When he was sixteen years old, he decided to ask a girl if she would accompany him to the sixth form ball. He believed that she liked him and would almost certainly say yes.
One evening after school he leafed through the Yellow Pages, with its mustard-coloured crinoline leaves, to find her number. Having established which one was hers, and after hesitating and dithering before the telephone in his parent's hallway, he picked up the receiver and cautiously pressed the buttons, before stopping halfway through and hanging up. This went on for some time before he finally plucked up enough courage to keep the receiver at his ear, heart thundering against his rib-cage, tongue heavy and thick in his dry mouth. He finished entering the code and waited as the ring tone came through the ear-piece, ringing out in another hallway across town.
The phone rang out for several seconds before someone eventually picked up. It was her snippy-sounding mother who answered, and, after he asked to speak to her eldest daughter, in the brief pause while her mother put down the handset and loudly, sharply, called her daughter to the phone, he silently plotted the course of their conversation, then murmurings as they conferred about who was calling, although it wasn’t late, just after tea-time.
The girl picked up the phone and said ‘hello’, her voice sounding strange and unfamiliar over the line. He could hear her breathing gently, and thought of her chest rising and falling as she held the phone to her ear, and he allowing himself to imagine talking intimately with her, placing his hands upon her breasts as he kissed her in a darkened corner just off the dance-floor at the ball, and as he began his preamble by inquiring as to her general well-being and state of mind, he could sense a awkwardness over the line in her measured and reserved responses to his enquiries.
He worked his way to the inevitable question, in spite of her noncommittal answers, the ill omens, the foreboding, he had come this far, he had to force the moment to its conclusion, and finally he got to the point, stopped beating about the bush, asked Will you come to the ball with me, and was answered with silence.
When she didn’t respond immediately in the affirmative, in that silence he could feel his molecular structure begin to disintegrate, every cell in his body felt like it was denaturing, a sensation of self-evisceration, like he had walked unwittingly into a trap, a terrible self-inflicted personal disaster, as she said, oh, I don’t know, and Oh, I’m not sure, and, with finality, I’ve been invited by someone else. And hung up.
He want to the ball on his own, and she went with that someone else, a taller, darker, more mature boy with a bewildering range of facial tics, and he watched them dancing together, him resting his hands on her wiggling hips, just above her plum-shaped behind, knowing then that they had already slept together, and he felt an envy so pure coursing through his being that he vowed he would never again ask that question of anyone again.