The small host of sneering, accusing eyes followed us. I took Derek's arm (why didn't he take mine?) and we went out under the hideous bright lights and turned by instinct to the right and down the hill so that we could walk faster. We didn't stop until we got to a side street and we went in there and slowly started to work our way back to where the MG was parked up the hill from the cinema.
Derek didn't say a word until we were getting close to the car. Then he said matter-of-factly, “Mustn't let them get the number. I'll go and get her and pick you up opposite Fullers' on Windsor Hill. 'Bout ten minutes.” Then he freed himself from my arm and went off up the street.
I stood and watched him go, the tall, elegant figure that was once more proud and upright, and then I turned and went back to where a lane led up parallel with Farquhar Street toward the Castle.
I found that I still had my pants crushed in my hand. I put them in my bag. The open bag made me think of my appearance. I stopped under a streetlight and took out my mirror. I looked dreadful. My face was so white it was almost green, and my eyes belonged to a hunted animal. My hair stuck up at the back where it had been rumpled by the floor, and my mouth was smeared by Derek's kisses. I shuddered. “Filthy little swine!” How right! All of me felt unclean, degraded, sinful. What would happen to us? Would the man check on the addresses and put the police on us? Someone would certainly remember us from today or from other Saturdays. Someone would remember the number of Derek's car, some little boy who collected car numbers. There was always some Nosy Parker at the scene of a crime. Crime? Yes, of course it was, one of the worst in puritan England—sex, nakedness, indecent exposure. I imagined what the manager must have seen when Derek got up from me. Ugh! I shivered with disgust. But now Derek would be waiting for me. My hands had automatically been tidying my face. I gave it a last look. It was the best I could do. I hurried on up the street and turned down Windsor Hill, hugging the wall, expecting people to turn and point. “There she goes!” “That's her!” “Filthy little swine!”
Four: “Dear Viv”
THAT summer's night hadn't finished with me. Opposite Fullers' a policeman was standing by Derek's car, arguing with him. Derek turned and saw me. “Here she is, officer. I said she wouldn't be a minute. Had to, er, powder her nose. Didn't you, darling?”
More trouble! More lies! I said yes, breathlessly, and climbed into the seat beside Derek. The policeman grinned slyly at me and said to Derek, “All right, sir. But another time remember there's no parking on the Hill. Even for an emergency like that.” He fingered his mustache. Derek put the car in gear, thanked the policeman and gave him the wink of a dirty joke shared, and we were off at last.
Derek said nothing until we had turned right at the lights at the bottom. I thought he was going to drop me at the station, but he continued on along the Datchet road. “Phew!” He let the air out of his lungs with relief. “That was a close shave! Thought we were for it. Nice thing for my parents to read in the paper tomorrow. And Oxford! I should have had it.”
“It was ghastly.”
There was so much feeling in my voice that he looked sideways at me. “Oh, well. The path of true love and all that.” His voice was light and easy. He had recovered. When would I? “Damned shame, really,” he went on casually. “Just when we'd got it all set up.” He put enthusiasm into his voice to carry me with him. “Tell you what. There's an hour before the train. Why don't we walk up along the river. It's a well-known beat for Windsor couples. Absolutely private. Pity to waste everything, time and so on, now we've made up our minds.”
The “so on,” I thought, meant “the thing” he had bought. I was aghast. I said urgently, “Oh, but I can't, Derek! I simply can't! You've no idea how awful I feel about what happened.”
He looked quickly at me. “What do you mean, awful? You feeling ill or something?”
“Oh, it's not that. It's just that, that it was all so horrible. So shaming.”
“Oh, that!” his voice was contemptuous. “We got away with it, didn't we? Come on. Be a sport!”
That again! But I did want to be comforted, feel his arms round me, be certain he still loved me, although everything had gone so wrong for him. But my legs began to tremble at the thought of going through it all again. I clutched my knees with my hands to control them. I said weakly. “Oh, well...”
“That's my girl!”
We went over the bridge, and Derek pulled the car in to the side. He helped me over a stile into a field and put his arm round me and guided me along the little tow-path past some houseboats moored under the willows. “Wish we had one of those,” he said. “How about breaking into one? Lovely double bed. Probably some drink in the cupboards.”
“Oh, no, Derek! For heaven's sake! There's been enough trouble.” I could imagine the loud voice. “What's going on in there? Are you the owners of this boat? Come on out and let's have a look at you.”
Derek laughed. “Perhaps you're right. Anyway, the grass is just as soft. Aren't you excited? You'll see. It's wonderful. Then we'll really be lovers.”
“Oh, yes, Derek. But you will be gentle, won't you? I shan't be any good at it the first time.”
Derek squeezed me excitedly. “Don't you worry. I'll show you.”
I was feeling better, stronger. It was lovely walking with him in the moonlight. But there was a grove of trees ahead, and I looked at it fearfully. I knew that would be where it was going to happen. I must, I must make it easy and good for him! I mustn't be silly! I mustn't cry!
The path led through the grove. Derek looked about him. “In there,” he said. “I'll go first. Keep your head down.”
We crept in among the branches. Sure enough, there was a little clearing. Other people had been there before. There was a cigarette packet, a Coca-Cola bottle. The moss and leaves had been beaten down. 1 had the feeling that this was a brothel bed where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lovers had pressed and struggled. But now there was no turning back. At least it must be a good place for it, if so many others had used it.
Derek was eager, impatient. He put his coat down for me and at once started, almost feverishly, his hands devouring me. I tried to melt, but my body was still cramped with nerves, and my limbs felt like wood. I wished he would say something, something sweet and loving, but he was intent and purposeful, manhandling me almost brutally, treating me as if I was a big clumsy doll. “A paper doll, for me to call my own”—the Ink Spots again! I could hear the deep bass of Hoppy Jones and the sweet soprano counterpoint of Bill Kenny, so piercingly sweet that it tore at the heartstrings. And underneath, the deep pulse-beat of Charlie Fuqua's guitar. The tears squeezed out of my eyes. Oh, God, what was happening to me? And then the sharp pain and the short scream I quickly stifled, and he was lying on top of me, his chest heaving and his heart beating heavily against my breast. I put my arms round him and felt his shirt wet against my hands.
We lay like that for long minutes. I watched the moonlight filtering down through the branches, and tried to stop my tears. So that was it! The great moment. A moment I would never have again. So now I was a woman, and the girl was gone! And there had been no pleasure, only pain like they all said. But there remained something. This man in my arms. 1 held him more tightly to me. 1 was his now, entirely his, and he was mine. He would look after me. We belonged. Now I would never be alone again. There were two of us.
Derek kissed my wet cheek and scrambled to his feet. He held out his hands, and I pulled down my skirt and he hauled me up. He looked into my face, and there was embarrassment in his half-smile. “I hope it didn't hurt too much.”
“No. But was it all right for you?”
“Oh, yes, rather.”
He bent down and picked up his coat. He looked at his watch. “I say! Only a quarter of an hour for the train! We'd better get moving.”
We scrambled back onto the path and as we walked along I pulled a comb through my hair and brushed at my skirt. Derek walked silently beside me. His face under the moon was now closed, and when I put my arm through his there was no answering pressure. I wished he would be loving, talk about our next meeting, but I could feel that he was suddenly withdrawn, cold. I hadn't got used to men's faces after they've done it. I blamed myself. It hadn't been good enough. And I had cried. I had spoiled it for him.
We came to the car and drove silently to the station. I stopped him at the entrance. Under the yellow light his face was taut and strained and his eyes only half met mine. I said, “Don't come to the train, darling. I can find my way. What about next Saturday? I could come down to Oxford. Or would you rather wait until you're settled in?”
He said defensively, “Trouble is, Viv, things are going to be different at Oxford. I'll have to see. Write to you.”
I tried to read his face. This was so different from our usual parting. Perhaps he was tired. God knew I was! I said, “Yes, of course. But write to me quickly, darling. I'd like to know how you're getting on.” I reached up and kissed him on the lips. His own lips hardly responded.
He nodded. “Well, so long, Viv,” and with a kind of twisted smile he turned and went off round the corner to his car.
* * *
It was two weeks later that I got the letter. I had written twice, but there had been no answer. In desperation I had even telephoned, but the man at the other end had gone away and come back and said that Mr. Mallaby wasn't at home.
The letter began, “Dear Viv, This is going to be a difficult letter to write.” When I had got that far I went into my bedroom and locked the door and sat on my bed and gathered my courage. The letter went on to say that it had been a wonderful summer and he would never forget me. But now his life had changed and he would have a lot of work to do and there wouldn't be much room for “girls.” He had told his parents about me, but they disapproved of our “affair.” They said it wasn't fair to go on with a girl if one wasn't going to marry her. “They are terribly insular, I'm afraid, and they have ridiculous ideas about 'foreigners,' although heaven knows I regard you as just like any other English girl and you know I adore your accent.” They were set on his marrying the daughter of some neighbor in the country. “I've never told you about this, which I'm afraid was very naughty of me, but as a matter of fact we're sort of semi-engaged. We had such a marvelous time together and you were such a sport that I didn't want to spoil it all.” He said he hoped very much we would “run into each other” again one day and in the meantime he had asked Fortnum's to send me a dozen bottles of pink champagne, “the best,” to remind me of the first time we had met. “And I do hope this letter won't upset you too much, Viv, as I really think you're the most wonderful girl, far too good for someone like me. With much love, happy memories, Derek.”
Well, it took just ten minutes to break my heart and about another six months to mend it. Accounts of other people's aches and pains are uninteresting because they are so similar to everybody else's, so I won't go into details. I didn't even tell Susan. As I saw it, I'd behaved like a tramp, from the very first evening, and I'd been treated like a tramp. In this tight little world of England, I was a Canadian, and therefore a foreigner, an outsider—fair game. The fact that I hadn't seen it happening to me was more fool me. Born yesterday! Better get wise, or you'll go on being hurt! But beneath this open-eyed, chin-up rationalization, the girl in me whimpered and cringed, and for a time I cried at night and went down on my knees to the Holy Mother I had forsaken and prayed that She would give Derek back to me. But of course She wouldn't, and my pride forbade me to plead with him or to follow up my curt little note of acknowledgment to his letter and the return of the champagne to Fortnum's. The endless summer had ended. All that was left were some poignant Ink Spot memories, and the imprint of the nightmare in the cinema in Windsor, the marks of which I knew I would bear all my life.