“The Best Dancer at St Bernadette’s and Me,” a story by Tricia Lowther, was a finalist in our recently concluded 48th Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author.
The Best Dancer at St Bernadette’s and Me
by Tricia Lowther
Nothing can spoil today, not even our Sue. It’s the third Saturday in September, 1978. I’m 11 years old and like every other girl in our street, (and some of the boys), I’ve waited months for this. I know all the singles off by heart, I’ve watched the videos on Top of the Pops, posters of John Travolta have replaced Starsky and Hutch on my bedroom wall, and finally, FINALLY, after hearing the songs all Summer, the people of England can go to the cinema and watch Grease.
All the Brook Street lot are going; kids from six different families with four of their mums; The Thompsons, the Maguires, the Connollys, the Yips, the Browns and us. I’m as excited as the rest of them, but the difference is, I can’t tell anyone who the flutters in my stomach are for.
We all get the bus together. It’s packed and we have to stand in the aisle, fingers slippery on the metal bars, choking on the stink of ciggie smoke from the top deck, trying not to get our toes stood on. From the top of our road it’s only four stops to the single screen Carlton Cinema on Lords Lane. Mum’s with us, and our Sue’s brought Denise, her best mate from school. Denise makes our Sue even more annoying than usual, the two of them are all eye rolls and secret giggles.
The queue is massive, we join it half way down the road by the dole office. We don’t expect to get in for the 11am show. Little Vicky Thompson starts crying when we don’t make the 1.30 either, but we’ve ended up near the doors, so we’ll deffo get into the next screening. As long as we don’t die of boredom standing on this corner for another two and a half hours. We’ve sung Summer Nights, You’re the One That I Want and Sandy umpteen times already. I’ve tried to get a round of Hopelessly Devoted on the go but it doesn’t really work, which proves that I know more of the words to the soundtrack than anyone else here. We fold goose pimpled arms and hop from foot to foot as passing cars bip their horns. It’s a cool, cloudy day, but at least there’s no rain.
A couple of the mums nip home and return with sandwiches; cheap white bread spread with jam, or thin slices of orange cheese, Wagon Wheels and Chipsticks. Joan Maguire brings plastic beakers which she fills with blackcurrant juice. Weirdly, the mums seem as excited as we are. It’s almost as if they’ve been drooling over John Travolta as well.
I have to admit he looks good, with those sparkly blue eyes and that dimpled chin. I daydreamed about him too, at first. I’d imagine he had a reason to pass through Liverpool, and he’d walk into our local newsagents, while I was browsing the comics, and realise I was someone special. I’d smile and offer him a sweet from my paper bag, maybe a sherbet flying saucer, and he’d say something like, “Hey Chrissie, you wanna show me around this city of yours?” We’d speed around the suburbs in his open top car, and all my mates would be jealous.
That was before Dad brought the LP home. Of course I had to share it with Sue, but I still got to spend hours staring at the photos splashed across the centre of the double sleeve. There are pictures of Sandy and Danny on the beach, or dancing together, pictures of old actors, and some that I recognise from the music videos. But amongst this pool of cool photos, one shimmers with heat.
She leans back on a car, next to a leather-jacketed, dirty looking guy. A mass of dark curls surround her face, a yellow scarf adorns her throat and a light coloured, low cut t-shirt clings to her body. When I look at her something inside me shifts.
I imagine things. Things that give me a weird buzzy feeling in my throat and make my mouth fill up with spit so I have to swallow.
One day I look up from the album cover and see Sue staring at me, the corner of her lip twisted up, “What are you doing Chrissie? Freak.”
I flush. I have no idea how long I’ve been poring over the photo, running my fingers over it, dreaming. How long has Sue been watching? Did she see me lift it to my lips?
I’ve never heard of women who love women. I’m ashamed of my thoughts, and worried that I am, like Sue says, some sort of freak. But I can’t help thinking them, over and over.
We get in to see the movie at last, and I can’t wait to see what part my mystery woman plays. She shows up early on; her and her boyfriend smash into Rizzo and Kenickie’s car. Then later she’s in the prom scene. She’s called Cha Cha and she’s the best dancer at St Bernadette’s.
I bite my lip and try hard to memorize her moves. The drag race scene is my absolute favourite. I love her outfit. I love her attitude. I want to be her. Even the Pink Ladies are jealous. After she whips off her scarf to start the race I pull my knees up to my chest and hug them. I feel like I need the toilet. In the next seat Sue smirks. I know she knows. I look back at her and pull a face.
“That perm was a mistake.” Maria from across the street says as we make our way out. Everyone agrees that Sandy looked better before she changed her image. She should have stuck to her original style.
Denise Brown chips in, “Yes, she definitely looked prettier at the beginning than in the end.”
“I liked the black drainpipes,” I say.
“They were okay, but the white prom dress was her best outfit.” Maria answers with confidence.
“I preferred Cha Cha’s prom dress,” I say, unable to resist saying her name. Maria frowns as she tries to remember who Cha Cha is.
“I preferred Cha Cha’s prom dress,” Sue repeats in a high pitched voice behind us. Her and Denise giggle like she’s said something hil-hairy-arse.
My chest twists. Why did I even speak? Sue moves closer, leans in to my ear and whispers, “Cha Cha is a slag.”
“Takes one to know one.” I answer and she grabs my arm and twists the skin until it burns. I shout our mum.
Mum tells her off and she gives me daggers. I’m in for it later, She’ll make sure to get me back, but there’s no room inside me to care. I imagine Cha Cha wandering into our local newsagents. I offer her a sweet and she smiles in a way that makes my tummy quiver. Nothing can spoil today, not even our Sue.
Tricia Lowther is a freelance writer from Northern England. Her work has been published across numerous outlets, including The Guardian, Ms Magazine and Writer’s Forum. Tricia was an award winner in the UK’s Creative Future Literary Awards 2017. Find her on Twitter at @TrishLowt