“The Best Dancer at St. Bernadette’s and Me” — a short story by Tricia Lowther

September 18th, 2018

“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

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache

Poetry

In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #127

Before his tragic early death, this trumpeter played with Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and John Coltrane, and most famously during a 1961 Five Spot gig with Eric Dolphy (pictured). Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive