“Candy the witch! That’s what he said. Candy the witch!” Nellie banged her glass down and sat back, gloating.
“I did not,” I said, coolly.
“Yes, you did!”
“I bet you did,” said Candy, reproachfully.
“Yes, I did.”
Candy and Cassie stared, their mouths open, then they burst out laughing. Candy wore black. I added the hat and broom, that’s all, and passed it on to Nellie. The old girl was glowing. She liked telling tales and she took her triumphs seriously.
Drinks at Nellie’s place, the one time I remember, the night of the witch, the night of Cassie’s hand. I was on the sofa next to her. Nellie and Candy sat opposite. Cassie asked me to pass her something, and held out a hand. Nellie shifted from her seat, which distracted Candy. Instead of the plate or biscuit that Cassie was expecting, I put my fingers on her palm and stroked it gently.
It was a young woman’s hand, in the English fashion, whiter than most, less silky than it could have been, but not rough, either. There was a tautness in the skin, which kept my fingers moving. She didn’t take her hand away, not until I stopped, and, then, not immediately.
There’s something I haven’t told you. Candy had a crush on me. It lasted several weeks. By the night of the witch, it was already half over. You know, almost always, when someone latches on to you, however slightly. It was something I noticed, then motored quietly by, as you come across an accident on the road, and see it’s not so bad, you don’t need to stay.
How much emotion is there? Touching me and Cassie, not a lot, perhaps not any. We did it because we could, improvised a stroking, but it wasn’t meant to hurt the other girl. Candy didn’t see, and we didn’t want her to. But it was cruel. Cassie must have known about the crush. We laughed at Candy, like conspirators, with imaginary laughter, at imaginary pain. If a hand needed stroking, it was Candy’s.
We were taking our revenge, I suppose. Mine, for the cross words – there had been a few from Candy – and also for the crush, that insipid thing. You can punish someone, can’t you, for not loving you enough? It was Cassie’s revenge, too. I was on her side at last, or someone was, for all the times that she had lost to Candy. They weren't really friends. I remember thinking, Cassie’s winning now.
She wasn’t winning in the classroom, though. She wasn’t cut out for it. She said so herself. Cassie had a group of nine-year-olds.
“Then there’s little Ángelos. He lies on the floor all lesson. Someone asks a question. Teacher blushes.”
The girls flew to England for Christmas, and I went to the airport with them. Just before they left, Cassie reached across and kissed me on the cheek, the way a child does. Then she stepped back, her face burning. Teacher blushes everywhere. Candy was annoyed. An airport worker grinned. There’s always an emotion.
They both came back to finish their year at school, but I was bored with them now and must have shown it. There were no more kisses, no more accidents. They even stopped laughing. A friend of Candy’s came over. I saw her looking at me disapprovingly, with a certain knowledge, and I knew what Candy had been saying. Candy the witch.
When they left at the end, I kept in touch with Candy. We met up once in Pisa. She was still teaching. She showed me an old building, somewhere like the British School. The man at reception knew her. He asked, in English, if we were there together.
“Yes,” I said, “unfortunately.”