THE BEGINNING THINGS - A NOVEL
BUNNY GOODJOHN


CHAPTER ONE

         Mirrors can be tricksters. Sometimes, when she was getting ready for school and checking her reflection in the bathroom cabinet, Tot Thompson allowed herself to think about Gareth Strand and to trace their initials inside a heart in the air with her finger. If she focused on her finger, then the letters and what they signified made sense to her. If she focused on herself — on the girl in the mirror — the heart and its contents were jumbled, gibberish, blurry.

         Some mirrors have no glass.

         Gareth Strand’s bedroom was the exact same size as her own — 8’6” x 10’ — and held the same furniture: a single bed; a chest of drawers; and a bedside table, although his had two narrow bookshelves whereas hers had a cupboard. The room was a mirror image — flipped: when she stood at his door, the wall with his chest of drawers was on her right rather than her left, the built-in wardrobe on her left rather than her right. But face down on the bed, with her head turned to the wall to escape the hot crush of his pillow on her nose and mouth, it all made perfect sense.

*

         The first time his body had pressed her hard into the mattress, she had been surprised more by the dead weight of his body than by her acceptance of his hands roaming across her shoulders, along her shoulder blades, the sides of her waist, her hips. He had kept the fabric of their clothes between them as if that somehow defused what was happening up there in his room. The light from the lamppost at the corner of Willowswitch Lane fell across the windowsill, bleaching the back of her hand and illuminating a flotilla of tiny, brilliantly coloured boats printed on his sheets. The hull of each boat was brown, but the sails were vivid: crimson, yellow, green. She counted each boat in the group that sailed around her hand. Seven, their sails full of wind.

         She could hear seagulls screaming out there in the night. There were always gulls, night and day. The dump at the back of the housing estate fed them. It was where they scavenged, squabbled, fucked and laid their eggs. It was where they lived. She focussed on the pressure of his hand on the back of her neck, the way it supported all his weight, and let loose a tiny moan inside her head, the kind she had heard come from naked actors in late night television plays, the kind of moan that sifted in through the thin wall that separated her own room from the one her parents shared…before her father had left for America. The moan sounded good inside her head, like the sound a real woman might make, and she risked another, this time out loud. Liberated from her imagination, the moan morphed into the noise an animal — or a small scary monster — might make. The boy’s hands froze on her neck, and she stayed very still, keeping her breath tight inside her body.

         In that stuck silence, the tiny banging began again. It had started when Gareth Strand had stuffed his little brother, Melvyn, crying inside the wardrobe. Tot knew its terrain from the one in her own room: the wide shelf along the top, the hanging rail that ran below, the way things seemed to get lost or forgotten if pushed too far to the back. She pictured the boy, younger than she, in the closet’s hold, knowing the darkness would be touchable, that if he opened his mouth to cry out, it would creep inside him whether he wanted it to or not. Metal hangers would be cold and clattering around his ears, and by now, the soft sides of his hands would have begun to hurt. His fists continued to hammer, and yet he didn’t shout or cry out. He was as mute as she now, as if he, too, was afraid of letting that darkness in, or maybe he was unsure of exactly what sound he should be making, or even of how to make it. She pressed her own fists softly into the pillow.

         Melvyn’s banging stopped and Gareth began again. His hands left her neck, the full weight of his upper body now jamming her, empty breathed, into the bed, to stroke her bare calves. His touch was tentative, as if he were writing difficult words onto the thin skin on the backs of her knees. Little spells and incantations. Stories. Tiny gifts. She felt the breeze from the open window move across her as he pushed the folds of her skirt up above her waist. She felt the soft rub of his smooth corduroy trousers on her thighs. She tried another moan, and this time, it slipped out long and low and powered his hands faster, his fingers forgetting the story and easing her legs apart. His touch became firmer, more assured. He knew where everything was and where he was going. He knew her body and how it worked. He knew this room and the titles of all the books on its shelves. He knew his brother as he knew himself. He knew how it would be inside the closet. Even in the dark, this boy knew all these things. His knees slipped between hers, and he gripped her tight above her elbows. Hot and bony, his hands pressed the scratchy lace trim of her short sleeves against the soft skin on the inside of her arms. He was pounding into her harder and quicker, as if he were riding a rocking horse free of its wooden runners.

         And then he moaned. The moan was a new-born, a sound that needed no practice, the kind that was his and nothing at all to do with her. It twisted in her ears as he stopped rocking, as she felt his body arch upwards, off of hers, his weight supported entirely on the hands that gripped her arms, the sudden lifting of weight pressing her inexplicably ever deeper into the mattress.

         And then, when the moan was gone, dragged away like a wooden box along a pathway, he fell forward, covering her with heaviness. His breath on her neck smelled like fresh dirt on a shovel. The whole room smelled like a kitchen garden before planting, when the rows have been turned over earlier in the day, and it’s getting dark and everyone has gone in, leaving the garden to itself and to the night birds. Tot lifted her head from the pillow, arching her own back, desperate to catch more of the smell, to file it away as evidence with the rocking and the banging and the dark, and the honest-to-goodness truth that this was her first boyfriend, and that this — all of this — was love.








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