She did it for me, shoulder and waist, clamped with her sigh.
(If you could call it that.)
The rhythm was wrong. Knees and feet clashed. “I’m sorry,” I said for the third time and she let go before the song was over. “It was the music,” I said and a pleading there, “We’ll try again later?”
“Sure,” she said, but more than enough to make me doubt.
Two songs and we stood watching. I got her food and a drink.
I tried but it was too loud to talk.
And then the music went down, became a rumble that itched the teeth. A young man, all spider limbs, had gained the stage, microphone in one hand, cigarette in the other. Jeans and a leather jacket, and instantly the centre of attention.
I knew him. Malchi Gorman.
“Now, now now,” he cried into the microphone, tamping down hoots and cries with a languid paw. “We’ve had our dance. We’ve had our fun. But now it’s time. Ladies, if you would be so kind?” With that he spidered into the wings, the stage lit sudden with bright white lights.
Her hand in mine, “Come on,” and she took me back into bodies and towards the stage. Around us other couples moved, all lady-led. A boy on crutches, directed doggish by his tie, caught my eye and winked.
She led me up the stairs and coming behind I got to see the split up her skirt and when she moved her black garter high. Halfway up a blonde boy I didn’t recognise— heavy-set in a suit, a badly-packaged lump of ham— reached for her. Fingers closed her wrist and held her half-stepping. “I want to talk to you,” he shouted.
He glared at me and back at her.
“I want to talk to you.”
(How white he made her flesh.)
“Later,” she snapped, and pulled herself free.
The look on his face was thunder.
“Who was that?” I called.
She had the heart to sound ashamed.
She looked down at me.
“I’m not really here with you.”
“What?” I whispered.
She pulled me forward.
But we were on the bright of the stage and no time for words. Before us an endless, face-filled gap, held in rotten burgundy curtains, hammocks for dust. Behind, the slats and flats of forgotten plays and pantos, painted inspirations two decades old. I turned to stare; here a castle in greys and greens, there a Chinese market square, scarlet roofs and dragons serpentine; a well, a beanstalk, a golden egg—scenes dwindling where the audience wouldn’t see, held in place with washing line, left to spiders, left to time.
The stage creaked as I assembled with the other boys.
Some of the boys I knew from school:
Fat Oran Shanley with his two-toned face, purple and pink, smiling out into the darkness. ‘Handsome’ Reilly with the missing chin, gaunt in his pristine tuxedo. Peter Burrow, and the palsy already setting in.
And there were a dozen more.
I knew what this was.
Two steps behind us, the girls who brought us to this night. Beaming, proud of the things that they found. I looked at her inscrutable smile. The lights wouldn’t let me see her eyes.
I turned back to the scrutiny of the void. Judging our monstrosity. A shout broke open the crowd and there were jeers and catcalls amongst the applause. There were rotten fruits, bursting on the stage, leaving their juice and seed on the unlucky ones. I suffered a spray on my trouser-leg.
Then Malchi Gorman was out again, kicking a ruined fruit back at the crowd and holding aloft a hand for quiet. He went to the first girl and her find for the night. “Tell us about the thing you’ve found,” he said. The microphone he dabbed against her mouth.
Red-haired in baby blue her voice was gold:
“His name is Oran Shanley. I told him I needed someone to fix my bike.”
She smiled, showing her tongue in glee.
“We kissed and he cried. And crying, he went for second base.”
Hoots and hollers of the audience.
“Look at his face,” laughed Malchi Gorman, “Just look at his face!”
Purple and pink, it stared out at the audience, wretched, scooped open and emptied.
Laughter. Such laughter.
Gorman worked his way along the line, each girl saying how much she gave up to get the monster, saying what its special trick or deformity was. When each girl was done he tested applause, his angled arm from one to ten—
Oran Shanley got a trickle.
The boy with the hole through his shoulder more.
But the most for the boy with a twin’s finger melted to his neck.
And then it was my turn.
A handful of hands together; that was my applause and quickly over. Something flew past my ear to burst a star of juice against a flat. I followed it and looked at her. Coming forward, smiling ear to ear and proud.
Malchi Gorman: “Tell us about the thing you’ve found.”
Wordless, she reached and pulled my lips apart, turning my head, show-beast compliance, to show them all.
My alabaster fang.
Spotlights must have made the alabaster blaze.
Held there, opened out by her, I stared into the audience.
Real couples. Almost slow motion, holding each other upright with laughter coming through them. Mouths against necks, arms draped around shoulders, locked to graze against breasts, hips grinding in crotches. Rolling with the joy, the sway with it.
All mouths and eyes.
And I am the thing.
I am the thing.
The burn of my face with the red and shame, and the sting and trickle of my tears and I’m tasting the soap she used, feeling her fingers in my mouth.
Grazing the fang.
Getting spit on Granddad’s suit.
The applause is the greatest for me.
You could see what was wrong with the others, twisted legs, a hunch or missing ear. But me…she’d won a secret monstrosity from me.
Music returned, the place heaved again.
Broken boys left the stage.
Just me and her.
She looked at me.
I looked at her.
I was there.
That was enough.
Graham Tugwell is an Irish writer and performer and the recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010. His work has appeared in over fifty journals, including Anobium, The Quotable, Pyrta, THIS Literary Magazine, L’Allure Des Mots and Poddle. He has lived his whole life in the village where his stories take place. He loves it with a very special kind of hate. His website is grahamtugwell.com.