“Oh, did you live in Tunbridge Wells? Where?”
And suddenly I realize that I haven’t the foggiest idea where I lived at all. I remember very well the white apartment building, four stories high, every apartment empty but the attic. It was Terry’s den. I remember Terry, of course I do: no woman forgets the first man she ever lives with. He was tall, pale skinned, with lots of freckles and a flashing red moustache, light blue eyes and curly reddish hair. Yes, I remember.
We used to hang about Terry’s den, Roger, Whoopi, Lola, Huguette, Mark, myself. I didn’t think Terry fancied me; it was Roger, the Scottish guy, the one who wanted me in his bed. Terry had already a girlfriend, a Dutch girl, proud owner of a yellow parakeet. But one day Dutch girl and parakeet were gone.
Then one night, while we were classifying photographs on the floor,Terry asked out of nowhere:
– “Will you marry me, Lexie?”
It took me just a nanosecond to answer: “yes”.
– “For fun”
And that was it. That night I graduated from the sleeping bag on the sitting room floor to the mattress and eider-down quilt in Terry’s room. From then on, I shared his bed, his home, and his life.
The parakeet girl returned once. Whe she arrived she said “I suppose Terry’s bed is still my bed”. It was Roger, the discarded Scot, who told her it wasn’t.
We climbed four steps to get to our front door, and four flights of stairs up to our place in the attic. We had pinned several notes to the wall to help visitors: “go up” “keep on going” “just a bit more” “you’re near” “almost here”. Then there was the landing, and the sitting room to the right, and the bathroom. To the left, the kitchen, and a little door which led to yet more stairs to our room. Small, panelled with wood, with a bow-window overlooking the roofs. Little pegs scattered on the wall, where my cotton Indian dresses and Terry’s shirts were hung; left side for me, right side for him. His trousers were neatly folded on top of an overturned wooden box, which we had painted burnt sienna. My side of the mattress was placed against the wall, so the alarm clock was on the floor on his side of the mattress.
-“Lexie, my love, wake up. You’re not going to make the bus”
-“Mmmmm. Just five minutes more”
I remember those summer nights when we opened the bow-window, and ate fish and chips sitting on the roof, laughing at the Salvation Army people who used to sing about sin and punishment five floors below. I remember breakfast, tea and Granola chocolate biscuits.
– “Terry, would you like sugar with your tea?”
– “Yes, my love, four lumps”
– “And would you like some tea with your sugar?” Four lumps, really!
We rolled Old Holborn tobacco in liquorice paper, and his lips and my lips tasted of liquor. We ate Granny Smith apples on the sitting room floor on rainy afternoons. We talked, laughed, disagreed.
– “When I die, and in my funeral, I want this song to be played”.
– “But Terry, My way? Frank Sinatra? I want Always look on the bright side of life”.
– “Monty Python? Lexie, my love, you know you’re crazy, don’t you?”
– “What’s your favourite number”?
– “I don’t have one, Terry. Numbers are just numbers. They mean nothing”.
He waited for me at the bus stop, all dressed up in blue suit, white shirt and tie, still holding his briefcase but with no shoes and no socks. We walked hand in hand to the park, and I read Thackeray while he checked his papers. We went to Scarborough Fair, we went to Brighton, we ran and laughed on the beach.
I loved him with teenage passion, but even then I knew that when my work permit expired, I would leave as the Dutch girl before me had left; Terry would walk me and my backpack to the train station, kiss me and wave goodbye, but he would not try to keep me by his side, as he hadn’t tried to keep the Dutch girl and her parakeet by his side.
– “Lexie, my love, can I borrow some of your cigarettes? I forgot mine at the office”.
– “Just take them, what’s mine is yours”.
I didn’t understand why he insisted on calling me “my love”.
– “Don’t you dare have your hair cut, my love. I quite like the way it falls when you’re on top”.
– “Don’t call me that. You should say “my love” only to the woman you love”
– “I know what I’m saying”.
I remember so many things… why can’t I remember my old address at all? Yes, that’s it, I can try Google Street View. A good option… if I remembered the street.
Let’s see… when I came home from work the bus left me near the War Memorial. That’s a beginning. Right on Mount Pleasant Road. And then we walked down the street… er… no, we couldn’t have walked that long, we were barefoot. Must have been up the street. No… the train station wasn’t near our home. I walk virtually down the street again. And up the street again.
It’s frustrating, I must have walked this road on my way home thousands of times. How can I have forgotten it?
Google Street View stops right there; the street has no name.