Elizabeth said we could exchange letters and
speak on the phone. This prospect seemed to
thrill her greatly. She scoffed at my idea of staying
with my country cousins. A boy needed his family,
she said simply. I hadn’t told her much about my
unspeakable Father and poor oppressed Mother.
I didn’t think she’d believe me, coming as she did,
from such a beautifully functioning family. The end
of the holidays drew near. Elizabeth and I would go
blackberrying, or simply sit among the bales of hay,
ineffably happy. The dark shadow that fell across
my heart was lifted. Until I was back in my
farmhouse room and I missed Elizabeth sorely.
In the morning the telephone blared. It was Father.
He’d be driving down on the weekend, to collect
my sorry soul.
I dreaded the thought of returning home. It
hung over me like a horrible funeral pall. To be
ecstatically happy, and then have it all drawn
away, like a beautiful rug from under your feet.
My miserable Father would ring again soon.
Matters would be arranged. Father’s sullen mug
would get in the car, drive all the way down here,
and whisk my broken heart from Elizabeth. The
whole notion was intolerable. I wondered if I might
school locally. Hop on the bus that Elizabeth said
snaked around the villages, to the small market
town school. Margaret and Jack could officially
adopt me. They were wealthy and had no child.
They’d welcome me. I decided to broach the
subject at dinner. My plan didn’t seem crazy. It
was entirely reasonable to stay here and marry
Elizabeth. Mother, I felt sure, would approve that
I follow my heart.
Margaret had made beef wellington. I’d never
heard of such a grand-sounding dish. The name
oozed with charisma. Candles had been lit
on the big table. They cast a romantic sheen.
I thought it looked like a seduction scene. There
was a gentle rap at the door. It was Elizabeth.
She was wearing a billowy printed red dress
that made her sharp hips stand out. I didn’t know
whether to kiss her. She kissed me. I could smell
Elizabeth’s gorgeous perfume and her tiny gold
ear studs shone. Elizabeth was beautiful. We
all talked for a while, and Jack passed around
pretzels. Elizabeth told a story about a lamb
she’d had when she was younger. It seemed
like a magical tale to me. I was utterly besotted.
I couldn’t taste the food when dinner was served.
It didn’t matter. My life was overturned. I was
capsized. I paddled in a warm bath of beauty
As we shopped, I reflected sadly how I was
invariably dressed in black. Mother always chose
me such sombre attire. Margaret, however, had
other ideas. A pair of cream trousers, two
checkered blue shirts, some snazzy shoes, and
I was transformed beyond recognition. A visit to
the barber’s shop was also on the cards. We went
down a side lane, until the familiar stripey barber’s
pole was visible. Margaret and I waited on the
couch, until I was called. I didn’t know what kind
of cut to ask for. Mother always snipped at my hair
with a pair of blunt scissors, so I had no idea about
fashionable styles. Fortunately Margaret wasn’t
coy. She recommended a close crop. I was still
as a statue whilst the barber trimmed and made
small talk. Afterwards, he held up a mirror.
I surveyed myself. I was transfigured. I prayed
that Elizabeth would appreciate my new look.
Father called that night. I could barely be bothered
to speak. I’d even forgotten about Mother.
Elizabeth was my everything. I grunted a few
replies to Father, who wasn’t listening anyway.
He soon asked to talk to Margaret. I passed
across the receiver, glad the usual stupid
interrogation was over. I prayed that the holiday
would go on forever. Margaret had noticed my
infatuation. She asked a couple of subtle questions
and hid a broad smile. Margaret gently suggested
we invite Elizabeth for dinner the next day.
I gushed with enthusiasm. It was settled. I had
nothing appropriate to wear. Don’t worry,
comforted Margaret. We’d go clothes shopping
in the morning.
We ate our delectable sandwiches. Elizabeth
smeared cream cheese on her upper lip and
giggled. She had a healthy farm girl’s appetite.
I could feel the sun crinkling the skin on my back.
It was a perfect day. The sea lapped idly near
our feet. It sparkled like gemstones. Wholly
unexpectedly, Elizabeth leant across me and
pecked me on the lips. Her mouth tasted salty.
My head reeled. I kissed her back. We were
Elizabeth had a towel in traffic-light colours,
which she draped carefully across the shingles.
She had extremely long legs and she was skinny
beyond compare. I tried to curb my mounting
desire and act natural. I was terrified that she’d
ask me to sun cream her back. Margaret and Jack
were quickly splashing around in the shallows,
content as dizzy teenagers. I showed more
restraint, and arranged my own beach equipment.
Mother had packed me nothing suitable, so
Margaret had fitted me out with a towel and
some sky blue trunks which squeezed my crotch
painfully. I was sure I looked absurd. Elizabeth,
however, didn’t even glance my way. She tied
her long brown hair into a neat ponytail, and
scrunched over the shingles to the tide line.
Laughing, she beckoned me with her finger,
and dived into the water. It was a breathtaking
thing to see.
We would take a day at the beach. The weather
was bright and cheery now. Margaret packed
cream cheese and pineapple sandwiches,
broad-brimmed hats and coconut sun cream.
We were going to a place named Jacob’s Ladder.
This ladder was a narrow rocky path, a sharp,
straight-down descent to a tiny shingle beach.
Margaret made it sound adventurous, a
mountaineer’s delight. Elizabeth was to come
along too. I shivered to think of her in a bright
bikini, her freckles sparkling in the sun. I prayed
I wouldn’t gawp, and disgrace myself. Margaret
offered me some blue water wings, I’d admitted
I couldn’t swim, but they were terribly
embarrassing. I felt certain Elizabeth swam like
a frolicsome dolphin. I didn’t want to be humiliated.
I wished to impress her. I hungered to make a
At dinner, Jack interrogated me mildly. There
was a glimmer in his eye when he brought up
Elizabeth. A real caution of a girl, he said.
I struggled not to blush, as we ate our beef
stroganoff together. For a moment I thought
Jack and Margaret were going to offer me red
wine, but they desisted. They drank liberally,
while I had a plain juice. There was no television
in their house. Board games were after-dinner
entertainment. It was better for the mind, insisted
Jack. This was way more sociable than at home.
Soon we were whooping and guffawing merrily.
I kept musing of Elizabeth playing in her farmhouse
kitchen. Was she wondering about me, like I was
obsessing about her? My heart was filled with a
dull ache. It was most definitely love.
Once upon a time, the tractor would have been
a gaudy post-office red. However, rust had caused
havoc, and it was now earthy brown. I could have
poked my finger through the crumbly skin of its
frame. Elizabeth was laughing like a happy hyena.
We all scrambled aboard, and Dan started the
motor. Black smoke billowed from the shaky
exhaust. We chugged uncertainly into the top
field. Some dozy sheep were cropping the coarse
pasture. The sun hid his face briefly behind a
cloud, then burst out brightly. Elizabeth’s fingers
were very close to mine. The desire to hold her
delicate hand was overwhelming. The tractor
lurched and bounded into a rut. Elizabeth and I
knocked shoulders. She was hysterically giggly.
I’d never felt more elated.