by Antony Davies
I’m not a good looking kid. Ugly, actually. I even wear glasses. Not tonight though. My brother Steve says they make me look like a geek, a child, a sixteen year-old geek of a child with a big nose and no ID.
this queue is
The sky looks like the end of the world and my brother and two of his mates are talking to two stunning birds, skirts that stop short of their buttocks, salon-crafted hair. The girls laugh; my brother’s mates sort of strut whilst standing still. Citrus coloured shirts that went out of fashion in most parts of the country that are still chic here.
The queue inches along, though the entrance is still blind to me, around the corner where the men in suits wait to inspect the beautiful people of Wendle-on-Sea. And me.
They are waiting to inspect me.
Beneath colourful umbrellas the girls shiver, goose pimples erect on their cleavage, legs, forearms, and they smile. At me.
Steve’s two mates, he says, should be enough to conceal me if we all walk in together. Confident, film star walks; George Clooney at a premiere, Harrison Ford at the Oscars.
“Good luck,” says one of the girls.
I’ve rehearsed my date of birth, practised the eye-contact (but don’t try too hard), and I’m wearing the right gear, but it’s raining like a bitch and they’re sure to be in a bad mood, the goliaths who patrol the doors to Heaven. The corner is nearer. I’m nineteen, I’m nineteen, I’m nineteen.
We’re at the corner. The thumping heart of Club Xanadu is pulsing through the air like a physical entity and the water falls harder, faster, more vigorously than before.
And we’re nearly there.
The bouncers are there, the red, red rope is there, the beautiful people of Wendle-on-Sea are walking into Club Xanadu with a quick nod to the bouncers. Fours girls from my year at school—untouchable, unattainable to me because their tastes are sophisticated and they dress like the Spice Girls—they sail through the door, flashing a little cleavage and a lot of leg. Jessica Young is among them. Jessica, with her friends, the Untouchables of Wendle High.
And I’m wishing I was a girl right now, dressed in less than I sleep in.
But I’m not.
A sixteen year-old virgin, ugly as sin, wearing my brother’s shoes and glow-in-the-dark shirt and my school trousers and a jacket my mummy bought for lickle ol’ me, and then—a hand grabs mine.
It’s the girl Steve was chatting to, clammy fingers wrapped around my own, and I think about
A shiver tremble-jitters up my arm. “Stay close,” she says.
“Thanks,” says Steve.
pretty much the same height, me and the girl, but I feel like I’m looking
up at her, gazing in awe. The boys hoard around me and Steve hooks his
arm into the other girl’s, and the crowd moves forward like a dark
mythical beast into Paradise, the
ramming a giant fist into my gut, numbing my legs, and soon the bouncers achieve a collective eye-contact with our group. Steve and the other girl skip past the rope.
Then Steve’s two mates are free to enter.
Then my partner says “Lovely evening, Dicksy,” to one of the bouncers and he nods. We stroll by and, suddenly, on the arm of this woman, the rain is almost bouncing off me, the thud from within the neon-haze of Club Xanadu is trying its best to beat me back, but is failing—“Hold on, son,” says a deep voice from behind.
I turn around.
“How old are you?”
“Nineteen,” I say, and the date of birth is jabbering at me from the back of my mind, the memory of the practise sessions with Steve and his mates, the eye contact.
I am The Man. I’m cool. I’m Samuel L Jackson in Shaft, a white guy maybe, but I’m him.
“Date of birth, son?”
I know my date of birth, and look him in the eye (not trying too hard at all) and my mouth opens, my vocal chords vibrate and a sound akin to an old woman choking on soup gurgles forth and the monster turns to his friend, smiles, and says,
“Sorry son, not tonight.”
“But – ” And I turn to find my partner, but all I see is her disappearing into the flashing, pulsating, forbidden land. Briefly, I see my brother. He shrugs. Next to him are the Untouchables from school. They see me too. The door closes just as they begin to snigger.
I turn, go find a taxi, and head home.
* * *
Mondays are always crap. This one is worse. Rob is my only real friend, and he’s sat in class when I arrive ten minutes late. Miss Shirtliff is okay, asks how I am now, and I say I’m fine. Someone at the back calls out, “Don’t let him in, Miss, he’s underage,” and the class, including Rob, laugh.
My cheeks glow.
“Sit down, Brian,” says Miss Shirtliff, and I do.
Rob isn’t laughing properly, just enough so he doesn’t get beaten up by Harvey Pritchard, the kid who made the crack, and Rob’s chuckles peter out earlier than most.
At morning break he tells me about the latest Slipknot scandal. I get the gist of it, but the details are lost on me. I stay close to the doors as usual, stare at the Untouchables as they flirt with Harvey and his group of Neanderthal followers. I home in on Jessica Young’s legs.
hair was the first thing I’d noticed about her two years ago, almost to
this very day. Dark, perfect curls, then as she turned, a (magical?) ray
of sunlight caught her face. She didn’t have boobs back then, but now she
does, and oh, what boobs they are. And Harvey
is looking at them like he owns them, like he has some divine right to be present at their unveiling, to touch, probe, suck. He touches her face, and Rob is saying something about Sepultura being the true kings of modern rock who feed off the inspiration of Iron Maiden and Def Leopard, and Harvey catches my eye. He smiles his freakshow smile.
Break is over and it’s maths next. Rob isn’t in my class for this one and I sit next to Violet. We keep our heads down, but when Mr Davidson steps out for a moment, Harvey Pritchard is beside me, his hand on my textbook obscuring the algebra or whatever it was I was doing.
“Got a problem, Brain-dead?” he says.
“Yeah,” he says, leaning closer. “You do now.”
I can’t look him in the eye.
“The annexe,” he says. “Straight after school. If you don’t show, I’m coming to break the windows in yer house.”
And the day passes like a bout of flu. I sweat through maths, don’t eat my lunch. I sit with Violet and Rob and one of Rob’s rocker friends and the three of them debate who would win in a fight between the Foo Fighters and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Then lunch is over, and I walk to my next lesson, history, trudging as slowly as possible, trying to prolong the day, but time will not slow for me. It hurtles by like a juggernaut and I am helpless in its wake, carried along through Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination and into the hot afternoon air, with Rob and Violet patting me on the back and telling me to just stay down if I get hurt.
Harvey is already here, his sycophants around him in their puffa jackets and baseball caps. The Untouchables are here. The faceless nobodies to whom I never speak are here.
“Okay,” says Harvey, jogging on the spot. “Let’s get this over with.”
off my glasses and feel the salty air in my eyes, the fresh wind, the heat
beneath it. A final pat on the back from Rob, a Good Luck from
Violet, and I drag my feet along the floor and into the heart of the
circle of young men and women who stare at me with sullen eyes. I make
out Jessica Young and I attempt a smile. She
Harvey’s first thump lands right on my nose and I drop immediately. Copper fills my throat, the audience gasps, and an ache pulses through my head. I can still see Jessica though. She still looks at me. Is that a frown? A grimace?
Harvey is leaping about like Rocky on top of those steps during his training, a victory jig, the dance of a returning Neanderthal warrior. He winks at Jessica, who turns away.
I am up on one knee, blood drooling from my nose. Vision becoming clearer. Now it is not only Jessica who is clear and true. Harvey is beckoning me. His jeers are a roar in my ear, my fists clenching like granite. I’m the hero, for Christ’s sake. Harvey’s the bad guy, the piece of crap that thinks he’s sooooo good. I’m the underdog, the browbeaten, the wronged. The crowd are rooting for me. They’re on my side.
Harvey grapples me to the ground, laughing. He jams his knee into my spine and pulls upward on my neck. Laughing. Segments of the crowd join him. Rippling giggles.
But I’m the hero. The underdog. And I’m hurting. God, I’m hurting so bad. And Harvey is saying something, playing to the crowd, a showman. He wants me to give in. He wants me to say it.
Say I give in.
Let him win.
I lash out instead. No contact.
“You’re really hurting him!” shouts a girl, and I’m sure it’s Jessica, but my eyes are closed.
Harvey’s balance shifts as he turns to the girl’s voice. I spin, lash and
kick, all at once. Harvey slides off me. We both stand quickly, my hands
are balls again, my feet placed like a boxer’s, like Rocky, like the kid
at the end of No Retreat, No Surrender. I plant my knuckles
underneath Harvey’s chin, and a magnificent cr-ack rings out.
Harvey staggers backwards. And he falls
A silence descends over the annex. Shock on the faces of the Harvey Prichard Fan Club. I’m in the eye of a storm. Surely I should be carried in triumph up the school steps, cheers and bunting all around me, strangers chanting my name. But only Harvey’s friends move.
They advance upon their fallen idol. Their defeated leader. They examine his unconscious form. Kevin, who has stopped the stopwatch, says, “You broke his jaw.”
I look down at my knuckles and realise they are already bruising. Violet has come up behind me and is offering tissues, which I take and apply to my nose.
Harvey is carried away and the crowd disperses in a bunch of whispers and shaking heads. The Untouchables all leave except for Jessica, who comes my way. My nose stings now, and my hand throbs.
“It’s not broken,” she says to me.
For some reason, I laugh.
She hands me a hankie. “Keep it,” she says, and I watch her leave.
I stand beside Rob and Violet, watching, watching Jessica, her long legs carrying her away, her little schoolbag slung over one shoulder, hair bouncing, moving with the sway of her body and the light wind. Rob shakes my good hand and says, “Well done,” and Violet slaps me on the back with a hearty, “Nice one,” and then Jessica is gone and I turn to them and say, “My hand really hurts,” and Violet takes a look.
“Come back to mine,” she says. “I’ll fix you up.”
* * *
My hand has taken a fortnight to stop swelling. Violet took a few hours to sort me out, soaking my hand, cleaning my nose, holding a cold flannel over both swellings. She played some sort of power ballad rock music—slow Meatloaf, a little Pat Bennetar—while she tended to me.
I hear some of the other Untouchables talking about me occasionally, just snippits and titbits of conversations, saying Jessica is ‘changing’, that she is ‘losing it’, she’s mad to be doing what she is doing. And I sit at home alone in my room sometimes, imaging her, being with her. At night, she is my last thought, and in the morning, I imagine her some more.
It’s Friday today, and Jessica is in my math class. I answer more questions than usual, my hand voluntarily rising, my answers coming forth clearly and correctly. Jessica smiles whenever I glance at her.
At the end of the lesson, Violet waits for me.
Jessica is lingering. She wants me to ask her out, I know it. She’s distancing herself from the other Untouchables, from Harvey’s gang of morons. She’s seen me for who I am. She’s crossed a line. Crossed over from the world of Clueless airheads, of sportsmen and idiots, Neanderthals and preening, love-themselves-and-no-one-else nobodies.
“I’d like to see you,” I say.
“You can see me,” she says.
“No, I mean outside of school.”
“So did I.”
She writes down her phone number. I look over at Violet and show her thumbs-up, and she leaves, hugging her text books, and when Jessica hands me the Post-It with those sacred, glowing numbers—written in scented ink, no less—her hand brushes mine, and I swear, I swear by everything I have ever held holy in my life, a spark, an honest to God spark, flashes between us.
“Any time after five,” she says.
“Okay,” I say.
All the way home I keep Jessica’s number in my hand, clasped hard. I whiz through my bedroom, sorting clean clothes, an ambitious pair of fresh boxer shorts, shower, then pick up the phone.
It’s time. It’s after five. Not too long after, not too eager.
And I’m dialling her number, slowly, savouring this fragment of time that will never come about again, and the click connects me, the droning of Jessica’s phone ringing at the other end. She’s looking at it now, I’m sure. She’s wondering if it’s me, if I’m really, really calling her.
I speak not too fast, not too slow, eager but not desperate. I’m Sam Jackson, the man, yet this is probably not enough to describe how I feel right now. I’m not Sam Jackson. I’m me.
I’m going to Jessica Young’s house, and I’m running down the stairs, jabbering all this to Steve, and my mum barely looks up except to tell me to be back no later than eleven. Steve presses a small square packet into my hand with a wink and says, “Just in case.”
* * *
wearing a grown-up black dress, light makeup, her hair fragrant with
apples without even leaning close. Her cleavage is hinted at, her legs
bare from the knee down. No pantie line. Which means either a tiny thong
“Come in,” she says, turns, and I follow her perfect, oh-so-pert, behind through her hall and into the living room. Then we’re on the couch. Close. Touching. My legs crossed. The music is Sting. Gentle, slow, not too slushy, yet easy. Jessica takes my hand.
Inside, I’m roaring. I hear my brother egging me on, telling me she wants me, calling me a poof, shouting now, to kiss her. Kiss her now.
I lean in and our lips meet, her tongue finds my mouth and for a split-second I think of all the French lessons I’ve ever sat through and hated, and I’m wishing I got laid on my sixteenth birthday, just for the experience, for the chance to impress Jessica, because—
“Come upstairs,” she says, and is already on her feet, leading me by the hand and up the stairs.
bedroom is warm, sweet smelling, clean. Her bed is a single. She guides
me to it, pushes me backwards, and sits astride me. I’m a man, a lucky,
lucky man. I’m the Sherminator in American Pie 2, the dweeb in
Road Trip about to get what he so, so deserves, but Jessica is no fat
mamma and no filthy Czechoslovakian slut with a geek fetish. She is a
goddess. She is perfection. She
and unbuttoning my shirt, running her tongue along my chest, my stomach, whipping my Armani belt from its hoops, and I’m kissing, inhaling the haze of apples, feeling her, caressing her thighs, slipping back her dress and she isn’t stopping me. Then it is riding high, above her hips and she isn’t stopping me, and then it is
to burst. I want to scream. I want to remember where I put that condom.
In what feels like seconds I’m naked, licking her, kissing her, forcing
myself to not grip too hard, pulling back, restraining myself, then
she stops me.
She pushes me on my back, places my hands around her headboard and I hear a snap. She grins.
“You are up for this, right?” she says.
up and see that I am handcuffed, look back at Jessica and see she is still
almost naked but for that tiny, tiny thong, and she’s working me up so
much I’m sure to scream out soon, in ecstasy, the most violent,
pleasure-filled sound ever heard on this planet or any other. And Jessica
is tying my feet to the bottom of the bed with scarves and
The wardrobe has just opened. Harvey Pritchard is holding a Polaroid camera. It flashes. Out pops a white photo. Harvey laughs hard.
I struggle with the cuffs, chaffing my wrists. I want to shout, “Look out, Jessica, cover yourself up!” but knowledge descends upon me like a wet, muddy slap.
Jessica, still nearly naked, kisses Harvey on the cheek. He has the wires in his jaw, but he’s laughing loudly, obviously in pain; he can’t help it. He takes another picture and Jessica puts on a dressing gown. She lights a cigarette and hands it to Harvey.
Harvey takes another picture.
I look to Jessica for help. She stares back coldly.
“I can’t believe you actually thought this was serious,” she says, then picks up her clothes and walks out of the room.
* * *
She almost looks sorry as I dress.
I don’t say anything. I think of the display that is sure to greet me on Monday and I consider not turning in. The pictures will probably make the internet too, so what’s the point? I’ll turn up on Monday. There’ll be some ribbing, a lot of laughing, and I might blush, I might not. But who really cares? What does it really matter? Rob will still be there, Violet too.
I look forward to seeing them. Heck, I’ve seen Jessica Young naked, felt her up. Now that’s a tale to tell.
Jessica sees me out and I go home. I pour myself a beer from Steve’s stash.
“Date not work out?” he says.
“Not really,” I reply. “Not my type after all.”
We stand in silence. He opens a beer.
“Hey, Steve,” I say as he takes a sip.
“Fancy going to Club Xanadu tonight?”
“Sure,” he says.