Well, there was Jean off Fancy Goods. She was little more than a schoolgirl really, sweet and naive, but I was 19 and very grown up. We'd been to the Gaumont together to see Breakfast at Tiffanys, and I told her she looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn. I said shall we go in the back row, and she said all right. After ten minutes I pulled out my Benson and Hedges and we had a smoke. When we'd stubbed the fags out I tried to kiss her, and that seemed to go all right. Then there was a smoochy bit in the film, and I put my arm round her.
She didn't resist. I put my hand right down her back, where her blouse had ridden up from her jeans. I could feel her skin. It was very warm. She was looking intently at the screen and didn't seem to notice. So after a while I brought my other hand across and nonchalantly tried to undo the top button of her blouse. She pushed me off abruptly and whispered to me to behave. She seemed quite cross. So I took my arm off her shoulders and sulked for the rest of the film.
But we did hold hands again when we stood up for the National Anthem.
Afterwards we walked to the bus stop. She lived on the new estate they'd just built on the outskirts of the city. It was cold and beginning to rain. I said do you want me to come with you, and she said no. Just then the bus arrived, and I said, shall I ring you? And she said, are we still going to the fair on Saturday? I just nodded. When the bus pulled out she did a funny little kissing thing with her mouth and fingers from the back seat, like Audrey Hepburn. I walked back to my bedsit through the misty night feeling confused and grumpy. It hadn't been a very successful evening.
The May Fair comes every year to the Roodee. Has done for God knows how long. I did go, but with someone else, a girl off Cosmetics with a lot of eye makeup and a miniskirt. When we were by the dodgems I saw Jean with another girl. I gave her a wave but she turned away. It looked as if she was crying, or else she had flu or something.
This girl off Cosmetics wasn't very interested in the Hoopla stall or the roller coaster. She told me she had a flat by the ring road, and quite soon we bought some beer and some chips and went back there. She smelt of Je t'aime, and had very bright orange lipstick. She put Frank Sinatra on the record player, and turned down the lights. She had black stockings with a hole in one, and thin legs.
We slept the night in her narrow bed, and in the morning the sheets were covered in mascara and lipstick. Our clothes were lying all over the floor, and the room stank of stale cigarettes and beer and underclothes. There were dirty dishes by the sink in the little kitchen, and nothing I fancied for breakfast.
She looked different in the morning without her makeup, and didn't seem to want to talk to me at all. In fact we hardly said a word to each other.
I walked home through the frosty park as the Sunday morning bells were ringing out from the Cathedral. For some ridiculous reason all I could think of was how Jean had seemed to be crying, and I wondered whether she'd gone home on the bus by herself. When the lads in Dispatch asked me on Monday if I'd scored over the weekend, I lied and said I'd been home to see my parents.
It was ten years before I saw Jean again. She'd put on a lot of weight, but I knew her straight away. She was pushing a baby in a pram through the precinct and shouting at a little boy who was running ahead of her. She had a lot of shopping piled up on the pram. She turned her head towards me for a minute, but I don't think she could have recognised me, because she just carried on. I watched her till she was out of sight, but she never turned round.
I retired to the Cotswolds ten years ago after selling the retail business in North Wales which I had built up over forty long years. Fortunately for my sanity most of my time was spent creating advertising copy and promotions, which dramatically increased the business and taught me the power of words. Being a member of the Chippy Writers’ Group encouraged me to attempt a lifelong ambition to write a novel. Recently published, In the Shadow of Hitler is a romance set in the ruins of bombed-out Hamburg in 1946.... more