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Sue Noonan
'What's it like to kiss a boy?'

It had been a quiet week in Firbank Road. It was just before the schools broke up for the summer holidays and the streets were full of serious looking grown ups going about their business. The estate that we lived in was new then, with two blocks of flats eight storeys high. There were four flats on each landing and I knew everyone that lived in the block and most of the people in the other one. Our next door neighbours had one daughter called Linda who was tall, blond and wore clothes that my mum would approve of. She was seventeen years old and had a steady boyfriend. I was ten years old, skinny and shy. I longed to be grown up like Linda but I much preferred Marion who also lived on our landing. Marion was fifteen, smoked, kissed lots of boys and always talked to me and told me things that I wanted to know. She always gave me her old Jackie magazines that I liked because they had a problem page and a fashion page. There were some things that they never told you about on the problem page.

So I would ask Marion. 'What's it like to kiss a boy?'
'Well it's sort of like when you eat ice-cream but wetter'
'What does it taste like?'
'Nothing. Like your own spit'
'Sounds horrible'
'You get to like it after a while especially if the boy's a good kisser'
'What's a good kiss like?'
Marion lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings. I hoped that one day I would be able to blow smoke rings just like Marion did, confidently, perfect every time with pursed pillar-box red lips. I would practice in the mirror until I was lip-perfect. She wore a black leather jacket and her smooth shiny dark hair made her skin look pale. I thought that she looked like how Snow White would look if she were real and living in Peckham. Sometimes she wouldn't answer my question for a minute or two. She would look into the distance, tilt her head to one side and frown as if she were thinking intently on her response. I would try and hold my breath and will her to answer. She always did answer in her own way.
'You'll know when you get one'

If she were not going out she would let me into her bedroom to play records. She had her own record player that could hold ten records at once and would let me chose the first five. Her dressing table was a treasure trove of lotions, potions and pots with different kinds of make up in all the colours that you could think of. The lipsticks were in black cases, gold cases, swivels and push-ups. Marion would let me try on the lipsticks as long as I wiped it off before I went home. 'Why do I have to wipe the lipstick off Marion, can't I show mum she wouldn't mind, honest'
'Your dad wouldn't like it'
'Dad's don't like their little girls to wear lipstick'
' means you're growing up and a boy might try and kiss you. Dads don't like that'
'Yuk! I wouldn't want to anyway, boys are horrible' But I did want to. I desperately wanted to be grown up, just like Marion. I wanted to look like her and know things that Marion knew. I wanted to walk down the street in a way that made boys look at me and want to be my friend. Boys just teased me because I was thin and had knobbly knees that were permanently scratched and scraped.

I was ten years and three months old when my friend Sally, who was also ten and skinny, invited me to go on a blind date at her flats. He was twelve, called John and I had instructions from Sally to be at her place on Saturday morning at 11a.m. I told my mum and dad who thought it was hilarious. They teased me until the day of the date. They told my aunts and uncles when we visited them. I had to ask Marion's advice. She wouldn't laugh, she would help me and tell me what I should wear, what I should say and make sure that I didn't do anything to make people laugh at me. I called for Marion a few times that week but she was always out. On the Friday before my big date I called for Marion again. Her mum told me that she was staying over with her friend and wouldn't be back until Saturday afternoon. How would I manage without Marion? My mum was nice but she treated me like a little girl. I wanted to be fifteen; I wanted someone to tell me how. My mum was thirty years old, how could she possibly understand.

On Saturday morning I woke up and decided to imagine that Marion was advising me whenever I needed her advice, talking to me whenever I needed someone to talk to.
'What shall I wear Marion?'
'Wear something grown up'
'But I haven't got anything grown up'
'Well, wear your favourite dress'
'What about this one?'
'Is it your favourite?'
'No then, I said your favourite'
'But don't you think it's a bit..."?
'Why is it your favourite dress?'
'I just love wearing it'
'It will look good then, wear it'

I wore it. It was my first straight dress and I had a tantrum in the shop before my dad bought it. He chose a pink gingham dress that came in at the waist (which I didn't have) and flounced out to a full skirt. I cried when he was going to buy it and said that I would never wear it because everyone would laugh at me. The lady in the shop tut-tutted, especially when my dad reluctantly let me chose my own dress. It was the most beautiful dress that I had ever seen. It was a straight dress, just like the ones that grown up women wore. The flower pot print at the bottom sprouted a large sunflower that ended at the bodice so that the white petals were like a sun at the top of the dress. It was pale yellow and I loved it. My mum helped me to put my hair in bunches and I wore the whitest long socks that I had.

I walked carefully to Sally's house so as not to fall over and graze my knees. I sat on the wall outside Sally's and talked with Sally, her friend Kenny and John. We laughed when the younger kids came and asked if I was John's girlfriend. Sally's mum gave us sandwiches, cake, crisps and lemonade to take outside. When I had to go home John kissed me on my cheek and I blushed.

I told Marion about it when I next saw her. She listened intently, looking into the distance as I spoke.
'Sounds like you had fun. That's important. Always remember if it stops being fun don't do it'.
I nodded in agreement. I was not entirely certain what she meant but I knew it was important to remember. We were still friends but it was different to before. I still asked her questions but not so many. There were still many things that I didn't want to know about, and I knew enough to know that.

© Sue Noonan 2001

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