Blessay 42: Confidence – A Memory of Liz

‘I’m crazy about you!’ is not what I’d say now.

When I was young, and fancied a woman that gauche remark would have leapt loud from my lips. Borrowed from Hollywood, the cliché gave me confidence. Whether I believed it or not this was an easy flag waved for attention. Crazy for sex. Crazy for experience.  But crazy to get to know you?  Liz was the first and only person I said this too. The embarrassment of the remark (As I once saw it) has now become validating praise. At nineteen I wanted sensation not philosophy and Liz’s presence, rather than my love for her, mattered more.

Liz was tall, pretty, and slim, with reddish-brown hair, green eyes, a freckled face and the curve of her small nose was delightful. Her good figure was covered by a short blue dress. Going ‘crazy’ for her was so easy when she smiled back at me, in that crowded coffee bar. I was struggling with a tray of cappuccinos. Liz approached. We both said hello. Suddenly my friends became small bit players. I was in my big scene with a stranger. The meagre froth, on the coffees, was exchanged for the froth of youthful desire. In spite of the noise we talked and were soon holding hands. Once outside, we immediately kissed. Heady with anticipation I looked over my teenage woman, whilst Liz surveyed her teenage man. We walked, arm in arm, into the city centre. My world, now turned into a sensual gaze, appeared so promising.

Yet after three dates, I’d forgotten Liz. Two years later my new girlfriend Julia was playing tennis with her brother Robert in his large garden. There wasn’t a proper net in place. They were just messing about with rackets and a ball in some imaginary Wimbledon. I’d been sitting watching and half-reading when Robert’s friend Sam arrived looking depressed. At first I didn’t associate Liz with what he was telling us. Then we were shown a Polaroid image, taken of Liz with Sam, at a picnic, just one hour before she’d drowned in a boating accident.

All day I hid my feelings from everyone, losing my appetite for food and conversation. I was deeply shocked for somebody so young (only twenty) having died. That night I couldn’t sleep. Julia kicked me out of bed for being so restless. I lay on the floor, snatching an hour of sleep; dreaming of Liz drowning as large shadowy forms on land kept shouting. But she couldn’t swim. So down she went.

When I met Liz, we were both tipsy: gently floundering in the charm of alcohol and going no further. Today it all sounds so innocent almost anachronistic in the pressured world of binge drinking. Back then it was a couple of pints, a coffee and a gentle stroll down to the Pier Head. At our next two dates we didn’t drink at all, as we were drunk on one another. Liz spoke with passion of her friends and the countries she hoped to visit. When she laughed the freckles on her face and arms danced. Sexy freckles are rare and Liz had them in abundance. She was remarkably at ease with herself, expecting the best, because you deserved the best (Her green eyes shone with a confidence I didn’t possess.) She lived in Southport and was an art student with an edge. Students were an unknown social breed for me. Like most of my friends, I was working and jobs came before studying.

I met her parents who were much better off than mine. Her mother asked me what my job was.

‘I work in a record store.’

‘Elizabeth will be quizzing you about music.’

‘No I won’t.’ said Liz, impatient for Mother to leave.

When she did go, Liz and I had the house to ourselves. We played an Indian music LP and explored our bodies on the sofa. I ran my hand along the slope of her shoulders and the fullness of her small breasts. Her skin was very soft and slightly damp. What I stroked felt special. The delicious Liz skin – no freckles in sight, yet just as sensual. Soon the stroking became an urgent pressing.

Afterwards, we went out to a nearby fairground. It was a warm greyish day. Few people were on the rides. From the dodgem cars came screams of fake terror. A dipper went up and down with a group of schoolchildren. We half-wanted to go on something and join the crowd. Instead we simply wandered through the stalls. After our sofa-mania, we were content to gradually relax and watch the world attempt to play. It began to rain. We returned home, arm in arm, eating chocolate.

Liz’s father, a brash civil engineer, arrived. He slapped me on the back and at once I understood where Liz’s confidence came from. We had tea. It was a large room, full of paintings, and much larger than any room back home. One of the paintings was Liz’s – a landscape of moorland, stretching on and on into the distance. Liz didn’t think much of it, preferring to soon tackle an abstract. ‘Art school will give me a free hand.’ she said.

It was raining heavily when we walked back to the station. I so enjoyed kissing her and it was hard to stop nuzzling against her thick hair. She excitedly pulled me against her body. If I’d been a painter Liz would have been my model. She was a Pre-Raphaelite energy. I gripped her tightly, wanting to spin with her colours.

‘Next time.’ she said.

On the third, and final, date, I’d a bad headache but I thought two aspirin and the mere sight of Liz would cure me. We undressed and got under the sheets. My headache became a major throbbing round my temple bone. Liz’s compact body pressed against mine. I fell into her inviting  pleasures. Afterwards I grabbed a pillow and stuffed it round my head in a melodramatic manner.

‘What’s wrong.’

‘ A headache. Had it all day.’

‘Sure it wasn’t because of us…just now?’

‘No.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes.’

‘You liked it, didn’t you?’

‘Yes. I’m crazy about you.’

‘Don’t be silly!’

‘I am crazy.’

Liz got up, sat on a chair, by a mirror, and brushed her long hair. I threw away the pillow, got up and kissed her shoulder. She turned and gave me a look that suggested I went back to bed with her. I stepped backwards and caught my foot on one of her shoes, causing me to fall and hit my head on the shelf of a low bookcase. I became a ridiculous composition. My bottom stuck up in the air, one leg trapped on the rung of a stool and my head caught in a niche, in the bookcase, on which lay a small pile of pennies, now pressing against my head. When I freed myself I laughed and we returned to making love (not as good second time round but at least my headache had gone.)

I never saw Liz again. She went off, with her parents, on a long holiday to France. I telephoned after she returned but Liz kept delaying meeting up or else her mother said she wasn’t at home. From a friend, of a friend, of Liz, I learnt that she’d met a Moroccan student in France. She’d really fallen for him and he was coming over, in the autumn, to England. It was very sudden and serious. Within weeks this didn’t really matter as I’d met someone as attractive as Liz (Though she didn’t last either, nor did Liz’s young man from Marrakesh.)

I’m writing these pages this evening. In my room a recording of Bach’s keyboard concerto no 1 is playing. Usually it’s impossible for me to write when music is on. But today I can detach myself from its rhythms and speak of Liz. After 38 years, of rarely thinking about her, she entered my thoughts. So vivid. So present. So near. I can see her at the coffee bar being playfully seductive. At the fairground gripping my hand. Smiling, over tea, then eating cake. At the station pulling me against her. In her small bedroom taking off her dress.  The Bach concerto has reached a darker resonance now. (Slowly, water is rising up over Liz. No breaststroke or crawl to save her. Not even some frantic, clumsy dog paddle that she might have remembered from school. Besides I believe the water was treacherously deep at that point of the river.) Liz isn’t returning. Perhaps the dead are assigned some kind of country where they get on with each other. Or don’t. They just stay quietly dead, hopefully, not repeating their dying actions. I don’t want her youthful ghost to be in the room now, some beckoning Liz presence. No. Just now and then, in her own time, and mine, a small amount of memory, playing like a cell of music, allowing my lovely Liz, of those fantastic freckles, to wave her hairbrush at me and tell me to stop being silly for she’ll cure my headache. There, she’s said it. Now Liz can go and determinedly paint her abstracts. I can still be crazy for her, without being crazily in love. The music has stopped.

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