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Maryam was no maid-in-waiting

Sammy waited a half-hour for the girl to turn up – but she didn’t. He knew it was her body that had excited him. He was now nearly thirty and wondered when he should consider settling down to a conventional life; maybe ten years’ time, whenever. Could he ever, after what had happened, settle down to a life at all. He knew it would not be with Violet (known sometimes as Vile, to her well-announced annoyance), after the commotion with her ambitious father. Sammy’s reaction was to turn around and face the opposite direction.

He frequently scoffed at himself  about how settled he already was. The comfortable life in London, living well enough from the family firm making butane gas appliances, his small terrace house near enough to the fashionable Notting Hill carnival. He was never sure if his life had yet started properly, or if it was already finished and dead. He did not think much about it, nor could he concentrate on his father’s project. It seemed not worth going over again the road accident that maimed and eventually destroyed his father after heroic but failed surgery.

He thought instead of the girl he had been waiting for. It was not just a desire for her body. There was something else about her that he had responded to when he had started chatting to her in the pub. She seemed very gentle in spite of her formidable dressing-up for the evening in the pub. He had wondered if she was indeed as kind as he imagined.

            He left the spot outside the restaurant where he had been waiting for her and wandered away. He vacillated between two thoughts.  First, he told himself, women always disappeared – it was not possible for anyone to live up to the promise he expected. They are all human, just like himself, he thought; what a disappointment. He need not bother about her, or, for that matter, anyone else. On the other hand, he found himself consumed with a determination that he had not had before the appointment he had just been waiting for. His previous casualness seemed to have left him. He found himself resolved not to let it be a failure; there must be ways to pursue this girl. He would pursue a relationship with her until he succeeded.  It was no longer just the girl herself, or his desire. It had become  simply his refusal to be defeated. It was a project he must complete, for once.

            He fought these thoughts. In neither case did the girl matter. She was a tart anyway. She must be because only a tart would go to a pub on her own as she had done, when he had met her. She had talked, and he had listened to her for an evening and then made a date. It was just a pick-up. He was sure she did not matter, not in herself. Instead, it was letting defeat get the better of him; either that or fighting on till he won. He took the bus a couple of stops, strolled into the same pub, where they had originally picked each other up. She was not there of course. A momentary thought made him wonder if he should return to the restaurant to see if she had at last turned up to meet him. But he put the thought away. She did not matter, he continued to think. He sat down in the corner with a bottle of export, and let his mind cloud over with blankness.

She had told him an odd story that evening four days ago. Most girls nowadays would give you a story of being abused when they were kids. Mostly, he dismissed what they said; they made it up out of nothing. He looked across the dark room to where they had sat and chatted earnestly. In his mind’s eye, he still saw her there, her dark exotic features, and full strong figure, still outlined in his memory against the dirty panelling of the wall. She had delicate hands that touched her glass like a caress. Her face had extremely beautiful features, high cheek bones, and large dark eyes that stared impassively but intently at him whilst he listened to her. She seemed to have told her story many times before, but it still seemed she was interested to tell him. She sat with her body firm, upright, and  strong with dignity despite the story she told. Her kindly, interested calmness was magnetic. Sammy thought she was a woman who could look after herself. She had told him of her mixed and dubious background without embarrassment.

Her mother was Egyptian and her father was half-Irish and half West Indian from Liverpool. She and her mother followed her father’s nomadic life around the country. In the winter he was a tinker, wandering the streets in suburbs of major cities, sharpening knives and scissors. He sat on the kerb at street corners with his portable grind-wheel; his companion repaired woven cane-work chairs. They both sang strong, mysterious melodies with their Irish voices. In summer he worked in a travelling fair. The families gathered each year before Easter at the warehouse in Portsmouth. There they repaired the sideshows, oiled the Victorian machines, and mended the special costumes. From a young age she had paraded outside the tent with a show called the Follies Bergère. The girls who featured in the show were the rather worn wives of the fairground men. By law, she was not allowed to perform at her young age; but outside the booth her erotic good looks as a ten-year old marching up and down, pouting at the crowds below her, were supposed to tempt certain kinds of men who wanted a change from robust buttocks and boobs. The irony that this girl enticed men to a disappointment was not apparent to Sammy until later of course. She enjoyed the shiny costumes on her slim body, though they tore quite easily and she was severely told off by the seamstress responsible for them.

Her name was Maryam, she had told him. Her father, when young had been to Marseille on the ships, and he said she was like a soft warm breeze when she was born. Silent and comforting he found her then, indeed she did seem to have continued to grow up rather like that, Sammy had remarked to her. Her mother had thought it was a stupid name but had not felt it her place to say so. Instead trying to become a true catholic and throw off her past, she called the girl Maria, and stuck to it – stuck to it until Maryam had been in her teens old enough to decide for herself; and then she would not answer unless called by the name Maryam. She liked it because of her father, and because it sounded like mystery, which was what she wanted to be. And in spite of all the information she gave him about herself, she sustained her air of mystery. Sammy told her he liked the mystery about her, “You’re interesting.” She refused to give him her phone number till they had met again.

            “Mostly blokes look at my body. And then they’re not interested in what comes out of my mouth.”

            “Well,” he protested simply, “I’m interested.” And he sipped his beer from the warm glass clutched in his hands. His eyes shone straight into hers as he drank. He was determined his eyes would not glance downwards at her shape while she was speaking.

            “Are you? Interested?” She sounded unconvinced.

            “Tell me what happened next.” He felt rather embarrassed for some reason at his sexual interest in her, and that she had been so sure of it. “D’you still work in fairgrounds?” He decided to get back to what was safer. It seemed she wanted to be listened to and not looked at.

            “No,” she sipped a little of the G&T he had bought her, and she seemed in a far place, far away. “That was a long time ago. I’m an old woman now.” She chuckled, uncertain about continuing with her story. “Of course, I like being looked at. That was what I was telling you about parading in front of the side-show.” She looked  mischievously at him. He knew she was playing with him, just for fun. It was fun.

            But he said seriously, “You’re not old,” a kind of dutiful response. They seemed to be back on the physical topic which was difficult to negotiate. She seemed to be inviting him to check his reactions to her body, expecting him to make a pass. But also, a kind of warning to him that she would not approve of any blatant sexual interest. For her it came naturally to slip into a teasing, suggestive mode of talk when she was uncertain about being more intimate. “I’d say you were about twenty-three.”

“Wrong.” She announced happily having got the conversation back to a lighter level. “It’s more. But I bet that’s your age.”!

He was surprised. It could have been a rebuke – that he was too young. “Anyway, tell me about the fair.”

            Her mother had looked after the women in the sideshow, rouging their lips and shaving their armpits when necessary. Her father did the heavy work, setting up and taking down the large structures and machines. He collected the money from the big rides with his greasy warm hands. Her mother, still linked, in her own mind, with Egypt, had eventually gone off with an investor. He was Arab who put money into the fair at the beginning of the season, to get a set proportion of the takings at the end. He wanted Maryam to come as well – with him and her mother. Perhaps he had fancied Maryam as well as her mother. One would not have blamed him. But Maryam stayed with her father. Or rather stayed with the fair where her father was at the time. But shortly afterwards he had a bad accident – crushed by a large piece of machinery they were taking down when they struck the fair to move on. A common enough accident in their world. Several bones and joints never returned to normal again. He lost his sight in both eyes, and his neck was partially broken so he could not control the right side of his body which became very stiff. And in addition, he developed furious tempers. He was a wreck, bodily and mentally. Maryam was just fourteen then. The fair-master’s wife took her even more under her charge, taught her bookkeeping and the ordering of supplies and provisions for the business. She helped her with her periods and told her about babies. Maryam’s father, after about a year or so as a chronic invalid nursed by the fair people was thrown out by them because of the cost he was in the wintertime. Maryam was kept on till she was eighteen took work as a way of paying off the cost her father had been.

At eighteen she had left the fair. She had decided to look for her father. Another girl told her they could do better for themselves in television. They had gone off to London together, but her friend Janice, had soon abandoned Maryam and had ended up in club life in London. Maryam declined that route for herself, although got some bruises doing so. She went back to Liverpool. Her Nan had died. No-one in her street had heard about her father. That was a while ago, she has been looking for him for nearly ten years now.

             Sammy had looked at her and known that he could have replied to her about their ages, and thus become distracted onto her body. She waited. “Your father was a good bloke?” he asked instead.

            “Yeah, I suppose. Till his accident.” She was pensive and unhappy. “I missed him when he was sent away.”

            “I bet,” he said brightly to avoid her gloom. “Mine’s dead, too,” as if it were nothing.      “What do you mean?” She looked at him  sharply and anxiously.

“I mean, I bet you missed him. When he died, didn’t you.”

“He’s not dead,” she said  anxiously. “I know he’s not.” It was clear how much she wanted to think he was somewhere for her to find.

“Perhaps he is. He couldn’t look after himself, could he?” It was difficult for Sammy to know what to say to stop her getting sad. And he had probably been clumsy. But now they had something in common. There was a silence for a long time, and then she looked at him whilst he said nothing. “I don’t know. I never thought he was gone. I always thought he could look after himself. I am still chasing him somewhere.”

“Let’s hope you catch him up. Do you want another drink.” It seemed best to divert from this conversation.

“No…” She still had half the first one  in her glass.

“I think I will.” Sammy was feeling tense now.

“I’ve got to go,” she said rather flatly, but not moving. “You don’t talk much,” she said as if giving herself a reason for going.

The accusation seemed unjust. “I’ve been listening.” But it seemed pleading to defend himself.

“Oh, yes.” She conveyed disbelief as if she wanted to add that all he’d done was to look her over with his eyes and get his hands on her. She didn’t quite say that, but continued, “I bet you haven’t listened to a thing I’ve said.” She was gathering her things from the bench beside her. “Why don’t you say more. You haven’t told me anything.” But she made it sound as if she did not care at all.

“I’ve been listening to you. It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?” He was confused by her. It made him start defending himself and demanding from her. “You told me about your father, looking for him all these years because he loves you and gave you a nice name. You see, I thought you wanted to be listened to.”

“Don’t do me any favours.” She was cutting and hitting to hurt. She stood up and moved round the table. Her movements were elegant almost dancing. She was graceful but also inside was vibrating with some hostile energy.

He stood and put an arm around her shoulder as she passed him and they turned together towards the door. He was hanging on to her because he had no idea why she had suddenly changed. Later, he realised they should not have talked about her father – and his.

“I’m not doing you any favours,” He tried coaxingly. “Why don’t you do me one. Let me take you home?” He was trying to get back to a jocular mood with her again.

She walked away as if oblivious to his arm around her, and he had to walk with her, avoiding the pub table and chairs to keep his arm in place. When they got to the door, he had to release her and let her go through first.

Outside the air was fresh and open and clear. They seemed to have come out of a sudden heavy cloud. She seemed to unfreeze for a moment. “Thanks for the drink.”

“I’ll take you for a meal one evening.” He persisted rather hopelessly, “soon.”

“Yes,” she unexpectedly said, but without enthusiasm, “anytime.”

“Next Thursday.” He was calling after her as she moved away and she was talking over her shoulder to him, “I’ll tell you all about my Dad, too.”

“OK. Thursday is fine.” She hesitated in her movement away, and he told her a restaurant and a time. “Fine,” she called.

He watched her walk away down the street. A couple of large men turned their heads as she passed them One called out something to her, but she didn’t look back at him. Nor at Sammy. He stood in the street, looked down at his watch as if he could make it move on to next Thursday. He felt confused.

So now he sat in the pub again on his own. It was not surprising she had not turned up at the restaurant. He sat looking glumly over his glass. Distantly watching the corner where they had sat together swapping stories about their fathers a few evenings ago. It was almost as if he would look hard enough, she would appear there.

Then he noticed the barman looking over at him, and Sammy wondered if he wanted something. He was young and diffident and he looked as if he was not sure about Sammy. “Alright,” Sammy asked and he was about to order another beer. There was hardly anyone at the bar and the barman moved away from wash some glasses. “You waiting for someone?” he called out. “There was a girl in here at lunchtime. Funny name she gave – Musty or something. Know her?”

He nodded, “Yup.” He tried to sound casual but interested. “Her name is Maryam. She couldn’t make a date. I wasn’t too bothered. Nice girl.”

“Marry-me?” he enquired. “Yeah, a funny name. She left a note.

“Well, it will be for me, Sammy continued casually. He went over to the bar and ordered another pint. The barman put an envelope on the top of the bar and then pulled the beer. Sammy left the envelope there till the pint was full, was passed over to him and he’d paid. He brought the pint back to his seat, with the envelope, dropped it on the table, and let it rest there a while. ‘Now,’ he said to himself, ‘I don’t really care what she’s written to me.’ But looking back later, he realised there was a bit of a turmoil in him over it. Then – he was very casual – he opened the envelope. It said in careful letters: I DON’T KNOW YOUR NAME SO I DON’T KNOW IF YOU WILL GET IT. I FOUND MY FATHER. I WILL BE IN LIVERPOOL TONIGHT. COME AND MEET US. The message finished with her father’s address – no signature. He looked at his watch and sighed. Now he had to make a decision.




Blind, paralysed and still alive, he greeted Sammy generously. Maryam looked on kindly. The old man seemed to have got the situation a little distorted, since he assumed the couple, who in fact had met only once, were a solidly united couple. Not only was he pleased to have been found by his one daughter, but pleased also that she was nicely hitched to a good and gentle man. Maryam smiled not wanting to disabuse her father of his pleasure about Sammy. She had no idea if Sammy was gentle and good. As far as she knew, he could instead be an unreliable lecher who would pick her up and drop her as his impulses dictated.

            The home in Liverpool which cared for the blind old man, Shaun, was run by a non-profit charity, ran as a co-operative in which the cared-for invested their family saving, without losing their rights as shareholders and beneficiaries of any income the home energetically made. Donations were accepted, local lotteries and many cultural activities in the neighbourhood contributed funds to support the looked-after residents. Not surprisingly those admitted, in whatever shape and health, had a longevity significantly better than comparable services elsewhere. Shaun played his part singing his Irish songs on the appropriate occasions. At dances, music hall entertainments, and whatever community occasions warranted his gifts. Maryam was inexpressibly proud, not just of her achievement at finding him after such a long search, but at finding him so talented, energetic, active, and generous at his age – not so old in fact, but still long after he should have died.

            “My boy,” he said in his contented and lively way. His voice was loud in his small room where he sat in his wheelchair. The carers, mostly volunteers always helped him into it and pushed him to the window as if he could enjoy the view. “If you want to bless the girl, we both love best, then rescue the world from moneychangers and their nowadays temples”, He laughed with a gaiety that was unusual for Sammy. “Decapitate capital.” He guffawed. And Maryam and Sammy happily followed suit.

            “Certainly will, sir. Had a few ideas of that kind myself,” he said proudly, but he did not, of course, consider indicating anything of the murderous project that he and his father had evolved. It seemed of course that that secret might be well received by Maryam. Sammy saw Maryam looking at himself with some interest, no doubt wondering about Sammy’s unspoken ideas. She seemed an innocent woman much younger than her age. She turned and held her father’s hand, “I’ve got a Dad. Who cares about money? Dad’s are more important, aren’t they.” She looked at Sammy, as Shaun held tight to Maryam’s hand.

             Sammy then held his other hand and Shaun gripped them tightly in his dark blindness, making an ineradicable connection between the three of them. “You want to hear a strange story,” he said.

They both nodded, but Maryam decided she’d better agree out loud to the blind old man, “Yes, Dad.” And she sat in a chair next to her father. Sammy sat on the side of the bed the other side of the wheelchair. They remained linked together in the chain of hands they had made.

“Well,” he started with a note of thrill in his voice, “Your Mum,” and he squeezed her hand, “she was called Monica, and often called ‘Nickers’, because some of the lads around the fair thought it was funny. No, that’s not the story.” And with the energy in his telling, he lifted their two hands up a few inches and down again. “But we often went around together, in amongst the shows and tents. Sometimes holding hands.” He had a dreamy look in those blind eyes. His dark skin seemed to glisten with some excitement in him. And solemnly he said, “She left me. She left us,” and he squeezed her hand again. “We never saw her again, did we. You should try to find her. Perhaps out there in Egypt with her rich bloke.” He looked tearful. If you have ever wondered if blind people cry with their eyes, well, now you know - they do. “It makes one feel racist.”

            “Perhaps, I can find her now. Now I have found you. What was the man’s name she went off with.”

            “Let me tell you the story first. See, we were a good couple, till the accident. Then it was hopeless. She didn’t want a crippled black bloke; and of course I didn’t want to be crippled.  But you know you can’t choose. But she did. Well after a while she did. She pushed me around in the wheelchair for a few months till the shoved me out of the fair altogether, because I wasn’t any use to them. I had a bit of money, because there was some insurance. But it wasn’t so much. For my paralysis, and the blindness. I was useless. So she had to take me away. But she had nowhere to go, and nor did I. We went back to the village in Ireland where my Dad came from. All he said was ‘go and find your mum’.” He looked sad again, It was a story about nobody wanting him. Maryam squeezed his hand then.

            She looked at Sammy, “I’m going to stay,” she said. The old man turned his head, unclear about what was being negotiated between the two members of his now-discovered family. Sammy nodded, feeling unsure what he wanted to do, nor what was expected of him. And he turned toward the door, walking down the corridor. After a minute or so, She came running after him, “You shouldn’t leave me like that. Where are you going? Where are you staying?”

            “He looked completely uncertain. “I thought I might have been staying with you. Where are you staying? You’re staying here? In the home?”

            “No,” she said slightly exasperated that he was not understanding her. “Wait for me.”

            “Of course,” he said, relieved. And he walked on to the front hall where there were a couple of seats he could sit on to wait till she came. He could understand she wanted time with her father alone. So he simply waited.

            In fact it was a couple of hours she spent with her father. When she came down the hall to where he was sitting he stood up, She said, brightly, “Come on,” as if he had kept her waiting, “I’m hungry, man. He said he thinks there may be a sandwich shop just close. So, we must ask someone.” She looked around and went to the glass door with a sign ‘Office’ above it, and looked in. She went inside to ask for the shop. When she came out she frowned, “It’s half a mile. Come on.”

            So they walked together down the road. She put her arm in his as if they were familiar companions. She had a lively walk and he felt her body moving against his. She was slim and quite tall, a physical presence.  He looked at her face again. Her mouth was sensuous with full lips, no make-up but a good fair skin. Her nose was rather large, and her chin a little smaller than need be. But it was her eyes one noticed, he thought, large and brown and he’d noticed their intense look when someone spoke to her. The  fringe was not well judged but her hair was light and wavey to her shoulders. She took care of her appearance in a relaxed way. He felt good to be walking with her. He squeezed her arm against his side, and he said, “You’re a pretty girl.

            “Oh,” she said walking on without looking at him. “I’ll fuck anyone who wants, But not right now. I’ve just found my father. That’s a big thing in my life.” He felt her response a protest. And he wanted to protest.

But of course, he had just been thinking about her body and her attractiveness. And he squeezed her arm gently again, and said jokingly, “Ok, we’ll leave that till later.”. But she said nothing as if he was just being practical. “Let’s talk about your father. He must have been quite a nice bloke.” But they were just passing the sandwich shop, and she pulled him into the doorway.

When they had ordered what they wanted at the counter they sat down, and she replied. “I don’t remember him much. He was always busy with the things around, and then off doing his knife sharpening. He never talked to us like he did just now.”

“Did he finish the story he wanted to tell us?”

“Oh, that was just…” she started as if it was just an amusing story, “Well,” she corrected herself, “actually he did. He said his wife got fed up with him, pushing him around in a wheelchair and so on, and doing everything for him. So he said she took up with this Egyptian man. I did know she was carrying on.  It was after they left the fair, they went off by train. She got him off at the terminus, what is it? Liverpool Central? She left him to go and find a toilet, and didn’t come back. He was stuck there he said, in his wheelchair, he couldn’t move himself properly because he couldn’t see. And he never saw her again. It took hours he thought before someone noticed him and he was calling out, so the ‘social’ came and took him away to somewhere to spend the night.” She talked fact, and matter-of-factly, but obviously she was sad for him. “He thinks she just went off with the Egyptian.”

“But what happened to you then?”

“Oh, I was only about three or something, and they left me with another family in the fair. I never saw either of them again. Till today, and I found him.” She paused, and then said reflectively “I don’t think I’ll bother to find her.”

“No,” he said, a little shocked. That’s quite a story. “Your Mum must have been desperate.”

“Desperate, yes,” she said emphatically. “And pretty bloody hopeless.” They continued in silence finishing their sandwiches.

“Where are we going to stay?” she asked him.

            “I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t know anyone, or anywhere, in Liverpool. But I looked up the Youth Hostel, and he gestured towards his mobile on the table. “We can go there.”

            She looked up at him, with her encompassing eyes. “You don’t think I’m going to fuck you in a youth hostel, do you?” She had an earnest look as if she had suddenly thought he was insane. And he was indeed a bit shocked. She certainly knew how to surprise him with the unexpected. But then she burst out laughing at him, “You thought I wanted to give the dormitory a thrill?” And she went on laughing. “Nah. We’ll find a cheapy hotel.”

            “I don’t have a lot of money,”

            “Oh, I’ll get us some money.” She looked at her watch, “I’m going back to see him. To Dad. I’ll be a couple of hours. You go and find a cheap hotel. Cheaper the better perhaps.” And she stood up as the chair squeaked back on the hard floor. “I’ll meet you at the front door at say, six. Six-ish. See if there’s a pub with a room.” And she left the shop. He stood and did as she had indicated.

            There was a pub not far away, and he booked a single room. He lay on the bed for a while wondering if she really wanted her own room. But he decided there were times when he could make a decision. When he got to the father’s care home, she was waiting outside the door in the cold street, with the two bags they had left there. She put her arm in his as before and he took her to the pub.

            She pouted when she walked into their room. She stared at him with her earnest brown eyes again, “We’re sharing the room, are we? You really think I’m going to sleep with you, don’t you?” He stared back, but nodded his head slightly, and looked round to see if there were an armchair he could sleep in. Then she burst out laughing again, “You’re great to tease. Course I’ll sleep with you. So nice of you to ask.” And she laughed with gaiety again. She seemed beautiful, and happy, and a complete stranger to him.

            They took a moment to wash and relax and then went downstairs to the bar. It was quite large and dark with the smell of long evenings with beer-drinkers. She told him where to sit and then said she would get the drinks. She went over to the barman, and he watched her getting talking to him. She moved her body in a lythe and noticeable way. Eventually, he pulled a couple of pints of beer, and two shots of whiskey, and they went to a corner of the room and started moving a couple of tables to leave a space. The bar was accumulating a few customers, mostly men. He went to a cupboard, and found a microphone, while she brought the drinks back to Sammy. She was smiling. He asked, “What’s happening?” and she just shook her head slightly. She threw the whiskey back into her throat and picked up the beer to go over to the corner.

            She began to sing to the room. There was no backing music. It was haunting. Some of it was quite lewd. And the enlarging crowd watched and laughed, and sometimes called out, and occasionally joined in a chorus. She was good, no doubts about that. And watchable. After about half-an-hour, she carried the microphone with her and came to sit on Sammy’s lap. She sang lily of laguna into his face, “Same old heart is longing for his lady, every time.” She gazed into his face and the room erupted into laughter and singing with her and scoffing. In the noise she whispered in to his ear, “Get me some money out of your wallet.”

            He whispered back, “I got none.”

            “Well get me something that looks like it,” and she laughed in his face while he did as she asked. She moved back to her singing corner. At the end of the next song, she announced into the microphone that it was getting hot in the room. And slowly, and meaningfully she took off her blouse. So she stood in her pert pink bra, she tucked the piece of paper from his wallet into one of the cups. There was then shouting and hooting from many of the fascinated men. At the end of the song, she suggested into the microphone that other people might like to put something a little bit valuable into her… cups; and she pointed at the two sides of her bra, So she walked around the room with her blouse in one hand and the microphone in the other, allowing anyone to touch her bra and put a note in. and some did and some just enjoyed feeling her breast. And she didn’t seem to mind. She sang one more song. Handed the mike back to the barman and beckoned Sammy to leave the room with her. They got back to the room. She was pink, and elated. She invited him to take the notes from her bra, which he did, and he counted them. He retrieved two twenties and five tens, and his driving licence.

            She lay back on the bed and stared at him as if challenging him to undress her. Which he did, then she sat on the edge of the bed and undressed him. He stood in front of her as she sat, and she pulled him forward, kissed him on his lean tummy, and held his penis. It liked her. They made love. She was energetic, and he was passionate. However little they knew each other personally, their bodies knew each other deeply.

            Sammy slept deeply but woke early. She was sleeping with her back to him. He kissed her shoulder. She mumbled thickly, “God, I thought you’d never wake. Let’s go again.”




They were quiet over the pub’s breakfast. An express train had run through their lives. But later in the day, they had a coffee in the bar before she went back for the afternoon to see her father. She said, “I’m not normally this cheap.” She looked a little embarrassed, “In fact the opposite.”

            “Because I listened to you.”

            She looked down at the white marble table-top, shrugged her shoulders and whispered, “Yes.” He was looking at her, suddenly shy. “Now, I have to listen to you.” She looked up and into his face.

            “You don’t have to,” he replied. But you might need to know a few things  about what you’re getting into. While you can still get out, if you think it best.”

            “No, I don’t think it is best.”

            Sammy was surprised at her confident assumption she was on to something good with him. He, on his part, didn’t know if his interest in her was the beginning of a real commitment for once, or just the draw of a female body. And that energy and inventiveness she’d shown yesterday. “I spent a while in prison.” He said it bluntly. She looked up surprised, almost as if she expected it might be a joke. “I don’t usually tell people that. But because it’s you, I did. You need to know. But I should say, straightaway, I don’ believe I did anything bad.

            “Sounds bad,” she said in a neutral way as if she should be told more.

            “Your father might not think it bad. Even if you do.” It seemed now an issue between them – how bad had he been? “He wanted to decapitate capital. I suppose I did too.”

            She looked at him is a sharp way, “Good for you. What did you do?”

            “I sank a ship,” he told her calmly, “An oil tanker.”

            “Wow, that must have taken some muscle-power. I should have looked t your biceps when I had the chance.” She laughed, but cut it, when she realised it had been no laughing matter for him. He remained looking sadly serious.

            “It didn’t get us anywhere. I’ll tell you the story. I had finished at university doing geography. But when I was there a group of us talked about the problem of extracting all that oil and burning it off.  It was before the problems of the climate got into the press, and that kids movement started, about their future.  We knew about it early on. It was only a group of six, and two ha been engineering students. After they qualified, they got work together on a tanker, and they were able to set up something on board that could blow out a tank, and the pumproom. We organised it to have a small boat to take off those two colleagues. We got quite enthusiastic as we planned it. It had to be somewhere in a busy shipping lane so that the rest of the crew could be rescued. Then we had to wait till the two engineers were on a ship with flammable light crude (containing methane) we waited for ti to come up to the North Sea.” He stopped as she seemed bored. “You don’t need all these details, I guess, But the technicalities were a part of the excitement. We went after tanker and the to jumped overboard. Once we got them on our boat, after dark, they set off the set of explosions inside the tanker. It  simply flooded the tanker with burning oil. All the crew got out; no-one died. Thank goodness. Although they could have.”

            She was looking with a degree of cautious admiration/ “Go on.”

            “So, we did it alright. You could have seen it in the papers. But it was like that Exxon Valdez catastrophe earlier. But it was in a busy part of the sea and we were rather obvious. In any case we did it in order to be able to make the case and draw attention to risk, pollution and the impact on the climate So, in a way getting caught was a part of the plan. In fact, the media chose to scorn us. They didn’t carry the message intended. And we were just irresponsible hooligans. So you could say we failed. And they gave us good sentences. I got two years.

            “Hmm, What a waste. I mean the effort if it came to nothing. So you did two years in jail?”

            “Well, I got some remission. But two years is, quite a lot for a first offence. But there was huge insurance and a big loss of revenues, and so on.  So sentences get measured partly against financial losses. Thise losses hid the message which got lost, That was the real disappointment.”

            She sat back in her chair and aid, unsentimentally, “So, I’ve just fucked a jailbird. That’s a first for me. But judging by last night, I might want to specialise in that activity.” He laughed with her. But his disappointment took away a lot of the compliment and the humour for him. She changed mood, “We’ve got a lot to do today. I must go and see him this afternoon, toll they throw me out. We needs somewhere to stay. You can go looking for somewhere.” Then she looked at him earnestly. “Do you want to get somewhere together? It was just a one-nighter?” She suddenly looked anxious, “Was it Sam?”

            “I’d like to give it a go with you, Maryam.” She relaxed and smiled, looking satisfied. He smiles were ever more beautiful for him.

            “Give me your hand,” she said and leaned forward. She put it against her breast. “Ah. Yes, I think my tit has fallen for you. What about you? I know a part of you that has the hots for me

            “You’re crude,” he said, “I love it.” And his mood was back to its usual relaxed hopefulness. She was pleased about the impact she had on him. “There is something different about the relationship with you,” she said with an enquiring look.

            “Perhaps that’s because it feels the same for me.” And for a moment her beauty exploded like fireworks in front of his eyes. He felt breathless. And she smiled modestly as if she knew exactly what he was feeling about her.

            “Next time,” she wagged her finger at him in mock disapproval, “you tell me what happened to your father. But we’d better get busy, now. I’m going to walk back to the care home. You go into the town and find a flat. And if it has two bedrooms, and is on the ground floor, we can have him to stay.” They walked outside; there was passion in their brief kiss as they parted in different directions.




Violet, he thought to himself as he walked on his errand, had been a bright girl at school in  the same class. They were never interested in each other at that age. She seemed to the adolescent Sammy to be a self-contained package who invited little interest. The were other more open, or at least accessible, to the anxious boy-girl curiosity. It was later when he was exploring what to do after university that they somehow connected again. He was exploring a working opportunity at an energetic industrial company that made camping gear, a lot of it specialist for climbers or for holidays in extreme arctic or desert conditions. He had an appointment to see the ambitious owner of this specialist company. It was Violet that happened to walk through the reception area as he was waiting. He jumped up and the recognised and greeted each other as old friends. He even kissed her on the cheek. The receptionist looked on curiously. As she looked from behind her desk and pretending to be consulting some timetable or other, it was of interest that the Company Director’s daughter was amorously, it seemed, meeting an eligible man.

            In fact, the amorousness was entirely formality for Sammy, although there was a sense of a maturing young women. Whatever the family connection, The Director employed Sammy in the company. And it was not long of course before he realised that he was being groomed as a potential son-in-law. As the receptionist had anticipated!

            In his lazy way, Sammy seemed to have slid into something that took him longer than it should to recognise. He and Violet were courting. Mostly it had taken the form of family dinner parties to which he and one or two other employees were invited. But when the family bought theatre ticket for just the two of them, Sammy and Violet, to go to a play by a distant relative of theirs, even Sammy began to realise the role he was being edged into. Charles, whin liked to be called Charlie, was Violet’s father, and seemed as stiff and formal as Violet was in complete contrast to Sammy’s own relaxed father who had joined with him and his school mates in a soccer team, even with Sammy’s sister, Yvonne, as a timid and unsuccessful goalkeeper.

            With his own father, Sammy was friends, with his potential father-in-law, he was an employee. It was quite difficult as he reflected on his position, to feel the personal engagement with the new family, including even Violet herself. With such pressure on him it was difficult to know his own mind. He decided that before there the topic of marriage came up he and Violet should explore their capacity for intimate relations. He had been quite successful and therefore experienced through university in brief relations with female students, sometimes only one-night acquaintances. It was quite different if he had to consider a lifelong commitment. It seemed interesting, even experimental, to consider a night with Violet with whom he had never had any considerations of sex. He could see her body was slim and shapely but also somehow seemed… the word ‘ungiving’ came to mind.

            After their second occasion together at the theatre, he invited her to come back to his home for a quick drink. She accepted, probably thinking he would discuss the prospect of marriage. As they sat in the rather well-appointed living room with the softest armchairs, he said as he sat in one of them, “We are becoming a sort of couple. I like that,” he said formally, “You are a very beautiful woman. Any man would want a woman like you, Violet. Do you think we might start to be a couple.”

            “A couple?” she said as if the idea was unfamiliar to her.

            “Well, we are two people in or twenties, attracted to each other. It is natural to have an affair.”

            Again, she seemed to be taken aback, her posture stiffened, “An affair? With you?” She paused, “I thought we might be moving towards an engagement. You know, my father would be pleased about that.”

            “Of course,” he said, “I see that. But marriages usually start with an affair, a loving intimacy. The formality emerges from the personal loving. Don’t you think?”

            She seemed very much out of her depth at this point. He could almost feel sorry for her lack of experience and sophistication despite her wealthy background. “Have you brought me here so that I sleep with you tonight?” There was a hint of indignance in her voice she was trying to suppress.

            “It is an offer, Violet. But,” he added with some significance, “only if you want to.” She picked up the significance that he could proceed to an engagement if, and perhaps only if they had satisfactory relations in bed. She wondered if she should leave immediately. But it would then be an end to what her father was planning for her. But if she stayed, then what would her father think of her? And of this lecherous man?

The other factor she had in mind was that, as a virgin still, she ought to be having the experience all her friends had long been having. “Well,” she looked at him with a perfectly practiced smile. “OK. So long as you don’t let it get out and my father hears we’ve slept together. A secret,” she said and the smile grew more intense.

“Of course. Yes, Violet.” And he added with the same insincerity, “Who would have thought of you as such a seducer.” In fact, he felt no sexual appetite for her at the moment.

            She was rather pale, and felt compelled to say, “You know, Sam, I’ve never done it before.”

            “That’s alright, I have.” He wondered if that was quite right. It might not have sounded as intimate as it should. “I’m sorry, I should not have said it like that. What I mean is, I can teach you lovely things about your body. I can worship it with mine.” However, to be honest, his body was not pulling him in that direction. And indeed, she did not seem reassured. He put his hand out and touched hers on the arm of the chair. She did not move. “Hold my hand. Softly. And gently.” She did so in compliance. “Let’s go,” and he stood up, still holding her inert hand. When they were standing, he kissed her on the lips and she let him, but there was no enthusiasm to be felt in her. Unfortunately, the whole of their further intimacy was dominated by her inert compliance. Though he was able to complete his sexual act, they neither seemed satisfied.

            Very soon, she said,” I should get home. But thank you very much.”

            “Yes,” he said, “I will take you home.”

            “That is not necessary, Sam,” but she allowed him to ride in the taxicab with her. And when they arrived he got out on the pavement with her and asked if he could kiss her. She put up her face and offered her lips. “Thank you, Sam.” There could have been tears in her eyes. She knew it had not been a success. And she had no idea why it had not been one.

            “Thank you, too. Violet.” They both knew that would be the final moment of their ‘affair’.

            But it was not the final act of friendship. In a kind of a way, it made it easier to continue the work relationship, both knowing the secret they shared. It was however only a few months later that the raid on the oil tanker took place. He was arrested, and Charles, who was Charlie her father, regretted bitterly ever letting his daughter meet Sam. But Violet never fully regretted her experience with him. And years later, she did contact him to remind him of their secret. This was long after he had met with Maryam.

            They did meet in a pub, and Violet told Sam how she had never had intercourse again, even though she had married. The husband, chosen by her father, had been much older, smoked a lot and had early coronary disease, which carried him off in his late forties.

            “But, you mut have tried to have sex with him. You father would have wanted a grandson, no?”

            She looked down sadly, “No, we never tried. I always assumed he was basically gay. But he never ‘came out’.”

            “But that’s a deceit. A marriage under false pretences.” Sam looked shocked. Ad once again he had that feeling of concern for her missing life.

            “Perhaps we were both false.”

            “Both doing what your father wanted. I think we were doing the same, Violet.”

            She shrugged, “Oh, I didn’t know what I wanted then. You know he died last winter?”

            “No, I didn’t know. I’m very sorry, Violet. Very, very, sorry. It must be a big loss for you. He was everything to you.”

            “Yes, Sammy, he was. I have a big hole. But, do you know, and it might be terrible to say it, but it is a new chance for me. I have been thinking if it is a big hole, I have a chance to fill it with me! To find out me, and just what my dad wanted of me. I wonder if you understand.”

            “I do,” he said thoughtfully and slowly, “I do understand. I think you have probably  discovered something very important about yourself. You do have a chance now. That is very interesting. I guess that contacting me again is something about trying to find yourself, is it?”

            She looked at him curiously, “Perhaps it is. I hadn’t thought about it like that. Do you have a good relationship going?”

            “I do.” And he wonder what Maryam would think about this conversation. Violet looked away. He wondered if she was disappointed. Had she had some expectations? After all this time. For a moment, and for the first time, he felt something different from his gentle pity for her. There was a yearning woman in front of him. But did she know what she was yearning for?

            “You must think I am a useless wasted person, Sam.”

            “Well, I think you’re a woman with a very big hole in your heart and you are actually beginning to fill it with something real. Perhaps it’s happiness, perhaps its sadness. But it is brave of you.”

            “Is it brave? No, I just have no choice.” He had no thoughts to add to that. “You know, Sammy, after our, erm, encounter – in bed, what was it six years ago, seven – I felt so ashamed of what I’d let you do. Of what I had done with you, I mean. But also, I had a crazy, crazy hope that I might be pregnant. I could never have told my father – or mother. I’d just have had to run away.” She looked at him. Perhaps she was wondering if she did sound as crazy as she felt; if she was as crazy as she had been.

            “Of course, our moment of intimacy has been on my mind often. But no, I had never had the thought we might have made a baby. I guess that’s the difference between a man an woman?”

            “Could be. Violet and Sam,” she mused. “Would you have married me, if I had been carrying a baby, your baby?”

            “Well, that is a thought. Back then, yes, perhaps I would have married you. But now, I think it might not be the right thing at all.”

            “No, I’m not asking you now. We think differently now we’re older. But there I one thing.” She looked almost beseechingly at him. It was a look that almost no man could refuse in a woman, “I would like to ask one thing.” She stopped.

            He was wondering what she was going to say. He wondered if she had every had sex with anyone since. Was he the one and only time? Is that what she wanted; to try again? “Go on Violet. You can tell me. We can keep secrets between us.”

            She laughed, “Oh so you never told anyone about ’us’?” she spoke as it had been a powerful private affair, and she laughed, perhaps with relief. “Doesn’t your wife know about our secret?”

            “No, Violet. I promised you. I wouldn’t tell. Of course she knows I have had relationships before her, and she’s had relationships. But she doesn’t know about you, or anything about our encounter in bed. As you called it. It is a good way of putting it. Violet, let me ask you; Are you wanting another encounter. See if it could improve or something.”

            She looked at him straight, and serious, “I want you to make me pregnant.”

            He was taken aback, “Of course. Violet, I do understand. And don’t be nervous. As I said you are a brave women in discovering what you want. And what you are. Actually,” he said in a reflective way, “I feel really quite honoured.”

            “You feel honoured. But the answer is ‘no’. I can see.”

            “Oh, god, I don’t know. I am truly honoured, I am the person your asking. But it is true I have another life, and it would be very complicated. Very – wouldn’t it? But I would have to decide which is important. Most important.”

            “So the answer’s not definitely ‘no’,” and there were some tears beginning to come from her eyes onto her cheeks.

            “Violet,” he said, almost alarmed, “I’ve never seen your tears before. His heart went out to this sad, bereaved, lonely woman. She stood up from her seat, and walked out of the door. He hesitated and knew he shouldn’t leave her on her own. He found her outside the pub standing still with her tears still coming. He put his arm around her for comfort. It was like hugging a flagpole. The suddenly she collapsed into his arms, her legs were hardly supporting her as he held her tight. She was suddenly sobbing loudly. “It’s, OK.” Her suddenly collapse into this emotional state was so unusual – actually, unprecedented as far as he ‘d seen. It was powerful. Her emotions were actually very powerful. And that exerted power. He felt so pressed to please her; to please her with what she’d asked of him.

            “I  want to go home,” she sounded like a small child at that moment.

            “Yes, you need to go home, a nice warm, cosy home with someone who loves you.”

            Her sobs began again quietly. He held on to her but watched the road for a taxicab. Eventually, when she was calmer, a taxi came along, and they got into it. She mumble the address and he told the driver.

            Her mother was out doing the usual elderly lady things, so he wondered if he should stay. “Please,” she said, “don’t leave this poor thing. I’ve never been so ashamed of myself. I should never have told you what I needed.” And her tears, began to come again. “Damn and bloody,” she said. “I never swear. But now’s the time. I do not want to be taken pity on.”

            “You do need some care and pity.” He wanted to be firm with her, and to resist being drawn in too far.

            “I do, don’t I. But, Christ… For Christ sake, Sammy, I do.” Her sobs came, and in between, “I’m sorry, Sammy. I should let you go. And you should let this lump of limp shit, stiffen up into concrete again.”

            He really didn’t know want to do. Could he leave her? - when she was in this state. But it wasn’t really his responsibility and he needed to protect his own life. And yet he had agreed to meet her.

            “For god’s sake, Sammy, screw me, and then go.”

            “You’re talking like a whore, Violet.”

            “I know. But, I am a whore; I want to be a whore.” She was shouting desperately. This often seemingly dead body was now alive, alive with need and lust, accumulated hunger over her thirty odd years.

            “You want to be a mum,” he said with some inspiration. But he was feeling aroused by her needy body.

            “Then make me one.” She put her hands round his neck and gripped him with passion.

            “OK, then. My god you’re beautiful. You’re a beauty when you want to be.” And he tore at her blouse till he could hold her breasts in their bra. “Let’s be gentle with each other, beautiful one.” And she undid his trousers, while he stroked her face carefully.

When they were both naked, she suddenly bit him on the chest. Hard. “I’m hungry.”

            He felt a moment of anger with the pain, and then he smiled at her passion, a passion in this once marble-like statue. She was a sleeping beauty who had woken up. “Beautiful bitch.” He muttered. And she lay back waiting for the pumping penetration, and pumped back at him as actively as if she’d never done it before. Which she had not.

            Afterwards, they lay uncomfortable together on the settee. She struggled out from underneath their tumbled bodies, and he lay with his head on her thighs. “If I’m pregnant, I will have the baby, you know.”

            “If you have a baby, I will become its father, you know.” She grunted with a satisfaction. At that moment she felt completed.

His mind began to swim back to the reality. “You know, Violet,” he looked up at her from her lap, her breasts, her face, “I am going to have to tell my wife. I don’t think I can keep this a secret, however wretched I’ve been to her.”

“I don’t care.” Violet was in a different world.

            Then he got up dressed and left quickly, a pack on the cheek and wishing her well. She remained dreaming. Later she texted him, “I think I had a breakdown this afternoon. Got you involved, Sorry. X’ He thought it better not to reply, but did not delete it from his phone. He continued his settled life with Maryam and her father. Some three weeks later, Violet texted again to say “Nothing has happened, I think. So I’m infertile, or your sperm are substandard – ha. Try again? Please X’.

            But he had a bright idea. One of his lecherous friends called on him for a drink and they went to a pub in Notting Hill. Listen Phil,” Sammy said, “I’ve had a bit of trouble with a girl. She want a baby from me.” They laughed together in a scoffing male way, which hid their concern for the girl. “Violet, she’s called. Do you think you could oblige?” Again they laughed together as if discussing some farmyard animal that needed to be taken to stud.

            “Could do. Just to oblige, of course. Sounds interesting, I don’t often get asked for my services like that. What’s she like?”

            Sammy waved his hand like a wobbly balance. “She wanted a baby from me, but I don’t suppose it will matter.”

            “Why you?

            “Oh, it someone from a long time ago. It doesn’t mean anything now,” he lied. He wondered if he woold really want Phil to be the father.

            Two weeks later, one evening, Phil called round again, looking a bit dishevelled and red around the eye. Maryam was out, singing somewhere, so Sammy invited Phil in. “I called around at that address this evening, she let me in but was surprised. You hadn’t let her know you’d made the suggestion to me?” Sammy said nothing. “Anyway. she was flabbergasted; her gast was flabbered. Completely. I don’t think I filled the bill fully. She threw a vase at me.” He pointed to his eye, “It hit me. That’s why I can’t open my eye.” Sammy laughed unsympathetically. “Thanks, buddy. I’m sure I’ll get over it.”

            “Sorry Phil. Come here.” They went into the kitchen and Sammy go a sponge of cold water and held it to Phil’s eye. “I think it’s gong to be a nasty one.” And he added to his male colleague, “Wondered in the sex war. I’m sure the military should recommend you for a medal.”

Phil laughed weakly. It’s the bruised ego that needs tending to as well. I think I’ll go home and put it in a splint.”




Every time Maryam came home, the vision of her face in the doorway and her lithe eager body thrilled him anew. He told her as always to sit down, and recited the usual alternative, “Booze or snooze?”

            “I think a little booze quickly, and sit for moment with you.”

            As he was going out of the door, he turned and said, “Every time you come in through the door, it knocks me over, your beauty and that feeling that it is for me. I can never get over it.”

            “I know. It is lovely you say it. You say it every week when I come home from my pub-singing. And it is lovely you say it every weak.” Heer eyes were twinkling with humour. But she also meant it sincerely. It was the core of their relationship, to be able to exchange the most extravagant of compliments at any moment, relevant or not, appropriate or not. He brought her the weak gin-and-tonic she liked. And sat as always next to her that always gave them both the feeling that home was now completely home with each other. He knew that on this occasion he had to do something more, something else.

He lay back with a sigh and his drink in his hand as if the world was a perfect place. So he went to it, “I have to tell you something. I have been unfaithful.” She looked at him, a hardness took over her face.

“What does that mean? Someone important?” She was staring at him.

“No,” he looked back, her harsh look making him feel nervous. He had not seen that look on her face before.

“Well, that’s OK.”

“Actually, not quite important.”

She stared back at him again.

“What does that mean? Listen you can go screw who you like. We can have that relationship.” But she was sounding angry. “So long as you don’t bring their knickers back. And I can do the same. There’s a lot out there, would like to have m y knickers off.” She sipped her drink viciously.

“No, I don’t want that sort of relationship. It’s a bit of a long story.”

“You’d better tell me every bit, hadn’t you.”

“I’m glad you’ll listen. You are too good for me. Just as you are too beautiful.”

“Let’s cut that stuff out till I  know what I’ve got to listen too.” So he related the story of Violet and his indiscretion with her.

“So she might be pregnant from your ‘indiscretion’ as you called it.”

“No, she is pregnant. The text that came today said she is. The test was positive.”

“That’s more than an indiscretion, Sam. And she doesn’t want to abort it because she wants a baby. And given what happened with Phil, she wants your baby! And I thought I’d have a quiet few moments with you before going to bed and sleeping happily till morning.”

“I’m sorry. Maryam. But I guess saying sorry makes little different.”

“That’s true. Something true you’ve said, you deceitful bastard.” She took another vicious sip. “So what do you expect me to do?”

“Well you might up and leave – well, perhaps I should say, you’ll kick me out.”

“ Yes, I bloody well could do that. But I know I am not going to do that. Actually, you know I won’t do that. You think you can take me for granted, you bastard.” Sammy sighed; how could he have so hurt this woman he loved so much. She went on, “No, you don’t take me for granted. My guess is you’re feeling shit about it – probably as hurt by what you’ve done, as I am.” She took another sip and finished her drink. She held out the glass for more. When he returned with her refill, she continued, “If I knew how to punish you badly enough, it would probably make us both feel better.” She lay back against the back of the sofa as if she felt quite defeated.

He cleared his throat as if he was choking, “I’ve spoilt everything.”

“Is it everything? Well, it is a bloody great deal, my friend. Even if we do work this out, how can I trust you ever again. You’ve kept this a secret for weeks, you said. You could keep any number of these indiscretion secret for every. Couldn’t you?” She looked at him again fiercely, and sipped her drink.

“There is not anyone else in my life like Violet.”

“She’s cuckoo, you know. Psychotic the psychiatrists say.”

“I know.”

“It’s good you know, she said sarcastically.” Another sip. “What do you want to see her for?”

“I don’t want to see her. Well that’s not the absolute truth. I do feel sorry for her, and somehow I seem to be some irreplaceable brick in her life, in her make-up even. But I could bear to not see her again, though I think I’d feel bad if she feels I am vital to her.

“So, if I said never see her again, you’d agree, would you? And absolutely not see her. Not even in secret as you have been doing.”

“It was actually only once I’ve seen her…”

She interrupted, “Once was enough for all this,” and she spread her hands as if indicating the world and slopping her drink. She began to gulp the rest of it. And held out the empty glass for more.”

“I know. But there is a bit of a problem. If she does have the baby – and I think she will – you would not want me to have anything to do with them.”

“Oh, fuck, Sam. If you’re the father, of course you’ve got to be the father, see the baby. Be with it growing up. Why don’t you bugger off and marry her?” Maryam was in tears. She was getting through her third G&T. Were in love, Sam. You and Me. Me with you, and you with me. We were going to be a model for how the whole of humanity should love each other. We’ve often said it.” She was crying fitfully, “You have spoilt perfection, I could have had perfection, You could. I could have given it to you; and you could have given it to me.”

“Well, we could still be near perfection.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she scoffed.

“Maybe we could be a model for how humanity can get over the mistakes it makes.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, indiscretions, yeah, yeah, yeah.” She put her hand to her head. “Of course, you right. I know, I know. We all make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you don’t love me. I know. There’s perfection amongst the imperfections. My dad is perfect. But he’s blind and he’s paralysed – what imperfections eh? But he can still be perfect.” She was beginning to sound a bit drunk. But in vino veritas, with wine we speak the truth. “I’ve got to get to bed, and see in the morning.”

“Do you want me with you, tonight?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Sam. Of course I do, course you sleep in my bed. Just because your willie has been up some stinking cunt doesn’t mean I don’t want the rest of you – perfection amongst the discretions – remember, do you? Unless you want to go off after your psychotic whore.” She stood up and held out her hand to him so that he stood up. But he then held her tight to him, and after a moment she held him to her as tight as she had ever done.

            He’d been through a range of emotions, momentary rage, guilt, righteous justification, abject confession, even the need to fell her punishment. They went upstairs clinging to each other and to bed.

            Breakfast was a very silent cup of coffee, he’d made. They indulged in cream with it. Just to perfect it.

            Eventually, she flicked her bedraggled hair out of her face, and told Sammy she got the solution.

            “It is a big ask, a big ask to ask of a slut-fucking arse-hole like you. I want you to swear to me that you will never see this woman without me being present. I want to know her, and her baby when it comes.  I want it to grow up with a father and a step-mother as well. I want to be with the slut mother, on her side and I want her to be on my side. No more slippery secrets with this whore. That’s what I want.”

            “Granted,” he said.

            “And one more thing. If you ever have another of your little indiscretions, I want to know immediately. Right? No waiting six weeks before telling me because you have to. I don’t want an open marriage. I. Do. Not. Want. An. Open. Marriage. At least not now. We could renegotiate later if it is appropriate. But now – forget it. Right Sammy?”

            “Right Maryam. It is clear, and agreed.”

            She stood up and came around the table. She told him to stand and to give her the most powerful cuddle he had ever done. “Christ, Sammy, you’ve got power in your body haven’t you. It makes me feel randy again.” But she went back to her seat, sat down, and said. “Now, I have a secret that I have not told you. I have secret thoughts. I have been thinking for some months, every month in fact, whether we should have a baby. Now this slut makes it important to ask you. I want us to have a baby. A baby that will be just as important to you as hers.

            “OK, Maryam. The least I can do, isn’t it.

            “No, wrong answer. I don’t want you to have my baby out of duty or recompense or whatever. I want to you to want to have a baby with me, our baby. I would like our baby to be loved by you – in fact to be loved by you more than you’ll love hers. Got it.”

            “Got it, Maryam. And I think you know that is exactly what will happen.”

            “Oh god, Sammy. You’ve given me a bad time since last night. Give me another hug. And I want to hug that powerful body, and to feel your sharp mind and that caring heart of yours. How could I come to hate you so much as I did last night?”

They were silent in each other’s hug for several minutes.

“And one more thing. You have not yet told me that fucking tart’s name.”

            “Oh, haven’t I?” he said innocently. And they both laughed. “It is Violet. But if you like we could call her FT, short for…” But he did not finish as she kissed him passionately on the lips.

            In the short time they had been back living at his house, she had got herself a temporary job as a receptionist at an art centre. So she went to work, and he immediately got out his phone and dialled Violet. It was the first time he had made a contact with her since there indiscretion those weeks before. When she heard his name she became breathless, but calmed herself immediately.

            “I never expected to hear from you.”

            “It’s because I am going to b a father.” He spoke jovially, more than he felt. “I want to discuss the situation with you.”

            “Yes, of course. Where shall we meet. I do want you to be involved with the baby. The midwife says everything is fine. Soon they’ll be able to look at it with their machines. They may be able to tell soon if it’s a boy or girl.”

            “I’d go for either,” he said equally jovially.

            “But let’s just talk for a minute on the phone. I have told my partner the situation.” Violet of course wanted to see him.”

            “Couldn’t you come round just for a few minutes.”

            “Yes, it could be possible, but first I need to speak on the phone.” Violet said nothing feeling a bit suspicious. What interference was his partner going to be? She found her stiffness coming back, and she was not going to try to fight it at this moment.

            “She agrees that it is very important that I should be the father of the baby that I am the actual father of. I very much want to be close to my baby, Violet. I have to be careful with my partner, who was pretty upset about our little affair.”

“Hardly an affair.”

“ But with a baby, it is important to all of us. My partner – she is called Maryam….

“Yes, I know, you told me. She’s foreign.”

“Actually yes, sort of foreign, but I might say. Also very beautiful. I know it is going to be difficult, difficult for all of us, but Violet, I do love her.”

“So you told me, too.” Violet was now stiff as concrete. “Are you going to tell me she refuses to let you see us. You’re a wimp, Sammy.”

He sighed, “I know. It is true. The one who comes out of this worst is me. By a long way. But no. she is not refusing to let me see you and the baby, not at all. Instead quite different. She says she would like to be involved. She would be the baby’s sort of step-mother. Hardly the real one, but someone in the background. In the shadows, however much you want to keep her shadowy. But the main point is that Maryam would prefer it if you and I do not meet without her being present too.”

“Hmmm, is that quite different?”

“Perhaps it isn’t. It means two things. One is that we will not be having an affair, you and I. That has been clear hasn’t it. And I am sorry to disappoint. But nor can we just go our separate ways. The other thing is that if you agree, we can be involved in helping at times, whatever you may need. If the baby is familiar with us, we can do a bit of relief looking-after, I believe it is called.”

“What you say is sensible.” And Violet said no more.

“So, if you would like us to meet, then we can, altogether. I think Maryam is quite keen to meet you, despite all the difficulties. But it would be good to do that, if you wanted us to join with you a little bit in making the family that the baby has.

“Very sensible.”

The phone went dead. And that left Sammy uncertain about how they will all proceed. It was all in Violet’s hands. And perhaps it has to be. She has the biggest burden – bringing up the baby; and she has the biggest disappointment as she has not got the relationship she wants for the baby.

            So there was no alternative but to wait on her.




In the course of time, when the pregnancy was at six months, Sammy got a text - ‘She is a little girl. All going well.’ He immediately wrote back - ‘Do come and see us. Have a cup of tea and we can admire the tummy.’ But there was no reply. Until at seven months - ‘I think it is still alright, but they’re not sure. Do come and see me.’ That was then a testing moment – should he and Maryam go - together?

            So they did.

            He texted her on a Saturday morning, to say they come around. Again, no reply. And when they ran the bell where she lived, there was no answer. Later in the evening when they were sitting together and her was a stroking her three-month pregnancy, Violet’s text came – ‘I couldn’t see you this afternoon.’ So he asked, ‘Shall we call tomorrow?’ Again, Violet did not reply. So they on Sunday afternoon they tried again. Violet answered the door, looking surprised. But without a word she stood back inviting them in and went to make the tea.

They were all silent, Sammy gazed almost hypnotised at the tummy. Eventually he said, “This is Maryam – she was sitting tensely next to him. Violet nodded slightly, because it was obvious. “Tell me, Violet, about it,” he nodded towards her tummy. “Is everything alright? I mean with the baby.”

“Our baby,” she said pointedly, “I think so. They say it will be OK. I’ve got th beginnings of blood pressure. So I have to relax and take it easy all the time.”

“Who’s looking after you?” he asked anxiously.

 “Damn you. I’ve got no-one looking after me, Have I?” Other women might have shed tears at this point. Violet simply stared at Sammy as if he were completely responsible for her plight. He picked up his cup of tea and sipped it.

Maryam came in at this point, “Perhaps we can help.” Violet had not looked in Maryam’s direct even once since they arrived, and she did not now.

Violet shrugged, “I should think you’re the last person I’d want helping, aren’t you.”

To which Maryam replied in here confident way, “Of course. But I’m giving up work. I’ll have some time. See,” she patted her own tummy, “I’m expecting too! Three months, me.”

Violet opened her eyes wide. “You!”. She suddenly let out a sigh. And this time she looked directly at Maryam. It was as if she could relax – for the first time in months. “You’re three months? Oh, so you know what it feels like.” She looked relieved as if Maryam was a fellow sufferer. As if Sammy was now a forgotten ornament in the room. Maryam stood up and crossed the room to give Violet a big hug. There were tears in Maryam’s eyes, though not in Violet’s. “We can help each other, Maryam.” It was the first time she’d used Maryam’s name.

Sammy thought, ‘My god. Women together.’ The whole configuration of the three of them had changed. It was now Sammy who was the one on the outside. Maryam and Violet were two that were company and he was the crowd. But he was pleased; he was greatly relieved that there was some accommodation that the women could agree on. And indeed it may indeed be possible for Maryam to look after Violet. He thought he had better leave them to it, and he leant back, remained silent and watched. The volte face was astonishing. What a difference a baby makes to a woman. Violet took Maryam off to show her the preparations she had made for the baby. The cot, the changing table and piles of packets of disposable nappies, the books on breast-feeding.

Sammy st in his seat. That’s how to make a woman happy, really happy. Not just give her a baby, but give here a companion who is pregnant too. And, he realised, he would be a father twice within three months. How the world can change in an instant!

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