The Royalty Kinema was on Farquhar Street, one of the small streets leading down from the Castle toward the Ascot road. It was a meager-looking place, showing two Westerns, a cartoon, and so-called “News” that consisted of what the Queen had been doing a month ago. I realized why Derek had chosen it when he paid twelve shillings for a box. There was one on each side of the projection room, about six feet square, dark and with two chairs, and as soon as we went in Derek pulled his chair close to me and began kissing and feeling me. At first I thought, Oh, God is this where he brings them? But after a bit I sort of melted, and then his hands were slowly exploring me and they were gentle and seemed to know, and then they were there and I hid my face against his shoulder and bit my lip with the exquisite tingle, and then it was all over and I was flooded with warmth and tears came by themselves out of my eyes and wet the collar of his shirt.

He kissed me gently and whispered that he loved me and that I was the most wonderful girl in the world. But I sat up and away from him and dabbed at my eyes and tried to watch the film and reflected that I had lost my virginity, or some kind of virginity, and that now he would never respect me again. But then the interval came and he bought me ice cream and put his arm round the back of my chair and whispered that it was being the most wonderful day of his life and that we must have the same day over and over again. And I told myself not to be silly. That this was just petting. Everybody did it, and anyway it had been rather marvelous and it wasn't as if I would get a baby or anything. Besides, boys wanted to pet and if I didn't do it with him he would find some other girl who would. So when the lights went out again and his hands came back it seemed natural that they should go to my breasts and that excited me, and when he whispered that now I must do it to him I let him take my hand and put it on him. But I didn't know how, and I was clumsy and ashamed, and he had to help. But then his breath came panting against my neck and he said, “Oh, Baby!” in a long-drawn-out kind of sigh, and I felt a sort of pang of excitement at having given him the same pleasure as he had given me and, now that we had both done it, it was as if some kind of barrier had disappeared from between us, and I felt motherly toward him and kissed him and from that moment on we were somehow different kinds of friends.

He drove me back to catch the last train for London, and we arranged to meet at the same time on the next Saturday, and he stood and waved for as long as I could see him under the yellow lights of that darling little station, and so our real love-affair began. It was always the same, with perhaps different places for luncheon and high tea, the river, the gramophone, the little box in the cinema, but now there was added the extra thrill of the physical side and always, in the boat, the car, the cinema, our hands were on each other's bodies, more lingering, more expert as the endless summer drew on into September.

In my memory of those days the sun is always shining and the willows dip into water as limpid clear as the sky. Swans ride in the shadows of the poplars, and swallows dip and skim as the Thames slips down from Queens Eyot, past Boveney Lock and Coocoo Weir, where we used to bathe, and on down the long stretch through Brocas meadows toward Windsor Bridge. It surely must have rained, there must have been noisy holiday-makers crowding our river, there must have been clouds in our private skies, but if there were I can't remember them. The weeks slipped by like the river, sparkling, luminous, full of enchantment.

And then came the last Saturday of September and, though till then we had ignored the fact, a new chapter had to be opened. Susan was coming back to the flat on Monday, I had the chance of a job, and Derek was going up to Oxford. We pretended it would all be the same. I would explain to Susan, and there would be weekends when I could go to Oxford or Derek come up to London. We didn't discuss our affair. It was obvious that it would go on. Derek had talked vaguely of my meeting his parents, but he had never pressed it, and on our Saturdays together there were always so many better things to do. Perhaps I thought it rather odd that Derek seemed to have no time for me during the week, but he played a lot of cricket and tennis and had hosts of friends, all of whom he said were a bore. I didn't want to get mixed up in this side of his life, at any rate not for the present. I was happy to have him absolutely to myself for our one day a week. I didn't want to share him with a crowd of other people who would anyway make me shy. So things were left very much in the air, and I just didn't look beyond the next Saturday.

That day Derek was particularly affectionate, and in the evening he took me to the Bridge Hotel and we had three rounds of gins and tonics, though usually we hardly drank at all. And then he insisted on champagne for dinner, and by the time we got to our little cinema we were both rather tight. I was glad, because it would make me forget that tomorrow would mean the turning of a new page and the breaking up of all our darling routines. But when we got into our little box, Derek was morose. He didn't take me in his arms as usual but sat a little away from me and smoked and watched the film. I came close to him and took his hand, but he just sat and looked straight in front of him. I asked him what was the matter. After a moment he said obstinately, “I want to sleep with you. Properly, I mean.”

I was shocked. It was his rough tone of voice. We had talked about it, of course, but it was always agreed, more or less, that this would come “later.” Now I used the same old arguments, but I was nervous and upset. Why did he have to spoil our last evening? He argued back, fiercely. I was being a hard-boiled virgin. It was bad for him. Anyway, we were lovers, so why not behave like lovers? I said I was frightened of getting a baby. He said that was easy. There were things he could wear. But why now? I argued. We couldn't do it here. Oh, yes we could. There was plenty of room. And he wanted to do it before he went up to Oxford. It would sort of, sort of marry us.

Tremulously I considered this. Perhaps there was something in it. It would be a kind of seal on our love. But I was frightened. Hesitantly I said had he got one of these “things”? He said no, but there was an all-night chemist and he would go and buy one. And he kissed me and got up eagerly and walked out of the box.

I sat and stared dully at the screen. Now I couldn't refuse him! He would come back, and it would be messy and horrible in this filthy little box in this filthy little back-street cinema, and it was going to hurt and he would despise me afterward for giving in. I had an instinct to get up and run out and down to the station and take the next train back to London. But that would make him furious. It would hurt his vanity. I wouldn't be being “a sport,” and the rhythm of our friendship, so much based on us both “having fun,” would be wrecked. And, after all, was it fair on him to hold this back from him? Perhaps it really was bad for him not to be able to do it properly. And, after all, it had to happen some time. One couldn't choose the perfect moment for that particular thing. No girl ever seemed to enjoy the first time. Perhaps it would be better to get it over with. Anything not to make him angry! Anything better than the danger of wrecking our love!

The door opened and there was a brief shaft of light from the lobby. Then he was beside me, breathless and excited. “I've got it,” he whispered. “It was terribly embarrassing. There was a girl behind the counter. I didn't know what to call it. I finally said, 'One of those things for not having babies. You know.' She was cool as a cucumber. She asked me what quality. I said the best, of course. I almost thought she was going to ask 'What size?' ” He laughed and held me tight. I giggled feebly back. Better to “be a sport”! Better not to make a drama out of it! Nowadays nobody did. It would make it all so embarrassing, particularly for him.

His preliminary love-making was so perfunctory it almost made me cry. Then he pushed his chair to the back of the box and took off his coat and laid it down on the wooden floor. When he told me to, I lay down on it and he knelt beside me and pulled off my panties. He said to put my feet up against the front of the box and I did, and I was so cramped and uncomfortable that I said, “No, Derek! Please! Not here!” But then he was somehow on top of me in a dreadful clumsy embrace, and all my instinct was somehow to help him so that at least he would have pleasure from it and not be angry with me afterward.

And then the world fell in!

There was suddenly a great gush of yellow light, and a furious voice said from above and behind me, “What the hell do you think you're doing in my cinema? Get up, you filthy little swine.”

I don't know why I didn't faint. Derek was standing, his face white as a sheet, clumsily buttoning up his trousers. I scrambled to my feet, banging against the wall of the box. I stood there, waiting to be killed, waiting to be shot dead.

The black silhouette in the doorway pointed at my bag on the floor with the white scrap of my pants beside it. “Pick those up.” I bent down quickly as if I had been hit, and clutched the pants into a ball in my hand to try and hide them. “Now get out!” He stood there, half blocking the entrance, while we shambled past him, broken people.

The manager banged the door of the box shut and got in front of us, thinking, I suppose, that we might make a run for it. Two or three people had seeped out of the back seats into the foyer. (The whole audience must have heard the manager's voice. Had the seats below us heard the whole thing, the argument, the pause, then Derek's instructions what to do? 1 shuddered.) The ticket woman had come out of her box, and one or two passers-by, who had been examining the program, gazed in from under the cheap colored lights over the entrance.

The manager was a plump, dark man with a tight suit and a flower in his buttonhole. His face was red with rage as he looked us up and down. “Filthy little brats!” He turned on me. “And I've seen you here before. You're nothing better than a common prostitute. I've a damned good mind to call the police. Indecent exposure. Disturbing the peace.” He ran the heavy words easily off his tongue. He must have used them often before in his sleazy little house of private darkness. “Names, please.” He took a notebook out of his pocket and licked a stub of pencil. He was looking at Derek. Derek stammered, “Er, James Grant”—the film had starred Cary Grant. “Er, 24 Acacia Road, Nettlebed.” The manager looked up. “There aren't any roads in Nettlebed. Only the Henley-Oxford road.” Derek said obstinately. “Yes, there are. At the back,” he added weakly. “Sort of lanes.” “And you?” He turned toward me suspiciously. My mouth was dry. I swallowed. “Miss Thompson, Audrey Thompson. 24”—I realized it was the same number that Derek had chosen, but I couldn't think of another—“Thomas”— I almost said Thompson again!—“Road. London.” “District?” I didn't know what he meant. I gaped hopelessly at him. “Postal district,” he said impatiently. I remembered Chelsea. “S.W.6,” I said weakly. The manager snapped his book shut. “All right. Get out of here, both of you.” He pointed out into the street. We edged nervously past him, and he followed us, still pointing. “And don't ever come back to my establishment again! I know you both! You ever show up again, I'll have the police on you!” Copyright 2016 - 2024