Friday 21st April

The couple of months Ted had said they should lie low for were rapidly turning into six and June was going quietly mad.  He had managed to speak to her a couple of times on the phone, but somehow his softly spoken reassurances only served to feed into her doubts.  She began to suspect that it was all over between them, that what they had, that passion, that excitement, that very reason for living was soon going to be a thing of the past.  What on earth would she do now?  She couldn’t imagine just plodding through the rest of her life, comfortable as the surroundings might be.  She used to watch the girls getting ready to go out and was stung by a sort of jealousy; she was envious of their freedom, their youth and their innocence, their naivety even.  They seemed so carefree, so oblivious of the seriousness of life, and here she was stuck with respectable responsible Phil and hopelessly, desperately, in love with someone else.  And she had no one in the whole world she could tell, her old girlfriends would be horrified if she confided in them, especially as Ted was married to her own sister.  No-one could possibly understand how she felt.  She had never felt so wretchedly alone, she would be forty soon; just another sad forty-year old housewife who had nothing to look forward to; a life of bleak nothingness.  More and more she was determined to bring things to a head; she would have to find a way of talking to Ted, to make him understand that he couldn’t just leave her hanging on like this.

*  * *

Things were beginning to pick up; at last Phil could see some glimmer of light at the end of what had seemed at times a never-ending tunnel.   June’s mother had been forced to sell her house before she went into the home, and Phil had handled the sale and her money for her. There were still a couple of thousand pounds left, and this would of course be split between June and her sister Julie.  But neither of them knew a thing about money.  Phil decided to keep quiet about the exact amount; he had no intention of cheating the sisters, especially Julie, who was desperately hard up, he just needed a bit of breathing space.  Phil told them that there was over a thousand pounds left and wrote them out cheques for just under six hundred pounds apiece. They were both delighted and suspected nothing.

Phil kept two thousand back; he was sure that he would be able to repay them later, but he had a great investment opportunity and he was up to his limit at the bank with his current loans.  He never considered it as theft at all; he fully intended to give the capital back to his wife and her sister, and maybe some of the profit too, although they would have done nothing towards earning it themselves.  It just seemed too good an opportunity to waste, it even crossed his mind that if things went badly he wouldn’t really be to blame, he had honestly done it for the best of reasons, and had he given them the whole amount they would only have spent it, June on clothes or some piece of furniture they didn’t really need, and Julie on the boys and that useless husband of hers.  Phil could never see what she saw in him, he would never amount to anything; Ted Wasp would be a farmhand until his dying day, and they would live and die in that miserable council house.  So, though he knew it was technically wrong, in the scheme of things it wasn’t that terrible, and if things went well he would surprise and delight them by revealing that an old investment he had once persuaded their mother to put some money into had turned out a winner and give them back their thousand each.

*  * *

In a quiet way outrageousness started to become their thing, Harriet and Jane; they were going to show everyone just who the Wilkinson sisters were.  They were lucky that they had a bit more money and their parents seemed quite relaxed about them, either so confident in their grounding, or so negligent themselves that they didn’t really notice what the girls were up to.  Their mother used to laugh at them, and their attempts to follow the latest London fashions, but it was a gentle reflective laughter, as though she had done it all herself in her own time.  Jane was sure she hadn’t, but then June never really talked about her own teenage years so she couldn’t be sure.  She seemed timeless in her own way, she would wear the same things year in and out, but they never seemed dowdy somehow.  She had the knack of adding a scarf, or a throw, or a belt, or some bit of old jewellery that would transform her into something new.  The girls had a generous allowance, or pocket money, as everyone used to call it, and Harriet just kept asking for more, and one or the other of their parents would come up with the money.  Harriet constantly surprised her sister by dragging her out shopping and producing five pound notes like confetti.  She would just smile and say Daddy gave it to me, or I cadged it off Mummy, and Harriet was always generous to Jane so she wasn’t going to complain, was she?  Jane sometimes thought they were two spoilt little rich girls in a way, but as Rod Stewart was to sing so brilliantly a few years later, “They wore it well.”

Clothes were a big part of it, always having the latest gear, or what passed for it in Suffolk.  And make-up, outrageously mascara-ed eyes, panda-eyes, people said, and lots of lipstick, the brighter the better of course.  They had their longish straight hair cut in as near to a Mary Quant –style bob as they could get, and wore big silver hoop earrings.  Oh, and mini-skirts, no-one wore any mini-er.   So it was no surprise that they were attracting the boys pretty soon.

And they went to parties most weekends, often out in the country, and though Jane must have been only fourteen or fifteen, Harriet was there to look after her, to make sure she didn’t go too far.  And she didn’t really want to, kissing was so fabulous that she didn’t need to do that.  They both messed about a bit, but nothing too serious, and besides they still told each other everything, like two little children giggling over the nights events, swapping secrets as they always had.

*  * *

Or so Jane thought, but Harriet knew she didn’t know the half of it.  Though she always kept an eye out for Jane and made sure no boys took advantage of her, she was two years younger than her after all, but when Jane wasn’t looking Harriet was having a really good time.  Not sex so much, though she did have a bit of fun, snogging and being felt up under a pile of coats in some upstairs bedroom, she never went the whole way.  Close sometimes, but she wasn’t stupid; the last thing she wanted was to get pregnant.  But she did love to smoke, and not just tobacco either.  Jane never even touched cigarettes, little Miss Goody Two-shoes, but Harriet did like to smoke.  Not that there was much of that stuff around, but occasionally at a party someone would have some shit and she really dug it, it just made her feel so floaty and free.  She liked to drink too, and there was always plenty of that around, besides she could manage to get served in almost any pub; she would just flicker her mascara-ed eyes and the landlord would say,’ Okay just the one drink miss, then you be on your way.’

So all in all it was a great time, mixing with people a couple of years or so older than them, and being completely accepted.  Money had a lot to do with it, Dad was a solicitor after all, and he was well known, probably doing business with these people’s parents.  And he was always there to pick them up, around twelve, while the party was still swinging, but before any boys started to get too serious.  Good old reliable Dad, with the Bentley in the drive of some big house to the east of Ipswich, tooting his horn for them.  Harriet would grab sleepy Jane awake, usually nodding off on the stairs or in the kitchen and out they would totter in outrageous high-heels, mini-skirts, skimpy tops and not much else to the safety of the good old Bentley.  Make a great entrance, and an ever more spectacular exit, and you will be the belle of the ball, that was Harriet’s style.