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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Further evidence that every now and again Fran writes something more serious


Storms

I don’t know what Venice is like.  Once, I was as near as damn it, on a ship, with the chance to disembark and laze on a gondola trailing my hand in water, or sip coffee from a tiny white cup outside a café.  But I was fourteen, and David was seventeen, and we didn’t need what Venice had to offer.  We’d made our own romance.
            At least, that’s the way I prefer to remember it.
It was 1976.  We were on the SS Uganda as part of a school cruise around the Mediterranean.  The night before, there’d been a disorderly evening of storms, of portholes that showed no water, then all water, then no water.  Everyone screeched with delight in the ship’s common room as glasses slewed off tables and anxious teachers hovered, urging us back to cabins.  We pressed coins into the jukebox and played ‘Rock the Boat’ by the Hues Corporation, dancing without balance like badly-operated puppets. 
David was with a group of friends, throwing his blonde head backwards and laughing as the ship see-sawed.  I was sure he hadn’t even noticed me; I was small and dark-haired, not pretty, and he was muscled and over six feet tall: a rugby player.  But as many of our friends sloped off holding their stomachs, he and I were among the few left in the common room, and he held my gaze.  By midnight, he’d draped his arm round my shoulders and I was proud in front of his friends.  I wasn’t the only one who thought he’d never consider me.
            In the morning, in Venice, the storm’s mood had passed.  Teachers gave us maps of the city and warnings about timings.  ‘Back by four.’
            But David and I agreed – was it his idea or mine? - that we would hide somewhere on the ship so that we could avoid the crowds and our teasing friends.  Soon the ship had emptied itself of our school group and the supervising teachers, all clutching their lira and white sunhats.


            It was three hours before someone came to find us.  We nestled together in a corner on one of the decks, away from the glare of the fervent sun and of the ship’s staff, and while everyone else explored the waterways and the Venetian glass shops, we kissed.    On and on, we kissed.  His hands mapped the skin under my summer linens.  I leaned back several times and searched his blue eyes for a sign that he too was in love, but then just closed my own eyes and gave myself up to the moment.
            Mrs Drake's voice came sudden, like a slap.  We stood up at the teacher's command, clumsy with disappointment and the heat of the day, smoothing down our clothes.  David wouldn’t meet my eyes as he mumbled ‘sorry’ while the diminutive Geography teacher lectured us.  David was at least a foot taller than she.  I’d expected him to be defiant, mutinous, defensive.  But he stood, head bowed, hands at his side.
            Still, I couldn’t bring myself to care about punishment.  Nothing could hurt me now that I had David.
            They separated us, though, and I was left in a bland, beige sick room alone.  I sat on the edge of an examination couch, swinging my legs and flicking through leaflets about sea-sickness for hours.  Then I was sent back to the dormitory and my friends.  I was a heroine for a time, and they harangued me for every detail.
            All I really wanted was to see David and to hear him say, ‘I don’t care.  All I want is you.’  But, on the flight to England the following day, a Friday, I was made to sit with a teacher and David was at the back of the plane with another one.
            Back in England, I called his home number hourly.  His mother said he wasn’t in.   
At school on the Monday, I saw David’s blonde head, lofty above others across the dining room.  He was surrounded, as always, by a group of friends.
I jostled my way out of the lunch queue to go and speak to him, my throat dry with thoughts of a future.    
As I neared his group, I realised he was holding hands with a girl in the sixth-form, a lithe brunette called Lisa who nuzzled her head into his neck.  'Hi,' he said, his voice lazy with disinterest, and his eyes looking straight into mine as if to warn, 'Say nothing.'


            I don’t know if I want to go back to Venice.  It’s meant to be a beautiful city.  But I’ve never had the travelling urge like friends who holiday in Rome or New York.  I guess David may have been to Venice many times, perhaps with Lisa and a couple of blonde-haired boys.  I wonder if, while he’s explored the Marciano Museum, or a fruit market, he ever remembers me and the things he told me in between kisses.  
            At least, I think he told me those things.
           


23 comments:

  1. Oh, you tell this story of a lost first love so beautifully. I'm sorry David moved on so quickly. If you ever decide to go to Venice, though, please don't let your hand trail in the water. I've read that it's very badly polluted, maybe a bit like David in reality.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I promise I won't then. In fact, if I ever get to go there with David, I will get HIM to trail his hand in the water for my revenge.

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  2. Such a romantic story. Has Mills and Boon made you an offer yet?

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    1. I'll consider anything between one million pounds and two million pounds if they call.

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  3. Great post. I was in Venice for most of 1976. Sorry I missed you.

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    1. Were you? How funny! Well, you saw more of it than I did, that's for sure.

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  4. David's loss. That's all I can say.

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    1. Ha ha! You didn't see Lisa!

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  5. That was a lovely little 're-visiting the past'.....as for Venice? go with your husband......don't put your hands in the water...and remember that the silly schoolboy is now probably twice divorced and still trying to attract younger woman......

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    1. You're probably right. Sigh. And he's probably a bit stooped now, being that tall. And still a coward. All of this is a mighty comfort.

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  6. Oh I bet those eyes felt like a slap in the face. But I'm glad you weren't heartbroken enough to be tragically sad for years and years. A first infatuation is hard to get over, I know.
    David probably wasn't worth you anyway.

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    1. 'Did you think I'd crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh no, not I. I will survive' .... Sing up everyone. And, anyway, surely it's 'lie down and die' not 'lay down'.

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  7. It's a clear sign of how strong your talent is, that you can switch with such ease between genres. Not sure how I'd approach the story of my first love. Probably best to draw a veil.

    Both my sister and step-sister went on school cruises (Nevasa, not Uganda). I opted out, being someone born without the travelling gene.

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    1. That's a lovely comment! Thanks, Martin. I only went on the cruise because an elderly aunt paid for me to go. My own mum would never have been able to pay for it. I have to say, I think I just wasted my aunt's money. I behaved extremely badly the whole fortnight and remember vomiting Ouzo and chips all over David's trousers at one point in front of the whole school. A moment to remember.

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  8. That brings back so many memories of young love! The first time anyone held my hand, we were in a punt, and it was soooo romantic. Nowadays, people hold other things, bypassing the romantic bits and going straight for...gold? Well, that one word for it, I suppose.

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    1. One word, yes! You're right. Romance appears to be dead in that respect.

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  9. Who'd ever want to be that age again !

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    1. Not me. But I wouldn't mind the chance of a second cruise.

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  10. I wonder if the vomiting might have somehow diminished your allure just a tiny bit... ? But then, if the romance had never been broken, there would never have been an Elijah, and that wouldn't have done.

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    1. Diminished my allure? Do you think so? Ah, THERE'S where I've been going wrong all these years.

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  11. Lovely post Fran. Made me a bit tearful (but then I am off sick). In my experience the muscled Romeos are good for showing off - and little else. I expect he's old and balding now anyway. You should "write serious" more often. It's always a great read...

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    1. Thanks, angel. Very comforting, to think of him being old and balding. On the other hand, we would make a great couple, with me being old and greying....

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  12. Poor Fran, what a cad he was. First pangs of love are sweet, aren’t they?
    I’m not sure that you haven’t missed the greater joy though by hiding away when the marvels of Venice were yours for the asking.

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