Image ©  Dennis Cox

The first time I was in love, it was for seven seconds. I blamed Jeremy.

    "But it's my party."
    "Of course it is," said Jeremy. Jeremy was the most patronising twelve year old I knew. Ever.
    "But who are all these people?"
    Jeremy had put the word around to 'help' me. My Mum would have killed me if she had found out about all this booze. Jeremy asked if I mentioned booze. I hadn't. Jeremy formed the opinion that this meant that she hadn't
objected before and therefore had no right to object after. Jeremy never understood parents. Especially his girlfriends' parents. Mr and Mrs Jeremy were 'cool' which was bad news. Jeremy lived in an unreal world. His Mum made him read Penthouse.

    "I was too busy begging her not to make jelly," I explained, but I don't think Jeremy was listening.        "But she said 'your friends like jelly' so I said 'they used to' and then she just laughed and . . ." Jeremy definitely wasn't listening. The trouble was, sometimes Jeremy was cool too. Too cool. But there was one person he had promised to bring. I lowered my voice.
    "Is she here?"
    "Yes," he whispered, "but be careful, she's dangerous."
    "Why, because it could lead to romance and heartbreak?" these were difficult concepts for a thirteen year old male mind, but I'd read my Mum's Family Circle, I knew what I was talking about. Jeremy just shook his head. "Stormy passion ? Wanton desires and smoky lovers kisses ?" I think that was from a record, come to think of it. Jeremy was getting upset with me now.
    "No! She kissed Gobby O'Riordan and made his nose bleed."
    "Gobby O'Riordan's nose bleeds all the time."
    "It does now."
    "Oh. Cor!"
    "She's around somewhere. She stares a lot and drinks Pomagne."
    "Don't call me Stuffy tonight or I'll kill ya, I'm on the pull," shouted Stuffy as he bounced in through the doorway. My Mum always said that Stuffy was just a seed. A big round seed waiting to grow up and that one day I might regret all my jokes. The last time I met Stuffy he was playing for Saracens and hoping for an England trial. He bought me a pint and called me fatty. She is a wise woman, my Mum.
I was pleased to see Stuffy. I had been wrong, you see, my friends loved the jelly, especially the way it wobbled in the air, so I pointed the food out to Stuffy - it didn't need pointing twice - and turn to find Jeremy, but he was obscured by some newly arrived girls lighting cigarettes on the cooker and sucking Lambrusco through bendy straws out of a massive bottle. They were fifteen so they avoided talking to me except to ask the dog's name and then tell me how stupid it was.
    "What's your name?" I asked, hopeful is not an optimistic enough word to describe the tone of my voice. Eventually she replied with a bored 'Greta'. Her voice was cold and overcast, with rainy spells. I edged my neck closer so that she could smell my aftershave. My brother had leant me a spray of his Kung Fume. My tide of coolness was lapping at the feet of a goddess. I dipped a trembling toe into the spume, even as my willpower started to ebb away.
    "That's a hip name." Oh god why had I said 'hip'?
Hatred snarled back. She meant it too, but she hated her name more than she disliked me.
    "My mum called me after a cartoon or something. Greta Garbage."
She vaguely acknowledged the possibility of this being so, turned her head slowly away, puckered her lips and blew, dismissively.
    "She was an actress."
    "Oh listen to the bloody expert," piped her gawky friend, tipping the tentative tip of a cigarette towards the ceiling and tossing her head, a manoeuvre that needed lot more practice, "and you should say 'what is your name' and 'that is nice', and nice is stupid anyway."
    "You don't want to dance then?" Greta pulled her head away from me, as if to examine me from as far away as possible.
    'Who with?'
    "Me, stupid."
    "Don't call her stupid. I thought you were asking for that Jeremy."
    "She should be so lucky. And it's 'do not call her stupid'. And. And. You've got fag ash all over your shoulder now." Greta had been jettisoned from the conversation and put on a jealous pout. She even looked at me when she spoke this time. It was no good. My shiny new libido was still no match for the ancient call to the baiting of girls.
    "Well what?"
    "Ask me again," she blinked at me. Many times.
    "Please yourself, got any fags. She's smoked all hers."
    "No, it's bad for you."

    She rolled her eyes towards her gawky friend, laughing with petulant little nods of her head and mouthing 'oh please'. She turned back and nailed me with a shimmering stare.
    "Fancy a blow job?"
    "Yeah!" I said, although it sounded more like 'eeep'.
    "Get a hair drier then." Greta and Nicotina collapsed onto each other, cackling desperately and I walked away, forcing out laughter.

    Chip dropped a leaden arm onto my shoulder and started to explain about his four cans of Bud'. Chip had been to Florida, and everyone knew it. Before Florida he had been Charles Watmough and had worn glasses. Afterwards he had become Chip, and wore shades and walked into things. His mum kept taking him to the optician, and the optician kept selling her new glasses, and Chip took them off every day when crossed the road outside his house. In a weeks time he will see Greta on the other side of the road and swap his glasses for his shades before he crosses the road. He will then collide with a motorcyclist and Charlie will be back and Chip will just be the memory of the smell of scorched rubber, soiled trousers, and the everlasting ring of Greta's hideous laughter in his ears.
    "Four?" He nodded his head, annoyed that I didn't believe him. He explained that he is 'just blasted, man' and asked me to dance.
    "Naa. I only dance with girls now," he laughed and said,
    "Sure buddha".
    "You mean 'buddy'."
    "That's what I said, buddha, come on your brother's got his led zep albums out".

    With an embarrassing burst of enthusiasm we started elbowing towards the lounge.
    "Hi Barry." He looked round. My hero. The master. My guru in all things sexual. Source of my pride. Font of my manhood. He stood up, grinning, shaking his lapels with his shoulders like great mauve elephant ears. He put his arm around me. I was stunned when he called me 'mate'. He never called me anything in public, except an assortment of grunts. He muttered about playing some real music before he went out to find some real chicks. Everyone was staring at Barry. He was so cool. He was the only white person I know who still had the conviction to wear an afro, even when everyone else was worrying about what Gran might say about a safety pin in their nose. He kept wrinkling his nose as though he knew there was something missing. There seemed to be a joke going on.
    "What's up ?" They all smirked.
    "That aftershave."
    "It's disgustin'"
    "It's your aftershave. You lent it 'me."
    "No it's not. I replaced it with Mum's Coty L'aimant." 

    I punched up the volume to drown the laughter and ran out for a wash. There was a commotion in the bathroom and no one could get in. A certain cross-legged excitement was brewing. As luck would have it, my Dad had rigged the lock in case of accidents. Actually it was so he could get at Barry when he kept letting the bath overflow and all you needed was a fifty pence piece and to be very quiet. I never did understand the stealth bit, nor how Barry let the bath overflow when he was sitting next to it, but it had something to do with magazines. I burst inside. It was horrible. Three thirteen year olds were clustered around the sink. Heads crowded around the door, gasping at the terrible damage that had been wrought amongst my Mum's best towels.
    "It's me eye," wailed the victim, "I've glued it shut with mascara."
This time I lead the laughter and afterwards I headbanged while my can of lager fizzed out all over my arm. Nicotina was looking for Greta and I also noticed the short, thin girl with huge eyes and a mostly empty bottle of Pomagne. She stared at me. I shouted at Chip to put on some DP. He stared back, blankly through his shades. She was still staring. Everyone always stared
    "Deep Purple God are you thick or what ?"

    She was still staring. It was my party and everyone was staring at me like I should leave or something.
    "Yes," I said, testily. She jumped. She asked if it is my house. Shy. Abrupt. Maybe even cute. "yes. Well. I mean my Dad's."
    "You mean your Mum and Dad's."
    "Never mind. Nice, innit. Big I mean."
    "The house."
    "Oh." My hormones were rushing thoughts into my confused brain. She was shocked and started giggling. We exchanged lies about what a good party it was. Then I remembered what Jeremy's Mum had said, 'you know that you are grown up when you know that the person you are talking to is lying, and you realise that they know that you are lying as well, but then you carry on lying to each other and realise that you like it'. I realised with horror that the Pomagne was spilling onto the Habitat settee. My mum was going to be furious.
    "Look what you've done!"

    Startled, she leapt to her feet, staring at the tiny mark on the fabric. Flustering about whether it was expensive or not.
    "Expensive? It cost a fortune." Things were going well, oh yes. She apologised again, and took out a grubby hankie, "my mum will explode," Yes yes, "she'll meltdown," yes yes yes.
    "I'm really really sorry."
    "I mean she will melt all the way to China and we will all have to escape from the commies and everything," oh man it was great, all I had to do now was make her pay up.
    "Crap," she snorted.
    "Crap. Look I've wiped it off with my hankie."
    "Oh." It wasn't so much the wiping off that bothered me, as what the handkerchief had left behind. She looked at me, accusingly.
    "Sorry," I deflated again.
    "Just for that you can take me outside."
    It was getting foggy, which meant that my parents would be back soon. Things were getting urgent. Any minute now I would be sentenced to death by disappointment, slow shakes of the head, and long lingering sulks of epic melancholy. Mum might even withdraw her conjugals and then Dad will kill me. I dragged her through the french windows into the catastrophe of the garden. Conjugals were a mystery, but I was learning fast. I knew that withdrawal of them was serious and had something to do with sex. My book said it meant that you had to stop before you were finished and explained the convenience of having a hankie handy, but didn't explain why it made Dad so cross because I never got to even start. Some people didn't know they were born. I tried to explain this to my Dad, and how unfair his attitude was, and he laughed so hard he choked on his chips. Typical. My sex education was less of an education and more of a five year striptease on the subject.
    Anyway, Chip was sitting in a bush, camouflaged by the green of his face and mumbling to the dog about his 'six bud's'. The dog waddled away, chased by a girl waving a sandwich. He was bloated with pork pies and his eyes were crossed as it lifted a leg corrosively into the eye of a garden gnome. He was always a happy dog, Socrates. Stupid but happy. He would eat anything. One day not long after, he tried to eat a lorry, but only once.
    Poor Socrates.
    By the garage a small group of boys I didn't recognise were cutting the flowers off the magnolia with jelly frisbees. Some others were trying to throw vol-au-vonts to each other over the house, with uninhibited simian howls. The roof looked like a flock of giant seagulls had flown over it. The shed seemed to be shaking. It occurred to me that Grandad's special recipe cider was fermenting in there and didn't take well to vibration, but it wouldn't have been polite to disturb the occupants. In the middle of the lawn, legs crossed like an ancient sage, Stuffy was trying to prove that he could fit two pork pies in his mouth and still empty a beercan.
    Polly and I went behind the hedge where the party could not see us but everyone on the main road could. It was dangerous and wicked and bloody cold. The lights in the street were muddy with the calm drunkenness of the mist. By the laurel, in the orange-yellow candyfloss, she smiled with eyes that burned like oil rigs flaring in the fog. It would be soon. It came with relentless slowness. She says,
    "Gi'us a kiss then."
    "Why not?"
    "I might not want to."
    "Are y'a poof?"
    "Kiss us then."
    So I did.
    I was trembling so much that I had to squeeze her really hard to hide it. I tried to be gentle, but my lips were trembling too, and the kiss wobbled on the tip of my tongue. She didn't seem to notice, she had grabbed my head with both hands, just behind the ears, and applied suction. It was though she had attached herself to me with butterfly bolts. I can still remember my sinuses collapsing.
    But she liked the trembling lips and the squeeze.
    Our faces entwined with an elaborate squelch like two octopuses wrestling in a bucket of swarfega. She hissed a breathless exclamation. I was still trembling, but my toes were warming up, and the trembling was becoming confined to certain quite specific regions. She pulled my face down to hers. This time she skilfully prized my lips apart and dispatched her tongue down my throat like a ferret looking for a rabbit. I was forced to use my own tongue to defend my tonsils, and it performed valiantly, despite the superior training and overwhelming odds that my opponent had in her favour. By now she had me by the handful of hair at the back of my neck. I was bent so far over, like a roped sapling, that I almost overbalanced, and when she let me go I flipped upright with enough force to lift me out of my slip ons.
    "Phroarr," she enthused, "you're alright, you. Where'd you get that aftershave ?"
    I was in love. I didn't want it to be over.
    It wasn't.
    She grabbed me again and this time her lips engulfed my whole face from the end of my nose to the tip of my chin in a liquid, quivering, alien embrace. She was the only girl I ever kissed who could kiss me on the lips and nibble my fringe in one movement. Yes, I liked it, I definitely liked it. A bit gooey, but we could practice lots. She pressed me downwards again feeling around for my tongue, all warm saliva and bubble gum. For a quivering, passionate, explosive second we were attached to each other by the blissful power of her lungs only, until the screeching of brakes on the main road separated us.
    Seven seconds.
    Suddenly, I didn't know whether it was today or yesterday or tomorrow or a dream or what. Some things matter too much and you miss the now completely.
    It had passed. We separated.
    Or not.
    My teeth had become entangled in her brace and were stuck fast for a lingering instant and then exploded free in a tangle of wire and elastic which flew away at a tangent from the pair of us, like an quark escaping from a particularly energetic nuclear interaction.
    "Oarhhhh me teeef,"  she kicked me fiercely on the shin, "wankaaah."
    As she bent down to retrieve the remains of her dental architecture, there was a tremendous explosion. Bits of apple-scented larch-lap burst through the hedge, followed by screaming teenagers like water through a dam. My Mum followed close behind with a vol-au-vont casing in one hand and a maiden miss 28 triple 'A' cup in the other. Chip ran for home at a fair lick and ran into a tree. Socrates ran blindly into my Dad who was hugging the Magnolia, sobbing. A smoking bottle top landed nearby with a hiss. A passing blackbird collided drunkely with the eaves and ever since there has been a low raise in the lawn where Socrates was sick.
    I lied and blamed Baz. They found him in the remains of shed with Greta trembling in his arms and lumps of rotten apple in his wilted afro.

    Later, my Mum burnt his flares and trimmed all his lapels with crinkle-edged scissors.
    As for Polly, she went out with Chip for a while until he had contact lenses, then they had to stop seeing each other after she swallowed three sets in a week. I only saw her once after that, at the dentist. I had to have four teeth out so that they could fit my brace. She was having the final polish on her now perfect teeth. She laughed until I cried.