Diary: When I Was Seventeen
by Clive Collins
1966: I turn seventeen just before Christmas. My father seven years dead, my sisters more, or less, years fled into marriage, I live alone with my mother. What money we have comes from her cleaning work and widow’s pension.
I am a VIth Form student but still wear the rags and patches I’ve had since I was thirteen. My classmates sport tapered flannel trousers, brass-buttoned barathea blazers.
Thin, anorexic maybe, I live on vegetables and cheese: the Cliff Richard diet. A safety pin secures the three-inch tuck in my waistband.
What illuminates my mid-teen melancholy is love: I worship from afar my best friend’s sister’s best friend, small, dark Carolyn Clark, whose hand I have never so much as touched. That Christmas it snows. I write Carolyn’s name across the whitened streets.
January 1967. I get a Friday night/all-day Saturday job. I sell paraffin, am paid a pound, go home stinking.
April. My savings buy (more or less) a three-piece, made-to-measure (more or less) suit, Chelsea boots, a decent haircut.
May. Weekdays I work at school; weekends I sell paraffin. Carolyn inhabits my dreams, waking and sleeping.
August. My best friend throws a party. Carolyn is there. I am there, too, in the suit, the boots, the haircut. She gives me my first kiss.
I am driven home late, too late. My mother stands waiting at the top of our street. As I get out of the car, she clouts my face so hard I stagger. Carolyn, in the back seat, whimpers.
November. Ten days still to my eighteenth birthday. I bump into Carolyn in town. Her soft hand attends my mended cheek; her soft touch heals my festered pride. Ten days still to my eighteenth birthday, but I am no longer seventeen.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me at seventeen, the suit, the haircut.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It was such a bittersweet challenge to dredge up these memories from more than 50 years ago and attempt to breathe life into them in just 300 words. How did I do? Please tell me…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born in Leicester, England, Clive Collins has spent the greater part of his life working as a teacher in Ireland, Sierra Leone, and Japan. He is the author of two novels, The Foreign Husband (Marion Boyars) and Sachiko’s Wedding (Marion Boyars/ Penguin Books). Misunderstandings, a collection of short stories, was joint-winner of the Macmillan Silver PEN Award in 1994. More recently his work has appeared in online journals such as Penny, Cecile’s Writers, The Story Shack, and terrain.org. He was a short-listed finalist in the 2009 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. A chapbook of his short stories is to be published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2017.