From ‘Could do Better’ by Peter Rolls
It was the last week of term. In Art, the given theme was ‘the place you plan to visit on holiday’. Most people’s pictures were of somewhere exotic – electric blues, over-heated reds and citrus-sharp yellows – but Figgis struggled with a landscape of rain-storm grey. His holidays were always in North Devon and his memories were mainly of Summer rain: his watery, free-flowing style was based on personal observation of the forces of nature.
Jilly Martin came and looked at the picture. She smiled and he knew that she smiled not at him but with him.
Figgis hadn’t previously thought much about Jilly. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class, not one of the ‘look-at-me, look-at-me’ crowd. She was just quiet and pleasant and tall and an ace at basket-ball. The smile was small but good.
At break-time, Jilly was in the Library and she smiled again. He smiled back and, for want of something to say, asked to see her holiday painting. She brought it out, but he still didn’t know what to say, because it was fantastic – a sun-flecked leaf-world: green and gold, with shadowed silver-grey figures.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “Where is it?”
“Cornwall,” she said.
“Oh, so you’re a holidays-at-home person as well.”
“Yes, my Dad comes from there.”
“Whereabouts?” said Figgis. His knowledge of Cornwall was hazy. “Land’s End?”
The smile returned. “No. Everyone thinks that’s all there is. He’s from St Ives.”
“Oh.” Figgis was drying up and he wanted – he really wanted – to keep the conversation going. “It looks very tropical.”
“It’s the setting for a sculpture garden.” She pointed to the silver-grey figures. “Abstract, d’you see? Do you like that sort of thing?”
“Hmmm,” said Figgis. It was a big life-moment. Should he claim to be in tune with the Abstract, or should he come clean and admit that he liked his Art to be Up-front and No-nonsense.
His pause hung awkwardly, but the smile returned. her tone was cencouraging. “I thought your water-colour was interesting. Figurative landscape and Abstract water-splodges.”
“Really?” said Figgis. “You saw that, did you?”
The smile spread to her eyes and they rested upon his. And he saw that she saw a lot of things.
The bell rang and she went to English and he went to Maths. Where he worked out that one and one might easily come to more than two … He did a doodle: (1 +1 > 2). Then he went home. And watched television and saw scarcely a thing. And went to bed, where he slept scarcely a wink. But he smiled a lot. Even in his sleep.
Thursday morning. Geography. Figgis always sat in the back corner, as far from Mr Pringle’s eye as possible. Today, for the first time, he realised it had the attraction of a good rear three-quarter view of Jilly Bishop.
He must, on no account, allow his new-found interest to become public knowledge. The back-row bonzos would be merciless; the girls would be consumer in gigglement. The Greater Spotted Figgis wasn’t on their list of hunks and heroes.
So he rationed himself to looking casually at a certain three-quarter rear profile no more than once every five minutes. She didn’t turn her head, but occasionally twirled her hair, which Figgis thought significant. His pulse twirled in response.
Mr Pringle’s topic was the West Indies – the geology and economy thereof. Figgis was quite keen on such things, but his priority in terms of atlas-work was to check on places closer to home – Cornwall and St Ives, for example.
The lesson droned away. Hair was twiddled. Figgis’s attention flickered between bananas, tourism and the rear three-quarter view. The hair grew twirlier; his pulse played a twirly bongo beat.
The class broke up, people moved elsewhere. Figgis was due for History, Jilly was heading for French. As she stood, there was the merest, micro-second eye-contact, a rainbow-flash of expectation, an unspoken ‘See you at lunch’.
Lunch was magical, yet disastrous.
The magic was in the chatter and the eye-talk. The disaster was in learning that Jilly’s family was moving to Cornwall – to St Ives. At the end of term – which was on Friday. Which was tomorrow.
Lead weights dropped in Figgis’s heart and his throat dried, but he managed to ask: “Are you looking forward to it?”
“Yes. On the whole. Although, of course, there are things …”
“Yes,” he said. “Things …”
And the things hung in the air for all to see. But Figgis didn’t care. “Could I see you after school?” he said.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “My Mum’s picking me up this week. We’ve got masses to sort out at home. We’re going first thing on Saturday. But there’s tomorrow lunch-time. OK?”
“OK,” said Figgis.
The class bell rang and English Lit loomed. But his mind was filled with other things. He wasn’t quite sure what – but things.
Friday lunchtime. No time for secrets and cover-ups, thought Figgis. He joined Jilly in the playground and they ate sandwiches and swapped cake and laughed a lot. There were silences too – and they were just as good. It was the best half-hour of Figgis’s life and he didn’t care who knew it.
They had too much to say and no time to say it. Families and holidays and music and films and television – and even football. And, underlying it all – in the eyes and the smiles and the easy swing of the foot – there was the feelings thing.
Figgis finally got round to the feelings thing. “I’m sorry you’re going.”
“Me too,” she said.
“Although … The thing is, I’m sure you’ll really like it in Cornwall.”
“I expect so.” She smiled.
“I’ve got something for you,” said Figgis.
“Me too,” said Jilly.
They exchanged enveloped – and, of course, in the envelopes were the pictures. His moorland grey-to-green and her tropic green-to-gold.
“I’m sorry it’s such a grey splodge,” said Figgis.
“I’ll find a nice sunny corner for it. Mine is a bit green and streaky.”
“Perhaps I’ll see you there,” she said. “In the garden. One day.”
“How will we know which day?”
“Listen to the wind,” she said. “Better still, I’ll send you a postcard.”
Then the bell rang. As they went into school, it began to shower. When she turned to say goodbye, her face was wet and she said “Sorry … It’s the rain.”
“Me too,” said Figgis.
Next week: ‘But soft! What light …’