Posted on April 26, 2015April 26, 2015 by Patricia Ann McNair4.26.2015 Journal Prompt April 26, 2015: See? Like this:Like Loading... Related
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There was a time when things was better. Or they seemed better, which is just ‘bout the same thing. Maybe it’s always that way when you’re young and you ain’t got anything by way of responsibility. It’s the time between, I call it. The time between being a child and being a grown up with cares and worries.
We got us this old van. Got it for a lot less than the price they was asking on account of we was girls and them that was selling it was boys. We thought we could travel the world in it and not ever need more than running water to wash in and a place to buy coffee and bread.
We gave the van a name and broke a bottle of wine over its bonnet like she was a ship and we was launching her. I think the wine was ‘Blue Nun’ and it came in a brown bottle and we thought it was something sophisticated cos our parents drank beer and sweet stout. We called the van Connie, like she was just another one of us girls, and we talked about her the same, invented a whole personality for her that was all our personalities rolled into one.
She was slow and careful like Shirley and maybe a little shy like her too. It’s the shy ones you gotta look out for, my mam always said. I loved Shirley and I looked out for her, but not in the way mam said to. Shirley was like a sister to me and a little sister, too, and I didn’t let no boy take advantage, not ever.
And Connie was a giver, like Alison, and she was a bit beat up and bruised around the edges, and Alison was too. With a drink in her, Alison’d tell you stuff about her childhood and the things she’d tell would make you weep and want to hold her close and never let her go.
And Connie responded to soft spoken words and that was like me. And we cooed and purred over Connie and we coaxed her along difficult roads and up steep hills.
We put a mattress on the floor of the van. Boys thought that meant something else and they gave the van different names. They thought three pretty girls was easy and they could charm us into the back of that ‘fuck-wagon’ with their sweet nothings. But we wasn’t so easy. And like I said, Shirley was a girl I looked out for.
We travelled all over in that van. One summer we did. It was ’76 and the summer was breathless hot and everywhere we went the blue sky followed. We slept some nights with the back door of the van thrown wide so we could see the stars. And we slept together in the one bed, curled up like kittens or puppies in a litter – me and Shirley holding onto Alison, and all of us so close we could smell the sweat on each other’s skin.
I think we knew they was the best times, even as they was happening. I think Alison said one night as how it didn’t get much better. She kissed me then and she kissed Shirley, and the stars was all pinprick sharp and the moon was just laid on its back.
We got responsibilities now. Kids and husbands and houses. We don’t see each other much, sometimes not in a year, and we forget each other’s birthdays and only just remember to send cards at Christmas. I say in those Christmas cards how we should get us a van sometime and do it all over. I mean it when I say it, but I know it won’t happen again in this life – and that leaves me a little bit sad.
Last night I bought a bottle of ‘Blue Nun’ for me and Eddie. You can still get it if you know where. I don’t know if it was the year or that the summer this year ain’t so hot as ’76, or that we drank it cold and out of a glass instead of a teacup, but Eddie said it tasted like shit and I didn’t think he was wrong.
When he touches me I can feel my skin crawling. He don’t notice or if he does he pretends that he don’t. He just carries on. Stroking my breasts like they is puppies, and pinching the nipples between the nip of finger and thumb, pinching ‘em sharp so as I moan ‘gainst the hurt, and he thinks it is like when he’s close to coming and he moans and it is something between pleasure and pain but closer to pleasure.
He’s heavy when he’s on top of me, pressing and pressing, and I can’t hardly breathe, and I turn my head to look at the clock by the bed and I know how long it’ll take and I count the minutes and seconds till he’s done. Then he just lays there for a few minutes, catching his breath, and I don’t catch mine. Then he rolls onto his side of the bed and I know it’s over.
I don’t sleep then. Not like he does. I lie awake and I shift a little more from him and it’s cold and wet on the sheets beneath me. I feel a little sick and I feel dirty and I pull my nightdress down over me and over my shame. And there in the dark I let myself drift back to a better time. I think of Rachael and Alison then, and sleeping in the back of a van with the back door pushed wide open, and the air hot as breath, and the night so still and so quiet, and all the blesséd stars looking down on us.
The van was called Chrissie or Connie or something. We’d christened it with a bottle of wine broke over the bonnet – Blue Nun, I think it was. Then we’d taken to the road. It was the summer of ’76 and it was the best summer ever. We drove from one end of the country to the other, stopping just when a place caught our fancy. Sometimes in the middle of the town and we’d park up at the back of a pub or on a empty street. Or sometimes in the blue blind middle of nowhere, and only birdsong and bees for company.
There was a mattress in the back of the van and it filled the floor and me and Alison and Rachael we just slept there all rolled up together. Like lovers. And when we woke, our bodies was all tangled together so as I didn’t know what was me and what wasn’t me. And now, in the dark of my marriage bed, with my husband sleeping dead to the world beside me, and breathing like a horse blowing air, I can still remember the smell and the touch and the taste of Rachael.
She said as how she’d look out for me and that I didn’t ever have to worry. I was a little younger than them, and I so I let myself be looked after. And I felt safe in that van, safer than I ever felt before or since. And Alison’d tell us about how beat up a child she was, and we’d all hold onto her, like we was saving her from drowning. But my fingers would be caught in Rachael’s hair and touching her neck and her lips.
And that long and neverending summer one day came to an end – not suddenly but slowly, without me ever noticing.
And she must have stopped looking after me, Rachael. Cos now I’m with Al and I don’t know how ever that happened. And he smells of beer or bear, and cigarettes he smells of, and when he touches me my skin creeps and crawls; and when he’s done and he’s fallen into sleep, I lie beside him, listening to his every rasping breath, and when he holds a breath a little longer than before I catch myself wishing for heat and stars and silence, and no end to it all ever.
Yes, it was one of them summers. So hot the road blistered and the air was all wavy. And me and Rachael and Shirley, we got this van. It was one of them VW campers and it had been cleared out in the back so we could put a mattress down. We wasn’t the first to do that. There was this lad up our street and he’d done the same. I forget his name, forget everything about him, except he was pretty like a girl when he was just eighteen and we fucked in the back of that van and it wasn’t the best fuck I ever had.
So, anyway, me and Rachael got this idea, to drive all over, and to sleep in the back of the van. Like that we could go anywhere and we’d always be home. And it was Rachael that said we should take Shirley with us. She said it’d be like the three musketeers or the three witches. She said it had to be three cos three was lucky.
And one night we launched that van like we was the Queen naming a great ocean going liner. And we broke a bottle of Blue Nun across her and called her Connie. It was after Connie Francis. She was a singer I liked, though I wasn’t supposed to cos she was old and she sang pretty.
I thought it’d be different from what it was. I thought we’d go up the coast road and park by a beach and at night we’d take all our clothes off and swim in the sea. Rachael was beautiful like an angel or like model – which I thought back then was maybe the same thing. She was sort of like a boy and a girl mixed together. She had really small tits and no curves, just straight up and down. I called her Twiggy and I called her ‘my Twiggy’. But then she invited Shirley to come along and that spoiled things.
It was sticky hot. Every day it was. And we drove everywhere with the windows wound down and still it was breathless hot. We went to towns sometimes and I drank myself silly in pubs with strange names and I wished it was just me and Rachael, but it wasn’t.
And we had a rule – stupid really, though I’d have kept to it if Shirley hadn’t been there: no guys was the rule. Every place we went we got guys looking at us and making lewd suggestions about the van and what they thought the van was for. But there was this one night and I broke the rule and I don’t think the others ever knew. It was north of London someplace and this boy kept looking at me and smiling and he was pretty like the lad at the end of our street. And in a way he reminded me of Rachael. His hair was the same and he was thin as a stick. We did it in the toilet of the pub, quick as quick, and I sort of did it to spite Rachael.
Later that night we drove out of the town and slept near to a shrunken river, so near we could hear the water running over stones. We slept with the van doors open so we could see the stars and the moon. Shirley and Rachael and me, we was all pressed up close together, and talking into the late dark. I made confession of some shit happened in my childhood and Rachael said as how she was so sorry and she kissed me or I kissed her, and that would have been just fine, ‘cept Shirley was there and so I had to kiss her, too.
It could have been the best time, that summer driving everywhere in Connie, and maybe it was anyway. I sure as hell can’t think of a summer to beat it. But it could have been better is what I think. I see her sometimes, Rachael that is. I see her from a way off, in town or getting onto a bus. I don’t let on though. She’s married now. It still hurts when I see her.