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PART OF THE Rebel ISSUE

‘So far I haven’t told a lie.’

Helen Lamb was a poet and short-story writer of renown, as well as a much-beloved creative writing tutor. She died shortly after she finished her first novel, Three Kinds of Kissing, just published by Vagabond Voices. It’s a beautifully perceptive and sensitive novel of two friends in a small town caught in their awkward transition from girlhood to adolescence, full of dreams, adventure, vulnerability and yearning, and it deserves a wide readership.

 

Extract taken from Three Kinds of Kissing
By  Helen Lamb
Published by Vagabond Voices

 

1969

 

That May before Olive went to high school, she was five inches taller than me and ten months older, half an inch for every month. I still had to haul myself up and cling on by my fingertips to see the signal box behind the railway bridge. But Olive could see clear over the parapet and wave to the signalman.

If he looked up and shook his head, we wouldn’t wait. He knew we weren’t interested in the local trains that chugged to a halt at the station. It had to be an InterCity from Aberdeen or Inverness, whooshing straight through like the north wind. Long before we saw it, we heard the rumbling, held our breath while it grew into a roar. And as it blasted towards us, Olive yelled NOW and we let rip, bawling our lungs out, while carriage after carriage went shooting under us and the bridge shuddered.

I don’t remember what I yelled. All I can remember now is Olive mouthing STOP. HELP.

 

 1973

 

Four years on, the day after Olive goes missing, the railway bridge comes back to me, the burnt air rushing around us, blood buzzing. Her parents suspect she got on a train. They come to the door asking to speak to me and Mum says, “Of course.” I don’t get a choice.

They sit side by side on the settee and she takes the armchair opposite. I stay on my feet. Olive’s dad says, “The two of you used to be close. Have you any idea where she might go?”

Mum says, “Think.”

I shake my head. Olive stopped hanging around with me a long time ago.

Mum doesn’t give up. “When did you speak to her last?” “Tuesday morning, maybe, at the bus stop.” But I’m not really sure. Olive and I got on the school bus at the same stop along with thirty or so other people. Sometimes we said hi, sometimes not. On the way back, she usually got off two stops before me in Station Road. One night last week though, she stayed on and we walked home together. It was the first time in ages. I don’t mention this.

So far I haven’t told a lie.

Her dad leans forward and stares at my mum. His eyes are bloodshot and fierce. “It was her birthday yesterday,” he says. “Sixteen.” He tells us it was also her day for the gym. She took her duffel bag as well as her school bag and set off for school as usual. That night, when her dinner lay cold on the table, they found her gym kit under her bed.

He squeezes his eyes shut tight now, and Olive’s mum explodes. “What about the empty baked bean cans? What about the filthy spoon? It was a midden under that bed.”

He flinches and frowns down at the floor. “Olive’s mess, Olive’s business, I thought we agreed.”

Mum looks across at me. “We won’t say a word now, will we Grace?”

He mumbles thanks, clears his throat and tells us how the police discovered Olive’s school bag in the Ladies at the railway station, hidden in the waste bin beneath a heap of paper towels. Her uniform and black school shoes were stuffed inside. She had sixty-five pounds saved up from her Saturday job at the hairdresser’s, as far as he knows, and only one change of clothes, including her green velvet jacket and cream patent shoes.

“No spare underpants,” Olive’s mum says. He goes to take her hand and she swats him away.

He says, “I don’t think we can be sure of that.” But she is adamant she can account for every pair. I believe she can too. That’s the scary part.

This afternoon, I don’t have any answers for Olive’s parents. But they’re only interested in where she went. They don’t ask if I know why. After they leave, my mum says, “It’s just like Gina Broadfoot to focus on the mess. You’d think she’d be more concerned about the secret eating.”

I’m scared she’ll start quizzing me about Olive again but she lets me go out.

 

Three Kinds of Kissing by Helen Lamb is published by Vagabond Voices, priced £9.95

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