Knowing Me Knowing You: Chapter 1
Maggie takes a pull on her cigarette with puckered lips, and emits three perfectly formed rings of blue smoke. ‘If your life was an Abba song, what would it be?’ she asks, her voice puncturing the silence, like the pop of a helium balloon.
She’s trying to ignore the insistent, buzzing headache at the front of her skull and the fact that her mouth is as dry as the Mojave Desert. It’s probably something to do with the two bottles of her father’s homemade wine she nicked from the garden shed yesterday evening – which seems a lifetime ago. It was ‘absolutely vile’, according to Dee, but they drank every last drop, passing one bottle and then the other between the four of them as the sun went down over the pointed tips of the pine trees on the eastern side of the lake.
Beside Maggie at the front of the boat, Daniel is silent. He hasn’t opened his mouth since they woke up this morning, their hair strewn with leaves, gritty traces of soil in Maggie’s mouth. Maybe it’s because he’s so quiet that she can’t stop talking.
Charlie’s saying nothing either, but he’s hardly what you might call a chatterbox. He’s taken off his windcheater, sweating with the exertion of rowing, and Maggie can see the flex and release of the muscles under his T-shirt as he pushes and pulls the oars through the soupy water, the rhythm bearing them relentlessly towards the shore and home.
She leans over the side of the boat to peer at her reflection. Even though it’s muddled by eddies from the oars, she knows she looks different from yesterday.
She takes another pull on her cigarette. ‘Bloody hell,’ she says. ‘Don’t all speak at once!’
‘I’m just thinking,’ says Dee, who’s sitting behind Charlie at the top of the boat. She’d plonked herself there when they’d got in, insisting she’d be the navigator.
A thin film of mist hovers just above the surface of the lake, mirroring a hazy white sky that will turn blue and cloudless before long. Even the birds are quiet. A twitter here or there as the oars cut soundlessly through the water’s surface, not the usual cacophony that greets the dawn.
‘Mine’s “Head Over Heels”,’ says Maggie, and when nobody answers, she adds, with an exaggerated sigh, ‘Anyone want to know why?’
‘Because you’re like the girl in it?’ says Dee.
‘Exactly!’ Maggie laughs, the words of the song playing in her head. ‘I’m a leading lady. Pushing through unknown jungles every day.’
‘Mine’s “Money, Money, Money”,’ says Dee, ‘because I’m going to marry a millionaire. He’ll have more money than Rod Stewart and we’ll live in a mansion in Beverly Hills, with a maid and a gardener and a pool and a Rolls-Royce …’
Maggie shifts her weight from one buttock to the other on the hard wooden seat. She’s had a hundred conversations like this with Dee, stretched across their beds in each other’s houses, flicking through issues of Abba magazine with their chins in their hands. Abba split up six months ago, but in letters Maggie and Dee wrote to each other, they swore to keep their love and devotion for them alive until the day they died. They’ve been Abba’s number-one fans since ‘Super Trooper’ was number one on Top of the Pops. And that was yonks ago, long before Dee was sent away.
Charlie shakes his head. ‘You’re a lunatic,’ he says to Dee, the corners of his mouth twitching. Any moment now he might crack a smile.
‘Takes one to know one,’ Dee retorts, shoving his shoulder.
Maggie wonders if something went on between them last night when they were at the rock pools on the other side of the beach together.
Originally she had come up with the idea for the Abba fan club because Dee had blurted that she fancied Charlie, the week she came home for the summer holidays. ‘I’ll tell him you fancy him,’ Maggie had suggested, jumping at the idea of helping her best friend, but Dee had squealed, ‘No! Please! Don’t!’ So instead they’d sat in the Coffee Bean, eyeing up Charlie and his twin, Sam, over mugs of hot chocolate, while Maggie tried to come up with some alternative plan.
Charlie and Sam Jones. Identical straight blond fringes, spot-free sallow skin and big white teeth, like Americans, although they’d moved to Sligo from Ballinasloe, which was the arse end of nowhere. Brand new in town since Easter, they’d already been snapped up for the grammar-school football team.
‘I don’t think they’ll be into Abba,’ Dee had said, when Maggie suggested her new strategy. ‘Look at them. They’re so cool.’
At the Coffee Bean, Charlie and Sam were already surrounded by girls who wore royal blue Mercy Convent uniforms when they weren’t on school holidays, not muck-brown Ursuline ones, like Maggie’s. Girls who had giggles that rang out like pealing bells, books clutched against their perfectly pert chests and hair that fell in bouncy, honey-coloured curtains down their backs, as if they’d all just stepped out of a salon. Girls who looked nothing like Maggie, with her bush of carrot-orange curls. Or Dee, who was at least a foot shorter than every other girl their age.
Dee had been right. Sam had given a derisive snort when Maggie had walked up to the twins and suggested the Abba fan club. ‘Get lost,’ he’d said.
Later, outside the Coffee Bean, Charlie, who had said nothing at all during the exchange, was waiting for them. ‘Can I be in the club?’ he’d asked, in a voice that was a little deeper than his brother’s but also a little less sure of itself. Maggie linked her arm in his and said, ‘Of course.’
They’d walked partway home with him, Maggie chatting about ‘The Winner Takes It All’ and how she knew all along it meant the absolute end, and that no matter how uncool people thought Abba were, no other band in the history of the world was as good, including the Beatles.
Typically, all Charlie’s attention was on Dee, who was walking on his other side. She barely came up to Charlie’s shoulder and she was a bit chubby underneath her oversized sweatshirt, her Levi’s 501-clad bum sticking out from the bottom of it, like a Zeppelin (Dee’s word, not Maggie’s). But boys always went for her, much more than they went for Maggie.
‘We’ll call for you tomorrow,’ said Maggie, when they’d got to the bottom of Charlie’s road, which she did literally after breakfast the next day, even though from that day on it was plain as the nose on his face that Charlie had eyes only for Dee. He never said much, but most of the time he was taking her in.
Daniel’s hand is flat, his fingers splayed on the peeling red-painted seat of the boat, almost touching Maggie’s. Last night, when they were lying together on Daniel’s PLO scarf, spread across the ground as a makeshift blanket, he had begun to cry. Maggie had put her arms around him and made
soothing sounds as his body was racked with silent sobs. She hadn’t asked him why he was crying, but she thought she knew. It was about his mother. The memory makes her want to reach over and put her arms around him again, to pull him close. She feels a surge of something, the same waves crashing through her blood that she experienced last night when they were doing it.
She catches his eye and sees that he’s smiling, as if he’s thinking the same thing.
It’s funny. You couldn’t call Daniel handsome, not in the way Charlie’s handsome anyway. His black hair hangs lankly down over his eyes, which are too close together. His front teeth stick out a little over his bottom lip and his chin has more acne on it than hers but, bizarrely, when he first showed up Maggie was reminded for a fleeting moment of a man from one of the black-and-white films her mother likes to watch on Saturday afternoons.
‘What do you think your parents will say?’ he asks, reminding her that they are approaching the shore.
‘I don’t give a fuck,’ Maggie replies, holding his stare.
She’s going to be in big trouble, though. The wine, the boat, the island were all at her instigation. She’d giggled as she untied the boat from its moorings, insisting no one would notice it was gone and they’d be back before anyone knew it. Then it had been her idea to stay the night, even though they’d told no one at home that they were going anywhere. They’d just disappeared.
At the time, buoyed up by the wine, she was thrilled by the recklessness of the adventure that staying on the deserted island would be, but now that Daniel has mentioned her parents, her heart is sinking.
‘So, what’s yours?’ she asks him, in an effort to buoy herself back up.
‘You know. If your life was an Abba song …’
‘I’m still thinking,’ Daniel replies. On the wooden seat, his little finger reaches out to and touches hers. She hooks her pinkie around his, and squeezing tight, experiences an exquisite burst of happiness.
‘Let’s make a promise,’ Dee pipes up. ‘Let’s promise that if Abba ever gets back together we’ll go to see them.’
‘They won’t get back,’ says Maggie. ‘Björn said it would never, ever happen. And Agnetha. I think they all hate each other now.’
‘Never say never,’ says Charlie, resting the oars for a moment.
Daniel shrugs. Suddenly the couldn’t-care-less boy from England, who’d replied to their ad on the supermarket noticeboard because he had nothing better to do, is back. ‘In ten years’ time nobody will have heard of Abba,’ he says.
‘I’ll still love them,’ says Dee. ‘In a hundred years I’ll still love them.’
‘When you’re a hundred and fifteen,’ Charlie quips, and half smiles again.
‘I promise!’ says Maggie. She feels it fervently.
‘Me too,’ says Charlie, stretching out the oars again.
‘Me three,’ says Dee.
‘What about you?’ Maggie asks Daniel, her finger still linked around his.
‘Trust me. They’ll be history,’ says Daniel. ’But if they’re not, I promise too. If you promise to shut up.’
Maggie guffaws. ‘I’ll shut up when you tell me what your Abba song is,’ she retorts. ‘You can’t fool me, mister. You definitely have one.’
‘That’s for me to know and you to find out.’ Daniel smiles again and his eyes are boring into Maggie’s.
Maggie experiences the waves in her blood, pushing out through her chest. She’s never felt anything like it before. She turns and holds her hand over her eyes to shade them so she can see how close they’re getting to the shore. It’s about five minutes away, she figures.
Turning back to Daniel, she laughs again, even though a cold shudder has made its way up her spine. ‘I think I know what it is,’ she says. ‘It’s dead easy.’
‘Go on, then,’ says Daniel. ‘Guess.’
She glances at the approaching shore again. She doesn’t know that, after the boat reaches its mooring, Daniel will disappear from her life so completely, it will be as if he hadn’t even existed. She doesn’t know that she will never again be the Maggie who is on this boat in this perfect moment, trying to work out what Daniel’s Abba song is.
Click here to find out what happens to Maggie, Daniel, Dee and Charlie 30 years later, when ABBA reform in Stockholm for one concert only and they all reunite to go…