Our Secret Place

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
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What is it Lin? What's the matter?
I don't feel very well.
from the forthcoming online anthology: 'Is It Today?'

Submitted: March 07, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 07, 2019

A A A

A A A


Is It Today?

Our Secret Place

Dear Linda,

I found your old diaries this morning. I sat on the rectory bench where we used to meet, the weak autumn sun in my face, turning the faded pages of a life filled with love and tears. Do you remember the tennis courts where we played when we were young? They’re overgrown now, covered in moss, dying leaves, curling crisps of bronze and gold. Their nets are torn to shreds, like my heart. I closed your book and thought of all the good times we had.

I miss you.

Daniel xx

*****

Linda struggled to cope with life. Her dad died when she was ten. Her mother suffered from depression and anxiety so severe that she couldn’t leave the house. Every weekday, she set her alarm, got herself up, washed, dressed, cooked breakfast and did all the housework and laundry before she left for school, while her mum rested in bed. She struggled to make new friends and suffered terrible bullying. Sometimes Linda decided not to go into school at all, sleeping in or pretending to be ill. Often, she despaired and wished she was dead. Her only salvations were her love of tennis and Dan, who made her life worth living and gave her the strength to carry on. Today was no different from any other day. Linda awoke knowing she wouldn’t only need the physical and emotional strength to look after herself, but to care for her mother, too.

Then she received the devastating results of the clinical tests, and her world fell apart.

As soon as the school bell rang, she packed her satchel, left the chemistry lab, ran past the playground and took her short cut, through the cycle shed, to the hole in the chain-link fence. The shed’s grey corrugated roof was shattered by a vandal who broke a leg when he climbed on top. The place disgusted her, its clinker ground was carpeted with cigarette butts. Just the smell of it made her want to throw up. She pinched her nose, turned her head. Linda managed to negotiate the torn mesh without cutting herself, catching her yellow St Denys House tie, or tearing her lemon shirt. Her mum’s two-bedroom council house was a short dash away down a gloomy alleyway. Hastily, she unlocked the back door, raided the larder, boiled up a can of soup, made up a tray lunch, and went upstairs. The bedroom was stifling hot. Her mother lay ashen-faced in bed, a grim shadow of her former self, propped up with fluffy pillows.

‘Is that you, Lin?’ she said weakly, ‘You’re home early.’

‘I made you some lunch.’ Linda adopted a brave smile. ‘How are you feeling?’

‘A little better, thank you, darling.’

Linda knew she was lying, she was riddled with pain. Lin grued. Her mother’s agony cut into her heart like a hot knife.

‘I have to go out,’ she said, ‘I’ve got a tennis match. I’ll be back later to cook supper.’

‘You’re meeting him.’

Linda’s voice caught on the back of her throat. ‘Yes. Why?’

‘I really don’t think you should.’

‘Why not, because he isn’t one of us?’

‘Because you’re too young, darling.’

‘I’m not too young! I love Dan!’

‘It’s puppy love. You’ll get over him.’

Linda was appalled. ‘I can’t believe you just said that! I hate you!’

She stormed off to her bedroom, locked the door and changed into her tennis whites. Her mum would never have spoken to her like that when she was well, not in a million years. Ten minutes later, she stuck her head through the door and apologised. Her face fell when she saw the untouched bowl of creamy tomato soup, the lightly-buttered soft batch bread.

‘You haven’t touched your lunch, mum.’

Her mother raised her weary head. ‘I wasn’t hungry. Please, Lin. Let me rest in peace.’

Linda spotted the ashtray hidden under the bed, a smouldering butt. Incapable of survival without the cancer sticks that killed her sister, the once-beautiful woman had faded, tired of living. Now, Maureen Newman was just another nicotine addict waiting to be extinguished.The schoolgirl kissed her forehead and sobbed, ‘I love you.’ Then she collected her tennis racket and new white balls and left the house, never to see her mother alive again.

Her tummy ached. Her head throbbed. She was run down, emotionally drained. She took out a cherry-flavour lip Syl and swiped her lips. He was her tonic. She couldn’t wait to see him.

Linda arrived on court wearing a pristine tennis shirt and skirt, and the pretty tortoiseshell hair slide her mum gave her when she was a little girl. He was slouched on the bench outside the saggy, chain-link fence in a pair of tattered navy flares and a floppy tangerine vest which accentuated his hairy chest. He slid back the rusty bar to the gate and came on court. The girl went and stood at the net, po-faced. He was shocked at the change in her appearance. Her lips were split and sore. Her face was pale, haggard and drawn. Black bags clung onto her almond eyes like sleeping bats.

‘What’s happened, Lin?’ Dan said, casually strolling up to the net.

Linda bounced a ball on her racket and burst into tears. He brushed her soft cheeks with the back of his big, hairy hand and held her tight. She loved it when he did that.

‘Better?’

‘Mm, much!’ She smiled for the first time that day.

‘How did the tests go?’

The smile disappeared. ‘The cancer’s spread to the spine and organs,’ Linda said, dully.

Dan was stunned. He didn’t know what to say at first, struggling to retain any sense of self-composure. When he did speak, his voice trembled, withered with worry for her. She looked so ill. ‘God, I’m sorry. What can I do to help?’

‘Just be here for me, Dan, will you?’ 

He put his hands on her shoulders, gazed into her eyes and gave her the loveliest smile.

‘I’ll always be here for you. Come on, let’s play tennis!’ He span his wooden racket. It clattered to the court’s hard surface as he called. ‘Rough or smooth, Champ?’

He made her laugh. ‘Smooth!’

Dan felt the cat-gut strings. ‘It’s rough. I serve first.’

Linda padded to the baseline, hitched up her skirt and scratched the itchy, red rash on her thigh. Dan’s heart went out to her. She was always in the wars. Sniffing, she leaned forward, twirled her racket, bit her bottom lip, and concentrated. Linda nearly did the splits trying to reach his first serve, an ace that landed in the far right-hand corner. ‘Oh, good shot, Dan!’

‘15-0!’ Her boyfriend hopped to his left. Before she could settle, he threw the ball high in the air and slammed it out of reach. ‘30-0!’

‘Oh, well done!’ she called, admiringly. Another brutal ace followed, this time to her weak backhand, then another that narrowly missed hitting her in the stomach.

‘Sorry, Lin, did it hit you?’ She shook her head. ‘My game, I think.’ He grinned at her. ‘Like to change ends?’

‘No, thanks. Me to serve!’ She bounced the ball, one, two, three times, looked at him and smiled to herself. He always let her win. The former netball court was covered in moss and detritus. As Linda went to serve, she slipped and fell. Dan gasped in disbelief. He wanted to wrap her up in a shroud of cotton wool.

‘Lin, you’re bleeding!’ He threw down his racket, leapt the net and rushed to her side, kneeling to inspect her wound.  

‘I’ll live,’ she sighed, ‘It’s only a graze.’

She leaned back on her elbows and watched him pick the sharp, embedded grit out of her sore knee. Neither of them felt much like playing tennis anymore. Yearning intensely for one another, they left the court and walked hand-in-hand across the playing field along a red earth path until they reached their hidey-hole-in-the-hedge. The sweethearts scrambled through the gap into a leafy glade. A lonely, secret place where sunbeams danced on their faces. They lay in the lush, long grass watching a skylark beat its way across the cloudless sky. The sun was at its zenith, its hot rays seared their skin. Dan took off his vest. Linda stroked his hairy chest.

‘I love you, Dan,’ she said, dreamily, ‘You’re my world.’

He told her he loved her too. His heart raced with excitement. Her eyes sparkled like stars on a clear summer night. She smirked mischievously, twirling a strand of straggly blonde hair. 

‘What would you like me to do?’

He really did love her. ‘Kiss me.’

She kissed him, a longing, loving kiss, then gazed into his sad eyes. Dan was all she had left in the world. A delicious, tingling sensation passed down her body, her cheeks blushed.

‘Do you know what it means when we kiss like that?’ she said.

He had no idea what it meant, he hadn’t learnt the facts of life. ‘No, what does it mean?’

‘It means we want to make love.’

He stared at her, mystified. ‘Make love?’

‘Yes, you know! It means we love each other so much that we want to make a baby.’

‘Make a baby? With you Lin?’

‘Mm!’

They listened to a blackbird sing in the swaying trees. Heard the rat-a-tat-a-tat of a distant woodpecker. A bee buzzed past their faces. A jet plane, bound for a destination that they would never reach, flew high overhead, clouding the clear blue sky. Some children played on swings and roundabouts in the park, calling, laughing. They heard a baby cry. He found her secret place. 

‘What would you like me to do now?’

He didn’t have a clue, felt stupid, embarrassed, his cheeks flushed. ‘I don’t know!’

Lin sat up, unbuttoned her pristine tennis shirt, pulled it off over her head and placed it on top of her racket head to keep it clean. Dan swallowed hard. He had never seen a girl in her bra before. They kissed and clinched. She unclipped her bra, letting the straps slip off her shoulders, and un-cupped her breasts, one-by-one. He held them in his hands. They felt lovely: round and soft. He loved her so much, he could never let her go. He wanted her to share his life always, so that he could care for her, and protect her from harm. She loved him. She wanted to have a baby, her own little child, somebody she could nurture, cherish and love for the rest of her life. 

Her temperature dropped. His hand numbed. Her icicle formed. She shivered, scared by his petrified face, confused by the bizarre changes taking place within her body. Linda felt afraid.

‘What is it, Lin?’

‘I don’t feel very well.’

A raw chill trickled down her spine, her melting icicle. Her heart skipped a beat.

‘What’s the matter? Lin? Lin. Lin!’

She shivered again, violently this time. He felt her icy breath, hoar frost, freeze his cheeks.

‘I have to go now. I’ll always love you, Dan.’

Her heart stopped beating. He clutched her limp body to his. Brushed her blued cheeks with his hand. Held her tight. She loved it when he did that! He saw the thunderclouds gather in the darkening sky.

‘Please God, no!’ he cried.

She exhaled, her final sigh. ‘Mother’s waiting for me.’

Her soul rose! Out of her heart and mind! She felt her spirits lift! Freed! Freed at last!

*****

Dear Linda,

I lay awake thinking of you last night, the wind whistling in the eaves, the rain spattering on my window pane. I wondered about our love. What if we had never found your secret place?

I love you,

Daniel xx

*****

NEWMAN, Linda Jane of Byfield, dearly beloved daughter of Leonard and Maureen, died at home on 14th June 1971 after a long illness borne with courage.

Her body was donated to medical research.


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