Her name isn’t really ‘Pippy’, that’s just what he calls her. She used to know why but she doesn’t anymore. Their friends think it’s an in-joke the whole world is on the outside of, maybe something sexual between them. Pippy’s real name is Louise.
Mark is round at Louise’s house. He’s lying on her bed with his eyes closed, and she is sitting at her computer. She’s googling ‘Pippy’. After a while, Louise turns the computer off, turns out the light, takes off her shoes and socks and cardigan, and lies down on the bed next to Mark.
He moves so they can pull the duvet up around them. She gets out of bed again and goes to the bathroom. She squirts green fluid from a bottle onto a bit of scrunched up toilet paper and rubs it over her forehead, nose and chin. She brushes her teeth while she is sitting on the toilet. She wipes under her arms and between her legs with a flannel. She goes back into the bedroom.
‘Are you still awake?’ she says.
‘Yes,’ Mark says, and sits up. He changes the CD in the dark.
Louise takes her trousers and her tee-shirt off. She unhooks her bra and drops it on the floor. She gets into bed with her knickers still on. She lies next to Mark and strokes his stomach. She opens the top button of his jeans and strokes the top of his legs.
‘I’m tired, Pips,’ he says, and catches her wrist in his hand.
‘You shouldn’t sleep with your jeans on,’ she says, and Mark lifts his bum up off the mattress so she can slide them past his hips. He kicks them off at the ankle and pokes them down the side of the bed with his foot.
Louise rearranges herself so her thigh is touching Mark’s leg, the top of her head in his arm-pit, her hand on his crotch. She starts to stroke. She puts her hand inside his boxer shorts and plays with his balls and while she is tugging at his pubes and pulling his foreskin backwards and forwards she is trying to think if he called her by her special name in public first, or in private.
When he rolls over onto his side and tries to kiss her, she says,
‘You know why you’re so tired all the time?’
‘No,’ Mark says.
‘You should eat more dark green foods. They’ve got iron in them. They help your red blood cells carry oxygen.’
Mark pushes Louise’s shoulders gently until she wriggles around in the bed and turns her back to him. He pulls her by the hips until her bum is resting against his stomach.
‘And when you eat your meals, do you have coffee with them, ever? Or tea?’
‘Why?’ Mark says. He hooks his thumbs into the waistband of Louise’s knickers and slides them down her legs with his foot.
‘Caffeine stops your body absorbing iron from your food. You should eat something orange every time you eat something green. Like if you have spinach, you should have carrots as well. Or broccoli and orange juice,’ she says, decently. She can feel her breath making the back of his hand damp and a sweat at the small of her back.
‘Really?’ he says, but he’s pulling her towards him at the waist and pushing her forwards at the head, so he can fit his dick between her legs. He rubs it against the slippery rasp of wet stubble he feels there. He grabs her around the shoulders, tucks the other elbow under his head.
‘Yes, it’s because you need vitamin C to help you absorb iron,’ she says.
‘To help carry the oxygen about in my blood.’
‘To stop you feeling so tired all the time. It’s only eight o’ clock. If you ate more orange and green things, together, we’d be able to stay up later and do more things,’ Louise says, and Mark is bumping her regularly, levering her legs apart with his knee, reaching round and trying to rub at her clit.
She puts her hand on his. She thinks Mark thinks she’s being a bit dirty, she wants to join in, and he pushes harder, but she’s wipes his hand away from her.
‘No,’ she says, quite forcefully.
‘Why don’t you want me to touch you?’ he says.
‘It’s private!’ she says, still forceful.
‘You aren’t going to like it if I don’t. I know. Girls need the flying fingers.’
‘I hope you figured that out before you met me,’ she says, still squirming away from his hand.
‘Yes,’ he says, and she laughs.
‘Then their lives weren’t all in vain,’ she says, and then: ‘they were all fat anyway.’
‘Yes,’ he says, he licks the back of her neck. ‘They were all fat.’ Louise shudders, so he does it again, but the second time it doesn’t work.
Louise counts to six in her head, then turns over, lies on her front. She knows Mark can see the lump of her bum under the duvet.
‘They were really fat,’ he says.
She puts her head down and pulls the pillow over her face. He climbs on top of her, puts his palms against her shoulder-blades and rocks.
‘Mark?’ she says, ‘why do you call me Pippy?’
He doesn’t answer right away. She pokes him in the side with her elbow, and sees his eyes open and close again. She asks him again, three times, until he’s awake.
‘I don’t remember,’ he says. He is slurring. Probably, he thinks he is dreaming. ‘I never remember. Why do you wait until I’m asleep before you ask me?’ He sounds quite angry.
She reaches a hand behind her and feels the drying flakes of his sperm crack on her neck. She leans forward, rubs her nose and lips against his ribs.
‘But how did it start? It’s a funny name. It isn’t short for anything. What if someone asks me?’
Louise is fidgeting again; she has to, before she can sleep. He turns to her and lets his hand rest on her head. She takes his hand and rubs it against her nipples, trails his fingers past her belly-button. She hears him suck air in through his teeth.
‘I thought you didn’t want me to touch you,’ he says.
‘Well I do, now,’ she says.
‘Well I need to go to sleep, now.’ he says, and she can hear him straining to be gentle, mimicking her all the same.
‘Right,’ she says. She doesn’t talk for a minute, but when he puts his hand on her neck she knots up her muscles so he can feel it. My skin is throwing him out, she thinks, and Mark tucks his hands under his pillow.
‘I don’t want to go to work anymore,’ she says, ‘I keep thinking someone’s going to ask me. I’ve been having my dinner in my car.’ She says ‘car’ in her incredulous voice.
‘I knew it would be like this. You always get pissed off.’
‘I’m not pissed off,’ she says.
‘Are you angry?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Do you think it was that time we went to the pub and we were playing pool? Something to do with pool, or snooker? Have we ever played darts? Did we do that kind of thing? I can’t remember. Why can’t you remember?’
Before she’s finished talking she can tell he’s already asleep. She lies on her back and presses her feet against the bottom of the bed. She wonders what she is going to say if one of their friends asks her why Mark calls her Pippy.
‘What’s that Pippy thing all about then?’ they’ll say, faces stretched with curiosity. Or, ‘Pip? What’s that in aid of?’
She wonders why they can’t remember. She thinks they will have to invent a story, but she knows Mark won’t ever remember it properly. He’ll get a minor detail wrong and make her look like a fool. She’s been avoiding their friends recently, but he hasn’t noticed.
‘Pippy, Pippy, Pippy,’ she says, little more than a whisper, and by its repetition the word rocks, empties itself of meaning, and lets her stop and go to sleep.