No Love - In Love

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I remember the cold! God, it was cold. Cold food, showers, corridors, classrooms, but worst of all, cold love. No, not cold, there was no love! The Head, Barlow: controller, dictator. Untouchable!

Lights out, the squeak of a loose floorboard outside the dormitory; he's there, listening. The door opens, he calls my name and like an obedient dog I get up, shuffle on my dressing gown, don slippers and take the walk. Left down a short passage passed a row of open sinks where every morning he has us stand naked, washing, cleaning our teeth, his glare biting into our goose-pimpled backs and wounded buttocks. Left again and ahead is the door. A hot light spills from the gap below. I wait, summoning up dark, raw courage. Not bravery but survival. What else can I do?

Last week my friend, Klein, ran away; a bid for home. Picked up by the police, they brought him straight back, didn't they? He said he told, but they said he has a vivid imagination: shouldn't make stories up, should he? Grimly we'd looked at one another.

I said, 'It'll be all right, you'll see,' and he had asked how long. 'Eight more weeks.' My reply had hung leaden in the air.

'Eight,' he'd muttered back, a far away look in his blue eyes, 'that's a long time.'

Barlow glides passed and opens the door holding it for me. I enter. Dressing gown off, pyjama bottoms down. He whispers that it will hurt him more than me and his hot gin breath is on my neck as the groping begins. I screw my eyes shut but can't find anything to fill my mind. Luridly it goes on. The final act six mighty swipes from the stick kept in place by two brass hooks behind the curtain. Then it's over. The stick is wiped and returned. A frantic recovery of my clothing and I'm out of the door. Back at the dorm no one speaks, no one ever does. In the morning they will look at the welts and give thanks it wasn't them.

Sunday afternoons and the gymnasium is set up like a movie theatre the big screen rolled down, the 16mm Bell and Howell projector taken from its cupboard and the first of three reels spooled up. Sound and picture, black and white marvels conveying me far from here. We are given a sweet ration: three items chosen from the large tins stored in the tuck cupboard. I have one for each reel.

Klein sits next to me. 'What we watching this week?' He asks, a faint lisp to his soft Austrian accent.

'Ice Cold in Alex, I say.'

'Ah. What's that about then?'

I tell him, 'war story, I think.'

'Oh good! I like war stories.'

Last week it was 'Carve Her Name with Pride'. It was captivating but it made me sad. I liked Virginia McKenna playing Violette the 'Her' from the title. One of a succession of goddess-like screen idols; never forgotten names, faces, and movies.

The projector whirrs; countdown numbers dance on the screen; pops and cracks from the speaker. Dramatic music, the titles, and I unwrap the first sweet and pop it in. It's 1942, I am in North Africa. A few minutes in and everything changes. She's there, larger than life the most beautiful person I have ever seen: Sylvia Syms playing nurse Lieutenant Diana Murdoch. Her silky, fair hair framing an oval face, skin so soft-looking that I want to reach out to stroke it. Dark, perfect brows atop almond-shaped eyes that radiate warmth and kindness, and a sweet, gentle voice with just a hint of demure sexiness. For the first time in my ten-year life, I feel arousal, a visceral desire. I am in love. At the end of the most phenomenal movie I have ever seen, two softening sweets lie untouched in my hot hand.

For a couple of days, I am in a dream conjuring up her face, her voice, imagine her being with me. And then it is night, the creak of the floorboard, the summons. The brightly lit, hot room but when the gin breath is on my neck I close my eyes and she's there. I am not alone anymore and he's banished from my mind.

I am surprised when he says, 'you can go, quickly now!'

Bending to pull up my pyjama bottoms, my eye level with his desktop, I see a long-bladed letter opener. I hesitate; shut my eyes, she nods. 'Do it!' Snatching up the blade I spin around sinking it deep into his flabby neck. I let go. He staggers backwards, eyes staring in disbelief, shock. He slumps in a corner, silently gasping and chocking. Raising both hands to the blade, he pulls. Out it slides a surge of crimson following. The blade is dropped, his hands hopelessly flailing at his slippery neck. Unrelenting the mess grows. For a moment I stare then, realising my pyjama bottoms are still around my ankles, I pull them up and collecting my dressing gown walk to the door and leave, gently closing it behind me. In just a few moments I am back at the dorm and dropping the gown back in the basket under my bed, slide in pulling up the covers. I close my eyes and she's there, a twinkling smile. 'You all right?' She says. 'Yes,' I say. And kissing the tips of her fingers she reaches out to me, whispering, 'night then.'

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