Wennington School, Wetherby, Yorks. Christmas Dance
Thin snow floats in the honeyed light from the Ballroom window. A vixen shrieks from within the spinney across the field. It speaks of knives and violence. Shivering, I step away from the long window and peer into the night. This is for now my soundtrack rather than the dull pulse of Roy Orbison’s Running Scared that has the Christmas Party couples on the crowded floor sliding into each other’s arms for a slow dance. Teachers move swiftly through the lolling throng, some humorous, some affronted as they prise the couples apart. There, at the epicentre, Kingman and her, slung together like drowning creatures. He has his face buried in her dirty-blonde hair; she’s smiling, eyes closed. Such pain, this time in the throat. Because that’s where (as I read once and cherished) the tears are brewed.
And it was me who set it up. I carried the note she wrote in Assignment Time – a stubby pencil gripped tight; she let you watch her trail the looping letters across the lined paper. ‘…I just want to know where I stand cos I really like you and I know you thought I did but not in that way…’ Secretly I despise the barren language, the tiny hearts dotting each ‘i’, the doe-eyed cartoon princess faces in the margin and the fact that he’ll read only romance into it. She asks me does it sound right and I say yes, yes, it does. Will you wait, she wants to know, while he reads it and then will you bring the reply and leave it on the Girls’ Landing just before lights out, under the mop bucket by the banisters? Yes, I will, of course I will. She touches my hand with her fingertips and tilts her head in that way she has. Momentarily appalled, I wonder if she has any sense of how I feel. No, surely not. She likes me but not in that way. It’s like I’m her brother. She only has sisters; she’s so glad she’s got a brother now who she can talk to. Catlike, she stretches her legs out under the table and pulls her skirt up to her thighs. Her legs are bare and downy; she wears white ankle socks. A shudder goes through her and I know she’s thinking of him. She glances at me sideways and smiles thinly.
I try to tough it out in the Ballroom. I sit with Gerry and watch the Sixth Formers jiving. He reckons that Dalia isn’t wearing any knickers and every time she spins away from Paddy Brassington and her skirt whirls up around her waist, Gerry ducks down like he‘s tying his shoe. But I can’t concentrate, either on Dalia’s state of possible undress or the music. (Diddy Bell is spinning the discs and he slips in some raw rock’n’roll – Gene Vincent singing Who Slapped John?) Because suddenly they’re not in the Ballroom. Everyone else is there – all of the 4th and 5th Form, and Roger was taking a register. But I know where they are because Kingman told me last night after lights out. The five of us lay in our beds letting the day fall away. Gerry was under the bedclothes trying to tune into Radio Luxembourg. Remus and Eddie were lying across their beds, sharing the narrow light of a pencil torch. Remus was shuffling his stamps around while Eddie studied his football programmes. Kingman was on the top bunk; I was on the bottom. I knew he was lying on his back with his hands under his head. The bunk creaked as he stretched luxuriously. Yeah, he murmured. Ten minutes in the locker room just after the dance starts. We won’t be missed until Rog does the register and we’ll be in by then… We were still then, each one of us alone with his thoughts.
The snow thickens – big, flat, white shapes, yellowing in the window light. It begins to settle on the low stone wall at the edge of the terrace. I despise everything about Kingman. His cow-eyes. His weird, looping walk. The way he smokes a fag, with the tip pointed into his palm. His Adam Faith hairstyle. That he has kissed properly; that he has been kissed back and I haven’t. I shamble across the gravel and stretch out full length along the wall. Maybe the patina of snow shrouding me by the second and the cold damp seeping through my clothes will shrive me, make me whole again. My face crumples and tears start, refracting the filtered light, making of the world a dream place. I sigh in a luxury of pain: I’m utterly alone and yet I’m on a stage, both actor and audience. Let them find me here tomorrow in my white winding sheet…