Ledlowe Guthrie




Back of the Bus

I’m two seats away from the back of the bus. I’m only here because there’s no places at the front. And I’m terrified of hearing anyone say my name.

For the last hour of this journey I’ve been pretending to be asleep. I’m gripping my bag, trying to block out the whooping and shrieking, and the pushing and shoving. I pull up my legs, draw in my shoulders, roll into a little ball in the corner of the seat and press my face hard into the cold window as if I can disappear.

I’m thinking of the new puppy at home, its silky fur and its wet nose, and the puddle it made on the kitchen floor this morning. I’m thinking of my brother trying to clean his trousers with soap and a nailbrush in the bathroom after a chocolate bar had melted in his pocket. I’m wondering if I could learn a new prayer to say at bedtime.

What I’m not thinking about is trying to open my parents’ bedroom door and finding it locked, or the television programmes that are abruptly switched off, or the embarrassment of finding my father naked in the bath, or the blood in the toilet bowl one morning. I’m not going to think of the word experienced.

I can hear them opening cans of coke that should’ve been drunk at lunch time and playing Truth or Dare. And all of the dares are to kiss someone. Not a peck on the cheek. It has to be an open mouthed, tongue down the throat, full on, proper, girlfriend boyfriend, wet lips moving together, squidgy, taste each other, smell each other’s sweat, intimate snog. I’ve heard the girls talking about the shame of boys biting their lips or banging their teeth.

There’s giggling and swapping of seats, and I know some of the girls are on the boys’ knees and one of them will be Trisha Bell, she’s the most experienced.

Why isn’t Miss Marshall coming to stop them? I wish I could’ve sat nearer the front. I know which boys are on the back seat and I think about which of them it would be the least excruciating to kiss. David Dolan is of course number one because everybody fancies him, second Antony Weir, although he’s got a girlfriend so I’m not sure if he’ll even be playing. Third, it’ll have to be Laurence Appleton, he’s got nice hair and his clothes are always clean and he even sometimes talks to me at break. Tony Johnson is too tall and gangly. Michael Bryant is too tiny with buck teeth. Gary Cliff has ginger hair and he’s fat, and I know he’s at the front of the bus, probably deliberately saving himself from this humiliation. Peeping out of one eye we’re passing the church on the hill. We’re nearly back. I squeeze my eyes tight again, willing the bus to arrive back at the school.

‘Anne Marie,’ someone calls my name.

I ignore it. They’ll pick someone else quickly enough.

‘Anne Marie.’ This time it’s a few of them shouting.

I feel someone sit beside me.

‘Come on, Anne Marie.’

I’m pulled reluctantly to the back seat.

‘Truth or dare? Truth or dare?’ The faces crowd round as I force myself backwards into the rough seat away from the pack.

‘Dare,’ I say.

‘Kiss Martin Harper.’

Martin Harper’s got a tooth missing, he knocked it out when he jumped off a wall in the school playground so he wears a plastic palate with a piece of metal and a false tooth attached. He ‘s got a funny smell. His skin’s yellow and his hair’s all greasy.

I shiver as the bodies on the back seat shuffle along and Martin Harper squashes in beside me. He doesn’t seem to smell so bad today, maybe he washed especially. I turn my head towards his, close my eyes and open my mouth like I’ve practised on the back of my hand. It feels like he’s trying to eat me. His lips press hard and move fast around my mouth, and now I can feel his arm slide around my back and he’s slowed right down. I open my eyes, the wolves have moved on. Martin Harper and I clutch each other tighter and carry on getting experienced.

Ledlowe Guthrie lives in Sheffield near a park. She lies awake at night hoping to be inspired by Tawny owls twitting and twooing outside. She has been published in The View From Here.

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