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Sport 10: Autumn 1993


Maxine wore her nightie to college today. And white Beatle boots and a flowing red velveteen cape. She is in full form. Just to be near her is to laugh and feel the fresh cool force of her energy, her enthusiasm. Sweet relief from the boredom and restlessness is Maxine, and although we are in the seventh form, the young ones, the third and forth formers and fifth and sixth formers follow us because in our midst is Maxine who has the gall, the utter unabashed gall to act as though she were still in the playground. She is dressing up, she is walking where she likes and how, she is talking loud, louder than some of the boys. And her following is huge, boys and girls together, feeling their buzzing restless bodies growing light again. And just out of the spotlights, hovering at the edges of the dark quiet audience are the teachers, anxious and puzzled. Like beetles, insects, they make strange actions with arms and legs into the air, make small sounds which only they understand, and to us they only look scared and left out. As a body, with Maxine in our midst we grow too big for the hands of insect teachers. I am summoned to the principal's office ('Remember children, the way to remember how to spell principal rather than principle is to think of me as your "pal"') and I am told—no, warned—not to associate with Maxine any more. She is not a good influence. I leave the office sick with the knowledge page 18 of my own 'goodness', my own suitability for a quiet uneventful college career (And remember School, that by the time you leave here your personality will be developed, you will leave here the person you will be for the rest of your life') and I search out Maxine who takes the hand of the crashing restless bored energy of the teenager and links it with the light brilliant fierce energy of the child. She refuses to be unhooked from the land of the living. The teachers are stumped. And Maxine continues to fall asleep in geography and history, snores loudly at the desk next to me, as my admiration for her struggles with my embarrassment and often wins out.

'Maxine's father is the richest man in Wadestown,' my friend whispers to me. And she has an anxious-looking elegant thin mother. She has a best room which you are not allowed into and in the house is the invisible overpowering bullying presence of her father. What do they make of this daughter who wants to bean actress and who, out of a wardrobe of expensive clothes, would find a nightie and a red cape to wear to college. A daughter who will not be cultivated, who comes home with bright paint around her mouth because she has sat in art class absent-mindedly sucking the brush end of her paintbrush as she contemplates her work.

It must be the worst thing in the world not to be able to breathe out. To take the air in and feel your lungs stretching and stretching and no relief, no exhalation. To search the room for a pocket of air, like a drowning person, and find no pocket. This happened to Maxine quite often. She was 'a bad asthmatic' and always carried her little grey puffer in a pocket or bag. But this disease that stole her breath, that tried to drown her several times a week, she allowed no glamour, no moment. We could easily have been seduced into fascination, into coddling and talking quietly and earnestly to each other in knowledgeable parental concern if she had let us. But she would allow no such interference, no such easy spotlights as illness and misery, just the same small ragged flag that she stuck in the top of the mountain when she reached it and survived again.