I slept in the attic upstairs. Well, not upstairs; up a ladder. There were six children in our house and so the attic was converted into a room so that we could spread out and breathe a bit. There was a cupboard at the end of the hall, and when you opened it, there was an aluminium ladder leading to my room. Initially, my sisters shared the attic, but it became apparent that on hot summer nights if the window was open even a crack, moths would slip through into the room and flutter noisily around; the sound of their wings beating was more than my sisters could bear. So immediately, we made an exchange, with me and my brother taking the attic room and my sisters moving into our room downstairs. At first, I shared the room with my brother, but when my older sisters moved out, I had the room all to myself.

A room to yourself; what more could a teenage boy wish for? My mother was too heavyset and my father too disinterested to climb up the ladder and check on me, so in that room, I pretty much got to do what I wanted.

What does anyone want except to be loved? I was not a handsome boy. I found love hard to find. My parents, in the spirit of improvement, were energetic in listing my faults. I was lazy; I was untidy, I had greasy hair and spots. I had spectacles and a squint and a stammer. They highlighted my lack of athletic and academic prowess. My father reminded me that I had “horrible little piggy eyes.”

It was not such a drawback for them; my younger brothers had none of my faults and a list of virtues that I did not. They were vigorous and tall and had eyes that pointed in the same direction. It was clear to me that I could not expect to be loved, and when love came my way, I could not escape the belief that it was all some practical joke at my expense and that the object of my teenage desire would turn and laugh at me with cruel derision.

And yet it seemed my first love was not a trick or an illusion but real. It was incomprehensible to me that the most beautiful girl in the whole town should have any affection for someone as flawed and unattractive as me. But she did. And furthermore, she was keen and eager to express that love; physically.

The attic was the location decided for our love tryst. If we could get to my room, then in silent kisses and caresses we could fulfill all our teenage longings.

But the way to the attic was fraught with dangers. I couldn’t bring my lover through the house. My mother would notice immediately, and my father would rouse himself from his sloth. I had no doubt that should they know of my love, they would immediately advise the girl about all my flaws and encourage her to do better. They certainly would not allow us to sneak upstairs to be alone and to indulge our adolescent passions.

But there was another way. The simplicity of it was brilliant, and so we made our plans. On the night of the full moon, I lifted the aluminium ladder up into the attic from the cupboard, opened the window out into the warm summer darkness and gently lowered it to my waiting lover below. The ladder shone like silver in the moonlight, and I noiselessly climbed down the ladder and assisted my love up the ladder to my waiting room and bed.

She was beautiful. Why she loved me, I do not know. Why she even looked my way, I do not know. She stood at the window and slowly let her dress fall to the floor. She seemed to shine in the moonlight like a divine spirit. With difficulty, I prevented myself from falling to my knees and worshipping her. I lowered her onto the white sheets of my bed and stripped naked before her. I looked at her, all too aware of my awkward man-child body. But she smiled at me, encouraging and open her arms beckoning me to her.

I lay beside her, and my arm looked brown and coarse against her fine white skin. Not vanilla or washed out, but beautiful like porcelain or milk. She was pale, and I thought her lovely. Her skin was the colour and texture of a white hen’s egg, and next to her my skin was like a brown egg dimpled and with tiny goose bumps.

Our mouths joined, and I eased astride her. Our passions rose within us and around us.  We became swollen with love, but I could not truly love her as she deserved, as she wanted. That nagging doubt sounded in my mind, the certainty that I was unloved and unlovable, and a full union of love was not to be. A tide of desire rose up; a flood of Biblical proportion. It washed over her in wave after wave, and she opened her mouth with a look of hunger and delight and disappointment.

The aroma of oranges filled the room, together with the smell of new-cut grass and honey. Then came the smell of the sea and the odour of cats and the fragrance of garlic. Overtones of vinegar and salt, mingled with the stench of methane, drifted; a cloud of scent. I breathed in; it was the most sensual smell ever.

I stood up and looked down on my love as she lay on the white bedsheet. The essence of my love distilled on her skin like pearl beads. Every inch of her skin and hair shone in the moonlight with the glistening dew of passion. As she lay, beautiful as mist in morning meadow, the moths came.

They flitted into the attic through the open window and settled in their thousand upon my love. Thousands of tiny mouths and tongues lapped the nectar of her nakedness, and thousands of wings of all shapes and colours and sizes fluttered kisses over her body. Hawk moths, chequered moths, wings black and white or purple or green or brimstone, some wings shaped like crescents or like kites or twisted into spirals. Antennae shaped like clubs and hockey sticks or bottle brushes or rattles. Abdomens thick or thin, hairy or smooth, all colours and all sizes, ringed and banded in all varieties.

The moths fed on the remains of my passion. Then just as suddenly they rose up in a giant cloud and streamed out into the trees, out into my parents garden leaving my love to me alone once more. Only moth scales from their wings, iridescent, rainbow glitter sticking to our naked flesh, remained.

She dressed in silence, and after she had climbed down to the garden and kissed me once more, she slipped home. I climbed back into the attic and pulled up the ladder, then I let it back down into the cupboard where it had been before.

The next day I awoke exhausted. I crawled out of bed, crept through the house and off to school.

My love would not meet my eyes. But that was not such a surprise. We had to keep things secret, she said. But before I returned home, there was a note slipped to me in the school hall. I took the little, torn scrap of paper, opened it and read her thin, spidery handwriting.

“Tonight again.”

There was nothing else that needed to be said. And when the moon was high and the rest of my household asleep, I lifted the ladder once more and brought it to the window. She was waiting for me, but she did not wait for me to come to her assistance; instead, she climbed unaided and hurriedly into our little room in the treetops.

Quickly, she disrobed and lounged across my bedsheet. If anything, she was more lovely even than before. But after the exertions of the previous night when a teenage lifetime of suppressed love un-bottled, there was no way that I could shower her with love. Instead, I brought a bottle spray that my mother used to water her house plants. I had filled it with a solution of water and sugar, and as she lay seductively, I misted her body in a fog of sweet, gentle rain. The droplets condensed and ran like tiny streams over her skin and into her open mouth.

The smell returned, not as powerful as last night but softer and with an edge of sweetness. It was not long before the moths returned. She twisted this way and that and moisture coated her skin while the mass of swirling moths caressed her with a softness that I could not hope to match. There was a faraway look in her eyes, one that spoke of a different kind of love. Every inch of her was covered now in beating wings. She stood and turned in the moonlight. A hundred eye-spotted wings stared at me. But her eyes did not look at me. I let a gentle haze drift over her and the moths, delighted, beat their wings even faster. My love began to lift from the ground. The fluttering moths lifted her clear into the air. She gave a soft laugh and seemed to spasm with delight as they kissed and suckled at her.

“Don’t,” I said, but she could not hear me above the rustling wings. They beat harder now, making little vortexes of wind. I could feel the currents of air getting stronger as she hovered over me and then seemed to sail towards my window.

I reached out to grab her and hold her. I did not want to lose her. But she evaded my grasp. Out into the moonlight, she passed. I pushed my head out of the window and watched as the moths flew upwards and upwards towards the full moon. I watched for a long time until the cloud of moths was nothing more than a dark spot on the face of the moon that was so tiny and faint that I could not be sure that it was anything more than my imagination.

I never saw my first love after that. She never appeared at school. No notes of secret need and desire appeared in my hand. No spidery hand declared love to me. Like most first loves, it ended with heartbreak and disappointment. It seemed to confirm everything I thought I knew about love; that it was a cruel joke. It was many years before I learned there were other kinds of love. It was many years before I learned that I could love and be loved. But even now, I sometimes think about my first love, especially when I see a full moon and look for a tiny dark spot on its face. I have looked very hard, but in the end, I am certain it is all just moonshine.