Down the street by the house-high brick arches that carried the railway on its way to the bridge across the river, a house was being renovated. Lace curtains sprouted in its windows, shrubs and sods and crazy paving ornamented its garden, its facade gleamed brilliant white.
Our new neighbours moved in. They were a handsome couple. Raoul and Viv, each always immaculately dressed, like characters out of a story book, and the word quickly went round; what an ideal couple they were, and surely deeply in love, they must surely have been very happy, she so pretty and he so good looking and the two angelic children always so charmingly dressed, and they had such a lovely home, and three square meals a day, the best food that money could buy, expertly cooked by Mrs Parkin, and there was always a new bottle of wine to replace the one just finished; they had all sorts of expensive things bought at Harrods, and carpets specially brought from Afghanistan, and really they didn't lack for anything, and their garden was filled with young but unusual trees and they had a holiday home on a Scottish island, and there was a huge children's climbing frame in the garden over which her husband Raoul had persuaded clematis to wander, and Viv's Mum had a beautiful Georgian house in the country, down under the downs of Sussex. There was a windmill up on the hill above and the grass around the windmill in summer was lush and deep and ready for mowing and Viv had a beautiful lace nightdress. She was so beautifully made, everyone said so, and agreed enthusiastically with Raoul when he pointed it out, from the white slope of her breasts that she thought too small, but really were very pretty, to her white legs that she thought too thin, but really they could hardly have been more fashionably slender, and her Quaker grandparents at the end of the last century, part of that religious search for substitutes for alcohol, discovered a new way of making chocolate, and put every penny they owned into it, so that Viv was rich. She had more money than she could ever use, and although she looked sixteen she was actually twenty-three.
And they had a circle of interesting friends and amongst these friends it was a by-word how happy they were, and guests at meals were often even treated to homilies from Raoul about their contented and fortunate life.
Raoul was a pretty extraordinary man too, to go with such a remarkable wife, his upbringing was unusual because his grandmother was one of a few of the daughters of wealthy Russian families being educated to be the possible future wife of the Tsar. Then came the Revolution, Raoul's grandmother escaped to Britain to a life of distinguished poverty. At some point she married Serge Zamboni, a distant cousin of the famous Zamboni who caused such a stir with a letter, or was it a book? somewhere in the Balkans which, some say, was the starting point for the first world war.
Downstairs, in a panelled room by the river, Raoul had constructed an early version of the synthesiser, expanding on the model invented by Professor Moog, it was a roomful of giant lattice steel frame work amidst which entrails of wires, thousands of them, wandered. Years later roomfuls of wires like this were to be contracted to the size of a small room and then to the size of a toilet and then a large trunk and later, in our own times, to quite small instruments that can be slipped under your arm or even, some of them, into a briefcase, so I am told.
Raoul had fixed up little loudspeakers in nooks and crevices all over the place so there could be music in every room, and behind shrubs in the garden.
I was not the only one to sometimes be touched by a tinge of envy for the contained and lovely life lived out by this couple in their panelled home by the River Thames.
Often, also, I'd admired Viv's pouting lips, her 'little girl' expression, her brown and moist eyes, the slope of her breasts, the delicacy of her jewellery, the fair down that grew along her arms and that grew as far as the miniskirts of the time would permit one to see up her thighs.
I was invited to drive down to spend a day with them in a cottage Raoul had rented in the country. Raoul was driving a number of us along the dry dusty drove roads of the plain in an open sports car piled high with people and children, rather too many for a car of that size, Viv and I were facing backwards, sitting on the broad shiny back of the car, one arm each stretched behind us, hanging onto the luggage rack. Raoul always drove fast, today he seemed particularly reckless. Viv leaned towards me elegantly. 'Oh, I'm going to fall off!' she breathlessly whispered into my ear with her very lost little girl deadpan look. I placed my hand down between her legs onto the shiny backside of the sports car, providing a firm wrist against which she could brace herself. Her body jolted and shifted down so that her miniskirt bunched up and my wrist was caught between her thighs. The wind blew around our hair and through hers Viv gave me a liquid glance, then looked away, her head thrown back in ecstacy.
Raoul, as if sensing that something was going on in the back of his car, increased even more the speed of the car along the rutted road and accelerated, perhaps with the intention of getting home quickly and ending as soon as possible whatever might be going on on the back of his motor. Viv was tossed up and down against my wrist and the back of my hand, her bottom bouncing down it with a whack every now and again. My grasp remained firm and, on arriving back at the cottage, we both staggered around for a moment, hardly daring to cast upon each other secret glances of shyness and complicity, until Raoul brought the magic to a halt with a few carelessly chosen clichés.
Back at home, Raoul sat at the end of his crowded table with a glass of wine in his hand that came from a couple of dozen bottles that had been specially sent up from the cellars of Viv's mother's place in Sussex. Stuffing a bit of curried chicken into his mouth from the end of a long fork, seeing his reflection glimmer in the bulbous silver candlesticks, thinking how handsome he looked, Raoul said; 'I think that's the secret of why we're so happily married, Viv and me. It's because we do everything together. Today, for example, we've been to the Tate to see the Samuel Palmers.'
Viv did not seem to be following what her husband was saying. Trustingly, as the chicken arrived, the girl placed her hand lightly on my arm and asked me in which position, in my experience, do people acquire the best orgasms. That was her charming phrase, as though orgasms were another of those items which, I knew, along with those special Indian towels that came from an Indian Towel Importer and those eighteenth century Mexican altar lamps that came from an importer of eighteenth century Mexican altars, her jewellery, her knick-knacks, her fluffy blankets, her chiaroscuro of romantic pictures, all acquired in the course of numerous long shopping safaris in company of children, friends, and dogs.
Keeping an eye on Raoul and possibly swallowing the flattering bate of being cast as a 'man of the world', I replied that I thought it was a question not so much of position as of the personality of the person you are making love with, and indeed, most important of all, whether you were in love with them.
The girl drew in her breath so that her breasts plumped out against the front of her dress, and her neck flared slightly pinkish. There was a slight pause and I wondered whether I had offended her. Then she said, 'Oh, you're naughty. I shall punish you for that!' She glanced at me with her half timid, half bold, eyes.
There was a brief silence. Everyone else seemed to be listening to Raoul; 'There are some people who live only for themselves. They're totally selfish. Lucien Freud for instance. I remember him once saying, "I recognise no law except that law given us by our intellect and our senses." In no sense does he seem to feel that marriage is sacred, I mean, this is what makes him what he is, he'll lay any plump bird he can get his hands on, married or unmarried, bump them and dump them, then he'll throw them away. Well, to me that is evil.'
Looking at Viv, I wondered whether he was a hypocrite; some said he made a habit of laying his lightly haired hands on any plump bird, married or unmarried, who could be persuaded to share her bed at lunchtime. Those were my thoughts. In my senses I felt lit up, golden, from the glances and touch of Viv, and the just perceptible warmth of her body beside me, her white shoulders from which her dress fell away, the white cylinder of her neck that looked as if she had been scrubbing it with a pummice stone, leaving a little purplish flush to colour it beneath the white, her white hand playing with the chicken bone still half caked with sauce, her knee in her black velvet dress pressed against mine by mistake beneath the enveloping white tablecloth, as if she had believed it to be the table leg and thrust her knee against it for support. I was awakened from these feelings with the realisation that Raoul was addressing me down the table. 'What do you say? I'm right, aren't I?'
'Oh,' I said, trying to collect my thoughts with a start.
'What do you say?' Raoul repeated the question, 'Do you have the same idea? Don't you feel that marriage is sacred?'
'Yes, of course, provided it's based on love. Love is the thing that ultimately is sacred.'
Raoul was silent a moment. Then he smiled painfully down the table at his pretty wife and asked; 'What do you think, Viv? Don't you agree?'.
Amid the momentary hush that followed this, 'Well,' said Viv, 'No, Raoul, I don't think I agree. I think people should have a cuddle with one another when they're attracted to one another, just like, well, I think that that's what they ought to do, if they really are attracted.'
A cloud passed over her husband's face and she exclaimed; 'Oh Raoul, I'm sorry. Oh dear, have I made you unhappy? Oh I'm sorry Raoul, I didn't mean to. Oh dear, now you're going to take it out on me later.'
Embarrassed guests started new conversations and Viv turned to me and, keenly watched by her husband who could not, however, hear her, said; 'I think people should make love to each other if they're attracted by each other but Raoul doesn't. He thinks the reverse. That's the trouble.'
Looking over towards him way down the table she said, as if I wasn't there, quietly and demurely and to him inaudibly, 'Oh Raoul, I hope you won't be morose to me later.'
My mind wandered back to other meetings with Viv over the last few years. There was that time when, walking in Wiltshire, along the side of a rain sodden cornfield which the farmer had left too long and not cut, I had run into her by chance astride a donkey. She was accompanied by a number of people, including Raoul who was leading the donkey. Viv, sitting astride it, seemed old-fashioned, appealing, vulnerable, yet mischievous. Her features had a silly soppy childlike expression to them as if they said; 'All life is nonsense, I know it, and people are ridiculous. And do you admire the costly and genuine cossack officers coat I am wearing so stylishly? And I'm going to try to have a jolly good time because I know that no one else will.'
That was the first time I saw her face. The first time I saw her, her face had been hidden behind a white veil because it was at a Russian Orthodox wedding, her wedding. Raoul was a Russian, a man of considerable pride but penniless. Some said that if it had not been for the Russian revolution, he would in fact have been very rich. He had insisted on a Russian wedding and it was very lengthy, in fact it lasted three hours. The Russian Orthodox Church, so some were whispering, had recently sold at Sothebies one of their most sacred documents. In order to emphasise that they were in fact into spiritual and not material things, they had laid on one of their longest services.
On Viv's side of the church I remember row after row of her exquisite friends from a number of the better girls' schools of Britain.
On the bridegroom's side, rows of Russians, with a slightly faded look about them. To the glimmering light of innumerable candles and lanterns at one moment during the ceremony was added a more hectic flare. Viv's veil had caught alight on one of the circle of candles that surrounded them. Its incipient flames were crushed by ushers between the grey tails of their morning coats.
Because of the burns she had sustained, Viv was not able to be at the reception. Her mother, a vacuous pretty woman, was telling people about a 'lovely time' she'd had the night before. 'We were totally drunk!' she exclaimed. 'Both of us! We had such a wonderful time! We tumbled into bed at five a.m.!
Viv's father was there too, a swarthy and impeccably dressed man, going off into the tumultuous bursts of laughter, mostly at his own jokes. As a well born but penniless schoolboy he had caught the eye of Lord Berners and been imported by him to live at Faringdon, the bijou Georgian country house in Oxfordshire. For Robert's twenty-first birthday he built a folly on a nearby hill, a hundred feet high, just topping a grove of pine trees, and twenty one rockets were fired. It was the last major folly to be built in Britain.
I recognised Raoul, although I don't think it was him who asked me to the wedding. He had been at university with me. Raoul, at one of the lesser known colleges, moved a grand piano into his rooms which he bought on tick, and later it was disclosed, was unable to pay for. One day the piano would be repossessed but meanwhile he pounded out concertos at all hours of day or night, preparing for a performance with an orchestra which however never materialised. He got drunk, rampaged around, took alka seltzer. Once, when accompanying a flute-playing friend in a sonata, in the middle of the slow movement, as the flautist was beginning to get carried away with the beauty of the melody, suddenly he experienced a violent blow in his stomach, followed by another on his jaw. Raoul, for reasons that remain unclear, rose from the grand piano and catapulted the flautist to the floor with a series of blows to his chest and stomach.
These days, there were those who said that Raoul was a man who lived in a state of unease with himself. It was said that, when he married her as a girl of sixteen, twelve years his junior, Viv was swept off her feet and was too young really to know her own mind. There were others who said, yes but we can't blame him because he's always been more unbalanced than her. Anyway, if it hadn't have been for the revolution, he'd be a very different kettle of fish.
Whatever the exact circumstances of their marriage, their relationship was the subject of much speculation among their friends. Later, much later, 'When I met Raoul,' Viv told me, 'he took me off to Cumnor Woods for the afternoon, and it was so hot and I was lying there, and he was sort of panting and I never realised really when he finally came into me, it was all over so soon.'
Her parents had split up earlier than she could remember, she told me. Her youth had been very lonely and she was not sure if she had actually been happy in that Sussex Georgian house where she lived mainly all alone, except for her Nanny. Like many pubescent girls she conceived a brief but passionate love for her pony, and it was while cantering on its back, her crutch pressed hard against the saddle pummel, the fingers of one hand entwined in its mane, that she experienced her first orgasm. But she also became the victim of inexplicable depressions which lasted over weeks and of which no one could discover the cause.
'I got to depend on Raoul in some sort of way,' she told me. 'He said that he was going off to Greece to study the archaeology and I said I didn't feel strong enough to live without him. I had been in the Oppenheimer Clinic before when I got my depressions, and now I felt that this was the only place for me to go back to. So I asked him to drop me at the Oppenheimer Clinic. He dropped me there on his way to catch his plane.
'And then he came back. He said he'd been unhappy out there without me. I'd been to Sussex for the weekend and now I was going back to the Clinic. He rang up Nanny at home and discovered that I was on the train. So he sat at the station until I arrived. And then he said, "I've come to marry you." It never seemed to occur to him that I might want to say "No". That's all it was. I suppose that there wasn't any sort of momentous decision on my part or anything like that.'
Raoul in fact only got as far as Paris where he had an affair with another Russian. Then he seems to have gone to a private asylum before returning to marry Viv, but some said it was the other girl he loved, not Viv.
Some said that was why he spent so many hours locked away by himself in his bunkhouse in the garden of the elegant white house by the river, in what must have been, perhaps, the most advanced studio for electronic music in the country, at a time when such pursuits were far less common than they are now, he spent his lonely days surrounded by machines, concocting labyrinths of sound, sonorous chordal vistas.
Sometimes when Raoul was thus occupied, and from down the road I could hear that quixotic groaning tintinnabulation came quietly welling up from the windowless concrete bunker, I got in the habit of dropping in for a snatched half hour of chat with Viv, drinking on the terrace overlooking the sliding river. Viv tossed out anecdotes about herself. As a little girl she had longed for a companion and had invented someone to play with her, she once told me.
As she spoke I often admired the slope of her white breasts, her sparkling eyes that the mascara gave such a curious and romantic look to, her briefest of skirts, her long thighs with the golden hairs on them. Sometimes she told me of holidays she'd been on with her mother or father and in my fantasies her life was filled with sunsets over the Mediterranean or more distant seas, shores on which sat smart folk, sipping cocktails served by white coated waiters, on the white marble terraces of hotels that had once been palaces. Viv gave fuel to these fantasies by speaking of the mosques in Fez, the tilted houses climbing up the hillside at Positano, those domes and walnut groves in Greece, and once showed me a photograph book filled with snapshots of herself, her children, her Nanny, and of friends from the same boarding schools she went to, sitting on some warm shore. Viv wore fashionable clothes, often she changed into a different outfit to mark the differing periods of the day.
Raoul tried to emulate this habit. He bought the latest trendy outfits, and they always looked wrong on him. When ties were thin he bought thin ties, when they were fat he bought fat ones. When pink shirts were fashionable Raoul was among the first to sport them. When button-down collars made their appearance, so did one sprout round Raoul's neck. He followed fashion slavishly, and always looked wrong in it.
I stood, my hand on the telephone, wondering whether to ring her and what to do if Raoul should answer. Then it startled me by ringing of its own accord. A lack-lustre voice said, 'Hello'.
I didn't recognise it; 'Hello, who's that?'
'It's me, Vivienne Zamboni.'
'Oh hello. I was just going to ring you.'
Viv said, inconsequently; 'I've just cooked myself a cup of Ovaltine.'
'Oh,' said I, nervously, 'That sounds good. But it's a pity. I was just going to ask you over for a cup of tea.'
'A lot of older people go with a lot of young ones. The old ones like the looks of the young ones, and the young ones are flattered that the older ones take such an interest in them. That's why there's such a lot of it all going on,' announced Viv, looking up at me shyly.
As I kissed her there came over me a deep and inexplicable sorrow. 'I was so surprised,' she told me when talking about it later. 'When you invited me to your studio I thought it would be a very grand place, all efficient, you know, with fast lifts. And instead it was this mouldy sort of place.'
This room to which I had brought her was a decrepit mews stables, standing in the midst of a Fulham street. The outside doors of the stable had been of glass once but they'd been smashed and now they were boarded over with diverse nailed on planks. Inside was a room piled to the ceiling with antique furniture. Ancient desks stood on chairs that stood in turn on bedsteads on which also antique paintings were propped. A way through this stacked furniture led to a second room, very small, from which a narrow staircase led up from behind a forest of chairs to a room at the top which was less congested. There was a space of floor with a tatty carpet. On walls hung some steel engravings, approximately level.
The girl dropped her head back so that her long hair hung down like cascades of water, and abandoned her white body trustingly to me. What a long embrace! My lips were bruised, sore, from kissing. Moving her mouth away from me she was saying, 'Oh! Oh!' and tossing her head from side to side in romantic abandon, then she gasped, then she shouted out loud, 'No! No!'
I said, 'There's a bed next door if ... ' She pulled away for a moment and I led her through a door over which hung the heavy folds of faded blue and gold curtain and we were lying on the bed, that wonderful soppy expression came over her face, she opened her mouth a little so that one white tooth which was more prominent than the others, jutted out a little way over her lips.
'Shall we take our clothes off?' The girl didn't reply, instead she put her hands round the back of my neck and pulled my head towards her. Then, drawing away and turning up her eyes towards me, she said, 'Yes, take your clothes off, quickly.'
She had got hers off first and she climbed beneath the musty brown and gold velvet coverings of the narrow bed.
She was someone possessed, her brown hair wreathing round my neck and over her shoulders and clustered round the top of her breasts, and once or twice she shouted, shutting her eyes, clenching her fists, 'Oh no! Oh no!', tossing her head in wild romantic abandon to left and right.
We had been loving a long while when she held up her hands so that her slender arms rested against the side of my hips, and then she raised one of her wrists beneath my face, peering at her large leather strapped watch on it. Suddenly she thrust her hand up against my mouth and shouted, 'Oh! Oh!'
'What's wrong? Am I hurting you?'
'Oh no, I have to go.'
'Oh! Really?' I said, disappointed. 'Can't you stay a little longer?'
'Longer? Raoul will kill me!'
As we were dressing, the girl stopped halfway and said, rather desperately but absolutely definitively; 'Oh, I can't bear the idea of going back to Raoul. Oh, he's such an ogre.'
Overwhelmed by the ecstacy I'd just been experiencing, nonetheless I felt a bit startled at this new turn of events. I asked, 'Can I see you tomorrow?'
'I won't be able to come out again - or may not be able to. He's such an ogre, he never lets me out for very long. I can't bear the idea of going back,' the girl said, her voice really desperate.
'But you've got to,' I said.
'Why?' she asked, angrily.
'Well, I love you a lot, but I've always thought of you two as so happily married.'
'Well, even if not for that, because of your children. If you leave your husband without the children, he can claim custody of them.'
'He'd never do that. He's such a drip. And an invalide. Anyway, I don't think it's true.'
'I know it is. I knew a girl who ran away from her husband with a man. Then he left her and she was on her own, and her husband wouldn't let her back and wouldn't let her see the children. I couldn't let that happen to you. You've got to go back. If you don't you'll lose your children. And a mother without her children, it's terrible. Anyway, I've got to go back home myself to my children.'
The girl had stopped in the middle of pulling on her stockings in order to listen to me carefully. Now she resumed her dressing, her head disappeared, reappeared, and she said; 'Alright, I will go back. But I won't go to Raoul's. I'll go to my mother's. I'll go and stay there in the country. One thing I'm certain of. I'm not going back to Raoul.'
As we went down towards the car, the girl's protestations became even more violent. I really was amazed. I really had thought the girl was happy with her husband. But, 'Don't take me back to Raoul! I can't bear it!' she cried as we got into the car. 'You don't know what he's like. It's very rare for me to be able to get even two hours away in the morning like we've had now. He keeps watching me. Every move I make he asks me where I've been and what I've been doing. If I go back to him now I probably won't be able to see you again.'
Then she put on a pathetic face and said; 'Oh dear, poor Raoul, he really loves me so much and that's the trouble. He wouldn't be so possessive if he didn't love me. He just can't bear for me to be out of his sight for one instant. Oh dear, please don't take me back.'
Flushed still with the joy of our love-making, I felt physically exhausted and mentally unable to cope with this new and unexpected situation.
'You don't know what it's like,' the beautiful girl continued. 'Day after day. Oh, it's terrible. And he's always trying to fuck me. I squeeze right to the other side of the bed. But still he comes after me. I can't bear it. I shut my eyes. I grit my teeth. It's more like a rape than love making. And he keeps coming at me. Night after night. And he won't even make love to me properly. He tries to get me to ... Oh, it's too much, no, I can't, I can't say what he tries to get me to ... Alright then, I'll go and stay at my mother's in the country.'
And finally, in despair, as we reached the street where she lived, she said, desperate, bitter, 'Alright, do take me back to Raoul.'
I stopped the motor outside the pretty riverside house and Viv jumped out and, unexpectedly cheerfully, tripped down the garden and into the house.
'I need Raoul. I'm not strong enough to live on my own, I have to have someone to look after me. I'm no good at casual affairs.'
'I don't feel very casual about you.'
In spite of her forecast of the difficulties of seeing me again, the girl in fact was with me the very next morning. It was however, she explained to me, in order to say goodbye.
Perhaps as a sort of chaperone she'd brought her two year old son, Leo, with her. We went for a walk in a cold park. The boy got cold and soon was crying. We drove back to my studio to get warm again. I helped her carry him up the rickety staircase and she sat down with him on the velvet coverings of the couch. Then I returned to the outer room to put the kettle on. The baby's cries subsided and when I came back I was surprised to see that Viv had tucked him, in a blanket, in a drawer that she'd taken from a chest of drawers at the side of the room. The kettle gave a whistle and I went out again to make the tea and, returning with it, was again surprised. Viv had settled herself on the velvet with a foolish expression on her face. She was naked.
I put the tea things down and took off my clothes, pondering the small amount of space that her clothes took up on the chair, compared to the heavier things I wore.
As I sat down on the bed beside her, she said; 'Raoul is so horrid to me. Please give up everything and come and live with me.' There seemed no immediate need for a reply as we went into a lingering kiss.
It was a happy morning of love until, as on the day before, there came the point when she raised her arm between my eyes and her face, said 'Oh no!', and then fell into much the same routine as yesterday; 'Oh dear, it's time to go. Oh dear, I can't go back to Raoul. He's so terrible to me. He was so suspicious about where I'd been yesterday. He kept on cross-questioning me, saying how flushed I looked, had I been running in a marathon? Telling me I had to admit I'd seen you, but I said that I ran into you in the street. And you asked me to have a drink with you. So he asked where, where did you have a drink, and I invented a pub. I can't go back.'
'Listen, Viv. I love you but I'm a happily married man. I've got to go back. Really. I love my wife and children.'
The girl sighed, and then said, 'Oh, well. Will I see you tomorrow?'
'Yes, please, do let's meet tomorrow.'
'I'll say that I've gone to the dentist.'
'Alright. The same time then?'
'But I can't bear this much longer.'
Next day she was late. I sat by the telephone on the table I used to write at, peering out of the window at that part of the street that I knew she must cross to reach me, wondering what could have happened to her, finding it hard to do anything else but sit there waiting. She was becoming important to me.
The phone rang abruptly, making me start. 'Hello,' said her dead-pan voice.
'Hello!' I cried, my feelings a mixture of pleasure at hearing her voice and sorrow at thinking that she must be ringing to cry off.
'Listen,' she said urgently. 'I've got bad news. Oh dear, I know it sounds very dramatic, but I think I'm going into labour.'
'I'm afraid so, darling. The doctor thinks it was all that lovely lovemaking we did. I didn't tell Raoul, of course.'
'Oh, I hope not. Oh dear. Sorry, I don't know what to say. What's going to happen? How far are you pregnant, anyway?'
'Five months. You must have noticed.'
'Yes, of course I noticed. I didn't know how much, though.'
'The doctor. He says the baby has a good chance of being alright.'
'Oh goodness, I hope so. What's going to happen next?'
'Well, I'm going into hospital.'
'How are you getting there? Can I take you?'
'Don't worry. Raoul is going to take me in about five minutes. I sent him out to buy me some grapes. I said I had a craving for them. I'm sorry I can't see you this morning, darling.'
'How sweet of you to apologise. But listen, I'm sure the baby will be all right. I've heard of other babies being born ahead of time. And it's not inevitable. I can remember girls who have had false starts for their babies, and then they haven't had them after all. For instance, once I remember that it happened to Gill. It seemed certain that she was going to have a baby. She had to go to hospital just like you and it was deep snowy weather. And afterwards she never had him until five months later. That was Roc.'
'It's terrible, isn't it?' she said. 'Anyway, listen, can you come and see me as soon as I get there in hospital?'
'Of course I will, but what about Raoul? Won't he be there?'
'He can't be there all the time. But I think maybe I can hear his car coming back. I'll ring you from the hospital when I get a chance. But he's probably due back now. If I stop you'll know that's what it means.'
'Oh, I'm sorry we're not seeing each other this morning, and terribly sorry about this. I do hope it wasn't really our love-making that did it. Do ring me as soon as you can at the hospital and tell me when I can come and see you.'
'All right, my darling. I'll do that. I'm sorry that we've missed our morning's love-making too. And as to the baby, well, I suppose it's quite likely that it ...' The phone went dead.
In the panic of the moment I'd forgotten to ask her which hospital she was going to. Forlornly I rang round one or two, asking covert questions to ascertain whether she was there, without any luck.
I felt uneasy and jittery that night and was unable to join with much enthusiasm in socialising.
The following morning I arrived early at the studio and, as I had hoped, there was a message from her, a postcard that had arrived in the early morning mail; 'There are birds on the roof and they have been singing to me. But now that it is dark they've stopped. I must stop now, my love, because I want to catch the evening post. A kind nurse here will take it for me. Please make plans so that we can soon be together. I think the baby is coming.'
'Yes, he was born about ten last night. And, guess what, he has to live in a glass case, the poor little fellow. Yes, yes! He's alive! I have to feed him three times a day! And it seems there's a problem that his little heart may stop beating, so that there has to be somebody sitting there and watching him all night and all day. I went and watched him as soon as I felt better after I had him, and even in that one moment that I was sitting there, I suddenly noticed that he'd stopped breathing and I rushed to tell them, I was quite horrified. Then the nurse gave him this slap to make him start breathing again. But I was so worried that I rang Raoul and asked him to engage three people to sit watching him round the clock to make sure that he lived.'
Sitting in my dusty studio I felt that my own life was lacking in animation compared to the drama that was going on in the hospital. I hoped, hoped that the premature baby wouldn't die, as well as for the obvious reasons because I felt that if the baby did die, it would be hard for Viv not to hate me.
As she lay in the hospital bed, Viv said; 'Do you mind if I don't take you to see him today, the thing is I feel very weak, and also they don't really like strangers going to see him because they might bring in strange infections. I do want to live with you darling, not with Raoul. I feel that this baby is really your child because he was born so suddenly as a result of our lovemaking. So can we go away together soon?'
Beginning to ponder whether it really would be a good idea for us to go away together, I realised I knew very little about her. 'Tell me about yourself,' I asked her a day or so later in hospital, when she was a little stronger.
She told me about the nursery where she'd grown up, a high room at the top of the house in the country with white panelling and window seats by the narrow windows that were so high that until she was four she couldn't ever climb up to the white wooden window seats high enough to look out of the window to see along the long line of trees that stretched away towards the line of the downs.
She told me she'd never had brothers or sisters, she'd always been a loner. Her father, Lord Berner's former boyfriend, had found her mother Jennifer's wild ways confusing. She was pretty, some said even prettier than Viv, and almost from the start things had started to go wrong. Even simple things like Jennifer walking down into the town that was attached to this beautiful house in her shorts. That caused quite a stir in the market place. But it was not so much that as that the sight of so much seductive feminine leg was too much for the homosexual Robert.
'After they split up,' said Viv, 'I think Jennifer went through a 'bad time'. She told me that she used to go down to the docks at this time and offer herself to the dockers.'
'Was that a good idea?'
'Well, I suppose she thought it was a good idea, she felt frustrated and lustful, and also she felt such a failure.'
So Viv grew up in this elegant Georgian house in the country, looked after by Nannies and seldom seeing her mother and never her father.
'I don't know whether that's the reason why I've always run away from everything,' she said. 'I think back over my life and realise that I've always been trying to run, trying to escape. I've always been afraid, afraid of everything.'
Now I spent much of my time sitting by the telephone waiting for Viv to ring from the hospital. Her absolute certainty about our destiny together was something I found increasingly strange and disturbing. Was I getting caught up in her dream? Once, when she was describing how she sometimes got 'depressions', she said; 'Often Raoul has reduced me to the state of total inability to function, not able to do anything but lie in a darkened room and cry. But now I've got you, I don't think I'll ever be like that again.'
I was intoxicated with Viv's body and, I thought, with her mind as well. Her house was close to mine and I was disturbingly aware of what went on in it, aware when Raoul walked down the garden to work in his bunk-house, and equally painfully aware when he walked back again to have a meal on his own with his children.
At any other time, I believe I would have been appalled at deceiving a man whose hospitality I'd accepted, but I was so totally obsessed by Viv that the thought never occurred to me. She did present him to me as a person unworthy of any serious consideration. Confusedly I began to confront in myself the fact that it might be, if I wasn't careful, that I'd have no alternative but to follow Viv wherever she might lead me. By night I dreamed of her white breasts and her rosy cheeks and her pretty teeth, one of them jutting out over one lip when she gave me one of her elusive half smiles.
On her seventh day at hospital, Raoul took her out to lunch, leaving the little baby in its deep silent strange sleep in the glass case, and she wrote me a postcard from the Post Office Tower. It said, 'We have been eating shivering shepherd's pie outside the pub. Here is my Post Office Tower.' And she had added in biro before posting it to me, 'I miss you.'
Viv and her new baby returned to her house behind its little patch of lawn. Her bathroom was on the first floor and on her first morning back, as I was walking past, I saw her, leaning out of this bathroom window, waving a bare slender arm to me, and shouting 'Hello! Are you going to come in for a moment?'
Going upstairs, I found that the walls of the rather small bathroom were decorated with wallpaper that simulated bamboo shoots, and that its lavatory basin had been disguised to appear to be a wicker chair. Viv was sitting on the side of the bath, combing out her long damp lovely hair. I kissed her on the cheek and then sat down on the wicker toilet seat in order to tell her my momentous decision. 'I've been thinking about what you said. Viv, I think you're right. I think we should live together. It would be almost impossible to live without you. Let's go away together.'
'Well, I've been thinking about it, you know. I've decided that I agree with you. It's ridiculous, us feeling so strongly for each other and living apart. Let's go away.'
'When?' she said severely.
'Well, any time. Now, or any time that you want.'
There was a pause in the course of which Viv stood up and peered out through the half open door to make sure no-one was listening. She sat down again and stretched her arms down between her knees and with a deep sigh she said, tragically, 'Oh, but I couldn't do that. I couldn't leave Raoul.'
'But you'll go on seeing me?'
'Of course, of course we'll go on seeing each other. You're far too lovely for me to give you up!'
'Jeremy asked me to leave you and go and live with him today,' said Viv.
In a moment Raoul's contented mood was shattered. He shouted; 'Oh God, that's not very good. Why can't these men leave you alone? Oh goodness, I suppose he's fallen in love with you, has he, like all the rest?'
Viv said, demure, wrinkling her pretty nose, 'Well, I suppose so. I don't know.'
Raoul said; 'Oh, I'm fed up with all this. I'll talk to him about it.'
'No, please Raoul, don't do that. Poor Jeremy. The thing is, I'm afraid of hurting him. Oh dear, he loves me so much.'
She put her delicate hand on his knee. 'Leave it to me. I can get out of this. After all, he does love me. I think I'll just go and see him this morning and tell him that I can't see him again.'
Raoul said; 'Oh damn, another working morning spoilt. But Viv, you're always saying that you're going off to put an end to these relationships with all these people that seem to fall in love with you and it never happens like that. Always I discover a little later that you've been seeing them again.'
'Yes, but always by accident! I never set out to see them. Or perhaps they lie in wait for me. I don't know. But I don't like it really. I wish they wouldn't!' And she flashed a sweet and adoring helpless glance at Raoul. 'Anyway, if I hadn't told you, you would never have known anything about it. Did you know I've been seeing Jeremy?'
'Oh damn, oh damn!' shouted Raoul. And he staggered off to the synthesiser in his bunker, from which there soon could be heard vociferous sounds, half chord, half noise, and cloudy confused cadenzas.
Viv tripped up to her bedroom where stood her bed. It was a metal four poster whose spindly supports sprouted into a series of formalised flowers and metal catherine wheels and whirling asterisks. Swiftly she pulled off her clothes to the waist then, picking up the receiver, rubbed it up and down between her breasts, dialled a number and spoke tenderly into the phone in her lack-lustre voice. 'Is that you? Well, I think I can see you for an hour! Isn't that wonderful?'
Lying with her on the velvet I felt as if I had been carried loftily forward and upward on the back of some great white plumaged bird. The couch on which we loved seemed almost to be taking flight, and sometimes as we loved it felt to me as if we were rising up towards the sky on Viv's white body, and then all seemed to change and it was as if we were falling, falling endlessly downwards into some vast and voluptuous abyss of pleasure.
I looked as I loved her round the room, noting that ancient marble bath, with its bas-relief of garlanded cherubs. I looked at those antique silk curtains that hung heavily over the double panes of my window, at the ancient musical instruments lying around in stacks, my vast book of the Aeneid with its tall type, the dusty carpets that lay on the floor and I looked back to the white body of the girl who lay abandoned beneath me.
'Can we stop for a moment?' the girl asked, after a while. 'Can I ask you something?'
'Yes, all right.'
It was a warm day and I noticed the perspiration running down our bodies and into the wine coloured satin.
Viv said; 'Would you like to have all that you've ever wanted today?'
'You know, going away with me. Well, you said you'd like to live with me. Well, today if you like, you can.'
I was so startled with the suddenness of this offer that I was, for a moment, stunned. 'Well, that sounds pretty good at long last! Just let me think for a moment ...'
'Certainly not. You may not be able to in a moment. You have to now!'
'Of course it can also be in a moment.'
'No! Oh dear, it's so late! Come on, quickly, we must get dressed. I've got to go back to Raoul. Poor Raoul!'
She consulted her tiny jewelled watch at the end of her long arm, and then acted as if totally stunned.
'Oh dear, I should have been back at least half an hour ago. I asked you to see that I got back in time!'
As Viv slowly got dressed, and finished up in her fashionable attire, it began to dawn on me that it would be mad not to take this exotic person with me through life. She had tied a pink ribbon round her neck and somehow that seemed to settle the matter.
I said; 'All right, let's go.'
'Oh no!' the girl exclaimed. 'It's too late!'
'Of course it isn't. If it was true then, then it's true now.'
As we drove off she said, 'It's a funny thing, but I felt we'd be going away together today.'
'Oh, he's always been horrible to me, he's always been,' Viv declared to me as we drove. 'Once before I decided that I ought to leave him, and he got to realise this, and so he forced me to go up to Scotland with him where we've got this island, and he made me carry these great big immensely huge vast stones to build a folly with. And another time, when I was really miserable, I was weeping as he drove me in the car, and he said that if I went on crying any longer, he'd make me get out and walk. And I was weeping, well, one reason was because he wouldn't lock the door that Leo was sitting next to, and I thought he might fall out. And in the end, he stopped the car and he opened the door and suddenly pushed me and Nanny out of the car, out onto the road into the night. And he said; 'There you are, now you can walk from there.' And we walked and walked till we got to a house and rang my mother and she sent a car. He's an absolute monster. And it's when he tries to make love to me that I hate him worst of all. He's ... he ... oh, I can't say it. He's just so awful. And he tries to make me ... oh, well, anyway, it's disgusting.'
The day had been very hot. The heat of the afternoon had engendered the mists of evening. Now it was getting cooler. Neither of us had dressed for the drive in the open car or taken any luggage. Viv's pretty frilly summer dress was clinging to her in the wind as the car bounced on along the road.
As we passed through the outskirts of a town, Viv said; 'I can't understand why people build ugly houses. Why can't they leave it with the houses that there are already? You know, ones like that one.' She pointed to a red brick mansion left over from the eighteen hundreds. The wind had got stronger and I was going faster and now we were having to shout over the noise that the wind made as it surged past the car. Some time later I noticed that we were driving through an area of pink and purple rhododendrons. It was the garden of some historic mansion. 'Ah, that's where I'd like to live. Somewhere like that,' said Viv. 'What about you? Shall you and I live somewhere like that?'
A hotel loomed up and I parked the car and booked us in.
Later that night, Viv was banging me violently on the head as we lay in bed.
'Wake up, wake up, I feel terrible.'
'What is it?' I raised myself up on one arm and looked at her.
'I was thinking of those little faces, those little innocent faces looking up at me, miserable. They've never done anything wrong to anybody. They've never hurt me. And look what I've done to them. Oh dear, I feel terrible. I want to be back home with the children round me. Oh dear, I'm so unhappy.'
I took her back. We'd blown it. Raoul took her off for a month on the island.
There was a wedding while they were up there. The bridegroom was Brian, a young technician who had worked for Raoul in his bunker at one time, and also had once before been up there as their guest. Viv told me a little bit about it in a breathless phone call from the one telephone on the island. It wasn't till she got back that I was able to fill in all the details. How Raoul was best man and how when it came to his turn to make a speech he paused dramatically. Then he said he'd like to explain to the bride what a wonderful man she had married. 'You won't be disappointed, I assure you,' said Raoul, pausing again and a dreamy look came into his eyes. 'Why, it seems only yesterday that you and I, Brian, were up here on this very island, and do you remember, Brian, how we decided to abandon work one day and how we spent the whole day walking together up in the hills where only the deer and the swallows and the seagulls and the birds and the bees could see us. And we stopped for a moment and sat down in a little hollow and it was then that you and I became one in a very special way. It seemed so perfectly natural that we should celebrate our friendship, no, our love, in the intimate way that we did then. It was a spontaneous act and it was never repeated. But I can assure the bride that, when that special first night of the honeymoon arrives tonight, not to put too fine a point on it and double entendre very much intended, it will be a very special experience just as for us on that balmy summer afternoon in the heather, it for us was a very special experience.'
The bride was in tears.
That holiday he excelled himself in acts of bizarre cruelty. He had been educated at Gordonstoun and, possibly because of that, believed that children should be brought up roughly. None of he and Viv's children could swim at that point and one afternoon he arranged for them to get into a boat on their own, thinking he was going to get in after them. Then he pushed the boat out into the bay. The children were terrified as the boat drifted away from the shore, until Viv, arriving on the scene, dived in to the water and swam across to rescue them.
A friend arrived on the ferry with a video camera. Raoul decided it would be a good idea to make a video film about the children. The film was to feature an alarming incident in which child pirates arrived ashore and set fire to a village and, as the local lasses ran out in terror, threw them over their shoulders and carried them off to sea. In order to make it quite clear which side everyone was on, the pirates wore black masks and the local lasses, kilts.
Raoul set off in his motor boat on a tour of neighbouring islands, looking for a suitable village to set fire to. Many of the deserted villages in those parts were in ruins but at length he found one whose houses were more or less intact. Raoul and his friend set up the camera and were discussing what was the best angle to film the burning cottages from. Having settled this, Raoul cued in the pirate children and approached the cottage with a cigarette lighter and a can of petrol. An elderly woman came hurtling out of the cottage abusing them in torrents of Gaelic. A man followed and hurled a bucket of excrement over them. Raoul abandoned his plans to burn down that particular village.
Next day Raoul and his friend planned to shoot the abduction scene. As the day's filming progressed, he appeared to be becoming increasingly worried. At the end of the first day's shooting he announced, 'I've realised what is wrong with this scene. I've realised that it is historically wrong that the girls are wearing knickers under their kilts. That's why I'm getting this sort of gut feeling that there is this sort of unreal unhistorical feeling about it all. So, girls, tomorrow I want you still to be wearing kilts, but not to be wearing your knickers under them. In order to achieve historical verissimilitude we have to bear in mind that, in the period that we are portraying, knickers had not yet been invented and therefore are strictly unhistorical. No wonder I was feeling uneasy. Girls, during tomorrow's shooting I don't want to see any pants or knickers under your kilts.'
The action involved the pirates throwing the girls over their shoulders and carrying them down to the water, and the following morning when filming began again the girls, especially Sofka, were reluctant to be parted from their knickers. 'Why do the girls have to take their knickers off when the pirate boys are allowed to keep theirs on?' asked Sofka.
'Get 'em off!' commanded Raoul. 'It's for historical reasons. We'll be keeping the camera on your faces. We won't actually be seeing anything!'
When the film was finished it disappeared. Raoul was said to be having it 'professionally edited'. Years later again it was said to have surfaced as one of a series of films being shown in a German sex cinema, with additional 'intimate shots' provided by other young women. It was said to have achieved a place on the international pornographic circuit. Some of the children who had appeared in it, now grown up, tried to discover where it was in order to prevent the film appearing, at any rate in Britain. Unfortunately they were never able to discover whether it really had appeared or whether it was, perhaps, that the rumours had been put around by Raoul as part of his mischievous sense of humour.
Viv telephoned with the welcome news that she and Raoul were now on their way back from the island. Raoul was very watchful though. It was going to be very hard for us to meet.
There were grey days after her return with no contact from her. Finally we devised a system. I communicated with her by letter to the local poste restante. Soon Viv formed the habit of going down to her mother's place for a couple of nights each week, and I acquired the habit of driving down to visit her, pounding down the Brighton road late at night.
Viv's mother disliked my visits. There was a Spanish couple who cooked for her and did the housework and she thought they would be so shocked if they discovered that they might give their notice; or alternatively perhaps might be cross examined by Raoul. If I arrived early I sometimes crept up to the window to observe her and Viv sitting together across the dining room table, with its silver candlesticks and glimmering candles. Years later Viv's mother told me she always actually knew which nights I was coming down from the flushed looks of Viv as they had supper together. Jennifer's own husband was never there during the week. He worked up in London, running a publishing firm and literary magazine and claimed he slept on a couch in the office.
Each night after dinner, Viv excused herself and went up early to bed. She changed into pyjamas, or nightdress, or left herself naked according to choice. An hour or so later her mother would tap on the door to wish her goodnight before retiring to her own bed. By then I was usually already in Viv's bed by one means or another, one means being creeping rapidly but, I hoped, silently up the staircase, another way being up through a window after climbing up a drainpipe.
Sometimes Raoul would telephone Viv from London late at night, and then her mother would tell him that Viv was already asleep. Once or twice Viv told me she felt that Raoul was suspicious. Once he rang Jennifer and said; 'Listen, I can't stick this life any more. I've just taken an overdose of sleeping tablets.'
And Jennifer replied, 'Oh Raoul, I do so sympathise.'
'Well, are you going to do anything about it?' demanded Raoul, a trifle haughtily.
'I'd love to. I'd really love to,' said Jennifer, 'but the thing is, I've just taken an overdose myself. What are you going to do about it?'
After a day's work in London, I'd leave town at nine or ten in the evening. Winter had come now and my car didn't keep the cold wind out as well as it might on those journeys to Sussex. When I finally turned off the main road there would often be mist rising up from the trees, and mist on the downs up above me, and in this little village of what were once unassuming farmhouses and farm labourers cottages, now rather tarted up as homes for commuters, and grew nearer to her mother's mansion, I asked myself sometimes, is this the most important thing in my life, or is it worth nothing?
The lawns round the house were always closely cut, the fruit branches along the pergolas rich and fecund. I'd stand here a moment, checking what lights were on, making sure that the Spanish servants were in their bedrooms, looking out for various signs that I'd agreed with Viv, two apple fronds tied in a knot, a cross of stones on a grassy patch, signals to indicate that the coast was clear. Sometimes it was she herself who was the signal, at the end of a long vista of apple trees, the pretty girl standing in her lace nightdress, topped by a fur coat, bare-footed in the moonlight. Sometimes when she was thus waiting for me in the orchard and neither of us could wait, there, in the dripping misty orchard, I'd raise her nightdress over her waist and, lifting her, placed her down on me as I leaned back for support against a lichen covered apple tree. Once a mellow bough gave way and we ended up in a flower bed.
More often, after her mother had locked up, Viv would tiptoe down and unlock the front door for me. Creeping up the slightly creaky stairs I'd enter her room furtively and see her laid out on the bed, perhaps asleep, perhaps half asleep, perhaps wide awake listening to her small radio on the bedside table beside her, tuned in to classical music.
In the large bathroom next door to the bedroom, a place lavishly decorated, there might be one or two or three of her children sleeping, distributed in cots. Viv, lying back in the chintzy bedroom, would be waiting for me when I arrived up the staircase or through the window, lying back on the silken pillows. As the weeks passed the obsession on my part for her white limbs, her quality half-child, half-woman, did not diminish.
After wrapping my clothes in a ball, to help in a speedy getaway if necessary, there would be a long night of love-making. Sleep, that was my problem.
It was essential to both of us to make the most of these snatched nights of ecstacy. We agreed that if either of us fell asleep the other would awaken us. But nearly always at some point in the night, sleep would conquer both of us simultaneously.
Viv told her doctor that she was often too sleepy to feed her baby and he prescribed pep pills which we both took. Often Viv would creep down to the kitchen, bringing up morsels from the deep freeze, chicken in jelly, salmon, smoked eels, or half a bottle of champagne or chilled pink wine.
The pressure of my work in London abated. Sometimes now I was able to come down by day on days when Viv was there and to help with this brought with me a small white tent and ground sheet.
Walking up those steep grassy downs past enshrouding oaks, we reached a place where the tilted grasslands evened out. Together we erected the tent, our fragile symbol of domesticity, and I remember wondering whether it was the closest to a home which we two would ever share. The sun was hot and the tent was only half up when we found ourselves making love on the thick grass beside it. This was an area not often frequented by people; the faces of animals popped up over the tops of the grass to watch us. We were forgetful of the chance that we might be disturbed, unmindful of the occasional ant which wandering along its grassy way found its way onto an arm or thigh, forgetful even of those white fleecy clouds that every now and again for a moment broke the perishable blue of the sky above us. And what were these animals watching us, their heads popping up from the grass, beasts that perhaps had escaped from a local zoo, or perhaps existed only in our imagination. The heavens broke, there was torrential rain amid which we finished putting up the tent and climbed inside it.
The tent stayed there for some weeks. We spent long afternoons there when Viv had hidden her car down the lane having told her mother that she was going shopping in Brighton. Sometimes Viv was late, having been at a lunch party of her mother's, bringing with her crushed prawns in mayonnaise, peaches or grapes.
It was not a large tent. As autumn approached we were getting into a time of more stormy weather. As we lay inside it, trying to avoid touching the sides, for that made it leak, the wind outside would be huffing and puffing, rivalling the huffing and puffing sounds of our love coming from inside, Viv would go home damp and ruffled. On one of his visits, Raoul had come across the tent and mentioned it to Jennifer, asking who she thought it belonged to.
The storms of autumn increased in violence. I always parked my car in a little cart track cushioned with sodden leaves and, as the affair lasted on into the autumn, the lane became increasingly muddy and it got harder and harder to remove the car when I left in the morning.
The time had come for one of Viv and Raoul's thrice yearly visits to the Scottish island and I didn't see her for a few weeks. After their return she didn't contact me and I began to hear disturbing rumours. Someone told me that Raoul had thrown a party for fifty or sixty people, served them champagne, performed for them some of his latest compositions, had noticed Viv was missing and gone down to the bunker at the bottom of the garden, found her embracing a 'kitchen sink painter'. Raoul insisted they return to the house and then one by one politely but forcefully asked the guests to leave. Viv again vanished and was next seen piling sheets, pillows and blankets into the car of the kitchen sink painter with whom she left.
Still I didn't see her. I heard she'd booked herself on a steamer trip down the African coast. 'It was a swiz really,' she told me later. 'We never went to Africa at all. We just stopped in these mouldy old ports. We didn't really see anything.' Her father, who I happened to encounter a few days later, had invented his own version of what happened; 'Oh yes, Viv had a wonderful time. She disappeared into the bush with the second stoker and wasn't seen for seven days!'
We still saw each other sometimes. Once, when it seemed impossible to either of us that we should ever be able to leave our children, but looking forward to a lifetime of clandestine meetings, Viv said, as once again she raised her freckled arm between her face and mine and looked at her watch, 'Oh no, I've got to go, and what am I going to say to Raoul? Oh dear, I hope I don't look too flushed.' And as we both pulled on our clothes, and then on the scooter flying towards the steps at the end of the bridge across the river, I went up with her, up the steps to the point at which her house across the water became visible and I had to hold back and she stopped a moment with her white house visible behind her across the river and said, 'I wonder if there will ever be time for us to do the ordinary things together? You know, shopping and going for walks and visiting?'
Another time, I think it was on a bonfire night, we stood together on another fleeting five minute meeting, watching our children play, and I remember saying to her, 'Maybe we'll come together later in life, when our children are grown up.'
Various other things. During all the time I was driving down to Sussex to spend those snatched nights with Viv, I had in fact been still spending other nights with Gill, and also with Iona.
Viv had been down in Sussex only two or three nights a week and during the other periods I had got lonely, and my only consolation from Viv was the occasional snatched call on the telephone, so that I had taken to spending my days sitting by the phone and waiting for her to call to tell me of a snatched five minutes or a night time that we could spend together.
So I had taken to spending my spare nights at Iona's, at her flat in Fulham, and sometimes with Gill, and other women.
Meanwhile Viv had said to me once, 'I feel a need for solitude, do you think you could find me a room somewhere which I could rent and go to, to be on my own?' I found her such a room and a friend once said, 'You know she's taking a lover there, his name is Terence.' I refused to believe this. 'I know about Terence. They're just good friends.'
Years, really twenty years, later I learned with astonishment that Viv had apparently been conducting a parallel relationship with Terence to that she was having with me.
My life took me in different directions and I was not seeing so much of Viv as before. The day came that I was astonished to receive a phone call from Viv saying she was leaving Raoul for ever. Her mother and her solicitor had been waiting on the quay when she got off the steamer with divorce papers for her to sign. It seemed that Jennifer had managed to do a deal with Raoul. A small income for life and he agreed to provide her with the evidence necessary to get a divorce in those days.
Viv rang me in elation. 'Can you come up to see me? Could you come to dinner tomorrow night? I'm leaving Raoul!'
'Can I stay the night with you afterwards?'
'Yes, if you want.'
It was a very unexpected feeling being with her in her own house without danger of interference. The children were upstairs in bed, the central heating was turned up to the full and she swiftly took off her clothes and said, 'I discovered something about myself. I know I have got three children, but really I'm a teenager. Well, d'you know, I think that I've just entered my adolescence! Isn't that extraordinary? I'm really just about fourteen! And all I want is, well, a room with a record-player in it so I can lie and listen to the Beatles. Can I turn them on now?'
She put the disc on the record-player and lay back in my arms and said, 'It's sad, really, I'm having things in the wrong order. When I listen to this, I think that this is the sort of teenage I should have had, instead of riding about on those mouldy old downs on that silly pony and getting depressions and trying to steal money from my Nanny.
'I think I've reached adolescence. I'm sending the children down to my Mum's place in the country where they can have a Nanny to look after them.
'I'm going to live up here in London and lead a proper teenager's life, you know, uninvolved, men taking you out, going to the discotheque, drinking and talking about things in coffee bars. I'm going to smoke pot!'
That night she said to me, 'I feel we're like two children who have just discovered themselves in a forest where they had been lying for ages under a bed of leaves.'
In the middle of the night she went down and cooked an omelette. For once I didn't fall asleep and, after making love, we talked all night.
That following evening Viv rang me and told me how in the afternoon she'd fainted, had limped weakly to a friend's house and collapsed on the floor.
'Anyway,' she continued, 'what I wanted to say to you is, I've decided perhaps I'm not a teenager really. It's a funny thing, in the course of last night I seemed to grow up. I passed in just one night from a teenager to a woman. Now I feel I could be ready for marriage or a horrible stable adult relationship.'
'Am I going to see you again tonight?'
We were eating breakfast together the following morning when Viv said 'would you like to live here in this house all the time?' I accepted.
'Of course, sometimes I'll be in the old place across the river with the children.'
'Won't the children be here?'
'They'll sometimes be here with me, sometimes over there with Raoul.'
I had a spare set of keys cut and moved into the house that morning.
And here I run into a bit of a puzzle. Because that was in fact the last time I was to spend more than a few moments with Viv for more than six months.
Viv didn't return that evening and I made various calls to the house by the river and got Raoul and hung up. The following morning there was a ring on the bell and there she stood looking very trim on the doorstep. I motioned to her to come in, but she said, 'I won't now, I've got the children in the car. I've got to dash.' She paused a moment then said, 'The thing is I've decided that Raoul hasn't treated me badly enough to justify me leaving him. I'm going up to Scotland to try to see if we can't get back together, and would you like to borrow my car by the way? I'd like to leave it with you to look after.'
So, if someone were to ask me, 'What went wrong? Surely, after all you experienced with each other the stage was set for you both to live happily together ever after?' writing this many years later I come upon a puzzle, because the answer is no we didn't, and we didn't even ever live together, when by all accounts I felt it should be yes, and the reasons for it being no are not completely clear to me.
The first time that I saw Viv being led on the donkey there had come over me an instant certainty; 'That is the girl I have to marry.' I have actually never experienced that certainty with anything else in my life that I can think of. But, of course, Viv was already married and so was I.
Once, years later when I was officially going out with someone else, Viv asked if she could come to stay for the weekend in Wales and I fell in love with her again very rapidly, even before we'd arrived at Abergavenny Station.
I put my arm round her once or twice as she moved away, saying, 'I've been through a lot of problems recently. I don't think I can cope right now with physical contact.' We slept in different rooms across the passage. In the middle of the night, however, I was surprised to find her straddling me naked, her slim body outlined against the moonlight through the window. She had aroused me during my sleep and now the springs were squeaking frantically as she bounced up and down, and as she bounced she was shrieking with pleasure, or at any rate that's how I remember it.
We rode together in the hills and this idyll came to an end when I had to leave her to take up a long-standing arrangement to join Gill and the children for a week in Somerset. When that week was over, I rang her asking her back to Wales.
'I can't come to Wales this weekend.'
'Shall I come to see you in London, then?'
'Alright, yes, if you want to.'
Viv looked very flushed when I arrived. I took it to be the result of her pleasure at seeing me. We sat talking quietly and I felt a warm affirmation of my love welling through me. There was a noise on the staircase. A goodlooking tall hippy with long dark hair down to his shoulders came in. He was just doing up the zip on his trousers.
'Oh Jeremy, this is my friend Pete,' said Viv. 'He's staying for a few days.'
At various times as the years passed by, invitations would still arrive from Viv. I would go to her house and often wonder whether we were not at last once more coming together ... until the hour of midnight brought, without warning and yet once again naively unexpected by me, some boyfriend to claim her. Each time the boyfriend seemed younger and even more good looking.
One day the idea came with painful clarity, 'she's using you to gee up the other men in her life. She's been using you for years, decades even.'
One final scene. Quite recently, back at her childhood home, Viv and I were talking.
'What would you feel about having another baby?' I asked her. 'Presumably you wouldn't say no if one came along?'
Viv paused a moment and then said; 'I had an abortion. I don't think my womb could cope with another baby.'
Our conversation moved to other things. We slept in rooms apart. I hadn't been drowsing long when I awoke with the extraordinary sensation that the bed I was in was being tossed up and down. The sensation was so extraordinary and so abnormal that I wondered whether I could be picking up on something that was happening to Viv.
I hurried along the passage at the top of the stairwell, to her room in which she still slept in a hand-painted, hand-made, four poster bed with her initials scrawled over it, a bed that had been given her by her father to celebrate her thirteenth birthday.
Viv was in floods of tears as I came in.
I reached to comfortingly hold her hand and she pulled away and wept and wept. 'What's happening to you?' I asked her. She continued to weep uncontrollably and then said, 'It's Raoul. I wish the children could have had a father who wasn't so horrid to them.'
I sat by her till she finally cried herself to sleep, thinking how different this was to those earlier days, with all those nights of love.
I still don't feel I know whether that was what she was really crying about.
Viv ended up with a toy boy.
Sofka ended up with Farringdon.
Raoul ended up with a succession of au pairs by each of whom he had a baby.
(1) Ian Marshall
(2) Viv's shrink.
Appendix: 'I didn't want to go, Raoul.'
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