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Authors: Ted Lewis

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BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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“Don't unwrap it now,” I said. “I think you'll remember where you first heard it.”

“It's the one we heard together, isn't it?”

“Yes.”

“Hold it one moment.”

I took the record. She took a tiny parcel out of her coat pocket.

“Cuff links,” she said. “I hope they're all right.”

“I think—oh damn, there's your mother.”

Her mother didn't come over to us immediately but waited at the other end of the shop's entrance.

“We'd better say good-bye now,” I said.

“Are you staying tonight? To go with the band?”

“No, I don't think so. I don't want to now.”

“I'm glad.”

“Come on. Your mother's waiting.”

We walked over to where her mother was.

“Well, Victor,” said Mrs Walker. “Have a pleasant Christmas.”

“Thank you, I'm sure I will. Thank you again for allowing me to see Janet.”

“Don't thank me, Victor. I didn't have a lot of choice. I prefer peace and quiet at home.”

Janet blushed slightly.

“Well, bye-bye, Victor,” said Mrs Walker.

“Cheerio, Mrs Walker. Janet.”

“By, Vic.”

“Merry Christmas,” I said, and then they went, crossing the zebra to the other side of Portland Street, disappearing into the fairly-lit gloom of the dusky afternoon.

I looked down at the small parcel I held in my hand, then into the bright lit windows of the store. I smiled, in a kind of slow deliberate elation. She loved me. It didn't matter what anyone else thought about me. My surface didn't count anymore.

“Eh, Bernard, eh up, look at this. We're off on the Oregon trail!” shouted Wilfred Dunn, draping his wife's fur coat round him. “Whaaa-
wa-wa-wa-whaaa-wa-wa-wa-wah.
Aah, ha, ha, ha, ha! Come on. We're off on the Oregon trail.” He began to affect a limp. “Where's Meester Dillon? We're off on the Oregon trail. Can't go without him.”

“Oh, Wilfred, give over—mind your drink!” said his wife. “Mind Brenda's carpet.”

“He's all right, Katie. Leave him alone,” said Philip's mother. “You're off up the Oregon trail aren't you, Wilf?”

“I am that, Brenda. Are you coming?”

“In a minute. Let me get a drink first. Victor,” she said, putting her hand on my arm, “have you had enough to eat?”

“Plenty thanks. Too much.”

“Cause there's plenty of pork pie left on the kitchen table. And some of Mrs Dunn's mince pies. Have another drink.”

“I'll have another drink, aye, but you come and have a jive with me first.”

“Ooh, you know I can't jive, Victor.”

“Come
on
.”

“Look, Sal, I'm getting hep. I'm being sent. ‘Whooo-oh Diana, you're the most.'”

“Do you come here often?” I said, sweat pouring off me.

“Only when my stays are loosened.”

“You don't mean to tell me—
you
don't wear
corsets
?”

“Oh, Victor, give over.”

“By heck, though, you smell good.”

“Ahahaha! I'll tell your mother.”

“Whoops. Mind that armchair.”

“Oh Diana, you're the most.”

“Careful, Victor,” came my mother's voice, “mind what you're doing.”

“I'm all right, Mrs.”

The record finished. I went over to my mother.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” I said.

“Oh, yes. It's Christmas Eve.”

Philip came over to us.

“Now, Mrs Graves, I see he's still on his feet.”

“Only just, I expect,” she said.

“You seem to be doing all right anyway,” I said to her. “What on earth are you drinking?”

“Advocaat.” She took the swizzle stick from out of the glass and sucked it dry. “Mm, delicious.”

“Hell fire,” I said. “I don't know how you can.”

“Lovely. I think I'll have another. I could drink it all night. See you later.”

She walked through the door into the large kitchen. Philip and I sat down in easy chairs that flanked the roaring fireplace. My father came through from the kitchen. He grinned sardonically when he saw the two of us.

“The idle rich,” he said.

“That's us.”

He stood with his back to the fireplace.

“Here we are again, then,” he said. “The winter solstice is upon us once more.”

“It's two days old,” I said.

“Jack Frost spreads his icy tentacles far and wide,” said my father, his sardonic grin still lighting up his cheeks.

“And Harold Graves waxes as poetic as his two brothers at a reserve team football match,” I said.

“You didn't know your father had a lyrical streak in him, did you?” he said.

“I still don't.”

“You see, Philip? Respect. A prophet knows no honour in his own land.”

“Yes, Mr Graves. I sympathize.”

“This younger element today. They've no idea.” His grin flashed back to me.

“Come on then. Let's have it,” I said. “Get it over with. The part about scudding clouds at half-past four in the morning when you were thirteen, walking all the way to the docks to work your fourteen-hour day.”

“You'll never know, you lads.”

“Thank God.”

“You've got it easy.”

“Yep.”

He took a drink of his gin and tonic.

“The spirit of Christmas,” he said, his grin even wider.

“Oh heck,” I said. I got up from my chair.

“You'll have to excuse me a minute. I can't take anymore, straight off.”

My father sat down in the chair I had been sitting in.

“That's more like it,” he said. “Let an old man rest his legs.”

I went through into the kitchen. There were about a dozen people standing round, friends of my parents, drinking, eating, talking, shouting. Pete came up to me.

“Here, come and look at this.” He took me over to the back door, opened it, and motioned me through. He closed it behind him.

It was snowing and it was quiet.

“Follow me,” he said.

We walked across the garden. The light from the kitchen window made a yellow patch on the white lawn. We reached the warehouse.

“Don't make a noise,” he said.

He pushed open the door very carefully. Wilfred Dunn was slumped over a large tin barrel, his wife's fur coat still draped over him. He was asleep.

“He's finally reached the Happy Hunting Ground,” said Pete. “He's been playing that tin drum like a tom-tom. I wouldn't like to be with him when Mrs Dunn starts looking for him and her fur coat.”

He closed the door. We walked back toward the house. Pete opened the door into the kitchen.

“You go in, Pete. I'll be with you in a minute,” I said. He went in.

I looked up. The snow fell from a yellow, immobile sky. I didn't feel cold. I wondered what Janet was doing, but there was no anxiety in my thoughts. Not now. Now I knew. Her mother knew it, too. She couldn't stop it now. She'd made her gesture and now it would be just a matter of time.

I heard the sound of carol-singing coming from the house, the voices swaying backward and forward through the snow. A snowflake landed on one of my eyebrows. It melted and trickled down my face. I opened the kitchen door and went into the warmth. The kitchen was empty. The caroling voices surged out of the living room. I crossed the kitchen and went through into the noise.

 

 

PART TWO

SPRING.

The sun swept across King's Gardens and lifted huge areas of gusty light to tickle and rock the emerald lawns. Ships glinted on the river and the striding blue sky etched the docks' warehouses black and olive.

Janet and I walked hand in hand down to the pier. The day was almost too brilliant to comprehend with ordinary eyes. The sky was so bright that it could only be looked at with the eyes half closed. The midday sun cavorted between rushing clouds, now and then gracing the railway lines with long strips of golden sunlight.

We reached the pier and went into the café. It was almost empty.

The café was set on the pier itself and one wall was entirely of glass so that you had an excellent view of the river interrupted only by the supports of the pier's upper level and part of the roof of the pontoon, the latter being below the pier level and invisible from the café.

We chose the table near the window. Janet sat down and I walked over to the counter to order our lunch. The fat lady behind the counter smiled as I approached. She had come to know us by sight. I ordered bacon, eggs, beans and chips for myself, two toasted tea cakes for Janet and two cups of tea. I went back to our table and we waited for our lunch.

“What a tremendous day,” I said.

“Yes, it's lovely. It's wasted on a weekday like this. It ought to be a Saturday.”

“Yes, it should. And we should be together on that day.”

“We will be.”

“And every day.”

Janet smiled and took my hand.

“I can't believe it.”

“What can't you believe?”

“Everything. The fact that anything could be like this. That I could meet someone like you.”

“What else can't you believe?”

“That two people like us can actually feel like this without it having to stop someday.”

“It won't stop. Each day I get up and I think: Today I'm going see Janet. Not: Today I'm going to see Janet,
again
. I never think of it like that because each day's new, different. Better than the last. And I can see no end to it. Can you?”

“No. I can't. Nothing must go wrong. Nothing must change. You couldn't go with another girl, could you? I mean, I think I know that you wouldn't go with another girl because you wanted her more than me, that you could love her, but the times when I'm not with you, at the Steam Packet, when you're playing out of town and there are so many girls who would be willing. If you did... I don't know, I can't say what I might feel; it would have to happen first but it would be all over. Because of what we feel because we're honest. The reason we're right together is because we can't think of things being any other way. If anything like that happened, I think we wouldn't be the same anymore.”

“I know. But nothing like that will ever happen with me. I know it. I look round me when I'm not with you and I just know that I couldn't be any other way. And when I am with you, the pride that I feel, and the love—well, wherever I am you're always on my mind. I just couldn't change. I know it.”

Our hands tightened.

There was a quiet silence a few minutes while we looked at each other because words couldn't add to the description and communication of our mutual feelings. I lit a cigarette.

“What—what I am worried about is what happens at the end of the year? The end of the college year, I mean. This summer. When I leave college.”

“I know. I've thought about that, too. I wish you weren't going to leave.”

“So do I. But I have to. Will you want to go on seeing me? I mean will you want us to belong to each other still?”

“Of course, I will. You know I will.”

“I know. But I'll be in London, and you'll be here and there are so many people, so many boys who want to go out with you. I think I'd go mad if you were to let one even kiss you.”

“But I wouldn't. I couldn't even. Not after you. I know it.”

“You can't say. With me not here there's no telling.”

“But what about you? How can I be sure of you? How can you be sure of yourself?”

“I can. I know I can. There couldn't be anyone but you.”

“But in London. There'd be so much more to do, so many more people to meet. It would be bound to affect you, even if you didn't want it to.”

“Don't say that, Janet. I know it wouldn't happen. I just know.”

“And so do I.”

We fell silent again. The fat lady shouted out our order. I got up and brought it to the table. We began to eat.

“I thought I would never meet anyone like you before I knew you,” I said, “because I thought no one like you existed.”

“I don't know why. I'm just ordinary.”

“Don't be soft. You're not. Everybody wants to go out with you, you know that. People are always ringing you up and I— well, I can't believe in your existence.”

She laughed.

“No. I'm like nothing on earth.”

“Oh, give over. I'm not going to give you anymore of a swelled head.”

“You'd have to say much more to do that.”

“It's all a device on your part so that I'll keep on saying nice things to you all the time.”

“Of course, it is. I know I'm wonderful.”

She laughed again. Then she became serious.

“What?” I said. “Tell me.”

“I was just thinking,” she said, “about what I was just feeling.”

“And what was that?”

“I was just thinking, I wish we were alone together.”

I remember the first time we were alone together.

In a cinema, in the dark, one late, grey, slushy January afternoon when we should have been at college, in fact, the second day of the new term, we kissed each other. Softly in the beginning, then attacking each other in a way that had been foreign to us before. It was obvious from the way we were that we both wanted to go much farther, in a different place, alone together.

Then the lights went up. I lit a cigarette. Janet rearranged her hair.

“Vic, don't be mad when I say this, but do you really think it was wise to take the afternoon off? I mean, in view of the lecture you got from the principal yesterday?”

“I don't think it'll matter as far as I'm concerned, really. I told Smithson I had to go to the Museum for reference for my thesis. He'd have heart failure if I went back. No, it's you that should be worried. You've no excuse.”

“I suppose so,” she said. “But I don't care.” She paused. “Are you worried about what the principal said?”

“No, not really. He had to say something. So long as the Big-Wigs didn't make any adverse comments I shouldn't think he could care less. It was very formal, his little talk. There was no real anger there. I've just got to watch it in future, that's all. Besides, they wouldn't throw anyone out so close to NDD unless they did something like murder Rudge and even then maybe not.”

“You must be careful, though.”

“Don't worry. I will be.”

The lights went down.

I kissed her. Again we were the way we had been before the interval. It became frustrating, but a tingling ecstasy was there, too.

“If we were alone—if—” I said, my mouth close to her ear.

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. Yes. I want to be with you, Vic.”

“Alone? Properly?”

“Don't ask me to say it. You know what I mean.”

“Yes.”

I kissed her again. I said:

“We could always go to my place.”

“No, not there. The other times—”

“I know,” I said. “Look, perhaps I could fix it with someone else, at their place—”

“But they'd know. Wouldn't they? I wouldn't want anyone to know.”

“They wouldn't need to know anything. I'd see to that. But I must know—I know I shouldn't ask, but—you're really sure?”

Afternoon, a week later. I lit the gas fire in Jerry's bedroom. Janet put her handbag down on Rose's dressing table and began to take off her coat. I stood up and helped her off with it and then put my arms round her. She pressed her head into my neck.

“If you want to change your mind, all you have to do is to say so,” I said quietly.

She shook her head but without moving it away from my neck.

I took her hand and we walked over to the bed and sat down on it. I kissed her. We lay back. We kissed some more and after a time Janet said she felt ill. She had to get up and go to the toilet. When she came back, she said she had been sick but after that everything was all right.

It was quarter to six when we left. Janet had to go home as usual, so we walked to a bus stop far enough away from college not to be seen by any members of the staff.

“You're sure,” I asked again.

“Yes, I'm sure. No regrets,” she said, “though I feel a little depressed. I suppose because I have to leave you.”

“That and everything else.”

“Yes.”

Wind scurried round us then dropped again.

“Nothing ‘happened,' did it?” It was more of a reassuring statement than a question.

“No,” I said.

“And no one will know.”

“No one.”

I walked into the common room. I'd decided to have my tea there. There was hardly anyone in. Three plain girls were sitting at a table drinking tea, and a boy I didn't know to speak to was sitting up at the mirrored wall counter, on one of the high stools, reading a paperback and ignoring his beans on toast. I walked over to him.

“Seen Jerry?” I said.

He jerked up from his book, a little surprised.

“Jerry?”

“Jerry Coward.”

“Er—no. Not this tea-time.”

I left him.

“Egg on beans on toast on a plate please, Molly,” I said to the woman who ran the canteen.

“One shilling.”

“And a cup of.”

“One and two.”

She gave me the tea. I sat down at a deserted table and waited for the beans. I thought about the afternoon. It had been hard for her, the first time, and I don't suppose that physically she had got much out of it, but I knew, later, other times, that it would be good. I knew that. Thank God it was over though. So long as it didn't turn her against me. Or something. I didn't know.

Jerry came in.

“Now then, cocky,” he said. He sat down. “Got the keys?”

I gave them to him.

“Ta. Cup of tea, Molly. Anyhow, was it worth it?”

“Yes.”

“Was she a virgin?”

“Yes.”

“Still, you had to get it over sometime. All stops out, next time, eh?”

“Yeah. Should be okay.”

Jerry got up, got his tea, sat down again.

“Jerry, there is one thing. What I said earlier.
Nobody
must know. Right?”

“Victor, don't worry. You can take if from me.” He grinned in his confidence-trickster conspiratorial way. “Don't worry.”

A Sunday morning in May and we walked along the northern bank of the river, out in the country. It was a sunless morning and still. The time was ten thirty. The colours of the river bank were cool and pastel. The sky was motionless and the river slipped by almost unnoticed. We were comparatively close to the sea, and I felt if I had been able to see it, that it would have been motionless and quiet, too.

We were walking along the bank itself. It was raised six or seven feet above the muddy shore. Behind us was the fresh red and white paint of Halton lighthouse. In front of us was nothing but the sky and a woman walking two black poodles approximately ten yards in front of us. The woman was Gillian Lewis and she was forty-one years old and attractive. The poodles were called Jasper and George. Gillian was an old friend of Mrs Walker's. She was single, she ran an antique business in town, she wore decorated glasses, she smoked through a long black holder. I liked her. She owned a cottage out at Halton and sometimes Janet and I would stay weekends there. This was one of those week-ends.

Gillian stopped walking. We wandered up to her.

“I think that we should turn back now,” she said. “I'd like to get the casserole on. By the time we've done that and glanced at the papers, it'll be time to have a drink.”

These Sundays followed a pleasantly set pattern. Early breakfasts, long walks, a couple of drinks among the dart players in the village pub, Sunday lunch, falling asleep among the papers to a background of Basie or Beethoven, a late evening meal together with gins and liqueurs and wines and back to town in Gillian's Hillman.

We strolled back to the cottage and Gillian put the casserole in the oven and we went in the pub. The landlord and his daughters knew Gillian well and they welcomed us in a big way. I bought the first drinks and one of the landlord's daughters served us. Gillian started a conversation with one of the locals and Janet and I were left to ourselves.

We were sitting on a couple of high stools next to the bar. I was holding Janet's hand which rested in her lap. Her feet were perched on one of the stool's horizontal struts. She looked delightful. Her being radiated what she felt for me. Her expressions told me everything. She didn't have to affect a particular expression to illustrate this. It seemed to radiate from her permanently. I smiled at her because looking at her made me want to smile all the time.

“I look at you,” I said, “and you seem to grow more lovely as I look. And each minute that you do, the more I love you.”

“You shouldn't say things like that. Each time you do, I love you more, and each time I think I'm reaching a breaking point, a point where I can't contain everything I feel for you anymore, that point has been reached where it seems physically impossible. And yet it is possible. Anything's possible. I don't know. Nothing's impossible, yet you're impossible. Impossible to believe in because you're you and in love with me.”

“And you're impossible. Impossible Janet Walker sitting here on a bar stool in Halton with me on a Sunday morning.”

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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