'Love Me Do' (I.P.)
The Beatles – blasting out on a bi-colour, ‘Dansette Bermuda’. There we were - my sister’s boyfriend and me; and Monday’s washing, flapping on the line, on the balcony of our council maisonette. It was one of them high-rise blocks on stilts; quite the ‘state of the art’ in the early sixties, or so they said. Purgatory unplugged, more like.
The night’s still and airless; one of those evenings you can hear yourself telling your teacher what they can do with Pythagoras, and his theorem; if you know what I mean.
He was potty about astronomy and he’d brought his brand new telescope round to try out. My sister said it was a waste of money, and that he was supposed to be saving up for her engagement ring, so she’d gone back indoors in a huff.
I felt sorry for him, so I pretended to be enthralled, as he points out The Plough, and Orion...holds me close...guiding my hands. He smells of Benson & Hedges – a dab of Old Spice, and a hint of engine oil mixed with petrol. A water-melon moon dangles from a ‘conker tree’, and even my estate looks kind of OK...ignoring the errant, spent French letter, or two, round by the rubbish chutes, and dog doodah on the patchy grass Mum called ‘the lawn’. No one else in the whole wide world existed that night, except us.
“Is being in love like this?” I say, my heart beating out of my chest.
He kisses my nose – cups my chin; so close, his warm, moist breath condenses on my cheek. He laughs, and asks,
“And, are you in love...by any chance? Who’s the lucky boy, then?” his voice kind of strange, as he squeezes my hand – says we’d best go inside before we both caught a cold.
He was wearing one of those extra long, white, silk scarves with tassels; took it in both hands and flicked it at me to make me squeal.
“See you later, alligator,” he quipped, then spent half an hour on the front step, snogging my sister.
I watched him drive off in his bright red Mondeo; crazy about cars, Phil was. Off to watch Fulham play at home, knowing my sister hated football, and at any rate, she had to wash her hair. I'd have given anything to be sitting right there beside him; my head on his shoulder...
That was the last time any of us ever saw him; just around the corner, he swerved to avoid a dog in the middle of the road. Hit a lorry – head on; the rest’s history. We even heard the ambulance...kind of joked it might be him. Nothing new though, not round our neck of the woods; sirens going all hours.
A bit of me died with him that day. I recall, so vividly, I just couldn’t take it in. Kept thinking he was going to be standing there with his cheeky grin – every time I opened the front door. Couldn’t let on though...not to my sister. She was gutted; didn’t go out for weeks after. Just shut herself away. Mum took her to the doctors, but they wouldn’t give her anything. Said that grieving was ‘natural’; she’d get over him, eventually.
I never really did though, and remember thinking, if I couldn’t have him, I’d rather nobody did; especially not my sister.
‘Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all,’ so the vicar preached at his funeral, or Celebration of Life, as she called it. Some life he would have had with her...the selfish cow.
In my naivety, I told her I thought the vicar geyser was probably right. Thought it might cheer her up a bit. It didn’t though. Quite the reverse.
“What the fuck would you know about love?” she said.
Oh, but I did...As young as twelve, I understood the language, even if I didn’t, yet, speak the lingo.