Snatches of the Isley Brothers filter through the cafe’s open door. Sitting with her Americano, ‘Who’s That Lady?’ stealthily absorbs her mind conjuring discos, heat and heartache.
Sixth-form disco, twelve-thirty. Hall curtains closed against the strong summer sun, windows open for the faint breeze. Sweaty teenagers, ties pulled free, top buttons of shirts and blouses undone fill the room. Girls in groups, boys circling eyeing up ‘the talent’. Mr Davies, drama teacher poised on stage with two record players linked to speakers, his choice of songs ready.
Mungo Jerry blasts out. Movement slowly begins at the sound until the girls get into the groove, sweat dribbling, blouses clinging, chatting about boys, what they’ll do that night, at the weekend, after the exams.
One girl breaks free of her group neglecting to follow their choreographed dance, ignoring the stares, comments, nudges as she steps to the beat of her own drummer. It’s a stress control mechanism. Nothing can touch her whilst the music flows through her; no arguments from the breakfast table, worries about failing, no cares about how she looks. Even her interest in a boy is suspended, an interest that consumes her so much it crowds out thoughts of leaving home, becoming an au pair, travelling the world, going to university – things her family deride as pie in the sky for a girl like her.
Eyes closed, arms and feet syncing to Cliff’s ‘Devil Woman’, she doesn’t see the boy making his own moves in a dark corner of the hall with a girl she thinks of as a close friend. A girl she’s known since primary school, swapped clothes with, spent summer holidays roaming the woods with, paddling in streams, giggling over ‘silly boys’. A girl who now has a queue of boys eating out of her hand. Her blue eyes, styled blonde hair, soft voice, red lips and way of letting boys think they are the centre of the universe – so very attractive to them. A girl whose eyes are on the most fancied boy in school, intent on making a conquest.
Whilst the sixth form get sweatier as they dance, their eyes swivel from the couple in the corner to the girl weaving around the floor. Although she thinks she’s been discreet, everyone in the room knows of her interest in the boy. Her friends shake their heads as they watch the embracing pair, hidden from Mr Davies by heavy drapes.
The Isley Brothers, always the last record, one of the girl’s favourites. Feet unconsciously transport her to the dark corner, arms twirling until they get tangled in the curtains, uncovering the pair draped around each other. The room holds its breath. She gazes at them, they stare guiltily. The girl begins to dance again, letting the music invade her, calm her pain, wash away her infatuation.
Americano finished, the woman smiles, remembering that summer. How it shaped her choices, decisions and determination to become ‘that lady’.