by Hannah Storm
We’re slow dancing to Bryan Adams. He can’t understand the song, the boy with his hands on my bum. But I can.
I pull away, look into his eyes, like the words tell me. They dazzle in the disco ball. He pulls me closer.
His lips slide across my face like a snail and he tastes of garlic. When I gasp for air, I breathe in body odour.
We move apart when the song stops. It still has a few more weeks at number one. But long after it has slipped from the charts, it will pin itself to my memories like Robin Hood’s arrows.
I am 14 and this is my first French exchange. It’s also my first French kiss. That sounds so much better than snogging. If it wasn't for the garlic snail it would almost be perfect, especially since it happened during the theme tune to my favourite film.
If I am Maid Marian, my prince of thieves is Sylvain, the cousin of my school exchange partner Aurelie. Her father is a huntsman and they live in a cottage on the edge of France’s own Sherwood Forest.
I wake the next morning, lyrics of lust in my head. I footstep across the floorboard to dreams of beautiful maidens and handsome heroes. I throw open the wooden shutters to my own fairy tale forest.
Spilt blood stains the decking. I smell flesh and hear flies. Strips of sunlight sharpen the dark bristles.
I creep down the wooden stairs to the kitchen, toe-tapping to musical memories. Smell hits before sight. The metal tang of fresh blood, the fat, misshapen flesh of the beast straddled across the kitchen table. The family cat mews from beneath folds of meat that drip dark juice onto the tiled floor.
It’s the same table we sat at yesterday, dunking our brioche into tepid bowls of drinking chocolate. The same we’ll sit at tomorrow when I’ll scour the wood for dark patches where the blood seeped in.
‘Un sanglier, Sarah’, they laugh at my look of horror. I know the local delicacy is wild boar, but it’s the first time I’ve seen one like this.
Foreign laughter follows me stumbling through shuttered shadows. Heave open the wooden door and I am blinded by light. He's there staring at me, Sylvain. It’s as if by fending off the hounds, I’ve found myself in front of the huntsman.
He pulls me towards him, twists my wrist, tries to kiss me in the street. I wrench from his grip, trip inside, past the table, blood still dripping on the floor.
There's a door that I dive for, throw myself in, locking the toilet beh