Our dorms were never really dark, because the street lights shone in on the ceiling and diffused through the whole room. The year twelve dorm was even brighter than the ones we had the previous years. That made it hard to get to sleep sometimes, but it could be good if you needed to go to the toilet or something in the night.
I woke up and saw Donna’s face. She looked beautiful in that soft light. Then I realised she was awake and looking at me. I brought my hand up above the covers and gave a little wave.
Donna waved back.
I tried not to giggle as I waved again. We were doing something secret and a little bit naughty. A giggle would give us away. I lay still watching her watching me until I went back to sleep.
When I woke up next morning Donna was gone. Her bed was made up but she was nowhere to be seen. In my half-asleep state crazy ideas came into my head. Did she think I was waving goodbye?
She returned moments later, hot from running. The smell of her sweat excited me as it always did. I forced down my desire. I didn’t have to hide my feelings from her anymore but we both had to hide them from everyone else. In one way that was even harder.
“Have you been running?” I asked as naturally as I could manage.
“Yeah, training for the marathon,” she said. “I’m gunna run every morning.” She collected up her things and went to the showers.
I wanted to run after her. I wanted to corner her in the shower and rub myself all over her naked body. I stayed where I was and waited for my breathing to calm down.
God help me, I thought. Can I endure this every morning for a year?
That morning we filled out our extra-curricular activity forms like we did on the first Monday every year. I ticked piano lessons and the painting class without having to think about it. Donna would play netball. There was no option for marathon training. That extra two hours every morning would have to be extra-extra-curricular.
In so many ways, life at school was the same as it had always been. Donna might be my girlfriend but we could not acknowledge that openly. I had finally admitted the truth to myself. I had confessed my love to Donna and she had returned it, but we still had to act as if nothing had changed. I set my sights on the weekend.
Saturday was my first piano lesson in almost two months.
“I take it that you have continued practising during the break,” Mrs Gabrielle said.
“I think I played every Christmas carol ever written,” I said, “Or all the really cheesy ones at least.”
Mrs. Gabrielle grimaced. “That will not help you to improve.”
“Dad wants me to be a karaoke machine. If I can play his half a dozen sing-along favourites, that’s all he wants.”
Mrs. Gabrielle grimaced again. It was so good to have someone who understood how I felt, without me having to even try to explain.
“This year I want you to do something slightly different.” Mrs. Gabrielle put a blank music note book on the music shelf. It had the five lines of the scale but nothing else. “It’s time you learnt to write music.”
I almost panicked. I thought she wanted me to write a song right there. “Me? Write a song? Now?”
“First things first,” she said. “I want you to listen to this tune and then write it down in this notebook. You can pause it and rewind as often as you like.” She put her Walkman on the shelf next to the piano and pressed play.
It was a short classical piece that I hadn’t heard before. “It’s a waltz,” I said.
“Good, the time signature is three four. You can write that down as soon as you’ve drawn the clef.”
“Is it G?” I guessed. Most songs are G.
“Correct, you are learning to write music.” She handed me a pencil.
I drew the clef and time signature. The page didn’t seem so blank any more. I went back to the start of the piece. I don’t have perfect pitch, so it took a while to find the first note, but from there it was just a case of, does it go up or down, and how much?
I played along with the piece and wrote down the notes I played. I made a few mistakes and had to rub out some of the notes I wrote and fix them up. In the end I played right through the piece following the notes I’d written.
“Very well done,” Mrs. Gabrielle said. “Next week we’ll try something a little more challenging.”
“What was the name of that piece?” I asked.
“It doesn’t have a name. It is a piece I wrote many years ago when I still had…” she sighed. “Aspirations.”
“It is very simple, and it has the added advantage, for this exercise, that none of my students have ever heard it before.”
I wrote, ‘Mrs. Gabrielle’s waltz’ on the top of the page. “I wish I could write a song.”
“You will, in time. You already write poetry so you are half way there. Words and music make a song. I would like you to think about putting music to some of your poems.”
I thought about that as I rode to the netball centre. I could write a song. I could be like John Lennon or Billy Joel or Elton John. I didn’t have to just play other people’s old songs. I could be a rock star.
Donna’s game was just about to start when I arrived. I climbed into the stands to watch.
Donna saw me and waved.
I waved back as I sat down. This game promised to be very one sided. The opposition had come dead last, the previous year. Perhaps I could write a song about netball.
As the game progressed I realised that a song about netball would be a song about Donna. I might be able to write it but I would never be able to play it without betraying our secret. Why did I have to be the queer? Why couldn’t I be sitting here pining over Trevor?
Perhaps I could write a song about him. I would have to change some of the facts. I loved him but he just used me. I gave him everything he wanted but he dumped me when the holidays ended. I could play that song and the whole school would sing along. Stupid sluts are always popular.
The game was as boring as I feared. One time I just liked to see Donna winning but as I’d learnt more about the game I came to want to see a real contest; a display of skill and determination from both teams. Donna joined me in the stands when her game ended.
“Did you enjoy the game?” she asked.
“No, it was boring,” I said. “You didn’t even seem to be trying.”
“I didn’t want to give them an even worse thrashing.” Donna gazed into space for a moment. “Most of these girls aren’t really interested. When they finish school they’ll finish with netball too. I wanna play for one of the national league teams. Get some real opposition.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“How was your piano lesson?”
“Mrs. Gabrielle wants me to start writing my own songs.”
“Well, that’s good. She must have faith in you.”
“Yeah, it’s good. I guess. It’s scary but.”
“How is it scary?”
“Well, it’s not the schoolgirl league anymore. It’s not the national league either. Once I start writing my own songs I’m up against Mozart and John Lennon and all the rest of them.”
“Yeah, but you’re good enough.”
I checked to see if she was laughing at me. She seemed serious.
“I mean it, Roz. You’re good enough to mix it with any of them.”
“You’ve got to step up sometime, unless you want to quit on graduation night.”
“Like them?” I waved to encompass all the girls leaving the netball centre.
“Like all of them, even Angeline. It’s like it doesn’t really matter. Their only real ambition is to find a nice boy and get married.”
Thinking of Angeline reminded me of the cross-country. “I’m going to beat her this year.”
“In the cross-country?”
“You know what happened last year.”
“Another fifty yards would do it.”
“You gotta let me coach you.”
“Sunday, after your painting class.”
“What, every Sunday?”
“Every Sunday, Roz. I don’t want you dying on me again.”
“I didn’t die. Anyway it was fun collapsing in your arms.” I grinned. “So, if I do it your way do I get you all to myself for a couple of hours every week?”
Donna grinned too. “Careful, I might get you up at six o’clock every morning.”
“Do you mean like when it’s quiet and there’s no-one else around?” I was being cheeky and provocative.
“Mrs. Blodwyn prowls the school from first light.”
“What’s the point then? I need my beauty sleep.”
Donna put her hand on my knee. “Where can we go?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know anywhere.”
“Well, we gotta go anyway. It’s late. They’ll want to lock the gates soon.”
“We should get back to school before dark.”
We got our bikes and started riding. Neither of us wanted to go back to school but we couldn’t think of anywhere else to go, so school was where we ended up.
I spent the evening going through my poetry trying to find something that I could put to music. None of it seemed suitable and I went to bed feeling totally frustrated.
Donna was gone when I woke up. I imagined her running round and around the oval. I suppose it’s a bit like playing the same piece of music over and over until I get it right. It’s not really boring if it’s important enough.
I hadn’t even thought about a picture for my painting class. I guess I was just out of the habit. I guess too that I was a little bit bored with Mrs. Robinson’s class. They didn’t challenge me. For a little while I’d had my own studio and the opportunity to paint from life. Now I had to go back to copying photos.
Donna had a book on her table called ‘Advanced Netball Coaching’. I picked it up and looked through it. There were diagrams in it showing different moves in the game. I liked the abstract patterns made by the coloured arrows.
I put the book in my paints box. As far as I knew no-one had ever done an abstract painting in Mrs. Robinson’s class. Well, I’d never done an abstract painting either. If I had to challenge them in order to challenge myself then I would. None of them ever did figures either before I started.
I had to ask Donna if I could borrow her book. I packed up all my painting gear and went down to the oval. I waited under our tree.
Donna stopped when she came around again. “Hi, Roz, what’s up?” She had her hands on her hips and was puffing hard.
“I’m off to my painting class,” I said. “I wanted to borrow your book.” I showed her which book.
Donna looked at it for a while. “Why?”
I explained that I wanted to use the diagrams to do abstract paintings from.
Donna shrugged. “Sure.” I don’t think she had the slightest idea what I was talking about. I would have to show her the finished picture and hope she could see it then.
Donna kissed me quickly on the lips and started running again. She seemed so isolated as she jogged around the oval. I would never understand her passion for running but I could appreciate that she had a passion. We understood each other so much better than either of us could ever understand the bland girls.
I thought about Donna all the way to the shopping centre where the painting class was held. I knew the way so well now that I didn’t have to think about where I was going. I parked my bike in my favourite spot and jogged up the stairs.
“That must be Rose back,” Mrs. Robinson said before I had even reached the landing. She must have heard my footsteps. I don’t suppose any of the old ladies ever ran up the stairs.
I was greeted by a chorus of cheery hellos.
“Hello, everyone.” It was nice to be so well liked.
“And what adventure are you going to lead us on this year?” One of them asked. “We get so dull without you to shake us up.”
I smiled and reached for Donna’s book. “Abstracts.”
They all gathered around while I showed them the diagrams and explained what I intended to do.
“I’m only going to do a study today,” I said. “The final painting will have to be much bigger. Abstracts need room to breathe.” I chose the largest of the available painting boards and opened the book to the page that it opened most naturally.
This must be the page Donna most often opened it to. The diagram showed a play that I had often seen Donna use. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the games I’d seen. I wanted the painting to feel as exciting as a netball game. I wanted to hear shouts, cheers and the referee’s whistle when I looked at it.
I suppose I was hoping to achieve the impossible but sometimes when you try to do the impossible you end up with something that you didn’t know was possible. I hoped so anyway.
Mrs. Robinson came round to me during the tea break when most of the others were in the kitchen. How they needed six of them to boil the kettle always amazed me.
“I hope you don’t mind me taking over your class,” I said.
“Oh, no,” Mrs. Robinson assured me. “I used to develop exercises for them. I even had a whole curriculum laid out. They just wanted to do their little pictures. They won’t be pushed, but if you are prepared to lead them, they might just follow, at their own pace and in their own time.”
I smiled. I didn’t actually want to run the class, it just happened that way. I turned to my picture. “It’s too tight.”
“The scale is limiting, but we expected that. There’s good things happening though,” Mrs. Robinson said. “I’d like to see you do a larger version.”
“I think I will, but I’ll do a few more little studies first,” I said. “I don’t really understand abstract art yet.”
“Abstract art is just like any other type of art,” Mrs. Robinson said. “It’s just line, shape, colour and tone. If you get those things right the picture will work.”
I thought about my picture. It wasn’t really abstract. It was just a different type of representation. Donna would have no problems understanding the diagram I’d copied. Once you knew how to look at it, it made perfect sense. In that way it was more like Jelly’s picture of the swamps where they catch snakes and turtles.
“It’s like an aboriginal picture,” I said.
“No, they use dots.” I don’t think Mrs. Robinson understood what I meant.
I wondered what Jelly was doing now. It would be good to see her again, to find out how she was getting on.
I rode back to school and put my painting gear away. Then I changed into my running shorts and met Donna on the oval. She was sitting under our tree when I arrived.
“You remember this tree,” she said. “You remember what happened last year.”
“That’s why you got to build up to a big race. That’s why you can’t just go out and run three miles without any training. So you don’t collapse and scare me again.”
“Nothing scares you,” I said.
“You scare me, Roz. If anything happened to you…”
“Well, I promise not to die then. Okay?”
“You better not.” She stood up. “We’ll try one mile today, that’s four laps. We’ll see what you can manage. Then we’ll build it up a bit more every week.”
“Come on then.” She started jogging and I ran with her.
She didn’t try to force the pace. When I slowed down she eased off too. I remembered what she said one time that running with me was her warm down. Well, she’d have the perfect warm down every Sunday from now on.
After four laps she led me back to our tree. “How you feeling?”
“Fine.” I was puffing like anything and she wasn’t even breathing heavy.
“Sit down and cool off. We’ll do another lap in a few minutes.”
I collapsed in the shade and lay there until she told me to get up.
Donna kept checking her watch. She didn’t worry about the time when we were running, why was it important now? “One more lap then we have a shower before dinner.”
I sat up. “Do I have to?”
“Yep.” She grabbed my wrist and pulled me upright.
We ran once around the oval and then through the school to the dormitory building.
“Last one to the showers has to scrub my back,” Donna said, and sprinted up the stairs.
Our dorm was on the top floor. No way was I going to run up five flights of stairs. I walked up. By the time I reached our dorm Donna had already gone.
I got my clothes and my towel and went into the showers. Only one of the cubicles was occupied. I went into the next one.
“Who’s there?” Donna asked.
“Me,” I said. “Roz.”
“Come in here,” Donna said.
“Who’s gunna find out?”
I stood there listening to the water. Donna was waiting for me in the shower. Now I knew what she was waiting for while I rested under the tree. All the other girls would be finished their showers by now ready to go down to dinner.
I thought about the times we kissed. This would be more than just kissing. Was I ready to go the next step?
“Okay.” I grabbed my things and rushed into Donna’s cubicle. All the time that I’d been pining for the chance to get Donna alone, she had been engineering this moment. I stripped off my clothes and stepped into the shower, into her arms.
She pulled me to her and her lips closed hungrily over mine. Her hands pressed against my back. My hands explored her naked body. What had felt good through her clothes felt even better now. My hands slid down to grip the cheeks of her bum.
Someone hammered on the door of the cubicle. “Who is in there?” Mrs. Blodwyn’s foghorn voice was distinctive.
Donna pushed me into the corner of the cubicle. She held a finger to her lips. “Me, Donna.”
“Open this door.”
Donna stepped out of the shower and pulled the curtain across so I wouldn’t be seen. She wrapped her towel around her and opened the door. “What’s the matter?”
“Get dressed,” Mrs. Blodwyn ordered. “You too, Miss Loveday.”
There was no point hiding. She must have seen my clothes and my towel on the bench. I turned the water off and stepped out. I didn’t attempt to hide myself. I stood and faced her.
“Cover yourself, girl. You disgust me,” Mrs. Blodwyn said.
“If you don’t like it, don’t look,” I said.
“Get dressed.” Mrs Blodwyn turned away.
I guess she didn’t like it. I allowed myself a moment to enjoy this tiny triumph before I dried myself and got dressed.
“We have to play their game, Roz,” Donna told me. “Just say, sorry, it won’t happen again.”
“I’m not going to crawl to that dried up old hag.”
“We got to, Roz.”
“Stop talking.” Mrs Blodwyn dragged us out of the shower cubicle.
I noticed Angeline gloating outside the showers. She must have been the one who dobbed us. I swore I was so going to get that bitch.
* * *