When I woke up I was delighted to find it was still September – fresh, beginning days!
As soon as I had got home the day before I scoured facebook for the slightest possible sight of these girls. I knew entirely that this was a stupid occupation – not only did I not know what their names were, but I had no idea what their faces looked like, and they had started at my school too recently for many people to have added them as friends. My suspicions about this were confirmed all too quickly as I scanned the ‘friends’ list of every sixth form student I had the honour of being acquainted with on facebook. There was not a trace of new girl to be found.
Since the morning when I first spied them, I had suffered a kind of insurgency of excitement; without the slightest bit of warning my every waking thought had become occupied by these feminine felines of uncertain origin. Even in the midst of the mystic frenzy I could see that this was incredibly strange, given that the universe had aligned in such a way as to prevent me from knowing anything more of them than the image of their backs. They were not something known to me, but unknown bodies carrying something that attacked my heart.
And yet – and yet…
And yet, despite how strange it was that I was besotted by three faceless, nameless, shapeful girls I had gazed at for a grand ten minutes, something within told me exactly why this was happening. What I loved was not what the girls were, but what they could be. In their being void of name, face and substance, they were potential anythings, mere vessels that could be mine. And if, as I hoped was so dearly true, they were empty, then I could fill them up with me.
The night passed in a frenzy of unquiet silences, disturbed only by the ticking of an untimely mind hitting the bleak house around the bed. Morning was a fug of ugly squints into the last of the September light; but as soon as I felt my heart was beating I was at the window watching for the girls to walk past.
They did not appear. I sat for twenty minutes, the entire time they could feasibly be on their way to school were they not very early or very late; I stayed a little bit longer, risking my own lateness; still they did not appear. I picked up my bag like frustration and paced myself calmly out to the road to see if there was any sign – but still no.
I saw no one on my way to school, and I saw even fewer once I was there. All the pupils were already inside in their lessons. I entered my English lesson late, but the approbation of Mrs Scull bounced straight off a head that was filled with thoughts of girl.
Throughout the day I once more kept my eyes sharp as pins in my search, but once again my sight failed me – apart from, possibly, the briefest flare of blonde head passing by the end of a corridor. I nearly ran to see, but it was pointless. There was to be no girl today.
4pm dusked like a heavy lamplight, and I was out and sad like I was made of lead. Again I waited by the front gates to throw my eyes around on the off chance I might see them again, but still – somehow, still! – the girls did not materialise. A whole two days of school had passed without the slightest sign of them, and my testy teenage mind was not sitting quietly about it.
But then, as I was preparing to slink away into the coming eve, the musical meanderings of a fellow pupil’s voice wandered over to me:
‘Are you going to the cabaret tonight?’
‘Yeah, yeah, I think most people are going.’
I leapt. Cabaret! Of course, there was a school cabaret that evening! I remembered seeing posters on all the noticeboards. Perfect! There would be singing and dancing and girls. Perfect!
It was then, quite understandably, with something of a rush that I went home, ate a fast dinner and waited until a suitable time to return to school. I was about an hour early for the show, but that ensured that I could watch all the audience arriving. The performers themselves I assumed had stayed after school rather than going home; they were probably getting themselves ready somewhere.
I found a spot in a corridor from which I could watch the front gates, and stood waiting for the crowds to arrive. Once or twice a teacher walked by, but I would avoid eye contact by having my phone ready to stare at when they were close. One teacher did stop and ask why I was here so early, and I said something about my parents not being in, which was virtually true.
The moon drew up on its strings and the crowds began to slide in amongst the last of the summer’s light. I stayed by my window, watching with eager eyes for the sight of girl. There were parents there, and children I knew; Joe Huxley, Paige Madeira, members of my English class, Sarah Altworth, a boy who had once bumped into me accidentally in the school corridor so hard that I hit the wall, who stopped and apologised and was forgotten because it was the same day as something else eventful in my life. There were young and old and bright and ugly, but still – no – no girl that could be mine.
Where were they?
I waited by the window like a starving wolf for as long as it took the crowd to splash by and into the hall where the cabaret was on. An upper sixth girl – not an attractive one – was selling tickets by the door.
‘Sorry, do you have a ticket?’
Why should I?
‘Tickets are £5 each. We’re down to the last two.’
As it happened I had loads of money, so I gave her £5 and entered.
The warmth of the hall ate me immediately; it was no longer the dining space it was in daytime pursuits but a high, dark-amber coloured space, with black patches of shadow thrown into the corners. Conversation hummed about in layers, with the rich, patterned clipping of the female voice strung between the dark brawlings of the male. The stage, newly jutting out into the hall, had on it a microphone and nothing else. I found an empty seat on the end of the back row, and I sat down eagerly to see who I could see. Beside me was someone’s father, wearing a leather jacket and bright blue trainers.
After a quick cast around I discerned that these girls were not sitting near me – there was only hope left to suggest that they might still be here somewhere.
Within three minutes the cabaret started, and I dread to report that the first few acts were frightfully uninteresting. The ‘cabaret’ was really more of a talent show, though a spectacularly talentless one. A band emerged on stage, and for the next twenty minutes proceeded to accompany various singers and dancers with egos brave enough to do such things in front of their peers. I recognised all of them in some way, though could only put name to one: Sophie Haywood, a girl in my year who I had decided one day I was vehemently in love with, only for the next day to find that I found her repulsive. Though now, as she and some fellow females performed a song from a musical that had no relevance to my life, I wondered if perhaps I hadn’t been right to be in love with her…
But Sophie’s song ended, and for the following minute I was once again outrageously aware of watching a school show with lots of people I knew around me. As the next act got ready I decided that I hated them all again.
In fact, it was just as the lights were coming up that I had lighted on the face of a boy in my year whom I especially hated with that hatred you reserve for people better than yourself. I won’t bore you with the details now, but he was always laughing.
But then I was called back to the stage –
And it was her. In all her meadow-sight, in all her dancing days, it was the girl that my self had been waiting to gulp down like gorgeousness; the hair-wielding, curve-bending, bone-holding being, who wore her hips like guns and her face like silver; with her body carrying eternity, and her soul carrying me. She was beasted, and I, in sad salient silence, was beasted too.
It was one of the blondes I had seen, I was sure of it – I needn’t have seen her face before in order to know it. And, from then on, as I realised immediately, she would be the only one I had to care about. It was quite possible that, despite all the images of pretty things that had been thrown my way in order to distract me from the truth, she was the most beautiful idea of anything I had ever seen.
It was just her onstage, accompanied by the band, and as I began to sink into her the ensemble began to perform; and from her lovely mouth came the breathing echo of the most perfect desire:
‘I’ve got you- deep in the heart of me-‘
Of course I knew the song, everyone knew the song, but I had never heard it before. Every vestige of every song I had ever heard parted ways for this, this absolute dream to come piling into my ears and filling me up like floodwater; and as she sang she was smiling, like she was really enjoying herself, swish-swashing her eyes over the microphone to whomever was so lucky to receive them. She was wearing all black, button-up shirt, sleeves rolled, thigh-length skirt and tights that clung to her legs like they never wanted to let go. Her voice, dashed and lilting, was both man and woman, and her face told me she was the kind of girl who always walked through doors first and beside whom everyone was dull.
‘In spite of a warning voice, comes in the night,
And repeats, repeats –‘
I have the most distinct memory of being entirely warped by the sight of her. Kaleidoscopic sounds pulled in and out, until I could taste the happening of her breath like chromium colours washing on my tongue; she tasted distinctly of hot cross buns. Her legs jilted with the music as she sang, and every so often she would lean forward and arch her back as her mouth approached the microphone – she did this maybe three, four times during her song, and, in all deepest honesty, it made me mad.
I had decided by the end of the song that I was violently in love with her, and thus it would ever be.
‘Makes me stop before I begin,
‘Cause I’ve got you under my skin…’
She finished – the band finished – and the audience applauded like insanity. At least half the grown men among them had fallen in love with her, if not all of them, and I suspected the women had as well. In fact, there was no one in the room she had not utterly overcome, because she was one of those girls with the unfortunate habit of making someone new fall in love with her every two hours.
Within thirty seconds of her leaving the stage I was yearning for her to come back, and I had to sit through the rest of the show in the equal mud of excitement and despondency. I didn’t waste my time though: I was straight on my phone and straight on facebook, and searching and – a-ha! – there was a facebook group for the school cabaret! I tapped on it, and searched members, and then, before my trembling eyes, I found her. Her name was Madeleine Burne.
I stayed til the end through the sheerest determination, and afterwards milled among the crowd to inspect her further.
She shined between the shoulders of other pupils, sixth formers, and although they were surrounding each other I felt as if they were all surrounding her. I was completely overcome by her face, by her large, grey eyes and the willingness of her posture. I could have stared for hours, gladly glancing away every time she looked in my direction; I could feel the darkest, most powerful hunger growing in my chest, and, had it not been for the implication of other people, I would have eaten her.
Now, at last at last, I had my girl, my Madeleine.
To be continued…