Douglas Gordon HystericalDouble Act

 Joe said I thought you’d already been but I pretended not to hear.

Then he said hurry up so I ran.

All the way upstairs and now the lock’s broken. Though nobody’s likely to come in now because the hypnotist’s on any minute and he’s supposed to be hysterical.

I pull my pants down, hoping I’m wrong, but really I know: claws in my belly earlier on; that horrible wet feeling and now the smell, like iron. Nothing in my handbag, just my luck. I’ll have to use toilet paper and they’ve only got Izal – horrible slippery stuff. That’s typical of the colliery club, it’s so old fashioned: no carpet, everything painted brown. They even have strippers on a Sunday afternoon – I’ve seen the posters – though Joe says he’s never been. And it’s that grimy in here, my shoes are sticking to the lino.

I fold a stack of paper into a wedge, stuff it into my pants and try to stand up, head throbbing and my legs like weights. I check the pan. There’s a big clot, something rank. But I can already hear the compere’s voice booming, and the applause. So I flush everything away, do up my flares and waddle back, praying the paper won’t slip out.

Not that anyone notices me when I get back because everyone’s looking at the stage. Joe said don’t come in halfway and make a show of yourself but it’s too late, the first volunteers are already lined up. Victims more like. So I stay by the back wall near the bar and keep my head down.

Joe’s sitting on the other side of the hall with his pint. Any moment, I bet he’s going to turn around and look for me, but right now he’s glued to the hypnotist. He’s not much to look at: short – anyone can see that, never mind his platforms – and losing his hair; but he’s parading up and down like he owns the place, and the people on the stage can’t take their eyes off him. As soon as he whispers in their ear, they drop their heads like lambs and do whatever he wants. Some poor bloke’s standing on a chair eating half a lemon, chewing away and licking his lips like it was the best food he ever tasted; there’s a woman sitting on the floor peeling a banana; and next to her, two lads in gorilla masks waving their arms about; then – no surprise – Gary Becket, the idiot who used to go out with our Cheryl, grinning at the audience like a loon. He’s wearing giant specs – Elton John style – and his hands are stretched out in front of him, groping at thin air.

   He’s only told him they’re x-ray specs says some old bloke who appears out of nowhere, wheezing heavily and smelling like a brewery. I move further along but he follows me, pint in his hand. I feel the claws again and try to ignore him, crossing my arms tight around my belly.

Back on the stage, Gary’s still ogling at all the women in the audience, bending his knees and rubbing his hands up and down his trouser legs. His fingers look scrubbed like pink sausages, and I remember the time he came for his tea, when mum said he was too common on account of his nails.

What a laugh, eh? The old bloke’s closer than I thought. I can feel his breath on my shoulder and another stale smell coming off him. I know who he is: Pete Murphy, one of Joe’s Dad’s mates. We usually call him Smelly Pete, but I’ll have to be polite, he’s the one who signed us in. So I force a smile. Yeah, he’s right funny, Mr Murphy.

Do you want a drink?

   No, you’re alright.

And when I look back, there’s someone new on the stage, a girl about my height standing with her back to the audience. She’s got dark hair, a page-boy cut – a bit like mine but sharper. Same colour though, and length. She’s even got the same flares on. I hate that, when someone’s wearing the same as me. That blouse looks familiar too …

The hypnotist’s cracking another joke – something about Top of the Pops.

And then the girl turns round and Pete spits his beer out.

Bloody Hell lass – I never knew you had a twin!

What does he mean? There’s only Cheryl and she’s three years older than me. But he’s right, she’s got the same face.

Same face? That’s impossible.

And my teeth. She’s smiling at the audience with my teeth.

I run my tongue across my gums; feel the two crooked ones – top and bottom. Nobody has teeth like mine. Who is she? Moving her hips from side to side, like someone off Pan’s People. She’s a better dancer than me, anyway.

I get another whiff of rotten breath – Pete again, grabbing my elbow. She’s a right little goer, that one. He’s so close I can see the spit on his chin. I try to move my head away but it’s too heavy and the claws are back again, only deeper.

And then she takes off her blouse and the audience go mad.

Calling out, egging her on, wolf whistles – the lot. Gary Becket grabs the blouse and puts it over his face; the woman with the banana screams and jumps off the stage, both the gorilla lads chasing after her; and the bloke on the chair chucks up into the front row. Someone throws a glass at the hypnotist.

But I don’t care about any of them, because the girl on the stage is wearing my bra. I don’t believe it, but she is. The black see-through one with the lace and the tassels. The one I hide from mum, wash it separate and dry in my room, so only Joe gets to see it.

Now the whole bloody club has seen it – even Smelly Pete. Laughing his head off and shouting across the room so everyone can hear him. Eh Joe, cop a look at them! 

I look for Joe but he’s not sitting down any more. His chair’s on the floor and there’s broken glass all over the table, and if the lad at the next table doesn’t stop whistling soon, I know he’s going to reach over and stick a fist in the lad’s face.

I’m scared for him. I want to say Joe, stop it now, it’s just a black bra. Loads of lasses have them. It’s not me on the stage. It’s her. But he’s too far away, and even if I could get the words out, he wouldn’t take any notice because I realise he’s not looking at the bra; it’s not the bra, it’s something else.

Heart-shaped on a silver chain. My locket. She’s wearing my locket, the one Joe gave me after the first time we … you know. The same one, though it can’t be. I rub my eyes hoping for a mistake. But when I clutch at my blouse and feel the place, halfway above my breasts and below my neck – the place with the little scoop of flesh where the locket usually falls just right – there’s an empty space.

Pain. Impossible pain: claws sharper than ever before grab my hips this time, sliding me down the wall to the floor, until I’m sitting in Pete’s beer and something else, sticky and red.

I can’t stop shaking.

And inside my chest, something jumps with knowing.

The girl on the stage, she’s me.

Danielle Sensier is a writer of poetry and fiction, currently working on her first novel for adults. Her work has appeared in several children’s anthologies, including the Macmillan’s Read Me series, and her poem, standing on one leg competition, was long-listed for the Plough Prize 2011 (Poems for Children Category).

Her story, Double Act, is based on a number of elements from the exhibition, Twixt Two Worlds, but the main inspiration for the piece is Douglas Gordon’s disturbing video installation, Hysterical (1995).



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