فصل 05

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فصل 05

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5

The first three years

FOR three years we had to make every dollar do the work of two. All through the summer holidays we worked at the Boat Club in Dennis Port. It was hard work, but we were never too tired to be kind to each other. I say ‘kind’ because there are no words to describe our love and happiness together.

After the summer we found a ‘cheap’ flat near the university. It was on the top floor of an old house and was actually very expensive. But what could we do? There weren’t many flats around.

‘Hey, Preppie,’ said Jenny when we arrived there. ‘Are you my husband or aren’t you?’

‘Of course I’m your husband.’

‘Show me, then.’ (My God, I thought, in the street?) ‘Carry me into our first home!’

I carried her up the five steps to the front door.

‘Why did you stop?’ she asked. ‘This isn’t our home.

Upstairs, Preppie!’

There were twenty-four stairs up to our flat, and I had to stop half-way.

‘Why are you so heavy?’ I asked her.

‘Perhaps I’m expecting a baby.’

‘My God! Are you?’

‘Ha! I frightened you then, didn’t I?’

‘Well, yes, just for a second or two.’

I carried her the rest of the way. There were very few moments in those days when we were not worrying about money. Very few, and very wonderful - and that moment was one of them.

A food shop let us ‘eat now, pay later’, thanks to the Barrett name. But our famous name did not help us in Jenny’s work. The Head of the school thought we were rich.

‘Of course, we can’t pay our teachers very much,’ said Miss Whitman. ‘But that won’t worry you, Mrs Barrett!’

Jenny tried to explain that Barretts had to eat, just like other people. Miss Whitman just laughed politely.

‘Don’t worry,’ Jenny said to me. ‘We’ll manage. Just learn to like spaghetti.’

I did. I learned to like spaghetti and Jenny learned lots of different ways of cooking it. With Jenny’s pay from school, and our money from our summer work and my holiday jobs, we managed. Our lives had changed a lot, of course. There was no more music for Jenny. She had to teach all day, and came home very tired. Then she had to cook dinner — restaurants were too expensive for us. There were a lot of films that we didn’t see, and places and people that we didn’t visit. But we were doing OK.

One day a beautiful invitation arrived. It was for my father’s sixtieth birthday party.

‘Well?’ said Jenny. I was in the middle of a thick law book and did not hear her at first. ‘Oliver, he’s reaching out to you.’

‘No, he isn’t. My mother wrote it. Now be quiet. I’m studying. I’ve got exams in three weeks.’

‘Ollie, think. Sixty years old, dammit. How do you know that he’ll still be alive when you decide to forget your disagreement?’

‘I don’t know, and I don’t care. Now let me get on with my work!’

‘One day,’ said Jenny, ‘when you’re having problems with Oliver the Fifth—’

‘Our son won’t be called Oliver, you can be sure of that!’

I said angrily.

‘You can call him Bozo if you like. But that child will feel bad about you, because you were a big Harvard sportsman.

And by the time he goes to university, you’ll probably be a big, important lawyer!’ She continued, ‘Oliver, your father loves you, in the same way as you will love Bozo. But you Barretts are so full of pride - you’ll go through life thinking that you hate each other. Now . . . what about that invitation?’

‘Write them a nice letter of refusal.’

‘Oliver, I can’t hurt your father like t h a t . . . What’s their telephone number?’

I told her and was at once deep in my law book again. I tried not to listen to her talking on the telephone, but she was in the same room, after all. Suddenly I thought, How long does it take to say no}

‘Ollie?’ Jenny had her hand over the telephone mouthpiece.

‘Ollie, do we have to say no?’

‘Yes, we do. And hurry up, dammit!’

‘I’m terribly sorry,’ she said into the telephone. She covered the mouthpiece again and turned to me. ‘He’s very unhappy, Oliver! Can you just sit there and let your father bleed?’

‘Stones don’t bleed, Jen. This isn’t one of your warm, loving Italian fathers.’

‘Oliver, can’t you just speak to him?’

‘Speak to him! Are you crazy?’

She held the telephone towards me. She was trying not to cry.

‘I will never speak to him. Ever,’ I said.

Now she was crying, very quietly. Then she asked me once more. ‘For me, Oliver. I’ve never asked you for anything.

Please.’

I couldn’t do it. Didn’t Jenny understand? It was just impossible. Unhappily I shook my head. Then Jenny spoke to me quietly and very angrily. ‘You have no heart,’ she said.

She spoke into the telephone again. ‘Mr Barrett, Oliver wants you to know . . . ‘ She was crying, so it wasn’t easy for her. ‘Oliver loves you very much,’ she said, and put the telephone down quickly.

I don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I went crazy for a moment. Violently I took the telephone and threw it across the room.

‘Damn you, Jenny! Why don’t you get out of my life?’

I stood still for a second. My God, I thought, what’s happening to me? I turned to look at Jenny. But she had gone.

I looked round the flat for her. Her coat was still there, but she had disappeared.

I ran out of the house and searched everywhere for her: the law school library, Radcliffe, the music school. Was she in one of the music rooms? I heard somebody playing the piano, loudly and very badly. Was it Jenny? I pushed the door open. A big Radcliffe girl was at the piano.

‘What’s the matter?’ she asked.

‘Nothing,’ I answered, and closed the door again.

Where, oh where, had she gone? I felt terrible. I searched the university, the streets and the cafes. Nothing. Had she taken a bus to Cranston, perhaps? At midnight I found a telephone box and called Phil.

‘Hello?’ he said sleepily. ‘What’s the matter? Is Jenny ill?’

My God, I thought, she isn’t there! ‘She’s fine, Phil. Uh - I just called to say hello.’

‘You should call more often, dammit,’ he said. ‘Is Cranston so far away that you can’t come down on a Sunday afternoon?’

‘We’ll come, some Sunday, Phil, I promise.’

‘Don’t give me that - “some Sunday” indeed! This Sunday, Oliver.’

‘Yes, sir. This Sunday.’

‘And next time you telephone, I’ll pay, dammit. OK?’ He put down the telephone. I stood there and wondered what to do. At last I went back to the flat.

Jenny was sitting on the top step. I was too tired to cry, too glad to speak.

‘I forgot my key,’ said Jenny.

I stood there on the bottom step. I was afraid to ask how long she had been there. I only knew that I had hurt her terribly.

‘Jenny, I’m sorry—’

‘Stop!’ she said. Then she added, ‘Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.’

We walked up to our flat. As we undressed, she looked lovingly at me.

‘I meant what I said, Oliver.’

And that was all.

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