Boys and Girls Come Out to Play

by Barry Baldwin

One day, sensational news hit the village. A Canadian girl had come to stay. The gang met that night in emergency session under the yellow sodium street lamp by the school playground to discuss this intelligence.

‘I don’t believe it,’ somebody said. ‘Why would a Canadian come here?’

This was my question as well, but I had no standing in the gang as an authority on anything, let alone Canadian girls, so I had waited for another member to ask it.

‘Perhaps she’s learning English.’

‘Don’t be daft, they speak English in Canada.’

‘Not proper English, they don’t.’

‘I heard she’s here to be a nanny for Mrs Grover at The Grange.’

‘Who cares why she’s here?’ This was our leader, Frank Blunt, who predictably took over the debate and bulldozed it towards his favourite topic. ‘I bet you I’m up her in a week. Those Yank bints are sex-mad.’

The first speaker tried to object that Canadians and Americans weren’t the same thing, but he didn’t stand a chance. Frank Blunt’s status as sexual know-it-all was long established. That’s not to say we necessarily believed all his claims about doing girls, which in turn is not to say that we didn’t want to. Some of the other members also made their own more modest boasts. These usually involved ‘titting’ a girl at the pictures or behind the cricket pavilion. There were two levels of success: a touch of breast outside or inside her clothes. One or two hopefuls tried to persuade us they had progressed to the point of getting their hand right inside and down to the knicker elastic frontier but, led by Frank Blunt who was determined to preserve his supremacy in the minge stakes, we always shouted them down.

‘You know what,’ Frank Blunt went on, ‘those bints will let you do them without a Durex on.’

‘What if they have a baby?’ asked the lad who’d tried to distinguish Canadians from Americans.

‘They know how not to,’ Frank Blunt replied, without explanation. Since no one contradicted this, he moved into more advanced territory. ‘And what’s more, they’ll let you put your thing in their mouth.’

A couple of the knicker elastic brigade nodded in silent support of this allegation. One added they knew for a fact that Helen Rowe, the village bike, did this as well. I privately thought the idea both disgusting and frightening. Fancy anyone putting their mouth where you pissed out of. And what if they bit through it like a stick of liquorice?

‘I’m telling you straight,’ insisted Frank Blunt, as though he had read my mind. ‘And what’s more, they’ll even let you stick it up their backside.’

For once, he had gone too far. It was obvious from people’s faces that nobody was willing to credit such an idea. I myself, with the confidence that only ignorance can give, felt sure it would be physically impossible, even if you wanted to do it. Moreover, there was nothing about this activity in Hank Janson’s Baby Don’t Dare Squeal which was currently circulating under our desk lids at school. One member even called ‘Get out of it,’ though he did not identify himself when challenged by Frank Blunt to do so. ‘Well, anyway,’ summed up a boy who generally contributed even less to gang debates than I did, ‘I expect she’s got one in the middle and two at the front like the rest of them.’ On this thoughtful note, the meeting broke up.

I left resolved never to so much as speak to this Canadian, always assuming she existed. But she did, and I did, once. The very next day, in fact. I had gone into the village shop for a bag of Tidman’s gob-stoppers and there at the counter was this strange girl trying to buy all sorts of things old Ma Pocock had never heard of. Finally, to save face, she stonewalled one request with ‘I could have it in the back, I’ll go and see,’ and the two of us were left alone.

Already impressed by the way she’d got Ma Pocock running around in a way none of us ever had, I swallowed my surprise when she spoke to me first and did not even lower my eyes, my standard practice when dealing with girls. It was obvious from the greeting ‘Hi’ that she must be the Canadian. I knew enough to know they used this short form of our ‘Hey Up’. What I couldn’t fathom was how she came to be on the small side with dark hair and no lipstick and as far as I could tell no tits, when everybody knew all lasses from over there had blonde hair and dollops of make-up and whacking big ones in front. Still, she did have bright white teeth which no girl I knew in the village did, so there couldn’t be any mistake. The only other people I’d met with gnashers like that were blokes old enough to have been given a full extraction and new set for their twenty-first birthday, as used to be the custom.

For some reason, she made me feel like I was speaking to a grown-up, so instead of ‘Hey Up’ I answered with ‘Hello’.

‘I’m Gina,’ she continued, her teeth flashing so much that I would have taken my sun-glasses out of my pocket and put them on, that is if I’d actually had them on me and always supposing I had the wit to do so. I didn’t say anything back. Who cared what she was called? And we didn’t give out our names as easily as that. I was saved by the return of Ma Pocock who had unsurprisingly failed to find what she hadn’t looked for. ‘Must have run out,’ she said aggressively, feeling the need to restore her shopkeeper’s authority. Gina shrugged her not very big shoulders, paid from the largest handbag I’d ever seen for the few things Ma Pocock had managed to come up with, and left.

However, when I’d got my gob-stoppers and come out of the shop, she was waiting there.

‘Hi, again.’

This deserved no reply.

‘Do you live here?’

‘What, in this shop?’

‘No, I can see you don’t do that. I meant, in this village.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘I don’t know. They told me England was a funny place, but I never figured it would be like this.’

I felt I should spring to the defence of my country against this foreigner throwing her weight around, but the only thing that came to mind was a limp ‘Like what?’

Gina, though, was in no mood for an England versus Canada argument. ‘Can you tell me where the church is?’

I was dumbfounded. No one I knew, of any age or sex, ever went to church except at the proper time: Christmas or weddings or funerals. And if Frank Blunt was right, what would a Canadian bint who let you put your thing in her mouth or up her arse want with a church?

‘No.’ I couldn’t think of a smart answer, so salvaged as much pride as I could with this rude lie.

‘Okay, if that’s the way you want it,’ was Gina’s curious reply. Showing absolutely no sign of being upset, she swung herself on to a brand new girl’s bike, provided by Mrs Grover at The Grange I supposed, thinking of the rusty hand-me-down which was what I had, and pedalled off.

I saw Gina quite a lot after this, either wheeling a big pram containing the Grover twins or heaving a lawn mower around their garden or just biking in the village on her own. She always shouted ‘Hi, there’ and every time her stupid teeth looked even whiter. Of course, I never answered.

Interest in her soon died away, being replaced by more important things like football. After one or two further sessions under the street lamp, she ceased to feature in gang discussion. Naturally, Frank Blunt got in a claim to have had her behind the pavilion, adding the standard details about minge size and greasiness but nothing about mouths or backsides. Nobody disputed him, either believing because they wanted to, since if he had got it, ‘it’ remained a possibility for them as well, or because if they showed too open a disbelief, they would find his fist in their face or boot up the goolies.

I kept my trap shut as well. Partly because I too liked minge stories, partly because he was bigger than me, and partly because I had seen him duck down behind a wall to avoid Gina when he spotted her coming down the street towards him.

It wasn’t long after the arrival of this Canadian, not that she had anything to do with it, that I lost two of my virginities, within hours of each other. In neither case could I claim any credit for taking the initiative. I didn’t score, I was scored against. And although for obvious reasons I was never exactly the same afterwards, neither loss did anything to change my life.

One Saturday afternoon, I and some other lads biked over to the next village to support our football team in a semi-final. City were away, it was decent weather, and there was nothing better to do.

The boys I went with seemed all right. I didn’t know them that well, most were a bit older, and none were in our gang. My real comrades weren’t there. They had either been taken by their fathers to follow City on the away game or were doing something else with their families. Frank Blunt said he had a date at the pictures with some ‘pushover’ or other.

We stood on the squiggly whitewashed touchline for the first half, cheering our team and exchanging insults and the odd push-and-shove with lads from the other village. All routine stuff, nothing serious. At half-time, there was no score. We hung around our players for the break, partly to make sure they knew we were there, which might help get us into the team in a few years, partly to grab our share of the lemonade and orange slices that were being passed round.

About ten minutes into the second half, the other team broke away and three of their forwards came steaming down the pitch towards our end. Apart from the goalie, who was jumping up and down on his line calling to the defenders to get back to where they effing well should be, only our centre-half was anywhere near. He was a big bugger called Ray Oxby, though to us he was commonly known as Mighty Joe Young, a tribute to his size and hairiness inspired by the gorilla of that name in a King Kong kind of film we had all recently seen at the village hall.

You know that bit from the Bible on the Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin? ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness.’ Well, it didn’t apply to Mighty Joe Young. He was a nasty piece of work. But you couldn’t say he didn’t get stuck in. He put on a good turn of speed and went in feet first against their pack of forwards. There was a loud cracking noise, followed by a great bellow from Mighty Joe Young: ‘Christ, I’ve broken my bloody leg!’

He had, as well. It was too big a job for our trainer with his bucket of water and magic sponge. While the other team clustered around the stricken Mighty Joe Young, our lot stood or sat in little groups or nipped back to the touchline for more lemonade. One or two made a big show of getting cigarettes from their wives or girl friends and lighting up. The referee came off and bullied one of the locals into biking to the nearest phone to call for an ambulance from the city hospital.

We were obviously in for a long wait. To pass the time, and to avoid going on the pitch to express any sympathy for Mighty Joe Young, I joined with the others, first in a scratch football game against the lads from the rival village, then when we got tired of that, in some aimless wrestling and chasing around.

For no particular reason, I ended up through the hedge and into the next field with a boy from our side called Roy Seager. He wasn’t as tall as me, which was saying something, but he was stocky and keen, and in the general scuffling had proved as good as anyone else. We eyed each other, not saying anything. All of a sudden, this Roy Seager bent down, picked up a stone, threw it at me, and galloped off across the field. More surprised by the running than the throwing, I hesitated for a minute before setting out in pursuit. The stone had sailed harmlessly by me. I bore no grudge for this attack; I would have done the same, had I spotted a stone first.

By the time I caught up with him, Roy Seager had reached a patch of long grass and cow parsley in front of a ditch. He was sitting in it, looking puffed out. I stood over him and was trying to decide just where to kick him when he reached up, pulled me down, and thumped me in the solar plexus. I lay there winded. When I got my breath back, I became aware of him unbuttoning my trousers and sticking his hand into my fly and dragging out my thing.

‘Hey, stop it,’ I objected automatically, more out of surprise than anything. ‘What are you up to?’

Roy Seager didn’t answer. By now, he was sitting flat on my chest with his back to me. I couldn’t move. Once he had my thing pulled through the tangle of underpants and flies, he started to jerk it. I shouted at him to stop, it was hurting, especially when he began to peel the foreskin back from the tip. He took no notice and carried on, himself making no noise of any kind. Then, without being aware of any change of action on his part or reaction on mine, I realised that it wasn’t hurting any more, in fact it was feeling all right in a way I couldn’t have described, though this pleasure was mixed with a new sensation of alarm as I understood that my thing had doubled in size. So as not to give anything away, I continued to tell him to stop it. He did, but only after a final tweak that made me feel like I was bursting open.

Roy Seager released me and got off. I sat up and anxiously examined my thing. It was red from all the jerking, and there was a trail of bubbly white running down from the tip. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of either complaint or thanks, and there didn’t seem anything else to say, so without a word we walked back to see if the match had started again. It turned out that the ambulance still hadn’t come. After another twenty minutes or so, the referee blew his Acme Thunderer whistle three times and announced with great self-importance that the game would have to be abandoned. Everybody started to drift away, the players more quickly than the spectators. Mighty Joe Young lay where he had fallen, alone now except for the referee and the trainer who was still flapping around uselessly with his bucket and sponge.

I hung about until everyone else had set off. I wanted to bike home by myself. Despite my surprise at what had taken place in the long grass and the way it had been done, I knew what it was all about. Although backwards in sexual experience, especially compared to those lads who had sisters, I was, thanks to Frank Blunt and the gang elite, well aware of the basics, above all about tossing off. It was simply something that I hadn’t got around to trying for myself. While I couldn’t help noticing that I had grown hair ‘down there’, regular checks with the tape measure from my granny’s sewing basket had convinced me, even using millimetres instead of inches, that I wasn’t yet ready to blast off. Now, although the tossee not the tosser, I had joined the facts of life, at least in a small way. As I biked back, a little stiffly, I was thinking that, with the details suitably changed, I would have my first starring role in the gang’s next session on this subject.

I expected to be in trouble when I got home. I lived with my grandparents: my mother was dead and my father had vanished so long ago that for all practical purposes he was as well. My granny wouldn’t want to be hanging around making late teas. Saturday night meant the whist drive for her, brown ale and dominoes at the British Legion for my grandad. But for some reason she was in a good mood, so instead of a ballocking a big plate of egg, chips, and beans was set in front of me with even an enquiry about how the match had gone. She then hurried off to her whist drive. Grandad had already gone to the Legion, so I was left to eat my tea in peace. Normally, I would have dawdled over it with a comic. Instead, I wolfed it down in record time and didn’t even consider raiding the larder for any cake that might be going begging.

As soon as I had finished, I got as far away from the window as possible, pulled down my trousers, and started to jerk away for dear life. Nothing happened: no nice feelings, no increase in size, not a drop. After about ten minutes, since it was hurting and I had got a bit of a belly-ache as well, from doing it too soon after tea I supposed, I packed it in. I had no idea why it hadn’t worked. Perhaps I could contrive to get Frank Blunt to explain the problem without seeming to be asking.

What was I going to do next? There was no prospect of a gang meeting, and my pocket money was already spent. I decided to wander around the village. There were usually a few lads outside the pub waiting for their grown-ups. Or a game of kicking-in under a street lamp. But I was out of luck. There were not even any cats or dogs to throw stones at.

I was on the point of jacking it in and going home, when I found myself walking past the cricket field. It occurred to me that I had lost my penknife somewhere there the other day, so I thought I’d go and see if I could find it. Fat chance at night, you might say, but the village council had put up quite a big light next to the pavilion to discourage people like me from vandalising it, so it wasn’t entirely a waste of time.

As I approached the pavilion, a wooden affair with a verandah and four steps leading up, I thought I heard some sort of noise coming from it. Good-o, I said to myself, maybe there are some lads having a crafty smoke in there. But just as I was going to put my foot on the first step, the door opened and somebody came out. Not any lad I knew, in fact not any lad at all, but a girl.

And not any old girl. It was Helen Rowe, the village bike, who was said to give anything in trousers a ride. The grown-ups said she ‘got it’ from her mother who’d farmed Helen out to some relative early in the war and gone off to join the Woman’s Land Army, whose motto was Backs To The Soil. There was a lot of guesswork about who her father was. The official one had gone missing in action and was presumed dead, but my granny was not the only person to say he was more likely buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Quantity.

There was a Helen Rowe in every village. The sort of girl that gets buried in a Y-shaped coffin. It had very little to do with the way they looked. Faces didn’t count. It was common knowledge that you didn’t look at the mantlepiece when you were poking the fire. What mattered was that they had the experience and the know-how to take you in hand and get things started.

Our Helen was not actually all that bad, if you didn’t mind a girl on the tall side with slender legs and frizzy red hair wearing a mohair jumper over average bazookas and a knee-length tartan skirt. The snag about the skirt was that where it stopped emphasised the knobbliness of her knees. No one in the entire world has nice knees, in my opinion. As always, her face was lathered in make-up; this was one of the biggest things about her in the eyes of the village. Lots of black mascara and bright orange lipstick which under the pavilion light looked all smudgy.

The thing about Helen, though, was not so much what she looked like, or even the things she was supposed to do, but the way she behaved in general. She talked like a boy, swore like a boy, and seemed to think she was as good as a boy. She even smoked, Woodbines at that, not cork-tipped. As my granny was fond of saying about my grandad, she smoked like a chimney. I had heard Frank Blunt remark that Helen Rowe didn’t have red changes like other girls, she just had a fall of soot once a month.

‘Baldy,’ she said in that off-putting tone she had, half-way between ‘hello’ and ‘bugger off’. It was typical of her to launch right in with the nickname I hated but which anyone called Baldwin is bound to have at that age. ‘Christ, look what the wind’s blown in,’ she went on, her voice going up almost to a shout. Did she think I’d been struck deaf? ‘What brings you here on a Saturday night? Looking for something?’ Her voice went down again on this, for no reason I could fathom. But how did she know why I was there?

‘I was just looking for my penknife,’ I replied, feeling quite proud of myself for not stuttering.

‘He’s looking for his penknife,’ she echoed, loudly again, as if there were somebody else there. Then she went on in her normal voice with a funny sort of smile that got you even worse, ‘Looking for your penknife, are you? At this time of night? Don’t tell me you’ve got to get a stone out of your horse’s hoof?’

Our penknives were always judged in terms of the number of gadgets they had attached, chief of which was the one that was supposed to be for hooves and stones, although that wasn’t so daft in those days; there were still plenty of dray horses around. What got me, apart from the voice and smile, was how this girl came out with the sort of line you associated with the comedians on the wireless.

‘No, it’s just that I lost it here a few days ago and I was walking past so I thought I’d have a look.’

‘He thought he’d have a look,’ said Helen, reverting to the invisible third person. Then back to the low tone and smile, ‘You’ve come to the right place for a look, I can tell you. Bugger your penknife, aren’t I sharp enough for you?’

‘You what? Come on, let me look for it. I won’t be a minute.’

‘No, I bet you wouldn’t be,’ she replied mysteriously. ‘All right, let’s find this shitting knife of yours. Where is it?’

I suppose Helen would have thought more of me if I’d made the answer she’d set me up for: if I knew where it was, it wouldn’t be lost, would it? But I wasn’t up to that level of repartee. So I just said, if it’s here, it must be down in the grass somewhere.

‘Hark at clever clogs. You ought to be on Paul Temple.’ Yes, I thought, but daren’t say, and if you were Steve, the wireless sleuth’s wife and helper, he wouldn’t get a word in edgeways. Instead, I mumbled, ‘I don’t think I’ll bother, after all. I’ll come back tomorrow when it’s properly light.’

‘Don’t be mardy, you’ve only just come. Look, I’ll help you.’ She promptly got down on her knees, contriving without seeming to do anything to let her skirt fly up high enough for me to see her knickers.

And not just any old knickers. Not for Helen the usual girl’s brown ones with elastic at the waist, the ones Frank Blunt called Harvest Festivals because everything is safely gathered in. Hers were black. Real black, I mean, not dirty. Black knickers! This was real Jane of the ‘Daily Mirror’ stuff.

‘Come on,’ she ordered, not turning her head. ‘What are you gizzhawking at, as if I didn’t know?’

‘Nothing.’ I was still hypnotised by the sight.

Helen was back up as quickly as she had gone down.

‘Did you like my knickers, then?’

‘They were all right.’

‘Drop dead, Erroll Flynn. All right, were they? How about this, then? Have a proper gleg.’ She stood close to me, pulling the tartan skirt up high. I knew I was going to mess myself if I wasn’t careful. I also knew that the front seat view I was getting beat anything we had ever seen in the Tuesday Night pictures at the village hall. It crossed my mind that the little blotches which stood out on her thighs might be the knicker burn which Frank Blunt said happened to girls who dropped them like lightning; but they were only freckles. I heard myself saying, ‘I have to be off,’ then, making myself sound even more like a soppy-cake, ‘I’ll get into trouble if I’m not home.’

‘Diddums do it to him, then?’ she jeered, twanging her knickers like Shirley Abicair doing the Third Man theme on her zither, though there was no sign of any elastic. ‘Don’t be such a twerp. I bet you toss off every night thinking about this. Here’s your big chance. Come on, I won’t hurt you.’

‘Yes, come on, you prat,’ a third voice suddenly boomed out. ‘Get stuck in.’ I was even more petrified at this, and when the owner of the voice came out of the pavilion into the light, my bowels almost went into my boots. It was Gonge.

This Gonge was a figure of unique fascination in our world. None of us knew his real name. He lived just beyond the end of the main street in a tumbledown cottage, lower on the social scale than even the council houses and the worst yards. Gonge must have been several years older than the rest of us, though as far as we could tell, he didn’t read or write. At least, he was never seen with so much as a comic. Although he was a great lummox of a lad, it was his fierce eyes that most intimidated us, along with his Sod You way of walking and his conversation. Well, conversation isn’t the right word for it. He had this knack of looming up on us at street corners or as we were walking home from the bus stop or waiting to bat at cricket and launching straight into a monologue about minge. Unlike Frank Blunt, though, he specialised in lurid descriptions of ‘breaking girls in’ or how he did it to them when they had their jammy rags on. The blood and the hurting were what was most important to Gonge: he never seemed to mention the pleasure side. There were rumours in the village that he had put at least two of his many sisters in the pudding club, tales which the grown-ups themselves believed, making him seem even more formidable. Of course, I ooh-ed and ah-ed over his reports like everyone else, though privately and not out of any sympathy for the girls I was more than a bit put off by all the stuff about blood and hurting.

Incidentally, if you’re hoping Gonge came to a bad end, you’re in for a disappointment. The last I knew before leaving the village for good was that he had followed contentedly into his father’s idling and poaching footsteps and was married, with no kids which ruled out the obvious reason, to a girl from the posh end, a girl so plain and prissy that not even in my most wankful moments had I honoured her with a wet fantasy.

‘Get stuck in,’ Gonge urged again. ‘Do you want me to show you how?’ He seemed more het up than Helen over the proceedings.

‘Hold hard, you’ve had your lot,’ Helen interrupted. She might have been arguing over who should have the last chocolate from a box of Milk Tray.

To my amazement, Gonge seemed almost as in awe of Helen as I was. ‘I was only trying to help poor old Baldy here. He’s not got the first idea...’

‘Don’t bother, I’ll be teacher. Fuck off, Gonge.’

Not even Frank Blunt had ever been heard to say a word of disagreement to Gonge, let alone ‘fuck off’, the ultimate deterrent, not one you heard a lot of adults use in those days, at least not in front of us. Yet here was Helen, a girl, telling Gonge of all people to do it, and not even shouting. And he did, there and then, with a tame ‘Best of British, Baldy, you’ll shagging well need it.’

‘You don’t want to take any notice of Gonge,’ observed Helen mildly. ‘He thinks he’s it, but he’s shit.’

I didn’t say anything. Mentally, though, I was storing up this phrase for future use at gang meetings.

As she spoke, Helen moved right up to me. I fumbled at her knickers, first with one hand, then both. I didn’t get far, what with nerves and having my eyes closed. I would have done anything rather than meet her gaze, except have a gleg at what was inside the knickers. There’s nothing worse for a lad than having his sexual dream come true. Why wasn’t I at home reading the ‘Adventure’?

‘Here, let me do it,’ chafed Helen. ‘There, they’re off. Do you reckon you could manage the rest by yourself?’

I hesitantly lowered myself to the ground, hoping there were no nettles, and lay on the grass waiting for her to join me. But this was wrong as well.

‘Now what are you up to?’

‘Getting ready. Isn’t this right?’

‘What about your precautions?’

‘Precautions..?’

‘A Durex, cloth ears.’

‘A Durex?’

‘No, of course you haven’t. I bet a bob you’ve never even seen one. Look, if you don’t have a Durex, you’ve got to do it standing up. That way, I don’t get put up the spout. I thought everybody knew that.’

Miserably, I levered myself back up to my feet, helped on by a sharpish kick from Helen. ‘Get your trousers down, then,’ she ordered, adding in her third person voice, ‘Christ on a crutch, he’s still wearing braces.’

There was no point in trying to explain that I did wear a belt these days, but had mislaid it at home, and only had the one. I eased down the offending braces and stood shuffling about with the trousers round my ankles. I knew what was expected of me. How I was going to do it was another matter, but I wasn’t going to risk another explosion from Helen by asking. I got my arms around her, more for balance than anything, and started a vague prodding at her lower parts with mine. Helen pulled me as close as she could, then put both hands on my arse and tried to manoeuvre me into position for a better aim. She was strong for a girl. So strong, in fact, that she knocked me off balance and in the flailing panic that followed we ended up on the ground, her on top of me.

‘This is no shitting good. I tell you what, I’ll stand on the top step and lean on the verandah post. You get on the next step down and work from there.’

Battle stations. This must be what the minge experts called a knee-trembler. I could see why. My knees were trembling, all right. The trouble was, the part of me that needed to be, wasn’t. I heaved away at her for ages without getting anywhere.

‘Sod it, we’ll be here all night at this rate.’

Taking this to be my dismissal, I backed down a step before she could change her mind, dragged up my trousers, and was about to escape when she said, ‘Where do you think you’re off to, then?’

‘Er, home. I thought you’d had enough.’

‘Had enough? Haven’t had any yet, have I? You want to eat your greens, get some lead in your pencil. Any road, get back up here. Nothing wrong with your hands as well, is there?’

‘Hands? No...’

Helen took tight hold of me again, grabbed my right hand, and guided it down to her middle. I could feel a sort of rounded area, covered in bristles and sticky, a bit like an old cricket ball in a cowpat. ‘Don’t muck around there. Get your fingers down in and keep them moving till I say different.’

‘Come on, duck,’ she added in her quiet voice.

I did as I was told, relieved that here was something I could apparently do to her satisfaction. I went on with it, my eyes glued to the ground, until after some squirming about and a funny noise, she said I could stop. I risked a quick look at her face. Just for a second, she seemed different. I had an idea of what it was all about, though couldn’t have put a name to it. That was the other thing about village bikes: they liked it as much as the lad, maybe more.

Not that Helen was letting on. She replaced her knickers in an impatient sort of way, then pulled out a packet of Woodbines from a pocket in her skirt and lit up, not offering me one. I suppose I was looking up at her like a puppy wanting approval. ‘Never mind, Baldy. You know more than you did an hour ago, don’t you?’

As I left, I was vaguely wondering how many reserves Helen might have lined up inside the pavilion. She didn’t seem very surprised or even that much bothered by my failure to perform. ‘Sling your hook, you useless article,’ were her parting words, but they were said in her mildest tone.

Wouldn’t you know it, the moment I got clear of the field and Helen, my balls started bouncing as though they’d been invented by Barnes Wallis and my thing shot straight up and wouldn’t go down until I went under a tree and scratted it a few times and got the second ration that day out of it. Then I took myself off home and went to bed. Or would have, but there was a big rumpus going on over something between my granny and grandad and I got clouted by both of them for being there, so it was a good while before I could get myself bedded down.

Even though I hadn’t gone all the way, I had had my first go with girls and boys. In fact, it was the most versatile day of my life in that regard. But thinking about it kept me awake for five minutes at the most, and it played no part at all in my dreams which were routine ones about playing for England and scoring the winning goal in the last second.

I never had another crack at Helen. God knows what became of her. Perhaps she took a lorry ride to shame, as the Sunday papers used to say. Or else turned into a nun. Who cares? Well, perhaps I should. Helen was a sport in her way. She didn’t let on to anybody about me missing my big chance. At least, no one ever taunted me about it, not even Frank Blunt who would have if he’d known and, whatever the truth about him and Gina, there could be no doubt that he had Helen a good few times. And Gonge himself did no more than loom over me a few days later outside Ma Pocock’s and say, ‘You didn’t get lost, then. You could get a horse and cart up it, couldn’t you?’ I was thrilled at this unexpected and never to be repeated chance to feel on an equal footing with the great Gonge.

Gina left the village after three or four months. Everybody remarked that she was going away a good deal bigger than when she came. Since it was unthinkable that someone from Canada could have fattened up on our austerity food, tongues wagged. The gang members started to look at Frank Blunt with renewed respect, and there was talk about Gonge as well, until Mr Grover suddenly left The Grange with his suitcases, never to return.

Gina herself went very soon after, a more subdued departure on the Boat Train that stopped at the village station once a week. It was reported that the only person to see her off on the platform was Helen Rowe. I was the only one not to be surprised, because that pair had already surprised me before when I spotted them down a lane where I’d been sent on some errand kissing each other in the way men and women did in American films. That puzzled me for a long time, but I never did bring it forward as a topic for debate under the street lamp, even if they’d have believed me it somehow didn’t seem right, and I doubt even Frank Blunt could have come up with an explanation for it.

_______________

Barry Baldwin was born in 1937 and educated in England. He emigrated to Australia in 1962, re-moving to Canada in 1965, where he is Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has published around 30 short stories in print (magazines and book anthologies), and has a novella, "Not Cricket", imminent in Chapbook form (Rembrandt & Company Press, USA), also in e-zines. He has been a Finalist in the Arthur Ellis Awards (Canada 1999) and the Anthony Awards (Bouchercon, 2000, USA) in the mystery short story category.

Boys and Girls Come Out to Play
© 2006 by Barry Baldwin
All rights reserved.

 

 
     
     

 

 



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