Blue marl, greensand, greywacke. At the blackboard, your teacher looks like he’s tasting the names. Jonno murmurs Grey Wacky! and all of you laugh because it’s true, the teacher’s old and a bit weird.
You’re inching along a high spine of rock, in battering wind. The teacher yells back that it’s tuff, formed 450 million years ago, carved out in the last Ice Age. Lin’s nearly blown into the storm-grey tarn below. Jonno puts out an arm to steady her. You’re in no danger of being blown away.
Lin is asked for every dance. The colour of her hair is pyrite, fool’s gold.
Dartmoor is a granite batholith, an extrusion of molten rock from deep in the crust. Extrude means push out. Like a turd, Jonno says, and everyone titters.
You’re all huddled beside the River Dart in the rain, with dripping clipboards and school-issue kagoules that smell of wet tent. When you slip down the bank, your already sodden jeans slimed with mud, Jonno leads a falsetto chorus of The Hippopotamus Song.
Pumice scrapes dead skin from footsoles. It’s spongey-light and feels fake, but it was born in a volcano.
Waves smash into cracks, split them wider. Hydraulic action and frost-shattering blast out caves. Bits of cliff plunge into the sea, leave pillars and arches, then nothing. The sea keeps on pounding till the whole coast is pulverized.
You’re by the wall in the lineup of rejects, again. Late in the the evening slow tracks play, the disco lights stop flashing, couples move close, Angie and Je t’aime pulse through the gym. Lin and Jonno sway, melt together in the dark. You can’t look away.
Metamorphosis means changing into something else. White marble. Lapis-lazuli.
There’s another dance, punks and tarts this time. Most of the boys go as punks and the girls as tarts, but you hang safety pins round your neck and a razorblade from your belt. You outline your eyes in silver-green, your lips in black. You hold your nose and drink a soup of mushrooms you found growing on the football pitch. Jonno laughs and calls you a stoner. You pogo and swear, knock into other dancers on purpose. People have to look twice, to be sure it’s you. Later, the disco lights turn to fireworks, spell out secret messages on the sky.
A HOUSE BUILT ON SAND
The teacher takes a group of you to a country estate. Greensand lies beneath, but this isn’t a field trip. There’s singing, and lots of people fall to their knees in tears and are born again. You don’t fall down, though afterwards you wish you had, because Lin’s eyes are unfocused and dreamy, and she says her heart is full of Jesus. Jonno’s less mean afterwards, you don’t know if that’s because of Lin or Jesus.
Exams are over, everyone’s waiting for results. You know yours will be bad. Lots of people have university places waiting, but you’re going backpacking in India.
People say, India alone, wow! Aren’t you scared?
You are, but you shrug.
People say, What will you do there?
You’ll see the mountains of the Sub-Himalayan Range. You’ll see the Ganges delta where three tectonic plates meet.
You’ll gather cannabis, growing wild on a hillside near Simla. You’ll lose weight, and your virginity. You’ll catch amoebic dysentery, buy an orange sari, sit at the feet of a man with a silky beard who smells like incense.
You’ll come home. People will look twice, to be sure it’s you.
Patience Mackarness lives and writes in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published by Brilliant Flash Fiction, Lunch Ticket, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/