If you haven’t been reading this, it might be worth looking at the reviews on the 'My Books' tab. They may persuade you to give it a try.
On the other hand, if you're continuing the journey, I assume you’re still enjoying this story.
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.
Tuesday 18th May
‘Really gives you the willies, doesn’t he?’
‘Doesn’t he bother you?’
‘Merv’s just a sad perv who’s scared to death of women in the flesh. You told me, yourself, how he wanks over pictures of me and the others.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
She made a gesture I had seen all too often from Mervyn. ‘Tosses himself off, you told me.’
I hadn’t realized what he was doing and discovered I was both disgusted and curious about his behaviour.
‘If I stripped off and told him he could shag me, he’d wet himself. Terrified, he is.’
I wasn’t so sure. I’d worked with him in the confines of the darkroom and he’d shown no fear of touching me but I couldn’t explain that to Netta. ‘I wish I could believe you. I never feel safe with him. And those horrible piggy eyes that undress you. He makes me feel dirty, defiled. I really wish Leigh could get shot of him. I’m always looking over my shoulder when he’s around. I can’t relax. And the way he looks at you, Netta… I’d be really scared if he looked at me like that.’
‘I can’t describe it. As if… it’s like hunger, but more than that. As if he wants to devour you.’
‘Lots of men look at me like that.
‘Not like Merv. There’s horror and danger lurking behind those eyes. He’s evil. I know he is.’
She shrugged, but I’d made her think. My dislike of Mervyn had increased greatly during the past two weeks whist he’d been teaching me to print. I’d managed the photograph of myself, using the studio late on the night of Leigh’s party, when everyone else had gone to bed. I’d used a new film and exposed the whole roll, imagining Leigh behind the camera and desperately shoving the image of the leering Mervyn to the back of my mind. That pretence hadn’t prevented my stomach churning throughout. I felt ashamed and degraded even before I’d started the lessons.
Mervyn had shown me how to load the film into the steel spiral, demonstrating with some old film first. He’d taught me how to develop the film and hang it to dry in the cabinet without getting dust on it. We’d spent many hours in the darkroom making prints from the negatives.
He’d been beside himself with the pictures and ogled me even more when he knew what lay beneath my clothes. When he was showing me how to enlarge the image, and how to mask parts with my hands, he concentrated on certain parts of my body.
I didn’t dwell on my feelings as I made prints of those negatives of my own explicitly naked body for Mervyn to leer at as he stood too close to me in the dark. But my ploy had worked. He was so keen to produce pictures of the best quality possible that he passed on as much knowledge of technique as he could. And I was so eager to learn as much from him in as short a time as possible that I soon understood enough of the rules to learn the rest on my own.
The experience had cost me enormous amounts of nervous energy and after each session, I’d rushed to the shower. His hands had touched me, accidentally, he claimed, at least twice during each session and always on the sexual parts of my body. Just once, he’d pressed his erect penis against me, lifting my skirt and prodding at my bottom as I bent to examine the image in the masking frame under the enlarger. I’d managed not to strike him but my threats to tell Leigh stopped him going any further.
Amazingly, he kept his word and said nothing to Leigh. My growing cynicism put his silence down to his fear that Leigh would curtail our sessions if he knew about them.
My problem now was how to tell Mervyn I no longer needed him. I’d removed the incriminating negatives from the darkroom and made sure there were no prints of me lying about up there. I’d destroyed all the prints we’d made together during my training sessions. I didn’t want Mervyn passing pictures to his brothers and other people so they could snigger at me in the street.
Netta’s question brought me back to the present. She had one of Leigh’s tee shirts on and was barely decent. Leaning against his desk, she was skimming the morning paper as if she had nothing better to do.
‘Left an hour ago. He’s due back around three. If you’re bored, I’m sure I can…’
‘No thanks. I’ll work on my suntan.’
‘You’ll give Old Hodge a heart attack if you lie out there in that.’
‘Don’t worry, sis. I’ll take it off as soon as I’m in the sunshine.’
‘You’ll kill him.’
‘He loves it. At least he doesn’t have to tax his imagination with me. You’re the one who gives him all the hard work. Still guessing about you, you know. Time you gave him the treat he deserves.’
I hadn’t considered Old Hodge in those terms.
Netta went, but toward the studio rather than the garden. I assumed she’d left something in there after her last session with Leigh.
The morning was growing warmer, the sun brighter, as it had for the past few days. It was unseasonably warm. I opened the office door to let in some air as I started the last few letters.
My work would soon be done. Then, I would take a book into the garden and sit on the shaded seat under the arbour; read as the scent of clematis and roses surrounded me and Old Hodge’s quiet work in the garden came to me on the soft breeze. It was an inviting picture and I hurried through the correspondence, eager to be in my sundress and outside.
Then came the scream.
At first, I was unable to accept I’d heard such a disturbing sound. But it came again, more urgently. From the studio. I ran into the large sunlit room and froze as I took in the scene.
Netta was on the floor with her shirt up over her face. Mervyn was kneeling between her thighs, his trousers round his ankles and his penis erect. He had one hand over Netta’s face, the other between her legs. As I entered and called out, she began to lash out at him with her fists.
There was a heavy tripod folded against the wall and I hit him hard across the back with it. He fell on top of Netta and I hit him again, then pulled, pushed and kicked him away from her. He rolled onto his back, protesting loudly and with vile language, as I helped Netta to her feet. She stepped forward and kicked him hard between his legs. He yelled and buckled up. She grabbed his hair and punched his face very hard, several times, with her other hand.
‘Bastard! Wait till I tell Leigh!’
I had to drag her away from him, but he made no effort to follow us. He just sat on the floor, holding himself, shouting abuse and accusations and threats and looking confused and very angry.
‘Little prick!’ Netta turned in the doorway and sneered at him. ‘As if I’d want that little worm inside me!’
I would have needed a shower and then kept to my room. I would have taken ages to get over it. But Netta shrugged and asked for a coffee, since I’d offered.
‘When Leigh gets back, you’ll have no more to fear from that pervert. I’ll make fucking sure of that.’
She was sunbathing in the back garden, as if nothing had happened, when Leigh returned. I was reading, keeping an eye on her. As he strode across the lawn, I called him over to warn him what had happened before he did anything that might alarm her.
‘You’re sure Netta wasn’t up to her usual tricks?’
‘Leigh! Why can’t you see him for what he is? He was going to rape her! She was terrified. Her screams alerted me. If I hadn’t got there when I did, Heaven knows what might’ve happened. He was all ready to…’
‘Okay, love.’ He gave me a hug of reassurance and went to Netta. As he knelt beside her, she rolled onto her back. He spoke and she sat up, clutching him close to her.
I thought she must be crying then, explaining what had happened. But she looked at me over Leigh’s shoulder and made a thumbs-up sign. Leigh stood and said something, which made her get up and stand with her hands on her hips as if she was cross. He looked at her for a moment and then hugged her close. She crossed her fingers behind his back.
Mervyn was back in the darkroom and Leigh went straight there. I could hear him from the garden. It wasn’t long before I heard them at the front of the house, voices raised but the words unintelligible. Netta slipped her feet into flip-flops and took my hand.
When we reached the front of the house, Leigh was kicking Mervyn’s backside as he pushed him to his old car. ‘If I ever see your ugly arse near here again, I’ll rip your fucking balls off and ram them down your filthy throat!’
Of course, Leigh had no idea we were there.
Mervyn turned to say something as he started his car and he saw Netta and me watching. ‘That cunt said I could! And that other little twat’s ‘ad its knickers off for me every day for three weeks!’
Leigh wrenched the car door open and hit Mervyn on his head. He tried to drag him out of the car but Mervyn drove off, churning the gravel with his spinning tyres. As soon as he’d driven through the gate, which Old Hodge had already opened, he stopped and raised his fist. ‘You fuckin’ cunts. I’ll fuck you both up your tight arses till you scream for mercy! Cunts!’
Leigh dashed out of the gate but Mervyn set off quickly down to the end of the lane, still ranting and raving through the open car window. Leigh waited until he was out if sight before he turned.
‘That’s the end of that prat, Fay. Remember, you owe me one.’
I was going to ask her what she meant but Leigh came up to us and he was still very angry. I offered to make him a cup of tea.
‘Scotch. A large one. I’m going to shower away the touch of that filthy pervert. Bring it up to me.’
I’d never known him so terse. He gave me a brief questioning scrutiny before he shook his head to clear it of some impossible thought. He never even looked at Netta before spinning on his heel and going through the office door.
‘I’d best take him his drink, Fay. He’ll need some special treatment to calm him down. And I don’t think you’re in my league.’
I was happy to agree. He was frightening in that mood.
‘What was all that about?’ Ma had seen Mervyn leaving as she stepped off the bus at the end of the lane. I explained what had happened.
‘He actually attacked her?’
‘She was on the floor and he had his fingers in her vagina.’
She gave me a curious look. ‘Never thought he had it in him, nasty little pervert. Is Netta all right?’
‘She seems fine. I’d’ve been hysterical.’
‘Mmm. Look, I’m sorry, Faith; seems you were right all along. Leigh’ll be doubly angry. Not just the attack and the betrayal of his trust, but now he’s got no printer.’
‘I’ve learnt a bit, but I’ve a long way to go before I’ll be as good as Mervyn…’
‘Does Leigh know?’
‘You’ve been learning to print. He said nowt to me.’
‘Mervyn was teaching me. I wanted to surprise Leigh…’
‘You’ve been working in the darkroom with Merv? I thought you were terrified of the pervert?’
‘I can’t let my fears stop me doing what I want to do. I hoped I might help Leigh if Mervyn was ever sick or there was too much work for him on his own.’
‘You’re a dark horse. You amaze me, Faith. How did you get him to teach you and not take advantage?’
I told her.
‘You did all that for Leigh?’
‘I love him.’
‘I know, but, well, I’m flabbergasted, Faith. I’m not convinced he deserves you.’
‘I still love him.’
‘You might just’ve opened the door to getting him to notice you more. Give it a couple of days and then join him in the darkroom. Show him what you can do, mebbie even let him know how you learnt.’
‘I couldn’t do that.’
‘Perhaps not. Say you’re anxious to learn more, with him as your teacher. He’ll not be able to resist you. That’ll be one in the eye for that scheming little sister of yours. We’ll be hearing those wedding bells sooner than I thought.’
‘You’re sure I should, Ma?’
I wasn’t as certain as Ma that it would lead to that conclusion but it seemed worth a try. That, I reminded myself, was the reason I’d taken the risk in the first place.
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