The thought came to her in the pulsing shower as she waited for the hot water to come back. A forty year-old memory of Clive, who worked for the Civil Service and was proud of it, displayed his Civil Service Car Club membership disc in his sturdy navy blue Rover. She’d mused over that badge even when they were together, and she did so again now as she soaped herself. He’d taken such pride in his life, she was sure he’d displayed that badge to show his greater membership and professional position in the Civil Service. Because he was – Clive - very civil. Proper, in his tweed jacket and dark cavalry twill slacks - casual wear for evenings and weekends - soft Viyella shirt. Neat, but odd for a man in his late twenties, when most men she knew were wearing tight velvet trousers, flowery shirts and silk neckerchiefs.
She laughed aloud as she remembered her drunken ministrations on drunken Nigel one night as he sat vomiting between his legs; she pushing his head down with one hand while the heel of her other firmly trapped his necker against his bony knee, effectively strangling him. She couldn’t imagine Clive ever vomiting in a pub car park.
The hot water returned in time to calm her shivers. She stepped into it, rinsing and remembering Clive’s Bristol basement; dank and dingy. She’d always been concerned about his piano as he worked his way through his classical-seduction repertoire. He’d quickly understood which melodies stirred her to wild emotions and would carefully introduce them, a few bars at a time, until finally he played Chopin’s Polonaise Opus 53 in A flat major throughout; allegro ma non troppo. Looking back, theirs was more of a Nocturnes arrangement but she was young and in love with love, so. What Clive didn’t know was that her analytic mind was systematically assessing his technique. But that was alright, she had a choice. Congress was silent and perfunctory. Afterwards he would thank her, get up and wash his hands. Things might have continued this way had it not been for his ski-ing trip to Zakopane. She’d always admired his allegiance to his father and Poland.
Having need of his camera, to capture the beauty of the mountains, he arranged to meet parents, sister and brother-in-law halfway, at Thatcham. They’d dine, hand over camera and meet the new girlfriend, more or less in that order. Father was charming, as was sister. Clive conversed almost exclusively with mother. Now, there are social protocols without which relationships can neither commence nor develop. Formal introductions are made, there follows mild and discrete appraisal in the form of small talk and a decent acknowledgement by way of eye contact, if not in speech. A cordial parting salutation normally sets a seal on the nature of future encounters. Clive’s mama gave few of these and hardly had the braised kidneys been cleared than judgement had been decided, swift and brutal. The crack, once begun, widened.
Back from ski-ing, hapless Clive resumed his life and quasi-courtship. He liked her hands, he’d said. He liked to straighten her fingers, balancing one hand at a time, palm down on his as he reviewed their genetic acceptability. ‘You have good hands; they are slim, soft, long fingers, good nails.’ This, she knew. He went from appraisal of this singular feature of hers to one of his own body parts. ‘I have a good forehead. It is noble, high.’ She was not a fool; slim hands and a noble forehead do not a relationship make. Neither was she interested in subjecting any more of herself to racial scrutiny when she knew mama would have a say in it. The end was not well received.
Clive was shocked, naturally. He’d obviously considered himself a fine catch: noble forehead, Shooters Hill Grammar and the Civil Service Car Club. Her failing was the gentleness of the let-down; they never believed she was serious. But at least Clive didn’t accuse her of having someone else. She’d always felt that, deep down, he knew. He asked for friendship of course; the usual bargaining. She agreed, tentatively. A clean break was always preferable she thought though when, a week later, he called at the flat, just passing by he’d said. Of course. Crispy brand new denim, gay shirt (checked not flowery) and horror; red cotton neckerchief tied with well-ordered gay abandon. His forced cheeriness, staccato, over frugal milk-less coffee barely carried them over the time it took for him to run through his prepared questions. Then he was gone. She’d miss the piano.
The shower pulsed tepid. Time to get out before the lasting memory of her morning ablution should be a cold one.