A coming of age story, set in Glasgow in 1969. A 16 year old boy dealing with gangs, puberty, his mother’s mental illness and exams that would he thought, chart the unalterable course of his life, but the hormones affecting his body and brain, have a different plan.. A single year changes everything.
Tuesday, I finished my paper route after school, and ran home to use the toilet, before I took the dog out. I pushed the bathroom door. It was locked. I waited for a second or two. Normally when someone was in the bathroom they would call out and let the other person know if they were in the bath, or if they would only be a minute..
This time, nothing. My father would not have been home, Tuesday was his half-day so he was usually gone until the wee hours, so it had to be my mother.
“Mum? “ My mother answered, ‘Take some money from my purse and go over to your aunt Jenny’s for tea “
I knew something was wrong. My aunt has been in Canada for almost two years now.
I had a bad feeling about this. “ Mum! What’s wrong? “
“ Just take some money, and.. “ I cut her off. “I’m not going anywhere until I know what’s wrong! “ I realized my voice sounded a bit shaky.
“Everything is fine! Just go out for a while. “ My mother’s voice sounded strange, and now I was scared.
“ Open the door Mum “ I said. Then again, “Open the door ! “
There was no response from her. I knew something was really wrong..
I threw my shoulder against the door. The wood around the frame splintered, and the door opened first time.
My mother was slumped over the sink, and the sink was covered in blood. Her wrists were dripping blood and she was holding a razor blade in one hand.
I rushed in, grabbed her forearms, forcing her to drop the razor blade, and led her as firmly as I could out of the bathroom. She didn’t try to resist. I took her to the kitchen and made her sit down at the table. I ran to the sink, grabbed a clean dish towel and ran it under the water. I folded the towel and wrapped it around her wrists and held it there.
“We have to get you to the Hospital ! “
She looked up at me, but her eyes were glassy, and there seemed to be nothing behind them. She looked Blank. She looked like none of this was really happening. She looked like she wasn’t even there.
My stomach went into a knot. This was scaring the hell out of me, and I needed to get control of the situation. I wanted to phone an ambulance, but we didn’t have a phone.
“I don’t need to go to the Hospital, I’m fine “ she said. Her voice sounded so far away, and I knew that she was far from fine.
“I am going next door to call for an ambulance. “ I said.
“Yes !, You do that. “ She nodded. “You go call ! “ I realized that as soon as I left, she would lock the door behind me. I had to persuade her to go with me.
“Please Mum ! “ I pleaded “ We have to get help ! You’re not yourself, you’re not well. Please ! “
She shook her head. “You’ll be better off without me. “ She patted my arm and smiled blankly at me. I started to cry. I couldn’t help it. I was scared, and I didn’t know how to handle this.
“Trust me, “ she said “It will be better when I’m gone. “
I put my arms around her. “You’re my Mum, and I love you ! I would never be able to forgive myself if anything happened to you. You have to let me take you to the hospital ! Please ! ‘ I pleaded.
“No ! “ She shook her head again. “ Just leave me be . “
I didn’t know how much time I had. The cloth was red with blood, and I had no idea how long it took to bleed out. I had to convince her. I had to make her hear me, somehow.
I tried a different tack.“How could I forgive myself, if I let you do this. I NEED YOU ! DAD NEEDS YOU ! Don’t do this to us. DON’T DO THIS ! PLEASE ! “ I pleaded desperately. My voice was cracking, it was all spittle and snot.
She cocked her head “You’re a good boy ! You should let me be ! You’ll be better off, you’ll see ! “ She was really slurring her words now. “It’s better this way ! “
The knot in my stomach got even tighter, and I groaned.
I couldn’t wait any longer. I pulled her to her feet. I prayed I wasn’t too late.
Had I wasted too much time ?
I was bigger than she was, heavier too. I needed to be , now.
I put my arm around her and forced her to move. I led her to the door. She was wearing slippers and no coat, but it didn’t matter. I had to get her down the stairs and across the road to the Doctor’s office. I would carry her if I had to.
Dr Harrison’s office was right across the street. It was faster than waiting for an ambulance, and he would know what to do.
We made it down the two flights of stairs, as fast as I dared go.
Traffic was busy that time of day, but I was not going to wait. I almost dragged her
onto the road, putting my arm out to stop traffic, like a policeman. Thank god, I thought as the cars stopped to let us across.
I held on to my mother as tight as I could, and guided her to the Doctors office.
It seemed like it was taking forever. Every passing second put her more at risk, and I had no idea if it was too late. Fear gave me more strength than I thought I had, and I almost carried her the last few yards.
Somehow, I managed to get the door open, without letting go of my mother, and led her inside. I guided her to the waiting room and into a seat. I ran to the receptionist’s window and thumped the glass with my fist. The receptionist came running.
“MY MUM !………..SHE,S CUT HER WRISTS…………I NEED DR HARRISON…PLEASE HURRY ! “
She ran. The Doctor took immediate control. He was over checking her wrists, checking her eyes. “Eyes Glassy…I think Pills. “ The Doctor said. I tried to tell him what had happened with some sort of garbled explanation, but I couldn’t seem to make the words come out right.
Dr. Harrison turned, and grabbed me by the shoulder. “I am going to drive your mother to the Hospital. I am not going to wait for an ambulance, Do you understand ! “
I was staring at his mouth, The doctor was speaking so clearly, but it was like the words were coming from a long way away.
“Pack a bag of your mother’s things, and take it to the hospital! Do you understand! “
Dr. Harrison did not wait for a reply this time and got into action.
He gave his car keys to the nurse, and took my mother to the car.
The nurse unlocked the car doors and got in the back seat with her, and Dr Harrison wasted no time driving off
I had things to do now. I tried to cross the street again, but now the traffic made me nervous. I ran to the corner and crossed with the lights. I was still jumpy.
I ran back up the stairs and unlocked the door. The dog still had not been out . I wondered if I should take him out. No, that could wait. I wondered what kind of bag to pack. I found a hold-all. Should I pack a coat ? She would need a coat. I should get a bigger bag. I found a small suitcase, one that used to belong to my aunt. What else should I pack? What would she need Underwear! She would want a change of underwear.
I grabbed a slip from her underwear drawer, would she need that? I didn’t know. I hated going into her underwear drawer. I packed the slip. How much stuff would she need? How long would she be there? I didn’t know.
Toiletries! She would need those. They were already in a bag. Good! I threw the bag in. A pair of shoes! Of course! I threw in a pair of shoes. Something to read? No that was stupid. Or was it? Her purse! She would need her purse! I grabbed some underwear without looking at it, and threw it in the case. Okay! I was ready.
I still needed to pee. I went into the bathroom and saw all the blood again. My knees almost gave way. There was so much blood. The tap was still running. I needed to clean that up first. What if my father came home? What would he think if he saw this? Well he would be right! But I couldn’t leave it that way. I picked up the razor blade and threw it in the garbage can. I got some cleanser from the kitchen and got to work. I cleaned the sink, the toilet, the floor and the edge of the tub. No blood left to see. I was ready to go now. I grabbed the bag and ran down to the bus stop.
No bus coming! Should I run there? It was only a mile away, but I was carrying a suitcase. I decided to wait for the bus. Damn! I thought. I still needed to pee. I had forgotten to go. I didn’t want to run back, in case I missed a bus so I waited .
When it came, I had to fumble with the change. My hands just refused to work properly. I paid the fare and went up to the top deck. I thought I could have a smoke on the way. I realized now that I had forgotten my mother’s cigarettes. Damn! But she would have her purse, so she could buy some. It didn’t take long to reach the hospital, but now, I wasn’t sure whether to go to the Emergency entrance, or Reception. I guessed wrong and went to Emergency. They sent me to Reception, where they told me to wait.
I sat and waited, and waited, and waited.
Eventually someone came to tell me that my mother had been transferred to Hawkhead Hospital. I couldn’t give my mother the suitcase now. Hawkhead was out of town, and about two hours by bus, even if I knew which buses to take.
I left, and went over to the bus stop at Battlefield rest. I was shaky, scared and confused. I didn’t know what to do next.
First I decided to take the bus home. I did not want to stand there holding a suitcase, and run the risk of bumping into someone I knew. I did not want to have to explain what I was doing there. Once I got home, I would sit down and figure it out from there. I badly wanted someone to tell me what to do. I felt so lost.
When I did get home, I finally got the chance to pee. I had been holding it in for ages.
That reminded me to take the dog out. But what if someone wanted to know what was going on?
I realized that there was no reason to ask. Everything looked normal now. There was no blood, I was not carrying that silly looking bag anymore, Nothing would seem out of place when I went out. I was just taking the dog for his afternoon walk. Just like any other day. Just exactly like any other day.
I needed cigarettes, but didn’t want to go to the shops. They knew me there, and I wasn’t up to any small talk. I took my mother’s cigarettes instead. Almost a full pack of twenty. That would last me.
I took the dog out, being careful not to run into anyone I knew. We didn’t go far, just in case my father came home early, not that there was much chance of that, but just in case.
We returned to the flat, and waited. I couldn’t concentrate on a book, and I didn’t want to watch TV. either. I hated sitting there by myself. My mind kept going back to what had happened earlier. Had I acted quickly enough ? Had I done the right things ?
I thought I had, but had I done enough ? I kept thinking about the look on my mother’s
face. That look had scared me more than the blood. She looked like she really didn’t care what happened to her, like she really had given up. I tried not to think about it, but I kept seeing that image.
I felt scared and I felt ashamed, not of my mother, but of myself. I knew that my mother was ill. Mental Illness was a real illness, just like any other, but people looked at it differently, and I was ashamed of himself, that it embarrassed me. I didn’t want anyone to know, not just because they would think less of my mother, but I knew that I didn’t want anyone to look at me that way either.
How many times had I heard someone use that as an insult.
You’re a Loony, you belong in Hawkhead! Your mother’s a Loony, you all belong in Hawkhead. Well now my mother was there, and I didn’t want anyone to find out.
I knew it was childish, but I couldn’t help myself. Right now, I felt like a frightened little boy, not a sixteen year old who should know better.
I wanted my mother to be there to tell me that everything was all right. But she wasn’t there, and I felt frightened and alone.
I was furious with my father. I knew my father was out with his girlfriend. Did they think I was stupid, did they think I didn’t know?
How many Tuesday nights have I been woken up by my parents arguing about it, at two in the morning.
Wasn’t that why my father never came home after work on Tuesdays, to avoid the inevitable arguments about where he was going.
I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to watch television, I didn’t want to be out either. So I waited.
I made a pot of tea. I didn’t feel like eating, my stomach was still in a knot, but a cup of tea would warm me up, and maybe get rid of that taste in my throat. The flat felt cold and damp, and as I looked around, it also seemed a little more broken down, a little more shabby, somehow.
I switched on the television, “Callan “ had just started. I liked that show, it was dark, and it suited my mood right now, but I couldn’t concentrate on it. I knew my father’s affair had been part of the reason for what had happened today, but it wasn’t the only reason. This was not my mother’s first breakdown . Twice before, I had been sent to live with relatives. When I was eight and again when I was ten.
The first time, I had been shipped off to stay with my dad’s brother’s family, and even though they were really nice people, and they were family, I had only been eight, and I had been so homesick. .
I just hadn’t understood what was happening, and why it was happening to me.
I had been ten, the second time, and it had been a little easier. I had known what to expect, but it was still hard.
Now I was sixteen, and should be able to look after myself.
At eleven o’clock, my father wasn’t home yet, so I wrote a brief note, and took the dog out. I found that I needed the fresh air, and it was quiet on the way up to the cemetery. There was virtually no chance of running into anyone I knew, at that time of night, so I found it relaxing, sort of. Many of the lights were off, people were going to bed. Even the railway station was closed .Rory and I stayed out for much longer than I had expected, and I did feel calmer when we got home.
My father rolled in at two o’clock. The smell of drink and cheap perfume was unmistakable.
I tried hard to keep my anger in check while I gave my father a brief update on what had happened. My father had put a hand on my shoulder, but I pulled away and told him he stunk of cheap perfume.
My father said it was too late to do anything that night, but we would talk tomorrow.
I rose at six, to do my milk run, and when I came back, my father had already left.
That day, from start to finish, was one of the worst days of my life.
Everyone at school noticed that I really wasn’t myself, but I was a teenage boy, and teenage boys are moody, and teenage boys have bad days, So What! I thought.
I was worried, scared and felt totally isolated. I hated being on the ‘out’s’ with my father. Dad was the one person I could talk to about this, and I couldn’t go through this on my own. If we weren’t on the same side, then I had no one to talk to. I couldn’t tell my friends what had happened, and I didn’t want to start crying again.
The last thing I wanted was kids laughing at me.
I got through the school day, did the papers, walked the dog, and waited for my father to come home.
He came home at the usual time, made us both a quick meal of bacon and eggs, something simple, and we drove to the hospital.
On the way there he told me, that given the circumstances, he would forgive my behavior the night before.
The important thing, he said, was my mum, and we should concentrate on that.
Dad had no idea what had actually happened, and I was too stunned, angry, and I have to admit, relieved, to bring it up again.
When we reached the hospital, I had to sit in the waiting room, while my father signed papers and talked to the attending Physician.
My father was then allowed to see Mum, while I sat and waited.
By looking through the porthole in the door, I could see my mother at the far end of the biggest hospital ward I have ever seen.
After half an hour, my father came out to talk to me. I had already been told that children were not allowed in the ward, and that for the present, I would be allowed in, only with my father.
My father couldn’t look me in the eye, but told me that my mother did not want to see me.
I could feel my legs almost give way beneath me.
Had my mother really meant it when she said I should go on without her ?
Was she angry at me for what I had done?
I had tried to do my best. I really had. I don’t understand what I had done wrong.
I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do, where to go.
The one person in my life, who could never turn me away, had turned me away.
I felt small, I felt cold. I felt like a three year old who needed a hug from his mummy. It felt like everything had collapsed around me.
I didn’t know where to look, where to turn, or where to go.
If only my father had said that she did not want me to see her in the condition she was in.
But he hadn’t said it that way.
We rode home in silence, We were both alone with our thoughts.
My father turned on the television when we got home while I wandered out into the night with Rory.
I felt a lot like I had the night before. I felt like I was disappearing inside myself. I felt so disconnected from everything, from everyone. I wasn’t even aware of my own footsteps, or if anyone else was out there, while we walked.
The next morning, I got up with the alarm, made a pot of tea, then left to deliver the milk. After the run, I had a bowl of cornflakes, a second cup of tea, then changed for school.
Pretending to be normal, for a teenager, is normal. This was just more difficult than most mornings. I felt sensitive and very raw.
I didn’t feel like I could handle any criticism from anyone, and because I felt so sensitive, I seemed to be more aware of other people’s feelings.
When I came out at lunchtime, I saw Robert Holly and some other kids, bullying Alan Hare. Alan was almost in tears, again. He was one kid who had never learned to stick up for himself, and now the kids who got bullied themselves, were picking on Alan.
I saw the look on Alan’s face. He was overwhelmed, afraid, and looked like he wanted to cry. The other kids were laughing and throwing stuff from Alan’s bag onto the wet ground.
It made me really angry.
I marched up to Robert Holly. Holly was a fat kid, four inches shorter than me, but he outweighed me by four stone, or more. We had fought once in Primary school, Holly won using his weight to advantage, but things change, I thought.
“Give Alan back his bag! ‘ I told him.
Holly laughed. “Or what! ‘ He said.
I glared at him “ Give him back his bag. Now!” I growled through gritted teeth.
I walked forward to take the bag from Holly, but he threw the bag to another kid.
I kept moving forward and slapped him across the face.
Holly was shocked. A punch, he might have expected, and would have been ready for, but not a slap. It was loud, and it was humiliating.
I had learned that trick from watching a fight near where I used to live.
A slap takes almost no time, because there is no weight behind it.
You don’t have to load up, like you do for a punch.
He made a fist and got ready to go after me, but before he could do that, I slapped him again. Again, it made a loud noise. Everyone was staring at us.
He didn’t see it coming. I suppose he thought he could still beat me in a fight, but only if he could overpower me. I knew what he was thinking. If he couldn’t move fast enough to stop these slaps, he knew he was in trouble. It had been about having a little fun at Alan Hare’s expense, maybe it wasn’t worth getting into a fight about. I could almost see those thoughts going through his mind. He was thinking it wasn’t worth being humiliated himself.
“Done now ? “ I hissed at him through still clenched teeth.
Holly nodded, dumbly.
I turned to Alec Shields, another idiot friend of Holly’s, who now had Alan’s bag.
“Give me the bag! “ Alec wanted no part of this, so gave up the bag
I handed the bag back to Alan, who had already picked up all the stuff that had been thrown from the bag, and walked away with him.
I did feel bad for Alan who had to go through this day after day. I had heard that Alan’s father was abusive, so the poor kid never got a break. Life just wasn’t fair!
“ I can’t stop them from doing that every time Alan, you are going to have to stick up for yourself some time.” I said
“I know! ‘ He said.” But Thanks a lot for helping me.”
It didn’t make me feel any better, I hadn’t accomplished anything, I had just taken some of my frustration out on some idiots, that was all. Nothing had changed.
When I got to the others, I found out they had been watching the whole thing.
Billy was laughing, Johnny said “Good going! “ Margaret just seemed to be watching me closely. I didn’t like it.
I didn’t want anyone looking at me closely just now.
When Billy started to say something about it, I snapped him off. “Just leave it! “
Damn! I hadn’t meant to sound that angry.
I gave Billy a look that said I was sorry.
Johnny changed the subject, always the diplomat.
The conversation went on, but Margaret looked like she was thinking about what had just happened.
She told me later that they had watched the whole thing. Robert Holly was a small time bully and a creep. She had caught him dropping pencils in art class and looking up her skirt when he bent over to pick them up He always seemed to be leering at her and Alice..
So when I had slapped him, she had felt like cheering.
I hadn’t beaten him up, I had just given him a healthy dose of humiliation, something he richly deserved. And she had really enjoyed the way I had done it.
Alan was a little lost soul, and it was nice that I had taken the time and effort to help him. She said.
She also said that I had seemed to be in an odd mood, but I shrugged that off.
I knew she suspected something was wrong, but I wasn’t about to tell her, or anyone else. I was going to have to do a better job of hiding my feelings.
Billy even asked, but I gave him the same answer. Billy has had more than a few moody days himself, so he didn’t press. He did tell me that Margaret had asked him about me too.
The first dance of Friday’s gym class, as usual, I asked her to dance. She smiled when I walked toward her. “Thank you “I said.
“Thanks for what? “ She asked good humouredly
I had to think about it for a second. I was just trying to be polite to everyone these days, to hide my mood.
“It’s just nice when you smile at me “ I said, “It makes me feel like I matter. “
She took some time to think about that one.
I couldn’t help wondering what she was thinking.
That night, my father and I went back to the hospital.
Again, I waited outside the ward while my father went in. My mother still did not want to see me, and that still hurt like hell.
I knew she was ill, and I knew that her mind was not where it should be.
I was sort of sure that was why she didn’t want to talk to me. It had to be?
I missed her a lot more than I would have liked to admit. I wanted to run in and give her a big hug, whether she wanted it or not. We’re not the sort of family who went around saying we loved each other, but right now, I wish we were.
Every so often I got up and walked around. This place made me really uncomfortable and nervous.
Every time the swinging doors to the ward opened, I took a look around the ward.
I could see my mother’s bed, and my father, but not her.
How could anyone get better in a place like this?
Patients wandering around the corridors, looking like they were completely unaware of their surroundings, muttering to themselves, shuffling their feet, having arguments with people who weren’t there. Wild eyed ‘scaries’ giving me dirty looks. One woman who kept grabbing her crotch and yelling “Fuck Me “ at anyone she saw.
Some of these people were here for the rest of their lives, some of them were probably violent, and many were here forgotten and left to rot, by their families.
How could any of this be good for my mother.
There were never many visitors when we came here. It was a hard place to get to, but that wasn’t the reason. Hawkhead! Even the name scared people. It still scared me a little. Every little kid knew the name. It wasn’t a hospital, it was an insane asylum.
I looked up and saw my father talking to one of the doctors. Dad seemed to be listening intently, not a casual conversation, I figured.
It worried me. The doctor might be giving my father some bad news, that Mum might be here for a long time, he might be saying anything.
Whatever he was saying, Dad did not look happy.
I really do not want to be here, I thought.
I got my wish faster than I would have thought. My father came out, and didn’t stop for me. I had to hurry to catch up. Once we were outside, he stopped and offered me a cigarette. That in itself was unusual, and I knew it wasn’t a good sign
“Your mother wants shock treatment, and the doctors have recommended it. “ He said.
I could tell that he was not happy about it.
“But it isn’t up to them, it’s up to us! “
“Us? “ I was surprised.
We walked to the car and he continued “I told them, the doctor and your mother that nothing happens until she has talked to you. “ He looked at me. “ I know how hard this has been on you, not being able to talk to her. “ He put a hand on my shoulder for a second. “ She doesn’t want you to see her the way she is right now. She keeps saying that she has let us down, that we deserve better. “ I could see how upset my father was now. He continued, “All I can do is keep telling her how much we love her, and how much we need her. “
We talked the whole way home, and even though I felt just as upset as before, I felt less alone.
Of course my father cared, and of course he knew how difficult things were. It was just that neither one of us was much good about talking about it. It was up to me to make more of an effort. Even though my father had that damn girlfriend, he still did love my mother, I was sure of it, and it had to be just as hard on him as it was on me. We both had our guilt to deal with.
Sometimes your mind wanders, and sometimes, you just don’t want to go where it takes you.
I couldn’t stop my mind going back to just a few weeks after my cousins had left for Canada.
Mum had woken me up at one or two in the morning, after another blazing Tuesday night row with my father. I had still been half asleep and she had told me to pack a suitcase. We were leaving !
There were no buses that time of night, and walking down the street with suitcases, we weren’t going anywhere fast.
I managed to convince her that we should go back. We had nowhere to go. How would I get to school ?
How could we afford to rent a place to stay ?
I had been so happy when I won the argument. I had been so relieved to climb back into my own warm bed.
I hadn’t once thought about how she felt, what she was going through. Once we were back. I didn’t give it another thought.
Was that how we ended up here?
Dad, doing what he did, and me, at fourteen years old, telling her she was being silly, that she hadn’t thought things through.
I don’t want to think about this anymore. I don’t want to think about this anymore ,I don’t know how to undo it. I don’t know how to take it back.
I felt drained, when we got home, but the dog needed to go out, and I needed to clear my head.
There was a steady drizzle, and some mist, but it didn’t bother me. I felt like I was almost invisible in this weather. The rain was so light it did not seem to make a sound, so I had the quiet I needed to be alone with my thoughts .
It was one of those nights when I was glad that the dog knew where we were going, because every time I looked up, I wasn’t quite sure where I was, or how we had got there. When we got home, I fell into a deep sleep, for once the 12:30 freight train did not wake me up.
I had some time to myself, the next morning, the game was not until 11:00.
It was an odd time, but the other team had a long trip in to play us. The rain had stopped, so I decided to walk to the playing grounds, instead of taking the bus.
Derek Burns was waiting for me, down the street. I would rather have walked alone, but Derek wasn’t a bad guy, and it was his first game for the Third XV.
There were a few players missing today, so he had been called up from the Junior team.
He was a big kid, almost the same height as me, but about a stone and a half heavier.
He should have no trouble fitting in.
He had all sorts of questions, nervous probably, but I had few of the answers.
No, I didn’t know what position he would be playing. It would depend on who turned up. I thought that he might end up in my spot, because it would be easier for me to switch positions, than it would be for Derek.
Derek told me that the other team, a team we had never played before, had only lost five games last year. I said that we had only lost three, ourselves.
When we got to the pitch, I went to check on the line-up sheet, while Derek went to check out the other team.
I noticed that our teacher, “Tommy“ Gunn, was going to referee the game.
“Tommy” was young enough that he was still a very good player, but he was a better referee. He didn’t miss much, and he called games straight down the middle. It would have been nice if he had been a little biased toward his own team, but usually we didn’t need any help anyway.
I made a note of which positions Derek and I would be playing, and went to look for him.
Derek ran into me as he left the change rooms.
“ They’re sharpening up their studs ! I just heard them talking about it! ‘ He whispered.
I smiled. “Are you still falling for that one?” I shook my head.” No one ever sharpens their studs. It just doesn’t work! But if they are using that old line of crap, then they must be desperate! They’re afraid of us. They have probably never played a team from Glasgow before, and they are shitting their pants . “
A few minutes into the game, their strategy became obvious. If they couldn’t win fairly, they would play dirty.
“Tommy broke up three fights in the first ten minutes. Even Johnny Graham got into one, and things had to be bad to make him start swinging. It wasn’t that Johnny couldn’t fight, it was that he was so easy going, and good natured, that he seldom lost his temper.
“Tommy told the other team’s coach to get control of his players, or forfeit the match. They settled down. We started to put some points on the board, but the pitch was so slippery, it made it hard to keep any momentum, and they took advantage of a couple of slips to get back in the game.
Johnny Graham scored a nice try, right between the goalposts, and we started to pull ahead again.
In the second half, they changed their tactics again. They kept kicking the ball downfield and trying to pounce on any slips or fumbles.
I fielded one cleanly, and started to sprint upfield. I cut inside to avoid a tackle, and started to look for a teammate to pass to. My opposite number changed direction and came right at me. I thrust my arm out, palm open and caught him under the chin with a perfect hand-off. He flew through the air, and I couldn’t help but stop to watch.
I was tackled immediately, and Tommy signaled for a scrum.
Derek ran over. “You gotta show me how to do that! ‘ He laughed. Johnny helped me to my feet and gave me a clap on the back. I didn’t have time to enjoy the moment, as the other team kept sticking with the same tactics, and I was seeing a lot more of the ball than usual.
A few minutes later, I had the ball again and was looking for some space. I saw my opposite number heading for me, with his fists clenched. I reacted. I feinted toward him, then stopped just in time to see a wild punch thrown at my head, miss me by a foot. “Tommy” blew the whistle and stopped play. I got in the face of the other player before “Tommy” pulled me away “Any more of that and I will send you off ! “ He warned the kid. I got back in his face. “I tackled you clean! It was a legal hand-off, and if you don’t like it! we can ‘dance’ after the game ! GOT IT! “
I walked back to my position, and Derek came running up.”Are you going to fight him after the game? “ He looked gleeful.
“Nah “ I said , I was watching ‘Tommy” trying to set the scrum . “I just wanted him to know I was on to him, so I wouldn’t have to be looking over my shoulder, the rest of the game “ It was taking some time to get the scrum set properly. So I continued “ I stick my hand in his face, and he goes flying through the air ! He tries to punch me and misses by a mile! Do you really think he wants to fight me? You watch, after the game he’ll come over to shake hands and apologise for over-reacting. Just watch! “
We played the rest of the game with no more problems, and came off the field with a hard fought 25-13 win.
We were muddy and tired We trudged to the change rooms a hundred yards away.
Derek came running up to me. “Look at the arsehole go!” I looked up and saw the opposition number thirteen sprinting for the change rooms. Derek laughed, but I just smiled and shrugged. When I got out of the shower, Derek was there again.
“He didn’t even shower, just changed and ran! ‘
We dressed quickly and went outside. There, halfway up the driveway, about fifty yards from me, was the troublemaker. Their bus wasn’t back yet, so he had nowhere to go. The rest of his team were walking toward him, they probably thought that was where they were supposed to wait.
When there were about ten of them, I decided to have some fun.
“Watch! “ I said to Derek.
I walked part of the way toward them, staring at the guy. I dropped my kit bag, then yelled “C’mere Arsehole! “ I watched them to make sure I had their attention then started to run after him. Before I had covered ten yards, they started running away, all of them.
I stopped, started to laugh, then walked back and picked up my bag.
“Not bad Eh! Ten of them! ‘
I didn’t forget to check behind me, just in case they figured it out.
“How did you know they would run?” asked Derek looking amazed.
I explained, still laughing. “I knew’ bugger lugs’ would run. He wouldn’t have skipped the shower if he hadn’t been afraid. Three of his buddies were right with him, so I figured they would stick with him, and run too. Now there are four of them running. Then you are going to get a couple who don’t know why they are running, but just run anyway, then the rest would realize that most of them are running, so they would feel outnumbered, and have to run too. It would never occur to them at that point that they were running away from one guy! “
“Pretty Slick! “ Laughed Derek, but what if they hadn’t run?
“Then we would be home by now!” I smiled
‘We? ‘ Asked Derek.
“Oh ,Yeah! If they had turned around, we would both have ran like Hell “
I wanted to walk back with Johnny and Danny but Derek would not shut up about what had just happened, and I didn’t want to inflict this on the other two, so I walked home with Derek in tow.
We bumped into a few people we knew on the way, and Derek insisted on re-telling the tale to everyone. It had been fun, but by the third re-telling I was getting tired of hearing about my own exploits.
All the fun had been sucked out of it by the time I got home.
I unpacked my kit bag, and checked the mantel piece to see if my father had left me a note. A ten-bob note for lunch, which I pocketed, and my father was going to bring
home a take- out curry after work The thought of a curry put a smile back on my face.
I remembered my first curry. Before we lived here, I had met my first Indian friend, and my first Indian family. I remember telling my father that the Singh’s home smelled funny. My father had told me to get myself invited over there for lunch, and I would learn to love that smell.
After that first meal, I was hooked. The Singh’s were really nice people, especially Mrs. Singh, and I loved eating her meals. It made my mouth water to think of it now
“Good for us “ I said to Rory, “Indian food tonight ! “
Rory peed as soon as we got outside. I decided to let him lead. I had no real plans for the evening, so wherever Rory wanted to walk was fine with me.
We turned right at the corner, and bumped into Tommy Desmond. He was just coming back from the bookies, and was still counting his winnings.
“Hey Jim! “ He called out. I stopped, and waited for him to catch up.
“I dropped in to see your mum, but she wasn’t home. I haven’t seen her for a while. Is everything okay? “
I exhaled, then looked around.
“She’s in hospital Tommy. “ I knew I had opened a can of worms, but there was no way of avoiding it.
“What happened? Is it serious? “ Tommy looked concerned.
“She had a nervous breakdown, Tommy. “
Tommy could see that I was really uncomfortable talking about this, in the middle of the street, so he took my elbow and led me further down the street, where it was quieter, and we could sit on a garden wall, and talk.
I was reluctant to go into details, but Tommy was relentless with his questions.
After a few minutes, Rory got restless, so we walked and talked, and somehow I found it easier to talk about it this way. I told Tommy the whole story.
When I was done, I felt a lot better. It felt good to get it all off my chest.
Tommy had gone through enough with his own mother that he could emphasize with me. I admitted that I hadn’t told anyone else about what had happened.
“You can’t carry all that around by yourself. “ He said. “Means a lot, you know, that you told me “ He put his hand on my shoulder, in a big brother kind of way.
“Come on up , and we’ll have a cuppa, with my mum. It’s been a while since she saw you. “ he smiled. “ Just hold on a sec. and I’ll get some fags. “
I waited outside the shop with Rory. I felt a little guilty that he hadn’t dropped in to see Mrs. Desmond. No matter how bad her health was, she was always in a good mood, and always pleased to see me.
Tommy came out of the newsagents with a large box of chocolates. “Give these to your mum, and tell her that you got them! “
Now I felt really guilty. I hadn’t once thought to bring my mother anything, while she had been in hospital.
Tommy’s mother was sitting in her favourite chair when we went in. She was almost blind now, and had trouble getting around. Rory wasted no time and jumped straight into her lap. She was glad to see us, and asked after my mother.
I was about to answer, but Tommy jumped in. “She’s in the hospital Ma, wee bit of nerve trouble, but she’ll be right as rain in no time ! “
Mrs. Desmond had almost as many questions as Tommy, but Tommy did a good job of making things seem much brighter than they really were.
He changed the subject, to lighten up the conversation.
“You just want that dog to help you guard your chocolate biscuits! I’m on to you Mum “
I had only meant to stay for ten minutes, but ended up staying more than an hour.
When we left, I was in as good a mood as I had been, since it all happened.
I walked home, chocolates under my arm, and chatting to the dog.
I entered our close and started up the stairs, still talking to Rory about all the treats Mrs. Desmond had given him.
I looked up, and saw Frankie Wallpaper and his girlfriend, a cute red head whose name I could never remember, standing in Frank’s doorway smiling down at me.
Frank’s real last name was Wallace, but Billy and I had nicknamed him Frankie Wallpaper. Frank was a nice enough guy, had a lot of interests, and was the same age as Billy and I, but he was so quiet that he seemed to blend in to the wallpaper. He never seemed to have an opinion, or anything to say. After a while, you just forgot he was there. His girlfriend was a lot more outgoing, and I thought that maybe she would bring him out of his shell.
But right now, they were smiling, having caught me having a conversation with the dog.
I bent down and said in a stage whisper, “Don’t say any more until we get inside! or they will think we’re both nuts !”
Frank smiled and his girlfriend laughed. “Hello, Jim! ‘ She said as we passed. I smiled and returned the greeting. When we got inside, I realized that they probably thought I was talking intentionally to avoid catching them in a compromising position. All the better!
I washed and dried the dishes, did a quick vacuum, then hit the books. It was only a week until the ‘prelims’ started, and I really had not done enough studying. It was time I started to buckle down.
I did a lot more studying in the next few days.
Sunday, my father went to the hospital on his own. Monday and Tuesday, I stayed home too.
By Wednesday, my mother was ready to see me.
I sat in the car, fidgeting the whole way, with Tommy’s chocolates perched on my lap.
My father went in first, and came out for me ten minutes later.
I felt nervous walking down the long ward.
My mother came part of the way down to meet us. She stroked my hair and smiled.
I wanted to hug her, but didn’t want to drop the chocolates.
“Tommy Desmond gave me these for you” I blurted out. “I’m sorry! I didn’t get you anything myself. “ Another box of chocolates, would have been silly, but I realized I could have brought grapes or flowers.
“That was really nice! “ My mother said. Her voice sounded strange, and when I looked up, I noticed her eyes were glassy. Just like the last time I had seen her.
My heart sank a little.
She started to talk again. “I didn’t want you to see me like this. I’ve let you both down, “
I shook my head to disagree, as she went on. “I’m no good to anyone like this. I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here. I need to stay here! I need to…. “ I wanted to argue but I couldn’t get my voice to work. “…..stay here until I get better. You’re both better off without me! “
I found my voice “ I love you Mum! “ I wasn’t used to saying that. “ I need you Mum. We’re both lost without you We can’t get through this without you “ I was holding her hand tight. I told her how much I missed her, and how even the dog seemed lost. I kept talking until my father came back with three cups of tea.
After half a cup of tea, my mother seemed more lucid. She was asking questions. I told her about the Desmond’s, about exams coming up, about anything at all. I cracked a couple of funny lines, and my mother smiled a few times.
It had always been my job to break the tension at home, but this seemed much harder.
It seemed like my mother kept drifting away, then coming back again. From out of nowhere, she said “I need to have Shock Treatment! I need it to make me better. “
She said it like a child would say it, and it stunned me into silence.
“That’s enough for now. “ My father said, quite gently.
He signaled for me to go. I kissed my mother on the cheek, and said my goodbyes.
I waited outside the ward for my father, then we went outside for a cigarette.
“She’s not getting better. “ He said. I nodded but didn’t look up.
My father went on. “I hate what Shock Treatment does to her! “
“Shit! “ He said. I looked up, my father very rarely swore.
“You were too young to remember how bad it was “ I looked at my father. I hadn’t seen him this upset since my grandmother died. I did remember some of it from the last time. I remembered my mother crying and looking through old photographs. Somehow the shock treatments had wiped out some of her memories. She was crying because she couldn’t remember her baby brother who had died really young, and she couldn’t find any photographs of him.
I remembered that, and some other things, but I knew there was a lot that I didn’t remember.
“Well, she isn’t going to get better this way! ‘ My father sounded unhappy, but resigned.
I thought about it, and agreed. “We have to let them do it Dad! ‘
There! I had said it.
Now if things went wrong, and I knew that they could go wrong, it would be my fault too. My mother could end up being one of those Wild eyed ‘scaries’ who wandered the halls of the hospital, and it would be partly my fault. I felt sick.
We were both quiet on the trip home.
“Exams, Eh! ‘ My father said, as we got out of the car. I nodded. “ I’ll just take Rory out for a walk, then I can keep going till bedtime “ I answered.
A few minutes later, I found myself thinking about shock treatments as Rory and I walked through the cemetery. I knew the risks got higher, the more times she went through it. I couldn’t bear the thought that things wouldn’t work. I did not want to let myself think about it.
It was far too frightening to think about. But it was going to be impossible not to think about it. I knew I should concentrate on my exams, and not give myself time to dwell on it.
Later, I found it hard to concentrate, but I kept going. The twelve thirty freight train was my signal to go to bed. I had barely closed his eyes, it seemed, when the alarm went off for me to get up and do the milk run. My stomach was still sour, so I just had a cup of tea, before I left. I was surprised my father wasn’t up by the time I got back, but my father drank a cup of tea, while he shaved, and left at the usual time.
Every class that day seemed to be the same thing. Dire warnings about the exams.
“Know your Shakespeare! ‘ Miss Brown wagged her bony finger at us.
“Well, I’ll remember Macbeth’s witches anyway” Joked Billy, who didn’t look too worried.
“Did you see who’s playing at the City Halls tomorrow? ‘ He asked.
“Tomorrow ? “ I quizzed “Aren’t you going to the school dance? “
“Nah! Nobody I fancy in this lot. “ He said.
It had never occurred to me that he wouldn’t be going. I wondered who else wasn’t going.
At lunch, Johnny said he was going, but I was waiting to hear from Margaret.
“Maybe not for the whole thing, but we’ll be there! “ Alice answered for both of them.
That was a relief, but I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought to ask before.
After school, I rushed home to check on my clothes. I had no idea what I was going to wear, and I had no idea what clothes were clean.
It was always a horrible feeling to reach into the wardrobe and find out that I had outgrown what I had decided to wear.
Clean white shirt, black V- neck lambs wool sweater, grey flannels and my blazer.
Everything fit, and it was all clean. I would have to press the flannels, and maybe I would borrow one of my father’s ties. The red and silver college stripe.
I hung my blazer back up and looked at my father’s blazer.
I tried it on. Better quality, long enough, but too wide. I looked at the regimental crest on the pocket, and realized my father had only been eighteen months older than I
was now, when he went to war . I looked at myself in the mirror.
The war was something my father never talked about. All the times when I was younger, playing British and Germans, instead of Cowboys and Indians, I had wanted so much for him to tell me stories about the war. I had been disappointed then, but now as I get older, I wonder just how bad it must have been, not just for him, but for all of them.
I hoped I would never find out.
Shampoo, I thought, breaking my chain of thought. I need to buy shampoo.
I could take Rory for his walk, and buy shampoo at the chemist’s on the way.
I tied Rory up outside the shop. Rory liked this, people would pet him on the way past, and he always enjoyed that. He loves being the centre of attention.
The shop was busy, a lot of people got paid on Thursdays so the shops were usually busier. I found what I needed and counted out the exact change while I waited in line.
Mrs. Preston, our upstairs neighbour was working behind the counter. She had a loud personality, and a loud voice to go with it. She is a well meaning kind of person, but I always found her loudness annoying.
When I got to the front of the line, I handed her the shampoo and the exact change.
“Hello Mrs. Preston. “
“Oh, Hello dear. How is your dear mother ? Is she still at that horrible place? “
I flinched “Hawkhead Hospital is no place for your mother. Poor dear! “
Shut up, Shut up, Shut up! I wanted to shout. A whole shop full of people, and she has to tell them all my business.
“Terrible thing, a breakdown like that! Well ,you just tell her I was asking for her ! “
She smiled as she handed me the shampoo in a bag. I gave her a black look and rushed out of the shop. Lesley Andrews was standing just inside the door. I didn’t stop, and rushed right past her.
She came after me “JIM!‘ She called.
There was no escape. I had to untie Rory before I could go.
I turned to face her.
“I was on my way to the library, when I spotted Rory! “
She must have just opened the door, I thought. She wasn’t standing in line. She didn’t hear what Mrs. Preston had said, thank goodness. What a relief!
I smiled back at her.
She continued. “I just wanted to make sure there would be someone at the dance to tell me how nice I look, and make sure that there will be someone to walk home with.”
“Absolutely! “ I gave her a much bigger smile this time. “You can count on it! “
The new school was in a rougher neighbourhood than the old one had been, and it wasn’t safe at night, even for the boys. There was safety in numbers, and last year there had been ten of us walking back together. Once we reached the railway station, we had split up, and I had ended up walking Audrey, Moira, Pamela and Lesley home. The walk home had been more fun than the dance. I couldn’t blame Lesley for making sure.
I made corned beef, cabbage and mashed potatoes for tea, and timed it just right, so my father was coming in the door when I put the plates on the table.
My father was pleased.
“I was going to make you stew, but Rory hid his dog food. I think he’s getting wise to me .” I asked to borrow the tie, and my father agreed, but only if I promised never to make stew.
I hit the books when my father left for the hospital, and remembered to press my flannels. I got to bed at a reasonable time, a good thing, given how busy tomorrow would be.
Danny and Johnny were trying to reassure the rest of us ‘fourth year’s about the exams, but only made things worse.
I rushed home, did the papers, took Rory for a much too short walk. I felt guilty about that, bought a hot bridie for tea, and ate it while I ran the bath.
I was bathed, shampooed, dressed and ready to go at ten past six.
The dance started at seven, and I still had to buy something to drink.
I got to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling in. There was an Off- Sales in Mount Florida, but my mother used to work there, and they knew how old I was. I would have to go to Victoria Road to get something. I let this bus pass and had to wait another minute or two for the other bus. I got off near Allison St. and had a choice of two places. There was a licensed grocer, or an Off-Sales. I opted for the latter. The pub was strict, but their Off-Sales was not. I walked toward the door.
“Excuse me! ‘ I looked around. An older girl, was trying to get my attention. She was dark haired and attractive. I smiled at her.
She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She had just got off the same bus as I had.
“Are you going to the Off-Sales? “ I nodded. Eleanor, that was her name, I remembered. She was in sixth year, and lived quite near me. She looked really nice, all done up.
“You’re Jim! Aren’t you? “ I nodded again. I couldn’t think of her last name.
“Eleanor, isn’t it? “
“Yes. “ she smiled “ Are you buying something for the dance? Would you mind getting something for me? “
“Sure! No Problem! What would you like? “
She opened her purse and handed me a pound note. “Could you get me a quarter bottle of Vodka? “
Her purse made a loud snap when she closed it.
“Good choice “ I said, “Same as I’m getting “
I took the money and turned to go into the Off- Sales. “I wouldn’t go there! “She said, pointing to the sign above the door that said no one under twenty one would be served.
“Oh! That’s just to scare off people like me! “ I smiled and went inside. One minute later I reappeared with her change. “I’ll hold on to the bottle until we get to the bus shelter “ I said, not wanting to hand it over in plain view.
“Bus shelter ? “ She said, “But we should go that way! ‘ She pointed around the corner.
That would mean taking the bus through a really nasty neighbourhood. A lot of gang members used this bus route, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do that.
She saw the look on my face. “I know! “ she said and smiled “ You’re nervous about going that way, but think about it. We are going in the other direction than they would be going, and if you’re sitting with me, they don’t ever seem to pick on couples “ She smiled. “Trust me! It’ll be fine “
She was right, I thought, and I couldn’t resist the chance to show up at the dance with a sixth year girl, and a very good looking one, at that .
I led the way. She was easy to talk to and we had fun on the way there.
We got there just a few minutes after seven, still early yet.
I said, “Let’s go in together, go out the back, then go back in again! That way I can give everyone the chance to be jealous! “
“What a nice thing to say!” She smiled.” Tell you what! Let’s stop and have a drink before we go in, and if you like, I’ll come out later and have a drink with you again. “
“You’d do that! “ I was pleased. “Yeah! I’d really like that! “ I said.
I think she liked the fact that I was not trying to seem too cool about any of this.
We walked over to a tree, near the shops, and had a sip of Vodka and a smoke.
She seemed like she was enjoying this as much as I was.
“Someone on my bus has a big crush on you! ‘ She said, “and I’m starting to see why!”
“Good thing it’s dark “ I said “That way you can’t see me blushing “ Has to be Audrey, I thought, she has a crush on everybody.
‘Give me your bottle, before we go in. They might pat you down, but they won’t look in my purse. “
“Bottles. “ I said.
“Bottles ? “ She asked.
“Yeah, well, Last year I bought a quarter bottle, and everyone wanted some. I only had about two swigs. So this year I bought two quarter bottles. “ I shrugged.
“You aren’t going to drink them both? “
It sounded like a rebuke.
“Nah! I’ll probably sell the other one. “
Eleanor spotted two sixth year boys heading in, and called them over.
“Duncan, Al, this is my good friend Jim. “
“Pleased to meet you! “ I said , and offered my hand. We shook hands, then Duncan offered up some smokes.
“Al asked if anyone had a drink. Before I could offer, Eleanor said “ Jim has an extra quarter bottle of Vodka he can sell you if you want. “
“You will! ‘ Al sounded pleased.
He jammed his cigarette in his mouth and searched for his money. He couldn’t believe I didn’t want to make a profit on the deal. “Thanks! When we get inside, stick with us and we’ll take you into the sixth year common room.We can smoke in there, nobody minds. “
This was great, I thought , I haven’t even made it to the dance yet, and I’m having a great time.
When we did go in, Eleanor packed the bottles away in her purse.
Mr. Watt and Mr. Townes were at the door. I saw Mr. Townes checking out the boys jackets. He would have noticed the bottle had I still been carrying it. Good for Eleanor! I offered to check Eleanor’s coat. They had a classroom set up for that. Hangers with two numbered tags. Take one with you and leave the other one on the hanger. I hung up her coat and returned with the tag.
When I had taken her coat, I had been standing behind her. Now When I returned,I got the full show. She was wearing a short black mini-dress with sequins. There was a diamond shaped cut- out at the bust line which showed off some cleavage. She was hot looking.
With the better light, I got a better look at her features. She was attractive, when I had seen her before, but she was so much better with makeup. It wasn’t a lot of make up, but it really made a difference.
As we walked into the auditorium, she slipped her arm in mine. It took me a second to realize what she was doing.
We walked right across the dance floor, and back to the far end of the auditorium.
“How was that! ‘ She asked.
I didn’t answer, just gave her a huge goofy smile.
The dance floor was almost empty, and the room was barely a quarter full.
It was still very early, but a lot of people were starting to file in.
Eleanor looked around too, and said “You’re big crush isn’t here yet, we’ll have to make her jealous later. “
Again, it took me a second too catch up. Oh Right , I thought, Audrey.
I looked around again. No Audrey, no Lesley, no Margaret!
Margaret! I thought, and started to get nervous.
Al interrupted my chain of thought. “Take a look at Miss Gibson! “ We all looked.
I didn’t recognize her. “ Red dress. “ said Al.
Gone was the bulky Arran sweater and knee length tweed skirt.
She was wearing a tight red mini dress, her hair was down, and she was smiling.
It was like two different people. School Ma’am, to movie star.
“Go ask her to dance “ Duncan asked Al . ‘Like Hell! You ask her! “
I was enjoying this. They were no more mature than I was.
The auditorium was starting to fill up. I had a dance with Eleanor, then I went to get us some punch. There were no chairs set up, but there were tables. I got my bottle back from Eleanor to spike the punch. Eleanor offered to do it for me.
She was smaller, and it was easier to shield her from view while she poured.
Duncan and Al got her to do the same for them, Then, Al offered to take me to the sixth year common room.
We went up the four steps to the cafeteria, past the line up for punch, down four stairs past a locked outside door, then down another flight of stairs to the common room.
After all that, the door was locked, but there was enough room outside the door to have a smoke and not be seen.
I offered up my pack of cigarettes and we had a quick smoke before we went back.
The dance floor was now a lot busier, and he place was almost full. Eleanor was dancing and we boys split up to check out the talent.
I spotted Margaret. She was wearing a green mini dress, semi low cut, so it showed just a hint of cleavage.
I walked over and caught her eye. “Margaret! you look great! “ I beamed at her.
“Thank you!” She smiled.”You look good too. “ she answered.
“Dance? “ I asked.
Margaret nodded then looked around. I led her on to the dance floor. I hadn’t even waited for the right kind of song. This wasn’t a slow song, but it wasn’t a fast song either.
We ended up doing a Jazzy kind of waltz. It was wonderful, just having her body next to mine. When the music ended I walked her back to the others, still holding her hand until we were off the dance floor, and I could swear I felt her pulse racing too. I nodded and smiled at Danny and Alice and tried to hold a conversation with Margaret. The room was noisy now and we had to lean into each other to hear. I didn’t care what we talked about as long as I got to be this close to her.
Her eyes were so big, and she smelled wonderful. Her hair kept brushing against my face when she leaned in to hear . I wanted to grab her and kiss her and run my hands through her hair. My breathing was getting heavier, and she was smiling at me.
I had to get control of himself. I had to do something !
I grabbed her arm. A slow song was starting. “ Dance? “ I asked, but didn’t wait for an answer. I started to pull her onto the dance floor.
“ No! ‘ She said, pulling back.
What’s happening, I thought. I stopped. “We can’t! “ she said loudly enough for me to hear. Her eyes were darting all over the place and she looked upset.
Oh God! I thought, I got it all wrong again. My head was spinning.
Margaret looked at me. “My boyfriend is having me watched! “ I was listening now.
“I have to be careful. “ She said. “ Go back to where you were , and I’ll find you later ! I Promise! I won’t leave until I do! “
God! I thought. This is all so confusing.
Margaret gave me a reassuring smile and sent me on my way.
Spending time with someone at school was very different from spending time with them at a dance, even if it was a school dance.
At school, we were part of the same circle, but this was a different situation with different rules.
I started to walk back to where I had been, but changed my mind and headed for the common room.
Why did she say ’boyfriend’ like that? She said it like it was in quotation marks. Maybe he wasn’t really her boyfriend. Maybe it was over between them. Maybe she wanted it to be over. I didn’t know. I felt stupid, I had no idea what was going on. My head was spinning, and my heart was pounding. I needed to calm down. I needed to think.
There was nobody at the entrance to the common room. I lit a smoke and slid down the wall into a sitting position. I thought about having a drink, but Eleanor still had the bottle. It would have calmed me down though.
I let myself slow down.
If she was worried about what her boyfriend would hear about, then that meant that there was something to hear about, that he wouldn’t want to hear. That was good for me.
She had promised to find me later, which meant that she would dance with me, and just maybe, I’d get the chance to kiss her, do a little necking with her. And that was good. That was very good.
I was starting to feel a lot better about things.
I heard someone coming so I put out the cigarette and rose to my feet.
Duncan appeared first, then Eleanor popped her head round. “Look who I found! “
Lesley Andrews walked into view. I gave her a huge smile.
Her hair was shining, and I already knew how much I liked the new hairdo.
She was wearing some kind of Chinese silk Mini dress. High cut, but form fitting and very flattering. It looked like a very expensive dress. Her legs looked great, coming down the stairs, and her makeup made her look very sophisticated . She looked sensational.
“You look Beautiful ! “
The words escaped my mouth, before I had time to think about them.
I said it in a reverent hush. It wasn’t a compliment, it was a statement of fact.
Lesley started to blush, but continued down the stairs to join me for a smoke.
I was embarrassed too. I hadn’t meant to say that, but now that it was said, I wasn’t going to take it back. I had meant it. It was true. She was beautiful and it felt wonderful, it felt freeing, to say it out loud
“Did you do something else with your hair ? “ I asked.
“Just hairspray. “ she said. “ Well it looks just great! “ I gushed.
Lesley was starting to look even more embarrassed, but I wasn’t finished.
I had a couple of Vodkas under my belt now. I wasn’t drunk but I was a little less inhibited.
“You could be anywhere tonight. London, Paris New York, and it wouldn’t matter, you would be the belle of the ball no matter where you were. You look Wonderful!
Lesley was turning red, so I tried to make her laugh.
‘Now, are those your legs or are you just trying them on for the night “
Lesley let out a nervous laugh. “I had to find a pair the right length for the dress. “ she joked. “ Good choice, perfect length, real shapely too ! “ I said appraisingly.
There was enough room in the alcove that we could almost have our own conversation away from the others, but Eleanor interrupted us, and kicked the boys out.
“GET OUT ! We girls are wearing out war paint, and we need to make war plans ! So you guys can get out. NOW! “
I started up the stairs and got whacked in the bum by Eleanor, to speed me up. “I’m going, I’m going “ I said. Everyone is in a hurry ,I thought. Things just seem to be going too fast for me, and it always feels like I just missed the bus.
When did everything change, I wondered.
There was no line up for punch so I grabbed some on the way past. My mouth felt so dry. When I got back to my spot, Duncan and Al were trying to figure a way to open the common room. Al said that if he went down behind the stage, he could open the door from the inside. Duncan went to keep a lookout for teachers.
Davie Syme came over to join us.
“Have you seen Lesley? “ He asked “ She looks not too bad “ “High Fucking praise Davie. “ I was pissed off at him “She looks beautiful! “
Davie could be so annoying with that attitude of his.
“Yeah, well! “ Davie shrugged “Anyway, you two are friendly, help me talk to her “
“Talk to her yourself Davie, You’ve known her longer than I have “ I had no intention of helping him. Lesley was much too good for him, and she didn’t much care for him anyway.
“Yeah, but……. “
Davie trailed off just as I caught Margaret’s eye. She was mouthing something at me, but there was no way I could make it out. She pointed to the dance floor, but just then Chris Unsworth asked her to dance. Damn! I thought, but just as I was about to turn away, I saw Chris walk away, and Margaret was still there.
She pointed to a spot on the dance floor, and I rushed out to get there. There were no spotlights above us, and there were two columns behind us. It was as private a spot as there was on the dance floor. It was a slow song, and we started to dance. It wasn’t a dance hold, she was hugging me. We started to move our feet to the music, but we stayed in one spot. Donovan was playing over the sound system. “Catch the Wind “
And this was the moment. I leaned back, then she did too. We leaned in to kiss.
Our lips met, then our teeth. Oh God! I thought, she is a terrible kisser. It was physical, but there was no sensuality. Her tongue was in my mouth, but our teeth were still scraping. I wanted to back off, just a little, but was scared to, in case she got the wrong impression. I slid my hand down her back, and pulled her closer to me. Now she was pushing herself against me. Her crotch was pushing against my thigh, her breasts against my chest and my erection was pushing against her abdomen. It felt glorious, and I had no sooner formed that thought when she stopped and pulled away.
What was wrong, I thought, what had I done now? My mind was racing to catch up again.
The music had stopped. The song was over. But I stood there with my mouth still open. Margaret leaned back in, and gave me a last little peck on the lips, then smiled.
“I have to go now! ‘ She gave my hand a squeeze, and then she turned and left.
I was still standing there when the next song started, and I saw Frankie Wallpaper
give me a strange look , before I managed to get my legs moving again.
I walked in a little circle, trying to decide where to go next. I decided to go to the washroom.
I checked myself in the mirror, I looked normal enough. I locked myself into a stall and checked my underwear. There was a small damp spot, but my trousers were fine. I took a minute to regroup. My mind was still racing and so was my heartbeat, I tried to slow myself down.
I took a few deep breaths before I ventured back out.
Eleanor and Lesley were back now. Davie Syme had cornered Lesley, so I thought I better rescue her. I asked her to dance. It was a crappy song, but it got her away from Davie. The next song was a ladies choice, and Lesley kept me on the dance floor.
It felt so nice to be next to Lesley and moving to the music. I felt comfortable and relaxed with her. Davie Syme got up the nerve to ask her for the next dance, so when Eleanor asked me to go get punch for her and Lesley, I was glad to do it.
I was waiting with the punch when she and Davie came off the dance floor.
“Thank you, that was thoughtful of you! “Lesley smiled at me. Davie looked pissed off.
“For you, anything! ‘ I smiled and bowed.
“Why thank you kind sir . “ she was laughing now.
We finished the punch then decided to go out for another smoke.
Davie tagged along. This time the common room was open so we could sit down and relax a little.
“I was telling Lesley how beautiful she looks tonight, Don’t you think, Davie ? “
It was amazing how easy it was to say that word now.
Davie looked at the floor and muttered something inaudible. I made a face at him and Lesley tried hard not to break into laughter.
Eleanor asked Davie to help Duncan get some punch for the Vodka. He made it obvious that he wasn’t happy about it , but he went anyway.
“What’s his problem? ‘ Eleanor asked.
“Where do you want me to start! “I said
‘What’s with him tonight? “ Lesley asked
“Oh That! He is trying to dazzle you with his charm and wit, and get off with you “ “Him? “ Lesley looked incredulous.
When Lesley had gone through her “awkward “ stage, where I had always tried to be nice to her and gone out of my way to make her feel good, Davie had never missed a chance to sneer at her. So the thought that he was now interested in her, just didn’t make sense to her. She shook her head.
“Well I am Beautiful! ‘ she put her hand behind her head to strike a model pose, then laughed.
“God! Can’t we get rid of him! “
“I’m looking at your dress, and I don’t think you are carrying a concealed weapon “
Lesley knew the response. “Isn’t that…. “
“Nah, I’m just happy to see you “ This time Eleanor pushed me.
The guys came back with the punch, and I supplied the Vodka. By the time I got to Davie, there wasn’t much left. Davie looked suitably pissed off.
We went back upstairs, and Lesley danced with Duncan, then Al ,and then me again before Davie got another dance, a fast one. When they announced the last dance, Davie asked again, but Lesley told him she had promised it to me. Luckily, I was right there.
‘I’ve really enjoyed this “ Lesley said. “Yeah, it’s been quite the night. “ I answered . Lesley looked at Davie doing a slow burn, and agreed.
“We are going to be stuck with him on the way home, aren’t we “ She complained.
“We’ll walk past his house and give him the heave “ I said.
I went to get her coat and Davie followed.
“Sorry Davie, she asked me days ago to walk her home, so unless she asks me not to, I’m going to walk her home “
“She’s not your girlfriend, so why should you care! “ Davie was not happy, but I just shrugged.
“How would you like me to tell people what you were doing with Margaret Hay on the dance floor? “
I whirled around angrily and poked my finger in front of Davie’s face. “Don’t you fucking dare! “
‘Or What? “ Davie knew he had me.
If it was just about me, I wouldn’t have cared, but I didn’t want to cause any trouble
for Margaret. And even though Lesley and I were just friends, I didn’t want her to feel like I would rather be with someone else. You don’t tell a girl that she’s beautiful, then let her find out you would rather be somewhere else.
Lesley was no one’s second best.
“You just leave when we get to your place!” Davie hissed.
Ah well, at least I didn’t promise to make it easy for him, I thought.
Why hadn’t Audrey and Moira come tonight, it would have made life so much easier.
I was quiet, in fact we all were, while they walked through the rough area, but as soon as we were clear, I started to get playful. I started dancing on garden walls. Lesley was enjoying it, but Davie kept telling me to grow up. I started spinning around lampposts, doing my best Gene Kelly impersonation. I pretended the spinning was making me dizzy, so Lesley put her arm around me to help steady me. There was not a thing Davie could do about it, I thought.
Davie was doing another slow burn. He managed to get me alone for a second and hissed. “Either you stop, or I start talking “
I realized that I didn’t dare call Davie’s bluff.
Davie had nothing to lose. I knew that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and that Lesley might just shrug it off, but there was more than that.
It mattered. I hadn’t left home with the intention of telling anyone, they were beautiful.
Those weren’t words that rolled off my tongue.
Lesley probably didn’t even believe it, but I did. She was beautiful, and I didn’t want anything to cheapen what I had said to her.
I reined in my antics, and when we reached Davie’s house, I said nothing.
Lesley gave me a look, but I shrugged, as if to say, that there was nothing I could do about it. All three of us continued around the bend to my place. Lesley kept giving me looks, and I kept looking away.
When we reached my close, I said goodnight, and started to bolt for the stairs.
Lesley told me to wait. She turned to Davie, and told him to give us a minute.
She stared at him until he backed off, then entered the close mouth behind me.
“I know you are not drunk. I know that you are not yourself, and I know that you’re upset! “I tried to wave it off, but Lesley wasn’t buying it.
“Is it your mother? “ My face instantly gave me away
“I heard what that woman said in the Chemist’s! “ Her voice softened.
“Why didn’t you talk to me, you know me better than that “
I tried to say something, but couldn’t.
“Have you talked to anyone? “
I stuttered and stammered, then just shook my head. “It’s hard to talk about. “ I looked her in the eye, then looked away. “I don’t even know if I could start “ I was looking down at the ground, so Lesley reached out, moved my hair off my face, then lifted my chin with her finger to force me to look her in the eye
“Well, I’m going to talk to you tomorrow! I’ll meet you for coffee at Eleven o’clock. And if you can’t talk about it, you can spend an hour telling me that I’m beautiful!”
She was using the same trick on me, that I use on her.
She poked me in the chest. “Tomorrow! “ Lesley gave me a little smile, turned on her heel, and Davie had to run to catch her when she left the close.
I found out later that they hadn’t gone fifty yards, when Lesley spotted her father taking Seamus for a walk, and heading right for them.
“Hi, Daddy! “ She smiled as she took his arm
“Good time? “ Her father asked.
“Very good time! “ she answered. They turned and walked toward home.
“Someone told me I was beautiful! “
“That boy who just left ? “ He asked.
“God, No! Daddy “ She tugged his arm.
“Someone I like!”
They were having a father daughter moment, and they enjoyed the slow walk home.