“Tickets please … Tickets please”…
The porter made his way from seat to seat checking and clicking the tickets of the passengers of the 12.30 pm train to the southern suburbs … it passed through the flats onto the hills stations to finish at Marino Rocks.
Annette clicked open her purse to extract the return ticket to Brighton from the side pocket there … upon extracting the pink slip of paper, she noticed a similar one still in the pocket. She took this one out as well, examined the date of 3 May, 1951 and satisfied herself that she handed the current dated one to the porter.
“The sea is nice there at Brighton this time of year,” he spoke as he clicked her ticket.
Annette said nothing in reply, but just nodded her head in agreement. The porter moved on down the aisle between the seats …
“Tickets please,“ he repeated.
Annette placed the current validated ticket back into the purse pocket, she gazed at the older ticket and noted the date as of one month previous to today’s date … she silently admonished herself for being so neglectful as to leave the ticket in her purse … She screwed the ticket up and dropped it to the floor of the carriage. Upon closing her purse, she caught a glimpse of the newspaper clipping she had cut from the day’s paper miscellaneous column … Annette knew the wording by heart, but she kept the cutting as a sense of reassurance of the appointment she had arranged.
Annette ran through the message again in her mind:
“Letter OK, sweet … meet at B … first date mentioned in letter. If anything happens ask for letter at B … Blue Eyes.”
She secured the catch on her purse and placed it in her lap and turning her face to the filmy window of the carriage, she saw the reflection of a young, but not so young now woman, with wavy brown hair above a pale, powered face with, she hoped, a not too dark a shade of lipstick on a pair of pert lips … There was a furrow of concern on the brow and the eyes looked wary.
She turned her head away quickly as if she had seen something she would rather not think about and proceeded to turn the plain, gold wedding ring on her finger.
“It’s not unusual,” Doctor Short had said. ”Young married couples do sometimes take a while to conceive … I’d give it some more time and just let nature take its course … perhaps a quiet evening or two at home with a favourite record on and a glass of sherry … or two,” and Dr. Short smiled his warming, ‘confidence giving’ smile. Annette just nodded in agreement and said that her husband preferred beer.
But it had now been three years and still no change.
The short, terse discussions Annette had with her husband on the possibility of one of them being infertile always ended in her being reassured that his side of the family never had any such problems and no, he did not want to go to the doctor and get “interfered with” when he was certain the problem did not rest with him. And that was the end to it.
The Italian lady next door, Elvira, laughed when told of Annette’s dilemma:
“Back home we had a saying that there were no infertile men in the village … and certo … if a woman could bear children, then there were children …because after a certain time passed, the parish priest was called in to “do his duty to God’s handmaidens,” and he would hang his walking cane over the entrance doorknob while he “administered the faith” to the lady of the house and if the husband came home and saw the cane there, he would keep walking up to the bar and play a hand or two of briscola, take a whisky or two, before making his way back home respectfully.”
Annette dismissed those notions as typical of peasant village women thinking … an outcome much too public and open to ridicule for a lady of Anglo descent. There were ways other than gross serviceability … discretion was the hallmark of civilised society … of a refined woman in today’s world.
Annette stepped onto the platform at Brighton and made her way to the exit ramp. She paused at the top of the ramp and gazed over the road in front to a little corner store-cum-post office there on the “Old Beach Road” that led to the seashore. As she gazed at the empty scene, a man of around thirty-five years stepped out of the corner store … he stopped to take out and light up a cigarette with a personal lighter that he replaced to an inside pocket of his suit. Annette recognised him and gave a small noting wave which he cautiously returned … she crossed the street and without touching, they proceeded to walk to the beach.
At the beach, the man spread a checked wool blanket that he took from a parked sedan in the road above the sands. Annette removed her gloves and shoes and made herself discretely comfortable on the blanket.
“Nice to see you again,” the man spoke. “This being the third time in as many months, will this be a regular thing?” he teased and touched her forehead as he brushed away a tuft of fringe of her hair.
“I’m not sure …” Annette replied, ”circumstances may prevent us meeting again.”
“What do you mean?” The man sat back from his position close to her. He cocked one eyebrow questioningly.
“I may be pregnant,” Annette spoke plainly. The man raised his eyebrows and with wide-eyed anxiety asked:
“Heavens … what are we to do … I mean … I can’t …”
“No, it’s quite alright,’ Annette touched his arm reassuringly.” I wanted it to happen … I wanted the child.”
The man looked bewildered and a bit dazed …
“Well, that may be good for you … but I am already married with children. I thought this was a fling for both of us … I can’t manage another family.”
Again, Annette touched his arm reassuringly:
“No, I will not trouble you about the child. As you know I too am married … but we … my husband as it now turns out … couldn’t have children … couldn’t give me a child … so I took the opportunity of our relationship to have one with you.” Annette gently smiled, ”I needed another child.”
“Another child!?” the man stared and thought. “Then …t hen that time several years ago when we first met …?” He didn’t finish what he was thinking.
“Yes,” Annette smiled again … “He’s two now and beautiful … thank you.”
The man was thinking now …
“So that’s why you wanted a recent picture of me when we first wrote … so you could see if I was a close match to your husband?”
“Of course! It would not work otherwise … I mean how would it look if you were a flaming red-head, or a swarthy Mediterranean type? How stupid would that be?”
“And your husband doesn’t know?”
“Of course not. He thinks he’s shooting bullets not blanks … and I had to make a decision soon or it would start to come back on one or the other of us. After all, there are expectations in society … you know.”
“Yes … the stigma of a barren woman or a man who only fires blanks … terrible.”
The man leaned back against a rock of the breakwater and took out and lit another cigarette …
“It’s why I got back in touch with you in the paper,” Annette softly spoke.
“Yes … right … I was rather surprised. I presumed you’d forgot all about me … was delighted to read your request to meet again, though … but you would risk your marriage for the sake of having children?” He blew a stream of smoke into the soft air of the Autumn day.
“He broke the contract!” Annette blurted out … and then in a more condescending tone, “and he didn’t want to have tests done … he didn’t want to know if it was himself … no man does … so this way we both achieve our goals … even you,” and she smiled coquettishly.
The man drew on his cigarette and returned her smile.
“In that case …I suppose so,” and he drew on the cigarette again … “And so we continue to meet … Blue Eyes”
“Blue Eyes?” Annette queried.
“You remember when we first communicated through the paper and I asked what you looked like for when we first meet?”
“Oh yes.” Annette clasped her arms around her legs as she sat thinking of the time. “I didn’t know how to go about these things … it was only chance that I spotted that column … “Miscellaneous” … in the paper and I read several of those people … mostly men … lonely men looking for ‘lady companions’.” Annette giggled.
“Yes…” the man reflected, “it was a new thing for me too. I was lonely, coming down every month from the north on business … A man can end up a drunk – or worse – when he has too much time on his hands. A mate in the same game as me put me onto it … took some Dutch courage to kick it off though,” and he gave a laugh.
“You didn’t give much away … but you did say you have blue eyes … and wavy hair.” He touched her soft locks, “But you never did tell me your whole name.”
“And neither did you … and it best remain that way … for truly, if I am pregnant, and I do believe I am … we probably will not be meeting again … I don’t want any more children … two is enough.”
The man stubbed out his cigarette.
“Yes, well … that may be for the best all around. It could get sticky if it gets out … for both of us. I wouldn’t want my wife to know … and our four kids is plenty for me.”
“Oh,” Annette replied lazily, “she probably already does … or suspects at least.”
“Nah … she doesn’t have a clue … she’s miles away..up north,” and he stared out over the sea.
“Oh … she’d know.”
“How?” the man asked. “Would you tell her?”
“How could I? I don’t even know your real name. No, it’s you men … when you are satisfied in that way … you walk about like a prancing Tom-cat.” And she smiled.
“Are we that easy to pick?” he grinned.
“Of course … how would we women not know? After all, it was us who invented sex … do you think Adam would have eaten the apple without Eve?” Annette threw her head back and laughed. The man grinned and looked at her affectionately.
“I’m beginning to worry about you … you’re dangerous. But what of today? Here we are …” and he looked at Annette with a cheeky grin.
Annette lowered her eyes in a vampish manner and replied:
“I suppose it doesn’t hurt to make certain of a good job done,” and she touched the side of his face affectionately.
“Come,” he said, “I have a car waiting for my lady.” And they gathered themselves up and made for the parked sedan at the top of the stairs.
Annette paused at the foot of the steps and he offered his arm to steady her as she put on her shoes. She turned to the man and asked:
“Can you give me your name? Not your first, your second name … and when the child is born, I can let you know … in the Miscellaneous column.”
The man turned and smiled at Annette:
“Paul,” he said … and he held out his hand. They walked to the car … just like any young couple.
Ten months later a short sentence appeared in the Miscellaneous column of the daily newspaper:
“Package arrived safely … much joy … ‘Pauline’.”
The following week on the usual day they would communicate Annette read the confirming note in the miscellaneous column:
“Sweet … letter OK … if ever needed, write again, Blue Eyes.”
This story was first published on freefall852.wordpress.com.