Everything was changing – Thatcher was in, Sid Vicious was dead. The Yorkshire Ripper was terrifying women everywhere.
In my home town, life was shifting. People were leaving – moving on; even my old school friends were gone. All of them, except Tom Travis. But Tom was changing too. And when he turned up at my house on a scooter one sweltering July afternoon I was jealous enough to pretend Lambrettas weren’t my thing.
Dinah – she was my thing. She was what I wanted. She took it to the ultimate degree. Where I scoured the local second-hand shops for Levis and brogues, Dinah hit London and hung out in Carnaby Street and Kensington Market, offering to model in return for some gear. A Bridget Reilly print dress here, a Biba bag there. She had the complete look – Twiggy eyes, astounding legs and long blond hair; bouffant and straight and kicking out at the ends. She was tiny and cute and had the sweetest smile in the world.
No-one could match Dinah on the dance floor. Geno Washington sang ‘Michael, The Lover’, and Dinah and her friends all wanted to be Michael’s girl. Us boys in crisp Sta-Prest trousers spun on sticky floors, sole to soul – Northern Soul, Stax and Motown.
We were skinny, the lot of us. But me; I was lithe. That’s what Dinah said once, her long fingers brushing my arm as she said it.
Dinah wore tight, white skirts and crumpled winkle-pickers. When she couldn’t get her hands on a perfect twinset she’d wear a buttoned cardigan back to front with a set of pearls, always a set of pearls. And those eyes. You should have seen her eyes. Liquid eyeliner, thick and black framed the drooping lids; her long eyelashes, fat with mascara. When she looked at me I wanted to dive into those huge blue pools - a shade of blue I didn’t have a name for - and swim there forever.
I kissed Dinah once and she ate my tongue. I’ve never felt the same since. She was sweet and gentle but ten minutes into our session, when I knew I was in love and life would never be the same, she pulled back from me, withdrawing slowly, licking her pale pink lips. She didn’t comment, or smile. She didn’t baulk. She just seemed to be somewhere else, her eyes lost to another world. Then she stared at me – into me – I felt she could see right down to my racing heart. She touched my cheek and her hand trembled against my face. I wanted to scream ‘Don’t leave me’ but she stood up from the sofa where we lay.
‘See ya’ she said.
I was too in awe to reply.
That night I couldn’t go home – it would make everything too normal – too real. I wanted to keep the taste of Dinah in my mouth forever. I left the party around eleven; the sky was bright with stars and a high, full moon threw an indigo hue over the busy streets, still bustling with tourists and last order drinkers. I headed for the beach. The tide was out – I lived here beside the seaside and I never knew what the sea was doing, whether it was crashing about on helpless pebbles, or still and silent, ‘like a millpond’ - as people always said. I’d never seen a millpond. I probably never would. Far out on the shore little waves lapped and played over sharp rocks which peeked out of the ebbing water. The pier loomed over me like an eerie skeleton topped with an icing of bright lights, and stinking of fried onions and candy floss.
I found an empty crest of stones and flopped down onto it. Dry sand trickled into my desert boots and I couldn’t be bothered to kick it out. The sensation comforted and caressed my tired feet. I lay there for a while watching the cloudy sea as it came and went, came and went; its fishy scent acrid in my nose, its spray fresh and damp. I stared out to the ends of the world and felt my skin start to dry out with the invisible salt lingering in the air. I could taste it everywhere.
In the distance a tinny roar of scooter engines grew louder as riders and bikes headed for the seafront; Tom was probably with them. Quadrophenia was playing at the cinema that summer and suddenly everyone was wearing Parkas, the guys had sharp suits and all the girls looked like Dinah. Oh God, Dinah. Why couldn’t I last five minutes without her dancing in my head, smiling, taunting me with those massive eyes.
I pulled myself together, straightened my shirt – still untucked from where Dinah’s hands had crept inside it, and headed up to the prom. My suit looked cool, I knew it, but it was so damned hot that little rivulets of sweat ran from my armpits. Behind me the sky darkened – a purple and yellow bruise gathered with the heat across the horizon blurring the line between sea and sky.
Lambrettas and Vespas squealed to a halt on the street. Beautiful, soft chrome lines and mirrors reflected the lights of the cafés and chippies along the promenade. Something stirred inside me. And then I saw her.
I could never compete with the scooter boys. The money they earned from their skivvy bank jobs left me envious. It left Dinah breathless, wanting more. Dinah thought money would help mend the loneliness in her life, heal her emotional scars. And on the nights she cried, when I rocked her in my arms, I’d tell her she didn’t need it. But she didn’t believe me.
I glanced over at the glittering row of machines. Their riders stood beside them, smoking, waiting to be admired. I laughed. I knew I had something those wannabes could never buy – I had style, I had the look – like Dinah. I was the real deal. The wealthy Toms, Stephens and Jonathans might have been able to buy manufactured style off the peg in the high street but they’d never be capable of creating a look for themselves, never be able to make it their own.
The pseudo Mods flashed their money about, wads of notes always to hand. At least my paltry wages came from working somewhere I wanted to be - Mint Records, just yards from their towering institutions of Capitalism. Tuesdays to Saturdays I wallowed in vinyl and lived the beat. If you were anyone, Mint Records was where you hung out – and I was part of it. I’d seen Tom in there a few times, buying what everyone else already had, desperate to fit in. Dinah, my Dinah, practically lived in the shop.
She was my friend. She just didn’t know I was in love with her.
I watched the scooters from a distance, my skin getting hotter as the night drew in. Clouds pushed harder into the sky, fighting for space – it seemed as though they were in my head, crushing my senses down further and further into my skull, until my brow became laden with the weight of it all.
I looked up from my feet. Hot, fat drops of rain began to fall onto the pavement, onto my shot-silk suit, dribbling through my cropped hair. I ran a hand over it, nonchalant, and the water slid between my fingers.
I looked at her, as though I barely cared.
Dinah took my wet hand in one of hers and stroked the side of my face with the other. She tilted her head and attempted a smile.
‘What’ya doing here? It’s late’.
‘You with Tom?’ I asked.
It was Dinah’s turn to shrug.
A tender breeze drifted through the night, prickling Dinah’s bare shoulders. Goosebumps sprinkled across her skin and I saw her hair flutter, a wisp escaping the stiff hold of the lacquer. I couldn’t help myself. My fingers stretched out and I slid my hand around the back of her neck. Dinah closed her eyes, almost against her will and I pulled her towards me. My lips brushed her neck and I breathed in the sweet perfume she always wore.
‘I love you Dinah.’
Her eyes opened. She blinked. Once, twice.
For an aching moment I rested my face against the perfect skin of her cheek. I lifted my head and Dinah reached up her hand to stroke my chin, my jaw. Her touch made me shiver. She gently teased my mouth open with the ends of her fingers and I kissed them, wanting to bite them, softly. My eyes never left hers. Then I took her hand in mine.
‘I love you.’ I said again.
Dinah nodded sadly, tears threatening to spill.
‘Then show me.’
Dinah Pelling stole my innocence that night, though I was hardly unwilling. And now every time the air grows still and dry, and the sky turns black, I think of her, of the rain pouring down on us as we lay in the sand, the tide teasing our toes as we made love.
I never saw Dinah again.
I did look, for a while, but I think I’d known for some time that she’d go, make her own way in the world, be the girl she needed to be. It was never going to happen in our genteel, seaside town.
The memory of rumbling, summer thunder and hot, desperate kisses troubles my mind to this day, and it makes that night all the more precious. I knew nothing like that would ever happen to me again, that I would never meet anyone else like her. And I haven’t.
I’ve learnt not to go looking for something you miss; the world moves on and you have to move with it. It’s a hard lesson but you can’t leave your heart waiting, yearning for someone long gone – because they’re not coming back.
And lightning; hot, crackling, passionate lightning – well, it’s true what they say. It never strikes twice.
© Michele Ranger July 2009