At eight, I discovered what it was to be in love. Gregory appeared at my school, one mid-term Monday, along with his older sister, Lesley. Gregory was a year older than me, good looking and had a way about him that exuded an intriguing worldliness. His brown hair, cut in a precise short back and sides, was perfect to my love -bleached eye as was his olive skin and lithe body. Awestruck, I set about making him mine.
At eight, love did not mean sex, heavy petting, not even a kiss. It was chaste yet frisson filled with an Aladdin’s cave of promise, a cavern, chock full of hidden passion, new feelings and intense desire. My stomach turned cartwheels, my heart pulsed blood warm lust. I spent my waking moments with Greg, talking about Greg and thinking about Greg. For a year we played school -yard games that were the carapace for adulthood.
Catherine’s birthday party was much anticipated every year because she, being, Mary, the head teacher’s daughter, had invited everyone, every boy and girl, from our tiny school. The sun shone, sashed party dresses blossomed with ballerina petticoats and shoes glinted with fresh polish. Even I, tomboy in mind and deed, allowed my mother to chintz my every pore. And although the net underskirt scratched my bare legs with talons of pure nylon, I thought Greg would like to see me pretty, girly and enticing. Rarely did I get to see him on a weekend so, for me, this was a personal celebration. A celebration marked, not by ribbon wrapped presents, but with the presence of true possibility.
Arriving first I gave Catherine her gift, watched her unwrap the Sindy doll I didn’t want and other pinkish presents, all the while keeping a weather eye on the front gate. Butterflies of anticipation battered my insides. I ran around to stop their wings from fluttering right through my skin.
“Greg’s here, “ Catherine said as I was twirled, blindfolded, to pin the tail on the donkey. “And Lesley and someone else.”
Twirling harder, I feigned indifference and pinned that tail, praying I looked magical and Greg could see the magic. He saw. The day was perfect, the ‘someone else’, only an older cousin and no threat. The party food was yummy and the games too. Pass the Parcel and What’s the Time Mr Wolf? provided opportunities aplenty to touch Greg. Touching him was my very favourite thing to do.
“Last game. It’s a treasure hunt,” the hostess shouted over the E number induced hubbub. “There are sweets hidden all over the garden. Off you go.”
Out we ran into a candy trove worthy of a Nutcracker kingdom. While others found and devoured their haul, I filled my pockets and with bulging hands, knowing I had done well.
“Mary says we can only have five sweets each, “ Greg stood in front of me flanked by Lesley and their cousin. They were all chewing and appeared to have only a few lollies left. “You have to share yours out.”
I shared my sweets with them. Gregory, Lesley and the cousin were collected. My father arrived for me.
“I think that was a stupid treasure hunt rule,” I said to my teacher as I thanked her for the party.
“What rule?” she asked.
“Only letting us keep five sweets each.”
“That wasn’t a rule,” she said. “You can have as many as you find. Who told you that?”
I couldn’t say his name. I couldn’t speak. I though I was going to be sick. Then I knew I was going to cry. The lump in my throat was so huge I couldn’t even swallow properly. When I did, out came the oddest, most embarrassing noise. I think it burst from somewhere near my broken heart.
I got to our car before the tears came and then they wouldn’t stop. My father pulled up at a Newtown dairy and bought a packet of Mackintosh’s Toffees. He thought I was crying about the sweets. He was trying to help but he had no idea.
I threw the bag of toffees out the window.
“Now, that was silly,” Dad said and set his jaw towards home.