The next few weeks were baffling but extraordinarily pleasurable. Mostly I just wanted as much sex as possible, and luckily Sophie was more than happy to oblige. We were both making up for lost time it turned out. As I looked around at this community of perpetual adolescent ennui and excess, our deliberate and intense sexuality stood in stark contrast to their absent-minded and passionless fornication. Whereas they just seemed to do it because they could and there didn’t seem to be anything better to do, we went at it with glee and gusto. I came to pity them, if this was what eternity was going to be like for them. I even felt smug.
A lot of the time I couldn’t understand why a sexy woman like Sophie would want to spend so much time with a sad old git like me. I was reassured when she told me she’d been very old when she died too (she wouldn’t tell me exactly how old) and I tried to remind myself what Andrea had said about not presuming to know what women want in a man but I couldn’t help being jealous and possessive sometimes – particularly when she insisted on chatting up absolutely everyone wherever we went and her natural manner was intimate and flirtatious. In truth, in the whole time we were together she never gave me one reason to doubt her and she accepted my insecurities as a compliment and was always reassuring. I know sometimes I was somewhat clingy and suspicious and frankly a bit of a drama queen, but in retrospect I think she must have genuinely liked me or she wouldn’t have put up with it.
‘I was married to the same man all my life’ she told me one morning. It was early that spring. We were in my room letting our coffees cool. I was sitting leaning against the window, feeling the cool glass on my skin. She had her head on my leg. ‘How boring is that?’ she added.
‘High school romance?’
‘Hardly. I went to a convent school, so no. We met at a family thing when I was about thirteen, started dating, and then as soon as we were eighteen we got married. We were big on going to church in our family.’
‘This place must seem a bit...wrong – if you believe in all that.’
‘Totally wrong. Oh everything was wrong.’ She gets up abruptly and wraps a sarong around herself. ‘Shan’t be a sec’ she says and heads along to the bathroom. When she gets back she hands me a plate with a jammy muffin on it. ‘They were doing them in the kitchen’ she says, licking her fingers. I think of her trotting along there with nothing but this thin piece of material around her – everyone eyeing her up. I feel proud and uncomfortable at the same time. Thankfully the discomfort is somehow erotic too and just makes me need to stake my claim again, which is always good.
After we’ve done that (just a quickie) I ask her about her married life.
‘Five kids would you believe...’
‘Big house in Southampton – in jolly old Shirley – what a tip.’
‘Why did you stick with it? For the kids?’
‘Partly, but no, it was ok. He was good man. Not terribly bright...’
‘What did he do?’
‘Wow’ I say, surprised, but she thinks I’m impressed.
‘Don’t. It wasn’t me. I swear, if I ever go back my house will be a mass of random furniture and non-matching crockery and there’ll be stuff everywhere. And there will be one sweet child, and I shall dress like this...’ (She flashes her bottom.) ‘...all the time.’
‘Excellent. Where shall we meet?’
‘On the Palace Pier in Brighton. Midsummer’s day 2000, three in the afternoon.’
‘It’s a date. I’ll buy you a doughnut.’
Another day – an evening a few weeks later – we are in my room and she’s got out one of my magazines and is lying on her stomach, reading. I look at her back and wonder if Paul would have thought she was fat. Probably – she’s no stick insect. She has a very womanly belly and a nice plump bottom. I love looking at it. At the moment it’s got the pattern of the bedspread imprinted on it.
‘You’re in good shape for a mother of five’ I say, slapping her bum. It wobbles most satisfyingly.
‘Gardening’ she says and tenses and relaxes her buttocks at me a few times, making them wobble some more – tempting me to smack them again. ‘This is me just before I got married’ she adds, turning on her back, as if showing me a photograph from her family album. ‘Pretty wasn’t I?’
‘I think you’re very beautiful’ I say, stroking her belly.
‘Hmm...’ she says, smiling coyly and turning over again, but then adds, ‘I wasn’t very pretty later on.’
‘Well who ever is?’
‘Oh come of it. I bet you were quite a chiselled old dude in your later years.’
My turn to be bashful.
‘So... was he any good in bed?’ I enquire nonchalantly.
‘Why?’ she says, grinning at me. ‘Do you think I’m comparing?’
‘Of course. You know me.’
‘I don’t know... He smelt funny. I never got used to that. I don’t think he washed enough really. I don’t know, he had that soapy sweaty Old Spice smell, you know?’
‘Didn’t you say anything?’
She turns and sits up in front of me, then picks up a pillow and hugs it to herself. We’ve got some chocolates from somewhere and she reaches over to get one. I hold the box for her. She sits and chews for a while.
‘What you’ve got to understand’ she says, ‘is that I didn’t know any different. When you marry that young, you’ve just got nothing to compare it with. It’s all just the way it is.’ And she shrugs and lies back, still covering herself with the pillow. I don’t think I’ve seen her want to cover herself before. It bothers me slightly. We sit silently for some time – me wondering what to say next.
‘I’m sorry’ I say eventually, ‘I didn’t mean to pry.’
‘It’s ok, really. It’s sad more than anything. I did love him.’ and she chucks the pillow away and reaches out and pulls me to her and kisses me and we fuck ferociously again.
‘For the record, he was nowhere near as good in bed as you are’ she tells me afterwards but I can’t help feeling there’s something like regret in her voice.
Over the next few months she tells me a little more about her life.
‘I was the eldest of six would you believe.’
‘Didn’t they believe in contraception?’
She shakes her head and looks away. ‘Sex is for making babies’ she says. ‘Contraception is irrelevant. That’s what they said. I don’t know. I was home-schooled until I was eleven then they sent me to the church school. I didn’t really know anything else.’
‘Didn’t the other girls tell you anything?’
‘A bit. It was pretty shocking. They had pictures from a men’s magazine. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was a bit of an outsider to be honest.’
‘I can sympathise.’
She smiles and rolls over and lays her head on my leg. I stroke her hair away from her face. She takes a bite out of a plum and says. ‘It was pretty crazy. I went straight from looking after my brothers and sisters, straight into looking after Doug and then our kids. I never did anything else.’
‘Didn’t you want to get out, do something different, get a job, travel?’
It seems impossible to believe that she wouldn’t have, the way she is now.
‘Honestly it just didn’t seem realistic to me. I couldn’t imagine it. It’s just not the sort of thing people like us did.’
‘But you’re bright, independent...’
‘Now I am. I wasn’t then. You wouldn’t have known me back then. I failed all my exams, left school at sixteen... I don’t know.’
‘But you weren’t thick, surely?’
‘No. I just didn’t think that way. Oh look can we talk about something else?’
‘What do you make of Gina and Aaron?’
And so it was. We left it at that, for the time being at any rate. Later I learned more, by little clues and hints. I felt she wanted to talk about it but wasn’t ready, or didn’t want to bore me, or put me off her perhaps. I have this image of her in a frock that would not have looked out of place in The Depression – grey and shapeless and with varying quantities of insulating and obscuring layers beneath, depending on the season. Her parents were not insanely religious but very old and extremely traditional – hard and judgemental and anti everything about the sixties. As with my parents, there would have been no point in making a fuss. You just had to put up with it. Sophie never went to work or took any courses but at the same time it was quite obvious that she was very well read (much more so than me.) She told me she used to go to the public library during shopping trips, hide the books under the baby’s things and then sneak them out to the allotment shed. Like me she’d gone down to the shed for her illicit pleasures, but hers were coffee and literature. The allotment was her haven. She took the children down there to play in the mud while she tended the vegetables and read her book. Doug apparently didn’t like his shoes getting dirty so never found out. He came over as being a fairly harmless but obsessive individual.
‘Couldn’t you see what you were missing?’ I asked on more than one occasion. She just shrugged.
She was good for me though. We mucked about and laughed a lot. She even laughed at my anxieties, but in a generous way, not in a cruel way and I didn’t mind. She told me I was gorgeous, and when we were alone, I almost believed her. She seemed to understand why I didn’t quite believe this could be happening to me.
‘I chose you, remember?’ she reminded me. ‘Don’t imagine I give that sort of performance every night. I knew you’d be worth it’.
I wondered sometimes how often she did ‘perform’ like that before she met me, but I sensed that it would not be a good thing to ask. She was with me, I told myself, and that’s what counted.
The spring slowly unfolds and the streets begin to wear the first tentative tendrils of their summer exuberance. The weather is still chilly but she comes with me on my explorations – usually dressed in jeans and tops like normal people but sometimes she surprises me – on one memorable occasion coming out in just a plastic mac and wellies. She loves to do it then and there, on the wet grass or bent over a wall. We’re not very discreet about it and we got caught a couple of times. But we never go into any of the houses. Sometimes I swear I see faces at the windows but I don’t let on.
We still go to quite a lot of parties too and, as I say, I spend a lot of time watching her. They’re a different sort of party to the ones I went to early on – more classy I suppose, more mature perhaps, and she wears somewhat more than she did the night we got together (underwear, for example), but there’s still a sense that she’s not really decent. I watch her being charming – everybody loves her and I can tell that when people talk to her she has a way of making them feel fascinating, and, as a result, they are. Plus they perhaps think they have a chance with her. I’m never entirely at ease at times like these, but then, from the middle of a conversation she’ll turn a little and, without directly looking at me or giving any obvious sign, she’ll let me know she is looking forward to coming over to me. Sometimes I go over and she introduces me and I join in the conversation. When they see we’re together you can see their disappointment, but it is always brief because she is just too lovely to be upset with and I feel very proud.
I ask her about the way she behaves one night in someone’s lounge. It’s been a session rather like that first time, except the lights are dimmed and nobody else in the room seems to be very awake. In retrospect our behaviour sounds appallingly decadent but we were far from being the only ones. Sometimes it seemed like no one was doing anything much else. In fact our monogamy came to be seen as rather sweet and old-fashioned.
She is still straddling my lap – I am softening inside her and, as usual, sitting in a puddle. She has no top on at all and her neat breasts catch the green light from the stereo. I ask her how she comes to be such an exhibitionist after such a blameless God-fearing life like hers.
‘Well, I just don’t have anything to worry about here do I? I mean – I can’t get pregnant. I can’t get AIDS. I can’t die of pneumonia from not wearing enough’ she adds with a wicked grin. ‘It’s just such a release. You weren’t married were you?’
She nods ‘I don’t blame you’ she says, pulling a shawl over her shoulders. ‘Oh don’t get me wrong’ she adds. ‘I’m glad I did it – got married I mean. I wouldn’t appreciate this half as much if I hadn’t, but I wouldn’t do it again. Been there, done that’ she says, and gets up to rearrange her skirt. She goes and gets us a drink to share, still topless, and then we snuggle down for the night on a huge cushion and covered in other people’s coats and things.
She tells me that her behaviour probably has something to do with the frustrations of sleeping with no one but the same boyish control freak all that time.
Later on I did get around to telling her that my single status had not been a matter of choice and that led on to me telling her a lot of other dreary crap about my life. I knew it was a risk but I wanted to be honest with her as much as possible. I was afraid perhaps her idea of me would be diminished by knowing about my failures but she just hugged me and kissed me and told me how impressed she was with how far I’d come since then and how great I was going to be next time around.