Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The Boar’s Loins was crowded with post-blitz crowd. Customarily after a raid the pubs filled to capacity. I pushed a hole through the throng and found a small table at the back.
I returned with the ales and sat down next to Clare. She had removed her coat and the small vest she wore over her blouse, which was white with little ruffles around the wrists and neck. The press of the people forced me to lean into her. She smelled vaguely of soap, not a perfumed variety, but of peppermint cleanser. I thought I felt her lean toward me. I could feel the protrusion of her lean ribs against my flanks. Lesley was saying something to her. She had to repeat it over the din.
“You must come up to Crotchford Downs. We can’t stay for the whole holiday, of course, Gavin must be back in London on Tuesday, but we could have a pleasant three or four days. All the flowers are just coming in, and it would be nice to get away from London.”
Clare nodded her head. The foamy ale made a moustache above her lip. I handed her a napkin and pointed to my upper lip as if I were a sympathetic mirror.
The Boar’s Loins was decorated with a profusion of American flags and red, white and blue bunting. They hung in clusters around the molding, were draped over the doors, rained down heavily from railings and abutments. There were too many, for on my innumerable trips for additional pints I kept getting snagged in them. Hands would slap me on the back, congratulating me on my American-ness, spilling dribbles and dollops of beer on the floor, the patrons, the seats, the flags…
Clare was getting drunk. She was slurring her words and leaning toward me, resting her hand on my leg, and allowing her body to lean lazily against mine.
“Tell me more about Crotchford Downs,” I asked.
“Oh, you’ll jolly well like it,” Gavin replied, blowing smoke out of his nose, “a positively English country experience for you Langley, you shan’t be disappointed, even in wartime. Acres and acres of bland, indistinguishable moorlands… country cottages occupied by stooped rustics that speak an archaic argot even I can’t fully decipher… hounds, horses, foxes, heraldry, suits of armor, castles in ruin, bogs, clay pits, inexplicable cold drafts, mysterious overcooked meats… I can assure you, old boy, your expectations shan’t be dashed.
Gavin paused, drank some ale, and continued, “Why, our dear Clare here in not unfamiliar with Crotchford Downs. Her father and mine roomed together at Merton, you know, read Greek or Latin or Hebrew… which was it?” he didn’t wait to hear the answer. “She used to come up on holiday every now and again when I was growing up.”
“Yes, its true” Clare slurred drunkenly, “And its just as d-dreadful as Gavin proclaims… it like a bloody outdoor cave… the sun never shines… there a per-perpetual mist… and those damned wild hounds…
“Wild hounds?” I asked.
“Yes, try as we may we can never fully eradicate the beasts, I’m afraid.” Gavin explained. “They’re something of a local oddity. Perfectly harmless I’m assured. Think of them as just a bit of local color. Some sort of medieval holdover”
Lesley, who had drunk too much for her light frame, was sliding against Gavin and falling down below the level of the table in a drunken snooze.
“Well, time to take my little cherub home. Upsy girl.” Gavin hoisted her to her feet. I helped him twirl her around and point her toward the door.
“You’ll see Clare home safely, won’t you old boy?”
“Splendid. See you both in the morning.”
Clare walked beside me on the deserted street. Her flat was far from the pub. We headed from Charing Cross to Leicester Square, up toward Covent Garden, and finally, Chancery Lane. She silently entwined her arm in mine. Somewhere to the south a single spot light scanned the low cloud cover. A few balloons shaped like aircraft hung low and gray over the horizon. In the blackout conditions London was dark with a lunar stillness.
“I didn’t think you liked me,” I said softly, looking down on her shawled head.
“I don’t think I do, really.”
“Well perhaps I should go to my flat then,” I said tensely.
“No,” she said, “you can come up to my flat.”
“Why don’t you like me, if I may ask?”
“Its nothing personal, really, I’m just not sure if I fancy any men.”
“Men that you meet? Or men in general?”
“Oh,” she said, getting more sober by the minute, “in general I should say. I fancy they have their uses, but in general they’re pests. They always stay around too long. They always talk too much. Or, frustratingly enough --- too little. And then there is their physical needs. Dear God, they’re just too sharp, too pointed to have any real substance behind them. Its just a flash of powder in the pan. No… I find most of the men I meet fall well below the mark.”
“The mark of what?” I asked.
“Oh, my expectations, I suppose. Its just so tawdry and quick.”
“You’re very young, Miss Mumpy, to have such acute observations about the opposite sex.”
Her flint eyes gazed up at me with a comic twinkle.
“I’ve had many lovers Langley, even though I’m only twenty.”
I could feel heat collecting around my collar. Sweat was dripping from my hairline to my brow.
We walked along sometime in silence until we reached her door.
“Don’t get me wrong Langley,” she said, looking at me full in the face, “I do fancy you very much. But it will never run deeper than that.”
The blackout shade was drawn tight but I could tell it was morning from the street noise. Clare lay atop me, curled up on my chest, one slim leg resting on my muscular right thigh, the other curled under my left calf. Her tussled brown hair was spread over my chest. I could feel the slight stirring movement of her breathing and the angular pinch of her jutting ribs in my side. I gently rolled her off of me.
If you took her singularly, part for part, she looked unattractive, even sickly. The pointed ear tips, the gray dull eyes, the green tinted skin, the teeth a polished pointed yellow, the sallow, thin, girlish frame. But that very composition, arranged as it was, appealed and roused me. That seed within me was seeking out some riper, more fertile confine than my hulking frame to prosper. I could smell the odors of the night, the sweat, the musty breath, and I climbed on top of her, wrapping my arms around her fragile frame, feeling her move, accept me, and stir to meet my motions…