For her thirty-fifth birthday Barbara was offered a job. It the best birthday present she could have had. In fact, it was the only one she got. Both her boys had forgotten all about her birthday.
'Oh, well,' she thought, 'that's kids for you.'
Her husband hadn't remembered it either until he phoned from his office to wish her a happy day.
'But I don't care now. I've got some work.'
The way was open for her, at last, to pursue her own independent career.
She was known as Babs at home. Her two teenage boys went to the local grammar school - what used to be called Secondary Schools for Boys - and required less of her attention than they used to. All they wanted from her now were clean shirts and underwear, plenty of food on the table at meal times. They were well satisfied.
When she was twenty-two, Babs had married an ordinary, dependable young man, as selfish as the next husband. She didn't know whether she loved him or not, but they'd been courting for four years.
'Well, he's a presentable young man, as good as the next fellow,' she thought.
He was a engineering draughtsman whose pleasures were to watch TV after his meal, go out for a drink with the lads on Friday evenings, take the boys to a football match on Saturday afternoons and watch it on TV on a Saturday night. He even played the game himself for a local team on Sunday mornings.
'Well, it keeps him fit. And it gives me time to do the ironing and house cleaning without them constantly under my feet.'
She valued these quiet times she had to herself, even if they were filled with household chores.
Babs had never had much enthusiasm for sex. Neither she nor her sister, Alison, had been given any education in the fundamental process of having babies. They had experimented with themselves, as most boys and girls do when young, but found nothing particularly exciting about it. Her sister was two years older than Babs, so they learned together about the unsavoury parts of growing up into womanhood.
Babs began to look upon the human body with some distaste wondering why God had not made the whole physical process less messy. It seemed dirty and unwholesome. When her sister Alison started walking out with a young man, who was later to become her husband, her experience widened and she was able to tell Babs all about men.
So Babs knew roughly what to expect when she herself was asked to go for walks after Sunday school by a boy who lived down the next street. No other young man she liked better came into her life so, when Bernard proposed to her, she dutifully accepted him.
Alison was the matron of honour and her two nieces were the bridesmaids. They went to the church in a large white car. Bernard's brother was the best man, wearing a white carnation, her father gave her away, her mother wore a white hat with a spray of flowers pinned on, and cried a lot during the service. Confetti was thrown, photographs were taken in the churchyard, before they all went to the Coop café for a sherry reception and a hot meal for the wedding breakfast.
It was all very ordinary. Babs smiled dutifully, looking radiant, and her father, who had drunk far too much sherry on top of the large whiskeys before he left home, topped up with others from a hip flask, made a silly speech. Everybody laughed except Babs. She blushed with embarrassment.
Then they went home to change before catching the train to Bridlington for their week's honeymoon whilst the rest of the family went down to the club for the evening. It a very jolly day for the families but Babs couldn't honestly say she had found it the happiest day of her life they had all promised her it would be.
Barbara was a virgin bride. On their wedding night she endured with courage the requisite assault by her husband. She had taken the precaution of bringing a towel with her to put in the bed in case there was a mess. Alison had warned her what to expect. It was painful, and a great relief when he eventually finished.
After that, the nightly ritual wasn't so bad. There wasn't much to it. Each evening after dinner Bernard had a few drinks in the bar whilst she nursed a gin and tonic before retiring. Their room actually had a small private bathroom attached; quite a luxury for Babs. She was pleased about that. Bernard went into the bathroom to put his pyjamas on whilst Babs undressed and slipped into her nightie behind the open wardrobe door. She was in bed before Bernard came back in.
When the light was turned out, Bernard would lean over and kiss her whilst fondling her breasts. That was nice, having breasts fondled. She liked that. But it wasn't long before he pulled up her night-dress and rolled on top of her. Bernard would then bounce up and down on her for a few minutes before emptying his sperm into her with a grunt.
And that was it. He rolled over and went to sleep.
She soon came to the conclusion that she didn't much care for sex, but if that was what husbands wanted, she'd have to put up with it. She never once felt any fulfilment during intercourse.
'No,' she thought, 'sex is grossly over-rated.'
Within three months of her marriage, Babs found she was pregnant. That made her happier and, to her great relief, she had a trouble-free birth of a bouncing baby boy. She enjoyed motherhood. Now, that DID give her fulfilment! So, when the child was a few months old she determined to have another.
After the birth of the second child, another boy, her sex life dwindled to almost zero. Now, on her thirty-fifth birthday, there was little, if any, passion left in the marriage relationship. After all, two young children are a great strain on loving relationships. Babs was convinced that men were only loving towards their wives when they wanted sex and, once they'd got a house full of kids they didn't want any more of that either.
Having compared her experiences with those of her sister, that's how it seemed to her. In any case, whatever she and Bernard had to say to each other had already been said over the past fifteen years. Probably more than once. There was little to add.
Babs led a dull and repetitive life. It was occupied mainly by the demands of children growing up into boisterous boys. She didn't complain. Having seen how other married couples coped, it was what she'd expected, in a way.
But, at least, she was settled in herself and believed that this was a normal life-style for a house-wife and mother. After all, they had a nice two-and-a-half-bed 1930's semi in a reasonable quarter of the town with a nearby park, shops and schools. She aspired to nothing much higher. She had paid her debt to society.
But there had always been a burning ambition in her to be an infant school teacher. She loved children and, now that she had brought up two of her own, felt that this was now a possibility. The boys were had become less reliant on home.
Being a nursery teacher would give her some fulfilment in life besides bringing in the extra money for she and Bernard, her husband, to enjoy a few more of life's little extras. Go abroad, buy a better car, go out for meals more often. Nothing too exorbitant. Just get back some of the fun and enjoyment they had forfeited whilst bringing up a family and building a home.
She had been to talk over the possibilities with the Education Department at the Town Hall. They had been very helpful to her, explaining that to qualify for nursery teaching post would mean some training. So she applied for and was accepted by the local training college as a mature student. At her age, of course, she would have to pay for it.
So, after talking it through with Bernard, she decided to go out to work to provide the money for the course, whilst studying during the evenings when Bernard was watching TV and the boys had gone up to bed. Well, gone upstairs in the direction of their bedroom, anyway!
With relief and some determination, Babs went to a secretarial agency to sign on for temporary work as a shorthand typist. And on her birthday they phoned to say they had a job for her! Great!
It was arranged that she would work three full days and two half-days so that she could attend some day classes at the local college. She was a conscientious worker and did well. She got work standing in for secretaries on holidays or who were away ill. The duties covered the usual sort of secretarial responsibilities.
But she became frustrated by having to leave a job almost as soon as she'd got used to it. The jobs she had were too short term. So she asked the agency if they would consider her for any longer term jobs which came up. After a few weeks she was asked to go for an interview with a marketing company in the centre of town. They were looking for a short term appointment of between three to six months.
The arrangement was that she would probably be asked to work for a month when a final decision would be made about keeping her on. Jonathan Taylor, a marketing manager whose secretary had been taken ill and may be away for some considerable time, had asked for a reliable, dedicated temp.
So, Barbara presented herself at the offices of the company the next Monday morning at 9.00am with a letter of introduction, only to find that her new boss was away for a couple of days. She was told, however, that the senior secretary would interview her, show her the ropes and introduce her round the staff.
Shula was a small, close cropped curly blonde. She checked Barbara's experience and gave her a short typing test. She didn't do very well, she thought. She wasn't used to these electric typewriters, sensitive to the touch.
'That's no problem,' Shula told her. 'You'll get used to them. It's spelling and punctuation that's the main thing here. Most of the men are technical, so their grammar and spelling isn't always a strong point. Jonathan’s OK though. He's into drama and English, and stuff like that. So he knows a bit about it.'
'It seems a pleasant environment here.' Babs said. Shula assured her that she'd find everyone kind and the working conditions were very good.
'Jonathan's a most considerate boss; probably the nicest man in the office,' she said. 'He's discreet and modest, in his forties and everybody likes him and respects him.'
Shula went on to tell Babs that he was a leading light in some large operatic group and directed big musicals which were performed at the Grand Theatre in town.
'You'll like him. He's a wonderful man!' Shula enthused. Babs wondered if the head secretary herself fancied this Jonathan Taylor. She became intrigued and was quite looking forward to meeting this paragon of virtue and distinction.
When she was introduced round the other secretaries she found she was about the oldest amongst them. Mrs Gray was an exception. But she wasn't a secretary, anyway. She was more of a mother figure, making coffee and tea, looking after her boys.
The other girls were only too ready to tell her exaggerated stories about the office intrigues. They thought she should be aware of the goings on between some bosses and their secretaries in that office. Of course, they said, at her age, she need have no worries on that score herself!
Bitches, she thought! Anyway, she wasn't in the least interested in the affairs between the staff so long as she wasn't drawn into their intrigues. The money was all she wanted.
On Wednesday morning she finally met her new boss. When she arrived in the office he was already working at his desk. She watched him unobserved for a few moments. Babs liked what she saw. He was a reasonably handsome man, with a strong profile, darkish hair, greying at the temples. He wore a smart navy blue suit with white shirt and plain maroon tie.
She took a deep breath and, with more than a little trepidation, went up to him to introduce herself. He stood immediately, smiled at her, held out his hand to shake hers warmly. Babs was invited her to sit by his desk. She looked into his eyes and was glad of the offer of a chair for her knees felt suddenly like jelly! She couldn't think why she was behaving this way.
He apologised to her for not being there to welcome her on Monday but hoped she'd been well looked after and shown all the ropes. She stammered something about the others being very kind and thoughtful, feeling rather like a silly schoolgirl. Her brain seemed to have gone a bit dizzy but she managed to burble an assurance that she had been well looked after.
Pull yourself together madam, she said to herself. You're being stupid! Mr Taylor was telling her what his work entailed but she was listening more to his softly modulating voice rather than his words. His confident, sympathetic manner made her wonder whether or not her abilities were up to his expectations. Or, rather, were up to her own wish to prove herself equal to his obvious qualities. She worried that she might be inadequate to fulfil what she wanted to show him of her worth.
When he asked her what she had done before and why she was temping she had recovered sufficiently to tell him.
'Oh, please call me Jonathan,' he said at the end of their chat. 'I'm not used to such formality as Mister all the time.'
'Thank you! Right, Jonathan it is!'.\
When she went back to her own desk she was cross with herself for not having been more assertive - more herself. But she knew that she would enjoy working here. She determined to show him that she really was a responsible and competent secretary.
Not surprisingly, she made a number of silly mistakes in her anxiety to do well, but he was sympathetic and never showed dismay or disapproval. In fact, he treated her as an equal, showing her the courtesy and respect for her sex that she had rarely had from her past bosses. She liked him a lot.
In fact, after the first week she realised that she might be falling a little bit in love with him. Oh, well! Admiration from the margins can't be bad and it certainly made her work a pleasure.
She began to look forward with some eagerness to going to the office each morning; that was certainly a new experience for her.
Then, things changed. About six weeks after she started work there, Jonathan had arranged to spend a day meeting customers at a large trade exhibition in Manchester and Babs teased him about taking her with him.
'It'll make an interesting day out,' she claimed. 'Besides, I'll get to meet a lot of the people I talk to on the 'phone but never see. I'm sure I'll learn a lot.'
To her surprise and delight, Jonathan eventually agreed that she could come with him. 'It looks as thought you're going to be with us for a few months,' he said, 'so I suppose it would be useful for you to come along. I'll clear it with the boss.'
They arranged to meet at the office at quarter to eight on the fateful morning. Babs took a lot of trouble over her appearance. She dressed in the cream suit she saved to wear at weddings, with a white shirt-blouse and plain ecru silk scarf. A light check wool-flannel top-coat finished off her clothes.
When Jonathan told her how attractive she looked she was happily flattered. But she made light of it.
'Can't be letting you down in front of your customers by looking scruffy,' she told him.
It was a pleasant, sunny day and the journey across the Pennines was an enjoyable one. They chatted away like two old friends on a whole range of topics. Babs was now relaxed in his company and did a lot of the talking, showing off her knowledge of current affairs. She was also interested in drama and tried to impress Jonathan by talking about Ibsen and Chekhov.
He listened with interest, joking with her and pulling her leg here and there. They eventually reached Manchester, parking in the basement of the exhibition hotel. They spent the morning looking round the stands, talking to some of the people there.
Several of them were business contacts of Jonathan's but, courteous as ever, he introduced her to each one of them, generally behaving towards her as an equal rather than an employee.
Babs felt great! She purred like a kitten all morning! At lunch time Jonathan escorted her to an expensive restaurant, housed in an airy conservatory, where she was treated to an excellent meal - on expenses of course, but so what! - with wine to accompany the succulent lamb and a cointreau with her coffee.
In the corner of the conservatory a piano trio, surrounded by potted palms, was playing popular classics and the whole atmosphere was elegant and tasteful. She had never before been wined and dined so well, and in such grand surroundings, with waiters always at her elbow to look after her every need.
The appearance of a cigarette in Jonathan's hand was immediately met by a flaming lighter produced by a waiter.
At last, the time came to return home. Babs felt sad, in a way, that the day was coming to its conclusion. They drove back across the Pennines with the late afternoon sun throwing shadows of the craggy hills into the sun-drenched valleys. It had got too late to return to the office so they pulled into a parking place, just off the road, overlooking a famous beauty spot.
The views were magnificent. Jonathan turned off the engine, lowered his window, and lit a cigarette. They sat in silence looking down the valley, across to the peaks, whilst he smoked an Olivier tipped cigarette. Barbara enjoyed the peace of the country-side and sat looking out, quiet, content and happy.
She'd had a lovely day. She'd been made to feel important. A real person, able to join in conversations without feeling patronised.
Jonathan stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray, turned to her and smiled. 'You're quiet.' he said. 'Have you enjoyed our outing?'
Babs looked into his blue mischievous eyes and returned his smile. 'It's been terrific! Really lovely! You've made me so happy today.' she said. 'And I'm enjoying these last moments of peace and quiet with you. It's lovely! Thank you!'.
On an impulse she leaned into him and kissed him on the lips, letting it linger rather longer than she had intended. Instead of breaking away, Jonathan put his arms round her to hold her close. Slowly parting her lips he gently pushed his tongue between them.
Babs hesitated at this unexpected response but allowed his tongue to nudge between her lips, licking over them lightly. A tremor of confusion rippled through her. In a moment of gratefulness to him, hardly aware of what she was doing, Babs put her hands round Jonathan's neck, pressing him towards her.
In response he put his hand inside her light coat, very delicately caressing her bosom. Without thinking about the consequences, Babs pressed herself against his hand in a gesture of encouragement. Before the kiss ended, she felt Jonathan's hand slip inside the top of her dress until it rested on the swelling of her left breast.
It seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to do. The thought of trying to stop him never crossed her mind. She felt she had known Jonathan intimately for years. Even so, she was rather disappointed in Johnnie.
‘Oh, no!’ Babs moaned to herself. ‘Is that all men want? A handful of breast? Why does it always have to get physical?’
But she made no attempt to stop him. They ended their kiss with a breathless sigh, pressing their cheeks together. His hand had slipped down into her bra and was now cupping her left breast, gently rubbing across her stiffening nipple.
At his touch, Babs was surprised at the light shock which flickered from her nipple to the pit of her stomach. She felt the almost forgotten flutters deep in her belly as her body began to respond to the attention it was getting. Her mind was in turmoil!
‘What on earth am I doing,’ she thought? ‘This is ridiculous! I'm a mature, married woman with two grown up kids, allowing a strange man to fondle my breasts and getting myself all excited and wet.’