Johnny was speeding
through his revision on Saturday afternoon, even tackling the tiresome
maths he usually left for Sunday. His favorite fizzy drink crackled beside
him as he sat cross-legged in the den, the tele tuned to the proper side
-- BBC 1, home of "Dr. Who."
"I think this party will do you good," his Mum said, breaking into his mood. "Your school friends will be there, won't they?"
"I don't know, Mum. No-one I know's been invited. The people at the party don't know me from Adam."
"You'll have to change that, then, won't you? It's no good to be cooped up in the flat all weekend. You should go out more with your mates. Like Nick does."
Nick his older brother had been a reasonable surrogate chum, at least until the beginning of the school term. Then the two-year age gap had suddenly widened into a chasm from Nick's newly mature perspective, stranding Johnny at home while Nick and his new third-form chums patronized the skating rink and pinball arcade.
Even Johnny's rainy-day chess and draughts friends, innocuous fellows with short hair and National Health spectacles, would roam the halls on Friday night for whatever low-grade mischief availed itself, perhaps a sneak onto the roof to call coo-ee to passerby below. He'd ventured up there a couple of times himself. But his mother was a worrier, and the worry bug, which had bypassed his older brother Nick, had infected Johnny. He didn't want to do anything that would get him into trouble, or worse, causing his mother additional woe. She was sad enough as it was since Dad had left home.
Plus he enjoyed his quiet Saturdays. It was safe harbor, sheltered between the tired relief of Friday nights and the foreboding of Sunday, with school and its attendant miseries looming one sleep away.
"You won't be late for the party, Johnny?"
"No, Mum. I'm leaving directly after the show."
"Remember to say thank you to your hostess before you leave. Manners are the best leveler. Don't let anyone think less of you just because you live in a tower block."
He smiled to himself. The party was in fact taking place at the home of a schoolmate, Lucy, while her parents were out of town-- the only "hostess" involved. Some other boys in first form thought Lucy looked sickly-alabaster face saddled with a ridge of freckles down her nose -- but Johnny rather liked her looks. She had lively, interested eyes that never narrowed into mere shrewdness or cruelty, like those of the other 12-year-old girls.
The synthesizer music
(Johnny found the show's instrumental theme song both cheesy and strangely
dignifying) commenced spot on at 6:55, and for the next 30 minutes he
half-forgot the impending party and all its complications.
He had fostered a major crush on Nyssa, the Doctor's curly-haired assistant, ever since she'd appeared in "The Keeper of Traken" episode. Johnny was gratified she'd survived the Doctor's "transformation" episode, when the old fuzzy-haired Doctor was replaced by a younger, blonder one (though he much preferred the old Doctor). Nyssa's real name was Sarah Sutton -- a name written in biro over the recent pages of his schoolbooks, notably his maths.
That night's episode, "Four To Doomsday," was mediocre at best, with the royal-looking Nyssa walking about in a rather silly-looking crash helmet that obscured her face too much for his liking. Still, he was able to lay up a treasure trove of fantasy. Over the next few nights Nyssa would be put through her paces, the same rigorous and forbidding exercises a good many Clapham Secondary schoolgirls had undergone over the last year. He imagined a princess Nyssa in distress, her purple-stockinged legs sticking out of a set of medieval stocks -- inchoate imaginings where he was both her punisher and protector in some outerplanetary realm.
As the theme music returned to signal the show's end, he made a stop in the bathroom for tissue and then carefully clicked his bedroom door closed. Living in a tiny flat with thin walls and cardboard doors had made him a rather good sleight-of-hand artist-he hardly made a noise at all. It ended up being a dissatisfying wank, not much more than a spasm-he was too nervous about the party.
Johnny felt the curious resentment of the lonely, when the day is broken up by life intruding. Of course he'd be miserable at the party, counting the minutes before he could slip out the door and risk being mocked as a friendless party-crasher.
He'd been invited only yesterday, during maths class. He loathed maths passionately-the only thing that made the period tolerable was Lucy sitting behind him: He could pretend to be fixed on sums while peering between his chest and elbow at her crossed legs in their brown school tights.
Yesterday she'd taken off her shoe and let her toes wiggle about in happy oblivion. He guessed he'd been staring quite a long time, for when she abruptly slipped the shoe back on he was afraid he'd been found out. The fear morphed into doomed certainty when the shoe reappeared, this time scooting a folded chunk of white paper under his desk. Reaching down for the note made him dizzy.
The words swam in front of his eyes before he realized it wasn't a contemptuous note but a form letter in purple ink, carrying the stale-bread smell of a mimeograph machine. An invitation to a party, on Saturday at six o'clock.
"Promise you'll come?" she asked, at break. "It's the No. 4 bus." Johnny nodded eagerly, of course. Later the usual insecurity crept back into his happy mindset and he remembered with some wan relief that he in fact had a previous engagement-"Dr. Who" at 6:55.
But he'd let it slip to his Mum, which settled things. "It comes on every week, dear," she said, reasonably enough. "You'll have a grand time at the party I'm sure."
He rather doubted that. He slow-walked to the bus station, dawdling at the local paper shop to check the latest pop mags, was about to purchase one with Depeche Mode on the cover before he realized he'd have to carry it around all night.
That was a thought. If he just took a bus to nowhere, then returned home in a couple of hours, who'd be the wiser?
But he'd promised. So he took the No. 4 and without further lolly-gagging found 348 Edgerton Lane, a two-level yellow house at the end of a terrace with a spacious garden and picket fence. Through the door he heard "House of Fun" by Madness on the hi-fi. A grinning lad wearing a bobby cap admitted him to a party already in gear.