French Kiss

I didn’t exactly know her when I was at school. She was more of an event, a series of scenes we both participated in.

We met at a gig after we’d finished our mock exams, one of those pub gigs where it’s full of underage drinkers. The opening act were terrible, so after a couple of songs I went out to the beer garden, and she was there with some friends of mine.

I can’t remember a lot of what happened – I was drunk – but she had a lopsided smile and blonde hair that cut across her forehead at a forty-five degree angle. I don’t know, but maybe I said something, maybe she did, we probably laughed a bit. Anyway, we kissed. Or snogged. That’s probably a better word for it. We were teenagers. It was desperate and clumsy. It was a pub, not a debutante ball. Tongues and feeling. I got all excited and groped for her breasts. If I fingered her, I can’t remember. Maybe I tried, and maybe she made it clear I wasn’t to go there. Not this time anyway.

After last orders were called, we all went home. Me with my memories of her breath and lips and skin. I probably had a wank in the morning when I woke up.

Anyway, I didn’t see her the rest of the summer. I had a part-time job on the tills at a supermarket, and I upped my hours and spent most of my time working or getting drunk.

I thought about her the first week. I think I fell in love with her a little, her body, her mouth, her willingness to let me grope her (maybe she thought it was the done thing, and the others had prepped her for it), but the week after all my friends took the piss like I’d got off with the ugliest girl in the world:

Can’t believe you snogged wonky face. What made you do that? Did you feel sorry for her or something?

And me being weak, I told them to leave it, I’d been drunk, that was all. Hadn’t Mike got off with Geraldine Fisher a couple months back? And she looks like a horse.

I think I liked her – Emma, not Geraldine, she really was pretty horsey – but peer pressure and mockery killed that, and when I did see her when we’d all gone back to school, I barely gave her a second look.

We were all round a table in one of the underage pubs, and she walked in with her friends. I saw her straightaway, but when she smiled I immediately turned away from her. I didn’t want to encourage her, or show her how I really felt, whatever that was – ashamed maybe. If she had been beautiful, she wasn’t now, though she probably was, only my friends’ wonky face descriptions had left me seeing her through their eyes.

The rest of the night I avoided her. Some of her friends came over and asked why I wasn’t speaking to her, didn’t I like her, didn’t I want to go out with her, but I just shook my head, or turned away, or tried to change the topic of conversation. I didn’t want to face her or how I felt, or how I think I felt, or how my friends had me feel, so I left early saying I had work at the supermarket the next morning, though I didn’t.

I felt terrible. I walked home and imagined her thinking of me the whole summer. David. He’s great, isn’t he? Funny, passionate, independent. No one’s treated me like he did. We could go out, be a couple, be the couple, the one everyone envies. We could listen to music together, stay over at each other’s houses, and when the time comes, go to university together, him to study history, me medicine. We could go on a gap year, and travel to India and China and Australia, and when we return get great jobs, settle down, have kids. I can still remember the feel of his hands, the taste of his lips. I want that. I want to feel that again.

And when she walked in the pub, and I turned my head away from her, all that disappeared.

I didn’t really see her the rest of the time I was at school. We went to some of the same pubs and parties, but we didn’t speak and she ignored me. I looked in her direction sometimes and felt the desire I’d felt in the beer garden, but the moment I did the mockery of my friends followed.

A year later I left for university and I suppose she did too. I went to Manchester. I made new friends. I studied, got drunk, graduated. If I thought about her it was only once in a while, or when a friend from home slipped her into conversation.

I imagined her forgetting me, or only thinking about me in the same way I thought about her, perhaps with a twinge of pain when she did, a memory of my humiliation of her, or a feeling of disgust at that pathetic David. I thought if I met her again I’d say sorry, and hope she would forgive me for being such a dick. I was a teenage boy after all. We are all dicks.

I didn’t meet her, though, or see her, until you took me to that housewarming last night. I didn’t know she was going to be there. I wasn’t even going to go, but I had nothing better to do. And there she was, smiling her lopsided smile, and drinking with your friend. I noticed her way before I spoke to her. I drank and watched, until eventually I went up to her, and said, hello, remember me?

She took a quick drink and said, I don’t know, should I?

I said, from school. Felixstowe. And she smiled a little and said, what? Did I get off with you or something?

She laughed, and turned to the guy who was with her, her eyes completely empty of recognition or pretending to be empty of recognition.

She said, sorry, seriously. Who are you?

And when I told her she didn’t know. She didn’t remember a single thing.


17 thoughts on “Lopsided Smile

  1. I have wondered the same things she has before. Now I know, or at least would like to think, the guy had wished for me as well. Mine usually had ‘dick’ friends, so no further action could have been all their fault, well…and the weak guy’s.

    Great story.

  2. Fantastic how you covered several different things… the power of friends’ influence on how the narrator felt about Emma, the power of how the narrator and Emma felt about the snogging at the pub. I really like how you set up the un-knowing, of how us readers don’t know if Emma actually remembered the narrator or not, and all this time he still remembered her. In your comment, you mentioned you were going for uncomfortable. I felt that, too, but also curiosity — of how things would turn out and if the narrator would sort out his feelings.

  3. ‘If I fingered her, I can’t remember. Maybe I tried, and maybe she made it clear I wasn’t to go there.’

    Now there are some memories right there! Back when the unthinkable was a social given 🙂

    Good work as usual, mate….

  4. If this isn’t autobiographical, you did a fantastic job of inhabiting fiction as reality. I really loved this, so spot on to the thought processes on both ends. It hurt at the end, a little, because there’s no way she didn’t remember him…

  5. That is the wonder isn’t it? Whether they remembered you or if it was all in your head? Sometimes it may be better to just not know.

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