Zing Stories

First Love

  a short story for teenagers

   I loved his smoky-green eyes and the way the water made his eyelashes cling together in clusters. I loved his generous American smile and languid Southern drawl. He sat on the concrete edge of the swimming pool and blessed me, taking my hands while I tried to tread water gracefully with the legs only. Everybody looking, thinking how different. That was why I loved him. His hair was long and his mind was wide, full of poignant thoughts. Know thyself, he taught me. He was always quoting Thoreau or the Desiridata. Whatever he said made my mind lurch into a woolly tremble. Around his neck, even when he went swimming, was a leather bag which contained a nostalgic collection of objects, each of which with symbolic greatness. I presented him with an old, strange-looking key, saying, ‘It's like the key to my mind which you opened.'

    ‘You know where it goes,' he answered.

    The splendid honour. The woolly weakness of his flowing fineness.

    My parents moved from the town to the city. I moved too, without once knowing the taste of his kiss. (It would be passionate beyond knowledge or dream.) I began at a new school. Letters, fat and full of his soul, reached me over the miles that separated our bodies. Our minds were not apart at all, but bound in kindred love and knowledge. Fat, sad writing with a shy, heart-tilting revelation at the end. And poems. To me. I leaned out of my window into the cool, magnificent spirit of the night and named one bright star in the sky him.

  Dave's older brother, John, lived in Brisbane too. He rode a motorbike. One day at his younger brother's command, he spurred his throbbing beast over to say hello. His visit was unexpected. We didn't yet have a telephone connected and he simply rode into the driveway of my parents brand-new brick home in the northern suburbs and knocked on the door. My mother disapproved of him intensely. John and I sat awkwardly on the straight-backed chairs in the loungeroom the way I had seen my parents' visitors sit, while she stabbed malicious and suspicious looks at us from the kitchen. When the visit ended, I was euphoric. It felt like the first proof in my whole fifteen years of life that somebody cared for me. His brother even voiced it, ‘Dave's told me so much about you. He thinks he's fallen in love.'

    My mother wouldn't speak to me for weeks. She banged things down. She glowered at me.

    Then one Friday night from 340 miles away, Dave himself appeared. John's motorbike brought them both visiting to our double-story, double-carport, brick house in West Chermside to see me, a kid-woman who saw only that she had pimples and far-too-hairy arms, and braces on her teeth. Almost immediately desperate for the john (copying the American way, I adopted the American name for toilet), I was afraid to leave from talking and listening for even a second. I trembled in front of them. (They must think I'm mad.) As the brothers stood to go, forgetting the advice of Seventeen magazine and ABC of Flirting: Never ask a guy for the first date, I managed, ‘I'm going to the school dance tomorrow night.

  Like to come?' Dave said, ‘Sure,' and winked his mind-wavering wink and seemed pleased.

  All next day, mind tight with little flickers of elated anticipation. Phoning friends and smugly announcing, ‘Dave's coming to the dance.'

  But not coming.

  At the dance in a room underneath the high, upstairs classrooms, I expected to glimpse him at any second. For a whole night, I expected it. For the long dark reach of it. Home, humiliated sick, tears pouring from the deep, clawed-out cavern of my heart. Knowing there was an explanation - but what? Simple sorrow of the Soul. Torment.

  A torn week of mail-waiting. It was too slow for me. On Thursday afternoon I invented a reason to visit the city centre. In my navy blue school uniform, I found John working in a department store.

  The question thickened and jerked from my throat. ‘Why didn't he come?' My eyes were already filling with tears.

  John looked at me (guiltily I thought), saying, ‘I can't talk. It's closing time. I have to count the money.' It was true. He was bent over the till at Coles, placing stacks of twenty cent pieces into a plastic bag, his supervisor hovering, looking impatient. ‘He'll write you. I know he'll write.'

  Leaving quickly with big tears I pressed through people hurrying home at the end of the day. On Adelaide Street, people were rushing on the pavement. Onto buses. It amazed me that no-one could sense how utterly, utterly sad I was.

  The next week, a letter. You didn't have a phone so I couldn't phone you. John didn't feel like going out that night; anyway his bike was in repair. Belief beyond relief. But when I looked out at the starry night sky, it no longer gave me comfort: the star I thought of as him had been moving slowly east out of sight. Stars move from west to east, I'd chanted at school and it was true. Dave had fallen below the horizon. From the country town came letters from friends who reported Dave's joy at seeing me on the Friday night and his untold regret at missing the dance on the Saturday. His letters resumed too but with a new, maddeningly casual ending: Love to all, Dave. To all? Are you joking? To my parents? To my sisters? Why not just to me? My heart split anew at its hastily stitched seams. Suddenly I could no longer believe in his excuses about the dance. I became quite certain he was spinning little webs of lies for rusty reasons of his own.

  His family had no job security - not like mine. They were on the move again, looking for new work - and quite suddenly Dave was living in the same city. Our schools, both north-side (his west, mine east), met for a north-side schools athletics carnival. It was like being in a dream. We sat together, knees touching. Nothing has changed after all! it seemed, and I didn't speak of the fears and emotions which had been destroying me.

  There were no Saturday night dates - ours was a meeting of minds: radical, superior, of anarchistic beauty. Perhaps he had no budget for entertainment because his family was struggling. The cause didn't occur to me because I didn't really know what a date was, I was still such a country-town girl, naïve. My parents never went out together. When they invited schoolteacher friends round for a card party once a year that seemed to be the most fun they had. Instead of going on dates, John brought Dave visiting me on Sunday mornings. My mother disapproved of everything about the brothers, especially their long hair and their blue jeans. She clattered away in the kitchen making the Sunday roast for the two hours or so of their visits. She never invited them to join us and they discreetly left before lunch was served. Once the brothers arrived later than usual while we were in the process of placing our plates of lamb and roast vegetables on the pink Formica table in the dining room. The brothers were directed to sit on the lounge chairs in the adjoining room while the family ate. My mother offered them nothing except a cold shoulder. I felt sick.

  Their first visits were by motorbike. Later that year, John bought a decrepit 1928 Chevrolet motorcar with running boards and a squeaky horn and they proudly drove it over from Michelton to show me. On their second visit in the Chevy, John asked for permission to take me for a drive with them. ‘It won't even go over 20 miles an hour,' he assured my parents. He showed them his driver's licence. I was allowed! A strict warning was issued about the time I must be returned. The Chevy was fun, breezy, crazy, without precedence. John and a girlfriend sat in front and Dave and I held hands and laughed as we were flung around on the worn leather seats in the back. We drove west to Samford then through forests to the waterfall on Cedar Creek. It was a beautiful place. Magic, Magic. We couldn't stay long because of my curfew. On the outskirts of the city the darling thing got a puncture and I was late home. I paid for that.

  The tension my mother generated made the King brother visits more and more strained. Sometimes there was silence. After the freedom of the swimming pool, our letters with their many pages of writing, and the happy trip in the Chevy, how could we express ourselves in a lounge room with a carpeted floor with a couple of badly painted Australian landscapes staring down on us from the walls, and my mother's music playing, sounding as ancient as some ancient world war?  I spent long unwanted minutes patting the dog, stroking, stroking, struggling to find something to say, something grand. My hesitant, hope-filled soul asked, Can all be lost? Can love shrivel like an old drying fruit? A mere drop of Dave's compassion would revive me but he seemed to be growing as mute as I was. Through the week, I wrote hopeless letters to him. They never reached the post, the sad poems I poured out were for the benefit of the waste paper bin.

  One day a decision. End it. Some of his records were on loan: I packaged them up with a small vitriolic forget-it note. Inside me a large silent wildness cried out - won't that hurt him? And then the thought: let him beg for forgiveness. I would forgive him ... but no proud beggar came knocking.

  Dave returned a book of mine. It arrived in my letterbox with a note saying, I'm sorry it ended like this. How could I write back: Like what? What am I doing?  What is happening? What is supposed to happen? Do you know? Will someone tell me? I love you, I didn't mean it, it was a test and you failed. I knew the taste of a woman's illogical, wrenching pride. My heart bled and no soul knew. Or cared to know. Or cared if it knew. I sometimes crawled under the beds in my sisters room and curled up to cry there for a long time. When I emerged, perhaps because it was time to eat, no-one asked where I had been, or if there was anything wrong with me. I performed my duties as directed. I ate the food on my plate.

  A mutual friend said Dave was hurt beyond words. Beyond realising a greater hurt I said to myself, and thought of some lines of a poem I had read: To say goodbye to one who is loved but does not love in return/ is to offer a prayer to a devil in a temple. (Or something like that.) The million moments of suffering in the weeks that followed, the sad torn tatters of a strange intransigent passion floating down the channels of eternity, sighed and tucked loneliness into my mind. The dream out-dreams the dreamer. (Another thread of poetry.)

  I knew it then, and I've known it since - I had lost a love. I was alone and the boy was alone, wandering somewhere, on another plane of existence, in another circle, finding another fate.



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Zing Stories
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