Saturday, January 24, 2009

Fiction Friday: Hello, Good-bye

This week's prompt from Write Anything's Fiction Friday is:


Tell us about a memorable blind date.



Steven!

He was the first thing to slam into my consciousness as I blinked awake this morning on the makeshift mattress of couch cushions on Michelle’s bedroom floor. He’s the thought that accompanied me into the shower as I washed my hair with Wella Balsam’s brand new shampoo with Chestnut extracts for brown hair. Only briefly was he displaced when I locked myself in the toilet, the sliding door having jumped the runner and I was too embarrassed to call out for someone to come and let me out. All my mental reserves were occupied trying to get the door back on so I could get out.

The hour of our meeting is dawning. I’m paranoid - I think my shoes are whispering his name as they hit the concrete, one foot after the other down Sturt Street towards the Mall, closer to MacDonalds and Steven. And I can’t share my torture with Michelle. This is meant to be a secret.

I try to knock thoughts of meeting Steven out of my head by humming Fairground Attraction’s “Perfect”. All it does is remind me that there is nothing perfect about this staged meeting. I’m taking second best by allowing my friends, I correct myself, by allowing Rachel to organise this. It’s doomed to be disaster.

I long to be on a dodgey looking barge, sheltering from fake rain under a brolly, floating down the Yarra far away from MacDonald’s Bakery Hill just like the chick in the film clip of Perfect. Now that would be perfect! Instead I’m walking towards my own version of destiny. After all, you don’t long and yearn for the love and adoration of the St Paul’s boy on the backseat of the Wendouree West bus without harbouring secret plans to one day meet him. And for him to fall in love with you – but that’s rather pointless now that I’m moving to Geelong.

STEVEN is printed on the back of my Mr Men ruler and I have documented in excruciating detail all his comings and goings, facial expression, conversations (with other people),changes of hair style etc in numerous diaries hidden in a plastic bag in the top bunk amid a collection of used tissues. I remember all the effort that went into finding out his name. And it’s come down to this.

I thrust my hands into the pockets of my duffle coat to stop them from shaking and try to keep up the small talk with Michelle

Michelle and I meet up with the rest of our friends out the front of MacDonalds. Maz is trying not to look sheepish and I give her a brilliant smile. I’m as prepared as I can thanks to Maz spilling the beans, half asleep on the bus back from Melbourne two days ago. Mel is looking stunning as usual and Regina is standing beside her. Kate’s got a thick scarf wrapped around her neck and her abundant curls pulled back in a piggie tail. Kim’s sporting a groovy new bob that’s long on one side and short on the other. Then there’s the other hanger-ons that I wouldn’t have invited – but I didn’t organise the party.

There’s no sign of Rachael. And there’s no sign of Steven. Yet!

By midday we’re all inside waiting on Rachel and it’s so obvious to me what’s going to happen – the sly smiles that are being swapped around the table. But no one would dare publicly cave in now and tell me.

Five minutes later someone yells, “He’s here!”

The secret’s out and the bottom falls out of my stomach. I have talked myself into believing that I can meet him, that I can do this with style and grace but now I just want to run and hide in the toilet again. Wish that it had a door that ran off the rails.

How anyone could have thought this was a great idea is beyond me – they are meant to be my friends. This is a hybrid social experiment that combines the worst aspects of Perfect Match with public executions. A blind date I would have coped with – it would have just been Steven and I, without the addition of the baying peanut gallery. This is my karmic debt for having bored them to death for two years with stories of Steven.

Rachel strides up the steps resplendent in her victory, followed by Steven and another boy I didn’t recognise.
“Hey Mel, isn’t that Peter Bolger?”
The only person this means anything to is Mel is elegantly trying to drain herself from her chair to a space under the table where she’ll be hidden from sight. There is a small amount of satisfaction that someone else feels as uncomfortable as me.

I stand up and I’m not sure what possesses me to do such a thing. Do I really need to point out that I’m the other helpless victim here? Rachael has her annoying little school case in one hand and a crazy grin on her face.

The introductions are short and simple.
”Steven this is Jodi.”
“Hi,” he says, trying to offer me a smile. He’s deep in this crap as well.
“Hello.” The word comes from somewhere deep inside me and barely makes it out my lips. “I think you know my sister. She was the one who got caught in the bus door.” It was the only common point of reference I could think of between us.
“Yeah I remember.”

Rachael jabs her elbow into the fleshy part of his arm, and he takes a small, smartly wrapped parcel out of his pocket. All the bits of me that have been frozen against this occasion melt away. He went to the trouble of buying me something.
“Remember what to say.”
The defrosting halts.
“Hope it fits,” and he hands me the present.

It is a joke. Another little embarrassing thing to throw my way – as if forcing me to meet Steven this way isn’t bad enough. It’s a whoopey cushion – or something else crass and vulgar. It’s definitely too small to be a packet of condoms.

I sit down and try to conceal the unwrapping until I can work out just what is in there. I pull out the note first.

Dear Jodi,
See! Now you can be just like Miss O’Mara. Hope it fits.
Luv your friends from SHC xxx

I know immediately what makes up the bulk of the present, but I pull enough of the lacy bra through the wrapping paper to confirm my suspicions. It is periwinkle blue, so technically not a replica of the jade green bra strutted out by our English teacher under her white cheese cloth blouse months ago.

“What is it?” Peter should have known better to say something and in that moment I can see Steven is doing a double take on his decision to bring him along.
“A bra!” erupts Rachael, loud enough to inform all levels of the two story fast food complex. She is laughing hysterically at her own cleverness and how the humiliation factor has just been ramped up a few more notches.

I grab my purse and go for lunch. Food will fix it all. It will take the steam out of the bra incident, but when I return with my luke warm burger and chips my bra is flying, sling slot style from one corner of the room to the other. Putting my tray down, I venture out to intercept it and stuff it into the pocket of my duffle coat. Game over, everyone else goes down for lunch.

Steven’s been strategically placed next to me and he asks me if he can have a look at my card. A year older, and planning to leave school at the end of the year to take up an apprenticeship he seems more socially adept than I am to traverse this quagmire of a social landscape that I am sinking in. It is also unlikely that he’s been harbouring secret desires for me for the past two years. That gives him the obvious edge.

But the card. I can’t give him the card. The envelope is bad enough. It has things like “What will you do Jo is someone in Geelong knows Steven? FREAK!” Another ‘thanks guys’ moment for me.

I pass him the card knowing it would be rude and slightly suspicious to snatch it up from the table and hide it away in my pockets. Someone would just get it out and give it to him. I may as well execute the last phase of my social demise. As soon he has the card in his hand, it unleashes a torrent of stories from my friends, who can’t help themselves but tell him everything that I have ever told them about him.

I guess I’m to blame really since I introduced the now famous hero moment where he freed my sister from the bus doors as it was pulling away from the central bus stop with her half in and half out. I’d ignored her screams and carry on, thinking it was another of her drama queen moments designed to impart the highest degree of embarrassment in the vicinity of Steven. Little sisters are like that when they discover which boy you like.

It’s the story telling that really turns the party into something tragically immature and something I don’t want to be part of any longer. Peter says something to upset Mel and she upends her thick shake on his head. Steven starts setting everything combustible on fire. Rachel knocks her thick shake onto the floor, pulls the cup off and laughs at the solid mound left behind that’s more like a sandcastle than a beverage. Then the hair mousse comes out.

I retreat to the toilet and when I finally come out take up residence by a window where I can hear the laughs and squeals, but pretend to focus on the traffic whizzing down Little Bridge Street. I’m torn. I want this to end now, but at the same time I want it to go on forever. I want to leave, but I don’t want to go. I hate my friends and in the same heart beat I love them with every fibre of my being. I can’t imagine life without them – even after this.

Tears start to well in my eyes. Maz is at my shoulder, squeezing it gently and letting me know that the story telling is over and everyone’s got rid of their rubbish so Steven can’t set anything else alight.

Steven asks me about where I was moving to. “Geelong’s a cool place. I might just come around and see you.” I’m pretty sure that after this afternoon’s fiasco he’ll be glad that I will be sequestered in Geelong, far away from him and safe from my fanatical friends.

It’s time to say good-bye.
“Are you going to kiss her good-bye.” It is Peter again. I’m certain now he’s been secretly working as an agent for my friends or enjoying the rather bizarre circumstances his friend has found himself in.

Saying good-bye was meant to be easy – why did Peter have to suggest a kiss. I want to be kissed by Steven more than anything else in the world – but not here, now – infront of all of them.
“No way guys.” This is not the way it plays out in my daydreams or the novel that I wrote with a fictionalised Steven and me.
“Come on.” It is a chorus that threatens to break into a chant sports day style.

I shake my head. “No.”
“Are you sure?” It is Steven asking this time – giving me one last chance to change my mind. Does he want to kiss me? Does he want to kiss me here? Rachel’s got to have paid him to do this.
“Yes!” I am confident in my answer. I’ll bemoan the lost chance in the lonely hours that stretch out in Geelong in the months to come. “Good-bye Steven.”

I walk off, thinking I’ve recovered a few shreds of my dignity, until I discover I am being propelled by a mob towards Steven. This is not the way it was ever meant to be. I tear free and run. Hellos are mandatory - good-byes in this case, optional.

Authors Note: If you're wondering - this is a true story circa 1987, based on a story written for Year 10 English!

6 comments:

Annie Evett said...

how excruciating! The pace kept the reader in a constant panic, blurring between the poor girls wishes and dreams and the horrible awkwardness of teenage love.

Jodi Cleghorn said...

That poor girl - darling - was me!! I wish I could say I'd fictionalised at least some of it ... but sadly - nada! The only thing I am sure didn't occur was the Fairground Attraction Moment, however it was one of my favourite songs at the time.

I'll tell you the rest of the story next time we meet - and show how the universe works in really strange ways.

rosey said...

Well, that was funny, cringemaking and painful all at once. I really enjoyed it. Mine is not much better! Hope you have time to visit me.

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