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Authors: Ted Lewis

Tags: #Crime / Fiction

All the Way Home and All the Night Through (9 page)

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
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Harry took bottles out of the crate and passed them round. I drank some of mine and thought of Janet. I wondered what kind of a party she had gone to. I thought of her face and her dress. Her hair and her perfume. I thought of my home and my parents. Of my friends, the close ones, the boys at home. I thought of our cat, William. I thought of my grandmother. Of my childhood. I thought of the good parts of being at school. I thought of Janet saying Hello to me. I thought of the way her mouth had said the word. I thought of the river running broad and black out to sea, of the eels in the bottom of the river, of the lightships on top. Of the wet pebbles on the shore being tickled by the rain, of the wet grass round the car. I thought of everything as though each individual item had been invested with a warm and reverent importance of its own. Everything seemed worth love and respect: the rain, the sky, people, everything. I was no longer proud about Hilary's scene. There was nothing which was not worth compassion. I felt a true seriousness, a true responsibility. I wanted to
feel
the earth. I wanted to
be
the rain to show it how much I respected it. I wanted everything and everyone to know how much I cared about being right and good. It was as though thinking about Janet was the catalyst for making me feel like this.

“Let's see what it's like outside,” said Simon.

He and his girl got out of the car. People from the other cars were already cackling and thrashing about in the undergrowth.

“Come on, Harry,” said Jenny.

“Oh heck.”

“Come on, let's go and look at the river.”

“Heckins.”

“Come
on
.”

“Heck though. Okaden.”

Karen and I stayed in the car. We began necking. Heavily. She had on a dress which buttoned all the way down the front. I unfastened the buttons. She offered no resistance, but when I moved my hand away from her slip-encased breasts and began sliding it lower down, she began half-heartedly to fasten the buttons. I moved her hands away from the buttons and undid the few she had refastened.

“Okay, Vic,” she breathed.

My hand continued on its interrupted journey. With my free hand I slid her open dress from her shoulders and down her arms as far as the sleeves would allow it. She pressed closer to me. I heard screams and shrieks from outside the car, far away on the beach.

“What if somebody comes?” she whispered, nervous and excited.

“Nobody'll come.”

I kissed her. My hand was almost there. She started writhing in excitement. Then she stopped my hand again. If I'd taken her hand away from mine and carried on, I don't think she would have stopped me. But I didn't and she didn't know what to do. I took my hand away. She began to fasten the buttons again, a little bewildered, a little relieved. Harry's voice cackled out noisily. He and Jenny were almost on top of the car. I hurriedly helped Karen with the rest of the buttons. Harry and Jenny got in.

“Are my feet wet or are my feet wet?” said Harry.

Jenny laughed. She sat on his knee.

“Never mind then,” she said, and kissed him on his forehead.

“All right then.”

Karen pulled me toward her and kissed me with even more fervor than before.

“I think you're very nice,” I breathed in her ear.

“Oh, Vic,” she said. We kissed again. Then Simon came back and we drove off to Harry's pub. We stayed till about half-past three. Simon dropped me off at my place and then drove away to take the girls home. I watched the car move off. The rain had stopped and I could see the stars poking through the remnants of the rain clouds. Dynamos whirred in the power station a few streets away. I took out my key and opened the front door.

A light sharp wind blew over the reeds, skimming the sandbagged banks of the river. The fishing pits rippled excitedly, cutting up the image of the full-blown scudding sky. The river sped noisily past the disused brickworks, its sound triumphantly nonchalant in my ears.

I had crossed the river to home on Sunday morning after the dance. My parents had been glad to see me, and my mother had prepared an enormous Sunday lunch for me. Afterward I called Philip, a good friend of mine who was studying medicine in London. His term hadn't begun yet and he was still on holiday at home. Now we walked down by the river, making the best of the riotous mixture of wind, water and sky that was a sun-whipped Sunday afternoon in autumn.

We crouched in a brick-littered hollow near the speckled beach, temporarily out of the wind so that we could light up and smoke and talk without everything being snatched away by the elements.

Philip and I had always been very close. I told him about Janet.

“So you see,” I said, “she's not going to take two looks at me when there are guys like that smooth bastard at the dance zooming her all over town in their TR 2's.”

Philip reflected, practising his bedside manner.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that the only problem is yourself. In this case, you seem to be your own worst enemy. Until you get rid of this caste conscious bit, you're not going to get anywhere at all.”

“That's like saying the best cure for insomnia is a good night's sleep. I can't change what I feel. I mean, I've seen it. She's perfectly at ease with her own type, but when it comes to talking with Herberts like me, she gets all withdrawn and quiet.”

“There could be another reason for it, you know. Look at it this way. Have you ever thought what sort of a picture you present to
her
? I mean how long have you been at college? Three years. Right? You've been out with a lot of girls. Right? You get yourself talked about. You get a reputation. You get cocky with it. You do, don't you? Come on. Right? You play in the band and everything, and you prat round as if nothing mattered, as if you cared for no one. Look at the Hilary bit last night. You carried on playing the piano. Anyway, suppose this girl was interested in you, attracted by you. Now don't give me that. You said yourself she came over to the piano, that her friend knew who you were. She wouldn't know if Janet hadn't told her, would she, and why should Janet tell her? Anyway, supposing she's interested. She comes from school, straight to college. She sees you. She likes what she sees. Except she sees you being rude with Angela, being callous with Hilary and loving with Karen. What would you think if the position were reversed? You'd think you wouldn't stand a chance with someone so obviously careless. Even when you talked to her and Jenny, you hardly ever said a word to her. Yes,
I
know why, but she doesn't. What do you expect her to do, ask you to go out with her herself? If you ask me, I'd say she was scared stiff.”

He paused for a minute.

“That is,” he said slyly, “if she's at all interested.”

I smiled.

“You give me hope, Brother,” I said. “But I hope you're right.”

“Right? I'm always right. But seriously folks, I'd get stuck in if I were you.”

“I'll do my best.”

“Tell me, is she as good as you say she is?”

“Yes, I think she is,” I said.

The fair was coming. It struck me on the Monday after I had talked to Philip. This was it. The fair came annually, for one week. A great fair it was, too, covering acres and acres of land reclaimed from the blitz. It was the largest non-permanent fair I had ever seen. It was the real herald of winter. Crowds from the college attended, their gay faces gasping excited frosty breath in time to a million rock records whose sounds mingled across stall and waltzer. This would be the ideal event to which I could invite Janet.

The Fair began the coming Saturday. Saturday night would be the night I would ask her to go with me.

So now I had to choose the right moment to ask her. Somehow get her on her own, so that no one would notice if she refused.

I took Karen to her train after college on Monday and Tuesday, but I stopped that because the sight of Tony and Janet doing the same thing was too discouraging. I began the week seeing Karen at break-times, but as the days passed, our
tête à têtes
grew less frequent. Nor did I ask her out again. She began to look very bewildered.

I kept putting off asking Janet. The right moment never seemed to be at hand. She would be with Jenny, or Tony, always with someone, and if she wasn't, I didn't raise the strength to confront her. The week dragged on. On Thursday evening I felt the first sniffs of a cold. On Friday morning it was well settled in. By lunchtime it was rampant. And I still hadn't asked Janet. Came Friday afternoon break. Janet and Jenny were sitting together on a couple of high stools in the common room. I joined them. Jenny and I did most of the talking. My nose kept streaming. The buzzer went for the end of break. We carried on talking. I wished, ached, writhed for Jenny to leave us. She finally made a move.

“Well, we'd better be getting back,” said Jenny, looking at Janet.

You mustn't, I thought. Stay.

“I'll just finish my tea,” said Janet.

“Well look, I'll see you in the cloakroom. I've got to pop in there on the way.”

Jenny left us. There was no one else in the common room. Except the two of us. I blew my nose. Janet sipped at her tea and time stood quite still. Traffic passed in the street.

“I expect you're quite settled in by now,” I said.

“Yes, the newness is beginning to wear off.”

“I expect the people aren't as overbearing anymore.”

“They never were really. Just new.”

“I expect so. Tell me,” I said, “do you ever come into contact with that girl Angela?”

“Angela? Yes.” She smiled. “She's rather sweet. Why do you ask?”

“Sweet? You could say that, I suppose. No, it's just that I wondered if, well, if she'd said anything to you. You know, about me.”

“About you? No, I don't think so. Why should she?”

“Well, you know. Well, I've known Angela quite a time, and she knows me, knows what I'm like, and you know Angela, she's not exactly tactful, and, well, I wondered if she's said anything.”

“Why should she say anything to me especially?”

“Well, take Saturday. That awful business with Hilary.”

“Yes, it was awful.”

“Well, Angela likes Hilary. She doesn't get on all that well with me. Anything she could say about that business that would run me down, she'd say.”

“But why should she say it to me.”

“Has she said anything?”

“Not to me. Not about that. I've heard her talking to other girls.”

“Saying what?”

“Well. One thing I heard was that she didn't think you were to be trusted with girls.”

“Did she? Why not?”

“I would have thought it obvious after Saturday.”

“Now why say a thing like that? It wasn't my fault that she went off like that.”

“No. But it was clear that she had thought that you felt a lot for her or else she wouldn't have been that way.”

“She could have got that way of her own accord. I didn't have to make her that way.”

“No, but you weren't very kind. You didn't help much.”

“If I'd have gone to her I'd have made things worse. I'm sure of that. And I was with someone else. Anyway, I couldn't help what happened.”

I didn't like the way the conversation was turning. It was almost beyond saving. On the surface it was pleasantly said but I knew she believed her sentiments.

“Anyway,” I said, “I wish it hadn't happened. As you say, it doesn't show me in too good a light. I'm fed up with all this kind of business. You know, you go with a girl now and then and people build it up and build it up and suddenly you're the worst thing since Bluebeard. And twice as nasty.”

“Why should they build a thing up if it's not true?”

“People are like that. It's the way they are.”

I tried to detect some glimmer of interest that would mean she was being impressed by my high-minded sentiments. That she sympathized with the difficulty of an old lag trying to go straight. But nothing showed.

“But you can't live down a bad reputation very easily,” she said.

This is better, I thought.

“I suppose not,” I said.

There was a silence.

“Actually, my mother heard about you. She was telling me last night.”

“Who from?”

“A friend of hers. The mother of Paul Markham. He's a friend of yours, isn't he?”

“He manages the band. What did she say?”

“She said you were a bit wild. That's all.”

“I see. Oh, well.”

“She told my mother she liked you. She said you were charming.”

“Good old Mrs Markham. I like her, actually. She's nice. A lot of fun.”

By this time other girls would have betrayed the knowledge that I was going to ask them out. They would have looked coy, or smiled encouragement, or their eyes would have been excited, as at any proposition from a boy. But not Janet. Her face bore no intimacy. Her whole aura was one of reservation. The gazelle-like quality of her personality would seem to start imperceptibly when a phrase in my conversation appeared to her unnatural or previously un-met. I could think of nothing more feminine than the picture she presented sitting on the high stool, her elbows resting on the counter, her chin platformed on the back of her hands. All the stuff I had been trying to lay on about my being an indolent charmer tasted sickly in my throat. But how else was I to do it? I had to make myself unique, exciting, or else what was there about me which could possibly interest her?

“What do you do in your spare time?” I asked. “Do you go out much?”

“Quite often. My parents are fairly strict, but I do what I want within reason.”

“What sort of things?”

“Oh, the usual things.”

“Do you go to many parties?”

“Some.”

“Shall you be going to the fair this year?”

BOOK: All the Way Home and All the Night Through
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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