Calla grew up when there was little of any worth to eat; no fruit for vitamin C and trace elements, no milk and broccoli for calcium, no fresh meat for iron or protein. Enamel never formed on her yellowing teeth and she seemed to catch every popular contagion. I met her in college, bundled in scarves, a Russian doll, a clasping onion skin of girl. Her mother had died the Summer before, and she resided on a scholarship, eating in the subsidised canteen on the days she
could afford it, going without when she couldn’t. She rode an old fashioned bicycle, the kind with a bell and a basket, and the modest little skirts of mudflaps over thin spoked wheels.
She’d ride smiling through the high street and down the oak lined path into the college, lifting her feet from the peddles and carrying forward, letting the incline take the strain, down onto the cobblestones of college square. We’d chat on the warming evening of that first summer, tossing knots of wholemeal bread to the pigeons, discussing Dylan and French poetry and our vivid adolescent dreams. One night I dreamt I was the saviour the dead, and flew unfettered in their playground, hugging their sin away like an Indian mystic. Calla always dreamt she was invisible and silent, crying out to no avail, existing as a spectre in the world of men.
One evening that Autumn, after a blissful summer spent grape picking in Bordeaux, we went to one of those dreadful jocular college parties that we both despised. Everywhere velure jacketed aristobrats argued loudly about Marxism over their single malt whiskeys, while their ylang ylang groupies shared baroque hoka’s of Moroccan hashish in dimly lighted attics.
That night I ended drunk on Slo-Gin, wrestling topless with the son of the Portuguese ambassador. I surfaced next morning with a mouthful of puke tendrils, eyes refusing to open fully against the onslaught of afternoon light.
I hung a sheepskin rug about my shoulders and stumbled over the evenings casualties, searching for Calla. At first I didn’t know her. Her face seemed different choking on the bulk of Monty Hastings Bradley, whilst Royston Major Wilkies took her roughly from behind. She looked oddly beautiful like that; her milky freckled back arched, her flaming mandarin hair recklessly cascading about her bony shoulders.
I joined the que for her mouth, and when the time came, tenderly brushed one glowing cheek as she took the length of me, her eyes sparkling with recognition. It was right then, as Elliot Fraser Darling and I high fived and thrust at once, to a chorus of ragged cheers and somewhere far below a fresh press of the Velvet’s ’There She Goes Again’ hit its crescendo, that I realised. I’d met the girl I’d one day marry.