Copyright ©2004 Some Sort of Dog
The lights in and around the Maternity unit were on a time switch and always went off at 10pm. As the quadrangle clock silently chimed the hour, the whole place was plunged into darkness. The bridesmaids, having nothing better to do, had just crawled into bed, and the sudden darkness coincided with a resounding crash outside the window; an impressive noise that went on for a good twenty seconds.
Fifty-six faces looked out of the windows. They had been warned that any loud noises in the night were probably just the animals, but unless the animals had taken to driving around in cars it seemed unlikely that they were responsible for this latest noise.
Out of the shadows loomed a black-and-white-striped face, whose owner approached the nearest window, reared up on its hind legs and tried to peer inside. Despite its jolly Santa Claus hat it looked deeply angry.
"Badger," said several girls.
"What is it doing?"
"Trying to get in."
"We don't want it in here!"
"Did it make all that noise just then?"
Their eyes were becoming adjusted to the gloom now, and more detail was visible outside. Sweaty Betty, who had a window all to herself for some reason, gave a running commentary. "It looks like it was pulling a cart, and it crashed when the lights went out. It hit that lamp post."
"What's it doing over here?"
"They always go the same way, badgers. It's against the law to stop them. Its cart has fallen over. Looks like there was something on it. It's ... it's Cream! Two tubs of Cream!"
"Why would a badger be wandering about with a wagon-load of Cream?"
Sweaty Betty was hopping up and down with excitement. "It was delivering it here, of course! For us!" And before anyone could stop her not that any of them cared to venture within five yards of her she was off to the door. She opened it and disappeared outside. The girls looked nervously at one another, then they heard Betty's voice outside the window. "Shoo! Go on home! Get out of it!" Then after a few seconds she added, "Goodnight!"
The badger's face had vanished from the window but it didn't come storming into the Maternity unit bent on vengeance. Instead, Sweaty Betty appeared, lugging a heavy tub of something in each hand. She dumped them on the floor then began clearing a space in her bedside cabinet.
"Good old Valentina!" she cried. "We'll start rubbing it on in the morning, when it's light enough to see."
The girls dispersed to their beds but they were too excited to sleep. Until they fell asleep half an hour later.
Mrs Lashmore looked into the various wards just after the clock struck twelve times, so she assumed it was midnight. All was peaceful as she tiptoed down between the beds in the last of the rooms, and closed the door behind her before striding out through the woods in the direction of the staff domestic quarters.
Millicent Ramsbottom waited five more minutes, counting three hundred elephants, before slipping out of her bed and approaching Sweaty Betty's. She knew when she was there; she recognised the socks hanging over the end of the bed. The bedside cabinet wasn't locked, the door even being open an inch or two. It creaked as Millicent eased it open and she froze, not daring to move a muscle for several minutes. Sweaty Betty snored gently on. Mercifully, the door didn't creak any more as Millicent opened it a few more inches and reached inside. There were two tubs in there, and she grabbed at the handle of the top one, lifting it out at arms' length. It was so heavy she nearly dropped it. It must be full to the brim. Well, that was good: she was only going to help herself to handful or so, and such a little bit wouldn't be missed, especially as Betty hadn't looked inside the tubs before she put them away.
With her tongue sticking out, Millicent tiptoed exaggeratedly back to her bed, placed the tub on the floor and dived beneath the covers. Then she reached down, carefully lifted the tub on to the bed and pulled it out of sight. Had anyone seen her? She lay for another hundred or so elephants then raised herself on to one elbow and tugged at the lid. It came off, wafting a faint scent of strawberries into the bed. Cautiously she dipped three fingers into the cream it was cold from its badger-hauled trip through the night and scooped out a handful. This was going to be uncomfortable. She wished she'd thought to warm it up first but it was too late now. Teeth gritted, she plunged her fistful of Cream down the neck of her nightie and wiped it across one breast from side to side, then did the same with the other. It wasn't quite as cold as she thought. In fact, as she massaged it into the skin, it quickly grew pleasingly warm and tingly. She used both hands, rubbing in the Cream until there was not a trace left apart from a slight stickiness on the skin of her boobs.
With a sigh, she was about to settle down for the night, when she realised that the Cream tub would have to go back to Betty's bedside cabinet or there'd be hell to pay in the morning.
The floor felt icy this time as she padded along to Betty's bed and thrust the tub into the cabinet. Damn! She hadn't put the lid back on properly. She dragged it out again, dumped it on the floor and took off the lid. Strawberry scent drifted upwards. Her eyes were now fully accustomed to the darkness and she could see that the surface of the Cream clearly showed the hole where she had helped herself. She needed to smooth it out before she put it away. What could she use? There was an exercise book on the cabinet, together with a pencil and ah! a wooden ruler. Perfect!
She applied the end of the ruler to the Cream, smoothing it out and removing the fingermarks. Then she replaced the lid it made a satisfying plop and shoved the tub back out of sight. There was a generous blob of Cream on the end of the ruler so she squeezed it off into her cleavage and stepped forward to put the ruler back where it belonged.
"Aaaagh!" Millicent yelled as the ruler spontaneously burst into flames. Holding it aloft she sprinted to the end of the ward and tugged at the door. It was locked and refused to budge, so she took off in the opposite direction, whimpering with fright, the yellow flames casting bizarre shadows on the walls as she ran the entire length of the ward. She flung open the door and shot out into the night.
"Who the fuck was that?" enquired a frightened voice from the bed nearest the door.
"It was somebody with a burning torch!"
"A wooden spoon?"
"Could have been. But why would anyone be using a wooden spoon in here?"
"She went outside. Somebody ought to go out and see if she needs a hand."
"Sod off! It's cold enough to freeze your tits off out there."
"Maybe that's why she set fire to the spoon, to keep her tits warm."
"Who was it, anyway?"
It took a minute or two of shouting names back and forth before they worked out that the only one missing was Millicent.
Sweaty Betty produced a Maglite and flickered the beam around her bed. Her exercise book and pencil were on the floor. There was no sign of her ruler. She climbed out of bed and crossed to the window. Out there, among the trees, a ghostly light flickered to and fro, affording an occasional brief glimpse of a girl in a nightdress. She stared out into the woods for several minutes but the apparition didn't reappear, so she crept back to bed.
Millicent Ramsbottom came back to Maternity half an hour later, opening the door silently and tiptoeing down the ward, counting the beds until she arrived at Sweaty Betty's. She needed to return the ruler. Feeling her way with each bare foot before putting her weight down, she advanced slowly and was progressing just fine until she trod on Betty's Maglite. Then she lost her balance, screamed with fright, and sat down heavily on Betty's bed.
Betty, who was in the middle of a dream involving blazing badgers, screamed too and leapt out of bed.
The rest of the bridesmaids in the ward woke up and, hearing the screaming, joined in.
Things got quite noisy for several minutes, until Betty, groping around on the floor, found her Maglite and turned it on.
"You!" she accused Millicent. "What are you doing?"
"I brought your ruler back," said Millicent, offering it to her.
Betty examined the remains of her ruler, now only five inches long, blackened at one end, and soaking wet. "What happened to it?"
"I threw it in the fountain."
"Yeah, but look at it!"
The story came out by degrees as the audence gathered round Betty's bed to ask occasional questions and voice objections.
"But there aren't any buses between here and the quadrangle."
"Keep up, can't you? I got lost in the woods and found myself on the main road. That's when the bus went past, and the driver hooted his horn at me and all the people looked out of the bus windows."
The listeners visualised the scene.
"Was the ruler still on fire?"
"Of course. Once I knew where I was I headed back down the drive to the school and found my way to the quadrangle. Well, once I'd got rid of the badgers, that is."
"Did they chase you?"
"No, but I could hear them in their little house and they sounded mad. But I ran into the quadrangle and threw the ruler in the fountain. Then I fished it out it was floating near the edge and came back here."
The others all sighed in unison at the end of the tale. Millicent had just had the kind of adventure that never happened to them. It was Betty who broke the silence with the question that nobody had yet thought to ask.
"How did the ruler catch fire in the first place?"
"You can have one of mine."
BADGER EXPLOSION HEALTH FEARS
Absolutely no need for panic: MP Bufton-Tufton calls for calm
Our Health Correspondent
A SPATE of panic buying is expected to spread through High Street stores and supermarkets in the Borcester area in the wake of an announcement from the Royal Borcester Hospital.
This was my first opportunity to speak with Mrs Lashmore since I had learned of the fate of the bridesmaids. I collared her at the end of morning Assembly.
"Well?" I said.
"Well what, Headmistress?"
What was wrong with all these people? Can't they read my mind?
"Why are all my bridesmaids in Maternity? Why did no one tell me?"
"It was the only place with enough room for them. We've put an extra couple of beds in each of the wards and we're using the nursery for their classes. But with respect, Miss Gruntworthy, someone must have told you, or you wouldn't know."
"The girls told me! Apparently it was that Clitress; it was her idea."
"Not exactly. She insisted that the bridesmaids be kept incommunicado. As it happens there were only five girls in Maternity at the moment."
"Yes, it's shameful," I commiserated. Only five. Shameful."
Mrs Lashmore glanced at her watch. "I really should be out there now."
"It's only two minutes' walk. Classes don't start until nine-thirty."
"It's not that. We lost a badger cart last night. Miss Underhill said the badger count was correct first thing this morning, but one of the badgers apparently didn't get home until after midnight without his cart."
I gave a low whistle. "Is that so?"
"So if you'll excuse me...."
It didn't matter if I excused her or not, she was off. The whole school was out of control. Fifty-six girls had been removed from regular classes without notice, one teacher was spending half her time counting badgers, and we had another teacher prowling round the woods at crack of dawn looking for missing vehicles. Crack of dawn, I thought. Clever little play on words. Crack of Dawn!
I spied Miss Underwhatever skulking down the corridor, apparently intent on escape. My excellent local knowledge enabled me to burst through the nearest fire door, scattering a group of Second Formers who were leaning against it on the outside. They fell in a tearful heap as I snarled at them and spun round to confront an astonished Miss Undies as she hurried out of the doorway into the quadrangle.
"Well?" I challenged her.
She recovered well. "Well what, Headmistress?"
I was getting used to this answer by now. "What's all this about badgers?"
"One of them was injured last night," she said, as if it were my fault. "I sat up all night with it."
"Aaaah, poor diddums!"
She stared at me wide-eyed. "Trevor's a poor dumb animal. He's done no harm. He came home scared stiff and shivering with fright. God alone knows where his little cart is; he'd run into something."
"He told you, I suppose? Trevor? Whoever calls a badger Trevor?"
"But that's his name!"
"Where are you going now? Back to the badgers' Wendy House, I suppose? Or are you off to Maternity?"
Her eyes widened even further and she shook her head slowly. "I've got the Thirds for Animal Husbandry Theory."
Well, you'd better get a move on then!" And with those cutting words I turned on my heel and strode off, scattering the girls who had fallen over a few seconds earlier. I was halfway across the quadrangle, still striding purposefully, when I realised that I was striding towards the corner where there was no entrance to the Sexual Chemistry laboratory. Luckily I was just reaching the fountain so I swung round to the right and completed three quarters of a circuit before peeling off in the appropriate direction. I don't think anyone noticed.
"Right, Animal Husbandry!" Miss Underhill snapped as she exploded into the Third Form and hurled her briefcase on to her desk. She grabbed a piece of chalk and turned to write something on the board. Unable to think of the word, she underlined it three times, threw the chalk away when it snapped in half and her fingernail screeched across the board, then whirled round and faced the cringing class. "Well?" she demanded.
"Well what, miss?" said Valentina.
"Never mind well what!"
"She's flipped!" Valentina muttered, turning to Helvetica.
"It didn't take long; she's only been here a week."
"I've been up all night with Trevor," the teacher said by way of explanation. "Who knows anything about it?"
"No, miss," twenty-one voices chanted dutifully.
"Who's Trevor?" said Valentina after a few seconds.
"Are you trying to be funny or what?"
"Is he your boyfriend, miss?" said Helvetica.
"He's a badger, you fool!"
That explained everything, of course.
"Trevor had an accident some time last night and came home without his truck. All I want to know is if any of you know what happened."
"Ah!" Valentina showed her phone to Helvetica. "That might explain this."
Helvetica tried to make sense of the terse message.
|TA 4 cReam bajr kraqhd into jampost hee! Hee|
"Is it from Sweaty Betty? Why can't she text in English?"
"I think she's saying thanks for the Cream, and that a badger crashed into a lamp post. Then she laughs. Twice."
"She said thanks for the Cream? You sent her some Cream?"
"I seem to have, yeah. It was while you were in the bathroom. I suddenly got this feeling that I ought to send some Cream to Betty. It was a bit of a surprise, actually. Anyway, I got a couple of tubs from my wardrobe and took them out into the corridor, and there was a badger there with a cart, waiting for me. As soon as I loaded the tubs on to the cart, it was off!"
"You didn't mention this last night when I came back from the bathroom."
"You didn't ask. Besides, we see badgers and carts all the time. I'm not really sure they're all there."
"What are you two muttering about?" The teacher hovered above the girls in the front row.
At that moment, Valentina's phone vibrated again in her hand. She dropped it. "Shit, that happens every time it rings! I'll never get used to it!"
"Pick it up and put it away," said Miss Underhill.
"Okay." Valentina retrieved the phone and glanced at the display. "Oooh, look, it's another message from Betty.
|Milisnt brunt my rula oo main qoad bus wisld at her|
"She says Millicent burned her ruler on the main road and a bus whistled at her." Valentina looked up at Miss Underhill to see if her explanation made any more sense to the teacher than it did to herself.
Apparently it did. "Right. Off to Maternity with you!"
"Me, miss? But...."
"And Helvetica. Both of you go to Maternity and find out what this is all about."
The two girls stood up, grateful to be avoiding this crazy lesson and its even more crazy teacher.
"Is Georgina coming with us, too, miss?" Valentina asked, to her own complete surprise.
"And the antelope?" Helvetica added, surprising herself even more.
"Of course," said the teacher, to her own complete surprise. "Collect the antelope on the way. Just give a little whistle and he'll come."
Two minutes later the three of them were outside with the antelope bounding along in front, occasionally looking over its shoulder to make sure it wasn't getting too far ahead. Every now and again, delighted to be outside, it would leap high in the air, something it couldn't do indoors without sticking its horns in the ceiling.
"What are we doing?" Georgina demanded. "I happen to enjoy Animal Husbandry."
Helvetica shook her head. "If we knew what was happening, George, we'd tell you. All we know is that we've been told to find out what this is all about."
"Find out what what's all about?"
"We'll find out," said Valentina, wholly without confidence.
They wound their way down the narrow path through the woods to Maternity and pushed open the door. They were in the nursery, where about fifty of the younger bridesmaids were staring at their exercise books and calculators. Some were shaking their heads slowly, others were weeping quietly.
"Hi, guys!" Miss Cassowary chirruped. "We've been expecting you, haven't we, girls?"
"No, miss," the class chorused dutifully.
"Well, I have, anyway. And you've even brought the antelope! Hi, antelope!"
Valentina appointed herself spokeswoman. "We're supposed to find out what's going on."
"We're doing calculations," said the teacher. "Nothing special, just Weird Stuff."
"No, we're doing that later."
Sweaty Betty, sitting alone in a corner, was waving and pointing to her phone.
Valentina rolled her eyes. "Excuse me, miss. What's the matter?" she shouted to Betty.
"I've sent you a text."
"What did it say?"
"It's a secret. About Cream."
The rest of the bridesmaids looked up with rekindled interest.
"What about Cream?"
Betty stood up and threaded her way across the classroom, leaving her colleagues fanning the air in her wake. She patted the antelope on the head, and while trying not to appear too rude, it wrinkled its nose. "Why did you bring him over here?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Valentina. "What were you going to ask about Cream?"
Betty glanced furtively round the room, seeing all her classmates pricking up their ears. "How much do we need to use?"
"I don't know. It depends how strong it is. Nobody ever knows how strong it is until they try it." She indicated something about the size of a walnut with her finger and thumb. "If it's a good batch, you only need about this much on each boob."
Betty brightened. "So we've got enough to do all of us?"
"Only if it's strong enough," Valentina repeated. "You'd better try it out on somebody unimportant first."
"Unimportant?" Betty squeaked. She was trying frantically to think who might be considered unimportant, and the only one who sprang to mind was herself. "But how can I try it out on myself on somebody unimportant if everybody's watching?"
"In the bathroom?"
Sweaty Betty shuddered. "Yuck! Why should I want to go in there?"
"Suit yourself. Do it outside after lights out. Speaking of which, what was all that stuff about Millicent on the main road?"
Betty let out a giggle. "She went out into the woods after lights out. I was watching her running around out there. Then she got lost and ended up out by the road in her nightie. And there was this bus and the driver blew his hooter and everybody on the bus looked at her. And then she came home."
Helvetica stared at Betty. "How could you see all that from here?"
"Oh, I didn't. she told us about the bus and everything when she got back. But before she got lost and disappeared, I could see her because she was carrying my ruler."
Helvetica, Valentina, Gabrielle and the antelope exchanged significant glances. "This was the ruler that got burned?" said Helvetica.
"That's the one. It's not my best one, 'cause that's plastic, and this one's wood. It's not much use now, 'cause it's only like this long."
"And how did it catch fire?" said Valentina.
"I suppose she did it with a match. I thought it was strange, 'cause she could have borrowed my Maglite instead...."
"Where's Millicent now?" Valentina demanded urgently.
"Doing private study on her bed. In Ward 2."
"See ya later!" said Valentina. "Thanks, miss!" And she led her two friends out of the nursery at a brisk canter, followed by the puzzled but unquestioning antelope.
"Where are we going this time?" Georgina wanted to know.
"To see this Millicent. She's a Fifth Former, isn't she?"
"Search me," said Helvetica. "She's got nothing special up top if she's a bridesmaid."
"We'll see about that," said Valentina. She threw open the door of the ward and they all advanced inside. There was only one girl in the room, sitting on her bed about halfway down on the left. She had both hands up inside her blouse and wore an anxious expression.
"Hi, Millicent," said Valentina.
"Hi." The girl removed her hands from under her blouse and busied herself with her books.
"Work." Fifth Formers, especially insecure ones, didn't hold long conversations with Thirds.
Valentina and her friends approached Millicent's bed, and they all examined her closely with their heads tilted to one side.
"What's that in your blouse?" said Valentina suddenly.
"Where?" Millicent dropped her book and her hands shot up to cover her boobs.
"Wow!" said Helvetica. "Somebody's been growing!"
Millicent blushed crimson. "I haven't!"
"There's nothing wrong with growing," said Helvetica. "Most girls do it eventually. Some more eventually than others, of course."
"Come on," Valentina wheedled. "Show us."
"Show you what?" Millicent's face was nearly on fire.
"Your tits, of course!"
"Do they feel hot?" said Helvetica.
"Do they tingle?" said Valentina.
"I bet they do!"
"I bet they do!"
"They don't! Well, only a little bit...."
"We'll get them out for you," said Helvetica. "Or George will."
"Who's George?" Millicent looked nervously at the antelope.
"I am," said Georgina. "I live on a farm."
"She wrestles with bulls!" said Valentina.
Helvetica grinned wickedly. "So your blouse would be no problem at all!"
Millicent backed up against the headboard and crossed her arms over her chest. "Don't!"
"Take it off, then, and you won't get hurt."
"I can't take it off. Not in front of...."
"We'll send him outside," said Valentina. She clicked her fingers at the antelope, which looked unhappily at her before slinking to the door. It looked back once, and saw that it wasn't welcome, pushed the door handle with its front hoof and went out. Some seconds later its face appeared at the window, until Valentina sternly pointed a finger at it. "There, he's gone."
"Is it tame?" Millicent asked. "Does it do whatever you say?"
"Not really," Valentina admitted. "That's never worked before."
"You've got no excuse now," said Helvetica. "Take it off!"
The unwilling striptease began. Twenty seconds later, Millicent's blouse and bra were lying on the bed.
"Mmmm, nice!" said Valentina. "May I?" Without waiting for an answer, she reached in and took a handful. "Hey, Vets, come and have a feel of these!"
"They're hot!" Helvetica burbled. "Feel them, George!"
"Bloody hell!" said Georgina. "They're getting bigger!"
"How much did you use?" Valentina demanded.
"How much Cream?" added Helvetica.
"We know you've been using it," said Helvetica.
"But we need to know how much you used, so we know how strong it is," said Valentina. "Before the rest of the bridesmaids use it. It's okay, we won't tell them you stole any."
"It's not stealing...."
"It was," said Helvetica. "And malicious damage."
Valentina gave her an extra squeeze. "To Betty's ruler. Now, how much did you use?"
"About this much. Only about a teaspoonful, only I didn't have a teaspoon so I used my hand. But I scraped most of it back into the tub."
Valentina looked at Helvetica. "Pretty strong stuff, then!"
"Yeah, we'd better warn Betty. Better still, we should add some Slower-Downer to it."
"I don't think we could do that," said Valentina. "We'll just tell her to use a teaspoonful on each girl and absolutely no more. Shit, if they all grow as much as Millicent has in half a day, there'll be questions asked."
"Tee?" said Georgina. "Why do we want to make the bridesmaids bigger anyway? Isn't the whole idea of Miss Clit keeping them all locked up in here that she can make all their little dresses and they'll all be the right size?"
Helvetica and Valentina stared at her, shaking their heads. "They have to be bigger! It's for the honour of St Cat's!"
SCHOOLGIRLS SPARK BORCESTER
BIRTH BOOM SURGE SHOCK
Our Health Correspondent
LOCAL mothers-to-be, victims of a bed shortage at the Royal Borcester Hospital, have complained to their MP, Sir Bufton Tufton, that they are unable to have babies as planned because beds in the Maternity Ward are full of pregnant schoolgirls, some as young as eleven or twelve, others somewhat older.
"What do you mean, bigger?" Miss Clitress yelled menacingly into the phone.
"You'd better get off your arse and come down here and find out," said Mrs Lashmore, surprising the bra-maker and surprising herself even more. "It's not all of them, it's just the tallest one. Millicent Ramsbottom."
"It's nearly six o' clock. I'm late for dinner already. How much bigger is she, anyway?"
"A few inches, I suppose, but it looks a lot more than that. She needs a new bra and blouse already."
Clit emitted a wail of despair. "But what about her bridesmaid's dress? I'd just finished it!"
"Well, I'd say you were lucky she grew when she did, rather than in a month's time. You've still got plenty of time to alter it to fit or maybe to fit one of the others."
"It will never fit any of the others, she's the tallest of them all. It will look like a sack of spuds. Why couldn't that excuse-for-a-headmistress have chosen forty-nine bridesmaids that were all the same height? And why did she need forty-nine bridesmaids anyway?"
"Too late to worry about that now. Just think yourself lucky it's only one girl who's grown. If some of the others started growing the way the rest of the girls in this place have, you'd really have a problem."
"Shit!" said Clit, summing up the situation. "I'd better come down there and see this disgusting child."
Sweaty Betty stuck out the pointy tip of her pink tongue and carefully doled out fifty-six little blobs of cream using a teaspoon: eight neat rows of seven.
"Why have you put it on the floor?" one girl asked.
"I daren't put it on anything else in case it catches fire. That's why I'm using this tiny spoon. A wooden spoon would catch fire as soon as it touched the stuff. Okay, guys, line yourselves up one at a time, then grab your blob and start rubbing it in."
"There's not very much," another girl sneered.
"Trust me, I'm a mathematician," said Betty. "Valentina and Helvetica said a teaspoonful each would be enough. Besides, if it isn't, I've still got a whole tub left over."
The bridesmaids and their reserves clustered round all of them topless each one bending down to scoop up a blob of Cream before hurrying away to rub it in.
Soon there were just two blobs left.
"One of these two is mine," said Betty. "Who hasn't had any?"
"Millicent isn't here," said a number of voices. "She's seeing Miss Clitress."
"I'll have it, then!" Betty crowed, to her own complete surprise, and she scooped up a blob in each hand and slapped it on to her small, conical breasts.
"Wow, it's warm!" proclaimed a score of voices.
"And it's tingly!" added almost three dozen others.
"That means it's working!" Betty shouted, massaging the Cream into her skin with both hands.
"Yeah, it's rilly-rilly strong!"
"We'd better get dressed again before anyone catches us. How soon can we wear our clothes?"
"As soon as you've rubbed it all in," said Betty the Cream Expert. "Mine's all absorbed now." She wished she had some more but decided the others would be jealous. Reluctantly she climbed into her bra, almost imagining that it was too small already. "Now, once it starts working, we've all got to tell the same story."
"Yeah, okay. It's because we're in Maternity and it must be something in the water."
"Right! Anybody getting bigger yet?"
They all inspected their blouses for signs of stress, then comforted themselves with the thought that it had only been two minutes, and no matter how strong the Cream was, it had to take longer than that.
"Don't worry, girls. By tomorrow we'll all be starting to show."
It was one of those drowsy afternoons. Jeremy had been testing the central heating and the Third Form classroom was pleasantly warm and fuggy. I had my feet on the desk, leaning back in my chair, and it was so peaceful I could easily have fallen asleep.
"Wake up, miss!"
It was Helvetica Bold, shaking my shoulder.
"Miss Clitress, miss."
"Try the bra facility," I suggested, trying to get comfortable again.
"No, miss, she's here!"
"Oh, shit!" Sure enough, Clit was standing just inside the classroom door, arms akimbo.
"Well?" she said.
"Well what?" Somehow this conversation wasn't taking the right course. "Well?" I said, seizing the initiative.
"We've got a growing girl!"
"So? This is, in case you hadn't noticed, St Catherine's High School for Growing Girls." The Third Form sniggered in the background.
"We've got a growing bridesmaid! Or rather, you have."
"Millicent Ramsbottom. Stupid name. I only fitted her for her dress yesterday and this morning she's got a forty-five inch bust."
The class booed and hissed their scorn at this underdeveloped schoolmate.
"How big was she before?" I asked, my hand straying to my crotch.
"Forty. So, as you might guess, her dress doesn't fit her any more. I am going to hand in my notice!"
"You can't! You're our corsetiere."
"That's right, corsetiere, not private dressmaker. I've got fifty-six dresses to make in a month, and I still haven't been able to finish the first because ... because of your Sexual Chemistry!" She actually spat out the last words. One thoughtful girl jumped up from her desk and applied a handful of industrial paper towel to Clit's jumper. I could have told the child she'd get no thanks for her kindness. Clit snarled at her like one of the school badgers.
"It's not necessarily Sexual Chemistry just because a girl grows. In fact, given fifty-six girls chosen entirely at random, it would be surprising if one of them didn't grow. Most of the others are the same size as each other so you'll be able to nearly mass produce them."
"What am I going to do about the one who grew, then?"
"She'll be terribly disappointed to miss the wedding. Why not make all the other little dresses, then come back to Millicent's at the end?"
Clit actually looked mollified. I'd never really thought about what the word meant before, but looking at Clit now, mollified was the word without a doubt. "I suppose there was a girl called Molly once...." I said. Clit changed her expression to mystified. "Or was it Mysti...?"
The clock struck three. As usual, Helvetica and Valentina looked anxiously ceilingwards until the striking stopped, then they exchanged a discreet high five, turning to Gabrielle and offering to do the same to her, except for the fact that she wasn't looking at them; she was rolling her eyes to the heavens.
I looked round at Clit again, but she'd gone.
"Now, girls," I stood up and walked along the front row of desks. "How about we try and help poor Miss Clitress? She's got a lot of little bridesmaids' dresses to make in time for the great day. Now I'm sure some of you can work a sewing machine?"
I was sure of no such thing, and quite rightly so. The class looked blankly at me. Eventually Georgina raised her hand.
"I can work a milking machine, miss."
"On the farm. A milking machine. We use it on the cows...."
"Of course you use it on the pissing cows!" I exploded. "I didn't think you used a milking machine on your little sisters!"
"I haven't got any little sisters, miss."
"She hasn't got any little sisters, miss," said Valentina. "I have. There's Jenufa. You should just see the tits on...."
"I know about Jenufa, thank you. Can she use a sewing machine?"
"We don't know, miss. Nobody's ever seen her."
"Why can't we buy dresses ready-made?" Helvetica asked.
"Are you crazy or what? Have you seen the price of little girls' dresses? And I need fifty-six of them!"
"You don't really need that many, miss. Most people when they get married only have a couple of bridesmaids."
"Well, I'm having forty-nine, and seven spares. And a matron of honour, so there!"
"Suit yourself, miss. But it could be the wedding of the century if they're all naked."
"It would be in Hello!, miss!" said Valentina.
"Or Voluptuous," Helvetica offered.
A discussion broke out, during which the Third Form came to the conclusion that Voluptuous magazine, being an American publication, would be extremely unlikely to feature a wedding in which forty-nine bridesmaids ranging from eleven to seventeen appeared in church naked.
"Well, ask your mothers," I ended, gathering up my books and aiming for the door so as to get a head start on the class in the rush to the school restaurant. My ploy worked. They sat there scratching their heads before asking what it was they were supposed to be asking their mothers about. "Sewing machines," I explained and as the bell sounded I was out of the door and halfway to the main exit.
"I've been thinking, Tee," said Helvetica as she completed her Maths homework, closed her exercise book and put her tongue back in.
"What about?" Valentina hadn't finished hers. "What's six nines? Where's Sweaty Betty when you need her?"
"About Sweaty Betty, as a matter of fact. I was wondering if it was such a good idea, letting her have all that Cream."
"Why? Don't you want them to have big tits?"
"I don't care if they have big tits or not. They're never likely to be as big as ours. But if Miss Clit works for a month making dresses for all of them and they're all too small, well, nobody deserves that."
Valentina sniffed. "Well, it's done now. They've got the Cream and they've probably used it."
"It's not too late. We could send them some Shrink."
"Shrink doesn't work. Have you ever heard of anyone who made Shrink work? I've only known three girls who've tried to make it: one lot turned into Love, another turned into Grow and the other one exploded."
"Girls don't explode, Tee!"
"The Shrink, not the girl!"
"Well, send them an antidote, then."
Valentina stared at her friend, mentally translating antidote to antelope and back again. "But that's boring."
"Not as boring as if Miss Gruntworthy has forty-nine naked bridesmaids. It's her big day, Tee, everything has to be perfect."
"How about stretchy tops?" Her phone, lying on the bed, chirruped a burst of Morse code. "Oops! Looks like it's too late!" She tossed the phone to Helvetica, who read the text message.
"Who else would it be?"
"Why can't she call you properly and talk about it?"
"There might be a teacher there. Or she doesn't want the other girls to hear. Look out, here comes another!"
The message was equally uninformative but rather more worrying.
How 2 stop itú
"'Bout time we took a little walk," said Valentina.
"Just tell me one thing," said Helvetica as they plodded down the well-worn path towards Maternity. Valentina hunched her shoulders, knowing what was coming. It did. "Why did we have to bring these with us again?"
Valentina regarded the antelope, bounding on ahead and Georgina, trudging along in front and frowned. "I don't know," she said. "They just came, didn't they!"
"Like every time. It must be the computer, but nobody's giving it orders to do it. It's making up its own commands now."
"But why would it do this? I thought you said it only did stuff for a reason."
"It always has a reason, but the reason may not be anything to do with St Cat's any more. I mean, we've got this antelope now and it doesn't look like it's going away. The place is a madhouse and I wish my mum an' dad had sent me to a school that wasn't overrun with wild animals."
"Where would you find another school that lets you have weekends off for sex?"
They had arrived at Maternity, where the lights were gleaming brightly through the windows. The antelope and the glum Georgina were already peering inside.
"What can you see?"
Georgina looked up. "They're all lying on their beds."
"Are their tits any bigger?" Valentina asked.
"Should they be?"
"No! Of course not!" Valentina applied her nose to the glass. The occupants were slumped in attitudes of despair on their beds, apparently engaged in homework. Sweaty Betty had a pile of exercise books a foot high, evidently work that she was doing for her schoolmates. As Valentina watched, the mathematician rubbed her chest with a distracted expression.
"What is she doing?" Helvetica asked.
"Scratching an itch. The others don't seem to be too uncomfortable. Maybe it wasn't such a strong batch of Cream after all."
"I wonder if they used it all."
Valentina looked at her friend. "Two whole tubs? I doubt it. There's enough there to do the whole school."
Helvetica sighed. "Why did you give them that much?"
"God knows. Hey, she's scratching again. Wow! Way to go, Betty!"
At that moment Betty, to the surprise of her audience, suddenly stripped off her blouse and followed it with her bra, flinging the garments aside. Then she massaged her breasts with both hands, her head flung back and her mouth open. No sound leaked through the glass but from the reaction of the other girls in the ward, she was howling at the top of her voice. Two of them advanced on Betty and silenced her with a pillow. She was still alive, her heels drumming on the mattress after her assailants had departed.
The antelope looked pleased, kicking its hind legs backwards and letting out snorts of delight.
The girls backed away from the windows and formed a huddle under the trees.
"Well," said Valentina. "What do you make of that?"
"They're bigger," said Georgina. "They only used to be half that size."
"How about the others?" said Helvetica.
"How would I know? I'm not a connoisseur of flat-chested girls' breasts!" Georgina blushed prettily in the darkness. "They did look bigger, though."
"Well, it's too late to do anything about it now," said Valentina. "And we can't get in there to get the rest of the Cream back. Come on!" She set off along the pathway.
Helvetica hurried after her. "Where are you going?"
"We're going to the IT Lab. You're going to talk to the Fuckh Machine!"
"You won't need us, then," said Georgina, breaking into a surprisingly brisk trot and rapidly disappearing among the trees ahead. The antelope went with her. It didn't like the IT Lab; the air conditioning always gave it a sore throat.
Sweaty Betty lay on her back and counted to five thousand after the lights went out. Then she slipped one leg out of bed and carefully felt for the floor. The hinge of her wardrobe door didn't squeak if she applied her weight to it. Out came the first of the Cream tubs, still just over half full. She pulled off the lid and dipped the spoon into the interior then became aware of heavy breathing behind her. She dropped the spoon in her fright, and hugged the tub to her chest in case she dropped that too.
What felt like several pairs of hands grabbed at her, spun her round and wrapped a towel round her head.
"Quick, I can't hang on to her much longer. She stinks!"
"Get the tub off her, then!"
"Got it ... no, let go, you little bitch!"
"Serves you right! Okay, I've got it, let's go!"
"Where's the spoon?"
"Never mind the spoon, we can use our fingers."
"I'm right behind you."
The pattering footsteps died away.
"Shit!" Betty unwound the towel and stared into the gloom of the ward. No sign of her attackers. The top priority was to hide the second tub of Cream before they came back and stole that as well. She lugged it out of the wardrobe and slid it under her bed. Then she had a sudden thought, slid it out again, removed the lid, grabbed an icy handful of the stuff and splodged it into her cleavage. Quickly she hid the tub and pushed it well out of sight with her foot. Still sobbing with fright she climbed into bed and massaged the Cream where it would do most good.
Mrs Lashmore inspected the bridesmaids as if they were a bad smell. She was frankly beginning to resent spending so much of her time trying to teach this assorted bunch of girls of all ages. It was like teaching seven classes at the same time. But this morning there seemed to be some of them missing.
"They're not feeling very well, miss," came the answer to her first question.
"What? All four of them?"
"Yes, miss. They got up this morning and went for a...."
"Never mind all the messy details, girl."
"Okay, miss. Then they went back to bed, miss."
"Have they seen Nurse? No, of course not, she's gone down to Borcester again. I'd better see them in a minute. Right, who else isn't here?"
Silly question, really. No hands were raised so she rephrased the question.
"Does anyone know if anyone else is missing this morning, please?"
Everyone looked round.
One girl sniffed the air and beamed with delight. "Sweaty Betty isn't here, miss."
"Don't call her that!" said Mrs Lashmore. "Who knows where she is? Anybody sleep near her? Did anyone see her in the showers this morning?"
"Please, miss, she doesn't go in the showers in the mornings. That's why she's called...."
"Was she in her bed when you left the ward? Surely someone noticed! God's sakes! You girls are the pits!"
Leaving the surprised bridesmaids staring after her, the teacher shot away and entered the echoing ward next door. Moments later she was back.
"She's not there!"
The news caused only a minor stir. Luckily, they thought, Betty hadn't gone missing yesterday, before she'd had a chance to dole out the Cream.
"Right, we've got to find her!" said Mrs Lashmore. "Split up into your original classes and search the building from top to bottom." She shuddered at the awful implications, and her instructions faltered slightly. "Don't forget to look under all the beds, in all the cupboards. If you find ... anything, report to me immediately. Upper Sixth Form, to me, please. Put your outdoor clothes on and search the woods around Maternity. You know what you're looking for, don't you?" she ended gravely.
One of the senior girls frowned. "For Sweaty Betty, miss? You said she'd disappeared?"
"Ye gods! Take your phones with you and call me if you find anything. Or every five minutes if you don't. And real phone calls, no texts, please."
Somewhat disturbingly, none of the bridesmaids had so much as moved.
"Well?" Mrs Lashmore thought that sounded familiar somehow. "What are you waiting for?" she persisted.
"You mean now, miss, or after our first lesson?"
"Now, you stupid fools!"
Giggling happily, the girls dispersed.
With a feeling of doom, Mrs Lashmore picked up the phone and began dialling a number.
"What do you mean, disappeared?" I demanded, my voice rising to a squeak. "Girls don't disappear. What have you done?"
"I haven't done anything!"
"No, I mean what have you done?"
"Oh. I've split the girls up into groups of seven or eight and they're searching the building and the woods outside. They're all going to report back by phone when ... if they find the ... the body."
"Sheesh! You haven't told them they're searching for a corpse, have you?"
"I don't think so. They're just looking for ... for anything."
"We need dogs!" I decided. "Get off the phone, I'll call you back."
Then I called Smegs's number. It took ages before she answered.
"What the fuck do you want? I'm in the middle of Sex here!"
"Sweaty Betty's disappeared. Where can we get some dogs?"
Somewhat surprisingly she hung up on me. Smegs is getting so irrational these days. I tried the number again.
"Dogs?" she yelled. "Dogs?"
"Stop repeating 'dogs' over and over again. Where can we find some?"
"You've filled the school with animals already. What do you want dogs for?"
"To find Betty's body, of course."
"She's not dead, is she?"
"How would I know? But the dogs will find her."
"What kind of dogs?"
What kind of stupid question was that, I thought. "What kind of stupid question was that? Any dogs. Just dogs. Greyhounds. Bloodhounds, whatever the stupid things are called."
Smegs hung up again. I assumed she was calling the police and getting the Dog Squad or whatever it was called sent to St Cat's as a matter of urgency. Smegs always knows what to do.
I shouted for Miss Labia to bring some coffee.
Five minutes later, as I revolved in my chair with my feet on the old stained green leather, Smegs burst in.
"I said it first," I said. "Well?"
"Is that fresh coffee?" Smegs asked, eyeing my mug greedily.
Miss Labia appeared on cue, or slightly before, and handed a coffee to Smegs.
"Now, what have you done about organising these dogs?"
"I've sent my Sex class to help Mrs Lashmore. She's co-ordinating the search operation."
"But they're not dogs! Which Form are they?"
"Well, maybe they are dogs, at that. Now what else do we need to do?"
We sipped our coffee in companionable silence for a while.
"Excellent, as usual," Smegs said.
"Mm-hmm. How about her parents? They ought to be told."
"Told what? That their daughter has vanished from her bed and we're combing the woods for her dismembered body? Has anyone thought of looking in the bathroom yet?"
"It's Sweaty Betty," I pointed out. "She doesn't use the bathroom."
"What does she do, shit in the woods? Have the girls looked in the bogs? Maybe she's just constipated."
"You can't say 'just constipated'," I said. "It's not very pleasant, not being able to do a poo. More?" I raised my mug.
"Sounds like a plan."
The secretary appeared with a laden tray before backing out with our empty mugs.
"Good health! Ow, it's fucking hot!"
"You shouldn't gulp it like that," I told her. "Sip it gently."
We sipped gently for five minutes or so, then the phone rang. I stared at it.
"Who do you think it is?"
"Why not answer it and find out?"
"But it might be ... bad news...."
"Oh, for God's sake!" Smegs snatched up the handset. "Hello? No, it's Miss Mountains. Yes, she's here. Well?"
There was a long silence while whoever was at the other end of the line poured out her autobiography.
"Okay. Right. Yeah, call me back."
Smegs took another drink of coffee.
"You know, this really is excellent coffee!"
"Who was it on the phone?"
Sip. "Oh, nobody."
"Nobody? You were talking to her for five minutes!"
"Oh, all right. It was Sweaty Betty."
"Sweat ... but it can't have been. It must have been somebody impersonating her voice. Someone malicious."
"Why can't it have been her?"
"Because we're looking for her body, of course!"
"Her body isn't lost. She's still got it. In fact, she seems to have rather more of it than she had before."
I felt a chill run down my spine as far as the cleft between my buttocks. "What do you mean?"
"She's grown. That's why she's hiding."
Smegs laughed and sipped her coffee again. "There'd be no point in hiding and then telling us where she is, would there? She's safe, that's all that matters."
"Is she on the school premises. Is she outside? What is she wearing? She'll catch her death of cold out there...."
"If I know Sweaty Betty, she's a sensible girl. She won't be outside in late November. She'll be wrapped up snug and warm and she'll have organised herself a supply of food and water. No coffee, unfortunately, but she's probably okay."
"Was that Betty again?" said Helvetica.
Valentina put the phone back in her cleavage. "Yeah. Saying thanks for the food and could she have a bacon sandwich tomorrow morning. With mushrooms. Medium-sized ones. She said she's okay for lunch and dinner but she'd like a hot breakfast again tomorrow."
Helvetica shivered. "It can't be very nice up there."
"Noisy, but it will be warm and dry."
"It won't be noisy, she can't hear the clock."
"I can't imagine being up there without being half deafened," said Valentina.
"I can't imagine being up there without that rotten antelope! Did she say anything else? How big are they now?"
"Not a bad size, she said. She'll be wanting another bra, but she couldn't decide whose bra would fit her. She's not as big as me, of course. Not as big as you, either not yet, anyway. She thought maybe one of George's might fit her by tomorrow, assuming she keeps on growing at the same rate."
"That must have been some strong stuff."
"She said it came out of the second tub. Apparently some girls stole the rest of the first one. We'll see her tomorrow, anyway. We'll make an excuse and slip up there during old Underpants' class. We'll tell her we need to check the clock again."
Helvetica pulled a face. "That means we'll have to take Georgina and the antelope with us again."
"I don't know, but we will."
"That's okay," said Valentina. "Georgie can bring one of her spare bras with her. And a spare battery for her phone; hers is the same model as Betty's."
"We're calling off the search," Mrs Lashmore held up her hands and addressed the bridesmaids. Most of them were covered with dust and cobwebs; the others had dried leaves in their hair.
There were sounds of rebellion from the troops.
"Have they found her, then?" asked one girl.
"She's all right; she's safe," said Mrs Lashmore.
"Pity. We've spent all morning looking for her body, and now she says she's safe."
Mrs Lashmore was shocked. "How dare you talk about a classmate like that? You wouldn't like it if it were you, lying out there in the weeds, being eaten by badgers...."
"But she hasn't been."
"No, that's true."
"Like I said, it's a pity. The little cow!"
"Of course," I said, reclining in my chair and sipping my coffee. "I always knew she'd turn up safe and sound."
"Oh, of course!" said Smegs with a somewhat unpleasant sneer. "You never really intended to call out the police with their dogs, did you?"
"It was just a sensible precaution, in case any of the search party got lost in the woods while they were on their panic-stricken wild goose-chase."
"What is a wild goose-chase?"
"I don't know. Something the police are always talking about. A bit like a toothcomb, I suppose. Or a fingertip search. Where is she hiding, anyway?"
"Does anyone know where she is? How is she getting food?"
"I imagine she's made arrangements about her food. It's every St Cat's girl's first priority after all. At a rough guess, I'd say there are two girls who know exactly where their sweaty little friend is."
"You mean Helvetica and Valentina?"
"The same. Who else would you expect?"
"I suppose you're right. How should we punish them?"
"What for? For keeping their classmate alive? She'll come out as soon as her bust stops growing. Luckily, she's the only bridesmaid so far who has actually had to go into hiding over it. The others seem to be able to live with it."
The icy chill again.
"Live with what?"
"Breast Expansion. I know it has happened to us all some more than others but when it happens in earnest for the first time it comes as a bit of a shock to any girl. Even Millicent Ramsbottom has come to terms with it, and I thought her growth was pretty extreme."
I wiped the sweat from my brow. Smegs continued.
"Of course, it may be that in Betty's case, we're talking about another level entirely."
"Who knows? A stronger batch of Grow...?"
"It's not called that any more. Are you saying the bridesmaids might have got some over there?"
"Some Grow?" She does it just to annoy me. "They must have got something, it stands to reason. A closed-off group of girls, the eight flattest-chested girls in each of seven Forms, and suddenly ten of them start sprouting big tits...."
"Ten?" I shrieked, clutching at the groin.
"At least ten, so I understand. Some are bigger than others. I'd be guessing again, but I'd be very surprised if all fifty-six of them didn't start busting out of their blouses by the end of the week. Some more than others, of course."
"Oh, of course!" Another icy chill. "Shit, I'd better call her dad."
"Whose dad? Not Betty's?"
"Who else? I called him yesterday to tell him not to panic if he heard anything about his daughter's corpse being found in the woods, half-eaten by badgers. Just to set his mind at rest."
"I can imagine it would, yes. Don't tell me. You mean you haven't called him again since then to tell him Betty is okay?"
"No, I've just told you, what with one thing and another, I forgot."
"And he hasn't called you to find out if there's been any more news?"
"No. I told him not to bother, and I'd call him as soon as she'd been found."
"He probably had a heart attack," said Smegs. "It's all right, though, the paramedics are very good these days. As long as they got to him in time. I wonder if Labia's got any fresh coffee. That last mug was a trifle bitter."
I shouted for more and it duly arrived.
"Have you any idea where Betty might be?" I asked when we had taken our first few token sips.
"If Miss Bold and Miss Nightingale hid her? Ten to one she's up in the clock tower."
I winced. "But the noise!"
"What noise?" Smegs asked with her face carefully blank. "The clock hasn't struck for years."
I'm never sure if Smegs can hear it or not. It would be just like her to insist that the clock never strikes even though she can hear it perfectly well herself. A thought came to me.
"How does she go to the loo?"
Smegs shrugged her shoulders. "Not our problem," she said. "She should have thought of that before she went up there."
Sometimes I think that woman has a heart of stone. It is just one of her least endearing characteristics.
"I need a toilet," Betty whimpered.
"Haven't you been since you came up here?" said Helvetica.
"Only for a pee. Not a serious one."
"And how long has it been?" said Valentina.
"Nearly two days. More than one day, anyway."
Georgina turned away in disgust. "Whose idea was it to hide her up here, without a bog?"
"Can you think of anywhere else to hide her?" Valentina asked. "Miss Smart-Arse?"
"Why hide her anyway? Miss Bloody Clever-Clogs. Why couldn't she stay down in Maternity with regular meals and bogs and everything."
"These, that's why!" Valentina yanked Betty's shoulders back, thrusting the unwilling girl's breasts outwards. "Bloody hell, they're big!"
"Put them away," Georgina mumbled.
"Did you bring that bra, Georgie?" Betty asked in a tiny voice.
"Won't fit you!"
"Not round the back, it won't. But it might fit at the front."
"Sheee, the little cow!"
"She can't help it if she's grown, Georgina. Let her try the bra on."
"Yes, please, Georgina!"
"She's said please, George. Go on, let her try it on."
Georgina dipped into rucksack and brought out the bra. She tossed it to Betty without looking at her. Betty caught it deftly and began to shrug out of her blouse. Then she stopped. "There's a man in here!"
The other three girls looked round anxiously, or hopefully, as the case might be. "A man?" said Valentina, backing away a pace or two.
"There!" Betty pointed.
"That's an antelope, Betty!"
"He's a man antelope."
"But he ... it's asleep. And he ... it won't be interested in you. Not like that, anyway. He sees little girls all the time. And big ones, and they don't affect him."
Betty didn't look convinced but Valentina was persuasive. Besides, there was a nice new bra to try on. She threw the blouse on the floor and hurried to stuff her brand new pointy melons into the bra cups. It took her quite some time.
"Are you enjoying yourself?" Helvetica asked her, watching her small classmate poking and prodding bulges of breast out of sight into the satin cups. The more of it she stuffed away, the more of it burst out somewhere else.
"It isn't going to fit, is it?" said Betty mournfully.
"No," said Valentina. "And you know what that means?"
"You're going to have to come out of hiding and see Miss Clitress."
"I can't!" Betty wailed. "She'll kill me. She said she was going to kill any girl who didn't fit her bridesmaid's dress."
Valentina looked thoughtful. "I don't think Miss Clit has ever ack-shully killed anybody. Not yet, at least."
They all watched as Betty slowly removed the too-small bra and handed it back to Georgina, then pulled on her blouse again.
The show was over. On the floor, in the corner, the man antelope closed its eyes again.
"I've been thinking," said Valentina. "'Bout Miss Clit."
"You think she might start killing the girls for getting bigger?"
"Nah, she always gets sopping wet when she's measuring a really big pair of tits. But this is different. Ol' Grunt has dumped on her this time, ordering fifty-six bridesmaids' dresses on top of all her usual work. No wonder she's mad. And now, Betty's started making them all grow!"
"Betty's...? But you were the one who gave her the Cream!"
"It's done now. For all I knew, the Cream wouldn't have worked. But I've got an idea. Let's go and see her."
"See Clitress? And confess? I'm not going there, you can see her yourself!"
"It's not confessing really, I've ... got a preposition to put to her."
The word didn't sound quite right to Helvetica, but she shrugged it off. "What are you going to do?"
"You'll find out."
Ten minutes later they were outside the door of the bra facility with the corsetiere swearing at them from inside.
"Please, Miss Clitress! We've got some good news and some bad news."
There was the sound of heavy breathing close by the door. "What's the bad news?" said Clit.
"I knew she'd ask for the bad news," Valentina whispered to her friend. "It's not really bad. In fact, it's quite exciting."
"What sort of exciting?"
"Like wet panties exciting?"
There was a silence, then the key turned in the lock and several bolts were drawn back. The door opened an inch or two. "Wet panties?"
The door closed behind them.
"Why do you lock it and put all those bolts across?" Helvetica enquired.
Clit ignored her. "What was the good news?"
"Tell you later," said Valentina. "The bad news is that Sweaty Betty has grown a set of big tits."
Clit slumped into her chair and nodded her head slowly. "She's a bridesmaid, right?"
"Yes. And some of the others are bigger, too."
Clit didn't say a word. As the girls stood and watched her, they realised that tears were running down her face, dripping unheeded on to her lap. They'd seen all kinds of emotions from the corsetiere before, most of them angry, but they had never seen her reduced to tears before. It was an embarrassing sight.
"Don't cry, Miss Clit," Valentina pleaded.
Miss Clitress began to howl, a low, feral sound like part of a pack of wolves.
"I've thought of something you can do about the bridesmaids' dresses," Valentina continued.
"It's no use. I've made twenty of them already. They'll all be useless. It's all wasted. It's not worth trying to go on. I've got girls waiting for bras and the poor kids have to endure pain and lack of support because I can't find any time to help them because I'm too busy making fucking bridesmaids' fucking dresses! I've started seeing them in my sleep!"
Helvetica nudged her friend's arm. "Let's come back later, Tee...."
"Don't you want the good news, Miss Clit?" said Valentina.
"There isn't any. There'll never be any good news again."
"Why not let them wear their school uniforms for the wedding? They'd look smart and tidy. And some people like school uniforms."
"I've thought of something better," said Helvetica. "Something the Fuckh Machine said a couple of weeks ago."
Clit looked sharply at her. "I know I used bad language just now, but there's no excuse for you to do the same."
"No, it's a computer. That's its name. And I've just realised we've all been making a mistake."
"We know the Fuckh Machine's a mistake," said Valentina. "But it's too late to change it now."
"No! Maternity! You know the machine said...."
"This computer talks?" said Clit.
"Not to everybody. But it talks to us. And it sends messages to Miss Labia's computer...."
"Labia!" Clit snarled. "She's a total waste of space. The times I've told her to tell Gruntworthy something, and nothing ever happens. I've been up to her office and shouted at her to keep badgering Miss Gruntworthy about using a sensible bra sizing system. Nothing! Nada!"
Helvetica's eyes opened wide. "You told her to keep badgering?" She shook her head before continuing. "That explains it! The machine doesn't listen to everything people say. It only hears the first few words, and when it's got enough words, it switches off and thinks about something else. It's got the attention span of a goldfish. So it heard you telling Miss Labia to keep badgering. And what is she doing now? She comes to school in a badger cart! That confused the machine, so it tried to use badgers instead of bras. It nearly dumped Valentina in the fountain. And now, it's sent all the bridesmaids down to Maternity, when what it really meant to say was...."
"That was my idea!" Valentina whooped. "All the bridesmaids should be in maternity dresses!"
They stood and watched for Clit's reaction.
She shook her head sadly. "You can't have forty-nine bridesmaids wearing maternity dresses. Not in church! The vicar will think they're all pregnant."
"What does it matter what the vicar thinks?" said Helvetica. "They're not pregnant, are they."
"Judge not, that ye may not be judged," Valentina added solemnly.
Clit was sitting up straight. She stood up and darted to her her work bench. I've only got this much material left. Maternity dresses are big, but they're simpler. It might be enough. And we've got some elastic to gather them above the bust. I could use the standard St Cat's maternity pattern...."
The corsetiere was almost dancing round the bench in her excitement.
"I think it will work! What does it matter what the vicar thinks anyway? Oh, girls, thank you, thank you, thank you!"
And to Helvetica and Valentina's squirming embarrassment, she grabbed them in turn by the cheeks and planted wet kisses on their stunned, half-open mouths. Then she grabbed their hands and drew them into a whirling dance. Round and round they went, in and out of the legs of the Dangle Table, round the work bench and back to the door. Clit opened it and flung it wide.
"Off you go, children! I have work to do!"
I'd thought Clit was falling behind with her exciting project, making little dresses for all of my bridesmaids. She'd done nothing but complain ever since I told her she had to do it. But now, on a Monday morning, with two weeks left before the wedding, and here she was grabbing me after morning Assembly with a big sickening smirk on her face.
"All done!" she said.
"Your bridesmaids' dresses. All done." She twirled round. "Anyway, I can't stand around here all day. I have bras to make. Laters!"
She stopped, having flounced about five yards away, and turned round.
"You're wearing a skirt!" I accused her.
"I know. It's my new image. See ya!"
Stunned, I drifted away in search of my first class. I suppose it would have been too much to expect of Clit to line up all the bridesmaids for my inspection, but at least she could have offered. I felt strangely let down. Surely, in a well-organised society, the last of the dresses shouldn't have been ready until midnight on the night before the wedding.
"Relationships!" I boomed as I blundered into the Sexual Chemistry Lab in a distracted manner, sowing confusion in the minds of the class who were expecting a fun-filled forty minutes of slight explosions and blazing spoons. "Shit, I brought the wrong books," I explained. "Just carry on, then. Byeee!" And I left them to it.
I was thirty yards away when I realised that the Sexual Chemistry Lab had been curiously full of girls. It was the Fourth Form if I remembered correctly; as boring a bunch of girls as you would never wish to meet again in all your life. But the last time I had seen them all together in one place, there had been only twenty-two of them. The rest, naturally enough, were down in Maternity.
I darted back into the lab and found them all still there. Without a word I counted the heads. Thirty. Identifying the bridesmaids was the easy part; they were the ones with the flattest chests. That was the theory, at least.
Obeying my barked orders without question the spineless wretches paraded round and round the lab while I stared at them. Time passes extraordinarily quickly when you're enjoying yourself and, sure enough, the booming of the clock was accompanied by the harsh jangle of the school bell. Within seconds the Sexual Chemistry Laboratory was empty, innocent of schoolgirls. It was as if they had never been. But one thing was clear. There were no girls I could have pointed to and said, "she's got a flat chest!"
Thirty minutes later to the bewilderment of all the other teachers and the delight of the First Form to whom I was scheduled to be teaching Basic Relationships I had carried out a lightning tour of the school.
All classes were more or less complete, the bridesmaids more or less all present and correct. There was still no sign of Sweaty Betty but Valentina and Helvetica assured me there was absolutely no problem; she was doing fine and she'd be back just as soon as her bust had stopped growing, like any day now.
Back in my office I sat down with the most recent list of students and their measurements, pencilling in some amendments of my own. As near as I could estimate, the average bust measurement for the whole of St Cat's had increased by a useful one and a half inches, not counting Sweaty Betty's growth. You could probably rate this as a result.
There was just one nagging thought at the back of my mind. All this growth was excellent, and not before time in some cases, but it might entail a whole lot more work for Clit. She seemed so proud to have completed all the bridesmaids' dresses so far ahead of schedule. If she was going to have to alter them all again, I could only hope against hope that she'd have them all ready in time for the wedding. I'd never forgive the bitch if she didn't.
"Betty's sent another text," said Valentina.
"She wants to come out again?" Helvetica asked. "Maybe we should let her out if she's finished growing."
"Yeah, but has she?"
"You ... you haven't ... you didn't take her some more Cream?"
"Not since yesterday," said the indignant Valentina. "It's the only way to make sure she's absolutely stopped getting bigger. Max her out."
"But she's pretty big now. Even in a preggo dress she's still going to look silly when she's standing next to the other bridesmaids. Miss Gruntworthy chose all the ones with the flattest chests, and even though they have all grown a bit, Betty's grown miles compared to them."
"So? Maybe ol' Grunt will stop her being a bridesmaid. Use one of the spare girls."
"That will break Betty's heart. You know she's got her mind set on being a bridesmaid. Apart from maths, it's the only thing she's ever really done with her life."
"So really, we ought to keep her in the tower until the morning of the wedding, in that case, so it will be too late to stop her being a bridesmaid."
"We can't do that! What if we got so excited by the wedding and everything that we forgot to let her out? She might be in there all through the Christmas holidays! She'd starve to death and it would be all our fault. We'd get detention and have to write loads of lines."
"Oh, no, the antelope would let her out," Valentina said, to her own complete surprise.
Helvetica gasped. "That's just what I was thinking!"
"We can't leave her in there, though, can we?" said Valentina.
"Come on, then. We'll bring her up here and she can sleep in her own bed tonight. She'll enjoy that."
"I'd enjoy sleeping in any bed after being locked up in the clock tower for two weeks!" The two girls got up, abandoning their homework, and went out of the dorm into the corridor.
They had just started down the stairs when Helvetica stopped in her tracks. "Where are Georgina and...?"
"We don't need them, we're only going to fetch Betty back." But Valentina bit her lip with uncertainty. This was their first visit to the clock tower for literally ages without having Georgina and the antelope along with them. There was certainly a feeling of something being missing.
It all seemed to be going quite well, despite the ill omens. They ducked behind the grand pianos and into the secret passageway.
"It's going to be great not having to come along here every day," said Helvetica, panting with the effort of squeezing through the narrow space.
Then they emerged into the comparative spaciousness of the area beneath the clock tower and let out a pair of gasps in stereo.
"How did you get here?" said Valentina.
Georgina shook her head. "I don't know. I don't even know why I'm here." She indicated the antelope which was already asleep in its usual corner. "And he was already up here when I arrived."
"Are we leaving now?" said Betty, almost hopping up and down, although the fact that she wasn't wearing a bra made such movement uncomfortable.
"Yes," said Valentina. "It's time to go back. You can see Miss Clit tomorrow for your new bra." They watched as Betty gathered up her few belongings and pronounced herself ready to leave.
"Wheeee! And to try on my bridesmaid's dress? It might need altering now I'm so ... well-developed."
Valentina shook her head. "No, that won't be necessary. But that's tomorrow. Right now, we'll find you some food first, then go back to the dorm. Then you can have a shower before bed."
"Oooh, wow! A comfortable bed at last!" Betty chose to disregard the offer of a shower first.
"Not quite. You've got to help me with my maths homework first."
I had the Third Form for something or other the following morning. It might have been Sexual Relationships, or Sex Theory, or Sex Whatever. At this time of year it didn't really matter all that much. After all, it would be Christmas in no time at all, and it was too cold and damp for the girls to be wandering around the fields trying to get laid at Lord Ted's. So I'd decided on a free-for-all question-and-answer session about boyfriends. These sessions usually enabled me to pick up a few useful hints.
Betty's habitual seat was right in the middle of the front row. I had grown so used to the seat being empty that I did a double-take when I came into the classroom and found it occupied by a strange girl.
I wasn't having this kind of disruptive behaviour, even if it was nearly Christmas. "Go and sit in your own seat, please," I snapped as I turned to the blackboard and started writing the magic words SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS. I'd only got as far as the first three letters when I felt a familiar icy chill down the spine. I turned round. "That's Betty's seat," I blurted, even as I recognised the familiar face. "Oh, it's you, Betty. Well, why not stand up and let us all have a good look at you!"
She stood up, and performed a little twirl for good measure.
"Holy shit!" I grated. "Turn round again! No, you fool, turn round so I can see your front!"
She did, and I had to sit down.
"Please, miss," said Georgina after a couple of minutes. "Can she sit down now? Or at least, can she put her arms down? I'm only two yards away from her armpits."
"What?" I said, regaining consciousness. Betty was still standing, her shoulders thrown back, arms above her head, pointing one of her big guns in my general direction. The other one was aimed over my right shoulder and presumably would have marmalised the blackboard if she pulled the trigger. They were an impressive pair, rather reminiscent of rugby balls. Single-ended rugby balls, if you like. There comes a point where sports equipment can no longer be used to describe breasts. "Are you wearing a bra?" I continued after a pause.
"Who, miss? Me?" retorted the outraged Georgina.
"Of course not, oaf! Her. Betty."
"No, miss. Valentina said I can see Miss Clitress this afternoon. I wanted to try on my bridesmaid's dress as well, now my boobs are so big, but Valentina said it wouldn't be necessary. A bra's not necessary, either, but apparently we're s'posed to wear them for some reason."
"Oh, really?" So Valentina Nightingale was dictating measurement policy now, was she? I realised that Betty still had her arms raised, and thus causing distress to her nearest neighbours. "You can sit down now, Betty. And put your arms down."
There was a feeling of general relief as the class resumed breathing.
I was seriously considering awarding Betty a few million lines for casting aspersions on the school rules governing support of the breasts, but thought, nah, sod it. She was right, when you came to think of it. She didn't need a bra; its only purpose would be to flatten them slightly.
"Has anyone measured you since you got bigger?"
Betty swelled with pride at still being the centre of attention. "No, miss. I can't do it myself 'cause I can't reach. I was thirty-five before. I must be way past forty now. Way past!"
"All right, girl, there's no need to make a meal of it. Just let me know your measurements as soon as Miss Clitress has seen you. Just for the school records, you understand. The school records have to be constantly updated, of course."
"Oh, of course, miss!" Betty said with a smirk.
Why is it that as soon as a girl grows a decent set of tits, she turns into a right smart-arse?
"You mustn't see him until you get to the church, or it's bad luck," said Miss Labia, as she brought another tray of coffee into the office.
"I only want to see if he's remembered to unlock the garage so the band could get the piano out."
"Give us credit for something, Shan," said Smegs. "The band is already to march, piano, guitars and all. The band are in their best uniforms and before you ask, it's not the full band, so there will be a hundred or so girls not doing anything else, so they can hang around outside the church."
"Are you sure?" I pestered her.
"Why don't you just concentrate on getting married and let us get on with our jobs? Coffee, Mr Gruntworthy?"
"Oh, thanks." Daddy stayed by the window, looking down into the quadrangle. I could tell by the look on his face he was hoping for a sighting of some of the girls. His gaze flickered around the empty quadrangle, then up to the windows of the dorms. Then he stiffened and grasped the sides of the windowframe. "There's a goat out there! A bloody great goat! On a piece of string, with a girl on the end of it."
"That's only the school antelope," said Smegs. "The girl is Barbarella. She's his handler."
"The school has its own antelope?"
"Why not? It's the school mascot."
"B-but, isn't it dangerous?"
"It's never hurt anyone yet. It's a little sweetie." Smegs and Daddy watched it for a while. I could see by the way their eyes were moving slightly up and down that the antelope was practising its high jumps, which it liked to do beside the fountain in the quadrangle.
"There must be something you've all forgotten," I insisted. "What about the disco for after the reception?"
"Are you wearing your dress?" said Smegs without turning round.
"Good. I'm wearing mine. The bridesmaids are all wearing theirs. Your dad's got his best suit on. No doubt your mother's wearing her biggest hat. Jeremy told me the Jaguar is full of petrol, its battery is fully charged and the back seat is free of industrial paper towel and soiled panties. Mr Evans's son is just giving it a final polish; he's driven it round the village this morning to get used to the gearbox. The chef arrived an hour ago and started laying out the restaurant for the grand wedding lunch. The disco man will be here at eleven and the keys are in the door of the Assembly Hall. Anything else? I don't think so. Whoever organised this wedding seems to have made a pretty good job of it."
"Smart-arse!" I scolded her.
"I need a scotch," said Daddy.
"Make that two, Labia," said Smegs.
"What about me?" I said.
"You're only the bride. You're supposed to be relaxing, not getting drunk. You've got another hour before the car arrives. Why don't you lie down for a while?"
"I need a pee."
Boom-Boom wasn't her real name, of course, but it was a way more memorable name than the one her parents had given her. Nobody would ever have remembered a mousy-looking girl with a name like Mandy Armstrong. Mandy was neither one thing nor the other. An undistinguished Sixth Former, she was below average height and most importantly of all at St Cat's neither very big nor very small in the bust. A slightly stocky girl with a forty-five inch bust, she wasn't small enough up top to be a bridesmaid and she had zero chance of ever becoming a Head Girl. She was nothing special academically, and failed absolutely to stand out from the crowd. Even when, after pestering her parents for months, she discarded her glasses and began wearing contacts, nobody gave her a second glance.
When the St Cat's band was formed, Mandy joined as did all the girls in the school. Except that none of the other girls wanted to play the bass drum. Too much like hard work, was the general opinion. It was Miss Lundberg who finally put her foot down after practically tearing her hair out offering the bass drummer's job to every class. "You!" she shouted. "Plump girl in the third row. You're the new drummer. Collect your drum from the school office this afternoon. You can start practising this evening."
And so it came to pass that people began to notice the presence of Mandy Armstrong. She wrote home to her mother describing her new job and the band uniform, and at the half term holiday she even took her drum home with her, bursting with pride as she squeezed it through the doors of the train and struggled with it down the aisle to her seat, where it rested on the table in front of her, rolling gently backwards and forwards, for the whole of the ninety-mile journey.
After the long weekend at home, she reappeared at the first rehearsal of the St Cat's band wearing her new drummer's hat, a marvellously tall creation in scarlet with gold trimmings and an elaborate gold tassel that bounced as she marched. Her drum gleamed in new red, white and blue paint, its chrome polished until it dazzled the eye. Her band uniform was crisply pressed.
The rest of the band stared at her open-mouthed. And they named her Boom-Boom.
Now, on the morning of the wedding, the band stood in the winter sunshine outside the entrance of the main school building, being addressed by Mrs Lashmore.
"Pay attention, everybody! Thank you, girls. Now, we're going to march to the church, then after the wedding, we'll march back to the school. By the time we get to the church the wedding will have started already, so we won't be playing our instruments. We'll be saving all our efforts for the triumphant march back, won't we!"
The band gave a cheer. Since most of the instruments had been taken away by the badgers and sold, there were no more than forty girls in the band, but they were a proud bunch. Probably the only school marching band in the country, if not the whole world, which could boast a grand piano and four generator-powered electric guitars, they produced a truly unique sound. Their trumpeter had grown in confidence with practice and with Boom-Boom laying down a solid beat they had been marching round and round the school grounds for weeks, looking and sounding almost magnificent.
The antelope, attached to its handler Barbarella Sinkinson by its extending dog leash, pawed the ground, eager for the parade to begin. Being an antelope, it didn't much like parades but it knew they were more fun than standing around on the end of a piece of string.
"Right, we leave at ten-thirty," said Mrs Lashmore. "As soon as the clock strikes."
Ninety-five percent of the band looked puzzled, craning their necks to stare up at the clock tower. It said there were still two minutes to go but only a couple of the girls had ever heard it make any noise whatsoever.
Boom-Boom took a deep breath, straightened her hat and adjusted the weight of the drum on its straps. She caressed the skins of the drum with her drumsticks and gave a quiet little drum-roll just to get the feel of it. Boom-Boom was ready for her biggest day so far at St Cat's. The biggest day of her life.
We arrived ten minutes late, which felt about right. Daddy was nervous, and slightly drunk. I needed another pee but I wasn't going to get one now. There was a kind of sea of fluffy pink on the path outside the church, which resolved itself as the Jaguar got closer into a mass of girls. I studied them as the car came to a halt.
"They're all pregnant!" I screamed. "My bridesmaids! All of them. Every last one of them is in the club!"
Daddy made soothing noises at me. "They can't be." Then he caught sight of them, and blurted out, "Fuck me, they are!"
"Daddy, how could you?"
"It's not my fault. I didn't bang them all up. Although I wouldn't have minded," he added, sotto voce.
"Their tits all look bigger, too," I said after more detailed inspection. "I deliberately chose the forty-nine smallest. It's most disappointing."
"There are more than forty-nine girls there," said Daddy. He seemed to be making a selection for later. "There are fifty-six," he said after a while with an air of certainty.
"That means the spares are here as well. Can't Smegs organise anything properly? Do I have to do everything myself?"
"It's the art of management. Delegation. You must delegate. Not now, though. Getting married is one thing you have to do for yourself." And he climbed out of the car and hurried round to my side to open the door. I got out and smoothed the creases out of my dress.
Smegs had appointed Sweaty Betty to be the bridesmaid who held up the back of my dress to keep it from trailing through the mud. Betty accordingly wobbled and bounced her way round behind me and hoisted up the hem with both hands. I staggered back a pace or two but recovered.
"All ready, girls?"
"Good. Let's get inside."
"What is it, girl?"
"After you're married, miss, do we still have to call you miss, miss?"
"Of course you do, you little fool! You pregnant little fool!"
I was dimly aware of the girl bursting into tears as I spun on my heel and advanced up the path to the church door, with Daddy plunging along behind, trying to catch up. Then we were inside, in the gloom, with the organ softly playing and hundreds of people crammed into the seats. The vicar would be pleased with his collection today. We processed up the aisle to the strains of a tune I failed to recognise and came to a halt next to Jeremy, who hadn't looked over his shoulder once. I wondered how many brides must have arrived at the church to find the wrong bridegroom waiting for them, and how many of them had complained to the vicar about it. Complaining isn't a very British thing to do, after all.
Daddy came up alongside. He had hiccups. Behind me, I could hear feminine rustlings and muffled grunts and curses as fifty-six buxom and probably pregnant bridesmaids crammed themselves into the aisle. They must have squeezed themselves in somehow, because I heard the great door slam behind them. Then we were off and running.
"School, ah-ten-shun! By the left, quick march! Left ... left ... left, right, leeeaahft. That's good. Stay in control of that antelope, Barbarella. Excellent! Left wheel!"
The school marching band made a stirring sight as the pale sunlight caught their instruments. Boom-Boom's drum sparkled. The antelope, naked apart from its dog-collar, pranced at the head of the formation.
They followed the curving path away from the school, past the badgers' Wendy House and on as far as the main gates where they swung out into the road and turned right, heading for the village church.
Startled bystanders looked up at the spectacle of the forty schoolgirls as they approached. The band made an astonishing sight: the white grand piano rocking gently on its two-wheeled cart, dragged along by four straining Sixth Formers; the electrical generator bouncing over the bumps on its big wheels, cables slung from the guitar amplifiers to the silent instruments slung round their players' shoulders. Those musicians not directly involved with the haulage of such absurdly large and unwieldy instruments carried their trumpet, their kazoos and their triangles at the ready. And the whole ensemble was headed by the school antelope, bounding ten feet into the air, with Barbarella skittering about on the end of its leash, trying to steer a straight course while spending more than half her time staring skywards.
"School ... halt!"
"...Let him now speak or forever hold his peace."
I'd been to several weddings and these lines never fail to bring about a certain feeling of tension in the church. The vicar looked up with hope and expectation, but the voice, when it came, was nevertheless unexpected.
I turned round, somewhat crossly. "What do you want?" I hissed at Betty who was holding up one hand. Her other hand, I observed astutely, was clutching her groin. "Oh, no, not now! Why didn't you go before you came out?"
"I did, miss, but it was cold outside. It's only a pee, miss," she added, providing detail which I felt was strictly unnecessary.
As everyone else was holding his or her peace, I turned again to the vicar. "Is there a loo anywhere?"
"Through that door over there. But there's only one...."
Already, a dozen more bridesmaids' hands were raised. A single toilet was not going to be enough. It would delay the wedding by anything up to ten minutes while they all queued in a more or less patient manner. The bridesmaids obviously realised this as well, and those at the back, nearest the door, were already shuffling backwards. The door opened and they began spilling out, more and more of them disappearing outside, until only Sweaty Betty was left, now holding it in with both hands.
"Go on, then!" I sighed, and she turned and fled.
With Smegs, as matron of honour, holding out her hands helplessly, there was one of those awkward silences, which the vicar dealt with neatly. "Let's have a song from the Devotional Divas!" he chirruped. "How about Kumbaya?"
It took them a minute or two to grab their dozens of guitars and get lined up in battle order, then they began their assault on the all-too-familiar song. The vicar, with a heartfelt sigh, placed a bookmark in his prayerbook. Wedding services must have been interrupted before, but this was surely the most unusual reason.
Outside, the waiting spectators were bemused when the church door opened rather earlier than anticipated and a bridesmaid appeared in the doorway. She looked left and right before plunging down the steps and haring off round the corner, disappearing into the bushes. She was not alone. At first in twos and threes, then in a solid phalanx, the fifty-six bridesmaids came cascading down the steps, scattering left and right, attempting to pull down their panties as they ran each in search of a more or less private bush.
Mrs Lashmore, having halted the school band, wandered into the churchyard where the last few of the bridesmaids were hopping around on one leg, unable to find a hiding place of their own. She became aware of someone at her shoulder. "What's going on?" said a voice. She turned round and stared at the newcomer, an unusually buxom young woman with a blonde ponytail that extended to some way below her knees.
"Hello. Aren't you ... Corinne?"
"That's right. What's going on? It's Dawn, isn't it? Is your Toots here somewhere?"
"She's in the band." Mrs Lashmore jerked a thumb behind her. "They're out there in the road. I treat Toots just like any of the other girls."
"You mean you're a teacher now?" Corinne Meadowlark, one-time Deputy Head Teacher, Support and Mobility mistress of St Cat's, looked at the band, assembled on the road outside the churchyard. Taking in the sight of the grand piano, the generator and the antelope, she nodded gravely. "Nothing much has changed, I see," she sighed. "Are those bridesmaids?" she asked, fascinated despite her better judgement. "Pregnant? Aren't there rather a lot of them?"
"Fifty-six," said Mrs Lashmore. "It was supposed to be only forty-nine."
"Only? I see."
"But Miss Clitress made dresses for all of them, including the spares...."
"Yes, she would, of course."
"All hand-made to measure."
"So we decided not to disappoint any of them, and let them all be bridesmaids on the day."
"I can understand that," said Corinne. "But I can't really understand how they can all get into the church. Aren't there any guests?"
"Dozens. All the seats are full, and there's no room for any of us teachers inside. I'm not too unhappy with that, though. It must be hell in there, anyway, with fifty-six St Cat's bridesmaids...."
"Who all wanted a pee at the same time?"
"A hysterical reaction, I suppose."
The bridesmaids were now completing their business and drifting back, singly and in little groups, to the church steps. The door stood open, allowing the strains of Kumbaya to come drifting out. None of the bridesmaids seemed keen to be the first to go back in. Little arguments were breaking out, with a certain amount of pushing and shoving.
"Now what's going on?" Mrs Lashmore demanded.
"At a guess," said Corinne, "I'd say it was a case of Last Out, First In."
Sure enough, Betty, the last girl out of the church, presumably because she had been at the front of the aisle, now emerged from the bushes, weeping softly as she tugged at her panties and rearranged her dress. She hurried to the steps but hesitated as if reluctant to push to the front.
"Come on!" someone shrieked.
"Where have you been, Betty?"
"I couldn't help it! I ... I was too late. Only a little bit," she added as the other girls backed away from her with expressions of horror.
"Go on, then," the tallest of the bridesmaids urged her. "The sooner we get in there, the sooner that caterwauling will stop."
Betty composed herself, and with her more than generous bust leading the way she minced up the aisle to where Miss Mountains was glowering at her. Kumbaya came to a mercifully premature halt halfway through the seventh chorus, although one guitar continued twanging away for three more bars.
Amid a volley of throat-clearing from the congregation, the vicar roused himself and opened his prayerbook. He read a few words then hastily and surreptitiously removed the cotton wool with which he had blocked his ears.
"What's going on over there?" Corinne exclaimed, pointing towards the roadway where some kind of disturbance had broken out. Several girls were screaming, at least one was crying, howling in what sounded like despair, then there came the blare of a trumpet and the sound of small panic-stricken hooves could be heard galloping away down the village street, pursued by frantic girlish squeaks.
"That sounded like the antelope," said Mrs Lashmore. "And the band." She rushed to the churchyard gate with Corinne on her heels.
The band had gathered round in a cluster, abandoning the grand piano trailer so that it rested at a steep angle with its handle on the road. Their teacher pushed forward. "What's going on? What's all this noise? Let me remind you, this is a church!"
But as the musicians fell back, she saw the cause of the disturbance and her blood ran cold.
"Oh, my God, Mandy! What happened?"
Boom-Boom couldn't answer. Her chest was heaving with sobs and she had pressed both fists to her eyes to block out the sight of the cause of her misery.
Corinne arrived on the scene and to her complete surprise, she was completely unsurprised at what she saw.
"Oh, shit!" she said.
"What happened?" said Mrs Lashmore.
A dozen voices eagerly laid the blame where it was due.
"Please, miss, the antelope done it!"
"With its horns, miss!"
"Twice, miss. Once from each side."
Sure enough, Boom-Boom's drum was punctured with two jagged holes through each of its skins. Two of the bigger girls were gently helping Boom-Boom to undo the straps which attached her to her now useless, ruined instrument. They laid the drum on the road and one of them took the drummer in her arms to give her a comforting hug. Boom-Boom wasn't having any. She howled all the louder. Then she tore off her elaborate cap and flung it on the ground, pulled herself loose from the grasp of her shocked but sympathetic friends and stomped away to the side of the road where she sat on the ground and sobbed her little heart out.
"Where did the antelope go?" Mrs Lashmore asked, for want of anything more sensible to say.
"Wendy blew her trumpet at it and frightened it away, miss. It ran off into the village with Barbarella."
There was no sign of the animal or its handler. The teacher made a decision. She clapped her hands three times for attention.
"Right, all of you, listen, please. I'm terribly sorry about this, but we're no use without the drum. All go back to the school and put away your instruments. You can come back here straight away afterwards, and we'll decide what to do then about the march back to St Cat's after the wedding."
"Miss! Can't we do it without the drum, miss?"
"No, the drum is essential. Don't worry about poor Boom-Boom, we'll take care of her. Now, please, hurry back to the school."
The band, in stunned silence, began collecting its wits and its instruments. Weeks of rehearsals and practice for their big moment had all led to ... nothing. The piano handlers took up the handle of the trailer and started shunting back and forth, turning it round in the width of the narrow road. At last, in funereal silence, heads lowered, tears trickling down their faces, they began plodding away, back to St Cat's.
"Mind that bus!" Corinne yelled. "Keep in to the side!"
The bus, a big red double decker, had approached round the corner and squeezed carefully past the straggling defeated remnants of the band to stop right outside the church. Then the door opened and men began climbing out on to the footpath, men in smart red and dark navy blue uniforms with silver buttons and peaked caps. They stood looking around them with bewildered faces. Other men, still on the bus, began handing out musical instruments.
"Do you know anything about these, Dawn?" asked Corinne. "Did you order a brass band?"
Mrs Lashmore was trying to comfort the distraught Boom-Boom. She looked up. "Brass band? Of course not. They must have come to the wrong place. Either that or they're here for the next wedding and they've come too early."
"We'd better ask them and find out," said Corinne. "Although I've a sneaking feeling I know why they're here." And the two women approached the bus. But already, the band was forming itself into a semicircle on the grass by the roadside, and the conductor was tapping for attention with his baton. Still with baffled expressions, the band began playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
In fact they played half a dozen carols without pause, then broke up, chattering, opening up their instrument cases and taking out little packs of sandwiches and flasks of tea.
Mrs Lashmore had patted her consolingly on the shoulder and left, but poor Boom-Boom hadn't stopped crying. Every time she felt as if she might be drying up she saw her drum standing on end in the road, and to add insult to injury she could now see right through one side and out the other. Her cap lay on the road, upside down. Its tassel had come off, which made her feel even more sad. Several of her non-St Cat's friends had been visiting her at home when she had proudly sewn on the tassel, and she had explained the importance of her role in the band, with its grand piano and its antelope and everything. "Fucking antelope!" she snarled.
She didn't notice the shadow that fell across her, so when the unmistakeably male voice spoke, it took her completely by surprise. To her knowledge, she'd never been spoken to by a strange man before in her life. She'd been warned about it often enough but it had never happened.
"Hello, what's all this? What's been going on here?"
The voice had a soft local accent, not too deep, friendly and concerned. Dashing away a last tear she looked up. The owner of the voice had moved away and was inspecting the drum, his hands in his pockets.
Boom-Boom nodded silently with a huge, shuddering sob.
"Woah! Nothing to cry about, love. What's your name?"
"Amanda," said Boom-Boom, surprising herself completely, as she had always hated the full, Sunday version of her name.
"How did it happen?" The man picked up the drum and placed it reverently on the footpath out of the road. He went back for the drumsticks and finally picked up Boom-Boom's cap. He put the tassel inside and handed it to her. "I'm Ralph," he said. "I'm with the Borcester Brass Band."
"W-what are you doing up here?"
"I wish I knew," Ralph admitted with a shake of the head. "We were playing carols in front of Safeway's, then this big red bus came along and we all stopped playing and got into it. Nobody told us to, we just did. Then it brought us up here. I suppose we might as well play carols up here as anywhere else, but it was a bit of a surprise all the same." He squatted carefully down beside her and ran a hand over the useless drum's shiny chrome. "But what happened to your lovely drum?"
"The antelope did it," said Boom-Boom, starting to sob again. Feeling that this explanation lacked something, she added, "with his horns."
"I can see that. Nasty things, antelopes. But you don't see many around these parts."
"There's only one," Boom-Boom assured him. "One male, anyway, the others are females." She saw Ralph's puzzlement. "He's the school mascot."
"Ah, I see."
Realisation dawned. Even Ralph, who had led a sheltered existence, knew that St Cat's was no ordinary girls' school. He stood up, then picked up the drum again and started carrying it away towards the bus.
"Hey, where are you...?"
"Don't worry, Amanda, I'll be right back."
"He's always been a bit headstrong, but I've never known him be malicious," said Mrs Lashmore. "It's worrying. I know it was only a silly old drum, but what if he'd attacked one of the girls?"
"It didn't look like only a silly old drum to that poor kid," said Corinne. "But I know what you mean. Antelopes, you just can't trust them, in my experience. I wonder why the brass band came up here, though?"
It was peaceful now the band had stopped blasting out carols. But they had no sooner begun to appreciate the silence than the church bells started ringing. Then came the sound of the mighty organ and the doors opened. Miss Gruntworthy and her brand new husband appeared on the steps, beaming with joy and some relief. Smegs edged round behind them and sneaked down the steps. She looked around, searching for something, then strode towards the two teachers.
"What news?" she demanded urgently.
"What news about what?" said Mrs Lashmore.
"The bloody disco, of course! Has the guy turned up yet?"
"How would I know? Maybe one of the girls from the band will tell us when they get back. I had to send them back to the school."
Smegs went pale. "You sent them back? But what about the triumphal march?"
"No time to explain now," said Mrs Lashmore. "It's a strange story and you probably wouldn't believe it anyway."
Smegs groaned and covered her face with her hands. Then she parted her fingers and looked through them, as if seeing Corinne for the first time.
"Hi, Smegs," said Corinne lightly.
"Just thought we'd come up and see the wedding. Grimbo's on her way; she had to get a taxi so she'll be a few minutes late."
"Grimbo? Angelica...?" Smegs blushed prettily.
"We're living together," said Corinne crushingly. She pointed at the church doorway where the photographer was flapping his hands around looking distracted. "I think the nice man needs you for a photograph."
"Oh, no! See you later...!"
"I told you I'd be back," said Ralph. He squatted down by Boom-Boom's side. "Now, tell me, why did you bring a drum to a wedding?"
Boom-Boom sighed and told the whole story. Ralph listened patiently. "And you were going to march back to St Cat's at the head of the procession? With the drum?" Boom-Boom nodded. "And a grand piano?"
"Yes. And electric guitars. The rest of them are like kazoos and triangles. And a trumpet, of course."
"Well, of course! Got to have a trumpet." He studied the girl's tear-streaked face. "So what's going to happen now? Your teacher sent them all back?"
"She said it wouldn't be the same without the drum." At the mention of the drum, Boom-Boom began crying again.
"You're right; it wouldn't be the same. But we'll get it mended," said Ralph. "It will be as good as new. Of course, it won't be ready in time for the march back, but I've got an idea for that."
Boom-Boom looked up at him without much hope. "Oh?"
"The Borcester Blue Blowers," said Ralph with more than a hint of pride. "We're a jazz band," he explained. "Traditional. Sid on trumpet, Arthur on clarinet, Basil on trombone and Gordon plays the oom-pah. Plus me. I'm the bass drummer."
Boom-Boom blushed. "You're the drummer?"
"Same as you, yes. But there's a bit of a problem. I can't march."
Ralph stood up and held out his hand to pull Boom-Boom up from the ground. "Let's go and say hello to the rest of them, shall we?" He suddenly found himself staring as he lifted Boom-Boom to her feet. "Bloody hell!" he blurted. "I mean, goodness me, you're a big girl!"
"I'm only average," said Boom-Boom, still blushing. She allowed Ralph to take her by the hand.
"Not too fast...."
"It's okay," he insisted. "I can walk all right, just not very fast. One leg is a bit shorter than the other. Or maybe it's the other way around; one of them is longer."
"I'm sorry!" said Boom-Boom in a tiny voice. "I didn't know."
"How could you know, if I didn't tell you? Anyway, you can help save the day. The school needs a band to march back to St Cat's. The Borcester Blue Blowers are a band. But the Borcester Blue Blowers can't be a marching band without a marching drummer. But luckily I know just the person...."
"But I've never ... and my drum's broken...."
"No probs, you can use my drum. And you'll be marching at the front, so we won't get lost on the way. It's a perfect solution."
It sounded perfect to Boom-Boom, too. She squeezed Ralph's moist hand, feeling a curious fluttering somewhere deep inside the tight bodice of her uniform.
"Hi, babe! You haven't met Dawn, have you? Dawn Lashmore, this is Angelica Grimbeau. She used to teach at St Cat's until a couple of things got out of hand. Angel, Dawn is Toots's mother. You remember Toots? Little black girl with the huge...?"
Angelica's big eyes grew until they resembled saucers.
"Stepmother," Mrs Lashmore explained. "We adopted her."
"Ah, thanks for telling me!" Angelica extended her hand and Dawn grasped it. The newcomer was an impressive creature dressed from neck to bottom in scarlet latex. Extending downwards from below the bottom from not far below it was a remarkable extent of shiny black leg, then a pair of shiny scarlet boots.
"What did you teach, Angelica?" Dawn had forgotten to let go of Miss Grimbeau's hand.
"Oh, music, mostly."
"Oooh, so do I! We have a marching band. At least, we did, until the antelope put his horns through the drum. Boom-Boom's desperately upset about it. In fact, I really ought to go and see if she's okay."
"Do you still have the Junior Choir?" Angelica asked. "What were their names? Valentina something? And another one that sounded like a font on a computer...?"
"Helvetica Bold! And Valentina Nightingale. They're still here, but I haven't seen them today. To be honest, those two seem to spend a lot of the time doing God-knows-what! They seem to have the ear of the headmistress. Every time I look for them, they seem to have gone up into the clock tower to fix the bloody clock."
"You let them fix the clock?" Corinne gasped. "On their own?"
"Oh, no, of course not! Georgina always goes with them. And the antelope."
"Same old St Cat's," Corinne sighed.
"Look, I'll see you two later, when I've comforted Boom-Boom." She finally let go of Miss Grimbeau's hand and indicated another teacher who was talking to a group of girls in the middle distance. "Do you know Virginia Underhill? She looks after the singing these days. You ought to have a word with her."
Mrs Lashmore encountered the lovebirds before she had gone twenty yards. Boom-Boom carried her drumsticks in her free hand and her cap sat at a jaunty angle on her head. Her tears had gone.
"Oh, Mrs Lashmore," said Boom-Boom, blushing furiously. "This is my friend Ralph."
"So I see!" The teacher took her glasses out of her purse, put them on and peered over the top of the lenses. Boom-Boom was publicly holding this Ralph's hand!
"I'm having Amanda's drum mended, Mrs Lashmore," said Ralph.
"Oh? Oh, thank you. Be sure and say thank you, Mandy. Amanda."
"I have," said Boom-Boom. "And Ralph's going to let me go back to the school with the Blowers."
It sounded ominous to Mrs Lashmore. "Blowers?"
"The Borcester Blue Blowers," Ralph explained. "It's a jazz band. I can't march, you see, so Amanda's going to play my drum for the march back to St Cat's."
"I beg your pardon?" But then, to her own complete surprise, Mrs Lashmore found herself thanking this young man who, she had suddenly observed, seemed to walk with a pronounced limp. "She's playing the drum? I hope she'll be good enough."
"Oh, she will. She seems like a very talented young lady. She's promised me the first smooch at the dance tonight."
"The dance? You mean the disco?"
"I'd heard it was cancelled, miss. Helvetica and Valentina told me the disco man had broken his arm and can't make it. But it's all right, 'cause the Blowers are going to play instead. Billy's sent for his drum kit and Jack's banjo."
Mrs Lashmore's head spun with all these names. Boom-Boom seemed to know half the male population of Borcester. Intimately.
But at least, the disco problem seemed to have solved itself.
BAND ABDUCTED IN
MASSIVE RED BUS SNATCH
From Lincoln Lincoln Lincoln
THE Borcester Brass Band mysteriously disappeared yesterday during the playing of Seasonal carols outside the Arndale Centre. The band, comprising some thirty members plus their instruments, had barely completed their rendition of O! Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles), a well-known Seasonable carol, when this massive great big red double decker bus pulled up and carried the band away.
We were stood on the church steps, freezing our tits off while Mr Terpilowsky the photographer and his mate Harvey ponced about in front of us, chanting endless permutations of people to stand up there with us.
"Bride's and groom's parents, matron of honour and bridesmaids, plee-eease!"
There was a lengthy struggle while all sixty-three of us tried to fit ourselves into the ten square feet at the top of the steps. Eventually, a solution was reached. Harvey persuaded the seven tallest bridesmaids to lie down then he stacked the remainder on top of them, advising them to move their heads around until they could all see the camera.
"That's fine! Ready now, Mr Terpilowsky."
"One thing worries me," I muttered out of the side of my mouth to Jeremy. "At normal weddings, the bridesmaids are all hoping to get laid. That's bad news."
"You mean some of them are a little too young?"
"No, you fool! But I've counted the male guests, and if all fifty-six of the bridesmaids do get a result, there aren't going to be enough men left over for the rest of us. For Smegs, I mean," I corrected myself hurriedly, and I don't think Jeremy noticed. In fact, he seemed to be eyeing someone up, someone in the crowd in front of us.
"Look," he whispered. "Isn't that...?"
"It's Cee!" I whooped, just as the flash went off again.
"Bride, do you mind?" whined Mr Terpilowsky.
"No," said Jeremy, the word coinciding with the next flash. "It's Angelica Grimbo! In the red. Over there. Next to ... ah I see, it's Corinne."
"They're all here!" I enthused. "We couldn't invite them because we didn't know where they were, but they found out about the wedding anyway!"
"Oh, shit," said Mr Terpilowsky, seconds after the sobbing bridesmaids had sorted themselves out and dispersed in search of food and just possibly sex. "I forgot the best man. "Come back, everybody, please! Bride and groom, both sets of parents, matron, bridesmaids and best man...."
The trouble with it being your Big Day and everything is that nobody ever speaks to you. Jeremy I mean, my husband and I finally descended the steps and moved among the throng of guests, saying hello. They were polite but distant. I assumed the females were all weighing up the chances of getting laid while noting with dismay the relative scarcity of eligible men.
I clutched hubby's arm and accelerated across the churchyard. A shrill yelp from behind reminded me that Betty was still in attendance, faithfully keeping my dress from trailing on the ground. I glared back at her then turned to Jeremy again. "Who made out this guest list?"
"We did," he pointed out. "Why?"
"Not enough men!"
I think he may have raised an eyebrow.
At least, Smegs was doing all right. She had cornered Daddy, who didn't seem to think it was an altogether bad idea. And yet, she was spending most of the time looking anxiously over her shoulder. I can read the signs. She was worried about something. Her carefully crafted arrangements had obviously gone tits-up. Just as I'd told her they would.
Well, serve her right! If my matron of honour couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery that was no concern of mine. My part of the deal, the wedding, had gone off perfectly, if you're prepared to discount the bridesmaids disappearing en masse halfway through the service for a pee. I wondered in what way Smegs had screwed up. Certainly, things weren't going exactly as planned. There was a brass band playing Christmas songs just outside the church gates, for a start. And, talking of bands, there was no sign of the St Cat's marching band which was scheduled to lead the grand procession back to the school in precisely twenty minutes' time. No grand piano on its trailer, no electric guitars, no Boom-Boom with her drum and no antelope, all of which ought to have been present and clearly visible.
We drifted on through the guests until we encountered Cee and Angelica, who were having an animated conversation with Virginia Underwear. They all turned to the happy couple and beamed politely, like you do, waiting for us to say something.
"Hello, Cee," I said. "Hello, Angelica."
"Seems to be going pretty much as normal," Cee said, picking up the thread of the conversation as if she hadn't been unaccountably missing from the school for over a year.
"What do you mean?"
She glanced over her shoulder with annoyance as the band started up again, then continued in a voice about three times as loud. "Oh, nothing. Except that your goat has gone berserk, savaged your school band and destroyed half its equipment. It even put its horns through the drum. Normal for St Cat's, I'd say, wouldn't you?"
"Goat?" I stared round for evidence of the antelope. Gone berserk? What had it done? Had it what was the word? gored some of the girls? And yet most people seemed remarkably calm. There were no fleets of ambulances waiting to carry away the blood-stained victims to Borcester General. Only an uninvited double-decker bus.
"Antelope, then," Cee sighed. "But it's still a goat. Why not ask old Smeggsy about it? She always knows what to do."
"Yes, I will," I said, getting ready to hurry away. "Erm ... how's it all going, by the way? The course, and everything?"
"The course? But that was only three days. And it was a year ago!"
"I know. But we all thought you must have enjoyed it so much that you'd decided to stay on for a while longer...."
"I've left St Cat's, Shan! I couldn't stand that madhouse a moment longer! Just as well; if anything, it's got far worse! Antelopes, for God's sake!"
"It's only a mascot!"
"I've nothing against mascots as such, but other schools make do with a hamster."
Angelica hovered in the background or as much in the background as it is possible for someone to be when they are big enough to be Head Girl of St Cat's but crammed into scarlet latex talking quietly with Virginia. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jeremy exchanging glances with her. Admiring ones. Eventually, he spoke.
"Hi yourself, Jeremy."
Time to move along, to circulate. With luck, it would soon be time to start the march back to the school. As soon as Lashmore produced the band, that is.
"We'll see you all later, I hope?" I said as I steered Jeremy and the involuntary Betty away from the little group. "Back at the school?"
"Wouldn't miss it for a thousand pounds," said Cee, giving a little finger wave.
"Laters," said Angelica.
"Well, what was the matter with them?" I said as soon as we were out of earshot.
"Probably got out of bed on the wrong side," said Jeremy. "I wonder who sleeps on the left and who is on the right."
"You don't mean they're living together? As woman and ... woman?"
My husband laughed aggravatingly. "You can see that a mile off. I haven't been the caretaker of St Cat's all these years without learning to recognise a couple of lezzie lovers. I wonder if maybe they'd let me watch...."
The Christmas carol came to an abrupt halt and a kind of wave of anticipation spread across the crowded churchyard. Then without warning rather like a slight explosion came three commanding beats on a bass drum, followed by three more. Immediately a band struck up, a smaller band than the full brass ensemble, playing a kind of jazzy march with a lively beat.
"Hey, that's more like it!" Jeremy said. He was bobbing and lurching to the music and at that moment I was glad that we didn't have any children yet, or they would surely have been deeply embarrassed. "Come on!" he urged me, launching into a bouncing, skipping stomp. "This is dance music!"
"I'm a married woman," I protested, but the beat was infectious. Then I looked at him more closely. "Where did you get that hat?"
"What, this old thing? My dad used to wear it when he went to the jazz club. Bowler hats were very popular in those days. And fancy waistcoats, but I can't wear one of those when I'm busy getting married."
"This way!" boomed an amplified voice from outside the churchyard. "This way, please, ladies and gentlemen. Form up behind the band. March with the Borcester Blue Blowers!"
"I think that means us," said Jeremy, leading the way. The crowd had been hanging back but they tagged along behind us, out of the gate and on to the road, where the small group of musicians responsible for all this jazz were visible.
"Isn't that our Boom-Boom on the drum?" I said. "I thought Cee said the antelope had broken it."
"She's either mended it or she's found another one. Probably the latter, since the village seems to be knee-deep in brass bands at the moment." We crept closer to the jazz band who carried on playing but turned to look at us and wink.
"We must have enough girls here to form a choir," said Angelica. She was moving sinuously to the beat and snapping an occasional finger. "What about that band of yours; can't they sing?"
Virginia Underhill shook her head. "I don't know. I've only been teaching them a few weeks, and every time I start getting a choir together, they get taken away from me to be bridesmaids or to learn about Relationships and Sex and Stuff."
"Stuff?" Corinne asked sharply. "You mean Weird Stuff and Everything? Who teaches that these days."
"Cassiopaeia Cassowary," said Virginia. "Nice girl, dark hair, but a bit strange?"
"I'll say she's strange. I designed her and I never really had a chance to finish her. What is she up to, apart from Stuff?"
"Trainspotting, mostly. She's formed a trainspotting group. Nine girls with glasses, and every month or so they go out for a field trip with their little notebooks and their sandwiches and flasks of coffee with separate little jars of milk and sugar."
"Yes, it figures. But Angel had a Junior Choir, surely they're still around? They'd be in the Third Form now, of course, so not Juniors any more. Helvetica? Valentina? Dawn Lashmore said they're still at the school, wasting everyone's time."
"I could ask them, but I don't know how to find them in this crowd. They're probably hanging out at the school...."
"If they're here, I'll find them," said Angelica, and she took a deep, deep breath.
Corinne put her fingers in her ears and signalled to Virginia to do the same. Only just in time.
"JUNIOR CHOIR! ST CAT'S JUNIOR CHOIR, ASSEMBLE JUST OUTSIDE THE CHURCHYARD, PLEASE. THIS IS MISS GRIMBEAU CALLING ALL MEMBERS OF THE ST CAT'S JUNIOR CHOIR TO ME, PLEASE!"
There was a stunned silence, and everyone within a range of twenty yards cautiously unfolded themselves from the foetal position they had involuntarily adopted at the ex-music-teacher's stentorian words. For a moment, even the thumping racket of the jazz band had been drowned out.
"Nobody yet," said Angelica. "Shall I do it again?"
"Not yet," said Corinne shakily. "If they were a mile or two away it will take them a little while to get here."
Smegs appeared at a brisk trot. "What was that terrible noise?"
"Nothing," said Corinne. "Just Angel calling for the Junior Choir."
"I thought it was the public address system. Why not use my phone?"
"Your cell phone? You've got the Junior Choir on there?"
"I've got everybody useful. Try Valentina's number." She stabbed at a button and handed the phone to Angelica.
"It's ringing!" Angelica nodded furiously. "Hello?" she roared. "Is that Valentina? Speak up, I can't hear you!"
There followed several seconds of animated conversation from the other end of the call, during which Angelica took the instrument away from her ear and regarded it with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm not shouting!" Angelica bellowed, replacing the phone to her ear. But she lowered her voice by eighty decibels or so. "Where are you? Yes, now. Of course now. Why should I ask where you're going to be in half an hour? I want a choir now, for the march back to the school."
"I'm right behind you," howled Valentina, materialising out of the bushes with Helvetica right behind her. Helvetica was followed in turn by Georgina, then the antelope and finally Barbarella on the end of her leash.
Corinne jumped back in alarm. "Don't bring that thing near me!"
"He's all right now," said Barbarella. "And he says he's rilly-rilly sorry about Boom-Boom's drum, honest."
"Where are the rest of the choir?" Angelica demanded, still using the telephone to communicate with Valentina who was now standing next to her.
Valentina turned her phone off and slid it into her cleavage. "How would I know?"
"Speak up, I said I can't hear you!"
"I said ... oh, shit, Miss Grimbo, turn that thing off!"
"We're here. But the rest of the choir could be anywhere. What did you want them for?"
"To sing famous and much loved gospel songs with that jazz band. Three of us? Four? Can she sing?" She pointed a green-painted fingernail at Barbarella, who went pale and shook her head.
"She only does antelopes," said Helvetica. "But there's a choir here at the church. The Devotional Divas. They all play guitars and sing Kumbaya. I don't know if they know anything else but we could ask them."
"They'll do. They can pick up the words as we go along. Where are they? No, don't bother; I'll shout for them." Angelica took a deep breath again.
"It's okay," Corinne squeaked desperately. "They're over there with the vicar." She began waving her arms frantically. At first the vicar wondered if his luck had changed but when Corinne pointed at the Divas and mimed the strumming of a guitar, the happy little devotional band detached itself from the vicar and wandered across.
"Do you know anything apart from Kumbaya?" said Angelica. "How about We Shall Not Be Moved?"
The girls looked uncertainly at one another. "We think so," said one.
"Good! That will do to start with. Now. I got another idea. Where are the cheerleaders? We need them."
Helvetica blinked. "Cheerleaders? We don't have those any more. They all joined the band except Sally. Sally isn't here she's left. She got ... her boobs got...."
"It's all right," said Miss Meadowlark. "You can say it, Helvetica."
"Too big!" Helvetica blurted, blushing prettily.
"See? It didn't hurt a bit, did it!"
Miss Grimbeau clapped her hands for attention. "Forget Sally. Collect up the rest of the ex-cheerleaders; see you all back here in five."
Helvetica hurried away.
Corinne looked uncertain. "What's the plan, Grimbo?"
"Junior choir to give them the tune, cheerleaders to show 'em some rhythm! Man, it ain't gonna be easy, but ... come on!" And Angelica stormed off under all plain sail, trailing her entourage behind her.
Corinne shrugged her shoulders at the helpless Virginia, then turned to Smegs. "You coming too?"
"I'm still trying to organise the disco...."
"I shouldn't worry about it, Megan."
"Don't quote me, but at a guess I'd say it's all been taken care of."
"No, but the guy broke his...."
"Megan. Trust me, or more to the point, trust the Fuckh Machine. Look, the school antelope destroys the bass drum, causing the marching band to be sent back to the school with its tails between its legs. Right? At the same instant, the Borcester Brass Band appears on a bus, completely to its own surprise. The band just happens to feature the Borcester Blue Blowers jazz band, whose bass drummer can't march because he has a bad leg. But don't worry; he'll get to St Cat's in time to have the first waltz with Boom-Boom the school bass-drummer. And the evening's entertainment will feature a live band. Now if that little lot doesn't have all the hallmarks of a major Fuckh Machine solution to an extremely minor problem, I don't know what is. So, are you coming or not?"
Smegs drooped visibly. "I suppose so."
We'd been standing there for five minutes while the band played some kind of march tune. Jeremy seemed to know the words to it.
"Why aren't we marching?" I complained to him as soon as the noise had died away. "We'll freeze to death standing here."
"They're waiting for something," Jeremy said. "Ah, and if I'm not mistaken, here it comes."
"Oh no, not the bloody antelope!" But the mascot was being restrained on a tight leash by Barbarella, and it was accompanied by a number of humans. The most recognisable, and certainly the most colourful, was Angelica Grimbeau. Then there were Helvetica and Valentina and Georgina and God alone knew what they were doing there and a sad little group I recognised as the Devotional Divas. Angelica, who seemed to know what she was doing, arranged them all at the head of the procession. At the very front, needless to say, was the antelope. It was followed by the Blue Blowers, then the hastily recruited choir, then a group of three Third Formers who had tucked their dresses into their underwear and were kicking their legs around in a jaded manner. Behind them were the bride and groom whose day, let me remind you, this was, after all. Then came Betty, still grimly clinging to my hem, followed by about thirty of the bridesmaids I assumed the rest were getting laid somewhere and finally, several hundred guests and assorted hangers-on. We must have made a stirring sight, even though I say it myself.
Angelica got into a huddle with the band, which broke up in a burst of hysterical laughter, the way musicians always do, then Boom-Boom thumped out the rhythm on her borrowed drum and we were off.
According to the words which I found vaguely familiar although the tune meant nothing to me we were on our way to Heaven, yet at the same time we should not be moved; a curiously conflicting pair of statements. Nevertheless, it was a fine song, led by Angelica's soaring soprano, Valentina's piercing St Cat's tones and Helvetica's throbbing baritone harmony, all of which carried above the thump-thump of the drum and the wild improvisation of the band, who appeared to be inspired by something. Even the Devotional Divas, who had seemed to be perpetually on the verge of slumber during their millionth rendition of Kumbaya, had been filled with new life. Just in front of us, they pranced along with their guitars slung over their backs, clapping their hands above their heads and grinning happily at one another. Pretty nauseating, of course, but thrilling at the same time.
I had finally worked out who the three girls were who had their dresses tucked into their panties. They were the last remaining members of the long-departed cheerleaders team, whose mercifully brief career had reached its peak during Miss Grimbeau's time at the school. As Miss Grimbeau was somewhere in front of them and otherwise engaged, they had abandoned their attempts at cheerleading and were now walking, chatting amongst themselves.
There was another of those conflicts between lyric and reality when we arrived at the entrance to the grounds of St Cat's and, without any kind of signal between Angelica and the band, the song changed seamlessly to Open Up Them Pearly Gates, despite the fact that the gates hadn't been closed in living memory.
So wrapped up was everyone in the music that there was only the most minor disturbance when a small cart shot past in the opposite direction, hauled by two grim-faced badgers. And shortly afterwards, when the brave little vehicle overtook the procession from behind the badgers with their heads down, pulling hard proudly bearing a young man with his hands clasped above his head in triumph, there was a concerted cheer. The cart slowed slightly, then swung in front of the band, just ahead of the antelope, and the man turned round and blew a kiss to Boom-Boom which caused the tempo to increase markedly until we were almost trotting to keep up. Boom-Boom-Boom, she went. Then Boom-Boom-Boom-Boom.
"Boyfriend," Jeremy panted as we all accelerated to a brisk canter.
"I didn't know Boom-Boom had a boyfriend."
"Neither did she."
"Please, miss!" Betty was having difficulty keeping up. Either that or she wanted another pee.
I turned and smiled sweetly to encourage her. "Keep up, you smelly little bugger!" That was when I noticed that the child was indeed doing her best, but a girl can only run so fast when her panties are down around her ankles. "Let go! Let go of the dress!" I gasped at her.
But Betty had been appointed to do a job and she was determined to do it. Still hanging on for dear life she tripped and fell to the ground, bouncing along on her knees and her recently-acquired boobs, squealing and yelling at every bump in the road.
Mercifully, we only dragged her along for another fifty yards or so before we arrived in front of the main entrance to the school. Realising that he was close to his home territory the antelope broke ranks and went bounding away into the woods with Barbarella in close attendance, exactly twenty feet behind. The badgers dug in their heels and stopped instantly, toppling Boom-Boom's boyfriend off his cart. Boom-Boom dropped her drumsticks and rushed to his aid, not that there was much she could do: she could hardly give him a hug with a bass drum strapped to her midriff. Deprived of their drummer, the Blue Blowers ceased blowing and marching at the same time. Angelica and the remnants of her Junior Choir, on what might have been their final chorus of Pearly Gates, scattered to left and right to avoid the band; but sadly those members of the Devotional Divas who preferred to sing with their eyes closed piled into the backs of the stout yeomen of Borcester, bumping their noses and bursting into tears.
The rest of us, exhausted as we were, stopped without further incident and bent over at the waist, sucking the life-giving oxygen into our lungs. There were sounds of coughing, wheezing and nausea. Betty finally let go of my dress and crawled away to sit forlornly on the school steps, surveying her torn panties, her skinned knees and the ruins of her little bridesmaid's maternity dress. Then, hearing the sobs of the Divas, she decided to join in herself, letting out a siren-like wail which rose and fell without apparent pauses for breath.
But what the hell? We were home. Sort of.
CHILDHOOD SWEETHARTS WED
Unusual animals major feature at local school knot-tying
Society Reporter Catriona Pockporn, oh, Catriona!
CHILDHOOD SWEETHEART’S tied a long-standing knot yesterday at St Catherine’s church, Upper Longshott, when Chuantiaillie Grumpwortley [check spelling, Darren!] Head Treacher of St Cats’s Growing High School for Growling Girl’s got married, unusually, to her caretaker Jeremy Suggs.