Elizabeth was trembling as she took off her jacket.
I could see the marginal swelling of her belly. She
was still with child. Elizabeth hadn’t had the
termination. In a shaky voice, she explained how
galled her Father was. Dan had disowned his
daughter. This, I thought, was a selfish, radical
move. Elizabeth was effectively homeless, she
had nowhere to go. She pleaded to stay with me.
I was appalled at what my Father would think.
We did have a spare room, but no friend of mine
had ever come to stay. Inviting this strange girl
into our house might rattle Father. Nevertheless
I saw Elizabeth’s urgency. I would ask. I wondered
what Clarissa would think. Having a pregnant
friend to stay might tip even her into jealousy.
I cast aside these thoughts. I told Elizabeth to sit.
I took a huge breath. I assured Elizabeth that
everything would be swell. My voice sounded thin
and hollow. It was time to spill the news to Father.
It was early on Saturday. There was a gentle rap.
Father’s head appeared around my door. I had a
visitor. My heart sank. I knew it must be Elizabeth.
I was aghast to think how she’d found my address.
We’d never shared such things. Father said she
was waiting in the shop. I threw on some clothes,
straightened my hair, ordered my thoughts. I must
make myself clear. I’d moved on. Sheepishly,
I descended the stairs and went into the shop.
Elizabeth was standing beside the wool counter
in a peculiar baggy black jacket. She looked sad
and dishevelled. It was like all the bounce had left
her body. I was shocked at how forlorn she looked.
I tried to frame a smile. I walked across to her.
Elizabeth immediately crumpled into tears and
flung her arms around my shoulders. I held her.
This was pitiful. I guided Elizabeth up the stairs.
Father had tactfully disappeared. We went into
the lounge and I offered Elizabeth some sweet
tea. She nodded. I knew there was a painful story
coming. I steeled myself, and pottered into the
My mobile began to throb with calls. I knew
who it was. I thought of blocking the number,
or changing my number, but I didn’t have the
heart to be so callous. Nevertheless I didn’t
answer. I wondered if Clarissa was the jealous
sort. I didn’t imagine she was. She was too
well-balanced to bother much about previous
girlfriends. Because I now put Elizabeth in the
past. I was immensely curious and sorry for her.
But I knew now that Elizabeth could mash my
heart and I needed to beware. Let Bryant pick
up the pieces, it wasn’t my concern now. My girl
was Clarissa. We could be so normal together.
I longed to share my good fortune with Father.
I knew this was a major turnabout from earlier
days. However Father was always away now.
He rose at an unspeakable hour. I heard him
clattering his coffee spoon in the kitchen. I waited
for the door to click shut and his keys turn over
in the old white van parked way below my window.
Father would be away for hours. I’d linger in my
bed awhile, thinking of Clarissa. Soon it would be
time for school. Invariably I skipped breakfast.
I did, however, make myself a black coffee. It
made me feel grown-up. Later I would remove
the padlock from my bike, and cycle the few miles
to school. Arriving flush, I looked out for Clarissa.
She’d be amongst a gaggle of friends at the gates.
We processed to the bike sheds where I snuck a
secret kiss. When the bell rang, I released Clarissa
from my arms and school began.
I supposed I was going steady with Clarissa.
We didn’t do many things. We had lunch,
I wheeled my bike beside her to the bus stop,
I spoke politely with her many friends. Clarissa
was a popular girl. She was so together,
I marvelled at how sane she was. Clarissa
did not like scenes. She didn’t get a kick out
of drama, like Elizabeth had. I counted myself
immensely lucky. We hadn’t kissed yet. I knew
Clarissa wanted to, but there were always crowds
about, to dampen our intimate moment. So
I suggested we took a stroll in the park. After
school it would be deserted. We waved goodbyes
to Clarissa’s friends, and I chained my bike to
the swings. There was a grove of hoary oaks
across the field. That was the place. I dragged
Clarissa’s arm, until we were running and giggling.
Clarissa’s high cheekbones glowed. The time was
We sat together in the crowded dining hall.
Clarissa was across from me. The babel of
screechy voices drowned out my thoughts.
A plate of tepid beans and chips stood uneaten
in front of me. Clarissa was toying with a salad,
batting her lashes provocatively. There was
electricity between us. I resisted a terrible
temptation to grab her hand. Clarissa’s luscious
brown fringe fell into her face. She could giggle
at nothing, it was entrancing. I knew Clarissa’s
friends would be watching. I tried not to scan
the room. We didn’t say a great deal. It seemed
unnecessary. Already there was a stronger bond
than words. When the bell rang, and a roomful of
chairs grated horribly on the floor, I reached over
and held Clarissa’s hand. She squeezed my
Alone in my room I thought about betrayal. But
what did I really owe Elizabeth? It wasn’t like I was
ditching responsibility for our child. Bryant was
the Father. This still stung. There was definitely
some chemistry between Clarissa and me. She
clearly cared. I’d seen into her eyes. Let things
bloom, I thought. We were doing nothing criminal.
I appreciated Clarissa’s kindnesses. She didn’t
have any other boyfriends, so far as I could tell.
There was a welcome wholesomeness about her.
She didn’t come with baggage like Elizabeth did.
I wouldn’t thwart romance between us. It was
decided. I’d spruce up my appearance the next day,
and happily see what transpired between us.
When I finally returned to school, Clarissa hugged
me. She had bought me a chicken wrap from the
canteen. This was touching. I couldn’t imagine any
buddies at my old school being so thoughtful.
Richards would certainly have been entirely out
of his depth. The teachers all knew. They treated
me humanely, like I was delicate china. Assembly
is what really startled me. The Headmaster
requested a moment’s silence, in which we were
to reflect on the blessing of our parents. I knew
he was thinking of my loss. All heads turned my
way. Beside me, Clarissa squeezed my hand.
A bolt of electricity shot through me. I looked up,
and into Clarissa’s eyes.
Father wished to celebrate his success. It was
only a delivery job, the pay was nothing special,
but it meant something. We would have a lavish
take-away, with ice cream for dessert. This
sounded exceedingly good. As we sat at the
kitchen table with deluxe prawn and anchovy
pizzas, Father explained how his job entailed
leaving early and driving a van. He’d try not to
clatter in the mornings, so I could sleep on.
I congratulated him. Playfully, Father boxed
me around the ears. I found this incredibly
affectionate. Our relationship, since Mother’s
passing, had grown positively warm. When it
was time for bed, Father even wished me a good
sleep. I cantered upstairs, full of new hope. Like
other boys, my Dad would be my rock. I liked this
novel idea very much.
School was understanding. They even
commiserated with me. This was profoundly
strange. My old establishment would have berated
me loudly for having lost a parent, and been unduly
distracted from my studies. I was told to return
back when I felt able. Meanwhile I filled my poetry
book with maudlin verses. Father had made a
Herculean effort. He’d shaved, brushed his crazy
tangled hair, and started to cook again. We had
these companionably silent meals at which we
toyed together with our food. A kind of normality
was resumed. I figured that Father would need to
take a job. I got into the habit of buying a
newspaper from the corner shop. I scoured the
vacancies section. If anything looked promising,
I made a clipping and pushed it under Father’s
door. He didn’t get mad at that. He never even
referred to my efforts. Until one morning he came
down neatly groomed and spoke shyly about a
possible opening. As he clacked out the door,
I wished him good luck. Suddenly I realized that
we’d never been so close.