Still enjoying this story? I certainly hope so.
I posted Chapter 1 way back on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have appeared here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search for the chapter you want to read.
Missed the start? Find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends to join us.
Saturday May 1st
Mum arrived just before nine. The sun was already hot in a clear sky and I was pleased my cotton dress was in keeping with her outfit, even if mine was longer and Mum had followed Germaine Greer’s advice; in spite of her age, her breasts seemed quite firm enough to support themselves. Conscious of my nipples, I usually wore a bra.
Leigh and Netta were still in bed, despite Ma’s warning that they’d have to get their own breakfast if they were up late. Mum and I left at once and she seemed genuinely pleased to have my company.
‘I’m going to try to catch up on your education whenever I can, Faith. If I ask you searching questions, even seem a little personal, it’s only so I can discover what you do and don’t know. Okay?’
‘Mum, I want to learn. I want to break out of my cocoon of ignorance as soon as I can.’
‘Good. Are you on the pill?’
‘Who’s your doctor?’
‘Am I supposed to have a doctor?’
‘Who saw you when you were ill at the cottage?’
‘Fa… The B.’
‘Call him “Heacham,” love. It pays him the respect he deserves, which is none. You’ve no reason to feel anything but contempt and hatred for him so don’t harbour any guilt about using just his surname. Who’s Leigh’s doctor?’
‘A man called Paul, I think. He examined me after the B… Heacham gave me the last beating.’
‘He’d done it before?’
‘Often. If I did something wrong I was stripped and beaten with his belt. Of course, he made me wear very little anyway, so I was ready for a beating in seconds. But that last time was the worst.’
Mum was silent for a while, tears running down her cheeks. She pulled the car into the side of the road and took a little time to compose herself. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue and looked at herself in the car mirror. ‘What a sight!’ She pulled a small case from her handbag and applied some colour to her face and her eyes.
I was fascinated, having seen the models do this in front of mirror in the studio but never from quite such close quarters.
‘Sorry about that. I hadn’t realized just how cruel Heacham had been to you. I’m sorry I left you with him for so many years. Will you forgive me?’
‘I already have, Mum. Anyway, you really had no choice.’
She drove off again. ‘Do you believe everything everyone tells you?’
‘I believe you. And Leigh. And Ma and Old Hodge, of course. I used to believe everything Heacham told me, but now….’
‘First important lesson, Faith. People lie. All people lie. Heacham lies, he lies so much that he even gives a distorted and addled version of his own peculiar truths; like most religious people. I lie. Leigh lies. Netta lies more than most, especially if she thinks she can gain from it. Ma lies. Old Hodge… Old Hodge probably only lies by omission and even then not if he can avoid it. Assume everybody lies, Faith, for their own advantage.’
‘Are you saying you didn’t need to leave me with Heacham?’
Mum shook her head but continued to look at the road. We had left the area I knew and were moving south. The terrain was much as I’d grown up with except that the new landscapes were more dramatic.
‘It’s so hard, Faith. I believed at the time I had no choice. I tried to take you with me but he was too strong for me and I was scared after the way he’d hit me. I was the guilty party. I’d been having affairs, having sex with other men. For all his other faults, he was always loyal to me that way. Not that he ever showed any interest in other women, to be honest. I suppose I felt he deserved something out of our parting. I had no real reason to suspect he’d be cruel to you; otherwise, I’d have fought tooth and nail to keep you. Hope was a lost cause and I had no concerns about her, poor thing. But, if I’d known what he’d do to you, I might’ve found a way to keep you with me.’
‘So, you did what you thought was best for everybody at the time?’
‘Are you always so generous in your judgement of others?’
‘Fa… I do hate that! Heacham taught me not to make judgements. He did it himself, all the time, of course. But he said I was stupid and ill informed and had insufficient information to make considered judgements. I believed him. I had no reason not to. So, I don’t make judgements.’
‘Christ, that man’s a shit! But I’m with him on making hasty judgements. It’s too easy to go on first impressions and allow yourself to be prejudiced against someone or something unnecessarily all your life.
‘Anyway, we were talking about you and the pill. When we get back, find out who this Paul is. Get on his books and ask him to prescribe you the pill.’
‘What pill is it?’
‘The contraceptive pill, of course.’
‘What does it do?’
‘It stops you… Oh, Faith, it’s hard to accept you’re so naïve. It stops you becoming pregnant. But you must take it regularly or it won’t work. Some types may make your periods…’
‘Don’t I have to have sex to get pregnant? I thought it could only happen if you let a man put his penis in…’
‘Yes, love. You do, as you say, have to have proper sex to risk pregnancy. Start taking it now and then you’ll be ready when the first chance comes up. You’re not safe until you’ve been taking it a while. I can’t remember how long; I’ve been on it for years.’
‘But who am I likely to have sex with?’
She shook her head again and smiled. ‘If no other man comes into your life and, with your looks, that’s unlikely, I expect you’ll want to go to bed with Leigh at least.’
I couldn’t imagine being so close and intimate with any man but Leigh. But I wasn’t going to allow even him to penetrate my body until we were married.
‘He hasn’t asked me to marry him, Mum. And he’s not likely to whilst Netta’s around.’
‘Sex isn’t dependent on marriage, Faith. Not even in your case. There’ll come a time when the opportunity presents itself, when you and Leigh have a chance to make love. You need to be ready.’
‘But I won’t have sex until I’m married.’
‘You will, Faith, believe me. I know what I’m talking about. You’ll have sex before you get married. I promise you that.’
It was pointless arguing. If it would make Mum feel happier, then I would do as she suggested. ‘Okay. I’ll sort it out as soon as I get back to Longhouse’
‘Mum, if I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it.’
‘I expect you will. Periods. What do you know about them?’
I knew the term.
‘What did Heacham tell you?’
‘He said I shouldn’t make a fuss and it’d happen every month. Funny, it was the one thing Mrs Greenhough helped me with.’
She sighed. ‘The sisterhood.’
We drove in silence for a while through countryside that had become far less rural. There were towns now, some quite large. We passed through streets thronged with Saturday shoppers and I wondered why we didn’t stop in any of these places.
‘Leeds is a big city, Faith. Wonderful shopping. I love the city. You’ll find it exciting and lively. Netta loves to come shopping, especially if we’ve got money to spend.’
‘You go shopping without money?’
‘Window-shopping. It’s wonderful. You’ll love it.’
‘Seems a bit pointless.’
She laughed. ‘Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Anyway, today I have money. I’ve been asking for cash instead of presents all this week. I don’t like to, and they know I wouldn’t normally, but I explained and they were eager to help. They wanted to meet you but I explained, told them you’re not like Netta and me but only interested in one man. They were disappointed, of course, but I’m not going to change you.
‘Actually, I’m really lucky. One daughter I can indulge in all the pleasures we share with men and another I can be more serious with. I can share the cultured side of life with you, Faith. You’re intelligent and bright, probably creative, where Netta’s just a natural hedonist and not the brightest of souls. I didn’t have to teach her to be a sexual beast, you know. Given her head, she’d have been at it even sooner. Netta’s a feline creature with all the sexual scruples of an alley cat.
‘I don’t blame her, of course. I enjoy my men just as much. I’ve no shame about accepting gifts in return for pleasure. I sometimes don’t get anything, except for my own pleasure, of course. But I generally get enough to keep me in style. Does that shock you?’
‘Are you a prostitute, Mum?’
‘Christ! Leigh said you were direct. No. I’m not. Some might see it that way, I suppose. I never charge the men I go with. I don’t hire myself out by the hour or so much for certain services. It’s not like that. But there’s an unwritten rule that says they make a gift in exchange for the pleasure I give them. I give my body; they give me the things I need to live a good life. Fix the boiler, decorate the lounge, buy groceries, that sort of thing, you know?’
I could see no material difference between this and prostitution but I couldn’t condemn her. I might have to revise my views on prostitution instead.
We reached the city and Mum found a place to park straight away in a tall building made of several floors all devoted to space for cars. I thought it a bit weird. Leeds was huge and I made a mental note to apologize to Leigh for doubting what he’d said about cities.
The day was a whirl. Mum whisked me from shop to shop to café to shop to shop to café to shop in such a rush that I experienced little but confusion and disorientation. She, however, obviously enjoyed herself enormously and I just tagged along and hoped I nodded in the right places.
Leigh had paid me in cash up to date and refused to take anything for my board and lodgings. I had some spending money and was able to buy his birthday card and present. At Mum’s insistence, I bought some new clothes, more underwear and some of the basic ingredients needed to paint my face. She bought me a razor and some skin lotion.
‘What for, Mum? I thought only men shaved.’
‘Under arms at the very least, and, if you can’t face waxing, your private parts.’
I was very happy to get into the car and leave that frenetic place for the peace and quiet of the countryside.
‘It’s been one of the best days I’ve had for ages. Enjoyed it?’
I couldn’t deflate her and I had another lesson in lying to avoid hurt. ‘It’s been a lovely day, Mum. Thank you.’
We drove in silence, which I relished after so much rush and noise.
‘You’re very quiet.’
She was thoughtful for a moment. ‘I suppose it might be tiring if you’re not used to it. Next time you’ll have a better idea what to expect and it won’t seem so daunting.’
I said nothing. I hoped the next time would be months in the future and I didn’t want to spoil Mum’s obvious enjoyment of the trip.
‘Wasn’t your idea of fun, was it, Faith?’
‘I, well there were…’
‘I’m your Mum. It’s all right. You can be honest with me.’
‘It’s all so overwhelming, Mum. I found York quite intimidating. It was only because I was with Leigh that I managed to deal with it so well…’
‘That’s fine. Honestly, it is. I’m glad Leigh was more able to entertain you and keep your mind off the negative aspects than I was. It shows you have deep feelings for a man. It’s obvious you’re not a city lover and you clearly don’t like shopping. But that’s no problem, Faith. I’ve got Netta to go shopping with. We’ll find something else to enjoy together. Do you like walking?’
‘Yes. I like being with you, Mum. For the moment, that’s enough for me. And I’d rather have you to myself than share you with strangers.’
‘Do you at least like what you’ve bought today?’
‘Yes. And the things you’ve bought me. Thanks, Mum.’
‘Pleasure. Not keen on the idea of makeup, though, are you?’
‘It seems like a cheat. Not natural. Like showing the world someone else.’
‘God, you’re like your dad. He was a lover of the natural and unadorned. He certainly loved me unadorned. The less adorned the better, in fact. Oh, he was a lovely man.’
‘Miss him, don’t you?’
‘I’m still in love with him. Always have been. Always will be. Hopeless case, you see?’
‘Perhaps not so hopeless. Tell me more about him.’
We were out of the city and back on roads I found more comfortable with their reduced traffic and fewer buildings.
‘David was a lecturer at my college. He was older than me. He tried very hard not to fall in love with me even though I fell for him at once. He thought it was unfair for someone so young to waste herself on an old fogy like him. His words. But I loved him. God, I love that man! He was clever and kind and good and funny and serious and talented and wise and oh so wonderful. I cried every night for weeks when he left. Every night.’
‘Why didn’t you tell him about me?’
‘Things were different then, Faith. He wanted so much to make his mark in the world of literature. I’d have held him back. If I’d told him I was pregnant, he’d have been back on the first plane to marry me. It would’ve ruined his chance of the professorship he wanted so badly.’
‘But you loved him.’
‘Exactly. That’s what love is, Faith. Love is giving the person you love whatever will be best for them, not whatever will be best for you. I knew I’d be bad for him, so I let him go. I’ve never regretted it, but I still hurt. I always will.’
‘Did he get what he wanted?’
‘I don’t know. That’s the irony. I’ve no idea what became of him. I know he had a book of poetry published in the States. He dedicated it to me and sent me a copy. I’d told him not to write to me as I’d married a jealous man who might hurt me, you see? Heacham thought he was my first and he’d have been furious if he’d known about David. I managed to keep all that from him, thank God.’
‘May I read it?’
Mum said nothing for a long time but I knew she’d heard me. She concentrated on her driving and I saw her wipe her eye with a fingertip. ‘It’s in my bag. I carry it with me everywhere. You deserve to read it, Faith. Take it. But don’t let any harm come to…’
‘Mum, it’s obviously precious to you. I’ll guard it with my life.’
She smiled. ‘Not your life, Faith. I’d go as far as your honour, but not your life. It’s a book, when all’s said and done and you’re my daughter, my living reminder of David.’
I rifled through her bag and discovered things I didn’t recognize. I thought it better not to ask. The book was quite small. A slim hardback volume with a black cover, tooled in gold. It had been well thumbed.
I opened it and found the name and address of the publisher, as I’d hoped. My smile was secret. I had a starting point to make my search for David Lengdon, my real father.
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