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The winning British entry in the Transatlantic Review Short Story competion 2003

[From the novel Down the Figure 7]

By half-past nine darkness had almost taken over and the gaslamps spluttered into life. The sky was clear, shading imperceptibly from deepest black to pale translucent pink in the west, a few faint stars winking on overhead.

Some of the gang had melted away, but Terry, Alan, Jack Ravey, Keith Hartley and Ian Thompson were still there, the girls too: Sandra Weeks, Doreen Hartley, Fat Pat Sidebottom and Laura Parfitt.

Laura Parfitt was thirteen and lived in a big detached house (with garage) on the corner of Hovingham Street. Her father ran his own haulage business, had a van and a car - a red two-seater MG with wire-spoke wheels whose shattering exhaust could be heard two blocks away. She was a tall slender girl with an aloof expression that Terry found sexually stimulating. She didn't usually fraternise with the gang, and for this reason was regarded as snooty and a snob, though she was always friendly when Terry spoke to her in the street and had a lovely pair of knockers.

Colin Purves had the lads in stitches, the girls outraged yet agog, with a non-stop flow of dirty jokes and limericks he knew by heart. He never flagged, his memory never failed him, able to relate a dirty joke on any subject you cared to name, from spinsters living alone to hunchbacks with deformed organs.

Terry was both fascinated and unsettled by this performance: this was a side to Colin Purves he had never seen before. At first Terry had steeled himself for the worst, because Colin Purves still haunted his dreams and turned them into sweating nightmares; but this Colin Purves, the genial jokester, the life and soul of the party, had dismissed everything that had gone before as so much good-humoured tomfoolery, remarking at one point: "That night we pinched your bike on Oswald Street and hid it behind't fence. D'you remember? We had a good laugh that night."

Terry nodded and discovered himself to be smiling. The big lad wasn't so bad after all, once you got to know him; he didn't mean any real harm. Even Laura Parfitt couldn't tear herself away, listening mesmerised as the jokes got filthier and the language more crude.
"Do you know the one about the nun who ordered a gross of candles for Christmas?" Colin Purves said, not bothering to wait for an answer before telling the story, which relied for its point on the extraordinary masturbatory prowess of the abbess.

"Where do you get 'em all from?" asked Alan, goggle-eyed.

"All over't place, but mostly from the van drivers who deliver me dad's meat. One of them's a right randy little fart, not as big as me," which wasn't hard to believe, Colin Purves being gargantuan for a boy of fourteen. He had a magnetic quality that compelled you to look at him and listen to him. It was partly to do with his bigness, his grossness; he was everything to excess, the kind of person you disliked yet couldn't keep your eyes off.
Jack Ravey bent double at the waist and charged head-first into Terry's stomach. They wrestled in the grass, avoiding the dog muck and trying to stab each other with imaginary Bowie knives. Terry received three wounds in the chest and stomach before getting in a fatal thrust between his adversary's shoulder-blades. Jack Ravey died spectacularly, straightening up with a glavanic jerk, clutching the air, screaming Aaaaiiieeee!!! as he fell backwards down the slope, coming to lie spreadeagled, mouth gaping, eyes crossed, fingers twitching, with convincing flecks of foam on his lips.

"Mad," Laura Parfitt said. "He's mad."

The evening had now advanced into night, with only a glow on the horizon, fast fading, to mark the sunset. The fences enclosing the pens and allotments poked like sharpened staves (which they resembled) into the dying streak of sky, and away towards the river the baying of a dozen hounds, kept for breeding purposes in a stockade of wire-netting, sounded sharp and clear on the still air. Terry knew that it was getting late but he didn't want to leave, not just yet. He said:
"Where are your pals tonight, Colin?" It was amazing, and he realised it, that he could inquire after Dougie and Spenner as though they were old friends of his.

The big lad said, "Them dozy getts. They've gone to the flicks."

"We went this aft," Jack Ravey said, and told him about Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, on at the Palace, which didn't seem to interest Colin Purves at all; nothing seemed to interest him unless he had done it or seen it or was talking about it. He asked the girls their names and they told him, giggling.

"Bet you've never played Postman's Knock."

"Course we have," they said.

"How do you play it?" he asked with sly cunning.

"We're not that thick," Laura Parfitt said, giving him a level stare. Yet she could have gone in, it was late, and didn't. His manner was strangely hypnotic, even to her.

"Ever played Strip Jack Naked?"

The word "strip" was like a stick of gelignite in mixed company. The younger girls blushed and some of the lads laughed in a nervous, embarrassed way.

"No," Laura said, her tone ironic. "But I bet you could show us."

"I could that," Colin Purves said, lounging against the fence, the distant lamp near Wellens's shop making craters of his bad complexion. When he grinned with his large loose mouth he was fascinating in his ugliness.

Ian Thompson said, "I know Sandra Weeks does a bit."

"I do not," Sandra Weeks said, putting her hands on her hips. She gave him a look that could kill.

"That's not what I've heard."

"You haven't heard nothing. What have you heard? Nothing, I bet."

"Come on, Sandra, don't be shy," Colin Purves said in a coaxing, teasing voice. "If you've done a bit tell us about it."

"He's a damn pigging liar," Sandra Weeks said, flushing and glaring at Ian Thompson.

"Nowt to be ashamed of - eh, Laura?" Colin Purves said, draping his arm across her shoulders. It struck Terry that, in spite of herself, Laura was attracted to him. He felt baffled and lost.

Keith Hartley said he was going in and told their Doreen that she'd better go too. Fat Pat Sidebottom went with them. Jack Ravey suggested that the rest of them go to the churchyard and tell ghost stories but nobody seemed keen on the idea: instead they wandered deeper into the maze of pens, down the Figure 7 to what was a dead end: a semi-circle of huts round a dirt clearing, bordered by hummocks of grass and a fence made out of any old wood that happened to be lying around at the time. It was dark, not a light anywhere, faces and hands pale ghostlike blurs, black sockets for eyes.

Somehow or other (Terry had missed the start of it in the darkness) Colin Purves was kissing Laura Parfitt, standing in front of her with his legs braced, pressing her against one of the tarred huts. The others stood round in an awkward group as though they might have been waiting for a bus. Wet smacking sounds, unnaturally loud in the quietness, issued from the huddled pair. Colin Purves broke away to say:
"There's a spare 'un, you know."

Terry was about to reach for Sandra Weeks, delayed a fatal indecisive half-second, and Ian Thompson stepped in, pushing her against the wall of the hut and sliding his hands around her waist. This left Terry, Alan and Jack Ravey with nothing better to do than stare unseeingly into the darkness and shuffle their feet in the dirt whenever the silence became too oppressive.

The scene suddenly brightened. A wash of light illuminated the pens, the waiting lads, the necking couples as a huge full moon, its topographical contours plainly visible, rose in state above the rooftops of the houses on Cayley Street; even as they watched it cleared the slates and chimney-pots and rose into the sky, flooding the landscape with a hard white light.

Terry shivered and stared, bewitched.

"No - " Laura said in a muffled voice. "No." There was a brief struggle.

"All right," Colin Purves said easily, "don't get in a sweat. I'm not going to force you."

"Don't do it then."

"Take it easy, keep your knickers on."

"I will," Laura Parfitt said defiantly.

Now that the lads could see clearly what was going on, how the couples were making out, they could also see the bulge in Colin Purves's trousers. Alan nudged Terry, Terry nudged Jack Ravey, and all three held their stifled laughter in their stomachs, quivering and shaking in an effort to contain it. Jack Ravey said, "Let's have a go with Sandra," and Ian Thompson stood aside to let him in.

Colin Purves looked over his shoulder, his face broad and thick-lipped in the moonlight, and said in a matter-of-fact voice, "D'you fancy having a go with Laura?"

"I don't mind," Terry said, trembling.

"He's a randy little bugger on the quiet," Colin Purves said to Laura Parfitt. He stepped back and Terry took his place. The trouble was that Laura Parfitt's mouth was level with his forehead. When he put his arms round her they encircled her buttocks. She bent her head and he stood on his toes but it wasn't very satisfactory.

"Stand on something," Laura said, looking round for a suitable stone or house brick. She spotted one and they manoeuvred towards it, Terry raising himself up so that their faces were level. He couldn't meet her eyes, he was too shy, but in one quick movement inclined his head and kissed her on the lips. She was expert, no doubt about it, and Terry thought he detected a keener urging in her kiss than with Colin Purves. And Laura was enjoying it: the way she snuggled deeper into the embrace, soft little sounds at the back of her throat.

"The randy little bugger's making a right meal of it," observed Colin Purves to nobody in particular. "Save some for the rest of us." His laugh was hearty and forced.

Terry didn't want to let her go, and to savour the full magic of his triumph he opened his eyes so that he could see as well as feel that he was actually kissing Laura Parfitt, standing on a stone at the bottom of the Figure 7 in the moonlight.

Laura too had opened her eyes, and for the tiniest fragment of time they looked, eye to eye, beyond the superficial glassy stare into the depths of the thing called Laura Parfitt and the lump of stuff labelled Terry Webb: thrilled, fascinated, shocked even by the naked contact, fierce as electricity.

It was over in a flash, their two bodies tensing momentarily before yielding once again to the passive embrace. He was astonished; it was like encountering a Martian only to discover beneath the alien outer layer a real live human being lurking inside. And what made it stranger was the eerie moonlight washing over everything, a flat bland illumination making the pointed fences throw corrugated shadows across the rutted track and hummocks of coarse grass.

The faint cry of somebody calling "Alan!" came from the direction of Kellett Street and Alan Bland said, "I'll have to go, that's me dad." When he had gone Colin Purves said:
"Four against two now."

Terry's heart lurched in his chest; for a nasty moment he had the wild notion that Dougie and Spenner were concealed somewhere nearby, waiting for the signal to pounce. And then realised that Colin Purves meant four lads against two girls. Fluid gurgled somewhere inside him and his legs on the flat stone went weak with relief.

"Laura," Sandra Weeks said, "I'll have to be going in soon," and pulled away from Jack Ravey's embrace.

"Not yet," Colin Purves said. "Not till you've paid your forfeit."

"What?" Laura said, stiffening.

Terry stepped down off the flat stone as Colin Purves moved in.

"You've got to pay a forfeit before you can go."

"Who says?"

"Four against two."

"Oh really?" Laura Parfitt looked at him in the moonlight with perfect cool detachment.
Ian Thompson said, "Sandra's got to pay one too."

Colin Purves grinned and placed his large heavy hand on Laura's shoulder, and when she didn't immediately shake him off Terry was inspired by the sudden realisation that girls not only required but actually desired the element of force: he could see it in Laura Parfitt's eyes, the conflicting emotions of rejection and submission, fear and desire, and he was seized by a dreadful gathering excitement.

"We're not doing anything," Laura said.

"Come on, don't be chicken." Colin Purves's hand slid from her shoulder to just above her right breast, his broad flat thumb stroking the material. He said softly, "Take summat off. Take your blouse off and let's see what size they are."

Laura stared at him.

"We're not going to hurt you. We just want to have a look."

"I've got to go now," Sandra said.

"I said not yet."

"I've got to go, honest."

"You," Colin Purves said, "have got to take your knickers off first."

"I won't," Sandra said. "I won't." It was beginning to dawn on her the predicament she was in. "I have to go. Me dad'll be out looking for me."

"Take your knickers off first, then you can go."

Terry said, "Or we can always take them off for you."

Colin Purves said silkily, "Or we can do what Terry says." His hand was touching Laura Parfitt's breast. She was standing very still, breathing the lightest of breaths. Was it fear that held her, or temptation, or a slow boiling anger that would suddenly spill over into flying fists and stinging blows?

Terry waited, his throat dry, the sweat gathering in the palms of his hands. He felt just as he had done that afternoon in Doreen Hartley's kitchen when there seemed to be a giant pulse beating in his head, jarring his skull. The air seemed to have in it a peculiar kind of intensity as though a high-pitched sound beyond the range of human hearing was vibrating the molecules to a frenzy.

Another sound - a real one - infiltrated the silence: Sandra Weeks's muffled sniffling sobs, like the noise a mouse or a small timid creature might make. Terry experienced the warm enveloping glow of deepest satisfaction.

Laura Parfitt said, "Don't let them scare you, Sandra. They won't do anything."

"I have to go," Sandra wailed. "I have to, I have to."

"You go then," Laura said. "They can't stop you." She was staring levelly into Colin Purves's eyes; it was an attitude finely balanced between defiance and an outright challenge; they were an even match, her stare said so, and they both knew it.

"Are you staying if she goes?" His hand hadn't moved from her breast.

"No I'm not," Laura said, and coolly, "Not with you here."

Terry expected Colin Purves to react violently to this: what he did in fact was to drop his hand and turn away with a half-shrug, muttering in a low disinterested voice, "Go on, piss off then. I've kicked better slags than you into touch."

Laura tucked her blouse back into her skirt. She took hold of Sandra's arm and pulled her up the Figure 7. Terry watched them go. They were gone in a trice, even before his disappointment could register itself. Ian Thompson said:
"Bloody Nora, I could've poked Sandra Weeks tonight."

Colin Purves laughed harshly. "What with, your little finger?"

"I could do it as well as you, any road," Ian said heatedly, and rather unwisely. He was six inches smaller than Colin Purves, which should have been warning enough.

"Let's have a look then," Colin Purves said, encircling Ian's shoulders from behind so that he was held captive. "Get the bugger out and let's see it."

Ian struggled but Colin Purves held him powerfully and without undue strain. They scuffled this way and that in the dirt, tripping over each other's feet.

"Get off," Ian Thompson said irritably. "Get off."

"Not till we see this ten-inch prick of yours." Colin Purves increased the pressure, crushing Ian to the point where it began to hurt.

"Don't," Ian said in a whining voice. "Stop it, please, Colin."

Then with a fury and savagery that took Terry's breath away, Colin Purves flung Ian across the track and into the fence. Ian rebounded and lay in the grass. Terry didn't say anything. He didn't dare approach Ian to see if he was hurt or not.

"This is what you call a dick," Colin Purves said, opening his trousers and pulling it out into the open. The long thick shape was plainly to be seen in the moonlight, standing up from his trousers. He stood with his legs splayed and masturbated. There was the sound of sucking flesh.

"Come on," Colin Purves said, breathing heavily.

Terry undid the buttons on his trousers and felt a surge of release as the cool night air touched him. He was already hard. Jack Ravey did the same; the three of them stood in a circle.

"Let's swap round," Colin Purves said to Terry. "You do mine and I'll do his and he can do yours."

They grasped each other in a chain and worked them back and forth, panting, with intense concentration, lost to everything else. Colin Purves felt enormous, and burning hot: the flesh was hard and yet pliable in Terry's hand. They worked on each other for a while, no other sound but that of breathing, and Terry knew he was getting nearer. The feel of Colin Purves shocked him: such bigness, rock solid: he had never imagined an experience like it in his life before.

"What's her name, that girl?" Colin Purves said, his voice slurred.

"Laura Parfitt."

"Laura Parfitt," Colin Purves said, his breath rasping. "Laura, I could fuck you, oh yes. Oh yeh." He said, "I could rip your blouse off and feel your tits. Oh yeh." He said, "Laura, I could open your legs and push it in and shoot up you. Yes, oh yeh." He said, "If she was here now I'd get her on't grass and shag her till green sparks flew from her arsehole. I would. Oh yes, yeh. Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes - "

He jerked and groaned and pulled away, shuddering.

Terry felt himself go in the next moment, the sweet pain rushing through his legs to be swept clean out of him and lost in the dirt at the bottom of the Figure 7, the bright-as-day moonlight washing over everything. He was weary and not afraid of Colin Purves any more.

When he had buttoned up his trousers he went to see if Ian Thompson was all right, lying motionless in the grass. His trousers were open and he had just finished.

The four of them walked through the pens towards the gaslamp on the corner near Wellens's shop. Terry was scared at the thought of what time it was. If it was gone eleven - and it must have been at least that - he would get pasted. Jack Ravey turned off to go down the back-entry, saying, "See you," and Terry walked on with Ian and Colin Purves. Dolly Bland went clicking by in her high-heels, giving the three of them an old-fashioned look for being out at this time of night.

As he left them to go along Hovingham Street Colin Purves said, "See you. Next time we'll get Laura Parfitt and we'll all shag her one after the other."

Terry went on to No. 86, shivering, despite the warmth of the night, with thrilling anticipation.


© Trevor Hoyle 2008

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