March 25th 2013: Tainted love
A Love Like No Other
, by Jane Chisnall

I was eighteen – not so young that you could call it puppy love, but not so old that I didn’t still need a bit of guidance – and Gerry was a friend of Henry, my older brother. Gerry was twenty-six and rode a motorcycle.

I followed them around. I would ‘coincidentally’ appear in Suzie’s, the little coffee house on Bold Street in town, knowing they met there to pick up college girls after Gerry got off work. On Saturday nights I would always plan to be listening to my favourite records at seven o’clock down in our basement, which dad had converted into a den, because I knew they would come down there for a couple of hours before they headed to the bars in town.

My brother was a lazy bum. He had no job and still lived at home with us, always working on his next big thing. He was going to be an artist, or a guitarist, or whatever that week’s fancy was, and he spent long hours in his bedroom supposedly honing his craft, but actually sleeping off the previous night’s merriment.

I was besotted with Gerry. As well as a motorbike, he had a job as a garage mechanic, and he was pretty easy-going. When they came down to the den on a Saturday night and Henry told me to get lost, Gerry would say ‘Aw, let her stay. She’s got some good records, Hez.’ Gerry always called him Hez.

I doted on Gerry. Nothing was too much trouble. If he mentioned that he was thirsty, I would scamper upstairs to fetch sodas and maybe some snacks from the refrigerator. Of course I brought some for Henry and me too, but really I was doing it for Gerry.

And then one day the stress of this overwhelming crush became too much for me to bear, and on Saturday night when Henry had gone upstairs to change into his Saturday night clothes to impress the girls, I told Gerry how I felt about him.

‘I love you, Gerry,’ I said to him earnestly, hoping that if he saw how utterly sincere I was he would find it within himself to love me back.

He wasn’t fazed. Half the girls in town loved Gerry, and I’d guess he’d heard such plaintive words a dozen times.

He wasn’t gorgeous or stunning, or even particularly bright, but there was something very knowing and kind about him. Most of the men and boys in my hometown of Wenton were a little rough. It was a mining town and half the boys I’d gone to school with were working long shifts to extract coal from the ground in the big, dirty opencast pit a few miles out from the shops and residential area.

It felt to me that Gerry was the only guy in town who really had a soul. He could play guitar; not like Henry ‘played guitar’, which was nothing but inharmonious random plinking, but really play guitar. Sometimes on Saturday nights before they went out, he would softly coax the instrument to life, and sing a little too. I always felt that he was playing just for me because he played gentle songs like ‘Dream a Little Dream’ and I’d swear he would look straight at me while he played; I thought that if he had been playing to show off to Henry he would have played something loud and raucous.

So I told him how I felt. I didn’t feel nervous, because I knew that deep down he loved me too, and I knew that even if he were unable to show his love to me he would be kind.

He didn’t reply to me that night, because only seconds after I had uttered my love to Gerry, Henry came back down, suited and booted for a night on the town, or at least a night in Andy Monaghan’s Bar and Grill.

The next few days were an ecstasy of torture for me. I imagined Gerry in his trailer, thinking of me and planning our escape from this small dusty town, or composing a love song for me on his guitar.

I saw him again on the Tuesday following. He actually sought me out, waiting on the corner when I walked to my job at the Girlz and Glitz accessories store in the mall in town. He said ‘Hi,’ and fell into step next to me. It felt right and comfortable, and in that moment I knew that we would get married and live in his trailer happily ever after. On Thanksgiving I would cook a fantastic meal because although we would have very little money I would be resourceful. And we would spring-clean his trailer beforehand and put up tasteful decorations and invite the families over so they could bask in our happiness.

The dream lasted about thirty seconds before he said, ‘You’re a lovely girl, Cathy.’

Here it is, I thought, my nerves on fire with anticipation, and I was ready to launch myself into his arms the second he returned my words of love.

‘But, honey, I think of you like a sister, and I think you’re just feeling a little confused.’

My heart broke. I looked down at my feet and tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to run home and fling myself on my bed, and stay there, weeping and screaming at a cruel universe until I died from this terrible pain.

‘Aw, honey,’ I felt him put an arm around me and pull me close. ‘You’re beautiful and smart, and there will be lots of men much better than me who you’ll fall in love with and who will love you back.’

My throat hitched as I tried to suppress a sob. He pulled me a little closer to him as we walked.

‘Honey…’ his voice trailed off as he struggled, I think, to know what to say to the lovelorn female by his side.

We walked in silence for a while, and he steered our course to the track off the main roads, where there were no houses and no people to see my shame and disappointment.

When we were out of sight to all but an early-morning dog-walker or two, he stopped and turned me to face him. Tears were streaming down my face and my legs had become numb and heavy.

‘Sweetheart,’ he murmured to me in a low and gentle voice that made my broken heart melt and swoon, ‘you don’t really know me. Your head is all full because you’re turning into a woman, and in this low-life town there’s no place for you to spread your wings or really taste life. It’s ok for me and Henry, we’re just regular ordinary bums without a real thought in our heads,’ he ducked his head a little to catch my gaze and he smiled deprecatingly, ‘but you need a city, and people, and all the wonderful opportunities that a girl like you deserves. It’s not me you love, honey, it’s some ideal in your head that you made up from your lovely thoughts, and you projected that onto me. Aw, babe,’ he stopped speaking as waves of despair wracked me, and he put both his arms around me and held me very close, letting me cry myself out on his shoulder.

A long time later, I wondered how many times, and to how many girls, he gave that speech.

I was inconsolable for weeks. At work, I had to run to the bathroom a lot, to cry and then wash my face before I could manage another hour or two serving the vacant pre-teen girls with plastic bangles and PVC handbags. At home, I could barely eat, and I started spending more and more time alone in my room. On weekends, I walked to the dirt track where Gerry had held me, and I would walk up and down for miles, conjuring fantasies out of what he had said, looking for any scrap of hope.

But my disappointment faded, as it must, and new ideas formed in my mind.

At first, I toyed with what he had said about me being beautiful and smart, and I thought about going to the city, maybe New York, and enrolling in university, or maybe getting some modelling work, or even just a secretarial job and a cool apartment. If I had a cool apartment in New York, I bet he would come and visit me. He would see how grown up and sophisticated I was, and then he would fall in love with me.

But that would be a whole lot of trouble. I had no qualifications. I had left school early, and in all honesty I wasn’t that good looking. And I was only a little less lazy than my no-mark brother.

So after a while I began to think of the other things Gerry had said. About me projecting my ideas of the perfect man onto him, and about how Wenton had no decent men at all.

Gerry isn’t real, I told myself as I lay in bed at night. Not the Gerry I’m in love with, anyway.

This actually made a lot of sense to me. Before my starved heart had opened up to him, I had recognised his flaws. His guitar playing wasn’t really that good; he faltered and took a fraction too long to make the changes. And although I had come to love the earthy masculine scent that followed him around, I knew deep down that he was really not that big into hygiene.

His feet were a bit too small. And his hair looked like it would start to recede soon. And maybe his kindness was just plain arrogance. How dare he think that he knew me well enough to tell me about myself?

Yes, I decided, he had been right. The man I loved was the man inside my head. He didn’t work in a garage, or live in a trailer, or break girls’ hearts.

I named him Mike. I didn’t know anyone called Mike, and it seemed like a good name. When I was mad at him, I called him Michael, and he would buy me roses and little trinkets just to see my face light up and hear me giggle delightedly.

My job at the mall didn’t pay very well, so when I couldn’t stand to live with my parents and Henry any longer, which was around the time of my twentieth birthday, I rented a trailer at the trailer park and moved in with Mike.

We didn’t invite my folks over, preferring to go and visit them occasionally when we were low on food or needed some company, but his family came over quite a lot. His mom and dad, Eileen and Bruce, were chatty and exuberant, and although I knew that our little home left much to be desired, Eileen always loved what I’d done with the place, and even helped me pick out and hang new yellow curtains, which added so much light, and gave it an illusion of being so much cleaner and bigger.

Gerry still lives in his trailer, just a few hundred yards away, but Mike and I thought it best that I didn’t retain my friendship with him, after we got married. Mike thinks that Gerry might still hold a torch for me, as The One That Got Away, and although I laugh at him for being silly, I feel a little glow inside.

Yes. Mike is a lucky man. We argue sometimes, of course. I like to watch those shows on TV where the woman has had an affair with her sister’s husband, and her whole family comes along to the TV studio to have their say and wash their dirty laundry in public. Mike prefers comedies, but he always lets me win in the end. I hate the way those comedies are nothing like real life.

I was right about Gerry’s hair. It receded right back, and if I may say so, he doesn’t get the back trimmed nearly as much as he should. But that’s his wife’s problem now. She’s no better than she should be. Her name’s Bettine or something like that, and she works as a beautician in town. They have two kids, Joseph and Sally. Sally will be going to university soon.

But Mike and I are happy. We don’t socialise much, because like Gerry said all those years ago, the people of Wenton are not really the kind of people I want to socialise with. Mike sometimes goes to Andy Monaghan’s Bar and Grill, leaving me to have a cosy night in with a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine, and sometimes I tease him that I think he’s having an affair with the barmaid. Actually, sometimes I wonder if he really is, because I saw a smudge of make up on his new white shirt the other day. But I find that, if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t really got the energy to care too much. We’ve been together for nearly twenty years now, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt.

Yes, Mike has been developing a bit of a belly from all my good cooking, and I’ve spotted a grey hair or two.

I think it might be time for a change soon.

*

Jane is of Irish descent, three or four generations removed, but nothing should be read into this because if you go back far enough almost everyone is, at least in her home town. She lives near Liverpool, England.

She writes stories that are, like life, a bit odd. But not *too* odd, because if they were *too* odd she fears she would be admitted to a safe place by the sea, where the doctors and nurses know how to handle that sort of thing.


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