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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

All the Way Home and All the Night Through (8 page)

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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“I wish we weren't in the pictures.”

I felt her cheek go red against mine. She was too embarrassed to answer, so she kissed me hard.

The White Horse. Loud tables full of drinking dance-goers. About half underage. Black looks from Saturday regulars squeezed out of usual places. The door kept opening and the crowd kept growing. I was snuggled in Elites Corner. That is, the corner where the band and assorted partners could view the whole kaleidoscope. Karen was nesting close to me, her expansive self-conscious smiles proclaiming her excited satisfaction. Harry, Don and I and the rest of the band were getting them in faster than anyone else as we had less time. We were all wearing our uniforms under our coats. Red ties, black waistcoats, striped trousers. We wore them with a great smugness.

The pub was quite smooth. It had only been up about three years and the carpets and upholstery were still good. Soft lighting improved everybody even before the drink began to take effect. Everybody, boys and girls, bore the look of pre-pub mirror preparation. Even the most casual attire had been scrupulously screened. Everyone was euphoric, smart, nervous, proud and stupid.

I took a drink from my black and tan. Then I squeezed Karen's hand and gave her a one-and-only look. I took another drink. I wondered about Janet. God, she'd better come, I thought. If she didn't come, I knew how depressed I would get. The evening would lose its point. All this gladness would have its personality split into schizoid emptiness. Even if I never spoke to her that night, she just had to come. Every time the door opened, somebody else came in. I put my arm round Karen's shoulders.

“Okay?”

She nodded, smiling. She kneaded my free hand with both of hers. I squeezed back.

“Did you say something about that Janet coming tonight?” I asked.

“Janet? Oh yes, she may be coming. It depends on this date, whether or not she's going with him. She seems very particular who she goes with, somehow.”

“Oh.”

“She said it would be awfully difficult.”

“Uh huh.”

“Hope she does though. I like Janet. She's nice.”

“Is she?”

“Oh yes. She's the nicest in our year. She's not as . . . not as harsh as some of the others are. Do you know what I mean?”

“Not exactly.”

“Well, the others, they seem to, you know, you always seem too conscious of their presence. With Janet, you're conscious of her quietness.”

It struck me that this was out of character for Karen.

“That's odd for one girl to say about another. They're usually right bitchy about each other.”

“I suppose they are,” she said, squeezing my hand some more. I got the scene. She was advertising herself as being nicer than other girls. Quite clever, I thought, considering how daft she was.

“Why, are you interested in her coming?” she asked, smiling coyly as though she knew I wasn't really interested in Janet coming at all, just in her.

“What do you think?”

“I don't know.” She picked up her glass.

“Come on. What do you think?”

I smiled at her, making sure she couldn't feel anything but the beginnings of discomfiture. Her cheeks reddened slightly. She took a drink.

“Well?” I asked.

“Well, I...”

It had gone as far as it should. I tightened my arm across her shoulders and squeezed her toward me.

“Well, you should do.”

I brushed her cheek with my lips and finished up with my nose in her soft smelling hair. I bit lightly on the lobe of her ear. Her being swelled toward me.

The door opened once again and Angela entered in all her glory, accompanied by one of her Ted-girl friends. She moved down the aisle of tables, looked at Karen and me (one for me and one for Karen then back to me), and sat down non-committedly with Matthew's group. Shrieks arose from their table and they were off.

Hilary and Gwen and their non-college girlfriends arrived. None of them looked at me. They, too, joined Matthew by drawing up another table.

I had done a stupid thing the previous evening. During the interval at the Steam Packet, I had concluded that the girl situation wasn't up to much. So I went and sat next to Hilary. And talked to her. So afterward, we got into the trumpet-player's car and went off to the pub that Harry's folks ran. Just the band and a few other girls. We stayed till about one o'clock, drinking and playing darts with Harry's parents. Then I took Hilary off to my place, which was just up the road. She was in bed with me until half-past two. I had had to shoot a line to persuade her there. Give her hope. Afterward, I got her a taxi. Before she got in, I had made some vague promises. Then, this afternoon I had seen her in a café in town. Harry and I got as far as the door without being seen. I had looked back to see her pained face staring in my direction. We had then fled. So now here she was. I wondered what would happen.

At the dance. No signs of Janet. Karen being happily proprietary round my piano. The hand stomping along, sweatily. Dim lights, a mass of breathing, steaming dancers filling the college hall. Shouts to and fro between the band and friends, and only nine o'clock.

The band was set up on the floor, not on the stage, so it was easy for people to lean on the piano and talk to the rhythm section. The feeling between band and audience was intimate. I caught sight of Janet while we were playing “In a Persian Market”. She was standing at the back of the hall, looking in the direction of the band. She was with a girl I had never seen before. She saw I was looking at her. Her friend saw it, too. She said something to Janet. I thought she nodded, but I was too far away to tell. Karen was leaning against the piano. I looked up at her and smiled. We finished the number. I looked over to where Janet had been standing. She wasn't there. Karen had gone, probably to the ladies. The front line were reclining in their chairs, dabbing the sweat from themselves. I turned back to the keyboard and lit a cigarette. Janet and her friend rounded the corner of the piano. Janet walked with her arms gently folded.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

She looked at the keyboard.

“How are you enjoying it?” I said.

“It's quite good.”

“What do you think of the band?”

“You all seem very good. You seem to enjoy yourselves.”

My pulse was going in leaps and bounds. My chest felt as though it was turning inside out. No one said anything. She seemed to stand there forever without anybody saying anything. She looked like no one else I had ever seen. I sensed the slight perfume drifting from her cool flared dress, a dress so utterly feminine that it made me feel good just to be near it. She still had her arms folded. A soft woolen cardigan hung down from her shoulders, its empty arms swinging quietly at her sides. Don began announcing the next number and Karen returned. Janet and friend moved quietly away. A great shriek rose from somewhere on the other side of the band. I turned round to see what was going on.

“I want Victor, Victor,
Victor
.”

The last word ascended to the roof at screaming pitch. Hilary, sod me. Tears streamed down her face. Gwen was gripping her by the shoulders.

“Shut up, Hilary. Shurrup!”

Hilary wailed again. She was very drunk. Her blouse had come half out of her jeans. She shook herself free of Gwen. She began to make for the piano, staggering and sobbing. Jerry Coward, the chucker-out at the Steam Packet, slid down from his perch on the stage. Hilary fell on Harry. Harry had only been half on his seat and he over-balanced, finishing up on the floor.

“The trombonist will play the next number lying flat on his back on the floor.” announced Don. Hilary had gone down, too. Jerry had got to her and he and Gwen picked her up.

“Victor.”

She tried to break away again. A large semi-circle of watchers had formed. Jerry tried to talk to her, and so did Gwen. She wouldn't listen. She screamed again. Gwen tried to smack her face but missed. Don stomped in the number. The band struck up. Jerry slid his arm behind Hilary's knees and carried her out. She was still screaming. I turned round and joined the band in playing the number. I looked at Karen. She didn't know whether to smile or whether she should look guilty. She certainly looked embarrassed. I shrugged at her and put on a long-suffering face. She gave me a stupid smile which meant nothing.

“Do you think Hilary wanted something,Vic?” shouted Hamish, the bass player.

It gave me an excuse to release my tension in laughter. Poor bloody Hilary. People looked at me as they danced past. It couldn't be helped. Anyway, I thought, it should be fuel to the fire.

During the interval, I took Karen over to where some girl students were dispensing orange juice. I seated myself on the trestle table. Karen remained standing, taking intermittent sips from her orange juice.

“What a way to carry on,” said Karen.

Over her shoulder I could see Janet. I shrugged at Karen.

Janet was standing with a mature young man of infinite smoothness.

“I mean in public and that,” said Karen.

The young man was superbly nonchalant in his conversation with Janet.

“She'll be all right,” I said.

He must have come along with Janet and her friend. He looked the type.

“Didn't you feel embarrassed by it?” asked Karen.

Janet caught me looking at her again. She didn't look away for almost three seconds.

“Naw, course not. I'm used to it.”

I pealed with coarse laughter. Karen saw that I was joking and giggled along with me. Only just in time though. Gwen presented herself in front of us.

“Well, I hope you're satisfied,” she said.

I looked at Karen. She didn't look anywhere.

“Why?” I asked.

“You ought to be disgusted with yourself. It was all your fault. She's out there crying now.”

“What could I do? Christ, I didn't do anything. She was drunk.”

“Aren't you coming to say something to her?”

“Gwen, I'm with Karen. When you've got that and the fact that Hilary and me are finished through your head, I hope you'll leave us alone. You know, just for a few minutes.”

She left us. Karen said:

“Perhaps you should go and see her. Just for a minute.”

I gave her a long look. She didn't say anything else. I went down to the gents just before we continued playing. There were the usual young drunks decorating the floor or heaving over the basins. I bumped into Matthew's Sam as I was leaving.

“Good games with Hilary then, Vic?”

“I wouldn't have come if I'd known she was going to be that way.”

“Liar.”

We laughed.

“I often wondered when I'd have my first girl hysterical over me.”

“Conceited bastard.”

“That's me.”

At the end of the dance. Everyone putting coats on, some arranging how to get to the parties, some desperately chatting up the pathetic left-overs. I was waiting for Karen to come down from the ladies. Hilary was standing some feet away with Gwen and fellow commiserators. She looked in my direction and said something to Gwen. Gwen's face tightened into annoyance. She shook her head. Hilary said something else and began walking toward me. I heard Gwen say, “No Hilary,” but Hilary took no notice. I waited.

“I'm sorry, Vic.” Her voice was flat and sober now. Her face was grey and streaked with dead tears. Her coat was draped round her shoulders. She looked dreadful.

“No need to be sorry, Hilary.”

Janet was just behind her, being helped into her coat by the smooth one.

“No, I shouldn't have gone on like that. It must have been awful for you.”

“Well...”

Silence.

“Well, anyway,” she said. She tried to smile, then turned away and went back to Gwen and the group.

“Your mother won't mind if we get you back by one o'clock, will she?” said the smooth one to Janet.

“I said I would go straight home after the dance.”

“Not if we have you home at one, on the dot? Surely that would be all right?”

“Well... all right, but no later.”

Karen came down from the ladies. She had fixed up to stay the night with Jenny, so she was eager with freedom. She clutched my hand.

“Where are we going?”

The lights had been turned up immediately after the last number. They were beginning to make me feel sober, feel conscious of my sweat-congealing clothes.

“The trumpet-player's got some idea of driving further up the river and taking some beer on to Hetton foreshore.”

“Hetton foreshore? How exciting,” said Karen.

Harry came up, hand in hand with Jenny. He was beaming fit to burst.

“I say, are we off with Simon or what?” I said. “He seems set on this foreshore idea.”

“May as well,” said Harry. “We'll pick up a crate from my place. We can always go back there later on.”

Janet and her two friends began walking toward the door.

“Goodnight, Janet,” chirped Karen.

Janet turned slightly but kept on walking.

“Goodnight, Karen,” she said.

We all drove off to Hetton foreshore. There were two other car-loads besides Simon's. Harry and Jenny, Karen and I, and some girl Simon had picked up went in Simon's car. The girls commiserated with me about the Hilary scene. It was something for them to get their teeth into. Harry laughed at them outright.

We were in the country now. Simon turned the car onto the tracks which ran, wood-lined, down to the beach. He stopped the car in a clearing, mudguard deep in long grass. The other cars drew up behind. Headlights went out and engines cut off. Everything was doubly quiet after the noise of the journey. Rain tapped softly on the roof. Dark purple clouds toiled above the treetops. No one said anything. Simon kissed his girl; I kissed Karen.

“Here we are then,” said Simon. “Shove the beer over, Harry.”

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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