A story of romance, with some ghostly interference.
North West England, April 1967.
"Bloody hell, Gloria, you can't hold out forever. This is the sixties, not the thirties."
Simon broke all physical contact with me and shuffled a few feet along the park bench, showing a long face like a child denied his sweets. Nothing new there; he often tries this when he can’t get his own way. When he’s sober that is, when he’s had a drink he just becomes abusive.
The bench stood back amongst some holly bushes, overhung by young oak trees and was perched high on a bank overlooking the town of Locksford. I had not wanted to stop there, knowing my soldier boyfriend would be sure to try it on in such a secluded location. I sighed. "The same dreary old line, can't you be a bit more original, Simon?" I looked at him and shook my head, aware of his frustration because he was getting nowhere again in his efforts to seduce me. The springtime sun was setting and I looked towards the park gates thinking it was perhaps time to make our way into town. As I looked back at Simon, a large flying beetle landed on the leg of his trousers. He quickly knocked it off. I grinned as he checked the material of his army uniform. He followed by looking down to his boots to check that our walk through the park had not spoiled the shine. I knew his appearance was important to him, an obsession almost. He always looked immaculate, even when he was drunk, which was often.
Simon moved back along the bench and put an arm around my shoulder. I waited for his next move, hoping he would give up his continual pestering for sex. He kissed me again and I welcomed his kisses, responding with a similar passion, but I wondered if his affection was a sign that he understood and respected my views on pre-marital sex, or if he was just continuing to try to take me down a road I had no wish to travel.
His right hand was gently rubbing the back of my neck. I knew his moves and was fully expecting it when his hand travelled down my shoulder and onto my left breast. I didn't like him groping at my breasts. Squashing and pushing like a baker's apprentice trying to knead some dough. I only let him have that concession a few days before, his victory, his success. Far from making him content, I now needed to stop him from trying to get his hand inside my blouse. If I let him have that further concession he would start trying to unhook my bra. He would always want more. I had taken one step down the road he wanted to take, but was adamant I would take no more, not yet anyway.
We kissed, and although I enjoyed the passion I was not at ease wondering when he would make his next move. As I expected, Simon moved his other hand onto my knee and slowly inched up the inside of my thigh, somehow thinking I wouldn't notice if he moved slow enough. Without breaking from our embrace, I pushed his hand away. A normal counter move in our relationship, but a moment later his hand was back on my leg. Time to go, I thought. I pulled away from him and stood up. "Come on then, let's go. It'll be getting dark soon and I don't want to be up here when it does."
"Oh, Gloria, let's not go just yet. We were just getting relaxed, just getting going. Even if we can't agree on what a full loving relationship should be, you must admit it's nice kissing and cuddling and that, in private."
I gave a laugh. "Private, in the middle of the park."
"Well there's no one about, is there? Bloody hell, can't you give in just for once? It's not as if it's our first date. We've been going out with each other for nearly a year now."
"Nine and a half months actually, and you're down at your barracks in London most of the time. You've been on leave twice and had four weekend passes. I've seen some of the patients at the surgery more than I've seen you."
"Well, what do you want me to do? Do you want us to get engaged then?"
"Oh, and you think if we get engaged we can just go ahead and do it in the park like a couple of rabbits?"
"So that's it, that's the problem. You want somewhere special for our first time. Well, I've still got a bit of money. I can book us in at one of those small hotels in Chester."
"How many times do you need telling? I'm not doing any of those sort of things until I'm married; there's no compromise on that. It's the way I am and if you don't like it then perhaps you're with the wrong girl."
"That says a lot for how you feel about me then, doesn't it?" Simon stood up and briefly looked away before turning to face me again. He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me one of his silly grins. "Bloody hell, Gloria, don't you realise that you're probably the only eighteen-year-old virgin in town?"
I laughed at his comment thinking how this was a new angle from him. "That won't work, Simon. It's just a myth put about by lads like you. I know lots of girls my age who are still, well you know."
"Virgins, the word's virgins. You can say it. It's not a bloody swear word."
"Well, perhaps you need to remember that, not me."
He moved away again. "Look, I haven't mentioned it before because I didn't want to worry you but, well I might be going to Vietnam soon. You know the Australians are already over there, don't you? We'll be next."
"And that won't work either. Don’t you read the papers? Wilson is having none of it.”
“Who the hell’s Wilson?”
I looked at him in disbelief. “He’s our bloody prime minister.”
“Oh, you mean Harold. Anyway let's forget politics. Come on, Glor, please. Let’s do it just the once to show how much we love each other.”
“Why can't you take in what I say to you?"
“If we do it I promise I won't pester you again, not until you give the go ahead."
“Forget it Simon.” I gave another short but sarcastic laugh. "Come on, let's get down to The Coffee Bar."
"What's the point? You obviously don't care about me. From what you say, we might as well split up. Might as well call it a day."
Simon's had gone back into sulk mode. But he should know by now that it doesn’t work. "All right, if that's what you want. We'll call it a day, as you put it." I gave a false grin and walked off. I had not been walking long when, as I expected, his heavily nailed boots crunched hurriedly along the tarmac path behind me. He caught me up and put his arm around me.
"You know I love you, don't you?"
"And you know I love you too. I wouldn't be here otherwise, would I?" I stopped and looked at Simon. "I love being with you, when you're not drunk that is, and I get these wonderful sensations when we're kissing, but as soon as you start trying it on, it becomes a struggle, a battle, and all the nice feelings go." I gave him a brief kiss before breaking away and briskly walking off towards the large wrought-iron park gates.
"Hold on, Glor. What you don't even want to kiss me now?" He hurried after me again and I stopped to let him catch up. He took hold of my hand and led me to a bench-seat just before the gates. As we sat, Simon ran his fingers through my long auburn tresses. "I thought you were going to go blonde?"
"No, that was your idea, not mine. I like my hair the way it is. What's the matter with auburn anyway?"
"Nothing! What about dyeing it black then?"
"What about dyeing your hair black?"
"Lads don't do that, not army lads anyway."
I was anticipating a fond and affectionate embrace in a public area where I could feel safe from his unwanted sexual advances. But Simon seemed to have other ideas. "Might as well call for a few beers then, shall we?" he said. "You know I don't like sitting in The Coffee Bar, bloody boring."
"It's not boring at all, no more boring than sitting in a pub anyway. You just don't want to socialise with my friends."
"Too right, who needs to socialise with a load of kids, especially that brat of a sister of yours. She's always having a pop at me and I only suffer it because of you."
"She's only having a bit of fun with you. You should know her better by now. Anyway, I'd rather just call at The Coffee Bar after how you behaved in The Nelson last time."
"Oh come on, Gloria, how many times do I have to apologise? It won't ever happen again."
"No, it won't, because I'm not going in there again. It's always been a dive and it's got a really bad name. All sorts of things go on down there."
"All right we'll…"
"And you change when you get with that crowd of bloody ruffians," I interrupted. "You turn really nasty."
"All right, we can call at Kings then. We'll just have a couple in there and then we'll go up your house for a brew and a bit of canoodling in your kitchen."
I smiled at the thought. I happily agreed to a couple of drinks because I liked the idea of us calling at my parent’s house afterwards. When we were alone in our kitchen, I would still have to sometimes stop his wandering hands, but I always felt more at ease with our embraces. Simon could not take too many liberties while my parents and maybe my sister were just along the passage. "Okay, but I'm warning you, we are only having a couple of drinks. I don't want you getting drunk, abusing and insulting me in front of people. Do that to me again and it really will be over between us, and all the teary-eyed apologies the next day won't work anymore."
"I promised you before, those days are gone. From now on you're gonna be proud to be with me."
I smiled at him. I would love to be proud of him and indeed I was sometimes when we were out together, with him looking so smart and respectable in his uniform. However, as soon as he met some of his friends and started to drink with them, he would change. The dedicated, doting boyfriend became a loud-mouthed oaf seeming to take great pleasure from insulting and humiliating me in front of his friends. I thought how none of my friends like him much. Of my family, only my mother likes him, at least I think she does, but one out of three is not impressive. My father is not keen on him and my sister can’t stand the sight of him.
"Come on," he said, "let's have a big sexy kiss and a cuddle before we go." I smiled as he reached over to kiss me. I felt safe by the park gates and could relax and enjoy the thrill of our embrace.
Ten minutes later, we crossed the road from the park and made our way, hand in hand, towards the centre of the town and The King's Arms, the liveliest public house in town.