Hannah did not like the front page article of her usual news website. It was about birth order and it was totally on point and irritated the shit out of her. The youngest of four, yeah, she’d grown up a bit differently from her brothers and sisters. Sick of hearing from her older siblings about how easy she had it, how they’d ‘broken in’ their mom and dad for her, how she had the freedom that they never could have fathomed, Hannah assumed that now that they were all fully functioning adults, they could move onto a new conversation. Like how Manchester United was doing. Or how Hannah’s career as a news reporter for their local station was taking off. Hannah was twenty-five years old and didn’t want to hear one more word about being the baby of the family and this alleged Peter Pan Syndrome she was living. There were other dinner conversation topics out there, she was sure of it.
Walking through Shoreditch on her way home from the studio, Hannah was on her regular everyday call with her mother. She would wrap up her work around 5:30, trade out her heels for her trainers, pop in her ear pods, and call Mum. They’d catch up about whatever was going on at home which was oftentimes an exercise in redundancy since Hannah came home (seven blocks away) at least three times a week for laundry and dinner and sometimes more often if she’d had a bad date or needed pampering to recover from a dentist appointment. Five minutes into their conversation, as Hannah crossed Columbia Road, her phone beeped with a call waiting from her eldest brother.
“Mum, just a sec, it's Dennis.”
Hannah switched over. Dennis never felt the need to start a conversation with pleasantries. He was a doctor at the A & E which is Britain’s ER. Accident and Recovery was the perfect fit for a brain like Dennis’. He was too smart for his own good, terrible with people, and astoundingly excellent under pressure. So he got to treat patients with acute conditions, diagnose, operate, and not have to have a meaningful conversation with anyone. It should go without saying that he was still single even with all the set-ups from his mum’s book club. He was calling to vent.
“I popped by the house to deliver a new vitamin to Father and saw all of your things, EVERYWHERE.”
Hannah tried to exhale her secret evening cigarette without him hearing. Luckily, when Dennis was on a tear, he generally only listened to himself.
“You have to grow up, Hannah. You can’t have your parents take care of you forever. It’s why no one wants to date you.”
“Oh really? Pot and kettle much? I’m not keen on having this conversation with you,”
Dennis took a breath, she could sense him trying to mitigate his emotions which was not her brother’s strong suit.
“I’m just saying, its no good for you to rely on them for every-”
Hannah interrupted, “Can I call you back? I’m on the other line.”
“With whom?” Dennis shot back. Hannah had no choice but to hang up on him.
When she got back to her apartment, a basket of folded laundry sat on her stoop. A note in her mother’s loopy cursive lay on the top.
Darling, Dennis says we need to stop doing your wash. I fear he’s right. I love you.
Hannah reached down for the basket. She felt a sting in her gut. She didn’t have a washer. And the closest launderette was six blocks away, further than her parent’s home. Hannah huffed her way up three flights of stairs with her arms full of clean knickers. She patted Peaky, her ten-year-old Siamese cat, and plopped down on the sofa to binge some terrible reality television until she needed to get ready for her Hinge date at the pub downstairs. Her phone dinged. It was Dennis:
This conversation isn’t over.
“Oh, really? I think it is,” Hannah rolled her eyes at Peaky who seemed to unequivocally agree with her.
Her fingers raced across her screen like only a Gen Z’er could pull off.
I am just fine. Mum likes my company. At least I give them attention. She’d barely pressed ‘send’ when Dennis’ retort flew in.
You need to grow up. Stop asking everyone else to take care of you.
For the most part, Hannah knew better than to tell Dennis to piss off. As her mum often said about her firstborn, his delivery was terrible but his message was well-meaning. This irritated her. Maybe it was because she was hungry, maybe it was because this specific internet date had been canceled twice and she was wary, or maybe it was because deep down, she knew that there was some truth to his scolding. It didn’t matter, Hannah was solidly peeved. She padded into her tiny kitchen which she’d started painting blue after a late-night TikTok inspo video and had never finished. There, she stood in front of the freezer and ate a few spoonfuls of ice cream out of the container.
Toweling off her hair after a satisfyingly hot shower with her ‘special’ conditioner, Hannah was finishing her makeup, dressed to the nines, ignoring the texts from Dennis where he was not taking the hint when she heard the specific chime of the Hinge app. Hannah knew the date was canceled before she actually read the text. Was she being catfished? Had “Paul” as he said his name was, found a better date? Someone with their own condominium and a master’s degree? Or had Dennis somehow managed to break into her account and message her suitor with a list of her faults including her inability to manage her washing without the help of her 60-year-old mother?
It didn’t matter. Hannah put down her phone with her canceled date and stared into her makeup mirror. She didn’t look like a loser. She looked put-together. She’d been on-camera at the station for the last eighteen months and had collected a wardrobe that projected a competent, professional young woman. Her honey-blond hair looked terrific pulled back into a sleek bun, and her freshly shaved and moisturized skin shone, more because she was 25 and less because she ate all her vegetables, but how would anyone else know that?
She’d gone through all this trouble to have a fun and exciting romp in the hay as a good start to her weekend. Truthfully, she’d been messaging and pseudo-cyber-stalking this specific man for well over a month and had a fully formed fantasy of both six hours and sixty years with him. Hannah took a more critical look at her perfectly applied winged eyeliner. Online dating sucked.
She erased Paul’s messages from her phone and slumped into the chair at her dressing table. What a waste of time blowdrying and her good products. Now what was she going to do? Her two best girlfriends also had dates planned for the night where one would be getting perfectly tipsy and the other would be getting perfectly drunk. She could go to the pub by herself, she’d certainly spent enough time getting ready, but her heart wasn’t in pretending to be interested in a professional-adjacent footballer just to be taken to a dirty flat chock full of roommates. But she wasn’t going to just sit at home, either.
Hannah pulled on her coat and trainers, said bye to Peaky, and headed out for a walk. It was a place to start. She put in her earbuds, stopped herself mid-way from dialing her mum, and instead listened to a little Nikki Minaj to keep her spirits up. She may have allowed herself a second secret cigarette.
She wandered through her old neighborhood, full of cute shops and cobblestone streets, until she came to the next set of blocks, the part of town that had always been a bit seedier.
This area had been the place to go pubbing when she’d been underage before University. Hannah and her friends would “borrow” clothes from their older sisters, style themselves in the most “mature” way they could fathom, and walk into these watering holes with fake IDs that couldn’t have fooled Peaky. She smiled to herself remembering those silly nights, feeling momentarily superior and grown-up. The neon glow of pink and green from a tiny shopfront caught her attention. As Hannah walked further down the road to investigate, she was surprised that she’d never noticed this place before.
The store was small, and an all-glass front with frosted windows and strategically splattered gold paint flakes made it seem like a posh jewelry store or a secret champagne-tasting room. Both of those possibilities piqued Hannah’s interest. She pressed the glossy red bell to the right of the door and waited a few seconds to be buzzed in.
A woman in a black turtleneck and leather pants sat at a glass desk at the back of the shop. She had porcelain skin and dark eyes and a look that quietly whispered sophistication in a way that Hannah was immediately convinced that she, herself, would never experience. The woman gave her a smile without moving her face.
“Please, come in, what are you looking for tonight?”
It was at that moment that Hannah realized she had no idea what this specific store specifically sold. That's when she looked at the wall on her left. On polished shelves with brass brackets were impressive displays of glass and gold… what? Each objet d’art was a different size with a slightly different curve. Some sat upon little thrones that appeared to be plugged into discrete outlets lining the wall. To her right were beautiful jars shaped like expensive perfume bottles and on the ceiling were leather straps and oh my god this was a sex shop.
Hannah being Hannah only needed half a second after realizing where she was to be totally fine with where she was. She smiled at the shopkeeper. Because she was 25, she could move her whole face.
“What do you suggest?”
The Woman In Black reached under her desk, pulled out a chrome box, and placed it on the glass top.
“This is the finest of its kind. A new company out of Switzerland. We’ve just received a shipment. There was a waitlist, but I can sell you this.”
Hannah tried not to gasp as the woman slid silk gloves over her hands to demonstrate the abilities of the Hope Diamond of dildos. It looked like magic. It shook and whistled and performed starts and stops like a well-rehearsed orchestra. The top moved at a different speed than the bottom. The buttons on the remote (yes, it had a remote) were sleek like they were born from an Apple product. The chrome sparkled, reflecting the sexy lighting of the shop. She was mesmerized. Even the woman in black appeared briefly hypnotized by the piece. Hannah’s irritation with being stood up, the glimmer of the piece, and her proclivity for impulse shopping all got the best of her.
“I’ll take it.”
“Of course,” said The Woman In Black, looking pleased without twitching a muscle. She placed the piece back in its velvet-lined box, wrapped the package in tissue paper, and then slid it into a real leather bag.
“That will be three hundred forty-seven pounds.”
Hannah gasped. That was more than she presently had in her checking account which was not her fault. She’d spent quite a lot lately. Again, not her fault! How could she have said no to the wine tasting in Paris or the Thom Brown sale or the - and before she knew what her hands were doing, Hannah fished her parent’s “emergencies only” credit card out of her wallet.
A thought briefly flashed through her mind that maybe Dennis was right about a few things but she pushed it right out of her head so she could focus on getting this new purchase out of the store and into her apartment as quickly as humanly possible. It was a good thing that Hannah was wearing her sneakers. She scribbled her name across the bottom of the receipt, using the shop’s heavy ink pen, and left the Gucci of sex shops with a Woman In Black-type smile on her face.
She dashed through the cobblestone streets, past the raucous pubs where the smokers congregated outside the door, and jingled her key into her lock, practically skipping up all three flights of stairs. This time, when she came home, she only said a quick hello to Peaky. She was interested in a much different Kitty (sorry, we had to.)
Hannah dimmed her lights, hopped into bed, and unwrapped truly the fanciest gift anyone had ever purchased for her. She briefly glanced at the book of directions but they were in Swedish so she tossed them to the floor. And then she got down to business, into bed, taking off her laciest undergarments, and pressing the same buttons that the Woman In Black had only half an hour before.
This was the life, wasn’t it? Why did her entire generation believe that they needed a man to be happy? What was wrong with her existence? She loved her job, she was good at it, she had an adorable apartment in a great part of town - life was good? Why was she letting her single status cloud what should be the best years of her life? Ok, was she slightly immature? Maybe, ok, kind of. But her parents loved having her around and doing things for her… didn’t they? Hannah pressed another button. Oh. My. Holy. What. Yes. YES. YES.
It was great. It was fabulous. This gilded machine was so much more than she ever dreamed it could be. A man had never been able to read her mind like this little buzzing thing was doing. She let out a sigh that she was sure her neighbors could hear but Hannah did not care. It was worth every penny (that wasn’t hers.) Hannah was a convert. She was done dating, she was done letting buggers on the internet string her along. She was done spending hours on hair and makeup and outfits only to be- Hannah’s angry thoughts were interrupted by the pure joy this stunning toy was providing. She pressed another button, then another. This thing was magic. It was better than any man she’d ever been with. It was perfect and incredible and OH WAIT IT WAS ON FIRE.
Before Hannah could pull it out of her most sensitive region, the newly acquired purchase was hissing and sparking like a toaster with a spoon in it. Hannah SCREAMED. Even with her windows closed and the music blaring downstairs, some of the pub-goers swear they heard the noise. The pain that rushed through Hannah’s body was incomprehensible to her recently satisfied brain. She threw the fire-spewing contraption onto the floor, stomping it out with the wet towel she’d left there a few hours earlier. Hannah wailed and whimpered, tears streaming down her face and puddling on the wood floor.
Hannah texted her girlfriends: EMERGENCY. They were a smart group of girls and used that word sparingly. It worked. Both of them left their dates to rush to Hannah’s apartment and take her to the A & E. Her less-drunk friend had the foresight to fill a plastic bag with ice and shove it into Hannah’s lap. Unfortunately, the only bag available in the tiny, unused kitchen was for Indian takeaway and was both ripped and smelled strongly of curry.
The three girls, two dressed to the nines for their interrupted date nights, suberbly tipsy, with their sober friend in her sad bathrobe with messy hair and smudged makeup and tear-stained cheeks, made quite the sight. A nurse in her 60s whisked them into the closest room.
“I cannot believe this is happening!” Hannah wailed.
“Shall I look at it for you?” The drunker friend offered.
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, NO,” was Hannah’s vague response.
The searing pain had now turned to a throb, shooting daggers through her injured body.
“Do you want a crisp?” asked the Drunk Friend, digging into her purse without making eye contact.
“NO I DON’T WANT A FUCKING-” Now you know what Hannah was going to say, she didn’t want a crisp. But, you don’t know why she didn’t say “crisp.” So we are going to tell you.
She didn’t finish her sentence because the doctor came into the room. And the doctor, in full scrubs and a mask, was unmistakably…. Dennis. Dennis didn’t see Hannah at first, his eyes were too wide scanning her intake form, clearly stating the reason for her visit. When he looked up and made eye contact with his little sister, it was not clear to either the More Drunk Friend or the Less Drunk Friend what was going to happen next.
Dennis removed his mask. Hannah felt all the blood drain from her face and felt her heart slowly begin to both explode and disintegrate.
“NO.” Was Dennis’ professional response. “NO. NO. NO. And we will never speak of this again.”
With that, Dennis spun on his heel and exited the small exam room. An excruciating half hour later, a female doctor appeared with copious amounts of burn cream and explicit instructions. The Less Drunk Friend took notes. Upon further inspection the following morning, they proved to be absolutely useless.
Drunk Friend and Less Drunk Friend managed to get a taxi and get Hannah home with an icepack from the somewhat sympathetic doctor.
They got her into bed, the cream on her nightstand, the ice in her lap, and a half-eaten bag of crisps on her pillow.
The next morning, Hannah awoke to two very, very uncomfortable circumstances. The first, was, obviously, her crotch. The second was the call from her father demanding to know about the charges on his Mastercard.
That was the weekend that Hannah got cut off from her parents. That was the month she first went to the laundromat. And that was the first year of her life, over Christmas dinner many months later, that she told her socially awkward older brother that he had been right, she did need to grow up. Dennis may have had some growing of his own to do. Because instead of acknowledging his little sister’s emotional olive branch, he turned stop-sign red and yelled,
“I TOLD YOU TO NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN.”
And that was actually the best gift Dennis could have given Hannah. Because it made her feel more grown-up than him.