On The Count of Three
By Emma J Lannie
Location: Sunbury Drive, Newton Heath
The newts are good at acrobatics. If you hold them in your hand, their tails cling round your finger and they dangle themselves all circus-like. We are in the shed. I am not allowed to play in the house. My dad doesn’t like having other people around. And so he bought me a shed, as a kind of playhouse. It is six foot by eight foot. It has three windows. I pretend it is a house that only I live in. There are beanbags and stools and a grey telephone that isn’t connected to anything. I spin my fingers in the dial and listen as no one picks up.
A shelf stretches the full length of the shed. I have put the fishbowl with the newts in on the shelf. They are outdoor creatures, I know this, but I like having them around. I don’t give them names. They climb on the miniature bridge and look as if they’re smiling. Under the shelf, a curtain is strung by a wire. It reaches to the floor. It is there to hide the mess. But right now there is no mess. There is just me and you.
On the count of three we kiss. We are using tongues but only a little. Sometimes, your teeth bang mine accidentally. My face often feels a bit too wet. In the cramped world of under-the-shelf, your hands stay against your body. We lean into things, into the doing of them. I’m eleven, and this is how it is. Even our T-shirts stay intact. Even that tracing of jawline doesn’t happen. More down to complication than cliché, this is a lips-only endeavour. I’m dizzy with it.
When we have to swap it’s okay, because she is my best friend. I come out from under the curtain and she ducks under. I see elbows. I hear the count of three.
I prefer it under the shelf. Out here, in the open, the kissing is too spacious. You are the better kisser and I want to be under the shelf kissing you. But it’s no longer my turn. So this is about helium, but not in a good way. My body is full of the stuff, and all this weightlessness is just making me feel sick.
There is no captivated leaning with him. There’s a blunt uprightness. And as he counts one, two… we’re not sure between us whether three is the go, or if it’s three then pause, then go. We tip our heads wrongly and muddle through.
The newts splash water onto the shelf. The curtain is the one that used to be up in my bedroom. I used to watch through the triangle-gap for witches. But I’m grown up now. And there are no gaps. I stop kissing him and pretend I have to breathe. I stand up and eye the newts. Their feet crunch on bright pebbles. My fish always die. Newts are endlessly more entertaining.
You come out from behind the curtain, sensing that the time is up. She wrinkles her nose at the newts. I know she thinks they are disgusting, but she won’t say it in front of you. I pick the smallest one out of the fishbowl and hold it up, let it trick you all into believing it does these somersaults for fun. And she leaves, asking to be walked home, and you don’t offer.
We pass the newt between us, wetting our hands. It feels okay being alone with you. You put the newt back and duck under the shelf, and I follow. And this time when we count to three, we do it in our heads.
Emma J Lannie was born and raised in Manchester, although she doesn’t live there anymore. She blogs at http://garglingwithvimto.blogspot.com and makes books with these people: http://timetravelopportunists.blogspot.comStats: