The Red Dress

Gathering dust, in the far corner of her wardrobe. She didn’t check in on it any longer, but Annabelle always knew it was there.

A flash of scarlet when she rummaged at the back after her comfortable leggings. A small tug at her heart. A shrug. A passing thought that she would come back to it later, when she was smaller, trimmer, sexier. Maybe Ted would look at her differently then. Maybe.

The days and weeks passed by. When she woke up one morning it had been five years. She thought guiltily of the dress, flattened by years pressed between old winter jackets, and ate another slice of cake. Her stomach distended comfortably within her elastic waisted jeans.

One day she checked in on it. Pulled it out, held it against her body. She wondered if she could slip into it like her old self could, and imagined how it would slink past her shoulders and surround her waist, hovering, floating, around her knees. Silk and gauze, satin and chiffon, all combined intricately to create an image of vivid, crimson beauty.

She sighed. She couldn’t make herself do it, and put it back on the hanger to wait another five years.

‘I’ll lose a few pounds then it will be fine.’

She didn’t, though.

In the middle of the night, when the dew glistened on the grass, singing as they perched atop the dark green blades, their voices rising in the black night, like the tinkle of a thousand small glasses clinking together; the wardrobe door opened.

It creaked a little, and Annabelle’s eyes opened. The ceiling glittered, as though there was moonlight shining on a body of water, and she found that odd, but she didn’t say anything.

The red dress swished a little. She didn’t know how she knew it was the dress, but she knew. She dared not look, for a strange fright took hold of her, clasping her neck gently with cold fingers. It slid out of the wardrobe, and as though there were a pair of dainty feet beneath the folds of chiffon, it danced ever so slowly across her floorboards, barely making a creak, and flew right out of her open window.

A gust of cool night air brushed her cheeks, and she felt her cold tears freeze.

The soft song of the dew outside drew her from beneath her sheets, and she glided over to the window in her red satin pyjamas, her eyes wide in wonder. For the world under the starry night sky was unlike any world she had seen before. The dew glittered on the grass like a thousand diamonds, and she saw the red dress among its blades. Only there was a woman within the chiffon folds, so faint and transparent she barely saw her, save for a flash of her throat as she turned her head gracefully in the moonlight, and a flutter of long, black lashes. Her hands hovered above the grass, caressing the plants, and she danced to the tune of the dew.

Annabelle stood, staring. She felt light as a feather, as though she, too, could glide out of the window and dance in the dew. She felt beautiful, like the invisible lady in the dress, and her limbs ached to move, but her eyelids felt heavy, and slowly, lulled by the soft music, they fluttered shut.

When she woke up the next morning, she was back in her warm bed. She threw her covers back and darted across the room, flinging her wardrobe door open. There was her dress, right at the front, the hem soaked.

She glanced back at her window. It was closed.

Later that evening, when glasses clinked and the chatter of content adults rose towards the ceiling of the large drawing room downstairs, a stunning young woman walked down the stairs. She was soft and warm, her jet black hair piled at the back of her head, and gleaming curls cascaded down her bare shoulders. Teetering on the edge of her shoulders, the satin sleeves of her crimson dress nestled. She walked confidently, and her dress brought out the glitter in her large, dark eyes. Ted could not take his eyes off her. Who on earth was she?

Annabelle walked down the stairs, feeling quite unlike her usual self. She glanced around, watching people talking and laughing amongst themselves. She wished she didn’t wear it. She felt the satin stretch a little around her waist. It looked so glamorous in the mirror, but now she wasn’t quite so sure. She had the sudden urge to wear it tonight, instead of her loose grey gown that she always wore. Her mother handed her a tall glass of something red and sweet, and she held it in her hands, looking around to mingle.

‘Goodness gracious me, is that Annabelle?’

She glanced up.

‘Janey! You decided to come after all!’

‘Yes, darling, but you look fabulous!’

‘Do you really think so?’

‘Oh, darling, you are positively stunning! I didn’t recognise you at first! And goodness me, Ted can’t take his eyes off you.’ She leaned towards her conspiratorially, breathing the last sentence out at her, before gulping down the rest of her drink and setting it down on the table next to her, ‘Right, I’m off to dance with some fine young gents,’ and she gave Annabelle a peachy kiss on her flushed cheek, before sailing gaily away.

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Love Letters #37

When he sauntered into her life one sunny day she didn’t expect to see a pair of muddy trousers hanging on her washing line. The mud had dried into a clay-like colour in the heat of the blazing afternoon, and she squinted at them, not quite believing her eyes.

‘Did you wear those trousers?’ she asked him, and he stopped at her front gate, looking at her.

‘Are you talking to me?’

She had been sitting calmly on her porch steps having a glass of tea, when she noticed the abhorrent state those trousers were in. She really felt irritated, and was compelled to set her warm glass down and stand up. The trails of the torn ends of her jeans tickled her ankles.

‘Yes! Did you wear those trousers?’

He put his hand on her gate, and glanced at the trousers.

‘No,’ he said, pointing at his own, ‘I have trousers, thank you very much.’

She surveyed his ones. They were capris, the hem stopping halfway up his calves. His feet were enclosed in a pair of canvas shoes, like some kind of bogus boater. His calves were tanned a deep, satisfying brown. Like darkened caramel.

‘You sure do,’ she nodded in approval, ‘Would you like some tea?’

‘What kind of tea?’ he asked tentatively. He kept glancing at the muddy trousers.

‘I have a lovely range for you to choose from.’

‘I can’t turn down a range of tea.’

He pushed the gate open, and his walk towards her was wary. The trousers watched him as he made his way up the path. She didn’t stare at him; she picked up her own tea and climbed the stairs, pushing the door open to reveal what could only be described as darkness in the bright sunshine.

‘It’s curious, that you have muddy trousers hanging from your washing line,’ he said, as the darkness within swallowed him whole.

‘They were perfectly clean when I hung them out this morning.’ There was a cross tone in her voice.

On the other side, the entrance to her house was airy and cool. Large windows were flung open, and the breeze wafting in fanned her pale pink chiffon curtains gently. Her floors were gleaming and wooden, with small rugs placed in odd places. One at the foot of some carpeted stairs. One outside the kitchen door. And one just under the window.

She beckoned him into the kitchen where she put the kettle on. He saw that she had a large, sprawling back garden with a little hill right at the back.

As she took a tall glass with a small handle out of her cupboard, he wondered why she didn’t hang her washing out in the back garden. There seemed to be acres of space out there.

‘I have camomile, vanilla chai, peppermint, liquorice, ginger and lemon, fennel, beetroot, nettle…’, she pulled each teabag out of a large glass orbed container as she named them.

‘I’ll have a liquorice please.’

She looked up at him, and a small smile formed on one corner of her mouth. She plopped the teabag in and poured the boiling water into the glass. It cracked loudly, but didn’t break. Small cracks spread like tentacles around the glass, gleaming as they caught the light, and as the water turned dark purple, the cracks took on a magic of their own.

He took the glass she handed to him, silent in wonder, then followed her back outside to sit on the porch steps and stare at the trousers.

‘What’s all this about those trousers, then?’ he asked, sipping his tea. It burned his tongue, so he set it down next to him and licked his lips.

‘I expect someone’s worn those trousers and muddied them, and put them back hoping I wouldn’t notice. It’s quite a bother, really. I suppose I will have to wash them again.’

‘Well we must find out who the culprit is!’

‘It’s happened several times before. I’ve never caught the scumbag. I expect they are quite adept at evading notice.’

‘That is preposterous!’ he said, indignantly, ‘If I were you, I would not rest until that grimy clod was caught and skinned! The audacity of wearing those trousers and not washing them before returning them!’

She looked at him properly, then, surprise on her face.

‘Why, those are my sentiments exactly!’ she said, ‘What shall we do?’

‘Well,’ he leaned closer to her, a conspiratorial expression on his face, ‘I say we set a trap.’

She looked delighted. They carried on plotting, their heads close together on the porch, their teas forgotten, well into the evening. The shadows grew longer around them, and the breeze felt a little sharper. Finally, when he stood up to leave, they had a concrete plan between them to catch that pesky trousers thief.

As the years went by, their plots grew more and more calculated. But the thief was too clever for them, and evaded them at every turn, often setting the very same traps back on them the next morning! It was all a fuddle, really. In the end, after they got married (which they both decided was an excellent idea given that they were co-conspirators in this very large and very complicated plot), they gave in and hung two pairs of trousers out.

The thief never did clean the pair borrowed, but they were always returned, which was enough to convince them both of the small good left in humanity, even if it didn’t extend so far as to include cleaning the trousers one has borrowed to do muddy work.

 

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The Girl in the Mirror

‘My mother was a witch.’

He laughed loudly. Throwing his head back to let his mirth spill into the night air. She looked piqued at his reaction to her confession.

‘I mean it. She really was!’

‘Okay, sure. What, she was so mean to you?’

‘God, no. Never mean to us at all. She was an enchantress.’ 

She watched his eyes search her face for the lie. There was no lie, however. She bit her lip.

‘Go on,’ he prodded, finally.

She had the night sky in her eyes.’

He rolled his.

When she spoke, her voice was like the angels. So gentle, so quiet. A calming effect in the stormiest of seas. When my little sister bawled my mother sang to her. She swayed about the room, swishing her skirts and singing until my sister, sprawled on the floor, stopped her fit and stared in wonder.’

He shrugged, ‘She loved her mother.’

It was more than that.’

The silence hung between them like a heavy drape. The air was still, the stars above twinkling brightly. The city spread beneath them, their feet resting solidly on the edges of the plateau. He was staring out at the lights, she couldn’t read the expression on his face.

‘Well?’

Well?’

‘More than what?’

Oh. She was ethereal. Every mundane experience we had was something magical when she became involved. The table was a plateau. The fox was a wolf. The bread was cake dripping with honey. The blossoms were homes for the fairies and the daises were their purple tinged dresses.’

He turned to look at her then. His blue eyes looked black in the darkness. His face was thrown into shadow. She saw his outline against the backdrop of lights, which spilled into the inky blackness of the sky above, so that the stars over the city vanished, even though the ones above them were so brilliant.

‘You really loved your mother.’

His voice was soft. Sad.

I loved her, yes. But even if I hadn’t, even if I hadn’t’

‘How did she die?’

She looked down at the city again. She could hear it, all the way from here. The sound of  a rising highway. The sound of hundreds of machines. A loud, yet soft humming. A thrumming in the earth. The roots of concrete and people. She knew this was not the natural noise the earth made, and it made her feel part of something greater, somehow. As though she wasn’t entirely alone.

She didn’t.’

‘What?’

She didn’t die. She just tripped back through the mirror from where she came’

‘Emily, come on..’

‘My father always said that she stepped out of the mirror one day. He called her the Girl in the Mirror, when we were children, and we would laugh at him, calling him silly. He would tug at her long black tresses sometimes, and his eyes would look at her sadly. Once, when I was ten years old, he held her in his arms and whispered, ‘thank you for giving me your four little gifts’ – he meant us, of course. When she went back in, he told us it was her time to go back, and that she had left us four for him to always remember her by.’

‘Emily..’

She did not look at him. Her large violet eyes reflecting the thousands of lights spread before her.

There’s a girl in my mirror. I know she is not me. Sometimes when I blink, she doesn’t. Her smile is a little more sly than mine.’

‘I think this is all your imagination.’

And once I caught her making faces at my little sister.’

‘A coping mechanism, to cope with the pain of losing your mother..’

We are enemies now.’

‘Emily..’

I’ve always wondered who my mother’s Other Woman was. And if she looks like her at all. And if she knows her Mirror Woman came out and lived with us for a while.’

He didn’t say anything. Her face had a faraway quality to it. He realised that she wasn’t even there, with him, at that moment. He didn’t know if she’d heard anything he had said. He began to wish he hadn’t said it at all.

A low breeze wafted suddenly through the trees behind them, tugging gently at her long, ethereal black tresses, that cascaded all the way down her back. He heard it, swishing in the leaves and rumbling in the sky, he saw her dress move with it, but he didn’t feel it.

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Romantic Cake

Once before my husband was even my husband, and he was just my ‘beau’, I mentioned to him that I really like cake. Sponge cake with cream and fruit. The next time he came over he got me a massive fresh cream cake topped with the most fresh and sweet strawberries I’d ever tasted. It came in a white box and was frankly the most beautiful cake I’d ever seen. That was probably due to the fact that nobody had ever bought me a cake before, and the entire cake was mine.

Did my siblings have a bit of it? Oh, sure, they had a lot. Did I have any? Possibly a third of it, for breakfast the next day.

I was all dreamy and floaty thinking he’d got me the cake because I’d mentioned how much I love cake. It wasn’t even a Victoria sponge! It was A FRESH CREAM CAKE. Which is seven steps above a Victoria sponge, and three above a chocolate gateau. Three below an ice cream cake, of course, because nothing beats an ice cream cake. BUT STILL. It was my own romantic cake.

Turns out, he didn’t actually get me the cake because I said I liked cake. Who doesn’t like cake, anyway? It was just something he thought he would get me. He didn’t even register that I’d said that. He was thinking about something else. So much for romance, eh?

 

Love Letters #30

I am a liar.

Em, can you help me with this tie?

Didn’t you hear me? I’m a liar.

He leant his forehead on the doorframe. His hair was thick, black, shiny. It was straight, almost spiky and fell over his wonderfully tan forehead. He was outlandishly handsome. There was no denying that.

Don’t you want to know what I am talking about?

He looked at her sideways, and there was tiredness in his hazel eyes, green in the dim haze of the dingy hotel room. Then he walked slowly towards her, slouching, his back a weary hump, and put his head on her shoulder. They stood like that for what seemed like an age.

Dean?

He didn’t say anything. He just leant on her, and she had to bend her knees slightly to support his weight. He smelled of leather and expensive spice. A hint of manufactured tobacco essence, and cinnamon. She could smell his hair, so human and masculine, clean sweat. She closed her eyes and loved him incredibly in that moment.

I lied to you, Dean. I lied ab-

Shhh. Just – shhhh.

His finger was on her lips. He straightened up, tied his tie, slid his watch on to his wrist and went to the door.

Come on.

She went.

They were silent, walking down the stairs. Her heart was racing, and she glanced sideways at him as they emerged through the dirty glass doors of the hotel. He glanced back at the sign, ‘Hotel Mariano’ the ‘O’s were blacked out marks where the metal letters were welded on once. The orange street lamps gave his face angular shadows. His forehead jutted out at night. It reminded her of a gorilla.

Why won’t you talk to me about it?

Just drop it, Emily, won’t you?

And now we’re just going to the party and pretending everything is normal?

Everything is normal.

You don’t even know what –

Just drop it. Please. I don’t want to know.

Do you even care?

I do. 

She dropped it.

Love Letters #28

Sunlight in his eyes.

She was an uninspired girl, and he had sunlight in his eyes. She was quiet and hid in the corners of rooms, shadows fell over her face and people’s eyes passed over her in a crowd.

She faded into the wall behind her, and her voice was like the bubbling of a spring; soft and gentle and mere background noise.

She watched his movements, the way his feet seemed to never touch the ground, but fly over it. The way his body flowed, in synchrony with itself. She found it so hard to synchronise her mind and her body together. Her mind saw one thing, but her body did the opposite. And how did he twist like that, duck so smoothly, double over laughing while balancing a tray in one outstretched hand.

She knew what he was like. He was like those cartoons of dancers, bending over and looping while balancing hundreds of things on all the points of their bodies.

And she was attracted to his bronze muscles. The way his cheekbones glowed under the warm light of the kitchen, and when he opened his mouth wide to let the laughter gush out, his teeth were so pearly and white, their edges so straight.

Sometimes in her room when she was writing she heard him laugh outside, and helplessly she giggled. Her body responded to him. Her brain gravitated towards him, he made her react.

That is what it was. He made her react, at a time when reacting to things was so hard and so much effort.

He teased the smile out of her, he brought the tears to her eyes, he made her heart palpitate, and her hands hot and sticky.

But he didn’t know this, and this fact made her even more withdrawn. Her feet were desperate to dance on the grass like his brown ones did, but they stayed put under her desk, folded neatly together, tapping gently to the rhythm of his.

Damon Ludwig,

She wrote his name on the back of her Biology text.

I think I am in love with you, Damon Ludwig.

She stared out of the window, where she could see her little sister, a tiny wisp of a girl, but like the rays of morning sunshine flooding the shadows of the night, dancing away on the wet wintery grass, and Tristan, huddled on the wall, his golden curls peeping out from under his heavy woollen winter hat. And George, smoking over the fence, and the fire in the centre of the Ludwig’s’ garden next door, and Damon Ludwig, poking the fire with a metal rod, feeding it so it cackled and rose higher, his legs moving back and forth with his motions…

Please 

Notice me.

Her pencil scraped the paper and dug into it so hard it broke through and made a small marked dent in the wood underneath, and Damon glanced up through his shock of jet black hair, right up into her window.

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N.B. This is for my novel. Characterisation, I think. But it’s more like a love story, even though my novel is not a love story. This love story between two of my dearest characters is dear to my heart.

 

Love Letters #27

 

Do you believe in soulmates?

Because I don’t.

I don’t believe the stars align when two people meet, or that their names were carved in some immortal stone. I don’t believe the universe has anything to do with two people getting along exceptionally well.

I do believe people are destined to be together, because I believe in fate. Our destinies are written, but we have the power to change them. With our actions, with our hopes and aspirations that we turn into events and happenings.

I don’t believe that everybody will find their soulmate. People might meander through life never finding anybody they can truly call home, and living out their days with a comfortable companion, or somebody they settle down for.

I do believe that souls have met before, in the space where all souls are before they alight on this planet. And when they meet on earth, they recognise each other. That is why there is a spark. A gleam of recognition in a pair of hazel eyes. Easy, flowing conversation. Carefree laughter. Calm, relaxed, companionable silences. Like pieces of a jigsaw fitting neatly together.

I believe in soulmates. But not one for every specific person. And not one specified by the cosmos. A soulmate is somebody who speaks to your soul.

If you find yours, hold it, keep it, cherish it, and understand it.

 

Love Letters #22

Dear Pip,

Penelope.

Penny.

Pip, I have known you for approximately six years. And forty seven days. And three and a half hours (at the time of writing this).

We met the day I met with my fate. My fate was you, of course. Didn’t you know?

We were both looking at the same teapot. It was yellow and had blue spots on and I remember thinking you had to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste to like such a teapot because let me tell you, it was hideous.

But there was only one of them left and you said, ‘Oh, you have it.’

And I said, ‘Please, no, you have it.’ Because I didn’t even want it in the first place.

And you said, ‘Oh, no, I was only looking. You have it.’

And I said, ‘I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I took it when a young lady has her eye on it. It would be daylight robbery.’

And you snorted and said, ‘Well how about we halfsies it and then share it.’

‘What, like, monthly swaps?’ I asked, ‘or shall we cut it in half?’

‘Sure.’ You were nonchalant. Casual. You even shrugged and that is when I noticed the apple green jacket you are wearing. It was hideous also. (Please don’t hate me. We have discussed the ways colours are worn. And apple green blazers were out of the question. I even made a graph. Please see attached piece of paper for reference.)

‘Well,’ I said very carefully, ‘that then means, of course, that we shall have to swap details.’

‘Let’s buy this thing.’ You picked it up gently and as I reached into my pocket to take out my wallet my elbow jerked yours and it slipped out of your hands and fell down, down down onto the brightly polished John Lewis floors.

We both stared at it.

‘Ah well,’ you said, ‘I was only looking at it because I was curious about something so ugly. Good riddance, I say! I’m Pip. What’s your name?’

I stared at you in pleasant surprise and I felt my lips stretching out my face of their own accord.

‘James.’ I said, and then, ‘let us look for more ugly teapots.’

Of course we had to pay for that ugly yellow polka dot tea pot. It was atrocious. And then for your birthday present a year later I got you a similar teapot which you use for your indoor geraniums. It was from John Lewis and you killed yourself laughing at it and told me I was a money waster because there was no way you would use that for anybody. It could never grace your table.

I remember asking you all wounded, like, ‘What, not even for the reason that it was graced by my hands?’ I was also slightly flirting even though we were firm friends by then, but I could not resist. I can never resist you, Pip.

‘Nope.’ You were very firm.

I am writing to tell you that I want to marry you. I can’t say it to your face because you have beautiful eyes and I know exactly how they will look at me and I will not be able to help myself because I will kiss you and then I will be done for. I know you will be impatient with that and tell me that is nonsense and of course I can help myself but I will not want to. Help myself. At all.

Also I asked my aunt if she read those French books I gave her and she said yes, they were lovely books. You were right. She didn’t read them. Else she would have called me to lecture me horrendously about them. Lovely books indeed. She asks about you a lot and tells me I should marry you quicktimes before you grow too old to have kids.

So back to my fate. You are my fate either way. If you say yes then it will have been a good fate and if you say no I will be broken hearted forever and when I do eventually heal and marry somebody for realsies I will still remember you as the first ever woman who broke my heart.

You know love is a strange thing. So strange. I used to think I loved a woman before. I was seventeen. She wasn’t particularly beautiful but I was infatuated by her and loved her to pieces but she always treated me badly. And one day she went too far and I discovered she was sleeping with a right old tramp of a fellow, but I forgave her. Well I told her I did but I don’t think I really did. Something inside of me snapped that day. She walked on me one too many times. And three miserable months of forced smiles and fake kisses later I met you and the day afterwards she wanted to see me and I called her and I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.’

And when I was with her I thought there could never be anyone else because she was my first love. But it was meagre and ridiculous and pathetic and also desperate. Compared to what I feel about you. I am crazy about you. I look at you and I see my future. And I want to spend all my time with you and walk home from work with you and call you every single day but I stop myself because I don’t want you to get sick of me. I also want to kiss your forehead. It is so gentle and smooth and beautiful.

But see, if we were married I could call you everyday and it wouldn’t be weird, right? I could also kiss your forehead and it would be comfortable.

So, what do you say, Pip?

Yours sincerely and faithfully and truly (scrumptious),

Jim

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Fake It Till You Make It.

Marriage is hard, folks.

Very hard indeed.

I have reached a hard rocky point, where insecurity and instability are at its peak, and it just looks so bleak. And it is very confusing to navigate, and how does one make the other understand, and how does the other understand one, and how does one love the other like before, whilst being so deeply frustrated and saddened by one.

Men are strange creatures, that is what.

And women are fools to their emotions and fantasies.

Marriage is not a dream boat. I think we all know that.

I am just trying to navigate these treacherous waters.

We all want to be happy in the end, I suppose.

Right now I am supposed to be gloriously happy but I am severely miserable. But I am going to fake my happiness until it comes to me of its own accord, because sometimes in life you have to smile your tears away and learn how to be savvy – in order to save your sanity and hold your relationship together.

But oh, it is hard. So so hard. I have to hug and kiss when my insides are furious and hurt and sad – but I have to because I love this frustrating man so much. I just need to figure out a way to deal with all of this insecurity.

How on EARTH does my mother do it?! Kudos to that emotionally strong woman, that’s what. I am realising now things I could never have envisioned before.

 

Love Letters #18

Courting.

Now that was not a word I hear often these days.

These days, it’s all who slept with who and on what date, and one night stands and accidental sex leading to romance. Which is all very well if you swing that way but I never wanted to meet a man for sex first.

Does anybody court anymore, or is that an old fashioned game.

He courted me, though. Before he married me, that is. Let me tell you this story, because it is warm and sweet and very dear to my heart.

He asked me to go out with him, the first time. I stood for ages in front of the mirror, pinching my cheeks like in the books and debating whether or not to wear makeup. I didn’t even own any makeup back then. Only a wand of mascara and an old foundation bottle that my mum had no use for anymore.

I was nineteen. He was twenty two.

I went downstairs and my hair was still damp from the shower so I pulled it back into a high ponytail, my thick, heavy curls cascading down over my back and my mum surveyed me and tweaked my hair a little, pulling a strand or two down by my face.

‘You look lovely,’ she said.

When I walked into the front room to see if he was ready I was trembling with nerves. I was aware my face was flushed and his was a little too, which I thought was so sweet. He put my hand through his arm when we walked and he opened the car door for me and he bought me a bouquet of lilies.

He smelled amazing. Musky and minty and cinnamon and leather. His face was so handsome. But on that first date, when we sat opposite each other just talking the hours away, he smiled at me. A real, genuine smile. And something deep down within me shifted a little bit. Moved out of place. My body became aware of his presence, and my stomach somersaulted quietly.

He courted me. Every time he came to see me, he brought me something. He always had something to show me, something to tell me. When we talked, hours would pass that felt like mere minutes.

Once he came home from Worcester where he worked during the week, and came straight to see me in his work shirt, the top button undone. He looked exhausted.

He said, ‘I couldn’t wait till Friday, I had to see you.’

He’d driven an hour and a half straight after work in the traffic and arrived at 9PM and was I flattered? Yes of course, and my heart surged with happiness but I just smiled and let him in and made him a cheese toastie and some Lady Grey.

It was Tuesday. He sat in my room until midnight and we barely noticed the time go by, and his proximity to me drove me crazy. I could see his muscular arms through the white shirt and the way his shoulders were so big and straight, and his mouth when he spoke to me and his smell every time he moved and I couldn’t even look at him because I thought I was going to kiss him, and I had never kissed him, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

One night I wore my red dress and red lipstick and he couldn’t stop looking at me and I felt it and I felt like my dress material was too thin and I was so hot even though the wind was biting, and I didn’t want the evening to end.

When he dropped me home he text me straight away, ‘I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know why, you looked so beautiful tonight.’

The next time he saw me he asked me to marry him. He said when I wore my red dress he couldn’t believe I was real and he felt like a very lucky guy.

I didn’t hesitate. I said yes.

When he did finally kiss me properly it was after we got married and it was in a hospital room where I was held hostage for a week and it as just before he had to leave.

The moment had been building up all evening, and we’d talked about everything we could think of, and the lights in the hospital room were dimmed, and outside the window the lights of the city were gleaming through the night and it was magical, in a hospital room that smelled sterilised and sickening.

And finally he got up and said he had to go because he had a long drive home. So I reached my arms around him to hug him and he put his forehead on mine and whispered that he wanted to stay. And I held him closer and then his nose was on mine and then his lips were on mine and it was like electricity from my neck to my toes.

He held me so tight and his mouth was so soft and his arms were so strong and muscular and I never wanted it to end, I never wanted him to leave. The nurses had to force him out and they made a joke that sounded so bawdy and horrible and I didn’t like it because this wasn’t like that at all.

And he waited till they left and sneaked back in and pulled me close to him one last time, and held my face so gently and kissed me and kissed me until I thought I would turn into a puddle on the ground.

He courted me even after he married me. He took me to London one time and planned a whole day out and another time he took me to the aquarium in Birmingham and he came out with all these little tidbits of information about fish and I said, ‘where did you learn all this?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know’.

This morning his boxers were still damp from the washing so he asked me if I could lie down on them under the covers while he was in the shower and when he came out the boxers were warm and as he buttoned up his work shirt he said, ‘I got that idea from eskimos, they sleep on their clothes when they are wet because that is the only way they can dry them.’

‘How do you know that?’ I said, incredulous because where on earth did he get that information?

‘I don’t know.’

And I love him madly so so madly even though he frustrates me and can be a right moody git to me but he takes care of me so well like a true gentleman. A true gentleman who is not a romantic guy but he does small things that make me pleased and his smile is electric and every single time he smiles he charms me, even when I am in a temper. His dimples and his cheeks and his eyes filled with light and mirth and if anything ever happened to him I don’t know what I would do without him and his smile and his light and laughter and life.

And this story is old fashioned, and we are a little old fashioned, but this is how it panned out and this is how we are.

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