After the registry office wedding I suddenly became somebody in
. I had a banker’s card and a cheque book which my new husband had organised for me. I had a title, Mrs X, which immediately brought respect whether it was when paying with my brand new cheque book in the local butchers or arranging driving lessons over the telephone. During the following two weeks, which I spent in the house in Southsea, with the occasional company of the polite and friendly Admiral’s son, I forged a new life, a new set of rules to live by. Gone was my solitary life with my father, my nights out with my friend, the long hours spent in the Hanken library cramming for my exams. Instead I spent the mornings writing my thesis on the rickety table with my grandmother’s old typewriter. At about noon I’d walk down to the end of the road to buy food for the day and post that days’ letter to my husband. In the evenings I’d either watch TV, or pop over to my neighbour’s house, where sitting at her kitchen table we’d chat. I’d tell her the latest news on our married quarter. We were waiting to hear when we could move in and, more importantly, where. Even with my elevated position as a naval wife, I still couldn’t find out from the Navy’s housing officer which flat we’d been allocated. I wanted to know where our new life as a married couple would truly begin; to picture our home together. Continuing to live in the terraced house in Southsea seemed like being in limbo. England
Three days after the Englishman had returned to his posting in
, the phone rang. It was my sister. ‘Have you thought about who’s going to give you away?’ Naples
She sounded breathless, as if she’d been running.
No, I said and was surprised I hadn’t thought about my father, or that his absence from the wedding meant that there’d be no-one to hand me over to the Englishman. It was such an antiquated tradition anyway. After the ceremony in the registry office I hadn’t given much thought to the wedding in
. It wasn’t that important anymore. But I couldn’t tell my sister this; no-one in Finland knew that when I’d walk down the aisle in Tampere Cathedral, I was already married to the Englishman. I didn’t want to spoil the day for my mother or sister who’d worked so hard with the arrangements. And telling my friends behind my family’s back seemed wrong. In any case, I’d not had any contact with anyone; my new life in Sunny Southsea seemed far removed from Finland . Helsinki
‘Well, you said you didn’t want to invite him…’
‘No, I don’t.’ I interrupted her. I couldn’t believe my ears, had my sister changed her mind about the bastard?
‘Yes, well in that case. Mum was wondering if she should ask our uncle?’
I agreed. My sister then went into a long conversation about the hotel she’d booked for the English visitors. She also thought it’d be nice if everyone would get together for a meal on the day the Englishman’s family and friends arrived in
. ‘It’d be a good way for everyone to get to know each other,’ she said. Neither my mother nor my sister had yet met the Englishman’s family, not even his parents. She’d decided on Sahlik, the Russian place my father had taken me and the Englishman all those years ago. It was good choice – the food was unusual and they could accommodate a large group. I’d not been back to the place since that wonderful evening there, and wondered if it was going to bring back bad memories. But my sister wasn’t one to be easily swayed by woolly emotional issues like that, so I decided not to object to her choice. Helsinki
One late afternoon a few days before I was due to return to
to prepare for the church wedding I got a phone call from a girl called Samantha. She’d been invited to the registry office, where she’d hugged me warmly even though I’d never met her before. ‘I’ll call you and take you out sometime when he’s away,’ she’d said and winked at the Englishman. Finland
Samantha was a large bosomed girl with streaky blond hair. She rang the door bell and confidently stepped inside before I’d had a chance to ask her in. She kissed me on both cheeks, rising on tip-toes as she did so. She was shorter than I remembered. She must have read my mind because she laughed, ‘Oh God, don’t look at these,’ she pointed at her shoes, ‘I just wear these flats to drive in; my proper ones are in the car!’
I looked down at her feet for the first time, ‘Oh.’
‘So you ready?’ she said, her heavily made-up eyes wide. She had bright red lipstick and I felt underdressed in my black cropped trousers and a simple top I’d made myself from a piece of faux-suede fabric. I looked like a boy compared to Samantha with her flowing, deep-cut dress.
Samantha had decided we’d go to the naval base where on Wednesday nights there was a bar and a disco. I’d been there once before with the Englishman. He’d told me it was an after hours place for young naval officers to go and find a date, and that it was full of nurses looking for officers. I didn’t tell Samantha this, but it felt strange to go to a place like that without the Englishman. We sat at the bar and I felt more and more uncomfortable under the searching looks some of the young officers gave me. Samantha gave me a sideways look after a blonde guy asked if I wanted a drink, even though I already had a full glass of wine in front of me. ‘No thank you,’ I said lifting up my left hand and flashing my rings. The diamond had now been joined by a simple gold band, still causing a strangely heavy sensation on my finger. ‘Ah, sorry,’ he mumbled and moved away.
Quite of lot of the men were drunk already when we arrived. After we’d only had two drinks Samantha decided she wanted to go and asked if I needed a lift home.
Sitting next to her in the small car on the way back from the base, watching the now already familiar streets whiz past, I felt relived the evening had gone well. It’d been the first time I’d been out without the Englishman. I looked warmly over to Samantha and asked if she wanted to come inside for a coffee before driving home.
Samantha looked surprised, ‘Yeah, sure.’
I went through to the kitchen and asked her to sit down on the sofa in the front room. I made instant coffee with milk for her and black for me. As I handed her the mug she said, ‘It’s jolly decent of you to be friends with me.’
I looked at her, ‘Why?’
‘Well, you know…’ she gave me a sheepish look and lowered her eyes to the carpet.
‘I don’t know - what?’
Samantha stirred her milky coffee and shifted her position on the sofa lightly. She wasn’t looking at me and suddenly I knew what she meant. In a flash images of the Englishman – my new husband – and this voluptuous girl with the perfect English upper class accent filled my mind. This was the girl; the ‘accident’ the Englishman had so wanted to hide from me. My face grew hot and I wondered if I’d blushed.
‘Look,’ Samantha said, ‘it really didn’t mean anything, honestly…’
I couldn’t think of what to say. My throat felt dry and I doubted I’d been able to speak even if I known the words I wanted to utter.
Samantha’s eyes met mine, ‘You did know, right?’
At last I was able to speak, ‘Yeah, of course, don’t worry.’ My heart was beating so hard I wondered if the girl, the ‘accident’ sitting with her legs crossed, wearing her ‘driving shoes’ at the end of her little plump legs might hear it. I concentrated on breathing normally and added, ‘he told me right away.’
Samantha’s eyes flashed at me. She straightened her back and lifted her bosom up, ‘It was a total accident. We were both so bloody plastered; I mean, it could’ve been anybody.’
I forced my mouth into a smile. She used that word; that same word the Englishman had used. Had they discussed what to tell me afterwards?
‘We’ve known each other for donkeys, and of course we were friends, because you know, I went out with one of his
pals.’ Samantha babbled on. ‘And don’t take this the wrong way, but the last thing I want to do is to marry a Naval Officer.’ Dartmouth
I wasn’t listening. I just wanted to shout to her to shut up and get the fuck out of my house. Instead I sat at there with a fake smile on my face.
For the next two days I couldn’t work. I tried to write to the Englishman but as soon as I started a letter, I tore it into bits. The Admiral’s son was away again and I was alone in the house. The only person I could talk to was my neighbour. She patted my hand kindly and said, ‘But it happened once, and that’s it. I know him, he’s a good man, he won’t make the same mistake twice.’
I knew what I felt was wrong. When it happened we’d been far apart and we’d had a fight. Even I was unsure if we’d broken up at the time. And I’d been with somebody too. But it wasn’t the actual act that made me feel so bad, it was the fact that she was here, close to me, had come to our wedding and had even tried to make friends with me. By insisting on not telling me who it was, the Englishman had allowed that to happen. What kind of fool did the Englishman take me for? Did he really think I wouldn’t find out who the person was? Besides, why had he invited her to our wedding? All this I wanted to ask him, but I couldn’t find the right words to write to him with without sounding madly jealous, or hypocritical. But more than those things, I was afraid for the future. What if he just couldn’t be faithful? What if that was the reason for his previous doubts about our future. Why he said what he said on that sunny day in
Hyde Park? And if so, what had changed his mind to want to marry me after all?