Black Magic Woman by Mary Thompson
When I am 14, we skive school and go for chips, which we drown in vinegar and nosh on the swings overlooking the sea. A squally wind is blowing right in our faces but we keep eating the chips till they’re gone.
‘I got my first period last week,’ says Julie. She chucks a chip at me and jumps off. I grip the icy chains and watch as she skips across the playground, her ponytail swinging like a metronome. Then I move my bare legs backwards and forwards, faster and faster till I reach the top. Beyond the toilets and the small, meandering footpath, I see wild waves crashing onto the empty beach below. Julie has been seeing Harry for ten days. Once I start my periods, I’ll find a boyfriend too, I think.
When I am 15, I go to Greece with my Classics class. We visit Athens and the Parthenon and drink coke in the searing heat. After we take the ferry to Andros, a picturesque island with few tourists. I throw on my fluorescent orange swimsuit and tie my hair back in a scrunchy, then wander down to the beach with Julie, where we stretch out on petal-shaped towels near the water. We ignore the boys from our class and chat instead to Mr Cadie about the Odyssey and the Iliad. Mr Braidford is lying nearby under a huge purple parasol, his eyes hidden behind massive shades.
‘Enjoying the sunshine, girls?’ he mumbles as we scamper past him on the way up to buy ice-creams.
‘Yes, sir,’ we say, and nudge each other, trying not to laugh.
When I am 16, I get a Saturday job in Lowe’s, and one day they put me on the till. It’s almost clocking off time when I spot Mr Braidford in the queue. He’s wearing a velour tracksuit and doesn’t look like a teacher any more.
‘Not buying anything, sorry,’ he says when it’s his turn and holds up his hands. Then he slips me a tape with black, scrawly writing scribbled all over it.
‘It’s Santana,’ he says. ‘I chose the songs especially.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ My face is burning as I push the cassette into the pocket of my uniform. Then I put my head down and serve the next customer.
After work I smoke a cigarette in the carpark and listen to Black Magic Woman over and over on my Walkman.
Mary Thompson works as an Academic English tutor in London. She is a recent winner of two BIFFY 50 awards (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2018-2019), and her piece, ‘The Circle is Complete,’ featured in ‘The Group of Seven Reimagined,’ has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been published in various places, including Ellipsis Zine, Retreat West, Ghost Parachute, Literary Orphans, Pidgeonholes and MoonPark Review, and is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel.