It was not the fact that the album had slipped from his hand or that his knees trembled as he balanced so precariously on the stool. It was not even the noise it had made when it hit the floor. No, his moment of heart stopping pain had been created by the appearance of two small half-torn brown tickets that had fallen silently from inside the album’s compressed cover.
Recognition was instantaneous and it detonated a cascade of images that made him so dizzy that had to grab hold of the dusty shelf to steady himself. Even though his balance was restored, his grip on the shelf tightened to the point that the white of his knuckles showed through the dark weather-aged skin of his hand.
All the paraphernalia of his school days had been religiously boxed and carried to each new abode on the pretext that at first, they would be of use to his children and then, rather naively, to his grandchildren. Of course, none of this was actually true as they had never been looked at by either generation.
The dog-eared pile of books that sat so forlornly in the battered Sainsbury’s carton, included his precious stamp album – a gift from his parents on his twelfth birthday and his pride and joy for at least three years, right up until the time he discovered girls.
“Are you alright grandpa?”
“Yes, I am fine. No problem. I found it, but it dropped out of my hands. I will be down in a minute.”
He could hear his wife and granddaughter continue their muffled conversations as he very carefully let go of the shelf and gingerly lowered himself off the stool. He was sure it had not been that tall a few minutes ago.
Standing over the upturned stamp album, he crouched down and straightened it up, careful not to let any more of the loose stamps fall out. Then, to ease the growing discomfort in his knees, he dropped forward and placed his hands on the soft deep piled carpet, either side of the brown ticket stubs, careful not to touch them.
The face of the tickets clearly stated a price of one shilling and sixpence, although part of the six and half of the theatre’s name was missing. He did not need to see it to remember the name. The old Curzon was there and she was standing in the queue next to him, in her handmade shift dress, bouffant hair, bright red lipstick and the clashing orange jacket she had borrowed from her friend, but more importantly, there was that intoxicating scent. He could smell it, and it made him gasp.
The school had only just become co-educational and years of male domination had vanished overnight, leaving is occupants in a swirling pool of adolescent confusion. It had not taken long for the shy nervousness to disappear, to be replaced by a more deep-seated inquisitiveness that was not just isolated to him. Despite all the rough comments and rib poking by his contemporaries, it was the girls who led the way. The obligatory senior school dance that was supposed to ‘break the ice’, saw a brigade of bright faced girls make a bee line for a few of the more presentable boys, and the start of a new term of speculation, innuendo and gossip. It also launched the new word, ‘it’.
Have you done ‘it’?
Will she do, ‘it’?
The problem was that none of the alleged perpetrators really knew what, ‘it’ was. This inevitably led to increased levels of speculation and frustration that was fuelled not only by the teachers but also by the parents, who seem to spend as much time as possible trying to prevent the mysterious it, from happening. Every event, every meeting, every social gathering was closely monitored and every minute of the day and night had to be accounted for. It was his best friend that had found the solution – an illicit visit to the Saturday afternoon pictures. After days of nervous whispering, they had bunked off early from their Saturday job at Woolworth’s, to meet the equally complicit girls outside the cinema.
Dispelling any sense of impeding dementia, the name of the film and its steamy billboard appeared in front of him. The V.I.P’s with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. A most suitable choice to launch the discovery of, ‘it’.
The subject of which seats, had not been discussed during the days of planning, so when the face behind the thick glass ticket counter asked the question, it produced a quick fumble and checking of coins. Going Dutch was, not yet, a familiar term. Fortunately, the Saturday job had just come up trumps with two rather thin wage packets. They each paid the extortionate three shillings, with as much sophisticated casualness that could be mustered in the face of having almost obliterated their financial reserves.
The sweet scent of perfume was replaced by the stale aroma of old popcorn. The image changed to unromantic rows of musty red velvet seats that begged the nerve-wracking question. Where to sit? Previous attendances, to watch the Saturday morning shows, were always with the gang and they always sat as close as possible to the front. However, that had not seemed appropriate for this type of visit. He need not have worried as, without slowing, the shuffling crocodile line headed, almost automatically, to the discrete gloom of the back row.
Seating arrangement was simple – boy, girl, girl, boy. The girls seemed to have a herd instinct of mutual support that followed them from the dance floor to all other social engagements. The boys had the predatory programming of an isolated male’s sense of self-sufficiency, that was, of course, all a façade.
Coats were neatly folded and located on adjacent seats and hands were placed nervously on laps, while the lights dimmed and Pearl and Dean flashed on the screen with hastily sketched images of where to find the nearest Wimpy bar. In reality and at that moment, eating a hamburger was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
As he continued to stare down at the ticket stubs he tried hard to remember details of the film, but nothing happened. All he could remember was an hour and half of careful manoeuvring of his left arm in order to slip it as casually as possible over her shoulder and then the magic moment when her head slipped next to his. The aroma of her scent flashed back as he relived the kiss.
Valentino it was not. In hindsight, it was more like Laurel and Hardy, bearing mind that at this point his arm was completely numb and kissing from the left just felt so awkward. Noses constantly got in the way. But, it was a kiss, given willing by both parties and nothing like the peck on the cheek from Aunty.
Had he done ‘it’? Yes, in his own innocent way he was convinced that ‘it’ had been achieved and adulthood was imminent. All too quickly, the lights came back on and everyone was edging towards the exit.
School was never the same again and passed in a blur of similar adventures, but nothing came close to the experience of that first kiss. He closed his eyes and felt again the warmth of her lips on his. So moist and sweet.
“Grandpa, are you OK, I have got to go soon.”
Opening his eyes, all images disappeared as he focused back on to reality and gathered up the tickets, placing them securely in the little pocket at the back of the album. They were his tokens of innocence lost and something not to be shared.
Standing up, he clutched the volume over tightly and headed for the stairs, while trying to recover his composure.
“Hey, where are you going in such a hurry, this lovely Saturday afternoon?” He asked as he stepped into the lounge.
“I did tell you, grandpa. I am going with some friends to the cinema”
He noted the slight flush on her cheeks.