Birthday with Rose
While we are washing the cups the hall clock stutters out eleven gongs and Rose turns to me with a shrug. ‘Looks like we’re alone together for the night,’ she says, winking at me, jerking her head towards the stairs.
‘Maybe we’ll just have one drink together, before we say goodnight,’ I say, my heart again pounding with the bold suggestion.
‘Just what I was thinkin’ meesen’ she says. She bends down and fumbles about in the lower reaches of a cupboard. I hear bottlesclinking. She looks up, wide-eyed. ‘Vodka and lime, all right? Or you prefer a whisky and soda?’
‘Whisky’s fine for me. Forget the soda.’
She makes a mock-surprised hum with a rise in her voice. ‘Oo, a real man’s drink!’
‘You wouldn’t’ve guessed it,’ I rejoin.
‘Oh, you never know, do you? These strong silent types.’
I watch her hand shaking as she pours out a generous slug of spirit into my glass, and tops up her vodka with what looks like tomato juice.
‘Can we have it here in the kitchen? It’s more homely somehow.’
‘You can have it wherever you like,’ she chips in saucily
She turns to me and we clink glasses.
I take a sip, but before I know where I am I find my hand slithering over her skirt, stroking the fattest bum I’ve seen since that of Leila Harakat at the swimming pool in Sousse.
‘Sorry, I’m afraid I just can’t resist women in full skirts,’ I tell her. ‘I’d never look twice at a woman in trousers.’
‘Go on, I can’t believe it.’
‘It’s true though.’
‘Then not much attracts you these days. Most of us is in trousers these days. It’s so much warmer and a damn sight more convenient.
I consider the question of dress.
‘Really? I find skirts much more convenient.’
By now my hand is inside her knickers, squeezing that soft spongy rump, not long either before we’re both bottom naked on the kitchen floor, rolling about, wriggling, squealing and panting like a pair of dogs in the street. Well, sometimes you have to, don’t you? No harm done and maybe, who knows, quite a lot of good.
Besides, it’s my birthday, isn’t it! And, anyway, Midge shouldn’t have left me alone with such a lovely lump of lardy flesh for my supper. We don’t need to tell her though. Not a word to Bessy! Never mind, she’s probably guessed anyway.
A key grates in the front door lock. Yvonne and Christine are back from the theatre.
‘Ay oop me looves. So what sort of time d’ye call this?’
The girls have had a great time. Christine flushed and happy. Yvonne cool and smirking, as if she knows something. She’s quite mature and I wonder – and old enough, and since every woman is a potential mate, well, it needs thinking about.
I manage to slip away, leaving them screeching with laughter. Yvonne covers her mouth, shrieking as she points to the kitchen cupboard. Mum’s drawers are on the floor.
Farewell to Christine
It’s dark in the room when I begin. The bottle table-lamp with its coolie-shaped shade casts a green circle on the side table. Her long bare legs are tucked up under her exquisite derrière. I have made us fresh Irish coffee with copious spoonfuls of brown sugar and topped with cream. She’s sipping it through a rainbow-coloured straw and for some reason my heart is jumping in an erratic way and I’m unusually tongue-tied. The night is set for seduction. All things have conspired in my favour. Yet I’m impotent, both in fleshly desire and no doubt potential performance. I desperately love her youth and her eagerness to engage. My sulky girl is now the model of devotion.
‘I don’t know where to start.’
‘Start wi’ moother. ’Ow ya met ’er, that’s the start.’
‘It’s a long story. I mean …’ How explain, how shape and cut to pattern? ‘Help me!’
‘Were it loove at first sight? Know what I mean?’
I laugh, thinking of the night on the kitchen floor, a censored item, though crucial.
‘I wanted to put her into my story, you see.’
She wrinkles her nose, not believing a word. ‘What makes ya write about real people? Will ya poot me in ya story?’
‘No. I mean… I hardly know you, do I? For a fully-fledged character, you need …’ Lies again. ‘How about another drink?’
She accepts – not Coke or orange juice, but the forbidden vodka this time, plentifully diluted with lime.
I suppose I must have told her more than she expected, or even wanted. Under questioning I confessed that I believed in nothing, least of all that ephemeral thing called love. Did I not believe in God, then? No longer, I tell her. You can’t read Nietzsche, Sartre and so many others, intelligent scientists, anthropologists,biologists, psychologists, and still cling to the tatters of faith, can you? Not God, not love, not the family, not scholarship, not art, not friendship, not progress, not even morality or the essential goodness buried seven fathoms deep in the heart of man. Only believe and thou shalt see? Only believe, only trust what the Elizabethans called Mutability.
She clenches her teeth, jerking her head in spasms, shaking her muzzle like a dog just emerged from the pool.
‘So what d’ya want? What d’ya hope for?’
‘So you believe in nothin’?’
‘Nothing. Except, well, I suppose, the impossibility of ever knowing the truth. We much prefer lies.’
Seeing only bafflement or distress in her collapsed face with its trembling open mouth, I retract a little. I still yearn for her, and, at this moment, feel I would die to make her happy.
‘Forget what I’m saying now, Chrissy. Tomorrow the sun will warm us. Tomorrow there’ll be joy in our hearts.’ Important to part on an upbeat note, to have happy memories if nothing else.
In the end I dry her tears, aware of my hypocrisy. I turn away, stifling a sob and thinking of Eliot and Ezra Pound and all those fragments we cling on to save ourselves from drowning. But in the face of crises like this, academic work, research and scholarship are surely useless and senseless.