulk of his muscle and the fake whiteness of his teeth. Rosie wanted soft guys, and soft girls too. She’d only stuck the posters up because her mum had taken one look at him on the Graham Norton Show and sighed wistfully.
‘If you brought a man like him home, Rosie, I’d be so happy.’
‘Zac Efron? Nah, can’t stand the guy. Only really liked him in High School Musical.’
‘But he’s so attractive!’ Rosie had a hard time stopping herself from telling her mother that, actually, she was a married, 50-year-old white woman who shouldn’t even be thinking about trying to get down and dirty with someone like Zac Efron. Instead, she just shrugged and changed the channel.
‘I’m more of a Vanessa Hudgens fan, Mum…her eyes are prettier.’ She turned to her mum. ‘What would you do if I brought someone like her home?’
Forced smiles were her mother’s speciality. ‘Oh I’d be glad to meet your new friend; it’s been so long since you had a buddy over to do girly things with!’
At least she had her rope.
At 21, Rosie started to talk to her rope more. It was smaller, thinner, but still comforting and familiar. She’d let it reassure her, let her know that she was never alone. When her friends at University would regale her with stories of the men they’d pulled, Rosie would stay quiet, or laugh along softly. She would never open her mouth to talk about women and their curves, not like before. She learned the hard way that opening her mouth and being herself would push her right back to square one.
She’d been drunk. Too drunk. Beer and wine and Tequila and Sambuca clearly didn’t mix well. She woke up with no hangover, but she’d walked into the kitchen and been convinced that her mum was sat at the table. It wasn’t, but her housemate Allie might as well have been. Her face was pinched and her tone was pointed as she started on Rosie before she’d even had a chance to breathe.
‘You were a dick last night.’
‘Oh God,’ Rosie sighed and downed a cup of water. ‘Did I hit someone? Break something? Get kicked out of the bar?’
‘You kissed Elsie.’
‘My best friend, Elsie? You kissed her.’
‘Why the fuck would you do that?’
‘Because I was drunk? Cause I wanted to? Jesus, Allie, what rattled your fucking cage?’
‘Err, perhaps it was the fact that my gay housemate decided to shove her tongue down my straight friend’s throat when she was blind drunk and didn’t know what she was doing?’
‘So…you’re mad because we were drunk and kissed?’
‘Duh.’ Someone had to tell her, it was bound to be Rosie.
‘I’d have done it sober, too.’
‘I’d have made out with Elsie if I was sober, Allie. I’m not entirely straight, and I know for a fucking fact that you’ve kissed her too, so don’t be such a little bitch about it.’
‘It doesn’t count if I kissed Elsie.’
Rosie snorted. ‘Why not?’
‘Because I’m not gay!’
‘Neither am I!’
‘Yeah well you knew what you were doing. You’re so desperate for sex with anything that you’ll call yourself pansexual and try to get into straight people’s pants without a second thought. Being around you makes me nauseous, just fuck off.’
Rosie had cried to her mum over the phone, but her sympathy waned. Could sympathy even wane if it was barely there to begin with? Rosie wasn’t too sure.
‘I’m sorry sweetie,’ she could practically hear the woman rolling her eyes and checking off a vote for Theresa May, ‘but I think Allie might be right. I get that you’re lonely, love-’
‘I’m not lone-’
‘You are darling. And I know that soon a wonderful boy will sweep you off your feet and then I’ll finally get the Grandchildren I’ve been dreaming of,’ it was like Rosie could feel the coldness seep into her mum’s voice, ‘but you’ve got to get your shit together. I didn’t bring you up just for you to ruin your life-like this. You need to stop being so pathetic and snap out of this phase. I saw your messages before you left you know? Lying to your friends about having a girlfriend. I didn’t raise a liar, Rosie, so stop lying and grow up.’ She’d hung up before Rosie could even comprehend her words.
Get your shit together.
Snap out of this phase.
Even the rope couldn’t comfort her that night; it lay cold and lifeless in her hands and didn’t stir for weeks. Not until Allie had ‘politely’ asked her whether she’d found someone to live with next year, seeing as she hadn’t been invited to move into the new house with everyone else. It was then that the rope coiled up in her lap and let her feel the warmth seep through. It’s okay, it whispered softly, you don’t need them. You’re broken, but I can fix you.
She moved into a mouldy shit tip with four guys who thought that her sexuality equalled the chance of a live lesbian porno if they were nice enough to make her dinner. It didn’t take them long to realise that it was never going to happen, and slowly stepped back one by one until there was nobody left but her rope. Rosie didn’t go out for the rest of her time at university; she stayed in bed and listened to the rope tell her that things would get better. It always gets better, just let me help you. It could fix things for her, all she needed to do was trust that it could lift her up and let her float. She didn’t need anyone, not if they were going to break her even more than she’d already been broken.
Rosie knew she was sick. She couldn’t look at a woman without thinking it was a phase, and couldn’t look at a man without wondering whether he’d think of her in the same way the guys she lived with had. The rope stood by her, stroked her hair and offered to help her once more. Rosie wanted to fly away, get away from everything, but she couldn’t. So she decided to float instead.
Lucy Welsh is working towards her BA (Hons) English with Creative Writing at Falmouth University. She is a previously unpublished author looking to get her foot onto the publishing ladder. Lucy lives in Cornwall where she spends too much time writing and not enough time studying. She tweets here.