It was warm – lying there, in the grass …….

“What’s the time, Mr Wolf ?” she asked, holding up an unseasonably early dandelion clock she’d discovered

in fact, for an early English summer afternoon, it was a shade on the hot side of warm …..

“What’s the time, Mister Wolf ?” she repeated – smiling innocently as though he hadn’t heard – and, at the same time, shading her eyes from the sun which had slowly moved it’s position during the time they’d been there

Not that hot, though: you know – uncomfortable, “Milk-sour” type hot……

Passing the stem of the fluffy clock to her other hand and then, almost symbolically, wiping her now free hand in the grass and cleaning it of the milky juice that had oozed on to it, she looked enquiringly at him again

A bit too early in the year for that kind of weather, he mused – lying back, eyes half closed

“What’s – the – time – Mis – ter – Wolf ? ” – she entreated; each syllable now deliberately separated and with an irritatingly petulant and slightly pushy “be nice because you owe me, tone” edging into her voice – “Come o-n, what time is it ? – tell me!

Yes, he thought – concluding silently to himself – it was most agreeable…..….a hazy, lazy-daisy, May-day….

“Tell me!” she pleaded – breaking again what had now become an uneasy silence
“What’s the time, Mr Wolf ?” …..“please”!

“Four o’clock” he snapped; viciously and quite plainly uninterested

Satisfied at last with an answer she began, happily, with the first of her four puffs to strip bare the dandelion clock:
Puff…. “One o’clock;”
Puff… “Two o’clock;”…

He couldn’t have cared less whether she took four or forty four puffs; his mind was on other, very different things, and had been for most of the last hour.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

They’d met earlier in the afternoon outside her parent’s house.

They weren’t strangers – far from it.
They lived only a few doors apart. Saw each other out and about in the street most days and knew each other quite well.

Nor had they arranged to meet each other either;
they’d just “bumped into each other”

or so it had seemed.

(But then, of course, is it not the case that when wishful thinking begins its work, one’s all consuming fascination with the subject (and the objective) makes it all so much easier to plot the moves and orchestrate the coincidences?)

He’d done precisely that: it had been his intent from the very beginning and every last detail was all carefully planned

There had been a cautious (though scarcely veiled) sort of gradual build up to it – and not only on his part. She’d put out her share of flags, too, and anyone close enough to either of them could not have failed to have noticed.

Getting to where they were now at – and it was hardly a courtship – had lacked, completely, in any degree of style or sophistication whatsoever.
Quite simply it was (and had been) a diffident, animal like awareness of each other communicated with a subtlety which words alone can’t always convey which had brought them this far.

Guile? …..plenty of that.

Finesse? ……not a scrap.

It had been his idea to walk down the side of her parents house and then out on to the open field adjoining the bottom of the gardens in the street but they’d stopped just short of that, in an area of long grass shielded from the sun and prying eyes of any inquisitive neighbours by the long shadow thrown by Les Cooper’s aviary and pigeon loft standing in next door’s garden.

The building – once Les’s haven and retreat from his daily grind was just a shell now.

The aviary – or what was left of it – had been silent for years and so, too, had poor old Les.

The birds – canaries mostly – were still in there but the singing (just like the kissing, all those years ago in Venice) had had to stop.

They were dead, you see – all of ‘em;
stone dead.

He still kept a few pigeons, though, did Les.

“He was never the same again”, they said – the folks in the street.

“Not after losing them birds the way he did…..Changed him out of all proportion…….Never the same again, he wasn’t”, they said; never the same.

“They died in their boxes, they did – poor things; one after another.”

“Shame! A crying shame it was”, they said – the folks in the street.

“Used to sing their hearts out… ‘specially in the early morning and of an evening, they did”.

“Beautiful it was…..beautiful, when they all got going. You could hear ‘em from miles away ….a real treat it was to come home and hear ‘em singing like that,” they said –
the folks in the street.

That was at the time they’d died.

After the time had come when old Les just couldn’t get the seed anymore to feed them with. That was it.

They’d all died – one after the other.

All the birds – all dead.

Nobody had heard a-sighing and a-sobbing from the pigeon loft, though;
just Les – poor old Les.

Folks said he never spoke again after that. “Not a word passed his lips”, they said –
the folks in the street.

Nor had they spoken, either.

Not a word since they left the street and walked to the bottom of the garden.

Not even when they were treading flat the area of grass which they, without conferring, had chosen to sit on.

They’d sat down opposite each other. Almost hidden in the long, cool grass – some of the stems bearing frothy secretions of cuckoo spit, clinging to the blades like gobbets of uncooked meringue.

It had all been a bit nervy at first; unsettled and ever so slightly tense.

Perhaps the lack of any verbal communication at all – let alone any attempt at conversation – was intentional in case it may have detracted from the very purpose of them being there in the first place.

They’d sat there in silence, slowly flattening with their hands and feet the remaining blades of springy meadow grass that still stood upright in between them.

The task completed, she’d sat back on her heels and surveyed their now, cosy little haven.

Moving her legs from underneath her, smoothing her skirt down over her knees and then, pushing her hands together with her fingers intertwining like a lattice, she had placed her joined hands at the back of her head, made a slight and innocently provocative stretching movement and then, bending slowly from the waist, lowered herself gently back onto the soft bed of sweet smelling grass. Her blonde, almost white hair fell in ringlets about the slender forearms supporting her head – curling and binding round her delicate wrists like silken cords.

She’d lain there, still, serene – like Salmacis watching from the bank of the silver stream – silent and unmoving save for the rise and fall of her breathing; her eyes and her lips half open, setting her young face in a sultry, arrogant fix.

She was watching.

Watching and waiting.

Meanwhile, he just sat there – obsessed with and totally consumed by her presence.

He, too, was watching.

Watching….. waiting…….and wanting.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The silence was palpable; broken only every now and then by the groaning of a passing, heavily laden coal truck – gears crashing and transmission whining in a discord of agonising complaint as it crawled along the lane on which they lived, making its laboured way from one of the nearby pits to the local gasworks or railway goods yard.

The diesel smoke billowing from its exhaust combining with the toxic cloud of blue-black dust rising from its load of unwashed coal, hanging suspended in the air and as ominous and dark a portent as the drawn curtains in a chapel of rest, until it dissipated; dispensing a thin film of black dust on everything, everywhere and permeating the air with the acrid, pungent smell which they were as familiar with and as accustomed to as a coastal dweller is with the smell of the sea.

And then she’d spoken.

He heard her but didn’t reply.

Lifting herself up onto her elbows, she’d spoken again.

“Do you want ……?”

Feigning innocence, he’d considered replying – but in the absence of an object, never mind a predicate, he’d remained silent.

(So far-so good, he’d thought – all going according to plan.)

“Do you,….you know….do you…hmm….do you,…do you….. do you want ………….do you want to?”…….

She’d said, in almost a whisper, but in a tone now more urgent than one would hear if, for instance, her request had been merely in the nature – as it were, say – of an interested enquiry.

He’d looked at her, a half smile on his lips and about his eyes – his continuing silence now speaking volumes, and moved from where he’d been sitting to a kneeling position in front of her and at her feet.

Lying back on the grass once again, she’d drawn her outstretched legs towards her bending them at the knees, then, lifting her body and taking the weight on her elbows, she’d placed her hands up inside her skirt and beneath her hips and, in one movement, slipped her pants down and off, modestly pulling her skirt over her knees again.

This – this must be the way it is, he’d thought – his heart racing.

Probably the way it always was and ever had been.

The same mutuality of need and purpose that had birthed the very first contract of intimacy in another garden and another place.

The fundamental terms fulfilled then just as they were now – offer and acceptance.

That’s good enough.

Lifting her head, she’d held his gaze intently as he’d removed his trousers and underpants, her interest moving to his crotch as, at the same time, she’d drawn her legs towards her, opening them and letting her skirt slide down to the top of her thighs, allowing each of them to feast with their eager eyes upon the mystery of their bodies.

In an instant he’d taken it all in – committed it to memory; for ever.

The contours of her stomach and hips, the neatly sculpted shape of her vulva, nestling between her legs and forming a perfect symmetry on either side of the cleft that ran from her slightly protuberant mons to disappear, deep between her thighs.

Again it was her – prosaically this time – who broke the silence:

“You’re not like our Gordon (her brother) down there, are you? (She’d said, disarmingly. Her eyes on his crotch)

“Or Donald Lewis” she added – (a pushy little shit from further down the street.)

He’d half expected the former but wasn’t at all prepared for the latter comparison and, jealously, wondered how she’d come to know that, anyway.

The prospect of any further debate (and certainly activity) was halted when they’d heard the slam of the front door of the house: someone else was at home, which, for them meant time (for today at least) was up, and so, fired with the adrenalin rush usually attendant upon an escape from discovery or capture, they’d hastily dressed and then assumed the role of the innocents and had lain there, quietly – each deeply immersed in their own thoughts.

“Three o’clock”, she chimed, puffing another flurry of dandelion seeds from the now, almost denuded clock.

He lay back deep in thought, musing upon the events of the last hour, until his attention was caught and held by the quadruple vapour trails, high in the cloudless sky and in the wake of a single Lancaster bomber – either returning from or embarking upon a journey that would change, for ever, the face of the world – just as he knew that this afternoon’s revelations had changed the face of his world and would remain with him for ever.

Nothing would or could be the same again – ever.

“Four o’clock” she cried jubilantly, as the last seeds floated up and away, into the still air.

At the time, she (Sylvia) was five years old…

…..and two months later, so was I.

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Preface |