TO KILL A YOUTUBER
CHAPTER 6: A CLAUSTROPHOBIC MAY WRAP UP
Crunching Cheerios with my teeth and smacking my lips with the milk, I had my eyes glued to This Morning. Holly and Phil were talking about bitchy school mums and the clans they form against the other mums who have full time jobs. They were also nattering about the soap operas, and Holly was gasping in disbelief when it was revealed that Gail Platt off Coronation Street had found the dead body under her bed. I was keeping an eye on the time in the bottom corner of the screen, because I was waiting until I could leave to meet Gabby.
‘…and after the break, we’re going to hear from a very famous someone who you’ve probably never heard of— YouTube sensation Alfie Deyes! He’s here to talk about grief and coping with loss, after the very tragic passing of his girlfriend, Zoe Sugg, otherwise known as Zoella.’ Holly pouted and frowned as she said this, and Phil looked very sad and solemn.
I spat out the cereal I was chomping on. Alfie was going to be on This Morning!? He never said! But before he came on a string of adverts appeared on the screen, featuring a housewife all in a flutter over cleaning her bathroom tiles as her handsome husband peered in at the door, a sheepish expression on his well-preened face. Another advert displayed a vacuum cleaner called the ‘Shark Rocket Handstick’, which amused me because I thought it sounded like a sexual innuendo. And I rolled my eyes as a load of other adverts followed.
When This Morning came back I I sat up and clanged my spoon into the bowl. Holly introduced him again and the camera panned out from her face to show Alfie sat next to her and Phil on the grey cotton settee. He was wearing a blazing white t-shirt with a mud-grey bomber jacket. The TV screen only showed his top half so I couldn’t see which sort of trousers he had on. He looked good though. They’d put some of that TV makeup on him, giving his skin a glossy sheen, and his stubble lined his jaw well. He’d put some styling wax into his hair which gave it a nice, thick looking shine. He’d brushed it back nonchalantly, and it sat in rich brown waves, like piped chocolate icing.
Holly pulled up the straps on her purple flowery dress. ‘So, Alfie, it’s so tragic what happened!’ and Alfie nodded, awkwardly. ‘How have you been?’
He looked down at the floor and bit his bottom lip. ‘Not great,’ he mumbled, just clear enough for the microphone to pick up. Holly touched his shoulder in abject sympathy and Phil uncomfortably pulled at his shirt-collar. Alfie’s face shrivelled up. The camera zoomed in. You could see his lips quivering, a thin fragile line. He began to blubber. ‘Sorry!’ he sobbed.
‘Aw,’ clucked Holly, gurning over at Phil.
‘We do need to brush on,’ said Phil. ‘We are on a limited slot…’
‘Sorry,”Alfie said, again, wiping his tears away onto the sleeve of his bomber jacket.
‘People have been commenting on the vlog you put up yesterday, haven’t they?’ asked Holly, kindly.
‘In case you aren’t aware (for the viewers at home) Vlogs are video blogs,’ interrupted Phil.
‘Yeah,’ said Alfie, hunching his shoulders.
‘So far the response has been pretty controversial,’ chimed in Phil.
‘That’s because I showed the vlog of the day Zoe died,’ said Alfie, with defiance.
‘And why did you decide to do that?’ she prodded.
‘To show people the reality of suicide. That life isn’t all la-di-dah.’
‘But, do you not think, when you have such a young audience you should show footage more appropriate?’ said Phil.
‘I don’t make videos for a particular age group. I make videos for anyone to watch. Demographically, I suppose a larger proportion of younger people do watch PointlessBlog compared to any other age group, but they all know Zoe died. There’s no point sugar-coating what happened. I meant it to deter anyone who might be thinking about suicide from doing it, in the hope they’d see the truth of what people have to face after someone takes their own life.’ There was a trace of bitterness in Alfie’s voice. I guess Zoe’s death had hardened him to the world. ‘And I did put a trigger warning at the start…’
‘Yes,’ nodded Holly, pursing her rouged lips. ‘And what would you say to anyone perhaps, who was contemplating suicide?’
Alfie shot her a look of utter seriousness. ‘I’d tell them to think about those they love before they did it, think how they would feel.’ Then Alfie addressed the camera directly. ‘If you are depressed or thinking about ending it all, just hear this: there is someone out there who does care about you, who will miss you.’ There were tears brimming in his eyes as he said this. (All I could do was sit there, open-mouthed.)
‘Wise words, from such a young fellow,’ sighed Phil.
‘I’d tell them to call The Samaritans too,’ Alfie added. ‘And I’m here today on behalf of Mind, to raise awareness about the great work they do day-in day-out.’
‘And Zoe’s beauty line sold out everywhere the other week, didn’t it?’ said Phil.
‘It did,’ he confirmed.
‘Raising over £2 million for Mind!’ cried Holly, her thick blonde curls jumping merrily.
‘So what’s next for Alfie Deyes?’ wondered Holly, a girlish smile on her powdered pretty face.
‘Um, I’m sort of working on a book, but obviously that’s been put on hold for the time being. At the moment I’m just trying to get through each day.’
Phil and Holly nodded pensively.
‘Well I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for this morning, Alfie, but thank you for coming on the show. You have our deepest sympathies, you really do,’ she said.
‘Yes, thank you, Holly,’ continued Phil. ‘After the break we’ll be hearing from Mildred Hove, a school mum who’s petrified every time she has to drop her child off at the school gates because she claims she’s being bullied by the other mothers.’
‘Oh…and make sure to check out Alfie’s channel, PointlessBoy,’ he stuttered, reaching for the microphone in his ear as if someone was shouting at him through it, while his salt and pepper hair and jowls quaked.
‘PointlessBl…’ Alfie tried to say, before the programme’s theme tune drowned him out.
* * *
I took the key out of the ignition having pulled into a space in the hospital car park. Immediately, ‘Clean’ by Taylor Swift stopped playing off the Bluetooth from my phone. I turned to look at the hospital: the building was smaller than I’d imagined and looked more like the outside of some baroque art museum than a hospital. I guess it must have been because it was a private one.
I locked the car and toddled in through the automatic doors and into the white artificial walls, entering into the strong smell of hand sanitiser and the heavy stench of mashed potato and gravy.
‘Hi, I’m looking for Gabriella Lindley,’ I said to the glamorous brunette nurse on reception, when I eventually found the right ward. The place was like a labyrinth.
She looked up from her computer and asked who I was here to see, making sure to smile and show-off her dazzling white teeth. ‘Just the room on the end,’ she beamed, turning back to her computer screen, as the smile faded and a vacant expression took its place.
I followed the hospital ward through to the end and shuffled into the room on the left. The plastic bag I was carrying rustled against the door when I brushed past.
‘Hi-eee,’ I said, in a friendly voice, seeing Gabby slouched down in the bed, the covers wrapped around her, swaddlin. She was attached to a drip that stood next to her, looming over her scanty frame like a disappointed great-aunt. Her dark hair was all back-combed and even though her skin was fair she did look very tired, very drawn out, as if behind her skin there was nothing, nothing but air inside a husk.
‘Hi,’ she murmured, aching out a smile. ‘Come and sit down, Mark, be my confidante.’
‘OK,’ I chuckled, grinning in awkwardness. ‘I brought you some things.’ And I gestured to the bag in my hand.
‘Oooh, that was nice of you. What did you bring me?’ She said, trying to sit up, and wincing as she struggled.
‘Oh, some grapes,’ I said, taking the packet out of the bag.
‘Red ones too, my fave!’
I laughed, glad that she was pleased with them. I took out the slim pink-enveloped ‘Get Well Soon’ card I’d bought for her from a convenience store I’d passed on the way here. She took it and ravenously tore it open, then stared down at it. I picked a card with a fluffy cat wearing a nurse’s cap. It’s message read ‘GET BACK IN BED!! You are to get 14-18 hours of sleep AS PURRSCRIBED!’ I was quite happy with it, to tell you the truth. I knew she was obsessed with cats. I’d also scribbled ‘Happy Birthday’ on the inside as it was Gabby’s birthday, being June the first. I had been unsure whether to get a birthday card or a get well soon card, but in the end I decided on the get well soon one, purely because I thought it was more amusing.
‘It’s lovely, Mark,’ she said, her face all warm-looking.
‘And what’s that?’ she asked, looking at the tip of my instrument.
‘That’s my ukulele. I thought I might play something for you.’
‘…So,’ I began, looking around the dull room, at the pink tulips in the vase on the windowsill, ‘how’ve you been?’
‘Not great,’ she said, losing her smile and turning her big brown eyes up to the ceiling in blashpemy.
‘What about you?’
‘Oh the same, I guess.’ I shifted my feet uncomfortably.
‘It’s been terrible really!’ she spluttered. ‘I haven’t been able to film, or do anything. And my operation was booked months ago so I couldn’t very well not go through with it.’
‘Oh right. I see,’ I said. I didn’t know what operation she’d had. I didn’t feel like asking, not wanting to pry. I knew from her videos that she had a lot of issues with her body image, especially now she’d started losing a lot of weight. So I thought maybe it was something to do with that. I looked her up and down, but so many sheets were wrapped around her that I couldn’t make out any particular lumps of bandages. It just looked like a big cocoon. Was it a boob job? Lipo? Tummy tuck? Bum implants? I honestly couldn’t tell.
‘Have you seen Alfie’s video?’ she started, her filled lips trembling.
‘I watched it yesterday, yeah.’
‘What did you think?’
‘…I thought it was heartbreaking.’
‘Really? I thought it was crap.’
‘How can you say that!?’
‘He used the footage from the day he found out– the day she died. We even saw when he got into the house, right when he found her!’
‘I wasn’t ready for that, Mark. It was too much. It gave me a panic attack.’
‘Yeah. And imagine all their young watchers seeing that.’
‘Mmm, I guess it is a lot to take in, but it is Alfie’s channel, and Zoe was his girlfriend. It’s not like he showed her…her body or anything, it was just the day it happened. And he is a daily vlogger. What do you expect him to do? I thought it was real. Did you see him on the TV this morning?’
‘No,’ she hooted. ‘What was he doing on TV?’
‘He was on This Morning with Holly and Phil, talking about Zoe…he addressed the vlog too.’
‘Hmm,’ she sighed, thinking it over, looking at the pink tulips by the window as if the flowers somehow held the answers. ‘I might watch it on iPlayer, if I can be bothered.’
‘Oh,’ I said. I’d never seen her act so spiteful! But then I remembered that she and Alfie had had their fair share of problems in the past. Like when they fell out when Alfie told his viewers to buy this App and she called him out, accusing him of trying to milk his fans for all their pocket money, and then they got into this big argument and then he and Zoe distanced themselves from her. This was over a year ago. Everyone thought it was cool, until Gabby made a video titled ‘Honesty’ in which she addressed the fall out, and her and Zoe somehow patched it all up. I wondered if their friendship had been the same after something like that. ‘Were you close to Zoe?’ I suddenly asked.
She looked at me, then her eyes welled up behind her large glasses and folds of skin crumpled up around her nose into a sort of sneer, and she began to cry (she was an ugly crier).
‘Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…’
‘No, it’s fine, really it is,’ she claimed, attending to her now hideous face by tearing various sheets from a box of tissues by her bed. ‘I used to be close to her,’ she said, acidly.
‘After that incident over that stupid App Zoe didn’t talk to me much anymore. We talked it through and sorted it out and everything, but it was never quite the same. She hardly ever invited me over to hers or met up with me after that. And I don’t have many friends…I’ve been so lonely!’
I sat down on the suede green chair next to her, held her hand, and looked at her, imploringly, sadly. ‘That must’ve hurt,’ I said.
‘Oh it did, Mark. By God did it hurt! Sometimes, I have to admit, I wonder if she even liked me…’
‘Of course she liked you! She invited you to her picnic party the other week. She wouldn’t have done that if she didn’t like you.’ Poor Gabby, I couldn’t help but think, with her self-loathing, anxious disposition, what hope was there for her in this world?
‘Oh I don’t know,’ she wailed, almost pathetically. ‘Zoe knew what I’d been through. It was so hard when she shut me out.’
‘I’m sure she didn’t mean to.’
Gabby shrugged her shoulders. I remembered that Zoe had only invited Gabby to the party after she realised she’d made too much food for everyone. That was a bit presumptuous of Zoe, I couldn’t ignore it, but no one is perfect, and both of them had seemed so happy in that video. I wondered what other fractures the camera lens had concealed…
‘I miss her so much,’ she said, popping a grape into her mouth and squashing it.
‘Me too,’ I said, smiling at her, still holding her hand. This was a moment we could cherish together, with both of us understanding each other’s pain.
But Gabby didn’t seem to cherish anything, in that moment, and she chomped even more on the grape. She twisted her face as she tried to swallow the bits she’d chewed, but it looked like it was very painful to swallow.
‘Are you okay?’
She nodded, and tried gulping it down, but she couldn’t do it, for some reason, and spat out the mushy mess onto the little stand next to her bed. ‘Oh God,’ she said, in her thick northern accent. ‘I can’t eat anything can I?’
‘Is that because of the surgery?’ I nudged.
She tilted her head, coy as a witch.
‘Are you in a lot of pain?’
She rocked her head forward. ‘Uh-huh,’ she said, her cheeks flushing with the strain. ‘I’m on so many pain killers those flowers look like cat’s heads, all gibber-jabbering to each other.’
I laughed, ‘That’s very poetic!’
She smiled weakly again. ‘I miss my cats. It’s probably the codeine, it’s got me feeling all kinds of ways.’
Then a nurse came in, she was just as beautiful as the one from earlier, at the reception desk, except this one had maroon-dyed hair and visible eyelash extensions. ‘Let’s check you up then, shall we?’ she said briskly, not really meaning it to be a question.
Gabriella nodded, seeming slightly threatened and simultaneously regal.
‘Now, you take these.’ She gestured to a small plastic cup with some brightly coloured capsules inside. I guessed those were more pain killers.
The nurse took out a clip-board with a chart on it from the bottom of Gabby’s bed and pondered over it, before going over to the drip and checking everything was all right with it. She asked Gabby some questions about how she was feeling and how much pain she was in, and then she gave her the pills to take and poured her a glass of water, before gliding out of the room. ‘These ones are a bit stronger, love. So don’t worry. The pain’ll stop in a bit,’ she’d said.
Gabby tipped the pills out into her pale palm and eyed them. She pushed them into her mouth and washed them down with the water. I saw that it was difficult for her to swallow again, but she managed it this time.
She settled back into the bed once she’d swallowed them as if with immense relief. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I’m tired of talking; it drains me.’
‘Oh. I can go if you like…’ I offered, starting to get up.
‘God, no! I’m enjoying your company. Your presence is very calming, Mark.’
‘Thanks,’ I giggled, sitting back down.
‘I like your t-shirt, by the way,’ she grinned.
‘Thanks,’ I repeated. I was wearing a baggy pink long-sleeved shirt which made me feel as thin and serious as a monk, except that I thought I looked stylish.
‘Why don’t you play me something?’
‘Okay, sure,’ I said, glad to be able to comfort her. I got the ukulele out of the carrier bag and balanced it on my lap. I tried a few strums and tweaked the tuners until the strings twanged a sound I thought sounded right. Then I began to play:
‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star…’ I sang lowly, plucking at the instrument. She closed her eyes, either in pleasure or weariness, I couldn’t tell.
When I finished the song, she asked me to play again, so I did. After the fourth time I’d played the tune (it being the only one I’d learnt) she sat up, as if some cord inside her had sprung up all of a sudden. She looked miserable as hell.
She started to bawl into her hands, her face growing ugly again.
I ceased my twanging. ‘Oh come on, Gabby. It’ll be all right,’ I tried to sooth.
‘NO IT WON’T!’ she screamed, tears gushing down her face.
I sat back in my chair, frightened. This wasn’t like her at all. She’d been perfectly fine a second ago, perfectly sedated. I looked into her eyes and the pupils were large and diluted. The overhead hospital light was reflected in them like the image of a full moon on a lake’s glassy surface, raging manically in and out of the cloud-drifts. I suspected the dose of pain killers was working, that it was having some serious side effects on her. ‘Gabby…’ I said slowly.
‘I loved her!’ she said, staring directly into my eyes. ‘I loved her more than anything, more than I even love myself.’
I gasped. Then she started to cry again, and all I could think to do was pat her hand. Gabby had been in love with her!? Well, she was bisexual so I suppose it was perfectly plausible.
‘Did Zoe know you loved her?’
Gabby nodded, her bottom lip shivering. Her breathing was coming deep and laboured.
That would explain why Zoe had distanced herself from her. If Zoe didn’t feel the same, it was probably awkward whenever she had any contact with Gabby, especially as she loved Alfie. Maybe Alfie even knew she loved Zoe. Maybe Gabby had become jealous, and thought perhaps, that if she couldn’t have Zoe, no one could. I looked at Gabby dead in the face, wondering with a new terrible possibility.
‘Where were you the morning Zoe died?’
‘I…I…was here,’ mumbled Gabby,’ in an anaesthetised daze. ‘I was having my final consultant with the surgeon before the operation.’
‘I see,’ I replied. I believed her. So it hadn’t been her. I had to look away when I realised that. I felt a bit ashamed. ‘Do you mind me asking what the operation was for?’
‘I had a gastric band fitted, to help. My weight loss,’ she breathed, dreamily.
‘Ahh,’ I nodded, brushing my fringe across my forehead.
‘I bet I’ll never be thin though… I’ll always be a fat, boring, nasty spinster who no one wants!’ she started to shout.
‘Gabby! Don’t say that! You’re beautiful. You’ll…you’ll find someone someday. You have to take everything one day at a time.’ I said, thinking of Alfie’s prudent words on the TV earlier on.
‘NO! Everything’s wrong! I hate everything!’ she screamed, shaking her head hysterically. She was starting to scare me now.
But before I could get up to ask a nurse for assistance Gabby had reached across and snatched the ukulele out of my hands.
But she was beyond any form of reconciliation, other than perhaps strapping her down or holding a chloroform-soaked cloth up to her mouth. I tried to grab my ukulele back off her, but she shoved me out of the way, with a strength I hadn’t anticipated. She raised the instrument up and brought it down onto the bedside stand with an awful crash. She smashed it down again. A jug of water fell to the floor and shattered, flicking water everywhere. Bits of wood from the ukulele splintered off into clubs. Gabby kept bashing it until all that was left in her hands was a little chunk of wood resembling a door stop. Various strings lay over the bed as if someone had pulled a load of nerves out of their arm. All I could do was tremble.
The maroon-haired nurse came hurtling in. ‘What’s going on in here?’
‘It’s Gabby,’ I said, all shaky. ‘She’s broken my ukulele…’
‘What in God’s name for?! What did you do?’ She said to me, stood with her hands on her hips, her made-up face shimmering in the light.
‘Nothing! I think it’s the pain killers…’
The nurse frowned. Gabby continued to whinge, muttering things under her breath such as ‘God I loved her. I loved her so much, too much.’
‘Can you leave, please?’ the nurse said sternly to me.
‘Fine, fine,’ I mumbled, getting up and tip-toeing around the many chips of wood and icy bits of glass. I took one last look at Gabby before I went through the door. She looked so lost, so vicious. I hoped she’d be all right.