Bare Feet

Four people sit on the stage.
MEGAN – mid-twenties, brown hair, blue eyes, an actress.
PETER – early thirties, works on/owns an art gallery.
EVE – mid-twenties, brown hair, blue eyes, a photographer.
JOSEPH – early forties, a teacher.

MEGAN: I always get asked why I went into this business in the first place. It seems that everyone’s as interested in where you came from and the dreams that brought you in as how good you are at what you do. The American Dream. I guess that’s something I admire about it – they think it’s an inevitable journey, and looking back it probably was.

PETER: Our gallery gets over a hundred visitors on an average day – more when it’s peak season and the kids are on their holidays. We’ve exhibited items from both the Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery collections, as well as providing space for amateur photographic groups to display their art to the public. It’s important to us that we root ourselves firmly in the local community.

EVE: I feel over in the playground; that’s how we met. I remember that, because all the time I was talking to her for the first time I could feel my elbows and knees throbbing the way they do when you cut yourself. I’m not normally clumsy, so I don’t remember what made me fall, but she helped me up again. She was so nice for a stranger, nice to the new kid. Set me on my feet again, and asked me the usual – name, where I’d transferred from and everything. I just answered her questions, I didn’t ask her any, but she didn’t seem to mind. I thought I’d pass out from the pain before we finished talking, but I didn’t. Dad said he washed my shirt six times but couldn’t get it clean so he had to get a new one. ‘First day at school and already needing new clothes,’ he said, and I just smiled and said that I’d made a friend.

JOSEPH: We weren’t all that old, but we weren’t all that young either, so it kind of made sense doing it that early. It was hard. Financially, I mean. Neither of us had particularly well paid jobs, and of course, she couldn’t work after she reached the third trimester. She tried to stay on, but they made her go. She said maternity leave was boring. Can you imagine? We had a small flat at the time, it was before we moved into this house. We used to sit up at night discussing what we’d do when the baby was born, such extravagant and daring plans they were. In the end, they didn’t happen. When you hold a new born baby in your arms, everything else fades in comparison.

MEGAN: It was career’s day. That’s when I worked it out. I was sixteen and it was summer. I think. The days were long and hot. Probably. That’s the kind of thing people say in the scripts I read anyway. Flashback. Always rain or sun. Sometimes snow. I never understood that – narrative sympathetic weather – most of the best parts of my life took place on grey days, where it was overcast and the whole world looked like pictures of Russia in the eighties. Not that day though. That day the sun was like molten gold, and the grass a carpet of dreams or whatever. It was a beautiful day.

PETER: My favourite exhibit we had here? I don’t know. It’s hard to compare all of the collections we’ve had at the gallery. The Tate exhibition was good, but I don’t think you can compare it to anything else. I like photographs though; that’s my interest. I’ve bought some of the ones we’ve exhibited here, in fact. Do I have a favourite? Yes. It’s a photograph I’ve had for a long time, since I was at school. It’s of a girl, around school age, on a summer’s day. Did I take it? No. No, it was given to me by a… Well, I guess friend is the only word.

EVE: She had the same colour hair as me. That was the first thing that struck me as she asked me questions and the blood slowly ruined my shirt. Hers fell better, shaped her face better than I could ever get mine to. We’d play with each other’s hair later on, when we were really friends I mean, and I would always think about how shocked I was when I first saw it. She took me to the teacher on duty, but she said that we were big girls and old enough to look after ourselves. As I hobbled away with my new friend, she called the teacher a miserable, desiccated old cunt. I laughed so hard at that. I’ve never laughed like that since.

JOSEPH: A little girl, tiny and perfect. She had the most beautiful blue eyes when she was born. Piercing blue. For reasons that I can’t remember now, it seems so long ago, we didn’t call her Louise as we had been planning to, but called her Eve instead. My wife’s idea, I think. I don’t recall. All I remember was the thrill of joy that I had when I held little Eve in my arms. I’ve never lost that feeling, even now.

MEGAN: My parents wanted me to stay on at school, maybe go to uni. We argued about it a lot that summer, and for a while after that. I did my A-Levels because I knew it would make them happy, but I did small roles on the side where I could. Nothing great, of course. Walk on parts on soaps and that. I played a hooker in a police drama once. My mum couldn’t watch that one, but Dad said I was very good. Still, it worked out in the end, and I got bigger and bigger roles, passed my A-Levels just barely, and went and shot my first film two weeks later. I’ve not stopped since.

PETER: She turned around from the window of a classroom. I don’t know what she was doing. What was I doing? God knows. Getting a football, maybe, or homework or something. It fades in my memory. She turned from the window, and she saw me standing there. Her chestnut brown hair fell down to her shoulders, and I asked her what was going on. Or something like that. I know it was me that spoke, because she didn’t say a word to me at all. She turned and I said whatever I said, and she shook her head, moved in front of me and then we were kissing. It was tender and passionate and all those other things they say in the films, but it was also over before I really knew what was going on. Then she pulled back, handed me the picture, the one of the schoolgirl, and walked away. That was the end of it. (pause) I think she was crying.

EVE: All the boys loved her. I remember that. She was beautiful. And she had large breasts, which I suppose was what mattered to them really. She used to roll her eyes theatrically whenever one of them mentioned it, and say ‘boys!’ in the most haughty fashion, and then laugh like a devil. People used to think she liked the attention, but I know that she didn’t because we shared a room on a geography field trip. I was already in bed, and she was putting on her pyjamas, and she said that she wished they were smaller. ‘How much smaller?’ I asked her, and she shrugged and said ‘the same as yours’. We sat on my bed and talked for ages after that. I knew then that I loved her.

JOSEPH: I loved her. That’s not unusual of course, to love your daughter. We got on so well as well, which was great, especially after her mum… Well, anyway. We got on well even when she got into the difficult teenage years. It wasn’t either for either of us having talks about periods and sanitary products and how to fit the right size of bra. Almost unnatural, but we lived through it. She was very beautiful. My beautiful little girl.

MEGAN: The first person I told was my teacher. He was a youngish man, and he’d always been a great teacher. I’m not particularly academic but I always felt I understood what he was teaching us. He was handsome too, but I never told anyone I thought that. They’d think it was some adolescent thing, some crush, but it was more than that. And it was reciprocal – he made advances on me. Only once, but I think he didn’t want to risk losing his job. I told him no one saw us, but he wouldn’t touch me again.

PETER: I often wonder who the girl in the photograph is, and what relation she was to the girl who kissed me. I wonder a lot. I never knew either of their names, so I guess it’s the mystery of it. The mystery of that kiss –that memory locked into the existence of this photograph. I have a wife and kids now, we met at work, but this picture hangs up in the hall outside the kitchen. I have never told my wife about that kiss. I’ve never told anyone about the girl in the summer dress.

EVE: I took headshots of her, and silly photos and all sorts of poses and everything. Some in black and white, some in colour. I insisted she do it, because she was reluctant at first. But she got quite into it in the end. I told her she was born to be photographed, and she laughed. I kept snapping away, never quite finding the courage to go up and kiss her. She never felt the same. At the time I just thought it was a matter of time – that she’d spring it on me and we’d be together forever. That was until I saw her with him through the window. I gave away the photo I’d kept of her – the one I’d kept back from all those others, which had gone into her portfolio – I don’t remember how. I still remember that photo though, and I dream about it at night sometimes. That it’s been returned to me, sometimes by Megan herself, and there she is in person, older now of course, and still sixteen in the photograph, a schoolgirl with bare feet, in a summer dress.

JOSEPH: I suppose she looked like Eve if you didn’t look too hard. That made it easier. Or harder, if you like. That was when I stopped everything, because I realised what it was all for. I felt sick after. Not then, but later on. She’d come in for a career’s talk – it was a hot day – and she wore a flimsy dress. Her skin was lightly tanned, almost golden-bronze. She told me she didn’t care about school, and wanted to be an actress. I said that she should stay in school and get her A-Levels anyway, but do some acting on the side if she could get some small roles. She nodded, kicked off her shoes and stood up, pacing the floor in her bare feet. I asked her if she was alright, why was she distracted? ‘It’s very hot,’ she said. I nodded, and told her to take off her dress, if she was hot. She didn’t seem surprised at all, but she shook her head. ‘No need,’ she said, smiling, and pulling her dress up above her waist. Her thighs were pale, almost milky in comparison with the rest of her. I took her there, and no one saw us. It was over quickly, but she didn’t complain, far from it. When I’d finished I laid my head down on her chest, still inside her, and I looked up to see that her eyes were blue. Piercing blue. Just like my Eve’s. I smiled up at the girl with her bare feet and summer dress.

MEGAN: I changed my name for my first film. I never felt it fit me right anyway. I go by Eve now, though I don’t remember what made me chose that name. I’ve still got the dress I wore, though, in my first real role. They let me keep it.

Copyright © 2011 by Nicholas Palmer

All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

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