Love secrets of don juan, p.3
Love Secrets of Don Juan, p.3Tim Lott
I am wearing shorts and a thin sleeveless vest, since I have just finished a games lesson. Sharon and Sally are dressed in school uniform, maroon and black. Sharon’s blouse is customized, tucked in at the waist to emphasize her developing breasts, skirt hitched several inches above the permitted length.
I blush, look at the floor. This is bad. Can’t escape. Stand my ground. No choice.
Do you know one thing about you, Danny?
You’ve got very nice legs. They’re very shapely. Aren’t they, Sharon?
Silence. I remember there was no giggling, which was unusual because, in those days, teenage girls seemed to spend the time that I spent masturbating giggling. (Did girls masturbate at that age? The idea didn’t enter my imagination at the time. They certainly giggled. Almost constantly. But not on this occasion.)
Sharon’s having a party next week, Danny.
Are you, Sharon?
Yes, she is, says Sally. It’s her fourteenth birthday.
Yes, says Sally. Sharon is thinking of inviting you.
And then… I don’t know what came over me. I was quite a shy boy and certainly nervous in the presence of girls when I had no other boys to back me up and form an emotional phalanx. I was feeling intimidated and embarrassed. But it was irritating me that Sally kept speaking to me on Sharon’s behalf. Also, I suspected I was being teased and that Sharon had no intention whatsoever of inviting me but was just indulging in a bit of casual break-time humiliation. I suddenly felt I’d had enough of it.
Well, Sharon had better get on with it, then, I blurted out. I’m getting fed up with talking to her pet parrot.
Sally immediately looked offended, but I was surprised when Sharon let out a short but very juicy laugh. Sally, whose face had soured into petulance, opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Sharon did. I don’t remember what her voice sounded like, only that it was quite soft and at odds with her rather rambunctious appearance.
Will you come to my party, Danny?
I replied, with all the indifference I could muster, All right. Then I shot a glance at the sour, furious face of Sally Shaw, turned, and walked out of the door.
Two days after my encounter with the SS, I opened my school desk and there was an envelope in it. At first I thought it was a detention slip, since that was the only form of correspondence I ever received within, or for that matter without, the school walls. But the fact that the envelope was pink and that there was a purple butterfly embossed on the flap militated against this initial interpretation. Inside there was a rectangular piece of card, a shop-bought invite decorated with balloons. The inscription within confirmed that I was invited to Sharon’s Party, at 4.00 p.m. on 15 April.
Four p.m. may seem, to an adult, a strange time for a party, but at thirteen years old we were all caught in a strange gloaming between childhood and adolescence. Between the light and shade of the passing and the approaching condition we reeled, unsteady, among the moving shadows. Sometimes Sharon Smith was sexual, adult, knowing, predatory. Sometimes she was just a kid, a precocious little girl. Hence the party being at 4 p.m. – after school, parents in attendance, fairy cakes and Pass the Parcel. Or so I imagined.
As it turned out, the parents weren’t in attendance. Sharon Smith was unusual in being so manifestly sexualized at such an early age, but it wasn’t the only unusual thing about her. Although to all intents and purposes she was a skin girl, her parents were hippies, or at least what I thought of as hippies. This meant little more than that her father wore jeans instead of proper trousers, and that her mother wore smocks and read hardback books – books that were bought, not borrowed from the library. But in the world of school, where the moment that a fact emerges it is taken and immediately twisted into myth – to render an incomprehensible world manageable – Sharon Smith’s family and Sharon Smith were respectively a crazy chick, a groovy guy and a spaced-out bovver girl. In the duller, empirical world, Mr Smith was a social worker and Mrs Smith was a nursery-school teacher.
This much of the myth was true about the Smiths, though: they were liberal. They believed in letting their daughter find out about life in her own way. She was told she could smoke if she wished. She chose not to. She was told she could wear her skirt short and dress like a skinhead if she wished. That option she took. She was told she could drink wine. She tried it once, and it made her sick, so she never touched it again. Their liberalism, on the whole, worked. And on this occasion it was in evidence again. Mr and Mrs Smith had gone out and left the house to Sharon and her friends.
The moment I arrived, I realized that Sharon had a lot of friends, and most were female and several seemed to share something of her sexual precocity. I could see that Bridie McCoughlan was there, with her famously premature breasts separated by a silver crucifix and inadequately concealed beneath an oversized patchwork jacket with yoke collar. Selina Danby, two years older, was there, demure but with gorgeous bee-stung lips and a seductive velvet choker. There was another girl, in a pink dress, small, sharp-eyed, compact, watching everything. I didn’t recognize her, but she glanced in my direction and I got the strange feeling that she recognized me. I avoided her gaze – too direct, too knowing, and yet somehow, I vaguely sensed, benevolent.
I stood there just inside the doorway with a present for Sharon. I felt nervous. I understood that this giving of a gift was a very tricky call. What was she going to be that day? Kid or adult? Should I give her a rubber ducky or a dildo? I didn’t phrase the question in that fashion, but it was the conundrum at the heart of my anxieties. Get the present right, and who knew what would follow? Get the present wrong, ditto.
I got it right. I had seen the gift when I was walking in a shopping arcade in Hanwell town centre, a few streets from where I lived. It was a slightly more sophisticated version of a plastic gift that had been recently given away in a girls’ comic – a small, gold-coloured hinged heart, which you could wear either open or closed. If it was open, it gave the appearance of being broken – and this signified that you were available. If it was closed, you were ‘going steady’. It was a brilliantly economical and public statement of your romantic status. Girls loved them. Half the girls in the school wore one. But they were all plastic, all free gifts. This one wasn’t real gold, but it was one up on plastic. Also it was very cheap. Five shillings, as I recall. I worried a bit that she would take it as a love token from me to her, but I guessed that the little-girl part of her would simply see it as an amusing and desirable toy.
So it proved. When she opened it, she squealed with delight, threw her arms around me, and kissed my cheek. I felt her breasts press against my chest. I felt the warm breeze of her breath against my carefully scrubbed neck. I had never been so close to a female contemporary before, and certainly not one wearing a skirt even more abbreviated than the one she customarily wore to school.
There were about thirty people at the party, which was taking place in a small, detached suburban house about half a mile from the school, overlooking a local recreation ground. Clearly I wasn’t the only boy who had received a pink envelope with a purple butterfly on the flap. There were four from my class, none of them close friends of mine. Two, Len and Kim, were tough, mean-looking, dimwitted but, so far as I had made out from school, more or less harmless unless you were natural bully fodder, one of those kids whose hangdog body language and broken demeanour acts as bait to the predators of the schoolyard. Len claimed to have had sex with a girl from the local supermarket on several occasions, and Kim was reputed to believe him. It was probably this on which their friendship was based.
Keith Lonigan was there; he was someone I did speak to now and then. He was pleasant and good-looking but rather dull, and obsessed with football. Having exhausted all the
Music divided much more along gender lines then. Girls didn’t like what boys thought of as real music. Girls liked pop – all those manufactured goons who prompted them to wet themselves and wave lamé scarves. Boys liked either football or music, and their taste in music could be relatively sophisticated. I was into the Stooges, Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly – a wide variety of weird and exotic American underground bands. Damien was more British-oriented -Groundhogs, Man, King Crimson and so forth – but there was enough common ground for meaningful discourse.
Him: You heard the new ‘Hogs album?
Me: No. Any good?
Him: It’s all right. Not as good as the last one.
Silence while two chocolate éclairs are thoughtfully eviscerated of whipped cream.
Me: I got a Stooges’ import last week.
Him: Yeh? What’s it like?
Me: It’s good. Not as good as the first one.
Silence. The rumps of the éclairs are masticated.
And so on, until finally I noticed that the girl in pink was watching me. When I looked back, she held my gaze, so I dropped my eyes, then looked back to Damien for salvation. He was gone. I was alone, and the girl in pink was heading towards me. She was holding a Donald Duck beaker with clear liquid in it – lemonade, I presumed. Her features seemed to come into focus as she moved closer. I could see the intelligence there, and a directness that unnerved me. I shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, and looked away until her direct proximity made it impossible for me to look away any longer.
Don’t you recognize me? she said. She was close enough now for me to smell what I took to be the residue of some sort of soap on her – something citric, lemon or lime. Her voice was pitched low, confident, but with a shadow of vulnerability somehow. She took a swig of her lemonade.
Should I? I said, my embarrassment making me rather more abrupt than I had intended.
The swimming club, she said. I’m the belly-flopper.
The belly-flopper? I stared at her now, desperate to contextualize her. She was pretty, I suddenly realized, in a highly accidental, unpremeditated fashion. Her Marmite-coloured hair was cut wrong, her makeup was inexpertly applied, and there were the remnants of a fish-paste roll around her rather pale, delicate lips. But her features were symmetrical, small, finely turned, what my mother might have characterized as ‘perky’, what my older self might have referred to as ‘gamine’. There was something I liked about her immediately, which made me more, rather than less, tense. Then, while I was still in the process of chewing, I let out a honk of laughter, which sprayed a fine film of eclair crumbs on to the upper left-hand side of her dress. The belly-flopper!
I remembered now. On Saturday mornings, I attended a swimming club for an hour at the local pool. A couple of weeks ago, the lesson had been diving, and there was this girl who had just not been able to get the knack of it. Every time she got up on to the board, her face took on an expression of concentration and determination. She curved her body, bent her legs, delicately pointed her arms into an arrow. Then – flop. She would come off the board completely flat, and hit the surface of the water like a paving stone, creating a tsunami that travelled to the shallow end. All the other members of the club were convulsed with laughter, including me – all the more so because she would not give up. Time and again she climbed back on to the board, time and again she came down in the same ungainly, hopeless fashion, and time and again she had to face a wailing wall of unfriendly laughter. But she kept at it, with no appreciable success, until we all grew bored with laughing and ignored her. Among the other members of the swimming club she had come to be known, after this, as the belly-flopper, a name she seemed to accept with a shrug of equanimity.
This girl in the pink dress standing in front of me, looking quizzical, concerned and pin-sharp, was her. The belly-flopper. I became aware that her eyes were searching my face for signs of malice, even as she tried to brush away the crumbs I had sprayed over her dress with a small, olive-skinned hand. But I felt only genuine amusement and surprise.
I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to…
You didn’t mean to laugh? Or you didn’t mean to flob all over me?
Well. Both. I suppose.
She pushed her right hand through her hacked-about hair, which had fallen into her eyes, as if trying to see more clearly through the uneven fringe. Then, to my surprise, she let the hand fall, but instead of allowing it to drop to her side, held out the palm to me. Realizing that she expected me to shake it, my eyes darted around the room and I hoped that no one was watching. The gesture seemed ridiculous, but her face was completely serious. I grabbed the delicate fingers, feeling their surprising warmth, then tried to let go as promptly as I could. But she held on. I tugged – in vain. She was inverting my palm. Inspecting it closely.
You’ve got a very long life line.
Your love line is very faint. It’s very crooked, too. Doesn’t look good.
Can I have my hand back?
It’s a very turbulent palm.
I pulled away my hand impatiently. That I was being flirted with never occurred to me. I just thought the girl in the pink dress was being weird. She seemed unfazed by my summary withdrawal, smiling and giving the faintest suggestion of a shrug. She took another swig from her glass. My throat suddenly felt dry.
Can I have some of that lemonade?
She raised an eyebrow. It’s not lemonade.
Cream soda. Whatever. I’m parched.
Try a drop. She held out the drink towards my face.
Smelling the alcohol, I turned away. No, thanks. I just wanted some lemonade.
You haven’t asked me my real name.
It’s Carol. Carol Moon.
It wouldn’t be true to say that my social skills had deserted me, because I had never, at the age of thirteen, possessed any. But I had reached the age where I recognized their necessity. Before, as a child, I could be more or less exactly who I was without any need to modulate my behaviour and yet be accepted. I was new to this making-conversation thing, and found it a struggle. The thumbscrew of the silence that followed nevertheless propelled me into a half-hearted attempt at small-talk.
The belly-flopper, eh?
Did you ever get the hang of it?
Not really. No.
It’s quite tricky, isn’t it?
Not really. I just haven’t got the knack. I’m a bit gawky.
I suppose if you keep trying, sooner or later… and all that.
She waved her hand, clearly bored with this line of conversation. What’s your name, then?
Danny Savage. I’m in the same class as Sharon.
Danny Savage. I’ve heard all about you.
The way she said this made me blush. All the time she’d been talking to me, she’d barely taken her eyes off my face, which I found disconcerting.
Really? I said.
You’ve got very sexy legs, from what I’ve been told.
She began to laugh, a sweet, loud hee-hawing sound that, in its stridency, contrasted sharply with her low, conspiratorial voice. I didn’t know what to say.
Actually it’s true, she continued, when her raucous laugh had finally run out of steam. I’ve seen them at the pool. Quite well formed. Longer than you would expect.
Thank you, I said, staring at the floor.
You’re easily embarra
There you are. Blushing again. I like that.
Well, you wouldn’t like me going on about your legs, would you? I said, defiantly, risking a look at her still intent face, which remained wreathed in a sort of questing smile.
I don’t know. I don’t think I’d mind, she said, brightly, then looked around her as if suddenly tired of the conversation.
Who was that boy you were talking to before I came over?
Who? Damien Cooper?
I suppose so. The fat kid with the big nose.
Yes. It was Damien.
What were you talking about?
Again, I felt discomfited. This talk somehow didn’t seem small enough: there was a directness, a catch-all curiosity about Carol Moon that was unusual and required you somehow to think on your feet, as if behind the innocent question a more deadly one was lurking that would floor and expose you.
Oh, rock music, that sort of thing, I breathed, certain that such a thing would not interest a girl in the slightest.
Ooh, I love rock, Carol Moon gasped. Have you heard Big Brother and the Holding Company? You know, with Janis Joplin? It’s so – I don’t know. The atmosphere. That voice. Perfect. Fucking perfect.
I felt my blink rate increase as two extraordinary revelations presented themselves to me. That a girl would even have heard of Joplin, in Hanwell, in 1970, let alone love her, was staggering. And to follow that up with the F-word – at a time when girls still chose to sell themselves on niceness, on processed innocence! Suddenly I found the belly-flopper fascinating. But it was too late to do anything about it, because I felt a tug at my sleeve, and suddenly Carol Moon was erased from my mind: the sleeve-tugger was Sharon Smith.
Sorry to butt in. Nice dress, Carol. My mum’s got one just like it.
Carol’s face turned from curious to blithe, indifferent and weary. Thanks, Sharon. I’m flattered. Do you like the spit on the buttons? It’s Danny’s.
I blushed, but Sharon didn’t seem to be taking any notice of what Carol was saying. She was leading me away, even as she dismissed Carol lackadaisically out of the corner of her mouth: Mind if I borrow Danny for a moment? I want to show him something.
Love Secrets of Don Juan by Tim Lott / History & Fiction have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes