Extract from a piece of fiction by Bridie Wilkinson.
When he says my name I immediately cower, because I will always be unprepared for it. For the way that his slight, lifting voice rushes me and makes me sixteen again, takes me back to sitting in the wet grass at the park, clutching a lukewarm beer as the surrounding packs of local school kids rotate between one another.
It’s a Saturday night and we can’t go anywhere so instead we go here, to the parks where we find safety in numbers and drink all our firsts down every weekend, beneath the dim yellow light of the lampposts.
My friends are preening and prowling as they do whenever we are near the opposite sex. The boys from the public and private schools load shotguns that rattle through us as they roll out because we have spent all week building up to this moment of freedom, freedom to saunter towards them, release lines of implications, to retort and return their jokes with a shrill laugh. We know the game well.
Or should know it well. Because I sit alone in the grass. I come up limp when I have to play on this field. I sit on the side lines because I have been brought up too close to follow the rules, because I can stand in their dead aim and laugh, I can wrestle with their crudeness and throw back their phrases as taunts. But that’s not what is right here. Right is a different kind of communication that I am foreign to. All hips and teeth biting and careful positioning of body parts and gazes – I can’t even begin to understand it.
So every weekend I sit in the damp and wait for my friends, slowly feeling the flat buzz from my stolen beer tune me up. But then –
There’s a voice saying my name and he sits next to me, his knees knocking mine and I look up, frowning at first, only to fall right into his boy band blue eyes.
I know him from somewhere, apparently. A house party a few weeks ago, where Katie drank too much and broke the bannister when she fell against it, right?
It was the eyes. Open, full, like my brother’s, but so not. These ones are glittering and furrowed brows which rise as I tell him no, I don’t remember.
I must remember, we spoke on the stairs (before the bannister broke) for like fifteen minutes, right?
I don’t, but it doesn’t matter because I will remember this. I will remember the knee knocking and the open eyes and the sound of him saying my name. I will remember it each weekend as he comes and finds me every time, placing himself carefully down next to me as we watch our friends prowl. He touches my hand when he sips his drink, leans into me when he talks, thumbs my shirt when he’s thinking and slowly I begin to get it. He’s teaching me, or at least trying to. Here, look, this is how we do it; you can do it too, right?
And I can. So the next time we go to the park I grab his hand before he sits and make him walk in the yellow lights with me. The time after that we go to the further point of the dark, right up to the railings and I move our joint hands along the cold metal until our friends call us back and we run, his blurry heat pressing itself back into my palm. And when he knocks my knees again I pull them into me and say his name and let him take my first kiss from me.
I didn’t make it easy. Your firsts always fuck you up and I was no exception. Dances and dates, sneaking in and out and absent parents meaning sharing spaces and bribing siblings so come to mine and ripping apart and falling back together because we were always together, how could we not stay that way, and sorrys and I love yous and the this is it, I’m leaving and you don’t mean that, right? You aren’t going to leave me, right?
Co-founder of Dear Damsels.