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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

All the Way Home and All the Night Through (5 page)

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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“Hey, Harry, there's the new blue Angela, complete with this term's rude knees.”

“Oh, them mucky knees,” said Harry, “them mucky, mucky knees.”

“Eh, give over,” she said, smirking.

“I bet they go well with her rude little bum. Hey, Angela, is it true that your legs go right up to the maker's name?”

“Yes,Vic, all the way. You ought to know.”

“Come off.”

“Well, if you don't, you ought to. There's such a thing as try, try, try again,” she said, trying to look ingenuous.

“Give over. You'd run a mile.”

“If you say so, Vic.” she said, assuming her irritating all-knowing attitude. I smirked.

“Get stuffed.”

“Whenever you're ready, Vic,” she said.

“Now I know you're bloody kidding.”

We took our places, Harry and I together at the end of a row, and Angela slightly further in on the row behind. I settled down to wait for the principal to begin his welcoming speech to the new students. I placed my arm over the back of my canvas chair. The large north-facing windows of the hall fed in the promise of sunshine reflected off the rear of the southern roof of the Station Hotel. Below that roof, the station was bathed in the cool breezy shadow of the college buildings and the shadow of the piece of Turkish architecture next door, the Astoria Cinema. The noises describing the expansive-seeming morning in the city outside in and out of the building stirred by vehicles in the street and ships on the river, on which the sun flashed broad acres of turpentine as on a nineteenth-century sea scape.

I inclined my head to the right so that I could see what the situation was like behind me. Angela was sitting looking as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but if you looked closely you could see it running out of the corners. My gaze passed along the row beyond her.

Janet, the girl from the dance, was sitting at the end of the row, looking seriously, but somehow apathetically, in the direction of stage. She seemed withdrawn, yet vulnerable. Her eyes seemed wary, yet they were still and far away. She wore her hair in a pony tail. The style drew her hair back from her face and a few gentle strands had slipped down across her forehead. A hand fingered a brooch at the neck of a white shirt-styled blouse, which she wore under a finely knitted pale blue V-necked sweater.

When I turned away, I saw that Angela had been paying attention. She looked at Janet, then at me, then back to Janet. Each movement was couched in arch, deliberately unsubtle inference. Full marks, I thought and I blew her a silent raspberry; she stuck her suggestive tongue between her lips, and I turned round.

After Smithson, my tutor, had finished welcoming his new students, he sauntered roundly over to where I was sitting. I had my folder of holiday work propped up against the leg of my desk.

“Good morning, Graves.” His broad mouth flashed back, quick as a zip, over his smiling, expansive teeth.

“Good morning, sir.”

He swayed back and forth very slightly and produced his packet of Senior's from out of his neutral, well-pressed suit. Careful in every movement, he lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply, luxuriantly, his lips drawn back tightly, his whole being apparently solely concerned with the fresh blue smoke which his lungs embraced.

“How was the holiday,” he hissed out with the smoke.

“Oh fine thanks, sir. I had a good holiday. The weather was good.”

“Yes, wasn't it?” His smile grew bigger. Whenever he smiled an affirmative he would incline forward, and his eyes would light up like those of a Victorian actor in a melodrama, ice blue and menacing.

There was nothing I could say in reply without sounding vacuous so I smiled in uneasy assent. I was nervous about my work. I had no way of telling how adequate he would think it to be, in quality or in quantity. I very much wanted him to like it. He carried on smiling and smoking.

“Well,” I said, “I have my work with me, you know. If you'd like to see it—”

“Ah, you have something for me? Ah, good.” He pretended that he wasn't expecting anything from me. He exuded pleasure as though I had just offered him some hot, buttered crumpets.

“And what is it like?”

“Well, I don't know. I mean—”

“I think if we went over to my table and had a look at it there, that would be best, don't you?”

He turned slowly away and strolled over to his table. His whole manner suggested paternal indulgence in the class he presided over, but I knew from experience that he was an honest man, concerned with his own work and with the work of the students. His exterior seemed to be there to protect him from any disappointment he might get from his students, as artists or as people.

I put my folder on the table then went and brought an extra chair and sat down next to him.

“Well now, would you like to show me what you have,” he said slowly, affecting a pleasantly interested attitude. The sun streamed in through the high studio windows, already beginning to warm the wooden tabletops.

I opened my folder and lifted out some sheets of mounted illustrations.

“These are the illustrations to the books you asked me to do. I did as you asked and chose one historical, one humorous, etc. I chose ‘Alice' as the children's book.”

I carried on talking as I handed him each sheet for scrutinizing.

“That's ‘Decline and Fall' for the humorous one. I thought it was a good one to do.”

He went through the group once and then began looking more closely at each one. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking.

When he finally spoke (he was a man of much deliberation), he was critical and slightly generous, making more of the good points than he actually felt like doing, I could tell. He was disappointed. It was not that he felt them to be below standard, rather that he felt they were as good as I could get. I felt as if I had let him down. My heart sank.

“The rest is sketchbook stuff,” I said.

He began leafing through the drawings, mainly landscape and figure studies. Then he began to slow down. His eyes sharpened and gleamed in concentration. He looked at one drawing in particular and then at me.

“These,” he said, “are it. These are good.”

I didn't know what to say. It was almost unbelievable that he should say something like that.

“Very good.”

As he finished looking at each drawing, he placed it in front of me on the table. The pile of drawings grew. In my fear of the work being badly received, I must have overlooked the quantity of drawings I had done. My excitement made it hard for me to sit still in the chair next to him. It took him nearly half an hour to go through the work.

“Graves, these drawings are easily the best work I've seen you do.”

“Well, you know, I'm—I don't know—I'm very pleased, you know.”

“Yes, Graves. These are far, far superior to the illustrations.”

I sat there unable to speak because of trying not to smile from ear to ear.

“So, all we've got to do this year is to bring your illustrations up to this standard by employing the quality of drawing you have in these.”

He gave me a smile full of relieved earnest satisfaction.

He picked some of the drawings off the top of the heap. After a pause in which he reexamined them, he said:

“Well, well. We'll have to see if we can't institute some reward for this effort. Yes, something will be done. Would you mind if I kept these drawings for a while? I'd like to show them to Mr. Branston.”

Honour upon honour. I knew that rivalry between the staff on the Graphic side of college and the Painting staff was keen. He wanted to cut the achievements of the Painting Department by showing them that someone in his care could produce first-class straight drawing, too.

I spent the rest of the morning at my desk being happy. Now there was nothing to worry about anymore. I could chase round as much as I wanted now. There would be no guilt feelings, no fears, no anxiety.

College bustled, full of the freshness generated by the new students. Groups formed, friends were made out of the strangeness of the surroundings. Established students bloomed with greetings for friends who might not be so treasured by the end of the term.

Harry and I were sitting in the common room. It was break time and we were enthroned in easy chairs watching the new students. The part we were in was partitioned off from the canteen and we were amusing ourselves watching the tentative way new students would round the end of the partition and try not to look embarrassed when they found all the easy chairs occupied and had to retreat into the canteen in ignominy, trying not to slop tea into saucers.

“Sized any fruit up yet, then?” I asked.

“Couple of dollies worth keeping in sight.”

“Who?”

“Well, one of them's that Janet, and the other's that one who was hanging round the mob all summer, you know just on the fringe, never actually talked to any of them, just seemed to be in the Kardomah of the Picadish whenever the mob was there. Always with some tall, blonde dollie.”

“Did I ever see her?”

“I dunno. Must have done, I suppose.”

“What's her name?”

“Jenny, I think. Dead cute, she is, you know, all coy smiles when you look at her. Looks like she could be an amusing chickadee.”

“Well, she sounds all right, but I wouldn't include the other one. I don't think she's that much, really.”

“Have you seen her today?”

“Yeah, I saw her in the meeting this morning.”

“Where was she sitting, then?”

“The other end of the row behind us. All on her own, right at the end. She's got her hair in a ponytail since that dance.”

Harry started to laugh.

“What's up with you?”

“What was she wearing?” he asked.

“What do you mean, what was she wearing? What is this? How should I know what she was wearing?”

“You notice a lot seeing as how you don't find her attractive.”

“Don't be bloody daft. All I was doing was being objective about her. I finished up finding her unattractive. That all right?”

“Yes, Victor.”

“Honestly Harry, I don't reckon she's anything special.”

“Yes, Vic. Anyway,” said Harry, “Here they are now, the two of them together.” Janet and the other girl that Harry fancied had come into the easy chairs part, carrying their cups of tea. There were no chairs for them to sit down in, so they moved to a long, low, table-like piece of furniture which was attached, flush, to the brick wall, below the windows which opened on to street level.

As they moved across the small space, I noticed how cool and unaffected Janet looked. Not cool in the sense that she had observed coolness in others and had learned the essentials, but just naturally, properly reserved, unwilling to thrust her presence into the spotlight. She moved as a young girl of sixteen or seventeen should move—like a young girl of sixteen or seventeen.

They sat down together as girls sit down, smoothing their skirts beneath them, heads looking from side to side and to the rear, looking for who knows what kind of interference with their sitting. Harry and I stared at them until they caught our eye, then we carried on drinking our tea.

“They enjoyed that part,” said Harry.

“What part was that?”

“The part where they saw we were looking at them.”

“Yes, it's pretty exciting for them having us look at them on the first day. Although that Janet looked as though why we were looking would have to be explained to her.”

“Naw. Don't be soft. She knew all right.”

“Did she, heck.”

“Course she did. She's just clever, that's all. She looks a pretty sensitive and clever bird. She looks as though she's got things taped all right.”

“I've never heard such a lot of balls. She'd run a mile.”

Harry sniggered and said no more on the subject. Angela came in trying to look like Olivia de Havilland in
Rebecca
, glancing indifferently at the characters about her. She saw Janet and the other girl and went over to them, all smiles and the gracious lady.

“Look at that. Would you credit it?” I said.

She talked to them in an animated fashion looking round her as she did so to make sure everyone was taking it in. She saw Harry and me and smiled at us in a very distant manner, just with the mouth, as though we were very insignificant acquaintances.

“Sometimes that girl really gets my back up. She really does.”

Harry smiled.

“She's only daft,” he said.

“Yes, well I know. But.”

“Never mind, eh, Vic? She only does it to annoy, etc, etc, etc.”

“Hey, Harry, what do you think of that new bird, Karen, the one from Horncastle.”

“Not bad. Nice arse.”

“Yeah. You know, I think she's all right. I think I'd be all right there. I may try it out.”

The two of them were talking, Janet and the other new girl. Sitting on the high stools in the canteen part. I wandered up, belly in mouth, all a-fluttering. I sparked off a conversation with Jenny about really interesting things like which bus do you come to college on and what does your uncle do; mine works in a bike factory. I felt like a jerk with a mouth full of Cow gum. I talked directly at Jenny, almost ignoring Janet. Then we got on to college things and band things and I was very funny. Then Janet asked me a question; I forget what it was. She had been sitting there listening, looking at me as though I was some oddment but she was afraid to say so. It had been disturbing, although I had expected nothing else, no more. Then she asked me this question, and it was really like those parts in pictures when the fellow sees the girl and she sees him and the technicians in the recording studio turn down the sound, and the frame goes scruffy round the edges and there you are in this vacuum; the audience is quiet, everybody breathing out that nice crinkle-eyed “AH”, everybody wanting life to be like it, except it's Clifton Road outside in the dirty rain. That's what it was like. Everything went quiet. I saw nothing else but this face asking a question. Not even hearing the words, I answered, stumbling and bumbling, and generally feeling that I wished I was Tab Hunter. Then I carried on talking at Jenny.

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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