Jennifer Twigg, Kate Bush and Me
‘You’re one of them, aren’t you?’ Jennifer Twigg, flanked as usual by her henchwomen, spread the palms of her hands on my desk and leaned forward to smirk into my face. I stared back gormlessly, struck dumb by fear. As she moved closer, her breath misted my glasses
Even viewed through a fog, she was ugly. A too-thick layer of orangey foundation covered the bumps and craters of her acne. There was a clear line under her chin where it ended and her naked, mottled skin began. Everyone knew better than to comment on it. I smelled smoky bacon crisps, the remains of which clung to her huge yellow teeth. Her hair, blonde until you got to the roots, was short and fashionably flicked. The flick, clogged with hairspray, had a life of its own. It was the late seventies. It took a lot of effort to look that bad.
I tipped back on my chair in an attempt to put some distance between us. With one arm she swept the library book I had been reading onto the floor. She opened my desk lid so violently that the hinges protested. Her crimson fingernail jabbed at the pictures I had carefully sellotaped there.
‘You love her, don’t you?’ she sneered.
I didn’t just love Kate Bush, I planned to become her. She was my idea of perfection; skinny when I was plump, dark when I was mousey. I practised my Wuthering Heights dance every night in the safety of my bedroom, long white nightie billowing, arms and legs flailing. I sang along. My dad shouted upstairs to ask if I had stood on the cat’s tail. He thought he was hilarious. I copied out her song lyrics when I was supposed to be doing my homework. I filled exercise books with angst ridden poems in tribute to her. I was not about to betray my idol now; not even to save myself from the ridicule of Jennifer Twigg.
‘Yes,’ I mumbled, my eyes meeting Kate’s. She gazed back, her face full of reassurance and encouragement. I gathered my courage.
‘Yes, I suppose I do,’ I said, more loudly than I intended. Jennifer slammed my desk shut in triumph. I snatched my fingers away just in time.
‘Told you so!’ she exclaimed to the henchwomen. They tittered obligingly.
‘L-e-s-b-i-a-n,’ she stretched the word out like elastic.
Thirty years on, Jennifer Twigg held court in the corner of the school gym. She had been stained mahogany, which did not go well with her white blonde hair. Her underarms wobbled as she gesticulated energetically, bringing the henchwomen up to date on her post-school life. Her legs were too fat to cross, and from time to time, as she wriggled in her seat, her skirt rode up and the henchwomen were treated to a flash of her underwear. They pretended not to notice.
I observed from what I hoped was a safe distance, sipping from my plastic tumbler of red wine, which tasted like vinegar. I imagined it embellishing Jennifer’s lacy, low-cut top. She noticed me staring. Her eyebrows rose in recognition. She beckoned the henchwomen closer, drawing their attention to me in a stage whisper, her top lip twitching at one side. As a unit, they turned to look at me. Suddenly bashful, Jennifer pulled her skirt down to her knees, then put one hand to her chest in a futile attempt to conceal her cleavage. The henchwomen tittered.
My legs were one step ahead of my brain, and I had almost reached the coven before I was fully aware of what I was about to do. My fingers tightened on the tumbler as I prepared to take aim. Then I had a better idea. Silently, I handed my wine to a henchwoman. I bent over Jennifer and cupped her face in my hands. She barely had time to gasp in terror before I kissed her on the lips. It was a long, sloppy kiss. My tongue scooped the remnants of a sausage roll from her mouth. I kept going for as long as I could. When I eventually released her she pushed herself and her chair backwards with her feet, until she collided with the wall. She looked genuinely afraid. I smiled sweetly.
‘How lovely to see you again, Jennifer,’ I said. As I walked away, I stretched out my arms and, in a tribute to Kate, did one last Wuthering dance.