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Nick Garlick

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That First Kiss

Rossiter was sitting, as usual, on his own in a corner of the pub, enjoying an end of the week drink. All

around him, other customers were doing the same and the bar was full with the roar of voices. He wondered whether roar was the right word to describe the sound. Was rumble better? Or clatter? That would certainly take in the sound of glasses being placed on tables and cutlery being deposited.

 

He took a notebook from his jacket pocket and wrote all three down, so he could check them when he got

home. He liked words. Words were a comfort.

Notebook safely replaced, he sipped his pint and went back to his book. He was reading Philip Larkin’s

High Windows. Poetry was good for pubs. You could read a poem and then stop and look up and around at the people and enjoy the bustle and the hubbub. Before dipping back into the book for another poem, shutting everything out for a while in the pool created by the text.

Silence. Noise. Noise. Silence. Part of the crowd and not. A definition of happiness if ever there was one.

 

He liked being on his own.

He’d just finished reading The Trees when a voice to his left caught his attention. He didn’t make a point

of listening in on the conversations of strangers, but there were times when a voice would be at just the right pitch to catch his attention and he couldn’t help being drawn in.

It came from one of the two women sitting next to him. Late 30s. Dressed for the office. Faces a little

flushed from the wine in the glasses before them. Relaxed and obviously enjoying each other’s company.

‘I remember my first kiss,’ one was saying to the other. ‘Eddie Kinsella. Leicester Square, beside the

Warner West End. He was fifteen. I was fourteen. We’d just been to see that Jackie Chan film, Rush Hour. And we stopped outside afterwards and he leaned in and kissed me. Never saw him again because a week later his family went back to Dublin. But that kiss?’ She allowed herself a little shudder. ‘It was heaven. A real Harlequin moment. Honest to God.’

‘Mine,’ her friend began, ‘was Jack Lewis.’

But Rossiter wasn’t listening. He was remembering his first kiss.

He was fifteen and it was the last night of the summer term at his public school. Even then he’d been a

reader, and while nearly all the other boys in his house were enjoying the freedoms that came with the last night – playing music, no fixed Lights Out, wandering around from dormitory to dormitory to chat – Rossiter was more than happy to lie tucked up in bed and read. That was his idea of fun.


Then Newall came in.

Charles Newall.

He was one of the five other boys in the dormitory and his existence seemed to consist of a never-ending

battle with every rule in the school. He smoked. He sneaked out to pubs in the town. His hair was too long, his homework was always late and there were times he even fell asleep in class. Once he’d stolen a .22 cartridge from the school’s rifle range, bitten the lead bullet loose, tipped out the gunpowder and lit it with a match. The resulting explosion fired the brass casing across the library and shattered a glass cabinet. Newall had cackled like a lunatic and jumped out of a window to avoid the librarian.

Now here he was, stumbling into the dormitory, trailing a thick, sweet cloud of tobacco and beer fumes in

his wake. Nothing unexpected there. So Rossiter did what everyone did when confronted with this latest evidence of Newall-off-the-rails. Ignored him and hoped he’d go away. Which he usually did.

 

Not that night though.

He bounced off a cupboard, lurched sideways and grabbed hold of Rossiter’s bedstead to hold himself

upright. Then he stumbled forward, planted one hairy-knuckled hand on Rossiter’s shoulder to hold him down against the bed and kissed him.

When he thought about it all later, Rossiter told himself he shouldn’t have been surprised. Along with all

his rule-breaking, Newall was noted for the string of lascivious remarks he dropped about boys younger than him. They weren’t outright pornographic – more double-entendres than anything – but they’d be accompanied by a leer or a lift of an eyebrow or a suggestive wink. Rossiter had been on the end of a few such comments but, so had a number of other boys in the house, and he’d just dismissed them as Newall being Newall. 

He was also, in an insight that came years later, naïve enough to think that if he wasn’t interested in

someone sexually, then they wouldn’t be interested in him.

Not that evening.

Newall’s kiss was a full-on kiss. No peck on the cheek. No quick brush of the lips. He wrapped his mouth

around Rossiter’s and thrust his tongue all the way in. Even now, sitting in the pub forty years later with a book in his hands, Rossiter could feel the stubble on the older boy’s unshaven chin rasping against his cheeks. He could smell the beer on his breath and taste the grease of the chips that had obviously just followed them. And he could remember the tongue, fat and swollen like some pink bloated slug, slithering back and forth inside his mouth.

As quickly as it had begun, it was over. Without a word or even a glance at him, Newall straightened up

and staggered back out of the room and away down the corridor. He didn’t return that night, and when the next term started, he was nowhere to be seen. Nobody ever knew what happened to him, or cared all that much. But Rossiter had never forgotten him. Or those five or six seconds that had seemed to last a lifetime.

He finished his pint, slid the book back into his briefcase and carefully fastened the straps to hold it shut. He put on his coat, didn’t return the neighbourly smile from one of the women at the next table, and stepped out alone into the comforting solitude of the night.

His first kiss.

It wasn’t a memory he cherished.
 

Nick Garlick (He/him) is a writer of stories for children (Aunt Severe and the Dragons, Aunt Severe and the Toy Thieves, Storm Horse and De Zusjes Jennifer) and one SF novel from 1980 (California Dreaming). Born in England, he became a Dutch citizen in 2019 and now lives in the Netherlands.

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