They were alone at last. He was feeling possessive, impulsive and seductive; she submissive. They were longing for it to happen, but they had difficulty putting their thoughts and desires into words. What resulted was a series of unfinished sentences, but they got there in the end, proving that ‘actions speak louder than words’. However, other ears were listening to what was going on:
‘JOHN. JOHN. O JOHN!’
Mary decided to investigate. "Wot’s them voices I’m ‘earin’ coming from the attic? Fred, are you up there?"
"Yes, Luv. I’m here,” he replied. Come on up."
Mary climbed the loft-ladder reluctantly. She never liked doing this in a frock, in case someone came into the house unannounced and caught sight of her pants. She crossed the floored attic and plonked herself down on a spare mattress.
“It must be easier scaling Mount Everest.”
"Y’OK, Luv?" he asked.
"Yes. I’m all right. Wot ye doin’ up ‘ere on your own? And wot’s that you’ve been playing on the old record-player?"
"See if you remember it. Listen. I’ll put it on again."
He moved over to the Dansette, positioned the disc ready for playing, started it and then sat back.
She chuckled. "It's ‘John and Marcia’. Bloody hell! I ‘aven’t ‘eard that in years. They’re the only two words on the record, they are: all about a boy and girl makin’ love. It used to get me all goin’, it did. We were so keen on each other then, we were at the finishing post before them two got started. That’s true, isn’t it?"
Fred muttered, "My playing-arm was in the groove before the record-player’s."
"Wot was that you said?"
"I said, ‘There was no harm in making a move. OK?"
"Yeh. You always were a fast operator. That’s what I liked about you. Where’d ye find the record?"
"In this trunk, beside Army souvenirs. If I can remember correctly, I bought it after I was demobbed - from that music shop down by canal, near your mother’s. They had to order it special for me."
"There were some great records made then: ‘The Blue Tango’; Jo Stafford singing ‘See the Pyramids Along the Nile’; Frankie Laine with 'Answer Me’; Guy Mitchell's ‘Day of Jubilo’; and, of course, let’s not forget Spike Jones playing ‘I Went to Your Wedding’"
"I remember them."
"D’you know this, Fruitgums: back in the fifties, one of the most popular records played on the Suez Canal Zone Forces Broadcasting Service was ‘John and Marcia.’ True."
"Wot was first?"
"That's easy: ‘So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You.’
That record was requested regularly for bods going home to
UK. Most of the lads out there were National Servicemen in them days."
"The farewell booze-ups in the NAAFI were something, I can tell you. I used to drink bottled Stella beer: yellow label and red label. D’you know, come to think of it, Cuddles, that was nearly fifty years ago. Fifty bloody years ago, it was. I can’t believe it. How time flies, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. We’ve come a long way since then."
"We got five children in nine years."
Fred laughed. "Aye, Luv - and there were lots of times, in between, when we got nothing."
"Fred, you haven’t changed one bit: saucy as ever."
"And you’re still fruity and spicy."
"I’d never heard of Stella beer. D’you remember when I thought you’d been unfaithful to me. That letter you wrote - soon after you arrived in Egypt - worried me, no end. You said you were so hot, you’d been on Stella all week. Dad found me crying. When I told ‘im, he said you were worse than that four-legged bitch down road."
"He didn't like me then."
"He didn't know you - but you ended up good pals."
"Your Dad liked ‘John and Marcia’. It reminded him of his Army service." Fred chuckled. "I can remember the night I took him to the pub. After one pint, I bucked up courage and asked him for your hand in marriage. He replied, ‘Certainly, Fred. You can take the rest of her as well, if you like.’ We'd a few more jars after that to celebrate."
"He worried when you got called back for Suez Campaign in fifty-six. It changed you."
"Yes... but I had to get back to you."
"Did you really love me?"
"You’ve always been the only one for me, Mary."
"How about playing that record again."
"OK, if you insist. Here goes."
Mary lay back on the mattress. Times long-since gone were recalled and pictured vividly in her mind's eye for her to see and enjoy.
"They don’t ‘alf make it sound real, don’t they, Fred. Do we grunt and sigh like that when we’re...?"
"Why ask me? You’re there as well."
Once the record had stopped, Mary rose and knelt beside Fred at his old trunk. Something inside her stirred when she saw him on an old photograph. "What d’you call that summer uniform?"
"K.D. Khaki Drill."
"How did you manage to keep it pressed and smart-looking?"
"Wait till I tell you this, Sweetness. One day at the
Dhobi – that’s the Laundry - I saw this guy standing at a
table, ironing. He took a mouthful of starch from a mug,
sprayed a light film over a pair of shorts, and then ironed
them. Terrific creases. This method worked for him. He had
teeth like the battlements on a castle."
"The poor sod must ‘ave lost his job after troops left Canal Zone and went to Cyprus."
"That wouldn’t have been hard for him to take. After all, he had a stiff, upper lip. Get it: ‘stiff upper lip’ Starch. O never mind."
Mary sidled up to Fred and put her arms around him. She felt romantic and thought to herself: ‘There must be something very Emile Zola-like about being s*****d on an old mattress in the attic.’ She unfastened his shirt buttons.
"What are you up to?" he asked.
"Put ‘John and Marcia’ on again. For me; for us."
Fred did as he was told. She lay back on the mattress, kissed him and drew him down beside her.
"Fred,” she shouted. I think record's stopped."
They separated. "So it has. That’s never happened to us before, has it?"
"Let’s face it: we're getting on a bit."
"No! No, we’re not. I know what’s done it."
"It’s that bromide they used to put in Army tea to dampen my ardour. I didn’t work on mine - I got ‘arder and ‘arder. The bloody stuff’s finally caught up with me."
"You’d better see doctor and he’ll give you this new drug: RIGIDRA. It's supposed to help impudent people."
"This is no time for cracking jokes, Mary. You know me: two pints of bitter and I can rise to the occasion."
"OK, if you say so. Put ‘John and Marcia’ on again."
"No. Stuff Marcia! We’ll do it in our own time. Think about it: they’re a lot younger than you and me." Sad words running through Fred’s mind brought a lump to his throat. ‘They will grow not old as we that are left grow old.’
"We’ll make it," said Mary reassuringly.
"Aye, we will. Come ‘ere, Wench."