3 May 2014

A long night

But now... thinking back a long way... It was Christmas Eve in 1972 and I met a slim and deliciously pretty fair-haired girl who took me by the hand and led me into a cupboard. It was dark in there, and the music from the party in the lounge was muffled. I found it very nice when she pulled my head towards her own and started kissing me. It was about the only way I was ever going to get a girlfriend at that stage of life - by a girl taking the initiative.

I could hear the heavy bass. Boom, Boom... Boom, Boom... This was the drumbeat heralding my tentative arrival on the threshold of the world of adult life, and all of its opportunities and complexities and deceptions. The reason she had pulled me into the cupboard was because a good and somewhat older friend had invited me to talk to her, even though she was actually his girlfriend. He was very drunk and was eagerly eyeing up a different girl at the party and probably looking for an easy way out of his long-standing relationship. I accepted his offer willingly, and the girl seemed happy to draw me into much more than just talking, perhaps becoming aware that her boyfriend was about to move on and maybe because she was keen to use me as a mechanism for her revenge.

After our introduction in the darkness we re-emerged into the crowded room and eventually left together, walking unsteadily along the route to her house.

By early Spring we had become completely entangled, in every sense, and now I am remembering the night when in classic situation comedy style I was sent scuttling under her bed, naked and in a panic, when her mother's knock came at the door.

It was a big old house and my girlfriend was a bold young girl, so she had taken to sneaking me in on occasion after her parents had turned in for the evening. But on this particular evening the mother decided she needed to sleep in the other bed in her daughter's room, due to the father's rasping cough.

We had about one minute after this announcement at the door to get my clothes and shoes stuffed in beside me, and exchange frantic whispers of a plan to sneak me out from the bottom of the bed once the woman was asleep. She was a formidable, unstable and fiercely religious matriarch, who I thought would possibly take a knife to me if she discovered what I had been doing with her daughter. Just a few days earlier, after a disagreement over religion, she had banished me from her heartland in the home with a fierce, 'I'll have no heathens in my kitchen!' She didn't like me, but she tolerated me. Waiting for me to go away. And now there I was, all skinny teenage six foot four of me, wedged naked beneath the girl's bed, with just enough space to get in, while the grey-haired woman climbed into the other bed just a very short distance from where I lay.

There was no space for me to turn off of my back. No hope for me to struggle into my clothes in such a tight hiding place with barely enough room for my chest to rise and fall as I breathed - keeping it shallow, convinced she would hear. But she didn't hear, apparently, although the thought occurred to me that she might be fully aware that I was there. But she didn't sleep either. She lay, muttering, turning, sitting up, punching her pillow, turning, muttering, rearranging her bedding, minute after minute, hour by cold, dark hour.

And so I lay, unaware of the time, listening to every breath of the old woman. But from the girlfriend above me, who had promised to help me plan some escape, I never heard a sound. Somehow, amazingly, she had fallen asleep.

There was some company for me squashed so tightly beneath the bed, however. It was a discarded teddy bear, from the feel of it, lying head down against the corner of the room. In the darkness I felt its head, its eyes, and I lay pondering about how quickly the little girl who must once have tended it so carefully had become the now sleeping girlfriend above a hidden naked boyfriend, alongside her mother, as I waited patiently for the dawn.

Time does its things so fast to us in retrospect, but sometimes so slowly, at the time. And through this night the time for me ran very slow.

Eventually, some light began to appear, and tediously slowly that first glimmer of hope turned into a pale and chilly dawn. The mother wakened, if she had ever really been asleep. The girlfriend too. They chatted. They talked for what seemed a long and pointless time, and I found myself again believing that I had been detected from the very beginning, and was simply being made to wait, and suffer, before being hauled out for a different torture to begin. But that thought was soon pushed from my mind when the door burst open, and the family dog bounded in. She was a big golden Rhodesian Ridgeback Hound, and I was her great friend, and you don't lie naked under a bed without a Rhodesian Ridgeback Hound detecting you.

So there was this dog's big golden friendly face, poking in under the bed at me, licking like crazy at what parts of me her tongue could reach while her tail thrashed against the bedside table. I heard my girlfriend shout some panicked nonsense at the dog, desperate to distract it. And then the girl's arm reached down and pulled the confused hound away from me. If dogs can wonder, then she must surely have wondered what new game this was, with her naked pal. And still, the mother said nothing. Surely, she must most certainly have detected me by now? But eventually the woman simply rose from her bed and went off to wash, with a sleepy yawn.

The girlfriend helped me out from under the bed, and stood guard at the door while I quickly dressed. The family took breakfast in the dining room, allowing me to sneak downstairs, out of the front door, and away, at last, along the cold road to my home and a fine hot bath.

When I called at the house again, just a couple of days later, the mother was perfectly normal towards me - her usual polite but distant toleration. And it was the same from the father, although I got what seemed an especially frantic welcome from the big friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback Hound, though she was probably disappointed that I had dressed.

The relationship with the girl lasted three years, on and off. There was some talk of marriage, never approved of by the parents. But then the mother's long wait was over, and I was off to other adventures, and out of her life forever.

I noticed the ex-girlfriend's wedding photo in the local newspaper some years after that, with the mother standing very proudly beside her. The bride wore a big wide straw hat. She had always told me that she would be married in a big wide straw hat. But another few years later I heard about the divorce. My moments of sadness at the news were felt most deeply for the mother, actually.

As for the girl... Our eyes met, maybe twenty years later, as she looked out from a passing bus and I wandered along a city pavement. She was gone before either of us could acknowledge recognition, but I saw her head turning towards me as the bus reached a bend and took that fleeting last glimpse away from me.

5 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

It seems the girlfriend was a rule unto herself, despite her forminable mama.
A lucky escape it would seem. That night and in the longer term as well.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

She fought for herself very well against Big Mama in such a quiet and clever way that Mama never realised she was being comprehensively beaten, on many fronts. I have good thoughts for the girl, but I am glad I managed to escape after a while.

Claude said...

Such an ordeal! I'm sorry for laughing. Of course, Mama knew. If I had been her, you would have stayed under the bed, at the mercy of a dog, for 48 hours.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

The dear dog would have kept me warm.

I'm not so sure about your verdict, but if she did know then I'm sure she must have respected my resilience in the battle to see who gave up first. But... I really don't think she knew.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

If she had known I think that as she finally left the room she would have offered a casual, "good morning Andrew" on her way.

I wonder if it is too late to ask her... She'll be about 88 now, if still with us, but still scary I reckon. The creation of the Lady Lord in Report on Sample 717 owes something to her.