So, this is the first in a small series of stories I’m working on. I hope you enjoy it!
The Grafton Ballroom, Liverpool, 1947.
The Grafton was a large dance hall, gracefully lit up by chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There was a stage which, on this particular evening, was occupied by a swing band with a female singer dressed all in black. The wooden floor was rich and creaky, marked like chickenpox by many a high heel.
Young men and women would gather here to socialise, dance and flirt with each other in any way they knew how. After the war, the sun had risen on British nightlife. Socialising was practically an Olympic sport. You had to know exactly how to handle yourself – what to say, when to say it, depending on what kind of message you wanted to convey. The best got results; the others fell by the wayside.
A small cluster of girls gathered on a Friday night. Marjorie was one of them, although she would never refer to these girls as her friends, just a group she would hang around with until she spotted someone she liked, or someone spotted her. She never left the house without her make up on, and tonight was no exception. She decided to wear her hair up after several attempts at curling it had left her mother in tears of laughter. She left her glasses at home that night because she felt self conscious behind the large frames (something she would insist her daughters didn’t do, many years later). She wore a dark green dress and small brown leather heels.
Marjorie had no older sister or aunt or cousin to train her in the social art of flirtation, but she’d heard that usually, men would ask you three main questions: How far away you lived (for the chance to walk you home), if you came here often (for the chance of seeing you again) and your religion (for the chance to get into your knickers). All the different rules came into play at this point, every syllable over-analysed, every head movement debated. As far as Marjorie was concerned, she just wanted to meet the fellas.
Looking around the room now, she spotted two men in the corner, both in uniform. The taller of the two caught her eye and murmured something to the other. Dropping her gaze and turning away slightly, she quickly took out her compact mirror and checked her make-up. Bollocks. She wiped the lipstick from her teeth, smoothed her eyebrows into submission and slipped the mirror back into her purse. One of the girls suddenly appeared at her side. “He’s looking at you”, she whispered eagerly, and without any trace of subtlety, pointed at one of the uniformed men. Marjorie stole a glance at the taller of the two, who was now watching her with interest. Looking away quickly, she flushed, feeling her cheeks glow from the heat. “Don’t be soft,” she dismissed as the other girl continued to glare at the men. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder. Immediately she knew who it was.
“Are you dancing?” The deepness of his voice startled her. Slowly she turned around to face him. His dark hair was short, his eyebrows thick, framing his face with a small scar near his left eye.
“Are you asking?” she replied politely, and the trace of a smile formed across his features. He’s much better looking up close, she mentally observed.
“I’m asking,” he confirmed with a growing smile. He held out his hand and she gazed down at it momentarily, drinking in the stifled giggles from the group behind her.
“Well, then I’m dancing”, she smiled back at him, taking his hand and adding, “And I don’t live very far”. Beat you to it. He laughed lightly, leading her to the dance floor. Once there, he stopped abruptly, pulling her into his arms with a smile.
In his arms, her heart began to flutter. He was in full military dress, minus the hat. He had deep, brown eyes and his skin was dusted with freckles. She could tell he’d been abroad recently.
“So where do you live, then, if it isn’t far?” Regarding her with curiosity, he knew he’d met his match.
“I live by Liverpool Football Ground, but-” she raised her hand with a no-nonsense pointed finger, and his breathing froze, “I’m an Evertonian”. He visibly relaxed when he hears this, his smile growing wider and somewhat cheekier.
“Thank heavens for that”, he mumbled as the music changed and they slowly swayed. He stroked the small of her back lightly as she rested her forehead against his jaw. The two of them were equally comfortable in each other’s arms.
“You’re a military man”, she observed out loud, and he nodded.
“Just finished my service, actually”, he replied. She shifted her arm so that her body pressed further against the buttons of his uniform. She drank in his smell. Suddenly, she noted his youth – he was far too young to have served in the war.
“Where?” She asked with suspicion.
“Palestine,” he responded, and she straightened up to look at him.
“Yes, why?” he asked.
“No, nothing, I’m just…surprised”. She answered, with honesty and a furrowed brow. There’s something you don’t hear everyday.
She closed her eyes and returned her forehead to his jaw line, and no more conversation was necessary. Her watch was broken, so she wasn’t sure how long it was before she opened her eyes, but when she did, they were alone in the empty hall. The music had stopped, but they were still dancing. She looked at him, dazed. His expression was soft and amused.
“Tom”, he said, pointedly.
“Marj”, she breathed, stunned by how at ease she felt. She tilted her head to the side and looked at him quizzically.
“Do you like animals?” she asked. His smile faded and his face clouded with confusion.
“Um, yes, I do. Why?”
“My mum always says that if a man likes animals, then there isn’t much wrong with him”, she said with a hint of a smile. He grinned back at her, pulling her a little closer to him until she felt the buttons of his uniform against her torso. She turned her head to the side, and his lips brushed against her ear.