“Good grief,” she said.
Yvonne’s peers were used to her odd manner of speaking, and other idiosyncratic ways. They agreed she must’ve come from another era. An Elizabethan Era they decided; frankly, that was the only period of history they could recall – they were studying Shakespeare at the time.
Yvonne’s ‘good grief’ reaction was to the news that Phillipe, the French exchange student, would be asking her to attend the school dance. Phillipe himself had not purposely started the rumour, but not knowing of the down-under-bush-telegraph phenomenon, he had asked Penelope, another phenomenon of sorts, for the name of that girl. The one with the longest tunic in Year 11, the one with the Shirley Temple curls, who crocheted at recess and helped in the library during lunch. The one who also wrote sonnets and played the harpsichord.
“Why do you want to know?” asked Penelope.
“To the dance, I want her to ask,” he managed with his Gallic syntax.
Penelope was flabbergasted, meaning: shocked, angry and disappointed all at once. In this state she couldn’t think clearly and actually told the gorgeous French boy the girl’s name.
Phillipe walked off. In less than ten seconds flat, Penelope texted the hot gossip to her gang, the cool girls. The text was littered with three letter acronyms, such as ATM, IMO, WTF, FFS and LOL, and was finished with an emoji vomiting green stuff.
Yvonne did not have a mobile phone. She carried coins and knew the locations of the last remaining pay phones around the district.
In complete contrast, Yvonne’s mother, Gillian, was the epitome of ‘now’. She was ‘on trend’, and had a severe case of FOMO – fear of missing out (in case you’re not on trend). The forty something yummy mummy looked and sounded like every second woman you see on television or at the gym. She wore sexy, expensive corporate clothing to her workplace, where she would brag about her next holiday destination that was, of course, on everyone’s bucket lists. And when not at work, she would don a fluoro-lemon singlet top that accentuated her augmented breasts, slip into, or perhaps spray-on, a pair of black leggings that showed every crevice back and front, lace up a pair of three hundred dollar cross trainers for her pedicured feet, pull her hair up in a high, tight, easily swung pony tail, and strap her iPhone to her arm. Deep in music and pseudo-self-confidence, she would look at no one as she strutted her stuff along the concourse that threaded itself between the beach and the row of cafes – where the hoi polloi would sip lattes and pretend not to be concerned if anyone had spotted them or not. Gillian would always be seen. If her body, or her swinging ponytail didn’t gain the desired attention, the thick swirling wake of pop-diva-perfume she trailed behind her, would certainly turn the most stubborn of heads.
Gerard, was Yvonne’s father, and in the race to be ahead of the pack he ran a close second behind Gillian, his trophy wife. Gerard was forty-five going on nineteen. He surfed, played oz-tag, sported a continual three day growth, attended all the music festivals and drank beer with a wedges of lime stuffed into the necks of little green bottles oozing fake bon-homie. He spent a fortune at the local surf shop buying his weekend wear and a similar amount on cologne and skin-care products at the shopping centre, where he liked to chat up casual retail workers of the female variety.
Gillian and Gerard were a power couple. They actually hated each other and flirted voraciously with other people. But neither of them had ever had sex outside of wedlock. They were cowards at heart.
Yvonne, their antithetical offspring, had perhaps one thing in common with every other seventeen-year-old around – she was acutely embarrassed by her parents. What was different in this respect, was that her parents were similarly embarrassed by her.
Yvonne turned down Phillipe’s invitation to the dance. She explained to him in fluent French that she only danced the waltz, or the polka, and only to an orchestra or string ensemble, preferably under the light of a candelabra. It wasn’t a sarcastic jibe, it was the literal truth.
Dejected but undeterred, Phillipe attended the dance alone. In what could be considered a consolation prize, the young exchange student, with his irresistible accent, convinced Penelope to leave the bouncing mass of sweaty teenagers, and to accompany him outside to the unlit COLA – covered outdoor learning area. It was a simple and natural progression to convince her to give him a head job. Or in his words, “Fellatio, perform?” The big mistake was that Penelope’s number one hanger-on-er, Misty Greenhill, came along and all three of them agreed it would be totally cool for Misty to video the fellatio on her phone. Yes, the foolhardiness of hormonally disrupted youth. Just one word need be said now – VIRAL.
By three pm the next day Phillipe was on a plane back to Paris, proving that when something has to be done ASAP, minor miracles can happen. Penelope and Misty were suspended for a week, but they simply boasted that they missed out on having to write the in-class essay on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and their popularity soared.
Henry Wilkins’ mother taught harpsichord, and that is how he came to the attention of Yvonne. While waiting in the ante-room for her weekly lessons, she would observe this young man in action. She noticed Henry was a keen student of insects and flowers, and that he pursued this interest with a neat set of naturalist’s equipment; a butterfly net, a flower press, a leather satchel containing vials of what she surmised was formaldehyde, and an ancient looking pair of binoculars that hung around his neck. He wore a khaki safari suit and a pith helmet and explored the back yard and the adjoining nature reserve.
Yvonne knew that the bruises on Henry’s legs, arms and sometimes face, were not a result of his zoological or botanical activities. They were the badges he wore for daring to be different in Year 10 at an all boys’ school. Yvonne knew this because one day a police officer interrupted the harpsichord lesson and asked if Mrs Wilkins would like to, this time, press assault charges against the culprits.
“No thank you, officer,” she replied. “Henry is not bothered by those thugs. And he has informed me that his weekly sessions of Queen’s Rule boxing are beginning to pay dividends.”
Yvonne used a fountain pen and her best vellum stationery to compose a letter to Henry. In it she expressed admiration for his courage and confessed an ignorance of the local flora and fauna. She suggested that one day he might take her on a field trip with the purpose of enlightening her about nature’s wonders. She, of course, would reciprocate by bringing along a blanket and a basket of refreshments, that could be enjoyed as a picnic, after the excursion. It didn’t matter that he was younger than her, age is a state of mind, she wrote. Yvonne did hesitate for a short moment about whether or not to include a rather brash postscript, but then she recalled a quote by Emily Bronte:
He is more myself than I am.
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.
PS, she wrote, if things proceed well, a marriage proposal by the man would not at all be out of place.
Mrs Wilkins called out, “Henry. A letter has arrived in the post for you. It is from a young lady. Come downstairs and get it if you wish.”
Henry, left the pond water wriggly under his microscope lens and bolted downstairs. His heart was pumping blood to regions of the body, that had over the last few years been transforming in spectacular fashion.
“How do you know it is from a young lady, Mother?” he panted.
“Why her name, and address, are on the back of the envelope. Which I need not have read since the letter exudes the distinctive fragrant notes of bergamot, lilly of the valley, and sandalwood. A la Soir de Paris, I presume. It can only be from Yvonne.”
Henry blushed. He had been watching this unusual client of his mother’s for some while now. He had even been making notes in his nature journal. An exquisite specimen, he wrote.
Not embarrassed at all by his mother, Henry opened the letter without delay and read it right there in the ante-room. His eyes were darting from left to right, from top to bottom. Then his mouth opened up.
“What is it Henry?” asked his mother.
“Good grief,” he said.