I saw him across the room being greeted by the host. I felt the blood drain from my face. I thought for a moment I was going to faint.
I was attending the exhibition of a third rate painter’s work, for which, as a freelance journalist, I was to write a review for a minor local paper. I had got sick of the sugary pink and white creations, and was standing around with a cocktail called, I believe, “A Landmine.” It tasted of dishwater and kerosene.
I had been watching the silly posturing and stupid conversations that these pretentious occasions give rise to, laced as they are with “Dears” and “Darlings,” when I saw him.
My mind swirled back nearly seven years to a beautiful summer day. At the time, I was the wife of a Housemaster at a middle ranking private school. One of the duties was to entertain to tea once a week, two of the students. They were appallingly boring and formal occasions and I am sure the students, or should I call them victims, liked them no more than I did.
The day in question was during the last but one week before the school broke up for the summer recess. We were to entertain two senior boys, both of whom were leaving to go on to university. One of them was Hartley George, the other boy’s name I cannot now recall.
There was an influenza virus going round the school, and the day before the “Tea,” my husband, Arthur Greenwith, took to bed, laid low by the dread disease. He suggested that we cancel the tea, but I objected. Hartley had become a particular favourite of mine, and I had observed that he had a strong attachment to me. This often happens in boy’s schools, where women are rare, and they are away from the feminine company of mothers and sisters.
Arthur was in no condition to care one way or the other, so I went ahead with the tea. As it turned out, Hartley arrived on his own. The virus had also struck down the other boy. So we ate and drank alone.
Hartley was almost fully-grown at that time, being tall, about six feet, and well built, with an almost gypsy look about him. He had somehow escaped the worst things those private schools do to their victims, and he turned out a gentle and considerate boy with a taste for the arts. His father owned a chain of clothing stores around the country, and on the occasions when he had turned up for parent’s days in his Rolls-Royce, he presented as a loud mouthed, bombastic man. Hartley had also escaped that character trait.
After our tea, I suggested that as it was such a beautiful day, we take a walk through the woods that abutted our back fence. Hartley agreed, so we went out through the gate in our back fence, and strolled through the trees to the stream that flowed some little distance away.
Arriving at the stream, we sat down on a grassy patch and for a while continued our conversation about music. Then at one point in our talk, Hartley took my hand. “You know I love you?” he said.
He followed up these words by leaning over and kissing me gently on the lips and in doing this he released my hand, and I felt his hand cup my breast.
I protested, “Stop this Hartley, I’m a married woman.”
He didn’t stop, but moved closer to me, still cupping my breast and kissing me. “I want you so badly,” he said. “I’ve wanted you ever since I came to this school. I love you so much.”
I pushed him away saying, “And I’m very fond of you, Hartley, but we can’t do this.”
He said nothing for a moment, then went on, “If you really cared about me, you’d let me do it with you.”
Here I must explain the nature of my situation.
My mother had died when I was twelve. My father, with whom I was very close, died when I was eighteen of cancer. I had nursed him through his illness for nearly two years, and when he died I was exhausted and bereft.
He had left me a few investments which, given the strictest economy, I could just about manage on. To try to recover from my exhaustion I went for a week to a seaside boarding house. Here I met Arthur Greenwith. He was some fifteen years older than I was but he seemed to have a sort of solid assurance about him. I suppose this was what drew me to him. With the loss of my father, I was seeking some new anchor in my life, and Arthur seemed to provide that.
To cut a long story short, I ended up marrying him, and on our wedding night I found what a ghastly mistake I had made.
I am not sure whether he is a repressed homosexual or not, but he was quite incapable of getting an erection with me, and his attempt to penetrate, half hearted as it was, was an utter failure. He could not even break through my hymen. This I did long afterwards by using a dildo.
I was bitterly disappointed and quite horrified when Arthur said, “It doesn’t really matter, you don’t want kids, do you!” It was not a question, but a statement. I did want kids, but his tone encouraged no argument.
I silently wept myself to sleep that night and many nights afterwards.
In time, I discovered what Arthur really wanted. He wanted first, a housekeeper. Then he wanted the respectability of being married. As he worked in a boy’s school any hint that a master was homosexual was death to that master. A married man was thought to be safe.
Another thing he wanted was a decorative wife. Someone one who would outmatch the rather frumpy wives of the other masters. Even if I say so myself, I had no difficulty doing that, and this was demonstrated by the way the other masters and the older boys ogled me. I hasten to point out that Hartley had never ogled me. His gaze was a sort of ardent longing.
I acknowledge that I enjoyed this devotion, and reciprocated with an affectionate concern for him. If you condemn this, then put yourself in my place. A young women with an impotent husband having the attention of a handsome, loving young man just a few years younger than she.
Now here I was with this young man pleading with me, and understanding from my own experience what sexual frustration can do to one, my heart went out to him. I admit that his approach had aroused me, and I could feel the wetness growing round my vagina.
I laid back and pulled back the hem of my frock, exposing my panties. “Take my panties off, darling,” I whispered.
He paused for a moment, and then reaching up pulled off the garment to expose my sex organ.
“Come into me, sweetheart”
He undid the front of his trousers, came over me, and I guided him into me.
He was very gentle and loving, and, it was my first time with a man apart from Arthur’s failed attempt, and I am sure it was his first time with a woman.
He gave little gasps interspersed with declarations of love as he moved up and down in me. I reassured him, “Lovely darling. It’s beautiful.”
He could not last long, and soon I felt his movements quicken, then he was pumping his seed into me. I thought it would never stop. I even had the rather humorous thought; “He’s been saving all his sperm since he came to puberty just for me.”
When he had finished, he lay in me for a long time, stroking my face and still declaring his love.
In the end I had to say, “We must go back now, darling, my husband might want something to eat or drink.”
He sighed, but removed his penis from me. We tried to straighten ourselves up a bit, then walked hand in hand back to the gate in the fence.
The end of term being upon us, life became a whirl of activity, and that was the last time I saw or heard from him, until this moment at the art exhibition.
He was walking along with a notebook in his hand making brief notes as he came in my direction. I thought I might flee – hide in the ladies room – but finally decided to face the situation.
He was almost upon me before he saw me. He stopped, stared, then said, “It’s Mrs.Greenwith, isn’t it?”
“Ex Mrs.Greenwith. I’m Tara Ashe now,” I said. “Mr.Greenwith and I parted company and got divorced many years ago.”
“Oh! How are you?”
The formality seemed ludicrous and we both knew it. Questions were tumbling through my head, and I am sure through Hartley’s, but we continued down the safe track. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I’m supposed to be reviewing this stuff for one of the Dailies,” he replied. “What about you?”
“Well, it seems we are in the same trade,” I said, “I’m doing a review for one of the local rags.”
The hubbub around us had grown considerably so I half shouted at him, “Look, we can’t talk here, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this rubbish. Let’s go and sit in the park across the street.”
He agreed and we strolled to a park bench and sat.
“It’s a beautiful day,” he said. “Like another beautiful day I can remember.”
I didn’t fail to get his drift, but decided to ignore it. “What’s been happening to you all these years,” I asked. “I always thought you’d go into your father’s business.”
“That’s what dad thought too,” he smiled. “But I had other ideas. Apart from anything else, I don’t think the old man and I could have hit it off for long. He’s too dictatorial for me. I went into journalism, you know, the arts side of things. How about you?”
“Oh, I just do a bit of freelancing to pay the rent. It helps top up the bit my father left me.”
We both wanted to open the one subject most important to us, but we didn’t seem to know how.
The sun seemed to go in, and looking up I saw dark clouds approaching.
“It looks as if we are going to get some rain,” I said, “My flat is just across the park. If you fancy a cup of coffee and we hurry, we can be there before we get soaked.”
We ran together and as we entered the hall doorway, down came the rain.
The block was only two stories high, and my flat was one flight up. It was quite a humble abode, being in keeping with my income. I didn’t have much in the way decor, but what I did have was good quality. Hartley looked round appreciatively.
“Very nice,” he commented.
I invited him to sit down, and left the room. I went down to my daughter’s room where she was playing with the sitter. I paid the sitter and thanked her and she left. I took my little girl’s hand and said, “I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet.”
“Is it a nice someone?” she asked.
“You’ll find out,” I laughed, and took her to where I had left Hartley in the lounge.
As we entered, I noticed that Hartley was sitting in a way that had always been typical of him. He had one leg crossed over the other, with his hands clasped in front of his knees.
“This is Cara,” I said.
He looked up and said, “Hello Cara.”
Cara, in the open way children have, went to him, placed her hands on his, looked for a moment and said, “You’re very pretty.”
Instead of the usual adult response of an embarrassed laugh, Hartley smiled and said, “Thank you Cara. I think you are pretty to,” as indeed she is.
As I watched the two of them, I suddenly saw Hartley’s face drained of blood. He went parchment white. I thought he was going to faint.
I said to Cara, “Darling, mummy will be getting dinner ready soon, but Mr.George and I want to have a talk, would you go and play in your room for a while?”
Cara left and I sat.
I knew exactly what Hartley had seen. There could be no mistake. There was nothing of Arthur’s thinning blonde hair and insipid blue eyes. Nor was their any sign of my dark blonde hair and grey green eyes. The dark hair, soft brown eyes and gypsy complexion told the story.
“She’s mine, isn’t she,” he stammered.
I decided to be pedantic. “No Hartley. If she is anyone’s, she is ours.”
“Well of course, I meant…you never told me, you never let me know, why? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have…I would have…”
“I know you would, Hartley, but there were reasons for not telling you.”
“First, you were very young. You were just launching out into life. I decided that I could handle the situation. Also, I was responsible. Although I am only a few years older than you, on that afternoon I was more or less in my husband’s place. I was the one who should have stopped what happened, not you.”
“Was that why you and Mr.Greenwith…”
I cut in. “It was the thing that brought to an end what would have ended anyway. Arthur could not possibly have been the father for the simple reason we did not have sex, and you are the only person I have ever had sex with.”
“You mean, in all these years…?”
“Yes, in all these years. Now suppose we talk about Cara.”
“I could make you an allowance for her…”
“You could, but you won’t,” I snapped. “My question is, would you like to get to know your daughter?”
He snapped back, “Of course I damn well would.”
“All right, don’t let’s start out with a family quarrel,” I laughed.
He laughed with me. “Yes, I would like very much to get to know her.”
“How would your wife or girlfriend or whatever, think about it.”
“There isn’t anyone. Your not the only one who can go without.”
“Very well. I’m about the prepare dinner. Would you like to stay and eat with us?”
“I’d love to.”
“Then come and make yourself useful in the kitchen and I’ll fetch Cara.”
That evening began the process of Cara getting to know her father, without her knowing he was her father. I had to be sure I could trust Hartley with her, and whether she wanted to be with him.
Things progressed from Hartley joining us for an occasional meal, to letting him go out with us, then finally allowing Hartley to take her out on his own.
Hartley’s loving gentleness had not deserted him and Cara seemed to have inherited it. I could see almost as a visible thing, the love growing between them.
Hartley spent more and more time with us, often staying on long after Cara had been put to bed. One thing that puzzled me was why Hartley never made any sexual overtures to me. Had I become undesirable? Ugly? I confess I checked up on myself In the mirror.
What I saw was quite a presentable thirty year old. Breasts in very good order at 38B, despite the fact that I had breast-fed Cara. Legs looking good but a bit marked with child bearing. No signs of heavy lines on the face, and an almost unused vagina.
I suppose I might have also asked myself why I didn’t make any sexual overtures. Hartley certainly didn’t repulse me. He was as sexually attractive to me as he had been all those years ago when I succumbed. So why?
At one stage, about three months after I had met Hartley at the exhibition, he began bringing us expensive gifts. I put a stop to this.
“I don’t want Cara getting into the habit of expecting these gifts. I want her to look forward to seeing you for your own sake, not for the sake of a gift. And you don’t need to buy me gifts. I am delighted just to see you, and to know that you and Cara are happy to be together.
Hartley protested. “All these years you’ve been the one to pay out for Cara. Now, you won’t accept money from me and you won’t let me buy gifts. What can I do?”
“Do what you are doing now, give us yourself. That’s what we want.”
Hartley saw the point, and the gifts, although they didn’t stop completely, were relegated to special times like birthdays.
Twelve months passed. Hartley was now part of our lives. Cara was seven years old, and as we were to discover, quite a shrewd observer of the human condition.
One evening Hartley was about to put Cara to bed, when she said, “When are you two going to get married so I can have a proper daddy?”
We were both stunned, but Hartley carried it off with a laugh and said, “We’ll see, Cara.”
When he returned we were both silent for a long while, then Hartley said, “When am I going to be allowed to be a proper daddy?”
Taking this to be a proposal, I suddenly found that the years of aloneness, the deprivation, the need I had for love, suddenly overwhelmed me. I burst into tears, sobbing as if my heart would break.
Hartley came to me and took me in his arms. “What is it, my love. Did I say something…did I upset you…tell me…”
I howled even louder. In all the years I had never given way, now it all poured out in one great flood, crashing through the emotional barriers I had erected to defend myself and Cara.
“Hold me, just hold me, you idiot,” I jerked out through my sobs. “I love you rotten beautiful bastard. So just hold me tight and don’t ever let go, or I’ll kill you.”
The emotional storm raged on with Hartley holding me and I clinging to him and beating my fists against his chest, my tears soaking his shirt front, my nose streaming, and all the unattractive things that go with copious weeping.
Finally I subsided. I pulled away from Hartley to let him see my ugly tear stained face.
“And now tell me you want to be a ‘proper daddy'” to Cara. “Just look at my ugly face and tell me that.”
“I want to be a proper daddy to Cara, and in addition, I love your ugly face.”
Another storm of weeping.
“All right, be a proper daddy, and have my ugly face.”
“What a lousy way to propose.”
“What a lousy way to accept.”
We collapsed with laughter, mine being a bit hysterical.
We finally came to ourselves and began to tackle the question, “when?”
It was to be as soon as possible. We had waited for many years, and that of course is what all those years had been about. Hartley confessed there had been a couple of women, but they had come to nothing. As he said, he was unfair to them, because he was always looking for me in them. And my years of abstinence were equivalent. I wanted Hartley, and not a substitute.
One thing you might find quirky among all the many quirky things in our little history. That night we decided that having waited so long without having sex with each other, we would now wait until we were married.
“Let’s do it properly next time,” Hartley said.
“Do what properly?” I asked.
“Get you pregnant.”
“If we can get more like Cara,” let’s do it often, I told him.
“It will be my pleasure,” he retorted.
“Don’t be greedy,” I said, “I want some of the pleasure to, you know.”
We fell into laughter again.
He left and I peeped into Cara. She was still awake.
“You are going to have a proper daddy,” I told her.
She put her arms round my neck and said, “Good, I love him just as much as you, you know.”
“Out of the mouths of babes…”