I holed up in my attic room and devised plans
of reaching Elizabeth. Mother was watching me
closely, in case I bolted. She and Father didn’t
want to have to search me out again. My school
career would be over if I went AWOL once more.
Father wouldn’t be mollified this time. I didn’t really
know what I’d actually do if I found Elizabeth.
I had big romantic notions that we might become
a couple and raise the baby together. But the
practicalities, when I thought hard, dwarfed all
the sentimental stuff. I simply wasn’t prepared
to be a Father. This didn’t stop my heart from
stinging. The need, the compulsion to see
Elizabeth was overwhelming. I felt bereft.
I had to know my love, my darling Elizabeth,
Father had greased up the Headmaster, so I was
welcomed back. I wondered if he’d bribed the
awful man, or donated money to some old boys’
network. Whatever, I climbed into my uniform. It
felt itchy and absurd. Returning to school, after
everything that had happened, seemed like juvenile
stuff. I couldn’t share my dreadful experiences
with Richards. Such things were entirely out of
his league. In morning assembly, I tried to listen
to the blabber about perfect ties and pulled-up
socks. It was ridiculous nonsense. Lessons
seemed beside the point. Trigonometry wouldn’t
equip me with useful life skills. Latin was simply
trash about ancient dead people. It all flew over
my head. I never uttered a word in class. I could
feel detentions coming my way. I didn’t care.
Education was futile. I thought of just one thing.
How I must find Elizabeth.
Mother motored with extreme caution. The miles
to London dragged by. We halted at a motorway
service station and drank bitter coffees in silence.
The weight of the drab sky seemed to press down
on my shoulders. When we reached the outskirts
of the city, it began to rain. A familiar dirty drizzle
that summed up my mood. My stomach churned,
thinking of Elizabeth in her misery. I thought of
Father too. He would be foaming at the mouth.
Once I would have been terrified. It didn’t seem
to matter much now. Next to me, Mother stated
the obvious. This was our suburb. Suddenly I
craved the calm of my attic room. I would lock
myself in its private sanctuary and compose
reams of sad poetry.
I scoured the telephone directory. Elizabeth’s
relations were probably fictitious, because there
were no entries at all. I despaired of contacting
my girl. I thought of confronting Dan, but he
seemed in a fey mood. I honestly wondered if
Dan had despatched his daughter to an institution
for fallen girls. In which case, Elizabeth would be
locked away from me. I spoke to Mother. She
offered little consolation. There was no point
staying down in Devon, if I couldn’t get to Elizabeth.
I prayed she’d phone me. But my mobile was
stubbornly silent. Mother told me to pack my bags.
We were going home. It was an awful end to
things. Disconsolately I filled my haversack.
I pleaded with Margaret to pass on any news
to me. She nodded. I climbed in the car. We drove.
I didn’t hear a single murmur from Elizabeth.
It was like the world had swallowed her and her
grief whole. I reminded myself that she was just
across the road. I prowled over and thumped on
the farmhouse door. Dan answered. He was
unshaven, his eyes scarlet. His shock of brown
hair was all over the place. I asked to speak with
Elizabeth. Dan said she’d gone away to stay with
her aunt and uncle. This shocked me. Was it lies,
or had Elizabeth been spirited away to some
vague relations? I searched Dan’s bloodshot eyes
for answers. He was speaking the truth. There was
nothing more to say. I hung my head and lurched
back across the road. Elizabeth was lost to me.
Elizabeth’s Father Dan had found out. He was
ugly and murderous. He swore to lynch Bryant
in his barn. Elizabeth was grounded for life.
The whole village would talk. People would
say Elizabeth was a cheap whore. The family
would be dishonoured beyond repair. My access
to Elizabeth was cut. I grieved to think of her
weeping alone in her room. I only hoped she’d
sneak downstairs at night and phone me. I knew
her Father was ultimately a forgiving man. Once
the flack died down, he was sure to be reasonable.
Elizabeth was his cherished, beloved daughter.
Dan liked me. All the aghast adults, even my
Father, would eventually come around.
My rash act altered things. Suddenly Mother
agreed that I could spend a further fortnight
down in Devon. Father would smooth matters
with my school. He’d say I was insanely ill in
hospital, and that I needed significant recovery
time. From that moment, my relationship with
Mother changed. I was no longer her baby, but
a red-blooded adolescent. In fact she was careful
around me, in case I bubbled over. I’d won respect.
I wondered what secret things Mother and Father
had muttered about me. This was all immaterial
however. Elizabeth was the thing. I vowed to take
charge, to be her unflappable companion.
I woke and rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The
world was still an unholy mess. I wished all the
adults would just go away and leave Elizabeth
and I to solve our own mayhem. I had no intention
of being carted back to London. My responsibilities
were here, by Elizabeth’s side. If they thought I was
a jackass, let them think. This trouble had grown
me beyond my years. I went down for breakfast.
Mother was speaking on her mobile. I could tell it
was Father. He was barking and spitting venom
down the phone. Mother looked shaken. I could
tell that he was insisting Mother drag me back
home. This was not going to happen. I would
make things plain. Recklessly I grabbed the
phone from Mother’s hand and ended the call.
Mother looked thunderstruck.
Mother was never judgmental. She didn’t rave,
like Father did. Once Elizabeth had left, however,
she positively snarled at me. It was ridiculous,
she shouted. Utter madness and folly. I’d never
seen Mother so riled. Margaret clearly agreed
with her. Elizabeth was abusing my soft-hearted
kindness. Once Elizabeth had done with me, I’d
be disposed of like useless trash. Mother’s images
were lurid. Her blood was boiling over. I wondered
if she’d snatch me away from this bedlam and
drive me home through the night. Fortunately no
such thing happened. We prepared for bed like
decent human beings. Mother even pecked my
cheek goodnight, it surprised me. I knew Mother
was right. Deep in my heart I realized Elizabeth
was using me. Perversely, however, I wanted this.
The staircase creaked as I ascended to my room.
I cast myself onto the bed, and prayed that sleep
would swamp me.
I put Mother in the picture. It was an impossible
story to tell. I constantly tripped on my words.
I cringed when she asked about Bryant and his
part in all this. This wasn’t something a decent
son told his Mother. Elizabeth hung her head
throughout. Mother didn’t call her a shameless
hussy, but I was certain that’s what she thought.
Mother would think this was all infamy. I broached
the idea of staying in Devon. Mother was shocked.
Father, she said, would never permit such a thing.
My schooling was paramount. No teenage Father
who quit his education ever amounted to much,
she warned. At this, Margaret nodded her head.
They were all against us. I could feel the idyll with
Elizabeth slipping through my fingers. Suddenly
Elizabeth rose and said she must go. I stood also.
The situation was impossible. I walked Elizabeth
to the door. Her eyes were glazed and un-
comprehending. I felt stupidly young. Elizabeth
kissed my cheek desperately, and fled.