writing

Freedom

More free writing from the Bromley group. I may have got some 80s references wrong, but we only had an hour, so don’t sue me!

As the last strains of Wham’s Freedom faded away on the dansette, Anastasia picked up the needle and placed it at the beginning of the track.

“I don’t want your freedom…” crooned George Michael for the fifth time that morning.

“He’s gay,” said Nina, flicking through a magazine. She was sprawled on her bed, engrossed in Just Seventeen, and bored of Freedom by George Michael.

“No he’s not!” said Anastasia, hotly.

“He is,” continued Nina. “Andrew Ridgeley is his boyfriend.”

“Never!” gasped Anastasia. She picked up a cushion and threw it at her older sister. There was only a year between them, but Nina acted like she was at least five years older. At 15, she had entered the awkward stage of her adolescence where she huffed and puffed a lot, and wore too much makeup. 

Anastasia was 14, and was firmly convinced she was going to marry George Michael. Her middle name was Michaela, and her patronymic was George. It was too much of a coincidence. 

“And anyway,” said Nina, “it’s time for my record now.” She picked up the copy of The Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen and made a move towards the dansette. 

“Nah huh, no way.” Anastasia was prepared to stand her ground. “Not until you take it back.” 

“Take what back? That he’s gay? Because he is gay, he’s the gayest gay that’s ever gayed.”

Anastasia felt tears prick her eyes. She was about to say something cutting back, when Nina just shoved her aside and put her record on. 

“Now this,” said Nina, over the plaintive singing, “is music.”

Later that night, Anastasia lay in bed, wide awake. George Michael wasn’t gay. Nina was making things up. Just like her, thought Anastasia bitterly. Ever since she had snogged Owen Holliday at the disco, Nina had been a different person. Crueller. More dismissive of her little sister. More ‘knowing’. 

She and Nina had done everything together. They had moved from the Soviet Union together, learnt English together, tried the New Romantic look together, and now everything was changing. It wasn’t fair. How dare Nina come in with all that ‘George Michael is gay’ rubbish, and expect Anastasia to believe it? How did Nina know? Just because she had kissed a boy, it didn’t make her an expert in all things sex. 

And she had changed how she looked. Gone were the days of the Tippex across their noses – that had been a disaster, conceded Anastasia. They had been trying to emulate Adam Ant, and all that resulted was a bright red stripe on their faces as they had scrubbed away at the liquid corrector. Nina now lined her brown eyes with lots of eyeliner, and smothered her face in white powder. She had bought some black lipstick – black lipstick! – At Miss Selfridge a few weeks ago. She painted every nail a different colour, using the free samples you could get in Woolworths. Nina was changing, and Anastasia didn’t like it. Anastasia didn’t like it at all.

At the same time, Nina was also lying in bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. God, she thought, what a day. There had been a massive row over whether or not George Michael was gay – which he soooo was – and their father had come in and shouted at them. They, in turn, had shouted at him, and then he had decreed that pocket money was now cancelled until further notice. There would be no new records from Woollies on a Saturday. He even threatened to take the dansette out of their room. 

No one understood her, thought Nina. How could they? Anastasia was a baby. She didn’t know anything about sex at all. Unlike me, she thought, with a smugness that radiated throughout her body. I do. I’ve kissed a boy. Twice. 

She didn’t reflect on the fact that the first time she had kissed Owen Holliday, their braces got stuck together and they had to wriggle their faces apart, or that the second time, she had had to wipe the dribble from off her chin. She had done it. She had kissed a boy. She was a woman. 

Poor Anastasia, she thought pityingly, not knowing what love was, or what sex is. She was still wrapped up in George Michael, and schoolwork. She was just a child. Imagine thinking you’re going to marry a pop star! Nina let out an involuntary snort at the pure childishness of it.

“You awake?” called out Anastasia softly, upon hearing the snort. There was no reply. Then, “yes,” conceded Nina after she had finished her internal debate over whether or not to answer.

“Me too,” said Anastasia.

“I realised,” said Nina, in the bored drawl she sometimes used. 

Anastasia propped herself up in bed and looked over at her sister. Nina was still lying there, gazing at the ceiling. 

‘Do you think he meant it?” asked Anastasia.

Nina sat up.

“Do I think who meant what?”

“Dad. When he said he’d stop our pocket money.”

“Dunno.” Nina shrugged. “Probably. You know what he gets like.”

“Yeah,” said Anastasia. She knew what he got like.

They were silent for a while. Then Anastasia said “what’s it like?”

Nina rolled over so she was facing her.

“What’s what like?”

“Kissing,” said Anastasia. ‘I’ve never done it before.”

“Oh that,” said Nina, as if it was passé. “It’s ok. I’ve done it twice you know.”

Anastasia hugged her knees. 

“Have you?” she squealed. “With Owen? Both times?”

“Yep,” said Nina proudly. 

“Are you…” Anastasia made some gesture, but in the dark, Nina couldn’t quite make it out.

“Am I what?” she asked, crossly.

“You know…”

“No I don’t.”

“Are you his girlfriend?” asked Anastasia, a little too loudly. She knew as soon as she’d said it that it had been too loud and ,sure enough, the outline of their father was soon visible in the door.

“Go to sleep,” he said shortly before slamming their door behind him.

The girls didn’t dare talk again, and buried themselves in their duvets, but they couldn’t sleep. They were too excited: Anastasia was excited over Nina’s kissing revelation, and Nina was too excited wondering if maybe she was Owen Holliday’s girlfriend. 

“Are you awake?” whispered Nina after about five minutes had lapsed.

“Yes,” said Anastasia, in an almost inaudible voice.

Again, they were silent for a while until the conversation resumed.

“So,” continued Anastasia quietly, “are you his girlfriend?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You’ve kissed him twice,” pointed out Anastasia, “and you’ve written his initials on your pencil case.”

“Mm,” said Nina dreamily.

“Do you love him?”

Nina squealed at this.

“I don’t know!” she said, a little flustered.

“You must do,” said Anastasia, very seriously. “You must know if you love someone. I love George Michael.”

“That doesn’t count.”

“Yes it does!”

“Have you ever met George Michael?”

“No, but -“

‘You can’t love someone unless you meet them. What if it turns out he likes stuff you don’t like? Or he smells? Or,” Nina finished slyly, “that he’s gay.”

Anastasia picked up her cuddly rabbit and threw it at Nina.

“He’s not gay!” she said furiously, and again, they both knew that had made a mistake because their father reappeared in the doorway.

He spoke to them in Russian, which meant he was getting really angry. When they had first moved over, he had impressed on them the importance of speaking their new language. Even at home, he had said, when you are playing, you must speak English. The fact that he was speaking Russian meant that he was really annoyed. 

“Sorry daddy,” said Anastasia, and Nina soon followed suit.

He harrumphed. “Sleep now,” he said in English. 

The door closed. The girls lay in darkness.

“I miss mum,” said Anastasia. 

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