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Authors: Maria Blanca Alonso

Tags: #coming of age, #bohemian, #art school, #lesbian 1st time, #college days

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BOOK: The Art School Dance
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He
pulled me across to the model and told me to feel hers.’


He
never!’


He did.
Dragged me over there and slapped my hands on her
breasts.’


No!’
Stephen was as horrified as my mother would have been, if she had
learned of the episode, gulped quickly at his drink.
‘Well!’


So
there I was, my hands full of her boobs while everyone watched.’ I
saw the funny side, then, as I went over the story, but Stephen was
not in the least amused; his expression was like stone, hard and
chiselled but with none of the life of an accomplished piece of
sculpture, just cold and vacant.


I don’t
want to hear any more, Virginia,’ he said, and it was when he
called me Virginia rather than Ginny that I knew he was peeved,
that I’d better be quiet.

I went to the
bar for more drinks, quickly, before Stephen could protest that
this is his duty. Though the room was warm I still had on my
greatcoat, unbuttoned, and it billowed out behind me like a cape as
I crossed the floor; one or two people stared, someone sniggered,
but I didn’t care and I stood proudly at the bar, not as tall as
Stephen but still tall enough to look imposing, proud that I was
different, with no hint of shame or embarrassment. Returning with
the drinks I sat close to Stephen, shoulder to shoulder, and I
could smell his aftershave again, a delicate fruity fragrance. I
sneezed, blew my nose on a tissue, noticed him frown when he saw
that it was stained with paint.

He smelled
more fragrant than I did, I realised, quickly tucking the tissue
away, and thought I should have splashed some perfume on, but there
was only my mother’s, a musty funereal fragrance, not used since
Dad died. I said no more about the life class but the memory was
still there, and with it came the faint recollection of Paula’s
perfume, the vaguest hint of something expensive beneath the slight
tang of sweat. Idly I wondered what it might have been. Something
that would not be tickling the sinuses, I supposed. Something
expensive.


So.
What should we do?’ said Stephen, interrupting my thoughts, drawing
me back to the present, to the noisy garish
surroundings.

When I looked
at the clock over the bar I saw that it was just after eight, asked
if his parents were going out that night, knowing that they usually
did on Tuesdays.


Yes,’
he said. ‘They’re going to the Labour Club about half
eight.’


So,’ I
sighed, looking around at the crowd, not really wanting to share
their company any longer. ‘What should we do? The
pictures?’

But I knew
this wasn’t what Stephen had planned, not what we usually did on
Tuesday evenings, and I wasn't surprised when he said, ‘It’s too
late.’


We
could still catch the main film.’


You
know I hate that, going in when the programme’s
started.’


Well
then- What?’


We
could go back to my house,’ he casually offered, as if it was a
novel idea.

*

As we walked
from the pub, along the drab streets, yellow sodium lights spilled
from the narrow cobbled alleys we passed, or splashed across the
tediously tidy brickwork of newer estates, the redeveloped areas of
our resurgent town. By that time in my life, eighteen years old, I
was really getting to hate the place. I wanted somewhere new, a
town with an art gallery, a city with a university and some
entertainment other than the cinema, a place where there were
cultured people. Stephen had never been cultured; he might have
been nice in many ways, but by no stretch of the imagination could
he ever be called cultured.

I felt his
body warm against mine and realised just how cool the night had
become. He was warm in a way that a coal fire wasn’t, warm as only
another person could be, and I thought, sometimes, that it was the
warmth of people that I needed, rather than the people themselves.
My father used to be warm, and my mother too, while he was still
alive; they were strict but they were fair and in their warmest
moments I had been able to feel their love burning like a flame.
When my father died, though, his flame naturally went with him and
my mother’s was dimmed at the same time.

The one thing
that was burning at that particular moment, however, as I walked
home with Stephen, was the memory of the life class, and having him
on my arm, his hip nudging mine, was like a bellows pumping the
flame, making the coals glow brighter. When we turned into the
close the first thing I did was check that the living room light
was off, which it was, meaning that Stephen’s parents were out,
enjoying their customary Tuesday evening of beer and Bingo. As
cautious as ever, though, when Stephen inserted his key into the
lock and opened the door he called out that he was home, and we
waited for a reply; if there was none, which was usually the case,
we entered, but on those occasions that there was a response the
evening would end with a quick kiss and a sorry look before I was
sent away.

There was no
answer, it was the usual Tuesday evening timetable which might be
expected of a courting couple. Stephen closed the door and we
climbed the stairs to the first floor living room, him following
after me so he could get an eye-level view of my buttocks gyrating.
There was a slight rasping noise as I moved, the underskirt and
tights I wore for the feel of silk -or more accurately, nylon-
against my skin. At that time I was fond of texture; there was a
lot of it in my paintings.

Stephen’s
parents’ living room was much like any other that I knew, cramped,
clean and tidy but rather too cluttered with possessions. There was
really no room for a three piece suite, but one had been squeezed
in, as obligatory an item of furniture in Sleepers Hill as the
glass-fronted display cabinet which held the best china and one or
two pieces of silver plate. There were framed family photographs on
the fire surround and a shocking landscape -from Woolworths or
Boots- hanging on one wall. Luckily this was behind the couch, so
once I was seated I didn’t have to look at it.

Before Stephen
took off his coat he busied himself about the place, fussing around
as if it was his alone, switching on the electric fire, filling the
kettle, putting on music; the records he had were the ones we used
to listen to when we first started going out together, soul music
and the like, all the slow smoochy ones, the ones he might have
said were evocative if the word had occurred to him. My tastes had
changed since those early days together, I was into other styles
and deeper meanings, but Stephen wasn’t one for change so it was
usually me who had to suffer his tastes, me who had to smile and
nod, at some point in the evening, when he said ‘Remember when-?’
It seemed that even then, not yet out of his teens, Stephen was
looking to the past, was afflicted by a middle aged nostalgia while
I was looking to the future. Certainly I didn’t know what the
future held, and perhaps would have been content not to find out,
but its promise posed a challenge and excited me.

When Stephen
had made the coffee and brought the cups through to the living room
he finally took off his coat and sat beside me. It was only a
matter of moments before he had his arm around me and I had my head
on his shoulder. The coffee was then left to go cold and I found
myself drawn into an act which had become as much a ritual for me
as the Catholic mass I’d forsaken, with the moves of the Introit
and the Offertory and the Communion so carefully choreographed.

I enjoyed the
mass as a young girl, when there were four services each morning
and more on Sundays, benedictions and novenas and a whole riot of
rituals. I could see, now, that it was the ritual which drew me,
hearing the priest and the altar boys intoning the Latin so
solemnly that few others could understand, having the smell of the
incense and the click of the thurible, the delicate chime of the
Offertory bells. It was when they took the magic from the service
that I left, when they swapped the Latin for English and everyone
was able to understand what was happening. The whole idea of ritual
was that people should be kept in the dark and teased by promises;
the congregation never wanted to understand, they just wanted to be
tantalised and offered vague clues rather than certain
explanations. It was then, when the magic left the faith, that the
Church and I parted ways.

But the magic
on that night was in something less obviously spiritual. We moved
from gentle caresses side by side to slobbering kisses on the
horizontal, lying on the settee, and it was once more a case of
moving from Introit to Offertory with the promise of the Communion
to come.

The first
introduction of my body to Stephen’s was when his right hand grazed
my cheek and his left hand clasped my fingers in his, his thumb
gently stroking the tip of each; the offering of my body came when
his kisses weakened me and I settled more deeply into the settee,
one leg raising a little, like a drawbridge, to admit him

The communion,
well...

His shirt was
open, I had my hand on his stomach and his flesh felt almost like
Paula’s had, soft and warm. What was different, though, was the
contour of the landscape. What I had before me, beside me, was a
softly undulating lowland, where previously there had been firm
hillocks topped by hard cretaceous peaks. It was then that I
started to want something more than the little Stephen offered. I
ran my hand across his shoulders, trying to peel away his shirt,
let my other slip lower to tug away his trousers, and he squirmed,
pretending that he didn’t want it there, but I could tell that he
liked it, could feel his response.

So if he liked
it then why didn’t he take off the shirt and the trousers -and his
shoes and socks, for God’s sake!- why didn’t he strip us both naked
and carry me off to his bed where we could both enjoy a little more
freedom? The sensations I felt were nice, and there was no denying
that I enjoyed them, but there was something lacking; I wanted more
intimacy, wanted a body wholly naked, as naked as Paula’s had
been.

I had reached
the stage where I was almost pleading with Stephen to take off his
clothes, my hands were frantically tugging at his shirt and
trousers, but the urgency of my movements had him too excited and
he was in and out, spouting like a geyser and clutching me to him
as if the only thing on his mind was making a baby.

Making babies
was a popular pastime in Sleepers Hill, the ultimate ambition for
many of the population, and it dawned on me that Stephen, for all
that he was a bloke, was no different than most. It was apparent
that he could never be anything other than what he was; he had a
career which would occupy him for a lifetime, he would earn
promotions and better himself, and the points which marked his
progress would include the house, the car, the wife and the
child.

Perhaps it was
unkind of me to see his life in such blunt terms, but I was sure
that it was an accurate prognostication of the way it would unfold,
and I realised that it was not a life that I could share. Freedom
was important for me, freedom to think what I liked, to do the work
I liked, the freedom not to conform to what was expected of a
person born in Sleepers Hill. Even wanting Stephen totally naked,
as naked to the touch as Paula had been, was nothing more than a
demonstration of this freedom which I craved; it was not the simple
lust for physical pleasure that it might have seemed, but something
more allegorical, a subconscious metaphor, if you like, in which
the freedom of the naked body could be likened to the freedom from
small town life. The escape from mundane reality which might come
in the arms of a naked man could never be any more elating than my
eventual escape from Sleepers Hill.

*

Stephen began
to stir on the settee, where we were becoming cramped and
uncomfortable, kissed me tenderly a time or two and then said, ‘Mum
and Dad will be back soon.’


Yes,’ I
understood. ‘I suppose I’d better be going.’

I sounded
reluctant, which I was in a way, for I could easily have tolerated
a whole night there in his arms, even half dressed as we were;
knowing that a whole night was out of the question, though, and
accepting that I had to leave, I was eager to leave quickly and
without fuss, to forego any further tenderness and loving words.
This wasn’t because I was incapable of such things, but because I
knew that they would no longer serve any purpose; tenderness would
make me want to stay, would make me sad because I couldn’t stay and
would spoil the mood which had built up so pleasantly during the
evening.

I tidied
myself, pulled up my tights and fastened my blouse and run my
fingers through my hair while Stephen plumped up the cushions so
that there were no signs which might make his parents suspicious.
As I watched him I saw that he was still attractive, as attractive
as he had ever been, but was disturbed to sense something also
repellent, not a thing which disgusted me or offended me but
something which persuaded me that I wanted to be away. It was not
ugliness, at least not in the way that I found the town ugly. As
with the town, though, I was aware that there was something
missing, perhaps indefinable but none the less vital for all that
it was vague. I knew who Stephen was, but it was as if I didn’t; I
could see him and describe him but I couldn’t quite understand him.
Who was he?
What
was he? He
was a person, a young man, one of God’s creatures; these were
sensible enough answers, but not sufficient in themselves, they
only described Stephen’s physical aspect and left unsaid what was
most important of all, the true meaning which was hidden behind the
outward appearance.

BOOK: The Art School Dance
9.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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