The Polish Connection 34
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Beth went off, somewhat mollified, but realising that the sudden tension in the air was something she didn’t understand and didn’t like.
“So Peter stayed here a long time, did he Barbara? And why didn’t you tell me that? Why did you make up stories and lie to me?”
“He was here about six months, not straight away, but from a few days after we met him. He did sleep in the cellar, so as to avoid suspicion falling on the house or censure falling on me. I didn’t tell you because I thought you would be worried and wouldn’t approve, and I didn’t want to have to deal with your refusal, so I didn’t ask the question.”
“What did he do all day? And what did he do at night?”
“Well, he got a job, quite quickly really. I did tell you that. I just implied that he was living elsewhere. He worked at Primrose Mill supervising the gas mantle making. He went through the back yard down to the stream and walked along there to Knowle Road, and then across the fields to Mill Brow where his job was. He stayed at work or walked in the countryside until it was dark at night and then he slipped into the basement, where he had a camp bed. He always came up at night to see Beth as she mentioned, and I made him a hot supper, but then he went down again after that, and we didn’t see him until the next night.”
“And nobody ever saw him coming or going? The neighbours weren’t suspicious?”
“Well, I hung his washing inside, and during daylight hours he was never anywhere within notice, and we were careful at night to be quiet.”
“Very cosy. And did you form a close relationship with Peter? While I was busy fighting a war, and imagined you lonely and missing me, you in fact were having a rather good time, weren’t you? Entertaining the enemy.”
“Don’t be silly John. First of all, you know that he isn’t the enemy. The fact that his part of the world was taken over by the Germans didn’t make him German, and he escaped because he didn’t want to fight in the war against us. That makes him a friend, not an enemy. And secondly, I did enjoy his company. And I felt that I was doing something for a friend and a relative. Would you rather I turned him in to the police or let him freeze by living in the church like he did when I first met him?”
“Okay, so you were doing a favour to a friend and relative, and I can accept that it was much easier to acclimatise Beth if she knew she would still be seeing her father. I can see your point of view on this, but are you sure that is as far as it went? Were you just good friends and nothing more?”
I felt uncomfortable and didn’t really know what to say. John immediately picked up on this, “You slept with him, didn’t you? I can tell by the look on your face. You committed adultery with him, and then calmly wrote off to tell me how much you missed me and couldn’t wait for me to come home. And when I came home, you pretended you still loved me when you were probably still thinking about your new, young, slim German!”
“It wasn’t like that, John. You are putting it all into too much importance. I did have a very brief relationship with him, on one occasion only, and I regretted it from the moment it finished, and after that I was only a friend to him.”
“Probably because after that, he was caught and you didn’t have a chance for it to develop. Isn’t that the case? Would you have slept with him more if he had continued to be around?”
“I don’t think so. My guilt made me very shaken and I knew it was wrong. I do love you, and I have always loved you. I can only say that it was one of those things that happen that you can hardly control when your body takes over your mind. I never meant for you to know. I never meant to hurt you.”
“But I now do know, and I am hurt. I am bloody hurt and angry and confused, and I don’t know how we can go on after this. Do you compare him to me when we make love? Do you think, he was better than me, or he gave you a better time? I was faithful to you. I could have gone as the others did to have sex with the many prostitutes around. They were offering themselves on a plate. And if I didn’t want to go to the prostitutes there were lots of beautiful young girls in Cyprus and I could tell they were attracted to me. But no, I stayed at home, and I sat and read my book and wrote letters to you, my love, knowing that you would be missing me as much as I missed you. What a fool I was.”
“Oh please don’t make it worse than it was John. I am very very sorry. I did a stupid thing, and I will never do it again. And you are the one I love and want to spend the rest of my life with. I didn’t pretend when I said I loved you and missed you and wanted you. You are the centre of my life. Peter was just something that happened. Have you never in your life made a mistake that you later regretted?”
“Are you saying that you didn’t love him? Are you saying that you gave yourself as casually as the prostitutes would have done in Cyprus?”
“No, of course not. How can you say such a thing? I thought I loved him. I was very fond of him and he was attracted to me and I found that very pleasing, seeing someone who I could tell wanted me. And we were both very lonely.”
“I’m not sure you are making this any easier for me to take in. Now you say that you did love him, at least for awhile, and that you were lonely. My heart bleeds for you. Poor you, no one to screw. I wonder if you thought that just maybe I was lonely too?”
“I can’t for one moment justify what I did. I cried myself to sleep after it was over, because I felt so guilty and unhappy that I had done it. I can’t make it so that it didn’t happen. I can’t say that it was an awful experience or that I was forced in any way to do it. I can only say that I am deeply and truly sorry and I want you to forgive me. But if you can’t or don’t want to, well, I suppose that is up to you. I am the one who broke our marriage vows, and if there are consequences, I guess that is my punishment.”
“Consequences! You mean if I throw you out that you have it coming? And what about the other consequences. What if you had become pregnant? Did you ever think of that?”
“Of course I thought of it, and I was worried sick, but it didn’t happen.”
“And now he is coming back here again. What is he expecting do you think? For you to meet him down in the cellar when I go out for a walk?”
“No, of course not, John. You are being so unreasonable about this. Peter knows it was just the once and when it was over, it was over. And I never went down to the cellar with him.”
“So where did you do it then? In our bed?”
“No, it was in the dining room, and it was just once, and you are so blowing it out of proportion that I can hardly believe that this is you talking. John, I am sorry. Can’t we stop talking about it now?”
“On the floor in the dining room, in front of the fire – did he provide a pillow for your head and a blanket to cover your nakedness? Or were you in too big a hurry to take off all your clothes?”
I couldn’t take any more of this. I left the room and went upstairs and I heard the door slam as John went out. I wondered if he would ever come back. I threw myself on my bed and sobbed and sobbed. How can one hour of pleasure, no matter how sweet it was, turn into a nightmare that is going to ruin the rest of our lives?
John did come back, much later in the night, and I pretended I was asleep when he crawled into bed. The next morning when I awoke he had already left the house. But he didn’t appear to have taken any clothing with him, so I assumed that he would be back and I was right about that, but he avoided talking to me or even being in the same room with me for the rest of the weekend.
Soon it was Monday and time for the arrival of Peter, with his mysterious surprise. John went to the University to work, Rebecca went to school, but I had Beth, who could hardly control her excitement and her nervousness, stay at home for the day.
She put on her best plaid dress, and I also changed. I wore my very best dress for the occasion, even knowing that I would be overdressed, but I so much wanted to make a good impression after all these years. I put on my rust coloured velvet dress, which has such a pretty neckline. I feel so elegant wearing it. I wore my pearl drop from Peter, and also the pearl earrings I bought to match. I had a bit of a headache, which I attributed to my excitement and nervousness, and took a few aspirin.
The knocker on the front door went at exactly two pm and when I went to the door, there was Peter, looking as young and handsome as ever he had, perhaps a bit grey showing now in his hair, but still I was taken aback at how pleased I was to see him again. And, of course, Beth pushed past me and rushed into his arms crying, “Daddy, Daddy.”
He held her in his arms, with tears streaming down both of their faces.
“Please, Peter, do come in, and who is this?”
“Oh, I am so sorry, I have forgotten my manners. Barbara, I would like you to meet this lovely woman who is my new wife, Anna, who I met while I was interned and who I loved from almost the moment I set eyes on her. She was my pottery tutor and has now reshaped my whole life.”
What a shock! I couldn’t believe my ears, nor do I think could Beth. “Your wife?” I know I looked startled and not at all welcoming of what he thought was such wonderful news. Then I recovered myself sufficiently to be polite. “Please do come in, won’t you. Congratulations on your marriage, and I hope you have much happiness.”
Having settled them all in the living room, with Beth, somewhat quieter, sitting on her father’s lap, I said, “I’m afraid as we were expecting only Peter, I have only prepared a room with a single bed. We shall just have to make some adjustments. Perhaps you, Peter and Anna can share the main bedroom, and the rest of us can find places as and where we can.”
“I can sleep in the cellar,” offered Beth.
“I hope it won’t come to that,” I said, wishing those memories of faraway days could stay in the past. I was not ready to accept this new Peter, complete with wife.
“And what are your plans, or have you made any?” I asked Peter.
“I have agreed to live on the Isle of Man to be close to Anna’s family, and we are very much hoping that we can take Beth back with us and make us a family unit,” said Peter. “I have been offered a job doing much as I did before, organising the selling of the wares that we internees created during the war and we will both continue with our pottery which seems to sell well.”
“Well, where are my manners? I will go and make us all some tea. You do drink tea, don’t you, Anna?”
“Yes,” they both agreed.
When I left the room, I tried to get back my composure. What was Beth going to think, not only leaving her home for the past four years and all her friends and the only family she had known, but to go to a strange house with a new ready-made Moma – whom she might or might not like in time, but she certainly didn’t look very keen on her at the moment. I could hear the others chattering away and hoped they were including Beth and making her feel a part of their lives. I also knew she would be disappointed that the “Surprise” was not in fact something for her – unless you consider a mother that you don’t want or need being in that category. I knew I was sounding bitchy, but I was jealous – not so much with Peter having found someone else – but with her taking away my Beth – who I had come to think of as much more than a remote cousin. She was to me as dear as a daughter, and I had always thought that Peter would settle down somewhere nearby, so that we could visit frequently. I knew that he might marry again in the future – but I hadn’t expected it to be now, and as lovely and kindly as she looked, I wondered if he had not made his choice a bit quickly without considering the impact it would have on his daughter.
I felt hot and headachy, had done all day, but now it was worse and it was all I could do to take the tea things and some home-made cookies – made by Beth herself – into the living room. I didn’t know how I was going to carry on with polite conversation for the required next day or two.
I put the things down, and was going to start pouring the tea when the strangest feeling came over me. My brain suddenly wasn’t functioning – I couldn’t think, I couldn’t act, I couldn’t do anything.
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I know she has to be honest,
I know she has to be honest, but why did she tell him? When he asked her, I wanted her to simply reply, 'He's my cousin'. - or lie and then go to confession.
What a shame for Beth to lose her home and current mother! At her age, she wouldn't clearly remember anther life. But I guess at the end of the war, many were in the same position.
Are we close to the end now, Jean? I'm going to miss this - it's been very enjoyable.
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sometimes a lie is better.
sometimes a lie is better. But keeps things ticking over. Shame about Beth, but kids, they adapt. I'm talking like it was a real-life dilemma, which is a compliment.
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Incredibly sad, but I agree
Incredibly sad, but I agree with celtic about keeping things ticking over.
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