Short stories are never short enough. The best short stories are those that are so short that nobody can find them, let alone read them. Long short stories are absurd literature because you might just as well write a novelette and call it just that instead of a long short story. Short short stories are cheats because you begin to enjoy them only to find your enjoyment curtailed by “The End”. And proper short stories (not long short stories or short short stories) are so proper they’re not worth reading at all. And because I am well aware that by now all my readers are sick and tired of hearing about short stories, I shall, perverse though it may seem, begin writing one, but before I begin, let me make it quite clear that my short story will be a short story, pretty proper, and therefore not worth reading.
A long time ago I was waiting for a girl to return to London. I loved her and I presumed she loved me. After a time I realised she didn’t and I began to believe she hated me, and that’s when I got really upset….but at the time I was waiting nervously, lovingly, in trepidation. Fond, foolish, foppish, come to mind. Christmas had just gone by, and she was to return on a Thursday. 1976. December. She was Katharine. You may have read a mad book about her : “Darkest Kiss”.
On Tuesday the 28th of December I was woken up from a deep snooze in front of the television. “There’s someone on the ‘phone for you,” my father informed me, pulping my shoulder like plasticine to wake me up. I went to the ‘phone.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” said Katharine.
“Oh!” I exclaimed, catching my breath.
“Did you ‘phone me earlier this evening?” she asked.
“No, I was snoozing in front of the television.”
“That’s funny,” said Kathy…
“No, not really,” I replied. “It’s quite usual for me to snooze in front of the television.”
“No, I didn’t mean that, you…you lovely nincompoop,” she replied. “I meant it’s funny you didn’t ‘phone because my father said someone by the name of Jon ‘phoned me this evening.”
“Well, it wasn’t me,” I said. “Kathy, Kathy,” I implored, “when are you coming back?”
“Do you really want me to?” she asked, softly.
“You bet,” I replied.
“You never ‘phoned me, pig,” she now said.
“But I wrote to you,” I said.
“I haven’t got your letter, if you did.”
“That’s strange. I posted it before Christmas. Well, when are you coming back?”
“Thursday. You know. I already told you. Are you sure you didn’t ‘phone me earlier?”
Anyway, Kathy was coming back on Thursday. We parted fondly. I went back to a different television programme and this time went off to sleep so soundly that I didn’t wake up till two o’clock the following morning.
I got through Wednesday by thinking about Thursday and her return.
Although I get on tolerably well with my parents, there had been a number of unfortunate conversations over Christmas. We love one another problematically, I suppose, so it’s better not to be together for too, too long and Christmases are long and foody, and drinks get drunk too much and those old frictions spark and sizzle. The brandy butter usually goes up in flames. This partly explains why my parents were also looking forward to Kathy’s return, not as much as me, of course, and for different reasons, but they needed a break and the fact that I was going to spend a few days with my new love was bloody welcome. They didn’t let on but Thursday arrived and liberation was on the horizon for all of us. I was not and am still not one of those people who measure progress and emancipation by how badly I fit into the nuclear family. That Christmas didn’t make me feel good.
So, Thursday arrived, and we were all sorry to say goodbye and all very happy that Katharine was returning to London.
I travelled over to Putney where I rented a room, then at four o’clock, nearly the appointed time for Kathy’s return, I caught a train to Waterloo, then walked to Kennington where Katharine rented a room. I rang her bell – there was no reply. Five o’clock came. I re-rang her bell – there was no reply. I got agitated, maybe unnecessarily so. I still don’t know why I didn’t ‘phone her there and then and ask for an explanation, but I didn’t. Instead I decided I just didn’t want to spend Thursday on my own in my room in Putney. I walked most of the way home to my parents’, and that walk was some distance. When they saw me on the doorstep they were gloomy, depressed and disappointed just like me.
Later, I did ‘phone Kathy many wires and miles away. She apologised for not returning. She was now coming back on Friday, New Year’s eve. “Are you angry?” she wanted to know.
“Should I be?” I asked.
“I would be if it had happened to me,” she replied, terribly softly.
Now Mum, Dad and the prodigal son waited for Friday, dreading to think what might happen if…if…
Friday, New Year’s eve, rolled up, and having learnt my lesson, I didn’t go to Kennington. I stayed in and ‘phoned her – at twelve o’clock. The ‘phone rang in her flat and it rang and it rang. My parents’ faces fell a thousand feet. I ‘phoned again an hour later. My parents’ faces fell two thousand feet. At two o’clock she answered. “You’re there!” I exclaimed, rapturously.
“Yes,” she replied, terribly, terribly softly.
I told Mum Kathy had returned. She began to sigh with relief as though she wished to swell the sails of a thousand tea-clippers and send them halfway to China. I told Dad Kathy had returned. He sent the tea-clippers all the way to China.
“She’s returned!” Dad bellowed.
“She’s returned!” Mum echoed.
The light fantastic could have followed, but didn’t.
I left my parents sobbing with relief because a girl whom they didn’t know had returned to London. I got to Kennington and she opened that front door. I went into a relationship that destroyed my happiness and pulled my heart to pieces. I continued to suffer and go on with her, and no medicine, then or now, has healed what Kathy managed to hurt.
But what about that mysterious ‘phone-call she received from someone who called himself Jon? It turned out to be a call from Robin, a recently acquired friend who wanted her to puzzle over a ‘phone-call and a name during her Christmas-time. Robin was a brilliant teacher in one of our brilliant schools. A puzzle-setter, a wit, and an educator.
And Kathy certainly knew more than just one odd ball but she probably never knew such an odd ball as the one who continues to work on love stories to her almost half a century after the deeds she did in the name of deceit have blown their cobwebs away, being kind to me at last. Or have they?