1. Hull to Zeebrugge

I’m bored. K is practicing her German but she’s bored too, I can tell because she keeps repeating the same phrase ‘Ich liebe lederhosen’ in a suggestive (read desperate) tone at passing men. Thankfully she soon tires of this, giving me and the rest of the ferry a break from the stupid Brits on holiday stereotype she's spent the last half hour perfecting. K and I are sitting in the entertainment lounge of the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. When I say entertainment lounge I use the term loosely, it’s really no more than a couple of vending machines and a few broken arcade consoles.

She suggests we go out on deck for a cigarette and I'm happy to go with her because she makes me feel special. We walk all the way across the ship to a small lower deck on the starboard side. It's deserted because a strong wind is forcing the rain in and we get soaked. This is OK because she says she has something to tell me and she doesn't want to be overheard. K cradles the Superking Berkeley Red in her palm to shield it from the spray, but it just looks stupid. She brings a cupped hand up to her mouth to inhale and burns herself on the lit end. She is embarrassed but thinks I haven’t noticed so I play along. I don’t want to ruin it before she confides in me.

K has a penchant for revealing secrets and telling lies. They slip off her tongue in equal measure, one after another, after another, without pause or falter. Her perfect delivery lends credence to every story she tells, so much so, that it is impossible to find the truth in the lies. I find this endearing because I’m in her confidence and, of course, every story she tells me is the truth.

This time is no different. She leans in and says, ‘The only way we’re going to get through this exchange is by sticking together. The others are all paired up and I want to make sure you know that it’s you I want to sit next to on the coach.’ I smile. This is a declaration of allegiance. K smiles too and then her mouth does something strange as if she wants to say something else but doesn’t know what. Instead she opens her arms wide, I step forward and she wraps them around me.

Jacqueline Bebb
What’s your beef Baggy? #4, 2013

Our cabin is a small rectangle without a window, it’s a bit like a cupboard with a metal bunk bed bolted to the wall. There’s a pull down table at the far end and a space for us to put our bags. K is having trouble deciding which bunk she wants. She doesn’t ask me and I don’t expect her to, we both know that I will take the one she decides against. Most kids take the top bunk. It’s a fact of life. Everyone wants the top bunk because the top bunk is better. K wanted the top bunk too, until she remembered we were on a ferry in the middle of the North Sea.

The itinerary stated that we bring a double packed lunch for the journey. I have brought two sets of sandwiches (corned beef and cheddar), a six-pack of orange squash and four Jammie Wagon Wheels. K only has one set of sandwiches that she’s already eaten on the coach on the motorway. I offer her half of mine out of solidarity rather than because she is hungry. ‘I don’t like corned beef’ she says ‘when it’s all mushy like that.’ She points at the sandwich that has been squashed in my bag, it looks like feathered icing. I don’t want to eat the corned beef now either but I don’t tell her that, I just give her the cheese one and a juice.

K is wearing a skin-tight black lycra roll neck top tucked into a pair of grey jeans that were probably black when she bought them. They are turned up at the bottom to reveal tightly laced and recently shined DM boots. This is an ambiguous combination: it doesn’t fit into one trend or another and it makes her hard to read. K isn’t a scally, she doesn’t even own a pair of trainers, but she’s not a townie or a goth or a grunge either. Grunge’s don’t shine their shoes. Ever. ‘Do you want to share my headphones?’ I ask. ‘We can only listen for a bit because I want to save the battery.’ She pulls a face, no. ‘It’s Nirvana’ I say, trying to draw some interest. She doesn’t respond.

We play a few hands of Twenty-One but without stakes it gets boring very quickly, so we move on to Switch, a shedding game that I am very good at. I totally thrash K and I can tell it upsets her even though she tries not to show it. After a while it gets embarrassing so I start holding onto my cards to let her win. This works until she realises what I’m doing and she suggests we play Raps instead. There aren’t any losers in Raps, but there aren’t any winners either, just people who hurt less. We each cut the deck and draw a card, K gets a 4 and I get a 7. I win. This means I have to strike K on the back of the hand seven times with the full deck. She squeals a bit the first time. I win the second cut as well and give her another four raps. She takes the cards off me and insists on shuffling them her ‘special way.’ I’m dubious. I think I see her pull a card out of the deck slightly. She cuts first. It’s a king. I am not surprised but I take the lashings. She shuffles again. I lose again, but its kind of funny and we both laugh as she raps me.

Jacqueline Bebb
She Showed a bit of Skirt... rendered in Citrus and Green Tea, 2013

K brushes her hair for an incredibly long time before she gets ready for bed. ‘I’ve decided,’ she says eventually, ‘that you should take the top bunk.’ When she says this she acts like she’s doing me a favour, but I know she’s worried about falling out of bed if the sea gets choppy. I don’t want to lose face and I can’t think of a quick response so I agree enthusiastically. As I do this I think that there’s a chance she might change her mind. She doesn’t. I hoist myself up onto the bed like it’s the bunk I wanted all along.

Lying in bed, I can’t sleep. I ask K if she’s still awake even though I know that she is and then I ask her if she wants to go out for another cigarette. She doesn’t. K climbs up onto my bunk and perches on the end. She draws her knees up to her chin and kicks me until I sit up. ‘Did you read the letter I wrote to you last week?’ She asks. I can just about make out her face in the darkness, but I can’t read her expression. ‘Yeah.’ I say quietly. ‘Good, coz I’ve got something to tell you.’ She is about to continue but as she leans towards me her hand falls onto my notebook and her attention is drawn to it.

‘What’s this?’ She asks, as she lifts the book off the bed towards her. I don’t want K to look in the book but if I make a big deal out of it she will. I do a quick calculation, the book is half empty and most of it’s just sketches, but there’s a twenty percent chance of her seeing something that I don’t want her to. I have two options, play the percentages or try to grab it back. I opt for the latter and quickly swoop in and snatch it off her. Victorious. ‘There’s a drawing in there I want to finish’ I say as casually as I can, ‘I’ll show you later.’ K is incredulous and looks at me as if she can’t believe I took it off her. I smile and shrug, ‘You know what I’m like with unfinished drawings.’ Lie.

The next morning we go to the ferry’s self-service restaurant for a continental breakfast. This just means that the bread isn’t toasted and instead of eating it with jam you can have chocolate spread. The ferry smells of bad eggs even though there aren’t any in sight. I eat a ‘long life’ croissant out of a cellophane wrapper and wonder just how long ago it was baked. K sits down next to me and pulls her chair close to mine. She leans in, ‘I still haven’t told you that thing from last night,’ she says through lips pursed so tight I have to concentrate hard to hear her. ‘I want to, but not here, lets go for a cigarette, I think we have time before we have to get back on the coach.’

Jacqueline Bebb

1. Hull to Zeebrugge is the fist chapter of the novel Yesterday’s Snow, conceived as a fictional narrative to be presented along side the artist’s work in a forthcoming publication.