Delicate Negatives, Pt. 2

The fact is, dear person, that I am an extremely interesting man, and I am going to tell you all about myself.

I’m sure, as such, that you are immediately intrigued about my early life, about what kind of background I come from, what my parents did or even whether I knew my parents at all. I am not going to tell you that. You can infer it from the narrative if you want – it is, after all, an extremely interesting one.

But where to begin… The saying is to begin at the beginning, but beginnings are not to be trusted because they’re always the end of something else. The real way to tell a story is to begin where the beginnings never stop, and the endings never come. So I suppose I can choose a very particular time of my life to start with – to be precise, age fifteen.

Though – in fact – now I wonder if I know how to tell this story. I’m a very intelligent person you see, and it occurs to me that there’s an infinity of ways to explain something. I could tell it like a tragedy, or a comedy, or a deeply romantic thriller, or a detective story, or a social commentary. Viewed from the right window, life can look like anything you want it to be. I’m dreadfully spoilt for choice over this, though, and I really don’t know how to proceed – unless, perhaps, I forget all pretence at presenting it as anything at all and just let it go. I don’t need to strain over trying to make it appear like something it might not be; a person only struggles over appearance if they do not like what lies underneath. So perhaps I will give in and let the story tell itself. Then you can decide what sort of story it is, and perhaps you can decide what sort of person I am.

Like all interesting young men, I fell in love when I was fifteen.

One morning in September I was walking to school as lonely as a cloud, as I normally did. I didn’t usually see anyone I could adequately describe as a friend until I was nearly there, and I didn’t see anyone at all until about ten minutes into my walk, and I didn’t actually have any friends – but today I noticed there was a herd of girls walking ahead of me. There were three of them, short-skirted, long-haired felines, and I’d never seen them before. I increased my speed until I was in watching distance of them.

There were two blondes and one brunette, walking side by side like a jazz trio in the uniform of my school, with their tights all perfect apart from the slightest ladder on the lower inside thigh of the blonde in the middle. A spot of full, asking white meat shone through it, and it immediately snagged my eye. I got sucked into that revealed piece of skin as if it was a kaleidoscope; it was the most attractive thing I had ever seen at 8.20 in the morning.

Using my vast intelligence, I surmised that they were new in the Sixth Form, which meant they were the year above me. How interesting! I proceeded to keep an average of forty paces behind them, training my swollen eyes on the marvel of their backs. Even school uniform, if worn by the right human, can be the most astonishing thing in the world; I felt as if I was looking at females for the first time. Their skirts flicked and bobbed with the bouncy rhythm of their heels and legs, like treats the devil has candied, and their hips tap-tapped left and right in 4/4, and their hair cascaded down like clouds descending mountains – they hadn’t put their hair up! I suddenly realised that girls at school normally put their hair up. They’d get told off for that. But I sincerely hoped they wouldn’t.

I followed them all the way to school with an intense interest, trying at every moment to fling my arms around a glimpse of their faces rather than just their backs (though I liked their backs too). Their conversation, I imagined, was about boys: discussing what boys they had met so far, who they found attractive, who they were competing with each other for, and I thought, ‘well, wait until they see me!’

As I analysed the swaying back and forth of their lower halves, I dreamt up a dream in which they first laid eyes on me. Allow me to describe it, for it is beautiful:

The three girls are walking together through town, chatting and giggling anxiously about boys, and in particular about what they’d like to do to them. One of them describes their ideal guy as having model-looks, an intellectual and sensitive mind, and being tough but caring at the same time. They all agree that this would be perfect but does not exist in the real world. They all laugh once more about a sex joke one of them made earlier, then part ways.

As one of them – the best looking – walks away, she turns her head to see an extremely good-looking boy, who is also me, reading a worn copy of a book (maybe a volume of poetry) outside a café. As if suddenly dazed, she gazes at his immediate magnificence. He’s wearing clothes that suit him perfectly: his white, buttoned shirt, made of fine, thick cotton, presses gently over a slim but muscular body that expresses itself most clearly around the pectorals, which round outward like two moons; untucked, the shirt hangs a precise distance down below the waist, just long enough to suggest that he is care-free but not so long that he looks shabby. His trousers are deep blue chinos, ever so slightly drawn up at the ankle to show white socks that fit into a pair of brown suede Nike trainers. The trainers are vital for suggesting that I am cool and fun, while their colour and texture suggest a maturity she won’t find in other boys her age. She continues to stare at him (me) as she taps past, for a perfect moment drawn into the idyll of his cheeks, the magnificent brush of his hair, the gorgeous mystery of what he might be. Reluctantly she pulls her gaze away, realising with a pleasant shock that she had quite lost herself.

She rounds a corner she believes to be a shortcut and heads down a dark, smoky alley. After ten yards, she begins to feel uncomfortable; she glances around nervously, thinking maybe there’s someone following her – the sound of glass smashing somewhere behind makes her jump – then all of a sudden she’s jumped on by a mugger!

They battle over her handbag for a minute, the poverty-deluded homeless man desperately trying to tear it away from her. Then all of a sudden there is a thumping sound and the man falls to the ground. ‘Get off her!’ booms a voice, and the mugger, scrambling to his feet like a scared dog, takes off into the street at the far end of the alley.

 The picture begins to fade as she turns and recognises the boy from the café (me) and is overwhelmed by his good looks, his heroic actions and his deep, melting voice…

Within ten minutes I was won by these women. They were formed and full, but slender and sleek all at once; they had headshake and hipswing and I liked all of it.

It was with some disappointment that we arrived at the school grounds, since I had been enjoying the view so much. The presence of other people disturbed the strange mindlessness that I had entered. I followed the girls as far as I could into school, interweaving with the threads of teenagers who criss-crossed this way and that about the place, distracted now by the knowledge that I was being looked at by other people. Even the most momentary of glances from another person fell on me as heavily as steel. I couldn’t stop my eyes from being pulled from side to side by the images of other humans, all of whom I believed were surveying the image of me. I think I started to sweat from the heat from their eyes.

I tried as hard as I could to keep my attention on the girls, hoping now for the briefest glimpse of their faces, working to at least see them in a way I would recognise later. I followed them across two of the yards that punctuated the layout of the school, avoiding the shouting actions of other pupils like the children they were, winding my vision round and round to watch the girls’ heels kick and snap on the ground – and then, as the crowd of youth swelled, they disappeared. I’d lost touch with them for the briefest moment, and instead of conferring their identity to me, they had vanished into the Sixth Form block – where I was not allowed.

I twisted my head round to peer into every window, clinging at the last to the possibility that I might now glimpse them, but – damned universe! – they were gone. For several minutes I stood gazing at the forlorn walls that had left me so powerless, refusing to accept that I had to be in a maths lesson in ten minutes with these women furnishing the lobby of my mind. Something stung uncomfortably in my veins about this.

Two upper sixth boys with chests beneath their shirts were glaring at me for being in the wrong part of school. I at last had to accept that I had lost, and walked back defeated, my sword lax in my scabbard, filled with the utmost determination to find out who they were. There was a boil of dread rising at the thought that I would go home this evening without at least seeing them again, and everything was pushed to the side in my need to stop this from happening.

The day passed uncomfortably. Between lessons I scoured the corridors for traces of female, and in lessons I bubbled like a frothing pot. In the morning break I circuited the school twice rather than eating, and at lunchtime scanned the faces of every individual I could in the dining hall, staying seated for as long as I could to observe the mass of students filtering through. I saw nothing. After school, tired and worried, I stood outside the main entrance and flicked my eyes desperately between everyone I saw, hoping, hoping, hoping that one of them would reveal themselves, or the trio would emerge like light from a dark tunnel.

But there was nothing. I was still waiting by the time just about every pupil had left, when there was nothing but an empty crisp packet skirting by my shoe to remind me there had been people here not so long ago. With my head still gazing longingly about and my heart in all disproportionate pain, I tapped home, hoping at least that I would be able to lose myself in sleep and enter the next day fresh for the search.

And I suppose a gorgeous September had to draw into an inconsolable October…

To be continued…

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