, , , , , , , ,


Growing dim

You know how they advise you to show, not tell? Guess what?

So, Summer. Okay, I slept with her. I don’t think Scott ever knew. There it is, short story.

It wasn’t while they were going out. It was when they had a mid-term break when they were 21. But maybe I’d better explain what happened before all that.

There was a time when I thought I loved her. Not when I slept with her, of course. This was a wee bit before that, when Scott and I were eight.

Summer was the girl I saw on the bus every morning going to her posh school in the city. She was still on the bus, being carried to her posh school, when I had to get off. I doubt she ever once cast a glance at me when I made my way into the hellhole of St James’. Her school may have been exclusive but their uniform was not the height of fashion, even then. She had to wear a hat and a hideous brown uniform, all of the time. They got reported if they got caught without their hats on, she told me later. On that bus she got a lot of heat from the shitweasels who went to school with me. Not quite your shining knight in armour, I remember joining in the slaggings one morning with a group of pudding-faced gits who were in the same class as me.

It was all down to jealousy. You could tell she was special. Blonde, blue-eyed, tall, composed, much fairer than she is now. She dismissed all the abuse without so much as a flicker of those cornstalk eyelashes.

Listen to me. Cornstalk eyelashes. Christ. But that’s the kind of thing you say about a girl like Summer.

It turned out her father knew Danno, Scott’s father. He’d been a sound engineer back before he made it big in electronics and had even been on the road with the Rivets. So now and again my folks and Scott’s folks and Summer’s folks would all get together at parties and such and so, despite the bus, we became friends. She remembered me from the bus that morning, too. “You were the snottery kid, Mr silver sleeve,” she would tell me, years later.

The best laugh is, Scott didn’t like her back then. Or he made a very good show of not liking her. We all merrily ran around together at house parties and social occasions, skinning our knees, breaking ornaments, digestive biscuits crunched into carpets, glasses of Irn Bru at the Bells, skeleton faces peering into doorways at Hallowe’en. But there was something about her then that he didn’t like. Maybe the fact that his mother Irene always made such a fuss of the gorgeous little girl, the fact that she was adored wherever she went, that she had such perfect manners. I think maybe that got on Scott’s wick, jealousy, an attention thing. I think I asked him about it years later and he told me he didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about.

Anyway. She got older. Things changed in a birds and bees sort of way. Those fair eyelashes I told you about? The eyeliner came in, dark, thick. And she grew taller still. Then other bits and pieces became apparent. Things grew complicated. Teenage parties. Serious downtime at school to allow for me daydreaming. The blonde hair got that little bit darker. The first time I saw her with makeup on at a church hall disco. Flaming jealousy when she started knocking around with kids from her posh secondary school, even further out of town.

I’d always had it in my mind that I’d marry her. She was the great matrimonial fallback in my mind, as other girls came and went for me. I was seriously distracted by Evey Hayes in my fourth year, and I thought; if it doesn’t work out with our Evey, I could always go for Summer.

I’d give anything to feel that arrogant again.

Scott took an interest, and somehow managed to kiss her at a party after the exams were done. It was at some kid’s house. Silly parents, leaving him alone, going on holiday. Someone had told me not to mix cider and beer. So of course I did. Literally. Mulcahy’s Mixer, I called it. It was just exuberance, boisterousness, joie de vivre after the end of the intellectual oppression of examination halls, indecipherable notes, stuffy revision rooms. And the girls losing some of the clothes in the warmer weather. Why the fuck do they have exams in May and June? Couldn’t they do it in a time when you don’t want to go out and have sex with girls all the time?

Anyway. At the party, Scott kissed her. I missed all this, as I was locked outside this kid’s house, vomiting. It wasn’t the vomiting that did it for me with Summer; someone – I think it had been big Cairney, a monster even then – had punched somebody and amid the screaming and breaking glass we were all disgorged into the street. While I spat and moaned against some roughcast at the side of the house, Cairney was swinging a traffic cone around, marking distance with three or four people who had nothing to do with the original incident. Big drama queen that he is.

A couple of days later, when I heard about what had gone on inside the house with Scott and Summer, I was… Well. In recent times she had seemed more unattainable than usual. Seventeen years old, gorgeous, everything going for her. She was withdrawing in my mind at that point, receding from a friend into an acquaintance. She had gone out with guys who were a lot older, guys who her father knew, guys with degrees and cars and paying jobs. So fair play to Scott. When the chance came, he went in for the kill. And they became an item. And I had to swallow it.

And I always wondered: what if I’d kept the head at that party? What if I hadn’t been such an idiot?

Whatever feelings I had, I stowed them away and forgot about them. University next for us all, and a parting of the ways. Scott and Summer both got into Glasgow, I made it into Dundee, and our lives blossomed in different ways. She became my Best Friend’s Girl. I had no feelings for her at all, I’m sure of that. Besides, I had my own scene happening up at Dundee. The only person who kept on about Scott and Summer was my mother. Any time I was home, and any time she spoke about seeing the pair of them together, the coda was always: “She went for the wrong one, son.”

“Why’s that then?”

“They just don’t look right together.”

This I don’t know about. I’m not the tallest kid on the block, so quite how an Amazonian beauty is going to “look right” with her pygmy lover, I don’t know. Now Scott – tall, dark, angular – he looked just fine with Summer. I admit that. What my mother was on in those days, I couldn’t tell you. But what my mother should have said was: “They don’t fit together.” Because, as it turned out, myself and Summer fit together just nicely. Snug, in fact.

Okay, enough of the teasing, here’s how it went down.

Much to my parents’ astonishment, I didn’t immediately pursue a teaching career after four years’ nonsense up in Dundee and another one doing Postgrad in Glasgow. Don’t ask me why. I was twenty-one. Twenty-one-year-olds don’t know shit, I can confirm that. So anyway, with Beat dreams and a wandering spirit I worked my balls off… well, kinda, along with a few loans… in pubs and clubs and suddenly I was in Australia, suffering the indignity of people telling me I talked funny while I waited tables and sweated my nights away in a cupboard in a tower block.

I waited for my first month to be over with, for the culture shock to subside, and for it to get better – more like Kerouac, less like Solzhenitsyn. But it didn’t. I was thinking of getting back home and looking for employment. And suddenly, Summer was in Australia as well. It was out of nothing, an e-mail exchange in an internet cafe. She was on my “jokes list” of e-mail recipients –  the people you rarely communicate with other than forwarding them gags and chronically unfunny JPegs (but not those cheese-dick chain letters about sick little boys and cancer-addled grandmothers wishing upon a star; no, bin them, and bin them again). But one day, her name was in bold in my inbox: Summer (1).

She told me that she was in Australia travelling for a while and that she would be in Melbourne soon, and she’d heard that I was there and was wondering: did I want to meet up? And, PS: she’d split with Scott.

I hadn’t seen a great deal of them in the intervening years. Not together anyway. Myself and Scott, sure, we were out whenever the chance came up. Best mates. And Scott had, in truth, been a naughty boy at uni. He played rugby and had misbehaved several times on away trips with his university team. He told me about this and trusted me with that information. Believe me, I was in no position to judge the guy, but all the same this had shocked me. I knew Summer was still beautiful. How could you want to do that to Summer? I wondered.

He called me up about it at my flat. He was pretty low. He was sure that there was someone else involved, some reason why she’d left him. The truth was, they’d outgrown each other. They were heading in opposite directions, new jobs, different cities with their jobs – he was an architect, she was a graphic designer – and maybe they had grown apart.

When he called me, it was a shock. At first I thought he knew about my meeting, but he didn’t. I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the biscuit barrel.

I never did tell him she was coming to see me. I’m not sure he ever knew.

It was all cool and composed of course. She was just a laid-back flighty hippy gal seeing the world on her own, and I was a cool guy sampling the delights of the new world with lemon juice in my hair making me look like “the gayest little surfer on the beach”, or so she told me. It was cool. Cool was a word often repeated in our e-mails. Cool. That’s cool. Cool, no worries. See you there, peace. Sweet. Cool. When I met her in bleached blasted sunshine at a café I could hardly believe what I was embarking on. And I swear to you, although I’d be lying if I’d said it never occurred to me what might happen, I had no designs on seducing her.

Something happened. That’s what they say, isn’t it? “It just happened.” “It was one of those things.” “These things happen.” “We never meant for it to happen.” The weather was fine and we had some drinks and there was a lot of laughter, and only very very rarely did she mention Scott, and… and then… and then again…

Back in that cupboard, limbs entwined, with a breeze rattling my blinds through a crack in the window and chilling the sweat on our bodies, we agreed never to tell him.

It was the best I’d ever had, the best circumstances, the best beginning, middle and end, and then a few more. There was something so organic about it, nothing forced, nothing contrived. It was like I’d been with her before, been with her all my life. When we were in the dark, that cupboard could have been a palace, a football pitch, down a mine shaft, the bottom of the ocean, deep space. Nothing else mattered.

I knew it was a one-off deal. There was something final about it. It added to the experience maybe, who knows? We held each other for a few hours and then she was gone. I was in shock; it was like making love for the first time. On the outside, nothing’s different about you. But inside, nothing is the same.

I’d like to tell you that I moped around for the rest of that summer in Melbourne, tortured my work colleagues with poetry, listened to some Nick Cave and thrown myself to the sharks. But there were other things on the go as, at last – perhaps Summer had broken the levee – things did get interesting Down Under. It was by no means the last Australian shag. Nor was it the last with some other guy’s girl. There was a fist-fight with a surfer who came into the restaurant to kick things off. I punched the guy and then prayed for the rest of the staff to hold him off while I made good my escape, which they did. Then there was the hippy girl from Toulouse with beads rattling along the hem of her jeans who wanted to be a marine biologist… there were concerts, there were beers, there was the sea, there was the smell of sunblock on a girl’s back, which always makes me think of having sex… Summer was part of the way of things for me then, and maybe symbolised it the best. A brief, intense burst of pleasure and high living, a young man behaving badly, but doing it well.

And, they got back together. I’m not sure when it happened. Scott e-mailed me six months later, when I was back home and starting teacher training, saying we should all head out for a meal.

Another slight, sickening moment there. Did he know? Did he want to pull the same moves as the restaurant-crashing surfer? He never did say. We went out for dinner, very civilised, and Summer was with him and they held hands and sat close and got all giggly. And that was that. They were on the road to engagement, sharing a house, spending their lives together. And I had to forget all about Summer again.

All went well for the pair of them. Their career graphs started spiking. The cars got bigger and more expensive. A ring appeared. A date was tentatively set. Scott had asked me if I would be his best man; the final slap in the face. I grinned and said, yes, of course I’ll do that for you.

And then, just recently, a couple of kids found Scott in a car off the roadside, several days after he went missing, his wrists opened from the heel of the hand to the elbow with a carpet knife, apparently bubbling with maggots.

Put down that mac n’ cheese and read part one, if you like.