You Who Know...byoggbashan©
You Who Know...
...What Love Is.
Copyright Oggbashan January 2017
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
Minor edit February 2016.
I was behind our near neighbour Marjorie, Mrs Jefferies, at the supermarket checkout. She had a large overflowing trolley. I had a couple of items in a small hand basket, a couple of things my mother wanted for our evening meal.
I could have gone through the express checkout but I thought Mrs Jefferies might want a hand with her shopping. If she did and I helped I hoped that she might offer me a lift home. There was a heavy storm outside with driving rain. I'd get soaked walking the half mile home.
I had always liked Mrs Jefferies from the first time I had met her. My parents had moved near to her in my second year at university. They had downsized our house because I was the third and youngest son to leave home. Mrs Jefferies, and to a lesser extent her husband Alan, had been good neighbours. They had helped my parents to move in and had introduced us to other local people. They had made the transition to a new place much easier.
I was deluding myself. What I should have thought was 'I had always loved Marjorie, Mrs Jefferies', not just liked. She had been my last and most intense adult crush. She had been amused by my love for her but gentle and kind. If the saying is right that you could work out what a woman would be like in later life by looking at her mother, then Marjorie's daughter Linda would have been my ideal partner.
In my first summer vacation after the move I had asked Linda out. She was home after her first university year. It hadn't worked. She liked me. I liked her. But there was nothing more. Why? If I was honest it was because we were still too young and inexperienced to make real commitments. I still am.
Linda told me when we decided to end our non-existent relationship that she had never been sure whether I wanted to be with her or with her mother. That hurt mainly because there was some truth in it. I was still having a crush on Marjorie. A motherly peck on the cheek from Marjorie had had more impact on me than a kiss on the lips from Linda.
That had been three years ago. Now I was standing close behind Marjorie with a slight scent of her perfume reminding me how much I had felt for her. It wasn't the same. I knew it had been a crush I had had. Marjorie is still someone I like and appreciate for who she is but my feelings for her are more rational. I would have done anything then for a Marjorie kiss on my cheek. Now that kiss wouldn't mean more than a friendly gesture.
Or would it? I was feeling hurt and rejected. A friendly gesture from Marjorie might bring back the puppy love I'd had then just because I was temporarily so vulnerable. I'd have to be careful. But it looked as if she would need help loading her pile of shopping. I'd be happy to do that and delighted if I got a lift home. Why didn't I just ask her?
I did. I suggested that I could help take her shopping to the car and please could she give me a lift home?
"Of course, Harry. Your help would be useful and there's no point in you walking home when I'm here with the car."
Marjorie smiled at me. That smile was almost enough to revive feelings I thought had ended years ago. She was wearing her full length shiny black padded coat. I remembered hugging her and being hugged by her while she had been wearing that coat. It has a fur-trimmed hood. The fur had tickled me when she gave me a kiss.
We loaded her shopping into bags and back into the trolley. Marjorie waited the few seconds for me to pay for my items. We went to the lift down to the underground car park. I pulled the trolley inside and stood at the back. Marjorie was pushing and remained close to the doors. Unusually we were alone in the lift. The supermarket had been quiet perhaps because people had shopped before the storm.
The lift doors closed. The lift started downwards. The lights went out and the lift stopped abruptly. There was a dim emergency light. I fumbled in my coat pocket for my mini-torch and turned it on.
"I think it's a power cut," Marjorie said. "Probably caused by the storm. But I'll try the emergency button."
She pressed the emergency button and after a few minutes or so a tinny voice answered. It was a power cut. No one knew how long it would last but our plight would be reported to the Fire Brigade. If the power cut covered a large area they would be busy.
Marjorie confirmed that there were just the two of us and we had ample supplies of food and drink for hours if necessary.
"Or a week," she added to me after she finished the call.
"Why so much?" I asked idly.
"The wider family are coming over for Alan's birthday. It's a big O event, his sixtieth."
"His sixtieth? But you're not that old," I protested.
"I am, Harry. I'm actually a year older than Alan."
"But what? Linda's my youngest and she's twenty-three. Robert's thirty-five."
I still couldn't take it in. Marjorie had been my dream woman. At times she still was yet she was sixty or sixty-one? Unconsciously I shook my head.
"I know, Harry," Marjorie said. "It's a shock, isn't it? You've still got a soft spot for me, haven't you? It's flattering, but I'm older than your mother. Which reminds me. You've been wandering around looking like a wet week in Yorkshire. What's wrong?"
"Was I that obvious?" I asked.
"Yes. We've got plenty of time and nothing to do. Why not tell me?"
"Sara." I said abruptly.
"Sara? What about Sara?"
"I asked her to the Valentine's event at the night club. I'd already bought the tickets. She turned me down and laughed at me."
"You ought to have expected that from Sara," Marjorie said. "She's been a first class bitch as long as we've known her. Did she give any reason?"
I was surprised by Marjorie's statement. She didn't usually call anyone a bitch.
"Reason? More like reasons. I'm boring, staid, conventional, inexperienced, pathetic, ridiculous..."
"That sounds like classic Sara," Marjorie interrupted. "But the only adjective she got right was inexperienced. You are, aren't you, Harry?"
"Yes," I whispered almost to myself.
"That's why you and Linda didn't work out. You were both babes in the wood with no idea about adult relationships. Linda's changed. She's had to. She seemed to attract the useless bastards at university. Luckily for her and me she had enough sense to see through them eventually. It was hard letting her make her own mistakes but I couldn't help except afterwards, picking up the pieces."
"I'm sorry," I said, "for Linda and you."
"You don't need to be, Harry. She's learned from the experience. But you? Sara wasn't the first rejection, was she? Even Linda hurt you although she tried not to."
"I haven't had a real girlfriend," I blurted out. "Every girl I thought might be didn't work out."
"And there weren't many of them, were there?" Marjorie prompted.
"It's getting hot in here," Marjorie said.
It seemed to be a non sequitur, but was it? Marjorie's questions were opening painful memories.
"I'm taking my coat off," she said.
Underneath she was wearing a closely fitted dress. It emphasised the curves I remembered admiring. Marjorie slung her coat across the shopping.
"I'm going to sit down," she said. "We might have a long wait. Why don't you come over here? I wouldn't be able to see you past the trolley."
I sat down beside her. She reached out a hand, grasped one of mine and gave it a short squeeze. She continued to hold it lightly.
"If this had been a smaller lift I might be worried," Marjorie said. "I'm slightly claustrophobic. I know you're not. You go potholing. But this lift is large enough for six or eight trolleys so I can cope."
"No. It depends how long we are stuck. But being with someone who loves me helps. You do love me, don't you, Harry?"
"Yes, Marjorie, you know I do."
"But you don't love me enough to want me to divorce Alan and marry you, do you?"
"No." I replied.
"Why not? If you love me, why don't you want me to leave Alan?"
"Because that would make you unhappy, Marjorie. You love Alan."
"Yes, I do. He can be irritating, boring, and many other things. I have faults too but we love each other for who we are. I couldn't imagine living without him and I know he feels the same. We chose each other as partners and have lived together longer than you have been alive. That's special. I know you love me but your love isn't the same, is it?"
"I suppose not."
"You have a problem, Harry. It's a simple problem. You don't know what love is or that there are different kinds of love. You love your mother, don't you?"
"Yes, I do."
"But that love isn't the same as the love you feel for me?"
"No, Marjorie, it isn't."
"I know that this conversation is awkward for you. Do you know why I started it?"
"No. Why did you?"
"Because Linda asked me to talk to you."
"Linda? Why would she?"
"Linda likes you. She thinks you are a very nice person."
"Nice? That sounds awful."
"It's not, Harry. She's met too many men who weren't nice at all, just as you have found with Sara. Sara went out with one of my sons for a couple of months and treated him like dirt. I won't say what I think of her but you are fortunate she turned you down. She uses men and throws them away. I wouldn't want that to happen to you, nor would Linda. That's why she asked me to talk to you. She wanted me to warn you about Sara. I don't have to because she rejected you. Linda's home for the Big O party and she heard that you were involved with Sara. She was horrified. She wouldn't wish Sara on her worst male enemy."
Marjorie's voice was getting higher as she spoke. I squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.
"You're not happy about being stuck in here, are you Marjorie?" I asked.
"No. I wish they'd hurry up and fix the power cut or rescue us."
"Why are you worried?"
Marjorie looked at me.
"If they take a long time I might need to pee..."
"So might I. So what?"
"I didn't want to do it in front of you, Harry."
"I'd be a gentleman and look away. Anyway, you have an eight-pack of kitchen rolls in your trolley. We could clear up any mess."
"I'm afraid that you might think less of me, Harry?"
"Why? Because I know you go to the toilet? I'm not THAT inexperienced, Marjorie. I know your body works like most people."
"It wouldn't make a difference to what you feel for me?"
"No, Marjorie. I love you, but as a real woman, not a goddess on a pedestal. Like Alan I love you for who you are. You're human and imperfect like all of us are. You don't need to worry. If you have to pee, then pee."
Marjorie didn't look convinced.
"That's not all you are worried about, is it?" I asked.
"No. I'm worried about running out of air."
"Air? That's not a problem. Look."
I pointed at the vents by the floor and ceiling.
"This lift isn't airtight. Even if it was, which it isn't, I did some calculations in my head when the lift stopped. If this lift had been a sealed chamber we would begin to feel uncomfortable about the air quality..."
I paused for effect.
"...sometime tomorrow afternoon."
"You're sure, Harry?"
"Yes, Marjorie. The lift is vented. We haven't got a problem with the air."
Marjorie still seemed dubious. I let go of her hand, reached across, picked her up and dumped her on my lap. I pulled her head against my shoulder.
"Harry!" Marjorie squeaked. "What are you doing?"
"Giving a woman I love a hug. I think you need one."
Marjorie settled against my shoulder.
"You could be right. What would Alan say?"
"Possibly 'Relax and enjoy it'. I'm no threat to you or to him."
The hug seemed to reassure Marjorie. She continued to talk to me about love and my inexperience. I appreciated that she meant well but some of the things she was saying hurt because they were true. I didn't know enough about women and even less about love.
Two hours later the tinny loudspeaker spoke.
"We're told the power cut should end in about ten minutes."
Marjorie climbed off me to acknowledge the message. We stood up. I helped her to put her coat back on.
"When we leave the lift, Harry, can you take the shopping to my car, please? I will need the supermarket's toilet before going home. But I'll use the stairs."
"Of course, Marjorie. Where's your car?"
"It's obvious but I'll have time to show you before I dash off."
The main lights came on. The ventilation fans started. I had lied to Marjorie. The lift vents wouldn't have been working without power but we would have had breathable air for many hours even without them. The lift jerked into action and we continued downward to the car park. As the doors opened a security guard was waiting for us.
"Are you folks OK? He asked.
"Yes," Marjorie answered, "but I need the toilet."
The guard stood aside. Marjorie pointed to her car and gave me the car keys before she dashed for the stairs.
I pushed the loaded trolley to her car and unloaded it. I took the trolley to the trolley park. Marjorie was there as I returned to the car.
"OK?" I asked.
"Yes. I wasn't really desperate. I was worried because I didn't know how long we might be stuck."
I gave her the car keys. We climbed in for the short drive to her house. The storm had subsided slightly. It was still raining but not the torrents. Marjorie parked close to her front door. I helped her unload her shopping into her kitchen.
"Where's Alan?" I asked.
Marjorie glanced at the kitchen clock.
"He's probably at the station. He was going to the library and then to the station."
Alan commutes by train. I assumed he was buying a ticket or something.
"Does your mother need her shopping urgently?" Marjorie asked.
"I'm not sure. Perhaps."
"Please take it to her and then come back for a coffee in about half an hour. Please?"
As I reached my front door I could see Alan's car turning into the road. I was pleased that he would be home in seconds. I hadn't been convinced that Marjorie was as unaffected as she said she was.
I handed the small amount of shopping over to my mother before telling her that I had been stuck in the supermarket's lift with Marjorie.
"I can see she was grateful for something, Harry," my mother said as she wiped some of Marjorie's lipstick off my cheek. "We, and you, are invited to Alan's party on Friday evening. You'll come?"
"Yes, Mum. I'll be there. Marjorie has invited me in for coffee in a few minutes."
"OK. Give Marjorie my love."
I went to the bathroom and made sure I had removed all lipstick traces. A few minutes later I rang Alan and Marjorie's door bell. Alan opened the door.
"Hello Harry, we're expecting you. Thank you for looking after Marjorie."
I was about to say it was nothing when I was grabbed and fiercely kissed by Linda.
"Let him come inside at least," Alan protested.
Linda dragged me into the hall.
"What's that for?" I asked once our lips parted.
"For looking after Marjorie," Alan suggested.
"No," Linda said, "for that and just because I wanted to."
Linda took my hand and led me through into the kitchen. She pushed me on to a kitchen chair. Alan poured coffee for four. He put two mugs in front of us.
"Marjorie lied to you, Harry," Alan said. "She isn't mildly claustrophobic. She panics in a confined space but you helped her. I'm grateful. So is she. She's lying down upstairs. I'll take her some coffee."
He left the kitchen.
"Thank you for looking after Mum," Linda said. "She told me what you did. I know you love her but you behaved like the nice guy you are."
Nice? I wasn't sure that I liked that description but if it meant being kissed by Linda then I'd live with being called nice. I couldn't answer because Linda was wrapped around me and kissing me again.
"But you're an idiot," Linda continued as we paused for breath, "you should have known that Sara wasn't right for you. When Mum told me you were involved with Sara I freaked out. Sara messed up my brother. You don't deserve what Sara does to her men."
Linda's kiss stopped any comment I might have made.
"Why Sara?" She asked when the kiss ended. "I think I know why she was interested in you, but why were you considering her?"
"She is spectacular," I started to say.
"She is," Linda interrupted. "A spectacular bitch. OK. She looks great and moves well on a dance floor but she's evil. Does she know how much you are worth?"
"No. I'm sure she doesn't. Only my family and yours know that."
A few months ago I had inherited money, a house and a farm from my maternal grandfather. Alan, who is a solicitor, had acted for me getting the probate. I had often sat at this same kitchen table as Alan explained what he was doing and gave me papers to sign. As my solicitor he was acting in confidence but the reason for my frequent visits couldn't be kept secret from Marjorie and Linda. I didn't see any problem with them knowing.
The farm is a hundred miles away in another county. My grandfather's tenant had been willing to continue the tenancy on the same terms. I could see any reason to change them. They were a fair deal for him and for me. The farm might be worth several million pounds if I sold it but the income was more useful.
The house was only a mile away. It hadn't been modernised since the 1950s. The builders would install a new kitchen, bathroom and central heating once the electricians had finished re-wiring. It could be a great family home once it was finished but at the moment I continued to live in the tiny flat I was buying with a mortgage.
"Mum told me she had been lecturing you about love while you two were stuck in the lift. You needed it. You should have known Sara didn't and wouldn't love you. You're a sentimental idiot, Harry. But I'm not jealous of your love for Mum now. You showed your love for her in a positive way and she appreciated it. So do I."
Linda's fingers on my lips stopped my retort. She left them there as she spoke.
"Shut up, Harry, and listen. You might be in your twenties but when we were together you seemed as mature as a fourteen year old. I know. So was I, then. I've grown up. I've had to. Some of the men at university tried to take advantage of my innocence. They failed but I was lucky. But you? You're still vulnerable to any designing woman who wants to use you. Sara was a symptom of your inexperience. You escaped from her clutches. If she had known how well off you are? You might have been another of her victims.
I've decided that Harry needs an education in love. Mum started it. You're my project for the next few weeks starting at Dad's birthday party. You are going to be my partner at that party. You are going to take me to the Valentine's dance with the tickets you bought for you and Sara. You haven't got a choice. I'm claiming you. I'm going to be beside you as much as I can. After a few weeks you should know that I love you and you might begin to appreciate what real love is. Now I'll let you speak. Are you willing to learn love from me and Mum?"
"Have I got any option, Linda?"
"Then I'm a willing pupil."
Linda's kiss told me that was the right answer even if I wasn't wholly convinced.
Marjorie and Alan walked into the kitchen as the kiss ended.
"I've told Harry that you and I, Mum, are going to teach him about love," Linda said.
"He ought to enjoy that," Alan commented. Marjorie's reply was a hug followed by a kiss.