Pamela Loves Charlie

Pamela opened her wardrobe cupboard wide and was strangely disappointed to see the array of widow’s weeds. Old-fashioned dresses and suits that should have been given away to the Syrian Refugees or left in the street for the bag women to rummage through.

“What on earth will I wear?” she said aloud. She had got into the habit of talking aloud. “A sign of old age and the result of living alone for so many years,” she thought.

The coat-hangers scraped metallically along the bar as she pulled back a wine-coloured woollen suit. Half-exposing it to the light, she let it fall back into its familiar slot. The heavy material would make her look far too dowdy, and that square, truncated collar had been out of fashion for decades. In fact, she wondered whether it had ever been in fashion. Or was it just one of those things she had thought suitable for the office, where a middle-aged woman had to present an air of respectability?

She pulled back more of the hangers in an endeavour to unearth something more exciting. She stopped at the green satin dress she had worn to Daphne’s wedding. Goodness me! How long ago was it? Nearly eighteen years. Impossible! But, yes, it must be. Alexander was finishing school in July. She had only worn it that once, but she had looked splendid at the wedding. She remembered the photographer saying, “Now let’s take a picture of the bride with her sister.” He had probably done it just to flatter her but she had looked very good. 

Her shapely body had not gone unnoticed by the men, either. Paul’s father had found innumerable occasions to lay his fat little fingers on the curve of her waist and give her spare tyre suggestive little nips. The dirty old man! Fancy whispering sweet nothings into the mother-in-law’s ear at his own son’s wedding. Admittedly, he had had a bit too much champagne.

She held the dress up against her in front of the mirror. No, it was too grand, too showy, and that gold brocade hanging from the left shoulder would make her look like an aging drum majorette. Besides, she no longer had the flesh to fill it and it would hang off her like an old rag.

She looked at her watch and wondered whether she had time to slip out to the shops, but what was she making such a fuss about? Anybody’d think it was her first date. The funny thing was that in many ways she felt as if it was. Those butterflies in the stomach. The need to feel beautiful and desired. Beautiful! Hah! What a laugh! How could she look beautiful at her age? She raised her chin and smoothed out the drooping skin around her neck with the palm of her hand. She was still handsome, though. What a nice word! Handsome. She repeated it aloud to relish the dignity of it.

But Charlie had said, “You are looking simply beautiful, my Dear,” in that old-world theatrical manner of his. She had laughed, of course, not wanting to even consider the possibility that he might really mean it. She had ceased to consider herself beautiful some time ago. But he had said it with such sincerity. She had almost felt the wrinkles melt away under the glow of her face – hot flush – more likely, but even those she didn’t have any more. But you couldn’t trust an actor. They change women like most people change cars.

He was just trying to get between the sheets with her. And that was another matter. What would happen in the bed department? Would he insist on making love to her? Well, perhaps she ought to get that cleared up from the start. It had nothing to do with morality. She was all for sex, if it gave you pleasure, but she was not sure it would any more. Would her tired old body respond to a man’s touch or would it just lie inert like a dead fish?

She’d almost forgotten what sex felt like. “Orgasm,” she said, as if it was a quality wine she couldn’t afford. She tried to recall what it was like to make love. But all she could remember was Nondas clumsily groping at various parts of her anatomy with his stubby cold fingers. Her ex had never been the world’s greatest lover. That was his trouble. He thought he was God’s gift to the female race. Perhaps she should have told him, but she could never bring herself to deflate his Greek macho pride. It was his greatest strength. Even in business. Each deal was an assertion of his maleness, proof that he had bigger balls than the next man. It wasn’t about money or material gain. It was a confirmation that he could still get it up. She could never tell him that he was all hump and no love.

She undid her frayed velvet dressing gown and examined the body that had once launched a thousand ships. Hardly Helen of Troy, she thought. She was too thin. She cupped her hands under the breasts that had been the envy of the girls at St Martin’s, long and pear-shaped, with large nipples. They hadn’t changed all that much. They had just lost a bit of their bounce. She gently rubbed the nipple of her left breast and to her surprise found a tingle of life there and for the first time in years she felt that her breasts were a part of herself, not just awkward appendages stuck to her chest.

“For God’s sake!” she said aloud, letting her breast drop like a blancmange. She quickly wrapped herself up again in her dressing gown. What was she playing at? Little girlies. She was sixty-seven years of age. A granny with five grandchildren. Charlie was seventy-two, and there was no proof that he was even able to do it anymore.

This was all nonsense. She would give up searching for dresses and thinking about being beautiful and love-making. It was not natural for a woman of her age. And even if she did allow him to have her, it would probably all be a terrible anti-climax, and, worse still, she might end up with a corpse between her legs. Imagine the embarrassment when the police came to take him away.

“And how exactly did …. Ahem! …. your friend die, Madam?  …. I see, Madam. He was …. Ahem! .. in the act of …….. I see. Excuse me asking this, Madam? But it was with yourself he was actually …… em………?” Cocky bastard. She could see him trying to force back a smile and sharing the twinkle in his eye with his colleague.

She closed the cupboard door with a bang and threw herself on to her bed. She let her mind wander through her life. The War years in London, when able-bodied men were few and far between. And, then, her feeble attempt to see the world, answering the ad for a baby-sitter in Athens, and then meeting Nondas. Those first good ten years and then having to put up with his womanizing and the final desertion. Had she been in part to blame? Had she gone cold on him? She could have worked harder to keep the marriage together, she knew that. She had kept up appearances, all right, or thought she had, for the girls’ sake. To protect them from the trauma of divorce and the break-up of the family, but it was Nondas who left her in the end, to marry some woman at the office he’d apparently been having an affair with for years. She had felt sadness at first and then relief, as did the girls, who said, “You should have broken up years ago, Mummy. You were never happy with Daddy, were you?”

They had seen through her all those years. They had understood, but had said nothing. Why hadn’t they talked about it? Ten years earlier and she might have re-married. She didn’t think those things then. All she felt was glad there was no more pretending, at mealtimes, in front of friends and relations, before the children, presenting the happy front, and having to share a bed with a man who had married her for her body, a body that just wasn’t functioning as it used to.

Could she get it to work again after so many years? A rusty old machine dragged out of a ditch? Could a human body have antique value? She remembered visiting a museum of agricultural machinery and how each item had been so lovingly restored. Old but well preserved. Is that what she was?

“Be sensible, old girl!” she said getting to her feet with surprising agility. “Do you want him or don’t you? You don’t have to be in love. Not at your age.”

But the funny thing was that she felt she did love him. His warm smile, his boyish, saucy humour, his attention to her moods and emotions. So different from Nondas, who didn’t even notice her bloodshot eyes after an evening of crying when he came in at three o’clock in the morning with some flimsy excuse about an office party, reeking of perfume and that musky female smell that sticks to a man after love-making.

She could hear Daphne’s caustic irony now, “Shacking up with a man at your age, Mummy. What will the in-laws think?” Well, frankly she didn’t care what the in-laws thought.

Julia would be happy for her, though. She would shriek in her girlish fashion when she heard her announcement and bubble with excitement and shout “Mummy, how wonderful! When are we going to meet the lucky man?” Would they be disappointed when they met Charlie. “An old man with one foot in the grave,” they would say. She couldn’t tell her own daughters that he was still quite randy at seventy-two.

She opened the cupboard again to have a last look. “Let fate decide,” she said. “Anyway, he probably won’t notice what I’m wearing.” But she knew he would. He noticed everything, what she wore, how she had her hair, the perfume she put on. “He must have made his wife happy,” she thought. They never talked about Cynthia, except once when he said that their marriage had been a happy one.

Then she found it, right at the end, hidden behind office suits and formal dresses, crouching like a timid girl afraid to come out. Without hesitation she took the bright flowery dress out of the cupboard. It reminded her of summers with the girls in Rafina and family times in another life. She giggled as she stripped down and pulled the dress over her head. It still fitted. In fact, it was perfect, better than ever now that she had lost weight. She would wear a good strong bra to present those pear-shaped breasts and she’d emphasize her eyes with blue eye shadow.

Ten minutes later she was ready and looking twenty years younger. She paraded in front of the mirror and moved her hips like a model, swinging round to present the side view. And then it all collapsed like a house of cards. In a sudden panic she unbuttoned the back of the dress and started pulling it madly over her head, tearing it slightly as she did so. She felt tears welling up inside her, tears of anger, tears of despair because she hadn’t the courage to be a woman again.

Finally, she put on the skirt she usually wore when they met, the conservative brown, and took the fluffy brown pullover from the shelf.

She checked in her handbag for some money in case they decided to go out to the cinema, but Charlie always insisted on paying. A real old time charmer was Charlie. She took out her bus ticket to have ready and as she opened the door of the block of flats, she felt like anybody’s old granny. But that’s the way he liked her, wasn’t it? After all, he had said that she was beautiful.

She would tell him that she needed more time. “Time? That’s not something we have very much of, my Dear,” he would say, “But for you, anything.” She held herself upright like a little princess, as her mother had always told her to. She passed a shop window and caught a glimpse of her still handsome image. She stopped and patted her thick red hair that she knew was as attractive as ever.

Then the impulse took her. She swivelled athletically on her feet and strode back to the block of flats. All of a sudden she felt like breaking into song. Imagine someone asking her to marry him at her age.

“Well, dammit!” she said. “I deserve it. I deserve to be happy.” She would wear the flowery dress and she would put on blue eye shadow and she would say ‘yes’ to Charlie. Yes. Yes. Yes.  She would say ‘yes’ to everything, even sex, if that’s what he wanted. She realized she hadn’t felt so much in love since her first teenage flirt.

She passed the old janitor who was coming out of the lift as she entered.

“Good evening, Kiria Pamela. You’re looking radiant tonight.”

“I feel it,” she said giving him one of her killing smiles. “You see, I’m about to get married.”

The janitor laughed uproariously and said, “That’s what I like about you Kiria Pamela. You’ve got such a sense of humour.”

Pamela chuckled to herself as the lift door swung shut.