Sport 13 Spring 1994
Linda Burgess — Boy Meets Girl
Boy Meets Girl and Loses Girl
Let me tell you a story. First you must remember a day; the day that you knew for sure that this life isn’t a dress rehearsal for the real thing. It is the real thing. This road is strictly one way; it will not be walked again. Suddenly, there is desperation in our nostalgia. What if…? we think. This is such a story. What if? he thinks. What if?
At seventeen he meets Megan. Oh what a girl, from the valleys she is although she could have come from the pages of Dylan Thomas. Eyes so brown they snap. Red red cheeks. Black curls that bounce and toss and tumble. Does he love her? He supposes so. Does he want her? Oh yes yes yes he does. He does he does he does. He stays awake all night trembling just thinking about her. His hot breath against the pillow blasts him back full in the face as he rubs against his mattress. Oh Megan please Megan oh Megan. Please.
No, says Megan. And it isn’t just because she’s chapel, although there’s that too. It’s more that Bronwyn up the valley had gone all the way just the once they said with the number 8 from the Pontypool rugby team and she’d got in the family way and he wouldn’t marry her and she’d ended up in the home for unmarried mothers in Cardiff. The shame, the shame. And if you buy protection you have to go into Huw the chemist, and everyone will know, won’t they. The town is too small.
But after chapel on Sundays she comes and takes tea with his mother and him, in the special room at the front of the house which they use only on Sundays. And his mother laughs with pleasure at the sight of her. A lovely girl Megan and her David could do so much worse for himself. A lovely girl for her David. How I wish I’d…she sometimes thinks but we’ll go into it later. Remember though: How I wish I’d…she sometimes thinks.
No, says Megan. No, she says, and she says, David it’s over.
Over? He cries in despair. Over and it hasn’t even begun! But he’s a clever boy and goes away to study science at the University in Cardiff and slowly he forgets her. Well, stops thinking about her.
Boy Meets Next Girl and First Girl Meets Next Boy
He meets Mary at the university and she will do it, and he can buy protection from the chemist because no one there knows him, as long as he waits long enough to ask the chemist himself; you could never ask for such terrible things from the young girl so often behind the counter. And because they do it quite often and go to the pictures together and sometimes to parties and he’s finished his BSc they get married. It’s probably her that suggests it but it sounds a good idea to him. So they get married and go home and he gets a job teaching science at his old high school and she gets a job in the chemist because she’s a trained pharmacist. Often she’s the only one in the shop—no wonder there’s a rash of unexpected pregnancies that summer.
What about Megan then? She’s done well for herself has Megan, gone for a holiday to America just the year before and there she has met an exotic foreigner, from Syria he is and he says he will kill anyone who looks at her. She is so flattered she marries him, no one has ever loved her so violently. But she has stayed friends with David’s mother and writes to her every Christmas and also when there’s another dark and ruddy beauty of a baby born. And when David’s mother gets each letter a tear is shed every time for there are now two What ifs for her to fret about. For Mary is a pale English girl and she cannot warm to her. If it’s raining it’s always raining and if it’s hot she can hardly breathe. And when the one child is finally born it’s a pale little english thing like its mother and it cries a lot and fretfully pulls at the woollen jumpers that David’s mother has spent hours knitting. It’s because she is allergic to wool, says Mary, then dresses her in nylon that she’s bought from Mothercare. Nylon! thinks David’s mother as she knits another woollen jumper and puts it in the post to Megan for her latest baby. Oh Megan, Megan, lost in America, come back home over the sea, to me.
And time passes.
When David’s mother who is called Jean was eighteen she was in love with the butcher’s boy from the next town. He is only the butcher’s boy, says Jean’s mother and she puts a lot of pressure on Jean not to see him, for Jean’s father wears a white shirt and is a clerk in the law office in town. But I love him, weeps Jean into her pillow and she wishes she wouldn’t think about it page 38 but she can imagine his warm strong hands touching her in all sorts of forbidden places. But she’s a good girl in Jean and there’s Gerald at chapel who works in the same office as her Da and he’s seriously paying court to her so she listens to her mother and marries him. But often on a Sunday afternoon when the house is chapel-quiet an image of Thomas the butcher’s boy comes to her mind and she can feel his warm hands on her body where indeed he never touched her and where Gerald never touches her now either. And she watches him as he sleeps upright in his chair on Sunday afternoon, his tie in place and his collar as white as she can get it. And What if…she thinks. And Thomas is not a butcher’s boy any longer, he owns a chain of small supermarkets and he has married the daughter of a Cardiff solicitor.
One day when Gerald’s asleep in his chair on a Sunday afternoon he doesn’t wake up. She nudges him gently when she brings in his tea and finds that he’s gone. She doesn’t love him but she doesn’t hate him either and is sad that he’s passed away. But she thinks again of Thomas.
Thomas’s wife the solicitor’s daughter fights a long and hard battle with her cancer before it beats her. He nurses her with fierce loyalty. Does he love her? How should he know. He buries her, pays for the funeral in cash, goes home and writes to Jean. I am recently widowed, he writes. How are you placed?
They have wasted forty years with the wrong people but it is too many years. He’s no longer the butcher’s boy with the warm hands. And she’s not Jean from the post office. I will never marry again, she says, though he begs her. We were for each other, she says, but that was then. That was then. But he comes for tea on Sundays.
She doesn’t mind the sadness of the it, the waste of it, for herself, but she looks at David with his Mary and she could weep, she could scream. And she shows him Megan’s letters, though she shouldn’t, and feels pleased when something like sorrow crosses his face, which she shouldn’t. And on the mantelpiece next to the photo of David with his pale Mary and their pale daughter she puts a photo of rich russet Megan and her burnished babies. She shouldn’t, oh she shouldn’t. Wicked wicked Jean. But she thinks, for me, yes, the wrong man, but for my lovely David, Mary? When there’s Megan? So when the letter comes from Megan saying the Syrian is dying and she shows it to David she says to him, you must write to her, David. She needs her friends. In times of sadness, we need our friends.
He Writes to Her
The letter is formal, it is twenty years since he last spoke to her. They have never written. He’s a scientist now, has left the classroom with its noisy children and works peacefully in his white labcoat among the test tubes. It is a quiet life. On Monday evening there’s chess, on Tuesday there’s bridge, Wednesday’s the night he goes to the library, Thursday’s the play on Channel 4, Friday night he has a drink with the boys from the Institute. For six minutes each Saturday morning he makes an approximation of love with Mary then takes his binoculars up into the hills and goes bird-watching. Often he takes the daughter. Mary is a good wife and an exemplary mother, she works part-time and devotes the rest of her time to their daughter. When the girl’s out with her father on a Saturday afternoon, Mary cleans the house from top to bottom then does the crossword. David likes his daughter who snuffles quietly beside him as they wait for the Lesser Golden Plover. She is allergic to the pollen-rich grass. Sundays, after Jean’s been to chapel (they don’t go, to her sorrow) she comes to them for lunch. Dinner she calls it. After lunch, it’s the rugby on the telly. Lately he’s taken to falling asleep while he watches.
Just before he licks the envelope closed, on impulse really, he picks up the photo from his desk, the one taken of him at work in his labcoat for the article in the journal. He’s grey now, but prematurely, an interesting contrast with his unlined face and his bright, direct eyes. As she slides him from the envelope it’s her he’s looking at. Straight at her. In the next room, the Syrian, whose violent love has turned to violent everything, is dying. She shows him the letter, the photo. If he comes here, he whispers from the bed, I will kill him.
And She Writes Back
David, she writes, I think of you often. She encloses a photo, coal-black eyes wistfully lowered, coal-black curls bouncing as always. Do you remember swimming at the river? she writes. And the walks in the valley? And lunch after chapel? He does, he does, he does. And do you ever think of me? she writes. I do, he thinks, I do. I do.
It is far too easy to telephone America. And such a miracle that all those seemingly random numbers mean her. I do, he says across the Atlantic, or page 40 is it under the Atlantic, or high to a satellite above the Atlantic and down to her in Detroit. Miraculously across the miles he tells her he does, oh he does, yes he does. I have never stopped loving you, he says. You are the one for me, he says, oh Megan, come back over the ocean to me.
David’s mother smiles as she knits. She’s knitting in nylon for her grand-
daughter, though she hates it. No one has told her a thing, but she knows.
Oh, she knows. Knit one, purl one, oh Megan he won’t live long, then you’ll come back home across the ocean. To my David. To me.
Now That Boy Has Found Girl Again
He can’t sleep. Mary goes to bed every night, 9.45 on the dot. He roams about the house. He listens to music, almost anything brings the pain of unbearable longing to his throat. Mozart. Johnny Denver. Whitney Houston. Everyone sings of love, and he is dying of it, for it. At 12 o’clock at night he watches old movies. The black and white screen bursts with lovers separated forever as the train pulls from the station. Close up, Humphrey Bogart weeps. And so does David. He knows at last how love feels. He buys the video of La Traviata. Verdi and Zeffirelli have it right in one. He watches it, watches it, watches it.
Mary has noticed that they’ve stopped spending six minutes together every Saturday morning. He’s almost constantly aroused but to climb into bed beside Mary—which he does increasingly less often, his nights being spent in vicarious media passion—to climb into bed beside Mary is to quell his desire immediately. He cannot make love to her. He can’t, he won’t, he can’t. She asks him why not. So he tells her. He also tells her of his dream. When the Syrian dies, which will be soon, he says, he will ask Megan to come home. He will not leave her and their daughter, he says grandly. Megan will have a house in town, he says, and I will visit her. There is no reason for anyone to be hurt. There is no reason for anyone to be unhappy. Then a brilliant idea occurs to him. She could live with my mother, he says. She is in that big house all alone. She has always loved Megan like a daughter, he says. He laughs quietly as he tells her that his mother had always hoped they would marry. He is surprised that she is not laughing with him. He has not been unkind, he is not going to leave her. All that he has been is honest. But then Mary has always been hard to please.
I trick you, there isn’t one. I should mention he comes to New Zealand for a conference. He tells his story (and that of his mother) to the old friends he stays with. He tells his story to new friends that he makes. He has to talk about it, it is cathartic. He tells his story to the nice middle aged woman sitting beside him on the plane. I ask him if he will see her on the way back to Wales. No, he says, and he sighs. I have decided to fly back through Singapore. I will wait till the Syrian dies, he says, which will be soon. Then she will come home. I have waited twenty years for the girl I should have married. I can wait a few more months.
If I were her, I could say, and his face would brighten. If I were her, I could say, and I could tell him how I would feel if I were her. But I don’t.
If I were your mother, I could say, and I could tell him that, too.
And if I were your wife, I could say, but by now the look on his face would tell me he’s glad I’m not.
He gets off the plane in Auckland. We stand side by side to get our luggage. We don’t say anything. After all, what is there to say? Anyway, I’m busy looking for the person who’s meeting me. I’m worried I won’t recognise him. It’s so many years since I saw him last.