His auntie Liz always read the obituaries. So she will have seen it. But to make sure he sent a letter. Then a phone-call. Robert had argued with himself but in the end he thought he had to inform her about his mother’s death. There had never been love lost between them, even at grandma’s funeral twenty years previously. The two of them, sisters, had stood on opposite sides of the grave, refusing to touch the same sifted soil to sprinkle over their mother’s coffin.
So he was surprised but not shocked, when she asked about the arrangements. “Is she being buried a Catholic?” She wasn’t interested in how she had died or what kind of death it was.
He answered her question with a question, “Are you coming?”
“Where is she being buried, then?”
“They’re leaving her house at nine-thirty, then it’s ten o’ clock at Astley Bridge Cemetery, Bolton. Do you know where it is? Do you know where she lives?”
The phone went dead.
There were waxy faces with sunken eyes, peeking round the net curtain, thin breath misting the window of next-door neighbours’ at number thirteen. On the lawn under the front room window there was an assortment of wreaths and flowers. She wouldn’t have liked those. Waste of money! She would have said plastic anytime. He smiled as he remembered her at the sink, paisley apron round her waist, washing her array of plastic flowers, using an old toothbrush to get between the gaudy colours.
It was 9.20. Robert, chain smoking, stepped into the front room of the bungalow where her black coat still slumped over the arm of a red-and -green settee. Her red purse, with her bus-pass photo face up, was sticking out from under one of the cushions. A half-empty bottle of olive oil stood next to a hairbrush still misted with strands of white hair. On the sideboard alongside an old faded prayer book were various coins, a picture of himself as a ten-year-old in a black leather jacket with a white stripe across the chest. Black hair plastered down, his smile showed the gap he could fit a half-crown between. There were picturesque Christmas and birthday cards on the wall in plastic frames. He walked around remembering each one, the way she used to fill her tiny front room with old Christmas cards going back to just after the war. The dish of water she swore kept away sore throats was still next to the two-bar electric fire.
Hand-sewn, home-made knickers, skirts, blouses and tea towels straggled over the rods of her clothes-rack hanging a foot from the kitchen ceiling.
He stood at the door of her walk-in larder, recalling the conversations he had had with her about the advantages of a fridge. She wouldn’t budge. It was her way and that’s how she wanted it to stay. The marble slab for her meats. The damp tea-towel for keeping bread fresh, and the various enamel basins she used for steeping peas and pulses. On the kitchenette table alongside her tea strainer was her one cup and saucer, next to his “I love mum” mug.
He went into the bedroom. Through the half-closed curtains a yellow oblong of sun slid over the bedroom carpet. The forty-watt bulb made no real difference to the light. There was a whiff of Lifebouy Soap mingled with a smell of hospital. There were boxes of bandages, surgical stockings, and enough medicines to open a chemist’s shop. A pair of clogs underneath a mahogany wardrobe stood next to a pair of sandals and a pair of flat walking-out shoes. The walls were white, bare, except for a small black crucifix. The bed had been made. He smiled, thinking of the times she had shouted to him, “I can’t leave the house without making the bed. What will they say if someone breaks in!”
He remembered her waxed face, when he first saw her dead the undignified way her head had fallen back, mouth open, cheeks sucked in. She would have hated it. He remembered gently lipsticking her thin lips with her favourite bright red lipstick, careful not to smudge. Then leaning over her he lightly powered her nose to hide the many freckles she had hated for as long as he could remember. He combed her hair, gently feeling every white strand sliding through her blue comb, tucking some strands behind her ears, the way she herself did whenever she had to meet someone. She would tuck it back ever so gently, almost flirtatious. He fiddled around with the collar of her nightie, straight, neat. He moisturised her hands with Ponds Cold Cream. She would have liked all of it. Being made presentable for the undertakers. He squeezed her hand and tasted his last kiss, watching the pain of several lifetimes drain from her eighty-two-year-old face.
A tiny, dark blue, empty bottle of Evening in Paris stood on the walnut dressing-table Social Services had given her. He lifted and dabbed the tiny gold lid on his wrist, the way she used to. It had been empty for as long as he could remember. He started crying.
Kate Riley was walking round the dimly lit bedroom she shared with her sister. There was a navy blue A line dress laid out on the bed. Kate was clipping her hair up, when her sister Liz stormed in, “So you’re going then?” Kate ignored her and slid in the final clip. “I don’t know what you’re doing all this for? said Liz, “Nobody can be that hard up that they would want to dance with you!”
It was three years on V.E. Night, since she had visited The Empress Ballroom. The globe in the middle was sparkling over two dancers demonstrating the Flamenco. It was the sexiest thing Kate Riley had ever witnessed. She could feel herself blushing. Their bodies touched and wrapped around each other. She couldn’t take her eyes off the male dancer as he twisted and twirled. She had never seen such tight trousers on a man before. She blushed even more as she imagined him holding her tight, her breast squeezing into his chest and those tight trousers pressing into her. She made the sign of the cross, “Oh, God forgive me for my impure thoughts.”
She was the last one to leave the edge of the dance floor. Chewing her nails down to the wick. She fixed her eyes on the slim figure of the Spanish dancer. Her friend, Betty Mailey, tried to pull her away. But Kate was hypnotised. He came over. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen,” he said in broken English. “ They are brighter than any star.”
She fell, hook line and sinker.
“You wait for me, while I change into my other clothes, yes?”
As he walked away, she was inching her eyes over every part of him. Betty said, “We’ll miss the ten o’clock bus.”
“I’ll walk home.”
“Come on, Kate, let’s go.”
“He said I have the most beautiful eyes he has ever seen.”
Betty was slipping her coat on, checking her handbag. “They all say that.”
There were people pushing past them giving them dirty looks for being in the way.
“Nobody has ever said that to me before.” Kate was wrapping her handkerchief around her fingers. Her face was flushed, mouth dry. She pushed her way back to Betty. “Honest, kid, he said brighter than any star.”
“Listen, Kate, I can’t stop, Frank will kill me if I don’t catch that bus!”
“ It’s alright, don’t worry.”
They stepped out of the warmth of the ballroom, into the cold evening air of Wigan. Betty pulled her friend to a halt, “My God, Kate, you’ve never walked home alone in your life!”
“I’ll be alright, see you on Monday. ”
“You’re joking! I’ll come round tomorrow. I want to hear everything.” She nudged Kate, winked, “You lucky bugger!” she said.
Kate’s body was tingling, she found herself wringing her hands, shifting from one foot to the other. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.” Over and over those same words. His accent. His deep Spanish voice.
(Diary entry 20th March. For my thoughts I will have to say four Our Fathers and three Hail Mary’s… But I don’t care. I feel so alive.)
She waited at the Exit. He appeared wearing things she had only seen in the movies: kid gloves, a silver-topped cane, handmade shoes. When Tomas Guerreo asked her if he could take her home she didn’t refuse.
He kissed her hand on the corner of St. Peter’s Avenue. She felt a giddiness and tingling she’d never felt before. It was almost eleven o’ clock. She had never been out so late. “You will meet me next Saturday, at the Finger-post, no? We will walk out together. Two o clock!” She nodded, kissed him on the cheek and ran up the street into her house as fast as her excitement would carry her. Her heart was bumping out of her chest, she imagined herself holding his tight body and kissing his heart-shaped lips.
That night she couldn’t sleep, turning over and over, again tasting his cheek, his sweat, that kiss on her hand
On Monday morning she was the talk of Langdales Cotton Mill. She blushed as the mill girls gathered around her: “ Did anything happen?”
“How long did it take him to get your knickers off?” They cackled around her. Someone shouted outside of the group: “ I hope he lasts longer than my Bill does! Is it right those Latin lads can do it all night?”
“Thank Christ mine’s from Bolton then.”
“Don’t be so rude.” said Kate.
They laughed again. It was the first time she had been the centre of so much attention. She both loved and hated it. In the afternoon she mimed to Betty over the deafening noise of the card-room machines how his deep Spanish voice made her go all funny. “Don’t forget, ” mimed Betty, “ he just wants to get into your knickers.”
When she climbed on the work’s bus for home, the other mill girls were still cackling about Cathleen Riley finding a man. She was deaf to their taunts; she was in some other world, where all she could think and talk about was Tomas, his Spain, his dancing, his body. The bus arrived at her stop: the Finger-post in Aspull. Arm-in-arm, she and Betty walked through the heavy rain, jumping over the large puddles in the narrow cinder path as they crossed the moor to home in St Peter’s Avenue. Stopping outside number three, Kate hugged her friend, “ Please don’t say anything to anyone around here, promise me?”
“Why?” asked Betty. “You’re thirty-two, not some young kid.”
Kate stood back. “ I just don’t want anyone to know. You know what they’re like.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
Betty couldn’t contain herself any longer. “ What was he like?”
Kate twirled around like a teenage girl.
“He kissed my hand just like they do in the pictures.”
Betty waited for more.
“Is that all?”
Kate looked at her. “He’s not like that, he’s a Catholic.”
“No desert disease?”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you he’s not like that…He’s perfect. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I wish I had half-a-crown for every time I’d heard that.”
With that, Kate ran down the flagged path and into the red-bricked council house,
to a cry of “Wake me up when you’ve made the tea!”
(Diary entry: 26th March. I’ve not slept properly. I’ll die if he doesn’t turn up. Oh God please make him turn up.)
During the next five days she planned everything down to the last detail.
But it was Tuesday evening when she went to Karen, next door at number five, who was her size, a size fourteen. “ Listen, kid, could you lend me that grey two-piece suit with the pencil skirt? The one you had at Sandra’s wedding. You looked lovely in it.”
On the way back she popped into Betty’s for a green blouse to go with it. She couldn’t afford to buy the latest shoes with the Cuban heels. It would either be the clogs she wore at work or a pair of brown leather sandals (Never borrow anyone’s shoes, her mother had told her. You never know what you might catch) She washed her red locks with a block of green Fairy Soap
(Diary entry for the 27th March read: No one in our street had a sachet of shampoo. I’d kill for real shampoo.) She stood in her dimly-lit bedroom wearing just a full-length white cotton slip, looking at herself in a small mirror and leaning back on the spindles of her bedroom chair. Her arms fell to her side; “You are going to look the best anyone has ever seen.” Brushing her dank hair back, she lifted the mirror to arm’s-length, looked, turned her head to one side, and checked the other side. Shaking her head, she brushed her hair forward, looked, then brushed it sideways. In a fit of frustration, she threw the pink brush across the room onto her sister’s bed. She fell into her bedside chair, head in hands, crying, “Not today, please, not today!”
She picked up the brush again and drew her hair back, then pinned in the sides, brushing again, “He’s going to hate it, I know he’s going to hate it!”
She checked herself in the mirror. Dissatisfied, she threw that onto the bed too. She unclipped her hair, starting again, brushing it forward, back, brushing the sides. With a fringe, without a fringe. With clips, without clips. Eventually, brushing it straight back, she clipped it at the sides and patted her thick red waves forward. She sighed and sat on the green eiderdown, exhausted.
She dabbed Californian Poppy on her wrist. “He won’t like that!” She ran into the bathroom and washed it off. “I’m going to look awful. I’m going to smell awful!” She sat on the side of the bath, her head in her hands, imagining his slim, taut body turning around and around, her fingers running through his hair. She was his partner under that sparkling globe. His arms were holding her, her breast pressed into his chest, their lips inches apart. She stood up, swilled her face with cold water. Taking a deep breath she walked back into the bedroom.
Kate confronted the borrowed clothes hanging neatly over the back of her chair.
“ Please, God, let him like me.” Carefully she began to move them from chair to bed, holding her breath; she smoothed out creases as she lay the suit on the bed. Checking the time, “An hour! I’m never going to be ready.”
With half-an-hour to go, she pressed her little finger into the last of her deep red lipstick, smoothed it over her top lip, rolling her lips together. She checked herself, smiling. She match-sticked the last bit of lipstick out of the tube, to rouge her cheeks. She perfumed herself with ‘Evening In Paris,’ dabbing the light perfume on her wrist, neck and behind her knees.
She was breathless not so much with running but through the whole experience of going out courting. It was the excitement that was taking her breath away. It had been a dream she never thought would be realised. But it was, and it was happening now, today. Ok, she was ten minutes early. That was more to do with her father than anything else, that she should never be late for anything. It was something he had drummed in her since childhood.
If she had have planned it a bit better she would have waited around the clinic before walking down to the Finger-post were everyone would see her dressed to the nines. She never gave it a thought why should she? There were more important things on her mind than the men who hung around the Finger-post. The excitement of her date had pushed almost everything to the back of her mind. Including the Saturday men as they were known. They were men with flat lives who had nothing better to do that ridicule the women passer byes just for the fun of it. They were men in clogs or working boots, off-white collar-less shirts and grubby walking-out clothes. Some were kneeling, or squatting, waiting, just waiting, half-a-fag behind their ears. They were under-fed men of her own age, pale, from too many hours underground. They were men whom she had grown up with.
“Hello,” she said. She didn’t know why she blushed. But she felt as if she was on fire. She peeped sideways at the elderly rumour-mongers dressed in clogs and shawls, their whispers and prying eyes fuelling the flames in her neck and face. Kate felt every eye ball inch over every part of her, mostly from the women. Who had never seen her dressed like this before, she had never experienced anything like it. Just for a few minutes she wasn’t Kate Riley who hadn’t two pennies to rub together. This wasn’t Kate Riley who had never been kissed. Or kissed so passionately her legs buckled.
She gave a half-hearted wave to some people she knew waiting across the road at the Cenotaph. She wanted to be invisible except to Tomas. “ Where is he?” Her hand again would only lift shoulder high. She waved again. She had to. Everyone always waved.
“Why is everyone gawping?” she asked herself.
Old Mrs Thomson, from the new bungalows, a friend of her mother’s stopped and asked her, “Where did you get them clothes from?”
Kate just smiled. “ I’m going to a wedding.”
“I’ve not heard of a wedding. Who’s getting married?”
“Some one from the mill,” she replied. “She’s from Bolton”
The old woman trundled off, turned and shouted back, “Wait till I see your mam! Fancy not telling me about a wedding!”
She turned to more footsteps. More people she knew were walking down the steps behind her. Girls she had nursed as babies were running down with their friends.
“Hello Auntie Catherine!”
She forced a smile. Waved.
“Where is he?”
(Diary entry for the 27th March read: Everyone on the estate saw me waiting for Tomas. Old Mrs Jones will tell mum. What do I say? They won’t believe me. No point in telling them. They’ll spoil it anyway. )
She stepped back into the dank bus shelter away from the prying eyes and wagging tongues. In the dark of the shelter she became a little more at ease with herself. Even though the floor was covered in fag ends and there was a strong smell of urine and vomit. She stood as far back as the concrete walls and her clothes would allow. She changed her mind. “He won’t see me! Besides why should I hide from them, I’ve done nothing wrong”
There were moments of shear delight. At everyone talking about her, seeing her dressed-up for the first time. She felt so proud of herself. An exhilaration she had never felt before surged through her body. She wanted to strut but didn’t dare.
It wasn’t her. She wished it to be. But she had never rubbed anyone’s faces in anything. Least of all those who were waiting at the Finger-post. But what if he doesn’t turn up? I’ll be a laughing stock. Kate paced to and fro, willing the bus to arrive. She willed the bus to arrive before him. She walked to the edge of the pavement looking down the road, past the hawthorn hedge, and the rugby pitch on the left. In the corner of her eye she caught people watching her. She looked up Haigh Lane. More faces she knew. She walked back to the front of the shelter.
A black car, like the one the mill manager drives, pulled up Her heart felt as if it was bumping out of her chest. Her mouth became dry, she wet her lips. Butterflies were bombarding her stomach. She wanted to run over to him, kiss him, feel every part of his body. But she daren’t. She wanted to strut out like some model on a cat walk and give them all something to talk about. It wasn’t her. But if there was ever going to be a red carpet moment in her life, this would be it.
His shoes were black soft-shoes, so shiny they glinted. His wore black trousers with a razor-sharp crease . His hair was brylcreemed down; his parting had been axed on the right hand side. In the daylight, he looked more handsome than ever.
( Diary entry for 27th: Everyone made fun of me, but it was worth it. He looked just like Tyrone Power. He is Tyrone Power)
“Catherine!” he shouted.
Men started chanting: “ Catherine’s got a swank! Catherine’s got a swank, ee- aye-addy- o, Catherine’s got a swank!”
She had never dressed to the nines before but she felt so confident when she saw Tomas beckon her to his car. Head high Kate took a deep breath, and stepped out into the sunshine. This was her moment. OK, it was a slight exaggerated walk, a movie star walk, but only slightly, she didn’t, would never want to rub their noses in it. She savoured every foot-step. She had never felt like this before, confused, elated, out of this world. Everyone at the Cenotaph glued their eyes to both of them, and the gossip-mongering began. She didn’t care. This was her moment. It was right. She knew it was. They were just jealous old men with nothing else to do except
“Que mujer mas bonita!” he said as she walked to his black Humber Hawk, Mk 11, glinting, new. She hadn’t a clue what it meant, but it sounded nice.
“Thank you,” she said as he opened the front door. The sweet musky smell of car leather was strong. Sliding her bottom in first, knees together, she swung her legs in. The black leather seats were soft, but not too soft. The back of her bare legs experienced the cold leather. As he pulled away, driving down Bolton Road, those waiting around the Finger post gawked and punctured the air with their fingers, pointing and giving V signs. Kate, waved and smiled a cheeky smile. She sat erect, frozen, peeking sideways at him, wondering what to say. She pressed her hands and knees together. She held in the scream of delight she wanted to belt out.
This was her time. God knows she had waited long enough. For the first time in her thirty-two years she felt alive, normal, a woman. She glanced sideways, just to make sure it was real. She pinched herself. Took in again the smell of leather, how posh it was and Tomas the gentleman.
In stroking movements he gently moved his leather kid gloves backwards and forwards over the thin gear stick on the steering column. Then round and round the steering wheel. There was silence, except for the drone of the engine. He searched his inside pocket, taking out a silver cigarette case. He clicked it open. Senior Service were strapped in, packed tight, behind two sets of gold-coloured elastic bands. He held it open, V shape, between his fingers and offered it to her.
“I don’t smoke,”
“I do not smoke either.” She looked puzzled.
“Why do you carry them about, then?”
He laughed, “In case anyone wants one.”
Kate shifted in her seat. “That’s daft.”
“I’m sorry,” she said meekly.
He took a yellow rag from the side of his seat and wiped his side window. He turned to her and smiled a perfect white-teeth smile. His eyes were black, sparkling, against an olive-coloured skin. She rested her hot face against the cool window, watching the farmers’ fields and the red brick building of St. Elizabeth’s Junior School whizz by.
(Diary entry for 28th of March: I made a mess of it before we started. Fancy calling him daft. Nobody with a silver cig case could be daft. He’s very posh. His voice just melted me.)
She wanted to say something, anything. She stared at the afternoon sun sliding over the tops of the brown cobbles in the road. She laughed. “Don’t they look like loaves of Hovis.” He looked puzzled.
“I do not know Hovis?”
“Do you not have Hovis in Spain?”
He laughed. “ What is Hovis?”
“It’s brown bread! It’s best with blackcurrant jam. I have it every day”
“Ah, bread, si, si we have bread in Spain, but no Hovis.”
They both laughed at the silly conversation.
Watching the sun bouncing along the rooftops of the terraced house along Bolton road, she began to feel at ease. She half turned and saw on the back seat a large picnic basket and a tweed car-rug. She clapped her hands in delight.
“Are we going for a picnic?”
“Si, somewhere quiet I think, do you know anywhere quiet?”
“I like the quiet.” she said. “Those machines in the mill drive me batty.”
“What machines? Where you work?”
“I work at Langdales. It’s a cotton mill. It’s so loud in the card-room you have to mime everything. It’s where I learned how to lip-read,” she said
His gentle smile eased her more.
“Rivington Pike,” she suggested. “Let’s go to Rivington Pike.”
“It is quiet, yes?”
“Yes, it’s very quiet. We could lay everything out on the car-rug. Next to all the other picnickers. I’ve never been on a proper picnic.”
“No, Catherine, I mean somewhere where there is no-one.”
“What for? We could have a chin-wag with people, while we eat our butties. Then we can all go down to the Chinese Gardens”
He shifted in his seat. His hands slid around the steering wheel.
“What church do you go to?” she asked.
“St. Luke’s in, er, Doncaster…Do you know it?”
“I’ve never been out of Wigan.”
“It is a beautiful church like the one my mother took me to as a child in Seville. I take you someday. But you won’t know St. Luke’s. It is in Doncaster, yes?”
A motorbike and side-car growled past. Kate let the splutter of the bike melt into the distance before she announced: “ I’ve been to all the churches around here…It’s Father Barr at St. Mary’s. It’s Father John at the Holy Family. That’s where I go, every morning before work. Some times on Sundays I go to St. Mary’s. Father John’s the nicest. Not like Father Barr…he’s a right old so-and-so. For the very littlest sin he gives you five Hail Mary’s and four Our Father’s.”
He smiled, nodded. “That is very good. Do you sometimes get fed up with Confession? I do,”
“We shall go to Belmont. It is beautiful there.”
“I’m sure Father Barr was drunk last Saturday. He fell out of the Confessional. God knows what he was doing there in the first place like that.” She laughed. “When I saw him I wanted to say your penance Father is ten Hail Mary’s and twenty Our Father’s. But I just ran out of the church laughing. No-one would believe me.”
He forced a laugh. Kate checked her hair. She tugged the tight skirt further over her knees. Resting her hands on her lap, looking straight ahead, she imagined that woman, his partner, dancing with him, and the way she lifted her leg up onto his thigh. “Who was the woman you were dancing with?”
She started squeezing her fingers. Before he could answer, she butted in, “Was it your girlfriend?”
“Ah, you mean Consuela? She is my sister.”
Kate sighed, laughed.
She turned and looked through the side window, watching the sun racing them over the roof tops up Dickenson Lane and on towards the A6 towards Belmont Moors.
“Are you doing a turn in all the Dance Halls?”
“Only around the North West. The travelling is too much.”
She interrupted him. “You’re brilliant.” She wanted to tell him how sexy he looked, but that would be at least five Hail Mary’s! Just thinking of it would be three Our Father’s! Instead, she snuggled her feet into the grey car mat that was plusher than the threadbare one stretched across her own front room. The one she has to wrestle with and thrutch over the washing line every Saturday morning to beat the week’s dust out. ( Diary entry for 27th of March: What you do for love! Got up for six. Lizzy shouted at me for switching on the alarm this morning. Beat out the carpet and mopped the floor before making the breakfast. They could have helped me out for once. Probably jealous. Missed Mass. Missed Mass. Said four Our Fathers and two Hail Mary’s.)
“The Flamenco is in my blood, my father taught me and Consuela. I think she is the better of us, yes?”
“Oh no, I think you could knock spots off anyone when it comes to dancing. Do you think you could teach me to Flamenco?”
“Of course I teach you the Flamenco. I can tell you are a natural, your red hair tells me you are a passionate woman.”
She laughed, a schoolgirl laugh. “It’s red for anger! So everyone in our house says”.
“Does everyone do the Flamenco in Spain? What’s Spain like? What’s your mother like? Where about in Spain do you come from?”
She closed her eyes as he told her about Spain, his home in Seville.
“It is beautiful and fiery like you my little princess. The food, the heat and the colours it is all of Spain, Magnifico!
Anger. Not really, she thought. It’s them. My sister makes me angry when she comes in with her boyfriends and they kiss and cuddle after mum’s gone to bed. Squeezing their ears into the radio, my radio, my 2/6p Radio Rentals radio. There’s never room for me. Then she wonders why I play holy-hell with them. She gave a wry smile. I will never have to run out crying again when they say the only man I’ve ever found is Jesus! Well now I’ve got myself a man. A better man than they could ever find, and he’s got a car. They’ll be dribbling.
They turned onto the A6. On her distant left a series of hills humped up and down the horizon with a tiny cone-shaped building on the top of one of them. She pointed, then shouted. “I’ve seen Rivington Pike first!”
He laughed. “Rivington Pike. What is Rivington Pike?”
In front of them were droves of people, four women in their grey or black Sunday clothes- black or grey, pushing their babies in second hand Silver Cross prams. Husbands walking behind in their best suits. Kate remembered the Monday evenings after work, when it was her job to take her father’s suit to the Pawnbroker who gave her 1/6d for it until Friday. The night after, she would take his collar to be starched for his Friday night drinking session.
A hundred yards in front of them a group of cyclists riding in two’s passed a rag-and-bone man, resting his horse and cart on the side of the road.
“Pip your horn,” said Kate. The loud honking made everyone turn. She waved to them all as they passed. “ I bet they’re all going to Rivington Pike.” She settled back into her plush leather seat.
“I’ve never heard of Belmont,” she said.
There was a strained silence. He smiled. “ Outside of Spain, Belmont is the best picnicking place I have been to!”
“What’s it like?” Before he could answer, she said, “No, don’t tell me, I love surprises.”
“I must, I cannot hold in the beauty. It is like being on top of the world. You can see for miles right over the tops of Bolton.”
“Will I be able to see Langdales?”
“On a clear day you even see as far as Manchester.”
“Manchester. God I’d love to go to Manchester. Is it right they have trams in Manchester?”
“I have danced many nights in Manchester. Even when it is dark it is bright from all the overhead electric cables flickering.” As he described Manchester, she closed her eyes imagining a fairy-tale land of posh houses and fancy cars.
They had arrived. She stared through the window at the bleak but beautiful landscape of Belmont, its mass of fields packed tight inside blocks of dry stonewalling. She soon became aware that there was no-one about.
“Where are you taking me?”
He touched her knee. It was the first time he had touched her. She moved her leg away and said, “Can we go to Rivington? Everyone will be at Rivington.” She pressed her hands into the seat, holding on tight to its edges.
“Scout Road, my pretty one, is just up here.” He slowed the car down, turning left. It was a steep climb. He manoeuvred the tight bends slowly in second gear. Up past the nothingness of a place she had never been to. On one side there were huge blocks of sand-stone, which had fallen, or had been rolled from wagons too weak for the arduous climb. She dug her nails into the leather seat as she watched the road below them falling, further and further away. The car bonnet seemed to lift up and point to the blue sky. Her nails dug deeper. “Where are you taking me?” she shouted.
“Venga con migo al paraiso.”
“What?” she asked nervously.
“Do not be worried, my Princess, I will take you!”
As they levelled out on Scout Road, her panic subsided. She looked to her left, down onto the tall chimneys and factories of Bolton and the hundreds of heavy grey chains of smoke linking sky and earth. She pin-pointed the mill where she had spent most of her working life, “Langdales!” she shouted. “I can see Langdales!”
He stopped the car on the side of the road. There was a long drop on Kate’s side. “I tell you we would be on top of the world.”
She shielded her eyes. She could see a horse and cart moving further and further away from them in the distance. She turned to her left.
“I can’t get out this side. It must be a ten foot drop!”
She moved her head looking for people, but they were alone. The only movement was from a clump of ferns, green skeletons bobbing from side to side, bumping into each other next to a dry stone wall on the other side of the road.
“Where is everyone?” she asked. “There’s no grass to lay out our picnic!”
“We shall begin our picnic, yes?” He opened the door. A gust of wind tried to lift up her tight skirt. She tugged it down back over her knees.
She tried shouting, “There’s no grass!” The wind grabbed her words before they could reach his ears and carried them over the heathered moors.
He opened the back door, lifting the picnic basket out.
“There’s nowhere to sit” she said.
He leaned over the back seat, whispering in her ear,
“We picnic in the car.”
He stepped out carrying the basket with him, and laid it next to the open front door, unclipping the leather straps. Flipping the lid open, he pulled out a bottle of wine.
Kate leaned over, looking into the basket, “Where’s all the butties?” she asked
“What’s butties? he asked.
“You don’t know anything do you? They are sandwiches. You know, food!”
“Who needs food? When we have love.”
He carefully lifted out two wine glasses, sliding back into the seat next to her, “You like wine, no?”
She took a moment to answer, then she said, “ We have an egg cup on birthdays and Christmas.”
She laughed nervously. “I think it would be better up Rivington, we could lay the rug out and have a chat with everyone . That’s what we do. It’s great. Come on let’s go over there. I don’t like it here.”
Kate tried opening the door, but she realised the drop on her side was…
The only sounds were the wind and the gurgling of wine splashing into the glasses. She hesitated as he handed her the glass, “I’ve never had a full glass of wine before!” She took it, sipped a tiny sip.
“No, no,!” he said. “ In Spain you take a gulp of the wine, like this, no.”
His eyes sparkled. His smile beamed. She gulped a large gulp.
“There,” he said. “that is not so bad.” He moved in close to her, his left arm moving higher up, until it was level with her shoulders. She edged away a little. It didn’t feel right. They should be talking and laughing. He tried to steel a kiss. She gently pushed him away.
He had another drink.
“I don’t think I should drink anymore,” she said apologetically, holding her hand over the top of her glass.
He drew away.
“You are right, I am sorry if I make you feel uncomfortable. We will have no more drink.”
Her hand moved away from her glass. She ran her fingers from thigh to knee tucking in her skirt. “How often do you do demonstrate your dancing?”
He was looking straight at the smoke rising from the chimneys of Bolton, “Friday, and Saturday. No Sundays?”
“Do you go back to Spain – sorry, Doncaster every Monday morning?”
“No, yes, sometimes.”
“What is your mother like?”
“Your sister is a good dancer. Your father must have been a good teacher?”
Kate looked across the fields and at the two reservoirs holding blocks of sky. She turned to him. “You’ve gone quiet.”
“Why are you not talking?”
He held up his bottle of wine, “I pay two pounds for this and you don’t want to drink it. It is a good wine.”
She looked again across the Bolton landscape. He was sulking, wearing a sad puppy look. “Alright,” she said. “But just one glass. I’ve had nothing to eat.”
He filled her glass.
She took a sip, “It’s lovely, honest, but I don’t usually drink, honest, cross my heart”
“You are so beautiful,” he said. She took another gulp, and caught with the corner of her eye the red flags flapping at the entrance of the Army Practice Range. She took another gulp and a warm comfortable feeling began to move through her chest and into her legs. She giggled and he laughed and poured again and then again. Her knees relaxed, parting a little, her shoulders fell, she rested one side of her face on her left shoulder The red flags were waving frantically.
The blustery wind on Scout Road gently rocked the car. His hand moved onto her knee. She went to knock it away but her floppity arm missed it altogether. She tried again but missed again. “Oh my Lord,” she said as his other hand moved onto her breast. She started reciting “Hail Mary Full of Grace….” He came back onto her… Kate tried holding her skirt down but her strength had left her. She lifted her arms in the air, but they somehow fell over his shoulders. As the pink home-made knickers came down she started saying her Confessional……..
Peter Street © 2008