She Listens to Rihanna by Thom Dinsdale

She flicks back up through her messages. She scrolls down terraces of conversation. Grey, blue and green bubbles. All icy-cold. All dismissive and alienating and horrifying. You are there reading this with her but she has no idea that you are there reading this with her.

Think about whether you’ve ever read a newspaper over somebody's shoulder.

You’re on a train and the weird thing is there is this tonne of teenage girls and their middle-aged dads with you. Not in a group, going somewhere together, this is different, they’re all just there. Now, look down the carriage. Look through the glass doors, into the next carriage. In there you'll see a perfectly representative sample of Sunday afternoon travelers. Has something unnatural shifted the demography of this specific carriage?

And its totally hemmed-in there in the carriage because of the unusually high quotient of teenage girls with their middle-aged dads. So much so that other teenage girls and their middle-aged dads are having to stand because all the seats are taken. Or at least most of the seats, and those that are free cannot be used because, this middle aged dad or that needs to sit with his thick, cotton trouser legs akimbo, legs so wide apart as to leave little space for anyone else in adjacent seats. Do you think think it’s obnoxious and unnecessary and in a number of ways sexually aggressive, as if he’s trying to remind you, that that approximately thirteen to sixteen year-old girl sat next to him, or maybe on one of those knees, did in all probability emerge from those very loins - or rather, that she sprouted as a direct result of intervention from those very loins in an act of planned or unplanned (but, all the same, very grateful) copulation/lovemaking with the mother of said young lady?

They distract you.

It smells of bleach and antiperspirant. It smells of dad-smell.

All the middle-aged dads are five foot eleven inches. Their teenage daughters stand by them, sit in their laps, hold their hands, cling to them, talk to them. The dads throw glances around and over their daughters' shoulders; they scowl. All teenage girls have very long brown hair and all wear maroon cardigans.

She plays both Bubble Mania™ and Jewel Mania™.

The bumpy train sends everyone bobbling to and fro, and you - because you’re on there with them – bobble about with them. Not all of the middle aged dads are sat down being obnoxious with their personal space; some are stood up, bobbling along with you and everyone else.

Through the glass, in the next carriage: a little boy with his mother. He holds her hand. Not bobbling - without that same high centre of gravity - stumbling, plodding left and right with the lurch and stagger of the train; shaken over and again, frustrated and  patient, hanging from his mother’s arm, wrestling with the ground he stands on.

You are with her in the bank. HSBC. Red carpets and gun metal walls. You know how much money she has. You know about her Saturday job. You have a pretty good idea of her pin and her mother’s maiden name. You know about the £30 her mum dropped into her account during her (i.e. the Mum’s) lunch break on Friday. You don’t know whether her dad knows about the money but you’re fairly sure she doesn’t know whether he knows either.

The mother is now saying something to her son but you can’t hear her over the train’s din and rattle. She occasionally pulls her phone out and looks at it for a few seconds before returning it to her trouser pocket.

This teenage girl’s back is to you. You are the same height. Her long brown hair smells like something you want to call bubblegum.

You are there with her.



You catch yourself. Reading Facebook messages over her shoulder. You can’t look away. Scramble for a comparison: It’s like a naked flame. It tugs on your pupils.

She hits the lock screen button.

Your eyes meet in the reflection.

You look away.

She creases into herself and drops the phone into her bag.

It’s too late.

“Stop buzzing, buzz head!” the little boy shouts.

She makes a noise that sounds like disgust. Somewhere, someone tosses a toaster into a bath. It wheezes and it fizzes and it crackles. She turns to you and you feel her small, cold hand fast around your wrist. A thumb and forefinger, putting pressure on your arteries. Your heart is in your hand, each beat resisting her grip. A cold shiver ripples up your arm like hot wet medicine down your throat.

Her dad has a fat round face. His cheeks are red and his eyes are small. He has large hands.

She holds your hand up for you and calls out. Something pounds you. You're failing to keep up. You’re minutes behind - if you’re even trying, if you haven't jettisoned, if you aren't wishing you'd done something completely different.

It’s shame pounding you and it’s the same colour as all the eyes in all the heads of every teenage girl and every middle-aged dad in the carriage.

If you aren’t wishing that you'd read somebody’s newspaper instead. Over their shoulder.

She turns to her dad, whipping your face with her hair.


Thom Dinsdale lives in London. Almost nobody knows that he writes. @thomdinsdale.