A Children's Story

Entry by: Deedee

4th August 2015
June 1983 – the summer we fell from grace. I will remember it always. Both as it was – and, now, as it has become. The stuff of fiction. A summer spun from the gossamer threads of imagination and deceit.

Even now, some 30-odd years on, I can still smell that summer. The scent of freshly mown grass, Hawaiian Tropic and the tangy fizz of Refreshers, which we necked like they were going out of fashion. Bee, sitting in the hammock in my garden, lazily popping sweet after sweet, occasionally tossing one to Charlotte and myself. We were 12 – and a change had come over us that year. Innocence had slipped, like a hat fallen slightly askew, balanced precariously on one’s head. We knew, instinctively, that we wouldn’t be able to hold onto it much longer. Truth be told, none of us really wanted to.

That was the summer when boys became BOYS. Almost overnight their significance took on epic proportions. I remember that Bee had read Judy Blume’s Forever first. Or maybe it was me. Whoever had got hold of it though had passed it round between us. Suddenly we became aware of our budding breasts and the fact that boys had things between their legs that weren’t so much yucky anymore as actually honest-to-God interesting.

There, out on the lawn, as bees hummed their summer tune, we spoke of things I haven’t spoken about with anyone since. I’ve had close friends over the years, but those raw emotions and uncertainties have never been expressed with quite so much honesty and intensity as they were in the summer of ’83. Innocence, on the cusp of maturity, produces its own unique imprint; it is a time of in betweens. Never again in our lives do we fall with such emphasis between two contrasting versions of ourselves.

It was a time of mystery and intrigue. Penises seemed more interesting than they had any right to be. As did those strange stirrings inside ourselves. Now, as a grown woman, I know my body intimately – there are few surprises it can offer up to me; even the mysteries of the menopause can be Googled ahead of time. But back then, we were discovering exciting, fantastical new things about ourselves – and each other.

I have no doubt that our combined innocence would have gently morphed into knowledge, slowly and over time; had it not been for Ben and what happened later that summer.

Two years our senior, Ben was the brother of one of our classmates, who happened to live in the same turning as me. Before that summer, he’d always been ‘Cassie’s brother’ to us – a person of little interest. That all changed after Forever was done and dusted and back on the shelf; albeit a little more well-thumbed than before.

Charlotte, Bee and I had spent an afternoon sunning ourselves in the garden before heading out to the park. It was packed that day – it seemed like every kid in the area had decided to head over there at the same time. And it’s there where we bumped into Ben.
“Hey girls,” he’d said with a crooked grin. A grin which I suddenly found unspeakably compelling. “Cassie’s over by the swings if you want to hang out.”

I looked over at Bee and noticed that she’d gone bright red. That was a first. Not unsurprising though – if her train of thought was anything like mine, she’d probably been thinking about what lay hidden inside Ben’s trousers. I couldn’t help it – that damn book had put all sorts of thoughts into my head.

Charlotte giggled and nibbled at her thumb. “Thanks, Ben,” she said. “We might just head over.”

“Thanks Ben, we might just head over,” Bee parroted once Ben was out of sight.

Charlotte’s face flooded with colour. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she’d asked.

“Oh come on, it’s so obvious. You lurrveeee him,” Bee had sneered.

“Piss off, Bee!” snapped Charlotte. “What would you know anyway?”

“More than you. And I tell you what, Charlotte, if anyone’s going to have him, it’s going to be me.”

My eyes had been flicking between Bee and Charlotte, trying to process their exchange. This was a new one on me. We’d had spats before – we’d known each other since we were three, so of course we had. But this had a different feel to it. It had come out of nowhere. Bee had been, well, mean. And I’d never seen her mean before. “Hey you two,” I said, taking a step towards them. “This is silly. And let’s be honest, Bee, I don’t think either of you is likely to ‘have’ him. He’s fourteen for Christ’s sake.”

“So?” Bee said, blinking slowly at me while a small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. It wasn’t a smile I’d seen before – but even at that age I recognised what it signified. It was the first bloom of sexual awareness making its way onto Bee’s face. In that moment, Bee seemed to morph before my eyes. This morning, where she’d simply been wearing a pretty floral print sundress, she was now somehow more alluring. I could see the swell of her breasts – which were beating Charlotte and myself in the race towards womanhood – and her long legs were tanned and toned.

Charlotte must have seen it too because her eyes narrowed and she stared Bee down. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

Bee grinned. “I’m going to lose my cherry with him – just like Katherine Danziger did with Michael!”

Charlotte glowered at her. “And what if I get there first?”

“You won’t,” Bee said, turning on her heel and skipping off.

It was in that moment that everything changed.

Within the space of a few weeks, Charlotte, Bee and I went from being best friends to being something else. We still hung out every day, but now there was an undercurrent.

I could see Charlotte and Bee analysing each other in those quiet moments when they thought themselves unobserved. As an adult looking back on this, I now recognise that they were weighing up the competition. At the time, perhaps because I was still a little behind their sudden developmental leap, I just felt sad and confused. I could see that Ben was cute, but I wasn’t interested in him myself. I hadn’t quite made the transition from fantasy to real life, and my imagination was full of Michael from Forever, and Morten Harket whose posters adorned my wall.

Perhaps, if I’d been a bit more clued up, I would have spotted the warning signs. I might have managed to douse the heat of the situation before it flared up. Instead, as the summer entered its stride and the days seemed to grow longer and hotter, my friends began speeding away from the childhood we had shared; careening towards a version of womanhood that would end up having implications destined to resonate down the years.

In telling you this now, it’s as though it happened yesterday. August 14th 1983. Bee and I, without Charlotte for once, had decided to go net fishing on the riverbank. We’d packed a picnic, and for the first time in ages, I felt happy. Light and free. The tension of the past month was lifted – as though Charlotte’s absence had returned Bee to the childhood friend I knew and loved. Apart from a tight top and underwired bra, accompanied by extra-heavy eyeliner, Bee seemed more what I remembered her to be.

I wish now, still wish, that we had decided to do anything else that day – go anywhere else – because, when we reached the area of river that we knew was normally deserted, we spied someone in the distance. They were laid out on the grass, as though sunbathing. As we drew nearer, we saw that it wasn’t one person but two. Closer still, and it became obvious that they were having sex. The guy, who was on top, had his jeans pulled down, and the girl’s bare legs were spread to the side below him.

Bee let out a gasp, then a giggle.

“Come on, let’s go,” I whispered.

“No way,” said Bee. “I want to see this!”

“We can’t. They’ll spot us if we get much closer.” Even from a distance, I could hear the low moans of the girl’s voice.

But Bee grabbed me by the arm and dragged me forwards. Suddenly the boy looked up. It was Ben. Spotting us, he leaped off the girl and she sat upright. Bee and I both drew in a sharp breath. Charlotte.

By this point the chivalrous Ben had done up his belt and was loping off. “I’ll catch up with you later,” he yelled back at Charlotte.
Scrabbling to her feet and pulling her knickers up at the same time, Charlotte suddenly began to laugh. “Oh, thank God it was just you two,” she said, walking towards us. Then a blush spread into her cheeks. “So, now you know. That was our first time. Oh, he’s lovely. I’ve finally found my Michael!”

Beside me, I was aware of an unnatural stillness emanating from Bee. Then, suddenly, she exploded. “You slut!” she yelled. “You knew I liked him.”

Charlotte took a step back. “So if you’d have had him, you wouldn’t have been a slut? Come on, be reasonable, Bee. He liked me. Not you.”

Bee screeched and launched herself at Charlotte.

“Stop it! Stop,” I yelled, tears coursing down my face. But they were beyond hearing me.

Then out of nowhere, from left field, Ben came bounding over. “Hey! Cut it out,” he yelled, trying to drag Bee and Charlotte apart. Chivalrous after all – he must have heard the commotion and come over to save Charlotte.

He was between them now, and the girls had stopped scrabbling – but Bee, the fight not quite out of her yet, rounded on Ben and deliberately shoved him. I still see it now – him slipping back, the girls’ fight having taken them perilously close to the bank. Falling, arms cartwheeling as he hit the river bed – his head rebounding off a stone. Then stillness.

We stood, the three of us, staring in frozen silence. We must have stood like that for a long time, watching Ben’s blood flow into the river.

Then the unspoken bond of childhood seemed to settle once more upon us and, wordlessly, we turned and walked away.

When Ben was found three days later, it was put down to a tragic accident. It was an accident – that was the story we told ourselves; even though we all knew it was Bee who had shoved him.

Almost overnight we three reverted to childhood – even Charlotte who had, I realised much later, lost her virginity at quite an unspeakably early age. But it was as though it had never happened.

For the rest of that summer we sat in my garden, re-reading Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. We played Monopoly and scribbled away our guilt in colouring books. And all the while we keep telling each other it was an accident.

It was a story we told ourselves over and over. A children’s fantasy that eventually took on enough reality to see us through. We repeated that lie, summer after summer. Right up until we went to university and drifted apart.

But eventually you reach adulthood – and the power of children’s stories loses its hold. You realize that princesses don’t get saved in real life, and fairies don’t exist. Those tales which are spun to calm and reassure become nothing more than smoke and air.

Sometimes, in the quiet of the night, I wonder if Bee and Charlotte have managed to hold onto that story we all told ourselves – or whether, like me, they now see it for the fairytale it is.