But The Sailor Will See Her Again Next Time–
But The Sailor Will See Her Again Next Time–
"Where the hell d'ya think ya going," the foreman roared in a voice that could have been the boss's when they attempted to drift off a few minutes early at lunch time. He stood there in an oilskin and gumboots holding a mop in his hand. He looked like injustice personified. This was the day when he cleaned out the freezers. She felt that by doing this his superior status was in some way tarnished, and so he was forced to seek recourse in the power of his voice to command respect.
The clock showed one minute to twelve; the boss came from the vat room where he was testing the mix; the sun crystallised the drops of water on the stainless steel bench and they all walked back sheepishly to their benches and tables. The foreman looked at the boss and the boss replied with a knowing look promising praise indeed. Hands pretended to work, eyes pretended to look anywhere but at the clock, and ears travelled every step the boss took away from their room. The sun was a piece of light you could hold in your arms as it came through a small side window. She watched the sun and felt as if she were suspended on the very tip of the large hand of the clock, waiting and poised in anticipation.
Then the siren sounded.page 24
The tension vanished in an instant into the movement of legs towards the doorway. The stepping up of traffic on the street which had begun with an old pre-war car, owned by one of the apprentices, coughing rudely into life, was followed by a chorus of motorbikes. This had lulled as these first had been the more venturesome of the factory. Now the street was full of noise and bustle of feet, of engines, but not of voices. The chatter of voices was only becoming apparent as she, as usual, the last left in the wake of the other girls, now several hundred yards ahead of her, walked down the short flight of steps into the street.
She saw the other girls with the divorced woman walk rapidly waving their hands in excited conversation and at once had the desire to dash forward and catch them up. But then she caught every whisper from the many people hurrying past her; every little laugh seemed directed solely at her, at the panic of anticipation that now lived on her face.
"Why did it matter so much?" she asked herself.
"Why did it seem like going back to the house after she was converted when she was fifteen?" She felt as if she was uncovering her very mind to faces that were outside the natural circle that she was used to. The look in their eyes was that of her father when she had tried to convert him to the joy and certainty she knew in her heart. But the weather had turned cold in the afternoon and the derision that he had poured upon her had eaten her like so many indifferent teeth. She dreamt now of a comfortable flat with a large pile of rock 'n' roll records on the gram. for the frequent forgetting of herself in the dance.
All at once she was terrified of being alone with the panic she felt in her body. To be alone at the destruction of any of the dreams she had ever had. The lights then changed and she caught them half-way across the road, by straining forward, the surface of the road seeming like glass.
"Beaut party Saturday, eh," one of the girls was saying. She heard this and knew she was with the group again. The group sat on the bank of the quiet flowing river and page 25swore at the greedy seagull that stalked for the crusts that they threw him.
The sense of the grey city crowded in upon her when she swung the bag the girls carried all their lunches in, as they walked back toward the factory. Then her free arm, the only thing free in her body, smashed itself into a lamp post. Instinctively she bent to pick up the bag, being hit a moment later by the greyness that was around her.
"I'm sorry," he said. He was in dark blue jeans and a blue sweater, and she knew, for she had found out early on her arrival in the city that this is what a sailor wore. They found themselves a few yards from the kerb and he was laughing into her eyes. He had stooped and picked up her bag just as the noises of the city began around her again.
"Hard head," said the sailor, bending his legs in an awkward manner suggesting he was embarrassed to be standing holding an old felt bag. She ignored him and looked round for the other girls who had left her.
"They left me, eh," She stamped her foot and stared angrily into the boy's eyes.
"Have some lunch with me," said the boy.
"I dunno you," she said. Her head still hurt, but she looked at the boy again and said, "All right . . . where?"
He found a coffee bar after they had walked a hundred yards down the road. Inside, the sun was busy making a mess of it because it belonged more rightfully to the early morning. At the table where they sat he spent minutes hurrying grains of sugar across the surface of the table. He spoke with his voice fixed on the grain of sugar.
"Got in this morning."
"On the Glouster City . . . she's a bigin."
"How long you been on them ships?"
" 'Bout three years."page 26
"Must have been young when you were first on."
"How do you know . . . how do you know I'm not twenty-three?"
"Course you're not . . . see?"
"Well . . . how old am I then?"
"Not twenty yet."
"If I'm not twenty . . . you're not sixteen."
"I'm eighteen boy."
"Gawn . . . I don't believe it."
"Don't care . . . who're you anyway?"
They stared at the yellow wall. The touch of the boy's leg against hers was like an electric shock. She saw that it was five to one and leapt convulsively to her feet. He caught her by the door and asked her where she worked. She heard him say that he would meet her after work, to her retreating back.
Time went quickly in the afternoon because she spent her time trying to adjust her body to the movement of a machine and the questions asked by the girls beside her. The sun was an irregular mess on the concrete floor that even a broom could not sweep away. She blew on her hands that were sore from handling the cold ice cream slices and thought of the same sun cutting into her between two clouds and the phlegm from the sea. The clouds went and the storm came, but instead of the sea continually tracing thick, white outlines around the shore, there was just the road, always the road bouncing back the wind-borne rain.
"Still dreaming of sailor boy," they said. Somehow she began to link the sailor's features with the brittle sharp smell of the air after a storm at home.
"You watch sailor boy . . . he kiss and run away," they were saying. The shapeless feeling had at last meaning and was not just the tangle of driftwood above the high tide mark.
The sun went quickly and the sticky cellophane glued together more and more often, each time it became more of an effort to stop, pause, and claw desperately. But at page 27last she was outside in the street. She walked with the boy, who had sheened his black hair, not caring where she was going, and adjusting her steps to his long stride.
"We'll go somewhere and talk," he said. They found a green seat, common to all city parks, in a small park separated from the pavement by a flight of concrete steps. They looked, like the seat, towards the dingy brown factories and warehouses.
"You're from the country," he said.
"How do you know?"
"You look at things the same way I do . . . sorta different from other people. I noticed the way you looked at that flower bed back there . . ."
"Are you from the country?"
"My father owns a small farm in East Anglia."
"Is that near the sea?"
"Yes. It's on the East coast of England."
"But do you see the sea?"
"No. We're ten miles inland."
She was disappointed and they lapsed into silence for a few minutes.
"What sort of farmer is your father?" said the boy, conscious that there was a peculiarly high pitched tone in his voice.
"He works at the sawmill, boy. We run a few cows. Sometimes they run us though. One time Sam our bull got mad and run us pretty hard."
"Why did you come to the city?"
"She's crowded our home, boy . . . ten kids and another just come. Nothing to do there so we all come . . . just about all our school are here now."
The question annoyed her. You could not tie happiness in a big bow to your physical surroundings. Happiness came out of your body at certain times and was not something floating in the air. Again he asked the same question.
"Why?" she snapped out.
But she warmed again to his simplicity and nodded at him. When he reached across and took her hand page 28she noticed that the back was covered in freckles. She traced the veins out with her eye and didn't notice how cold the fingers seemed to be. There was only the noise of thinning traffic when the sun dropped into the yellow hills. When she relaxed her shoulder against the upper part of his arm she noticed how some of her tension slid away. The smoke was no longer visible from the railway shunting yards and the larger shops on the other side of town had begun blinking their neon lights. She looked into his face as he slid his hand along the back of the seat, and then paused before putting it around her shoulder. Now she was conscious of his upper leg and thigh.
It was physical to kiss and to open your mouth and feel the full pulp of the tongue. Almost spontaneously her eyes had been turned towards the boy who had leant forward and kissed her. She felt his long coarse fingers feeling her breasts, tracing and retracing them in a kind of harmony. Her flesh glowed as his hands roamed now free over her body. Then anticipation shaped itself into physical feeling. Her body slipped further down the bench until his body completely covered hers. She heard his voice incanting by her ear. This again made her conscious of her loneliness.
"No, boy," she said. He was pleading and speaking through his hands as well as his lips. Now she became a place of conflict, one part of her driving her on and the other in deep primitive fear of having another press so deeply into her. She rolled her head to and fro, torn by desire and pleasure engendered by the boy's caresses. It was as though she was on tip toe and the world had stopped. This was what her anticipation had been building up for, this was its ultimate aim.
"Alright boy . . . you're persistent."
He stroked her hair in reply.
It was completely dark when she looked over his shoulder at the thick cluster of stars grasping into the night. His hands were gentle against her neck. Then it was all pain, searing vivid red pain; red as the neons now lighting the far sky. There was no protection in his flesh when she sunk her fingers into his shoulder. She cried page 29deep inside her, unaware whether she had made any external sound or not.
When he had withdrawn she was so naked and so exposed. The stars were eyes looking down, staring at her suddenly half her size.
"I hurt you much?"
Again he was semi-coherent, but this time it had no effect on her. She skipped down the steps leading to the road, as if through movement trying to forget the pain her body had experienced.
"Would you like something to eat?"
The hand that he took awkwardly was cold. He looked at his watch.
"I must be back at the ship in ten minutes. If I get a bus from here I can just make it."
"Where does the ship go?"
It surprised her when she thought about it later that they sat for five minutes on a bus seat and said nothing. But what could be said when the bus finally droned towards them. They were really strangers. He squeezed her hand, turned up the collar of his coat, and disappeared up the bus's steps.
She followed the bus, her feet slouching forward. A faint breath of wind disturbed the orange street lights, now in sole charge of the street. She bent and picked a yellow daisy, growing where the concrete had chipped. Its leaves were brown, and when she put it under her nose, it had no smell. She stood looking at it for some minutes, revolving the flower between her hands and moving her body as if to some distant unheard music. Then she ran, forcing every bit of air out of her body. The street said nothing when she leant against a lamp post and cried.