But, if you missed the start, here's the link to it: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Chapter 1 appeared on 13 January and following chapters appear each Friday. You can find them via the archive.
Read, enjoy, invite your friends.
I was not afraid of contact with others; I simply had not experienced it. Amongst men, only Father, Furnswurth and Leigh had touched me. Furnswurth’s slimy touch had repulsed me. Father habitually slapped whatever uncovered part of me was within easy reach or pressed his hand on the skin of my back as he beat me with his belt. When Leigh held my elbow to guide me into the shop, I simply felt wanted.
Leigh was eager to be out of the typewriter shop and would have chosen the first machine we saw: I had to use it. From my days at the Dairy, I knew there were many to choose from and I wanted one that would do the job efficiently and without bother. He allowed me time to test and I selected an electronic machine with a choice of daisy wheels and a correction facility. Leigh handed over a shiny plastic card; no money changed hands so I wondered at the transaction.
‘Have you given them money with that?’
‘I see.’ I did not see at all, but there was more than I could learn in a few seconds and Leigh wanted us out of the shop.
‘Are we going back now?’
‘To the car.’
‘You sound disappointed.’
‘I thought we were going to …’
‘We are. I just don’t want to lug this round all day. We’ll drop it in the boot and then find a fashion boutique.’
‘A shop that sells clothes; usually women’s clothes. Don’t mind the walk, do you?’
‘Mind? I’d walk all day for some new clothes, Leigh. When you talked of presents, I never thought you meant clothes.’
‘I thought you weren’t interested. I’m being a bit selfish, really. Want to see you in something better than … better than that stuff.’
‘You surely didn’t think I wear these from choice?’
‘What was I supposed to think?’
‘I have no spending money. Father gets all my clothes for me, from jumble sales.’
‘Yes. Including my underwear, if you must know.’
That single piece of information galvanized Leigh. He hurried me to the car and stashed the typewriter away.
‘Right. First port of call is Marks and Sparks, where every modern miss buys her knickers. Let’s start at the bottom, if you’ll excuse the pun, and work upwards and outwards.’ He was all eagerness and my own excitement fed off his so that we acted like boisterous children.
‘Come on.’ He clasped my hand and it felt good. We ran from the car park together along a path by the slow brown river. Laughing, we leapt over puddles of last night’s rain, now drying rapidly in the warmth of the early spring day. At last, out of breath, we stopped and I rested my back against the shiny trunk of a cherry tree as Leigh stood in front of me breathing hard and grinning fit to crack his face in two.
A short pause and he took my hand again and we walked this time, the thrill of his touch suffusing me with a new pleasure. Through the crowds we went, oblivious of their numbers as we laughed at everything and nothing on our way to the shop.
It was the biggest building I had ever been in and would have been intimidating without Leigh. He led me to a corner where huge black and white pictures of young women in underwear hung from the ceiling and covered the walls.
Before this, I had seen only the inside of Mrs Greenhough’s shop in the village. She kept a small stock of ladies’ pants and tights discreetly in a corner, piled on a shelf with the woolly hats and walking socks. Anyone not looking for the items themselves would not recognize them from their plain packaging.
Here, in this enormous store, however, young women clad only in the clothing within, brazenly displayed the contents of each pack. I understood where Abby bought her revealing underwear; though I could see nothing quite as scandalous as some of the items she took off for Leigh when he was photographing her. Leigh, of course, was completely at home and not in the least embarrassed.
I took my lead from him as he matter-of-factly walked up to a woman in the shop uniform and asked her to measure me. He whispered something to her and she gave me a peculiar look but nodded at Leigh’s comment and led me to a curtained cubicle. There, I removed the clothes she said I must if I wanted the right size and subjected myself to her tape measure. She was very polite as she gave me my sizes and left me to dress.
Leigh was waiting outside as I emerged. ‘I wouldn’t normally enquire, but since I’m supposed to be helping, you’ll have to reveal your statistics to me.’
I told him what the woman had said and he nodded approvingly as if I had passed some sort of test.
‘You’re sure that’s what she said?’
‘Shame. I was hoping to measure you myself, just to make sure. Though, tell the truth, that’s exactly what I would’ve guessed.’
His smile was so mischievous I had to laugh. I began to understand why women found him so attractive. ‘You’re a very wicked man, Leighton Longshaw.’
‘I know, terrible isn’t it? Right. You’d be fine without a bra but I doubt you’d feel at ease. So, we’re not looking for support. Do you want pretty-pretty or a smoother, softer line?’
After some searching, we found some that I liked and Leigh felt would suit me. He sent me to the cubicle to try them on, warning me to leave my own knickers on when I tried the new ones. Just a curtain between the world and me. I felt so vulnerable.
‘Will you stay just outside, please, Leigh?’
‘I’ll come in and hold the curtain closed.’
‘You will not! Oh, you wicked man.’ I had to laugh and he was good, making me feel less exposed by standing outside with his back to the curtain.
‘They feel wonderful. It seems a shame you’ll never get to see your present.’
He stopped himself from speaking and propelled me back to the spot we had found them. ‘As long as they’re comfortable.’
He chose three sets of bras in different colours, so that I had a dozen in total, and two pairs of knickers to match each, plus spares in white.
‘Will I need as many as that?’
He gave me a look that Ma would call old fashioned. ‘It’s usual for a lady to wear a fresh pair each day.’
It was as if he had caught me doing something not very nice and I felt a need to explain. ‘If it’s about cleanliness, I do wash them every evening ready for the next day.’
Leigh’s face settled on sympathy. He reached toward me and I knew he wanted to embrace me, to comfort me as though I was sad or distressed but we were in a public place and I stretched out my hand instead. He squeezed it tenderly. ‘Oh, Faith, what has that bastard done to you?’
It was not until we were at the counter, paying, that I realized he had meant Father. I should have been annoyed, but Leigh’s very real concern for me contrasted so strongly with Father’s indifference and harshness that I found myself again questioning which man was right.
Leigh held the carrier bag open for me. ‘I’ve paid for this lot so you can put some of it on whilst you select your outer clothes. Now, question is, do you want to select something from here…?’
‘You’re going to buy me something else? All this is more than I expected when you said...’
‘I’m not having you walk round York in your underwear, young lady, no matter how much you may wish to.’ He said it loudly enough and in just the right tone to make some of those waiting to pay look shocked and make me laugh when I should have been cross with him. I felt so happy and unrestrained by his company that I had to join in. ‘Okay, I’ll not bother to wear the underwear, then.’
One old woman looked even more shocked, the others just laughed. Leigh seemed as delighted as he was surprised.
‘Come on, Miss Precocious, let’s get out of here before we’re arrested.’
Outside the shop entrance he stopped. ‘Now look what you’ve done! I’ve brought you out here when you might want to stay in there to make your next choice.’
‘What else were you planning to buy me, Leigh?’
‘I promised, and I keep my promises.’
‘Okay. I want to get you something for work, something casual for occasions like this and something special for the evening. How does that sound?’
He was so excited and eager I did not have the heart to tell him I never went anywhere for the evening. ‘It sounds expensive and far too generous.’ His determined look re-appeared. ‘And wonderful, Leigh.’
‘Excellent. M and S is best for the work stuff. Shall we go back in?’
Between us, we found a lovely lilac trouser suit with flared bottoms and a deep purple blouse to go under the jacket so I could wear it undone. In great trepidation, and with Leigh standing guard as before, I put on my new underwear. It felt wonderful after the old woman’s bra and school gym knickers and I walked out to display my trouser suit to Leigh feeling proud and liberated.
‘Lovely. You look really lovely, Faith. I hope you’ll let me see whether you’ve got legs when it comes to the other stuff.’
‘I’m a man. Your choice is perfect for the office. You look great.’
I kept the suit on for our visit to three fashion shops but I left the last one wearing my very first mini skirt, much against my better judgement and largely as a way of thanking Leigh. Black polyester displayed half the length of my thighs and flared softly in the wind so that I felt almost naked. Sheer tights sheathed my legs from waist to new, heeled shoes in black patent leather. My top was caressed by a natural linen blouse that would have exposed my breasts if not for the soft new bra I wore.
‘Fabulous. You shouldn’t hide pins like those. God, but you’re a pretty woman, Faith.’
Leigh’s admiration was wonderful and I felt confident in my sudden attractiveness, knowing I found favour in his expert eyes. But he really boosted my confidence when he asked if he could photograph me. As the object of his lens, I must be good to look at.
‘Amazing. You’re a different and very lovely woman, Faith.’
‘Thank you, Leigh. But I’m the same woman, just in different wrappings. Are you happy to be seen with me like this?’ I knew the answer but I wanted to hear him say it. And I realized, with that knowledge, how fundamentally I had changed in those few short hours.
‘Happy? I was pleased to be with you before, Faith. Now, I’m proud and delighted and smug at the jealous looks from the other men.’
‘I never knew clothes could make so much difference. I always thought they were superficial. But I actually feel different, more confident, and that means other people look at me in a new way. And I like it. I feel wonderful.’
‘You look wonderful. I knew there was a beautiful woman in there trying to get out.’
We were back at the car park. We were more or less alone. I kissed his cheek and he held my arms and kissed my lips very softly for a short eternity.
‘Thank you, Leigh. Thank you for the clothes, for the feeling of self-esteem you’ve brought me.’ And for the kiss on the mouth that I wanted him to repeat.
He shook his head as if puzzled and put the bags of clothes, including my dress for the evening, in the car. I took his hand and he bowed his head at me in a gesture I took to be thanks as he led me once more from the car park.
This time we sauntered down winding, narrow streets thronged with people. It was one of those days that sometimes fall at the end of March; bright and warm after the winter chill, clear and clean and a pleasure to walk through. It was the first of many unseasonably warm days in that year of the long hot summer.
I had expected the initial thrill that had passed from his hand to mine to fade as we walked but it remained, spreading through me, suffusing my whole being with a sensation both pleasurable and disturbing in its intensity.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Up to you. I thought museum, art gallery or the Minster?’
‘The Minster; a thirteenth century cathedral church. Father says it’s an abomination. Where is it? I’d like to see such a building.’
Leigh pointed ahead. There, looming over the whole of the street and higher than any building I had ever seen, was a colossal edifice that could only be some sort of church. It was massive and ornately carved with twin towers and a huge door. Father described it as the haunt of the Devil; a gaudy house to tempt men’s souls away from contemplation, built by the rich and powerful as a show of their wealth and influence. ‘Nothing to do with God.’ He had said.
But I stood awestruck by the majesty of the building. It seemed to me to be a statement made by humble men glorying in the wonder of their God, a suitable place to give praise and thanks.
‘Impressive, isn’t it?’ Though Leigh seemed less than impressed.
‘Showy and ornate and precious little to do with God, of course, but then, what building has anything to do with God? They’re all just opportunities for men to display their power or skill or wealth. Doesn’t detract from its beauty and magnificence, though.’
I was amazed to hear Leigh echo Father’s sentiments. It seemed inconceivable that the two men could have a single thought in common. That they should find agreement in a religious matter of all things completely dumbfounded me. I had to see the interior for myself after such denunciation.
Sunlight cast great rainbows of brilliance on the floor and rows of wooden seats, streaming down in slanting shafts from the stained glass windows. I thought of Leigh’s studio and smiled at the memory.
‘Penny for them?’
‘Similarities of atmosphere but such contrasts of purpose.’ I let him work that out and went to sit at the end of a row of vacant seats so that I could absorb the atmosphere. It was the first time I sat in a mini skirt and I understood at once why women wore tights with them. But my concern over possible breaches of modesty was short lived.
I stared at the walls, the great ceiling arching overhead, the vast spaces between the massive pillars and wondered how such a place could exist. And, for me, Leigh and Father were both wrong about the building’s association with God.
People were milling about all over but they were quiet and kept their voices low, as if awed by the colossal nature of the place; the whole building was filled with undulating background murmuring.
And then I gained a small piece of paradise.
Just as Leigh sat beside me and opened his mouth to ask for an explanation of my enigmatic comment, the huge building filled with musical sound.
I was still absorbing the concept of music, never having heard it at the cottage and only rarely encountering it at the Dairy. The radio was constantly on in the kitchen at Longhouse, so I was growing accustomed to the wide variety of tunes and songs available through that magic box and getting to know and enjoy quite a lot of them. Ma loved her Cliff Richard and The Beatles and even one or two of the most modern groups. Leigh seemed to like almost any sort of music. But nothing had prepared me for the sound that now assailed my senses.
All the quiet chatter and whispering stopped as someone began to play the organ. Leigh pointed out the array of pipes and quickly explained where the instrument was located as the organist played an apparently random series of notes. Silence fell for no more than a couple of seconds and one or two people began to move and talk again. Then the organ began a piece of music I shall never forget. Everyone fell still again.
It began with slow, soft, gentle forays into affection and regard; light, joyful and promising. Gradually it built in scope, volume and complexity until the whole magnificent house of God filled with crescendos of love and joy and exultation, culminating in a climax of pure wonder and spiritual ecstasy. I felt lifted and thrilled, a spiritual wholeness enveloped me and I felt at one with the music and its power of celebration and worship in a way I had never experienced before. The music sighed softly and tenderly back into silence. And the quiet that followed was, for a few precious seconds, absolute.
I squeezed Leigh’s hand in mine, barely daring to look into his face in case it should reveal the same emotions I felt, or in case it should not. When I did look at him, I knew he felt exactly like me. It was a moment I wanted to last forever.
But many missed the point and there was a buzz of reaction before they continued their sight-seeing, as if it had been merely a pleasant interlude.
We sat, souls entwined, for as long as they allowed but the mood was gone and we were forced back to Earth again.
‘What was that?’
‘Nimrod, from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, but played in a way I’ve never experienced before. It’s actually a secular piece but there was more than a touch of worship in that rendition. Brilliant. Extraordinary. Incredibly moving.’
It always surprised me that Leigh knew about so many things. ‘After that, Leigh, the rest of this church can only disappoint me. Can we go back outside, away from the idle chatter?’
He did not object or question me but understood exactly what I felt.
In the bright sunshine, we stood amongst cherry trees in a small paved area and stared up at the mighty walls. Leigh unslung his camera and took more photographs of me. I smiled but he shook his head so I tried to recapture the mood of the music and he nodded his approval.
He returned for my hand. ‘Hungry?’
We walked hand in hand from that wonder, carrying the memory inside us, and, making for the river, started the mundane but exciting search for lunch.
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