With the sun setting in one part of the sky and the midges it was half a romantic walk up by the bluebell woods to her room and half a survival movie. We didn’t hold hands or anything icky like that. I was glad we were past that stage; kept adult demonstrations for her bedroom. She did say something cutesy, in her industrial Birmingham accent, like there’s a little bird over there, but I was too busy swatting to look. When I did it was away and in its place was a baby starling, more flying road kill than Disney type bird chick, whose blue eggs weren’t even worth collecting when I was younger. I might have grunted something like: that’s nice.
She tried to put her arm through mine, but I shook her off. ‘Run,’ I shouted. But we might just as well to have tried to bat vultures away with lumps of blood red meat. There was no escaping the midges.
My legs were shaking when we reached the steps up to the Old Folks home. I didn’t want to think about, but needed to know what she was going to tell me, more than I needed to catch my breath. I just hoped that it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
The entry fee into Gillian’s room was usually a kiss. I hoped I was the only one she was charging. A picture of James Munn jumped into my mind. I tried to ignore it. Usually when I got inside her room I tried to get inside her just as quickly, but when I went to kiss her lips she moved and let me kiss her on the cheek. I tried to kiss her neck, to catch her, to pull her towards me, but she sidestepped me and started tidying up the bits of paper on her desk that she never seemed to read.
‘I’ve got something really important I’ve got to tell you,’ she said, concentrating like an old school mam, on getting her textbooks into a straight enough line.
‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ she asked, looking at me.
I sat on the bed. My legs had almost buckled. I thought she’d snared me, caught me out, and was going to tell me that she was pregnant, and all she wanted to know was if she was pretty.
‘Of course you’re nice. Have you got any fags? I said, ‘I’m all out’.
She fished through her bag and pulled out not one, but two packets of fags. ‘I’ve not got any matches,’ she said, tossing a fag over at me like a dart. ‘I feel plain and ugly’.
She stood up straight, as if to let me assess her plainness and her ugliness. I didn’t know what to say. Apart from her pimply forehead, that her string hair mostly covered, and the little pockmarks that sometimes showed up in a certain light, she might have been pretty. Well, she didn’t really have stringy hair. I was maybe being too harsh; Old Testament judgemental even.
I lit a fag and threw her back my matches. ‘You maybe put on too much hairspray.’ I thought that sounded kinda neutral. ‘You know that way you put it on, the way you spray it on as if you’re spraying a whole swamp with insecticides, that makes your hair pretty hard…’ She didn’t look that convinced. ‘…Sometimes,’ I added, yawning and smacking my lips, ‘sometimes it makes it hard’. I took off one of my shoes.
‘What you doing,’ she said.
‘Getting ready for bed.’
‘Did I say that you could stay? Did I? Did I?’ With a few short steps she was almost leaning over me. ‘Did I say that you could take over my life?’
She slumped on the bed beside me, leaning her head into me. I peeked to see if she was wearing a bra. I put my arm around her. She looked up at me and I kissed her on the lips. My hands began to wander up under her blouse, to find the familiar contours and canyons of her body.
‘Do you love me?’ she said, wriggling away from me.
‘Fucking hell. You’re always asking me that.’
Her hand cracked against the side of my face and pushed it away from her to look at the loose papers on her tidy desk. I grabbed for her hands before she tried to hit me again. She pushed and pulled against me, jerking me one way and then the other, as if we were in the middle of a great boat and rowing away from each other. I wasn’t sure if her tears were of sadness or rage. The storm passed and she lay crumpled on the shore of her bed.
I untangled myself from the hands that had tried to slap me, and feet that had tried to kick me. I don’t know what I felt, but I knew that I was never coming back.
‘I’m going,’ I said.
Her eyes were ringed and red. I backed away from her and turned round only to reach for the door.
‘I’m pregnant, ya bastard,’ she screamed.