INTERESTING TIMES 16: SCARED STRAIGHT

By Andrew Maben

Andrew CalineWell. Yeah. No. I was not responsible for, nor even involved directly in, the untimely demise of any rock gods. Or anyone else for that matter. But still… It gave me pause. I was also not responsible for not being the cause of any lost lives. Yet. That was simply the way the dice rolled – you’ve seen how very close it came to being tragicomically otherwise. Somehow I seem to have formed the idea that by “living the dream”, as they say, by living as if the world were as I wish it might be the world would conform to my wishes. It was an idea in the air: “Make Love, Not War”, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” and other such slogans had captured the imaginations of many, so I was hardly alone. What had seemed a life of sharing outside the mainstream economy, subsidised by the market for hash and hallucinogens, and maintained under their benign influences, had become tainted by greed and the depredations of speed and downers and smack. And coke. The “Funeral of the Hippie” staged in San Francisco at the end of ’67 was but the hinge of a metamorphosis, as the corpse rose again as a living-dead zombie mockery…

Faced with the conflict between my by now rather threadbare ideals and the unpleasant realities, and with Leslie prodding with her worried pleas, I surrendered to compromise. I enrolled in a computer programming course and moved with her into a room in the flat in Cricklewood that she now shared with two of her fellow students. And I got a job. A glutinous boredom absorbed me within its stifling comfort. That dull comfort of predictability, of security in necessities was only brightened by the interesting sexual paths down which Lesley’s lingering devotion to her virginity led us. And Marilyn…

For some weeks Lesley regaled me with tales of her best friend, the sexiest girl she knew. “You’ll love her!”

And Marilyn came to London, fresh from a holiday in Turkey. The three of us met Pete for dinner at El Mexicano on Lower Sloane Street. Marilyn’s allure – her generously voluptuous body straining to escape her clothes, her frank, coarse, blowsy blonde sensuality – already primed by Lesley’s night-time whisperings, was further intensified by the jugs of tequila sangria with which we washed down our food. After bidding Peter a goodnight, the three of us set out to walk across the park to Marble Arch. Lesley clung to my left arm, insisted that Marilyn take my right. As the two chatted, each time she spoke Marilyn turned across me, caressing my arm with her breast. Soon enough the conversation turned to her sexual adventures in Turkey.

“There was this one guy. He had a way of kissing…”

“Yes?” Lesley asked.

“Oh, it was so good. I don’t think I can explain.”

“Then show me!”

“..?”

“OK. Show Andrew, then he can show me.”

I glanced at Lesley who seemed in earnest, at Marilyn, who touched her top lip with the tip of her tongue and smiled. I leaned towards her and she pressed her body against mine with small sinuous movements as our mouths met. I do not know if it was the kiss, or those sensuous thrusts and rubbings, but as she disengaged her tongue that had been probing within my mouth to suck on my lower lip with gentle nips of her sharp little teeth my arousal was undeniable. I was not eager to end this embrace…

“Now show me, Andrew!” A quick final flickering of tongues, a last lascivious thrust of her soft stomach against my cock and I turned to Lesley. A sharp look of surprise in her soft eyes as she felt my tumescence before clasping me tight against her body, bringing my hand to her breast as we kissed.

“Mmm, that was nice!” as we broke our clinch. “So what was this guy’s name?”

And so they chattered on across the park and then on the bus up Edgeware Road…

As we walked from the bus stop back to the flat, Lesley pulled me aside for a moment.

“Is it alright if Marilyn sleeps in the bed with us tonight?”

Lesley and I slept in a single bed, and a bed had already been prepared for Marilyn on the living room sofa. Given the scene in Hyde Park, the fact that we would be at extremely close quarters was hardly a constraint to me. Nevertheless I at least tried to look quizzical as I asked, “Are you sure?”

She nodded quickly and the two of them repaired to the bathroom. On their return I was surprised to see that she was wearing her big loose green velvet nightdress, and excited by the glimpse of the frilly pink confection that barely concealed Marilyn’s curves. I went off to brush my teeth and when I came back they were lying side by side, the covers pulled up to their chins. I hastily undressed and Lesley lifted the covers and helped me clamber over her to lie between them.

Lesley nestled in the crook of my left arm, my hand cupping and caressing her breast, first through and then within the nightdress, my right hand wandering up Marilyn’s thigh. I delighted in the contrasts between Lesley’s body, thin, firm, lithe, and Marilyn’s yielding softness. As my hand arrived at Marilyn’s cunt, finding her knickers already damp, I pulled Lesley towards me and we kissed. A kiss that had never before felt so eager. I slid my right hand inside Marilyn’s knickers and she spread her thighs a little to allow my finger to slip into her quim. Perhaps she sensed the movement, for Lesley began to caress my arm. Beginning at the shoulder, but moving quickly downwards to find my hand buried deep between her friend’s thighs. She gave a little gasping shriek and leapt from the bed, ran out and slammed the door.

I looked at Marilyn. Her eyes widened in surprise, questioning, as her cunt gripped my finger in a rippling squeeze that pulled it still deeper. We kissed. She spread her thighs wide and as I slid my cock into her, she rose to meet me and gripped me with that same rippling squeeze. To fuck Marilyn was to take a voluptuous sea voyage – her body moved in deep, swelling waves, that awoke sympathetic waves of pleasure that seemed to envelop all my senses…

Until I heard the door open, felt Lesley’s hand grasping my hair and pulling me from the bed. The movement and the convulsion at the pain drove my cock still deeper into Marilyn’s pussy and at that moment we both came – Marilyn in a rapid series of spasms, each accompanied by a breathless, strangled shriek, whilst I uttered a groan compounded of pain and pleasure. I came to rest half in half out of bed, right arm and shoulder on the floor, left hand somehow still enclosing Marilyn’s breast.

Stunned we listened to her imprecations, before she stormed out once more…

The atmosphere the next morning was, as you might expect, rather tense. In fact it was not long until Lesley drove us from the flat with screams and sobs and curses. And off we went and rented a sleazy Earls Court bed-sit. I remember little of this idyll. Did it last a week or a month? I cannot even remember the sex, though I’m sure it was spectacular and there was lots of it. But soon enough Marilyn had to return to California. The economic prospects were grim, and the memories of Lesley’s gentleness, her tender devotion, beckoned, and cravenly I returned to beg her forgiveness… Life returned to its comfortably boring routine. Soon after my return she surrendered the sanctity of her vagina, more, I fear, out of desperation than desire…

By now I was working as a canvasser for a double-glazing company, work which took me out of town for the better part of the week. My hair was getting very long, so I’d bought this ridiculous short-haired wig to make me appear more “respectable”, with mixed results – I think “ridiculous” was a more accurate word, and I suspect it gave the impression that I was suffering from some disfiguring disease, but that’s what the company insisted on… I’d been assigned to a salesman named Sol, a jocular and cynical middle-aged Jew, ginger haired and freckled, and with an unkind comic word for almost everyone. His one gem of wisdom that has stayed with me was that salesmen are easy marks. A saw that was demonstrated one evening when he called on a salesman prospect, only to leave with a complete set of kitchen-ware, having made no sale of his own. Each day he would leave his three canvassers at different corners of provincial housing estates and we would plod the drab streets, knocking on doors, trying to drum up leads. I’d like to be able to tell stories of horny housewives and steamy kitchen table sex, but such scenes existed only in my imagination. Some people were friendly, some were rude, and many simply refused to answer the door, or slammed it in my face. Though one kindly gentleman gave me a leather-bound copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra which still has a place on my bookshelf, unread. Well largely unread, I did open the tome but was overcome by the overbearingly portentous tone of Nietsche’s pretentious pseudo-biblical prose. And I did not find the few ideas I encountered before giving up in ennui either interesting or impressive. Of an evening we canvassers would sit glumly in front of the TV in whatever cheap hotel or B&B we were staying in, while Sol made his sales calls, the boredom tinged with tension, as our pay was based on sales closed.

One grey March afternoon Lesley and I dropped in on Janey and Maggie down on Sheffield Terrace. The conversation turned to the dismal English weather and the yearning to escape its damp depressing dominion.

“Well,” said Janey, “I’m going to visit Dad on Mallorca for Easter. You’re all very welcome to join us.”

Lesley was quick to demur, but Maggie was enthusiastic.

“That would be great! But how would we get there?”

Which was my cue…

“We could hitch to Barcelona in a couple of days…”

Lesley was opening her mouth to speak, no doubt to offer a stream of objections.

“Wow! Sounds like fun!” From Maggie.

“Yeah. We’ll come and pick you up in Palma when you arrive and there’s lots of room in the house.”

Lesley was still looking doubtful, but with a bit of cajoling from Maggie, a bit of encouragement from me, she put aside her resistance to become almost enthusiastic. Janey brought out a map of Europe and we started plan our route.  We opted for a ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe and from there to hitch to Rouen and points South, leaving the exact route to chance and the roads the rides might travel.

So on the Tuesday afternoon before Easter Lesley and I returned to Sheffield Terrace to pick up Maggie and the three of us caught the 52 to Victoria…

Memories of the journey are as fragmentary as ever, I’m afraid.

Standing on a grass verge for ever, it seemed, waiting for a ride and Lesley keeping up a steady stream of low-level complaint…

At Carcassonne, walking around the city walls, the parapet path unprotected by a fence, she wondered how it was possible.

“What if somebody fell?”

“That would be their problem.”

“Wow! In America they’d sue.” Which was my first glimpse of American litigiousness and their Babylonian insurance requirements…

We spent the night sharing a room in a little pension in Carcassonne, left early the next morning.

Walking on Las Ramblas after visiting the Sagrada Familia, someone pinched Lesley’s bottom and she started to wail.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Lesley!” Maggie broke in, “Stop being such a bloody prig! You’ve been bitching and whining the whole way, and I’m fucking sick of it! Just shut the fuck up and enjoy yourself for chrissakes!”

Lesley stood there for a moment, flabbergasted. Then, to her credit, she took a breath, apologised and initiated a little three-way hug…

In Palma we contacted Janey who gave us directions to a restaurant where we were to wait for her and her father. We found a table, ordered drinks. Waited. And waited…

Suddenly, “They’re here!” said Lesley. And much to our surprise, as there had been absolutely nothing to suggest their imminent arrival, a few minutes later in came Janey and her Dad…

Three days of driving around the island, bathing in secluded bays and coves, eating glorious meals at home and in restaurants, and then it was time to head back to London. If my memories of the outward journey are fragmentary, those of the return are completely non-existent…

Eventually my Control Data Institute training paid off, if you can call it that, with a Junior Programmer position at Mothercare in Watford. I continued to wear my stupid wig, at least at first – when eventually I abandoned it, no one batted an eye or made any kind of comment. Perhaps they thought I’d made some kind of miraculous recovery…

Ros phoned one weekend and invited us to meet her and her new boyfriend, Glenn, for dinner. It turned out they had a proposition for us – would we move in with them to a flat they’s found just off Ladbroke Grove on Bassett Road? The next day we went to have a look and decided on the spot to take their offer.

One small perk of the otherwise incredibly tedious job with Mothercare was that after hours I had free use of the IBM 360, ostensibly for debugging, but I also got to run little programs of my own. The main advantage for me, though, was that it provided an excuse for coming home late. Fond as I was of Lesley, who really was an incredibly sweet woman, far too good for me, our relationship was becoming stale and cloying. And worse, Ros and Glenn got into frequent fierce arguments that all to often degenerated into violence. It was sickening to to hear Glenn’s curses, Ros’s screams and the sickening sound of blows. I was ashamed then, and I am heartsick now, that I never tried to intervene…

So it was that I took Michèle words to heart. It was August and she and Roger had shown up on a surprise weekend visit. We met them and were crossing a road somewhere. Rog, Michèle and I stepped off the kerb, but Lesley took hold of my arm.

“The light’s red.”

Well, yeah, it was red, but the street was empty of vehicles. Roger raised an eyebrow and Michèle hissed, “T’es pas un homme!”

I suppose. But I was not exactly striving to live out some stereotype of masculinity. In any case a while later the three of us were having a drink without her.

“We’ve been talking,” said Michèle. “This is impossible with that girl. We’re coming back next weekend with our friend Caroline…”

And they did. And as predicted, there was an instant, ardent exchange between Caroline and me.

“This is Caroline.” We shook hands, kissed cheeks. And a few hours later were having a post-fuck cigarette, in a euphoric sweaty glaze.

She told me Câline was her nickname. “Will you come and see me in Paris?”

Mothercare owed me some holidays.

“I’m going to Paris,” I told Lesley, whom I’d told nothing, although our monogamous relationship was obviously over in my own mind.

“Oh good! Can I come?”

“I’m going on my own. I want some time to myself.”

Her face fell, but I think she may still have thought we might. Strained relations, of course, in the weeks before my departure…

And then it was Paris. It was September. Skies were blue, the days still warm. Adrian, in an unexpectedly generous gesture, had lent me his Île St. Louis apartment. I was with a sleek-curved, blue-eyed blonde, who liked to fuck. You could say I was in love. I did. But whether this was really anything more than lust and the joy of life and of lust’s consummation shared is questionable at best. Wouldn’t you say?

Wandering hand in hand in the sunshine, sitting in cafés, exploring the Buttes Chaumont, dining à deux or in company, lying naked on Adrian’s bed, we began to invent a future…

Câline had a job with her uncle on a tour of trade-shows for six weeks or so, then she would come to me in London. I would break up with Lesley and find somewhere for the two of us to live. We spent a last night together, slept sprawled limbs entangled and in the morning embraced and parted.

Pretty much the first thing I did when I got back was to give my notice to Ros and Glenn and tell Lesley I was moving out.

I found a cramped basement room in Swiss Cottage. It was painted purple, had a sink and hotplate and its own small shower. There was a double mattress on a platform at one end of the room, which afforded a little more floor space, but even the few things I had to bring were enough to make the place my own. Impatiently I waited for Caroline to come…

Meanwhile I was still commuting daily to Watford, and now the times spent at night with the 360 were a welcome distraction from the empty room waiting back in London. All the same, the job itself was becoming more and more irksome. There was little challenge in the programming tasks I was assigned, though I think I was supposed to feel honoured when they told me to rewrite the payroll program from scratch. I took as long as I could over it. Drew a meticulous flow-chart. Wrote the simple steps of the program on the coding charts. Sent the charts to the punch-card girls. Tested with real data from the small-suitcase sized hard drives. Pored over core dumps when the inevitable crashes occurred… Bored? Then imagine how bored I was, dealing not with a short paragraph but day after day of it.

To add insult to irritation, it was an open-plan office. I was told it was supposed to foster feelings of egalitarianism, of comradeship. I suppose the office was about four desks wide, with aisles. The computer room occupied about half the width and we programmers and operators had the area in its lee. On the far side of the room, the vice-president of the company had his desk, surrounded by a larger than usual empty area. It was his pleasure to spend his days – when he came to the office at all – feet upon the desk, cigar in hand, talking loudly and oh so jolly jovially on the phone.

And now it was past the time when Câline was supposed to be back in Paris. She had not phoned. I was beginning to be anxious. I put in a call to her parents’ house.

“Is Caroline back in Paris yet?”

“No, she’s not here.”

“Do you know when she might be there.”

“No, there’s nothing I can tell you.”

“..?”

“Goodbye, Andrew.”

At work I was privileged to be in the audience of another phone call. The vice-president was boasting to a friend. He was going to fly down to the South of France for a long weekend. No, the company was paying for everything. Yes, his family too. And best of all it’s a tax write-off…

Michèle and Roger were away somewhere. I waited a week and called her home again. This time her mother told me Câline was not able to talk to me and asked me not to call again.

At last I reached Michèle. She told me she had not been able to talk to Caroline either. It seemed she had suffered some kind of psychological episode, a breakdown. I caught myself up in a fevered romantic quest, imagining myself Orpheus, Caroline my Eurydice. Foolish? Certainly, but a lot more fun than Mothercare and a lonely Swiss Cottage bed-sit…

I handed them my notice at work, and spent my final weeks writing a sub-routine in the payroll program that was set to become active after a date five years in the future… No one has come looking for me, so I assume my work had become obsolete before all Mothercare’s employees got unexpected bonuses, and management payment in pennies.

I put my possessions in my old brown cardboard suitcase once more, and in early January I was back in Paris. Rog and Michèle had offered to put me up for a few weeks, and I moved into their flat near the Porte de Pantin. As it happened, on the evening of my arrival their friend who lived in the building next door, daughter of the owner of both buildings and an old friend of Michèle, was celebrating the day after her twenty-first birthday. Among her other gifts, she had been given a bottle of very expensive champagne, another of equally expensive Bordeaux. These she proceeded to open and share with us. The champagne was exquisite, the Bordeaux a nectar that seemed to melt into my palate in a soft explosion of delight…

I was soon in touch with Jean, and Roger and I began dealing hash again on a very small scale, just enough for some pocket money, really. Patrice had a word with his patron, Christian, who agreed to take me on as one of his crew.

Christian was an exemplary, if exacting, patron. A professed anarchist, he took seriously the patron’s role as mentor, and took a craftsman’s pride is work done well. He would not accept short-cuts or half-measures. “La préparation, c’est tout!” was his watchword. He was scrupulously fair, and always insisted that he pay us for the time spent properly cleaning the tools and the work site every evening. On the cold winter mornings he would take us for coffee and a cognac before work began, and at the end of every job he’s take us to drink several glasses of Pernod 51.

After a couple of weeks, with some cash in my pocket for a change, I found a piaule. It was a fifth-floor maid’s room on the Boulevard Raspail, next door to the Alliance Française. There was a rickety lift at the back of the building, with barely room for two passengers that worked intermittently, otherwise it was a steep climb up the cast-iron staircase that ascended next to the lift-shaft. It was a typical maid’s room, with a tiny sink, two-ring electric cook-top on a small plain table with two plain wooden chairs and an old-fashioned iron single bedstead. If you can picture Vincent’s room in Arles you have an idea, though this room was even more spartan. One of the joys of these accommodations I discovered on my first visit to the chiotte. It was one of those porcelain holes in the ground with foot rests on each side to facilitate squatting, and I’ve actually found these to be a rather civilised way of dealing with defecation. So on my first night in the place I went down the hall to piss before bed. Having peed, I reached up for the chain and pulled. Normally this would result in a fairly strong flow circling the porcelain before spiralling politely down the drain. No such luck. Before I had even time to turn to leave, my shoes – thank god I had kept my shoes on! – my shoes were awash with grey greasy foul water in which floated clumps of half-dissolved paper and bits of turd in various states of decomposition… Henceforth, each time I flushed I had to perform a complicated ballet – first I would have to open the door, which of course would swing closed if left to its own devices, then, taking the chain in one hand and balancing with one foot still planted on the throne, I would hold the door open with the toe of the other foot and then leap. When executed properly, this manoeuvre would mean the chain would be pulled as I was in mid-air, at which point I would release it and soar gracefully through the open door ahead of the onrushing flood and the door would swing closed behind me. Usually I was successful, but nevertheless I always wore shoes…

Gradually I learned the skills, the painstaking preparation of washing filling and sanding walls to a velvet smoothness, applying paint without a ripple or the least speck of dust, hanging wallpaper; and with these skills came a pride in workmanship… Our triumph came with a big house in the suburbs. We painted every room, but it was the huge circular two-story entrance hall that was the pièce de résistance, the entire wall painted in a glossy black. It took four meticulously applied coats to arrive at a shine so deep you could see a clear reflection of your face. And there were other jobs, sometimes requiring a precarious structure of ladders and planks from which we reached the upper walls, and ceilings, of steep deep stairwells…

After work I would often hang out in Neuilly, sometimes with Patrice and co., sometimes with Jean and Brigitte chez Salisbury, and sometimes I’d just head back to the Boulevard Raspail, pick up a bottle of cheap Côtes du Rhone, a baguette and some cheese or pâté, and a packet of Hit! biscuits and spend a quiet evening after eating and smoking a quiet joint, reading, drawing, listening to the radio. It was on one of these evenings at home that I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for the first time, broadcast in its entirety and uninterrupted on the radio. But it was the evenings with Jean and Brigitte that I always enjoyed the most. I would arrive and the three of us would smoke a joint, or a pipe, or more usually Jean’s favourite chillum, before the whole family sat down at the kitchen table to perform the dinner ritual. Hubert always sat at the head of the table near the door, Josette at the other end with her back to the window, Jean and Brigitte on side, Nanou and I on the other, and every night it would follow the same course of affability, argument and reconciliation…

Jean also insisted on keeping me abreast of the latest music. He took me to a Genesis show, over my protestations, and at which, under the influence of the Mandrax I’d taken to defend myself from the expected boredom, I fell fast asleep. He also played a song called Virginia Plain, by some band I’d never heard of named Roxy Music. I just didn’t get it… However when he took me to see them at Bataclan, I was convinced…

Meanwhile my vigil in attendance of Câline dragged on. Sometimes I would sit forlorn in the street opposite her house, hoping I might catch a glimpse of her through a window. Michèle at last had news. She had mentioned Caroline’s other boyfriend to me earlier, a thug by all accounts who used to like to beat her up. It seems she could not escape his thrall, and the choice between his harshness and my kindness had proven a dilemma whose horns had so cruelly pierced her psyche that she had what appears to have been a schizophrenic fugue. She was now in a residential psychiatric home, unlikely to be released in any foreseeable future…

We happened to have a job painting an office for new tenants. Patrice discovered that some oversight had left the telephones connected and fully functional, so almost every evening after work we’d have a smoke and place calls all over the world. I suppose it was inevitable that my loneliness and disappointment over Câline’s disappearance would combine with this opportunity to persuade me one evening to call Lesley in London…

She was remarkably friendly, given the rather harsh treatment I had handed her before leaving for Paris. We chatted a bit, and then.

“Maggie was in Paris last week.” The long-nurtured lust I harboured for Maggie leapt to the forefront of my thoughts.

“You should have told her to visit me.” I knew, of course, that this would have been impossible, as Lesley had not the first idea how to find me in Paris, but I blurted it out unthinking.

“Well, perhaps she still might. She had to leave her car in Calais because she couldn’t afford to bring it on the ferry. I think she’s going back next week to get it.”

“Then have her come back to Paris and pick me up, and I’ll come to London for the weekend. I can do some shopping, get a haircut, see you…”

So the arrangements were made for Maggie to come to Paris on Thursday. She would stay with me that night and we would leave in the wee hours of Saturday morning to catch the six o’clock ferry…

I was surprised, to say the least, and not a little irked, when I found Maggie at the café where we had arranged to meet, because there was another girl sitting at the table with her. Evidently Lesley had contrived to send this very prim and humourless creature as a chaperone. Apparently she did not trust me and Maggie to be alone together… Maggie gave me an affectionate hug, rolled her eyes as she introduced this chaperone, pointedly calling her “Lesley’s friend.” As the three of us climbed into Maggie’s little Renault Caravelle there was some satisfaction in relegating the chaperone to the very cramped back seat. I took them to one of my favourite couscous restaurants for dinner and the three of us returned to the Boulevard Raspail. Maggie treated me to more eye-rolling as I made myself a sleeping spot on the floor, leaving the girls to share the bed…

Next morning I left them to enjoy Paris, at least as much as such an ill-matched pair might in each other’s company, while I set off for work, arranging to meet them at the same café in the evening.

I had a little hash, and after Maggie and I had a smoke we decided that if we were not going to get any sleep it might be prudent to score a bit of speed to stay awake. We left the chaperone to take a nap, and after a couple of phone calls sped of towards Neuilly. Sped being the operative word. Maggie was a skilful but reckless driver, as was driven home to me as we raced across the Place de la Concorde against all the lights before weaving at high speed up the Champs Elysées round the Étoile and down Avenue Charles de Gaulle. I found it exhilarating, though I should have been terrified…

We hit the road a little after two in the morning, which should have given us ample time to get to Calais for the first ferry, and at first we made good time. We had already passed Amiens when we heard that ominous slapping noise…

“Fuck!” said Maggie, “A fucking puncture. Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!” And she pulled over to the side of the road and parked.

“Nevermind, I’ll change the wheel. It won’t take long, and we’re still in good time. We should still be able to make the boat.”

And indeed it didn’t take me long. It was probably no more than twenty minutes before we were back on the road, Maggie delighted to have an excuse to drive still faster than she had been. But scarcely fifteen minutes later, again that noise. Another puncture.

We sat a moment or two in silence before the the chaperone launched into a crescendo of vituperation. In ever shriller tones she berated us, as if it were somehow our fault, as if we had conspired to ensure that she would miss her piano lesson scheduled for that morning.

“Poor little boy!” Sniffing. “He won’t even know where I am!” The last word drawn out into  a wail that built into her scream. Maggie’s eyes rolled yet again as they met mine. Without a word we opened our doors and got out of the car, slamming them again on the caterwauling banshee within…

“Well. There was a petrol station a few miles back. It’ll probably be open soon. I could take off the wheel and hitch back to get a new tire.” The alternative was to sit in the car and wait for a miracle, or the cops. The first being unlikely and the second unwelcome, I got the jack back out and took off the offending wheel.

“OK. I’ll see you as soon as I can. It’s probably going to be a while though…” And I picked up the wheel and crossed the road to head back in the direction we had come. It took surprisingly little time for a friendly driver to pick me up and drop me the five or ten kilometres down the road where the petrol station was still closed. A bade my rescuer farewell and walked over to the door of the building. It was a little after five by now and I had been counting on the station opening at six, not an unreasonable expectation on a busy main road, but a sign on the door informed me that it would not be until seven as it was Saturday. Rather disconsolately I took a seat on a pile of tires and reached in my bag for a cigarette. Oh. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I left my fags in the car. A long wait, but at least the sky was beginning to lighten with the dawn of what promised to be a fine day…

At last someone arrived. Yes he could sell me a tire, but he only had the keys to the pumps. It wouldn’t be possible to change it until the patronarrived with the keys to the workshop.

“When might that be?”

“Oh, he’s usually here by eight…”

In fact it was not even seven-thirty when he arrived, and a quarter of an hour later I was back on the other side of the road with the new tire fitted and my wallet almost entirely emptied…

When I got back to the car, I found the girls lying on a blanket they had spread over the grass in the sun. They jumped up enthusiastically as I approached. The first thing I noticed was that Maggie had changed her top. Now she was wearing a Victorian lace blouse, through which her pert breasts were more visible than concealed, her nipples taut and pink, excited no doubt by the friction of the cloth. I tried to wrench my eyes away as I asked for a cigarette. After the tension, the tedium, and the cold of the last couple of hours it tasted like nectar… I quickly re-installed the wheel and we were rolling again.

“We should still be able to make the nine o’clock boat.”

No such luck…

We were stopped in traffic, waiting for the light to change, when there came a sudden loud bang from the engine and steam started to billow forth. Maggie hurriedly pulled off the road and turned off the engine. I jumped out and opened the engine compartment. The steam had mostly dissipated so it was easy enough to see what had happened. There were shards of glass all over the place and the remains of a glass container were still screwed into a plastic cap through which a couple of tubes protruded.

By now Maggie was standing beside me. “Oh, yeah, that’s right. There’s some kind of weird cooling system. Hang on, let me get the manual…”

Together we found the relevant page. The illustration showed a large jar sitting in a receptacle between the radiator and a water reservoir, which is where you were supposed to add water, rather than via the usual radiator cap. It looked as if pressure from steam in the radiator had caused this jar to explode. Maggie looked downcast.

“No, look. It looks as if you just need some kind of container here, then we can just put in some water and stick the tubes in…”

“I think I’ve got a coke bottle somewhere…” And, yes, she quickly found one of those big glass two-litre bottles. A friendly shopkeeper provided water, and coke bottle in place we set off once again. Amazingly, my jury-rigged repair held up for months…

Maggie drove like a demon, as there was still a small chance that we could get to the docks in time for the nine o’clock boat. But as we drove through the gates we heard the moan of the siren, and were just in time to see the last line cast off and the ferry pulling away from its moorings…

The chaperone’s rage now achieved apocalyptic proportions. She wailed, screamed, swore at us, louder and shriller and showing not the least sign of slowing down…

“Come here a minute,” I said to Maggie, and we walked away far enough to be able to hear each other over the wailing.

“Look, the next ferry isn’t until noon. Which means we won’t get to London until the end of the afternoon, if we’re lucky. I certainly won’t have time to go shopping, let alone get a haircut. So there will basically just be time to have dinner, and then I’ll have to leave pretty much first thing tomorrow morning. Besides that, I’ve scarcely any money left anyway. So why don’t we leave this bitch here and go to the beach? It’s a lovely day. And then come back to Paris with me. You can have a bit of a holiday and I can earn some money. We can try again next week.” While this was all perfectly true, I have to confess that it was the sight of her sweet breasts that was the main motivation for this plan… Whether or not Maggie’s mind was moving along similar pathways, I had no idea. But she certainly brightened up at my words.

“Oh yes! That sounds great! Let me tell her…” I watched their conversation from a safe distance. The chaperone stalked off and we two jumped in the car and were soon driving southwards on the coast road…

Little did I know quite what a Pandora’s Box I had just pried the lid off, but even if I had known I doubt that I’d have done things any differently…

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