THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Twenty-Three. Ricky Shepherd
There’s nothing quite so confusing thought Ricky as he stood in the small village Baptist chapel, the one where his dad had laid into the morals of those foolish enough to turn up to listen to him. He was waiting for his bride to reach him as she made her way down the short aisle to be by his side, and he couldn’t help the confusion of thoughts that formed inside his head. There’s nothing quite so confusing, he thought, as a lad getting married out of the blue like I am. And despite what all the old birds in the village think there’s no real cause for us to rush! She’s not pregnant or anything like that, we don’t have to get wed in that way, but it’s all sort of happened in double-quick time, and I’m not properly sure how come.
But it had. From sitting with her that first afternoon in the snug of The Owl’s Roost to she assuming they were going to get married despite the distinct absence of any kind of proposal, here he was getting wed to Annie on this very day in this very chapel.
It’d all been such a rush and palaver that people who really ought to have known better had actually suggested that they were forced by an unexpected pregnancy into the chapel, but that wasn’t the case.
“Put her up the duff have you, lad,” suggested old Mr Bosworth with a twinkle in at least one eye. “Been using that wed-ding tackle of yours too soon have you, lad? Can’t say I blame you, though, and it’s the sort of thing I might have con-sidered when I were a lad, ’cause she’s a rare beauty and that’s the truth! And there’s nowt gets a lad’s pants off quicker than a pretty smile on a pretty face!”
She’s pretty enough, but so was Jane, thought Ricky, but “She is that, boss,” he said, “and I’d be a fool to miss out on a lifetime with her because I was tardy on the up-take.”
“Aye, you would that, lad. But you look after her, see. Take real good care of her, ’cause she’s had a rough time by all accounts.”
I will, Ricky had thought. I’ll treat her like a princess. Damn and blast Jane, who vanished into thin air without a by-your-leave… oh, sod it, I can’t think that! If I live to be a hundred I guess it’ll be Jane in the front of my mind. It always was, since I was at school. And hers were the first tits I ever touched, hers was the first bra I ever loosened and always, always, always hers is the first face I see in my mind’s eye each morning…
He’d told Annie about Jane. After all, she now lived in his first love’s house. She’d bought it, a girl buying a house, unheard of almost, and she lived there and he’d visited her there. She’d got work locally, spookily at the same mill where Jane had worked.
And then he’d told her about Sophie, how they’d been together for teo years before circumstances had sent him back hone and her to University. And she’d said “We’re they the only girls you’ve had, Ricky?” and he’d said “I never actually had them in the way most folks mean had them,” he’d told her shortly, though he remembered, in the corner of his mind, that last night with Sophie.
“I’m not prying,” she’d said.
But you were, sweet Annie, you were. You wanted to know who might come out of the far distance on any random day and put their bid in for me, though I know perfectly well that I’m no prize catch…
“Jane was the first, and during my call-up when I was goodness-knows how many miles from home there was Sophie, and they’re the only girlfriends I’ve had.”
“Maybe you should have married one of them?” said Annie, questioningly.
“I did it with Sophie, just the once, if that’s what you’re trying to find out,” he’d told her, crossly, and immediately wished he hadn’t. That was private, between him and Sophie, and not for a newcomer like Annie to need to know. And it hadn’t been like he’d dominated the girl against her will. In truth, it had been more like she’d dominated him, though he’d never honestly say it had been against his will.
But none of it had mattered. The truths – they rolled off Annie’s back like water from a duck’s plumage.
“I think we should get married,” she’d said when they’d barely known each other for six months. They were out in her small back yard because, she said, a family of blue tits was in a low tree and she loved the sounds of nature. Then she’d continued, “I know that I love you, Ricky, and I’m pretty sure you feel the same way about me…”
Crikey, his head said, marriage is such a bloody big thing…
“What is love?” he’d asked, confused. He didn’t know whether he loved her or not. He’d loved Jane, but this was very different. This was guided by the female hand of a girl who needed security above all things, and he was too young to see it for what it was.
And she’d wrinkled her nose up … he liked it when she wrinkled her nose up like that and thought maybe that was love … and then she’d taken a deep breath and, staring into a distance that he couldn’t see, she’d explained.
“Love is when you look at a special someone and can’t imagine being away from them… when you wake up in the morning and think of them, when you spend all the day with them on your mind and when you dream of them at night. Of being together, of touching each other, of feeling … so alive when you’re with them. And when kissing them is all you really want to do, kissing them with a kiss that lasts for ever, that goes on and on, with the tastes of mouths mingling, with eyes shut and promises about forever and forever being made…”
He’d looked at her, astounded at the sudden intensity in her voice.
Then: “Kiss me, Ricky,” she’d whispered.
And suddenly he’d found her arms around his neck, her mouth pressing against his, careless of where they were at the time, which was in her back garden listening to the sounds of a family of blue tits in a nest not far up a tree. And, he’d responded. He’d accepted the moisture of her mouth and then, together, they’d pressed exploring tongues between each other’s lips, and no kiss had ever been quite like that before, not for Ricky and not for Annie.
If my dad was still alive he’d give me the talk, he’d told himself with an inner grin, he’d warn me about the birds and the bees, he’d explain about the pollen in plants and expect me to know it’s foolish for a lad like me to make love to a girl he wasn’t married to, and the message would never quite come over because he’d been so uptight with his Baptist beliefs even though he dragged mum to bed every Sunday afternoon and they did it – they must have they were gone so long… And I’d be wondering what he was on about and what the fertility of daisies has to do with a boy like me – until the penny dropped, that is, like it did drop once or twice.
But the speech that his father had never finished served him well in the months before he married Annie.
She was there, next to him, in the chapel, and he glanced sideways at her and knew just how lucky he was.
Annie was the best of all worlds, and she was beautiful with it.
I never had to risk anything by taking her bra off because she’d take it off for me, he thought as she smiled at him. And it’s hard to stand in a chapel, with the preacher standing only feet away, and remembering some of the things we’ve done together even though we’ve never actually done it. But we’ve done everything but, and it seems somehow wrong to be remembering magical moments in God’s house…
She smiled at him and her eyelids fluttered and his heart got close to melting.
Tonight, though, after the reception, that’ll be the time… Bed and breakfast in Skegness and all the fun of the seaside, and we’ll do it a dozen times, just you see if we don’t!
The wedding ceremony began and he wasn’t really listening though somehow he responded at the proper time with the right words. Then reality beamed onto him when until the preacher smiled like a benevolent Apollo and said he could kiss the bride, and he, so nervously it could easily have gone wrong, did kiss her. Not a proper kiss, of course, not one of those they were used to giving each other, put a kind of peck affair, over before it was properly started.
Old Bosworth was there, just behind him, and he was sure that he could feel his eyes twinkling into the back of his neck.
What he couldn’t see, though, was the way the old man’s twinkling eyes were shut and the way he had stopped breathing as he sat, slumped and waiting for eternity to pass in order to scatter a handful of confetti on a bride and groom who thought he must surely be very much alive even when he wasn’t.
© Peter Rogerson 10.08.13
This is the twenty-third chapter of a little love story I’m quite enjoying writing (not very manly is it, to admit that?) and because Gather is in a parlous state these days here are links to the first 22 chapters in case you’ve missed out.