Gillian Ambrose grabbed at my hand and pulled me towards her. She didn’t meet much resistance. Any old biddy looking out of the Old Folk’s Home window would have seen quite a cabaret on their stairwell, not that they would have been that interested. At their age they probably were more interested in who was opening a packet of Digestive Biscuits, than watching any amatory wrestling that was not on the Saturday sports channel.
‘C’mon,’ she said.
But with all the licking and lapping, tugging and rubbing, the pearl strands in my pants were glistening reminders that I already had.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’ll probably go down the road. It’s getting late.’
I was sure that she knew, could see through denim, the stain of shame on my pants, tipping from one side to another like mercury, as I moved from foot to foot. I tried to think of something else to say.
She caught me with a haymaker, unexpected as the right words, just below the eye socket. I grabbed at her flailing arms and wrestled her thin body into my orbit, but couldn’t quieten her mouth as she screamed all manner of things. The lights in the Old Folk’s Home pinged on one after another like stars in a clear night sky.
‘Sssshhh,’ I said, pulling her in closer and closer, ‘you’re just around the corner. You’ll waken James Munn’.
She sprung away from my grip, pushing me away, so that I stumbled and almost fell.
‘James Munn. James Munn. Why do you always go on about James Munn? What do you want to know? If I’m shagging him? Well I am. Or he’s shagging me. What difference does it make to you? What do you care?’
Each word was like a blow, a jab to my ears, that I couldn’t turn away in case another followed.
‘What do you care?’ she said, her body crumpled and ready to cry.
I said nothing; waited for it to be over, like a good beating. But her eyes held mine. I looked away first, embarrassed about I didn’t know what. Her feet cut the distance between us and her body pressed against mine, nestling in, finding my shape. She waited. The smell of her, a strange bloom, tantalised and touched, filling a pocket inside me. Her hair fanned out across my shoulder, waiting for my hands to discover once more its sheen.
‘C’mon,’ she said, tugging my back away from the safe niche of the stone wall.
‘I’ve got to go,’ I said, but not letting go of her hand.
‘Well, go then,’ she said.
We stood outside the Halls of Residence, still holding hands.
‘You’re such a baby,’ she said.
Someone else had said those very words to me, but I couldn’t remember when or why. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was now. She reeled my body in close, kissing my lips, her tongue darting in and out of my mouth, like a tadpole.
The Halls of Residence main door needed no key, but it squeaked and shrieked so that we had to push our way in. The rooms were in the old building, part of the original castle. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to stay there. I sneaked up the stairs behind Gillian.
We kissed again at the top of the stairs, outside her door. But I kept my eyes open, unwilling to turn my head in case I saw something.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ she said, fishing in her bag for keys.
I pushed past her flipped the light on a jumped on her virgin bed.
‘Phew,’ I said, ‘rather you than me. Never turn your back on poltergeists or James Munn.’
‘Are you on about James Munn again?’ but like me she was laughing when she said it.
I grew suddenly shy, looked at anything but her. I noticed she’d bought even more records than the last time I’d been here. The stereo that she had before, lay discarded like a children’s toy, replaced by an even better one. Her books were stacked neatly in a bookshelf and a tiny desk had A4 papers falling like leaves from its mahogany plinth.
‘I need to pee,’ I said.
‘You know where the toilet is.’ She wasn’t asking a question, but then added, ‘you will come back, won’t you?’
Gillian stood in the middle of her room, with two arms folded across her chest, clutching at herself as if it was cold. But with the wrought iron pipes running straight through from The Old Folk’s Home and connected to a thick radiator it was boiling hot. There was a worried fretting tone in her voice that I didn’t notice it at first; too busy wondering if I flushed my knickers away if they’d block the pipes in the toilet. And more importantly if they’d block them right away, or later, when I wasn’t there.
Gillian dropped her bag on the floor and took off her jacket and cardigan. I waited to see if she would show me more than a flowery blouse. But she seemed in no hurry disrobing, or doing anything else, as if we were too strangers standing at a bus stop. She looked out the window into the dark of the Old Kilpatrick Hills.
‘I’ll be going now,’ I said, trying to re-establish our rapport.
I was near the door when her words called me back.
‘Leave me one of your shoes.’
I flicked at the light switch and looked at her watching me, with her thin lips pursed, as if giving out more words than necessary was an unjustified extravagance. But I still didn’t understand and had to ask,
‘If you are going to the toilet, leave one of your shoes.’ She made it sound like a perfectably reasonable business request.
But I had to ask again, as if my brain couldn’t take in such words.
She repeated herself word for word, with the same intonation.
I slipped one of my shoes off and left it lying, like a passport, beside the door, before skipping out and up the stairs, quickstyle, and just hoping that nobody was in the toilet.
My shoe was still there when I got back. I felt like asking if she’d stamped on it, but was unsure what to do next. Gillian was lying in bed, her lit cigarette punching a hole in the darkness. I stood at the door unsure whether to put my shoe on or take the other one off, to flick at the light switch, or leave the room in darkness.
Gillian patted one side of the bed, moving casually across to make more room. Her hair framed her small breasts.
‘Aren’t you getting ready?’ she asked.
I wasn’t sure what she meant; scared it was some Brummie trick. I tucked the shoe on the floor under my armpit like a newspaper.
‘Aren’t you going to get undressed?’ The fretting tone was back in her voice.
She stabbed her cigarette out into a china plate, grinding it down into a squashed stub. She sighed, like an old woman. Her long naked legs destroyed the clean hospital corners of the sheets, but my eyes darted from such desolation to the curls and whorls of the triangle of hair between her legs.
‘I need the toilet too,’ she said, breezing towards the wardrobe and pulling out a robe to wrap herself in.
I couldn’t hold myself back and was shaking with excitement. I sneaked up behind her, running my finger up and down, testing the smoothness of her creamy back. She turned and kissed my lightly on the lips. It seemed nothing to her, a marker for later, for other things. But for me it was enough. I’d have came in my pants if I hadn’t already flushed them away.
‘Don’t,’ she said, when I moved in closer. ‘I need to pee. Get in to bed and I’ll take care of you when I get back.’
She made is sound like a transaction, but I wasn’t arguing. I hung my clothes up on the floor and jumped into bed. I tried to look casual, sliding up and down the bed, like a ratchet screwdriver, to see if my body somehow fitted better into one position rather than the other.
‘Strange,’ she said, when she got back, ‘the toilet’s not flushing very well’.
I was glad of the darkness to hide my red face. ‘Aye, it’s these old buildings,’ I said, as if I was a plumber.
She took her time hanging up her wrap; making sure the wire hanger was just so. But it was enough time for the moon to pick out the curved luminance of bum and breast. This time she did not ask about Durex, birth control, or whether I knew what I was doing.
Gillian had acquired a new vocabulary and soothed me with her sharp teeth, until I couldn’t speak of things that I did not know and teetered on the edge of a super nova. Her eyes challenged me to do more than grunt, to form words, as liquid seed lay on her tongue and she licked away life.
‘Sshhh,’ she said.
I fell from a great height, under the blankets and found sleep. Later, I felt her hands finding me and she became coated in me, I in her, with nothing but us, in between.
‘Sleep,’ Gillian breathed like a spell in my ear, but I didn’t need her permission.