ONE DIRECTION - DOWN

A short story about a soldier - inspired by the lyrics of a song popularised by the British Boy Band, ONE DIRECTION

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1. ONE DIRECTION - DOWN

A short story about a soldier based on lyrics written by the British Boy Band.

 

‘But I need that one thing.’

ONE THING - ONE DIRECTION

 

‘I think the army’s the answer. That’s the way to go. Security. Money. Action. Fun. Friends.’

    They were in the car park behind Safeway. They’d bought some beers. It was late and the last customers were giving them a wide berth as they made their way to their cars.

    Lucy stared at Haydn. Young, dark, handsome, wiry. And hers. For the time being, it seemed. Because this was the first she’d heard of his interest in becoming a soldier. Had he considered her when he thought about joining the army?

    It was Friday night and school, teachers and the looming exams had drifted into the distance. They were free for the weekend. And Monday was miles away.

    Haydn looked at Lucy, a little sheepishly, and went on about this new idea of his. ‘You know, no ordinary career. Fit and mentally tough. A varied and exciting life. Further your education. Travel abroad. Like they say on telly. You get all this in the army. I think it may just suit me. Lucy and me, I mean.’

    The boys were playing men. They were sorting out their futures. And the problems of the world. It was sometimes hard to work out which was the most difficult, the international issues they saw on TV, or what they’d do for jobs next year.

    Janet said, ‘And a gun. You forgot about the gun. They give everyone a gun. You know, to shoot people. That’s what the army’s for.’ She paused. They were all staring at her. ‘That your testosterone talking again, Haydn? Have you spoken to Lucy about it? An army wife, or even an army girlfriend would not be the kind of life I’d be looking for. Sitting at home, waiting for a telegram. To say the one you love’s been shot. What do you say, Lucy?’

    Lucy looked embarrassed. ‘Well, we’ve only discussed it briefly. And no decision has been made. There may be other options.’

    She looked at Haydn. He showed her his bright white teeth. ‘That’s it Lucy. Spot on. We’ll decide when the time is right.’

    ‘Probably won’t be many options next year,’ said Gopal, the geek in the group, and by far the most intelligent. ‘My dad says things will get much, much worse before they get better.’

    ‘No excuse to go overseas and start killing people,’ Janet was not going to be moved off her pacifist agenda. ‘You boys are all the same. Just so gullible. Joining the army is not like going on holiday.’

    ‘It’s OK for you lot,’ Kevin said, mainly for her benefit Lucy assumed,. ‘All you have to do is find a man to look after you when you’ve finished your studies. Then a bit of housework here and there. Easy. And then, when you’re ready, a couple of kids. Bingo. Out they pop. Easy as that. And everyone’s happy.’

    Lucy knew that these were not Kevin’s ideas. Probably his dad’s. And Kevin had just memorized them. To regurgitate at a time like this. Tall, yes. Blonde, yes. Handsome, yes. Intelligent? Well, who’d know.

    Kevin threw a beer bottle towards the skip. It missed and spread bright beads of glass as it burst across the tarmac. Intelligent? Well, perhaps not.

    ‘Cut it out, mate!’ hissed Haydn as an elderly man stopped on the way to his car and stared at them.

    ‘Sorry,’ shouted Kevin. ‘Didn’t mean it.’

    The man started towards them.

    ‘Now look here,’ he said as he got closer, ‘that’s totally uncalled for.’

    Gopal decided it was his turn. ‘Why don’t you just fuck off and leave us alone?’ Despite his brains, he sometimes missed the impact this earthy link with older languages has on some people.

    ‘You filthy mouthed little swine. I’ll be calling the police about this as soon as I get home,’ said the old man as he stormed off back to his car.

    ‘Right. We’ll give them your regards when they get here. Now fuck off! Leave us alone! We’re not doing anything wrong. The bottle just missed the skip. That’s all. Don’t tell me you’ve never broken a bottle in your long life you stupid old codger.’

    ‘Let it go, Gopal,’ said Lucy. ‘He just over reacted to the broken bottle. He thought Kevin did it on purpose.’

On the way home, Haydn and Lucy stopped off at the park.

   ‘Gopal shouldn’t have spoken to that old guy like that. He reminded me of my granddad. And he’s got a right to complain about broken glass.’

    ‘Yes, well, I suppose you’re right. But he didn’t mean it. Gopal’s not really like that. I don’t think so, anyway. It’s just that his background is not the same as ours. There are cultural differences. And he’s trying to compensate. Trying to be like us.’

    Haydn kissed her. They went over to their favourite bench.

    ‘But I need that one thing. You know, now. That’s what I’d like. Before I take you home.’

    He took her hand. She did what he’d taught her to do. Then they just sat on the bench and watched the night descend. Haydn seemed really relaxed and satisfied. He never mentioned the army again.

    Lucy felt glad she’d been able to make him feel so good.

*

But Lucy couldn’t get that one thing out of her mind. She phoned Haydn the next morning. ‘What’s this army thing you were on about the last night? What about university? What happened to that idea?’

    He was embarrassed. ‘Well, like we said, nothing’s decided. We need to discuss it. That’s all. Don’t worry. Everything will be OK.’

    When they met later he didn’t want to talk about it then either.

    Then a fizzy, pink drink helped Lucy to be more understanding when the army thing came up again.

    On Friday night. In the car park outside Safeway. It had become a regular thing.

    It was Gopal who brought it up. ‘I saw the TV ad again. Get trained and get paid. Sounds good to me. My grandfather was in the army. Because he was a Sikh, I suppose. But he died before we came here.’

    Haydn looked at Lucy. ‘Well, I’m not sure about university anymore. And the army’s better than working in a nursery or a warehouse. Getting up at silly hours. Walking to catch the bus. In the rain. Working all day with some wanker telling you what to do. And what not to do. And what you’re doing wrong. Not doing much right. Coming home in the dark. And earning the same as them who’re on the dole. Almost.’

    ‘Me, I’d prefer the dole.’ Kevin, it seemed, had made up his mind that looking for a job would be pointless. ‘And it’s sent to you. Your cheque arrives in the post. No need to get out of bed, even.’

    As their final exams approached, they talked more and more about what would happen afterwards. When they had their results.

    ‘I still think it’s the army. What else is there? Sweeping the streets. Serving in a pub? Shitty work and shittier hours. Assuming you get a job. And short of getting onto X-factor, and winning which is even harder, there’s nothing else around.’ 

*

Gopal said they could use his room. His parents were away for the weekend.

    He let them in. Lucy was astonished at the décor. A low couch of carved wood with gaudy pillows. Strange paintings of elephants. Framed pictures of beautiful, ornate writing in a script that meant nothing to her. Photographs of men in turbans and women in bright, colourful costumes.

    Gopal led them to his bedroom. He said he’d be watching telly in the lounge.

     Haydn told Lucy it wouldn’t hurt. That she’d enjoy it. It was the right thing to do. If she really loved him. Everyone was doing it, he said. All their friends. Don’t be scared, he said.

    Despite the impression he’d cultivated, it was Haydn’s first time too.

    He closed the curtains. Lucy was nervous. And a little embarrassed. Haydn was too, but he took his clothes off and folded them neatly over a chair.

    Lucy stood watching him. It was the first time she’d seen him completely naked. 

    She said she’d never even seen her father without his clothes on. She’d never been into the bathroom when he was using the bath or having a shower. Even when she was little. Even her mother never changed in front of her.

    She thought he looked marvelous. She saw that he was excited.

    Then he helped her to get undressed. They lay on the bed and kissed and touched each other. He was overwhelmed at the wonderful sensation of pressing his body against hers. The silky smooth feeling of her skin. Kissing her breasts. The soft, furry feel as he brushed his hand across the warm springy hair of her groin.

Lucy was doing what she knew Haydn loved. Only with no clothes to hinder her. He lay on his back pointing at the ceiling. Then he said, ‘No, no, please don’t do that. I’ll get too excited. And I’m not ready. Not just yet. I want to make this last as long as possible.’

    They heard the front door open, and then they heard voices. Lucy froze. Haydn watched as the bedroom doorknob turned.

    A man’s voice just outside the bedroom said, ‘Who’s in your room. Why is the door locked?’

    They heard Gopal say ‘It’s Lucy and Haydn.’

*

The next Friday night in the Safeway car park Haydn made the most of what had happened. He was quite an actor when he wanted to be. He had them in stitches.

    ‘Lucy was terrified. So was I, I suppose, but nothing like her. Not so Love? So, his dad says we should be ashamed of ourselves. What on earth do we think we were doing? In his house? In his son’s room? What would happen if he told our parents? Can’t understand why he made all the fuss. We were only doing what everyone else is doing. Even Gopal will be at it one day.’ He laughed, looking at Gopal who was enjoying the story he’d been involved in. So Gopal laughed too.

    Kevin phoned him later and asked what it was like.

    ‘Great,’ he said, ‘Like it always is.’

*

A few days later Kevin phoned again.

    ‘How’d you change Lucy’s mind? About going into the army, I mean? Because you could wind up on the other side of the world. To her, I mean.’

    ‘Easier than getting her pants of the first time,’ he said, and then regretted it as soon as the words were out of his mouth. He felt disloyal. But the boys talk had just slipped out. He tried to cover up. ‘Well, actually we decided it would be good for both of us. We need to be apart for a while, anyway. So we agreed. So it was mutual. And we’ll both be able to save some money. Which will stand us in good stead. So, that’s it. And I’m off to basic tomorrow. And I’ll soon be on the other side of the world.’

*

Something was happening. He knew his excuses were rather lame.

    But, although he was not seeing her during the week as often as he had before, he always saw her in the car park with the others at the end of the week. It had become a ritual.

    ‘Sorry darlin, not sure I can make that, but I’ll see you at Safeway on Friday. That’s for sure.’

    ‘Please tell me,’ she said on the phone. ‘Are you getting tired of me? We don’t seem to see each other that much any more. Have you found someone else?’

    ‘Now don’t be silly, Lucy. But we must talk about a few things.’

    So they did.

    ‘Look, let’s try to see a few years ahead. You’re sure to go to university, but I’m not sure that’s the life for me. And, even if it was, it’s not likely that we’d get in at the same place anyway.’

    Lucy’s face was white. She didn’t look convinced. He put his arm around her.

    ‘Don’t worry darlin. I’m not saying it’s over. Not at all. It’s just that… well, perhaps we need a break. A short one, I mean. And if I go into the army, I’ll get some skills that I’ll be able use for life. You know, leadership and all that stuff. And while I’m away I’ll be able to save. Almost everything I get. Bonuses and all. You know, for being overseas. And so will you. Be able to save, I mean. Then I’ll leave as soon as we’ve got enough for a deposit. You know, a small house. Or a flat, perhaps. So I’ll be out at about the same time as you finish at uni.’

    Even while he was saying it, he wasn’t sure he meant it. Was he bored? Had they been together too long? Why was he feeling so restless? Was he making this up? Was it true? Or just pack of lies because he was tired of Lucy?

*

The next time Lucy saw him was at the base. He was home at last. She got up early in the morning. She concentrated on preparing herself. She wanted her mind to be off other things. The things she’d heard.

    She told her mother she’d rather go alone. Her mother seemed relieved. She gave Lucy money for a taxi to the bus station. Then it was a long journey right out into the countryside. But it was spring and everything was looking beautiful. Wildflowers everywhere.

    She remembered the last time she’d seen Haydn. The night before he left. And how she’d felt when the truth had dawned. Because the next day he was gone. Swallowed up by the army.

*

She remembered the small hotel room. He was so good looking, and that’s how she wanted to remember him. Now that she was on her way to see him again. 

    ‘Just relax,’ she’d said to herself. ‘You’re trying to hard. Everything will be allright.’

She wanted to stop the tape and rewind. Back to that night just before he went away.

    He’d drunk too much beforehand. ‘Just one thing. We’ll do it properly this time. To remember you by,’ he’d said.

    They’d both tried to make it work, but it hadn’t really been a success. They didn’t even stay the night.

    When they went out past reception, she could see he was upset.

   ‘I don’t know what went wrong. It’s always been so good. Before tonight I mean’

    ‘It’ll be fine next time,’ she told him. ‘You’ll see. When you get back, I mean. We’ll go back to doing that thing that you like.’

    He kissed her outside her front gate. She felt that he was aroused.

    ‘Not much good now, is it? An hour too late, it is. What’s the use of that?’

    She put her hand inside his trousers. ‘Let’s go to the park,’ she said. ‘That’s our favourite place.’

    It was cumbersome and difficult. Sitting on a bench in the early morning light. And he was embarrassed by the amount of love he spilled into her hand. He gave her his handkerchief. She said she’d keep it as a memory of their last moments together. Before went off to war.

*

On the bus, Lucy remembered how startled she’d been the first time he’d shown her what to do. ‘Well, I was quite young, I suppose,’ she thought.

    He’d taken her hand and placed it on his groin. Then he’d loosened his belt and pushed it down inside his underpants. She felt a pleasant mixture of soft, warm and firm flesh. After a while he’d moved her hand with his. And that’s how she learnt how much he enjoyed it. And so had she. The anticipation of the short, quick breaths, a tightening of the chest. Excitement. Intense feeling of pleasure. Involuntary spasms. Climax.

    While she was doing it, Lucy felt her own rhythmic contractions running in tandem, and she felt a strong affinity with what Haydn was feeling. She knew they were in love.

    ‘In a strange way he sometimes seemed to prefer that to real lovemaking,’ she remembered thinking. ‘Perhaps because the real thing was just so difficult to organize.’ 

*

Just outside a small village, the bus driver said, ‘This is it love.’

    The base was the usual nondescript affair. Flowerbeds were trying hard to add some luster to the entry point. Two young men in uniform stared at her. They could see she’d been crying. One was quite handsome. He other had a face covered in spots. ‘Just God playing his cynical trick,’ she thought. ‘Making one man’s life a social breeze, and the other’s a social nightmare.’

    There was no problem getting in. They pointed out where she had to go. To see Hayden.

*

Lucy went to reception. They told her he was on the first floor.

    As she went upstairs, she remembered the freckles across his nose. And the soft hair on his top lip that he shaved so often in the hope that it would get thicker. And the slight imperfection in one iris that made his eyes look slightly different colours. And the long pale hair that was always so unkempt. His perfect skin. The warmth of his pubic area. How it felt in her hand. And how it felt inside her on that one occasion. So long ago. 

    She walked down a long corridour, looking for a number. Hoping for the best.

    Eventually she found it. She knocked softly, then a little harder. She went in. He was lying on the bed with the TV on, but there was no sound in the room. He looked fragile and vulnerable.

    Same icy blue eyes. One slightly different. Same thick blond hair. But shorter. Much shorter. Cut short by the army. An overall air of being smaller. Much smaller. Same hard, wiry body. But shorter. Definitely. Much shorter. The insurgents had seen to that. With a bomb.

    There was, in fact, very much less of Haydn than the last time she’d seen him.

    And he just didn’t look quite the same without any legs.

*****

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