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       This Is All, p.1

           Aidan Chambers
This Is All



  About the Book

  Title Page


  Book One: The Red Pillow Box

  Book Two: The Green Pillow Box

  Book Three: The Orange Pillow Box

  Book Four: The Black Pillow Box

  Book Five: The Yellow Pillow Box

  Book Six: The Blue Pillow Box


  Also by Aidan Chambers


  About the Book

  All writing is a gift. All writing is memory.

  Cordelia is nineteen and pregnant with her baby daughter. She passionately needs to write and, choosing the old and famous Japanese pillow book as her model, she compiles the story of her teenage years.

  What emerges is an honest and challenging portrait of the unusual relationships within her family, of her love for William Blacklin, of her affair with an older married man, of her terrifying experience with a man who is obsessed with her, and of her friendship with her teacher, Julie. Her thoughts range widely: on poetry and breasts, periods and music, friendship and trees, consciousness and sleep, sex and laughter.

  A wonderfully evocative and gripping story of an extraordinary girl who in turn maddens and fascinates and finally seduces the reader.

  The final book in a sequence of six ground-breaking and provocative novels that explore different aspects of teenage love and self-discovery. This edition includes an Index and Afterword by the author.

  Not suitable for younger readers


  I am indebted to many women, young and old, for personal information during the writing of Cordelia’s story. Of a list of helpful books, The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon in the translation by Ivan Morris, published by Oxford University Press in l967, is primary; I must also mention the usefulness of a book on the biology of the female body, Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, published by Virago in 1999. Generous friends in Japan sent me appropriate translations of Japanese tanka and books relating to the Heian period of Sei Shōnagon. In particular, I could not have written this novel without the assistance of three people, my wife Nancy, my editor Delia Huddy, and my friend, the teacher and writer Anthea Church.



  The Red Pillow Box

  You …


  What silly phrases people use: in the club, up the duff, a bun in the oven.

  This one is better and is true: heavy with child.

  I swell with you. I hunger for you. I’m so besotted with you I want you out of me. I want to see you and hold you skin-to-skin right now.

  Like everything in life, there comes a time with pregnancy when enough is enough, even for a pupative mum. Well, it won’t be long now. A week. Perhaps less.

  I’m making this book for you while I wait for your appearance. I started putting it together as soon as I knew I had conceived you. I plan to give it to you on your sixteenth birthday. You see, a few weeks after you are born I’ll be twenty, and I’m sure those two events will bring my youth to an end, because after that I’ll be a mother and no longer an irresponsible adolescent. So this is a kind of portrait of myself as a teenager. I hope we will read it together when you are sixteen and I’m in my late thirties so that we can share the years of our youth, you in the flesh and me in written words, and find out how similar we are and how different.

  You move in me as I write this, and kick with pleasure like a penalising footballer, you brazen bambino.

  I know you’re a girl. I didn’t want to know, but a garrulous nurse blabbed the news after a scan. I wanted it to be a surprise at the moment of your entrance into the world – your coming out and your coming in. But I admit that I wanted you to be a girl. It being our time now.

  … Me and my window pain

  Before I go any further, I must tell you a secret and make a confession.

  The truth is, you were not my first ambition. A different mothering occupied me before you were planted inside me. And still does. Will you be jealous of your older sibling? Will you be rivalrous?

  Here is how this other seed was sown.

  Sitting in a bus with my best friend, Izumi Yoshida, on our way home late one night when I was about fifteen, I saw my face reflected in the dark window.

  Suddenly I thought, ‘This girl, this me, will be old one day, and will die. What will be left of her then?’

  I told Izumi. She said, ‘You’ll have children, won’t you?’

  That seemed to be enough for her.

  Her question startled me. Naturally, I’d thought of having children. But I knew already it would not be enough for me. The way I’d live on in a child wasn’t the way I wanted. Children have their father in them as well as their mother. Children aren’t their parents, they are themselves.

  If anything is to be left of me, I want it to be of me alone.

  As soon as I got home, I wrote a poem, the first of many. Not as a school exercise, not for a competition, and not because anyone asked me to, but because I had to. Writing it wasn’t an option, something I chose to do, but was a necessity. And when I’d written it I knew I’d found the answer to my question.

  face in the window

  reflecting on reflection

  window pain

  written on glass

  in memoriam

  At the time, I didn’t know whether my poems really were poems. I’ve always loved poetry so much that I didn’t dare claim the honour of the name poem for my scribblings. So I called them Cordelia’s Mopes. Perhaps I should have called them soupçons – a taste of the real thing I hoped to write one day. All I knew was that my mopes said what I needed to say in the way I needed to say it, and that my only ambition was to be a poet.

  These pages are also like my mopes. Some of them were written (like this page) while you were growing inside me, others come from what I call my ‘pillow book’ written in the years from the day I wrote my first mope until now. It doesn’t really matter when I wrote each one, only that I’ve put them together in an order that tells the story I want to give you. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, a veggie soup of a book, but it’s full of the best ingredients from my own organic garden.

  Of course, it’s not about everything that happened to me, because no story can contain everything. There’ll be plenty of time to tell you about other things while you’re growing up. And as all stories must begin at some time and with someone, I’ll begin mine with the day I chose William Blacklin.

  Will …

  Three months before my sixteenth birthday I selected William Blacklin as my first proper boyfriend, by which I mean my first boy for all-out, all-in-all, all-the-way sex.

  I chose him from the very few candidates I considered suitable and after many days of careful thought, detailed assessment of his qualifications, and enquiries into his personal habits so discreetly conducted that I’m sure I could get a job with the secret service if I ever wanted one, which I certainly do not. He was the only boy whose looks blushed my e-zones with the feather of desire and who also had the other necessary attributes, such as brains, balls without bullshit, and a sufficient grasp of at least a few of the basic social skills. Like, for example, knowing how to eat with his mouth closed, and how to hold a conversation with a girl for more than a minute without turning it into either a monologue about his wonderful self or an infantile-plus-obscene comedy show.

  And one more essential requirement. The word in the girls’ loo was that Will had already had a bedtime girlfriend or two, but was (a) very choosy, and (b) currently celibate. He was definitely not the sort who slept around.

  I wanted someone with enough experience to show me the way. (I hated the thought of not knowing what to do and how
and when to do it, and of not getting it right and making a fool of myself.) But I wasn’t looking for a lothario, nor a stud, nor a mere organ-grinder who only wanted to light his wick, dip his stick, pump his piston, pocket his truncheon, score a home run – boys have such delightfully subtle phrases for sexual intercourse.

  In sum: Will Blacklin turned me on, was acceptable in his personal habits, was reported to be basically knowledgeable in matters genital, was choosy of his partners and was currently solus. Goody! The field was clear, and Master Blacklin was a worthy candidate.

  But two questions puzzled me and prevented me from making up my mind: Could I win him for myself? And was he what I really wanted?


  Really wanted. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I really wanted was the experience of a grown-up man in the youthful beauty of a boy’s body. Now I know that’s what a lot of girls want. But it took me a year to find this out. I’ve always been a slow learner in some areas of my life. Mostly the areas known as myself. Or maybe I should say ‘selves’. Because the fact is, I’ve never, even as a child, felt that I’m only one self, only one person. I’ve always felt I’m quite a few more than one. For example, there’s my jokey self, there’s my morose and fed-up self, and there’s my lewd and disgusting self. There’s my clever-clogs self and my fading-violet-who-can’t-make-up-her-mind-about-anything self. There’s my untidy-clothes-everywhere-all-over-my-room self, and my manically tidy self when I want my room to be minimalist and Zen to the nth degree. There’s my confident, arrogant self and my polite and reasonable and good-listener self. There’s my self-righteous self and my wickedly bad self, my flaky self and my sentimental self. There are selfs I like and selfs I don’t like. There’s my little-girl self who likes to play silly games and there’s my old-woman self when I’m quite sure I’m about eighty and edging towards the geriatric. And especially there’s my Little C self and my Big C self, both of whom will make their entrance into my story soon.

  The self on show and in action at any moment depends on where I am, who I’m with, the circumstances of the situation, and my mood at the time.

  Are you the same, or is it only me who’s like this?

  My father has always known. ‘Which Cordelia should I talk to today?’ he used to ask when I was in one of my unfocused wobbly moods, not sure which self I was just then. And yet, whatever happens, whichever me is on show, deep inside, in the secret places of my being, I also always feel I am the same. Another secret: I have come to think of this essential, unchanging self as my soul.


  The thing that finally nudged me into moving on Will Blacklin after days of havering was an article in a magazine about teenage sex habits which reported that the latest market research conducted on behalf of some cosmetics firm or other had come up with the hilarious statistic that the average age when girls, as the article sweetly put it, ‘lost their virginity’ was sixteen years and three months. I took this earth-shattering news seriously. You can tell how naïve I was at the time. I mean, what do researchers know about such matters? The fact is, everybody lies about sex because everybody feels vulnerable about sex. It’s too private, too personal, too close to the nerves for telling to a professional nosy parker. Lying about it is the only thing you can do to protect yourself. Market research sucks, so sucks to market research.

  At the time, I was foolish enough to think such trivia mattered. The trouble is, it does when you’re fifteen. And this dubious dollop of data moved me to action because I was quite determined never ever to be average at anything, least of all sex. And my pride would not tolerate my being a virgin after the average age. Therefore, as I was still virgo intacta, the only thing I could think to do was organise my first fuck on my own terms, before the bulk of my contemporaries answered the call of Nature, gave in to peer-group teasing and ad-man pressure, and submitted to common-or-garden lust.

  I didn’t mind answering the call of Nature, how can you? In fact, I longed to answer it with a vigorous ‘Yes!’ I was looking forward to getting this seminal moment over and done with. But no chav-brained group of my girl peers and no lust-crazed member of my boy peers were going to decide where and with whom I entertained entrance of a rampant purple dragon through the intacta portals of my virgo.

  Rampant purple dragon. I checked the Net for all the names of the male member. Wouldn’t you guess! Men are so obsessed with their penis they have at least 365 names for it. One for every day of the year. Here are a few of my favourites, not including the more disgusting examples:

  Aaron’s Rod, Blind Bob, Captain Standish,

  Diplomat, Dribble Dart, Flip Flop,

  Giggle Stick, Holy Poker, Little Brother,

  Jack-in-the-Box, Merrymaker, Piccolo,

  Priapus, Red Cap, Ruffian, Third Leg,

  Thumb of Love, Schlong, Short Arm,

  Tailpipe, Unicorn, Wazoo, Yum Yum,

  Zinger, Zubrick, and (very appropriate for Will’s willy-whacker, as you’ll soon learn) Pink Oboe.

  And did you know that the word ‘pencil’ derives from the Latin word for ‘little penis’? Can’t help thinking of it every time I use one. A pencil, I mean.

  Not being as obsessed with our pudenda we can’t match the men for the number of words for the vagina, but here are some:

  The Vertical Smile (Spanish) and Yoni (Hindu) are my favourites.

  Then, apart from the ancient and offensive Cunt, which has its origins fifteen hundred years ago in Old English, and the nasty Twat, an insult devised in the eighteenth century, we can offer:

  Gates of Paradise, Bed of Heaven, Happyville, Love Lips, and such Americanisms (as we all know from The Vagina Monologues) as:

  Pandora’s Box, Power Bundle, Pussycat, Powderbox,

  Fannyboo, Tamale, Poopi, Nishi, Snorcher,

  Mongo, Monkey Box, Poonani, Deedee,

  Mushmellow, Goulie, Tottita, Mimi.

  To continue: Not being in love or fixed up with a regular boyfriend at the time, the only solution to my dilemma about selection of a sex-mate was to make a rational choice and arrange somehow for my deflowering to take place where and when and with whom I wanted it to. And as I say, William Blacklin was the only boy who came anywhere near to fulfilling my requirements. But I wanted to be sure he had no idea what I was up to until I was ready to unveil the plot. I was scared that if he found out too early he’d shy away or frustrate my plans.

  Because I had had only four boyfriends, none lasting more than eight weeks and none worthy of the gift of my virginity, my reputation among Will’s friends and playmates was that I was hard to get, snooty if not positively snotty, and therefore either frigid or lesbian. You will have noticed, I’m sure, my daughter, that this is how most teeny boys, not to mention legions of teeny men, generally comfort themselves when faced with a female who is picky about who she goes out with, is firm of will, won’t grant them their dickiest desires on demand, and – this above all – has the mental smarts to unwire their dinky brains. Not that I cared what they thought, not minding a jot about any of them. I thought of them as children with dirty fingernails.

  But I was worried that my reputation might put William off. My only hope was somehow to snare him before he realised what was happening. He was nearly two years older than me. That was important. (I actually wished he were even older.) The boys in my own year and even in the year above might as well still have been in primary school they were so childish.

  Will was in his last year of school, studying biology, chemistry and physics, the history of music and computer science. He was a good middle-distance runner but refused to take sport seriously, dismissing it as ‘the new opium of the people’. This endeared him to me as much as it disendeared him to the school’s sporty noggins.

  Of medium height, half a head taller than me, his body was lithe and long-limbed. I liked to watch it in motion. And – isn’t it strange what attracts you to other people? – Will’s hard-work sweat had a sweet-and-sour spring-air tang quite unlike the bouquet of oth
er men I’d ever sniffed at. It turned me on like no human smell I’d ever nosed. (I’d found this out from close-quarter research during sports afternoons.) I always attempted to stand down wind of him. Even when past its wash-by date, his BO still pleased. Of how many people’s perspiration, even including your own, can you say that?

  His hair, cut tantalisingly short, was jet black, his eyes dark hazel, his nose sharp, a bit beaky, and angled very slightly off centre to the left, his mouth medium-wide and full-lipped (I wanted to kiss it all the time), his hands long-fingered, slim, neat (I wanted to feel them all over me). He generally wore loose, out-of-mode clothes – he almost made a fetish of buying them from charity shops – with such comfortable lack of concern that he always looked more in-the-mode than anyone else. He was the sort who could have worn a tent and it would have looked like a Versace. I’m the sort who can make a Saint-Laurent look like a tent. (So why would he want me? I kept asking myself.)

  He also wore glasses, as did I. (If you need them, flaunt them. We both scorned contact lenses as deceitful and a nuisance.) At the time, his were down-market versions of sixties-style, round, gold-rimmed granny specs; mine were severe, narrow, oblong-shaped, with minimalist black astrometal frames just then coming into fashion. Not only did he wear his when running a race, I have sometimes known him to wear them during sex. Which gave his face a surprised-owl look as he stretched every muscle for the finishing line, his provocative sweat flying. When I asked him why he did this, he replied that he never wanted to miss anything, and especially liked close-ups, for both of which he needed his specs.

  He played the oboe; my delight was the piano. He was a member of the school orchestra; I kept my playing strictly secret, not wanting it to get mixed up with school stuff. He also had a band with some friends: lead guitar, bass guitar, drums, and Will on his oboe, which gave their music an airy unusual quality, and singing. He had a gravelly yet light voice that made the soles of my feet tingle.

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