Today, I'm sharing with you a short excerpt from Everything He Never Said. Enjoy the read!
In the workshop they went through a horse racing craze. The young men clubbed together and backed several horses at 6d each way. Charlie fetched the paper with the horse races listed in it from the local newsagent’s shop, where two girls giggled and whispered behind the counter. He wasn’t sure whether they were giggling at him— didn’t think he’d done anything particularly funny, except walk in the door— but after a few weeks of these shenanigans, he plucked up the courage and said to the pretty one, “Can I take you to the pictures on Saturday?”
His heart sank when she replied, “Sorry, I wash my hair on Saturdays.” Well, she did have nice hair. Soft, shiny and wavy. He’d never seen anything like it, but then, he didn’t get out much.
At that point, being Charlie, and thinking “in for a penny, in for a pound”, he asked the second girl too. Serve the other one right. A man had his pride.
“Sorry, I have to go out with my mother on Saturday,” said the second choice, wisely perhaps.
As he left the shop, he heard them giggling. Again. Apparently, he ought to be a comedian at the music hall.
He decided not to fetch the papers anymore and let one of the other boys go.
Not long after that, however, the chap who went in his place to fetch the racing papers, came back and said the girls in the shop wanted to know whether Charlie was going to the roller-skating rink that night.
The ‘rink’ was in the old drill hall, on nights when the building was not being used by the Home Guard or requisitioned for a Whist Drive.
Charlie hadn’t thought about going skating that night, but, as it happened, he had nothing better to do, did he? Perhaps he’d give the girls another chance.
He cycled from St. Mary’s to Ramsey and was bathed in sweat by the time he got to the drill hall. He wore his fire service trousers, a roll-neck pullover and a silk scarf round his neck, the end of it flung over one shoulder— the way he’d seen it done in a film at the cinema. The way he used to imagine he’d wear one to fly up in the air in his own machine. His hair was flat to his head, shiny with Brylcreme.
He’d put a lot of effort in, he thought, panting for breath, as he leapt down and wheeled his bicycle down the side of the building. Hoped it was jolly well worth it.
The skating was already underway. With the double doors standing open, he could see the grey dust swirling around, caught up by the roller-skates and spinning in the lights. The skaters were all coated in a thin mist that clung to their clothes and faces.
He swept a quick hand over his hair, to make sure it was still well stuck down. His heart was thudding very fast, as if he knew something special was about to happen.
Then, to his relief, the pretty one appeared, sweeping forward out of the dust cloud and smiling shyly.
“So, you came then,” she said.
Bit obvious, he thought.
Perhaps she was nervous, like him.
She had soft, thick curls of brown hair and warm eyes that seemed always to be laughing. He hoped it wasn’t at him. They had a kindly light though when she looked at him. A little curious, perhaps.
Her name, she said softly, was Doreen.
Together they started skating around in circles along with everybody else, their faces soon coated in that same dust. When the chap playing the music grew fed-up and stopped, the sound of their skates churned on, rumbling and growling over the wooden floor.
She told him that she had known his mother, who used to buy magazines at the shop. He nodded, not wanting to talk much about his mother and not really knowing what else to say to this pretty girl with the smile.
They didn’t have a lot to say on that first night, but it didn’t seem to matter. There was a comforting sweetness about her company. Once they got over the first few minutes, it felt natural, right and not at all awkward. When she called him by his name it sounded different to the way other people said it.
As she skated along at his side, shooting him those curious and amused glances, he wondered how she came to be there with him. Why did she like Charlie? He kept looking over his shoulder, wondering if somebody played a practical joke at his expense.
Usually, to get something nice, he had to work hard for it, dig for it, struggle and sweat. To get the bread and jam treat on a Saturdays as a boy, for instance, he had to survive the Syrup of Figs on a Friday. What bad thing had he done to get this good one? Or was the payment yet to come?
He broke his back working for three pounds a week and had nothing to call his own, except for that old pushbike. Other than Tom Rule and the lads at the blacksmith’s workshop, he didn’t even have a family any longer.
And yet, here was a young girl named Doreen, who rolled out of the dust to find him, and suddenly he felt like a rich man with no worries in the world. Well, he could imagine what a rich man must think and feel. Now he could.
He walked her home to her parents’ house on West Avenue and as he watched her stroll down the garden path, her roller-skates swinging from one hand, she turned, the moonlight gently caressing her lovely curls and her round, flushed cheek. She beamed. “See you again.”
See you again.
His heartbeat quickened and he caught his breath. It was almost like standing up on his motorbike seat and speeding along a sunny lane.
See you again.
He looked up at the sky and counted a few stars winking down at him. For once, he didn’t want to be up there. Charlie didn’t want to be anyone else or anywhere else, but here. With her.
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