A Forgotten Dream of Long Ago

A Forgotten Dream of Long Ago

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction


Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction


A boy meets a girl but they already knew each other. And now they are talking about commitment. And really, he can't see how he got himself into marrying her when they have not even slept together....


A boy meets a girl but they already knew each other. And now they are talking about commitment. And really, he can't see how he got himself into marrying her when they have not even slept together....


Submitted: April 20, 2017

A A A | A A A


Submitted: April 20, 2017



Chapter 1, Worries and Wishes

He felt he had learnt something in life recently. Also, he had done more of some things and not so much of others. Now, as well, he often thought about his problems. For some months now, he had dated Penelope. And he ran through examples or perhaps they were 'opportunities' of when they had nearly gone to bed together. But it was a fact that they hadn't done it together. He would describe it as 'flirting' or 'promising' it but they still hadn't been to bed. 'Was that a fact?' 'Yes'. 'It was a fact because he couldn't remember doing "it" with her'. 'Was his memory fallible?' 'No'. He would have remembered doing 'it'. 'So it was a fact that they hadn't done it'. 'Had they done anything?' 'No'. They hadn't done much, he thought. And he went through in his head again all the times when they had nearly done it. 'Was that too much to say?' 'No, she had said something like that, but she had not given him anything'.

Also, they had talked about marriage. However, now he decided that she had begun talking about it and he had not talked about it himself. As well, it was too soon to marry her anyway, even if they'd been in a steady relationship. But they didn't have one. And it really was too soon to be hitched when they hadn't been to bed yet. 'Was it logical she wanted to wed when she also knew this herself as well as him?' 'No'. No, it wasn't! Perhaps though, it was her mistake and not his mistake. And it might only be a mistake. Nor was it the fault of anybody. She said that she had now told all her family but he felt he had done nothing wrong. He did want to hold her as he liked her and perhaps they would do it soon. Soon in only a month's time, he would be meeting her family. So the matter would have to resolve itself before then. Perhaps he and Penelope would sleep together before he met her family.

'Did you really know a girl you have not slept with?' 'No'. He had thought this for some time since he started dating. Mrs Bumble though had said differently. Perhaps she was older and wiser and so he should listen sometimes. But her experiences were different from his. And so she might tell him something, but not really be able to say how he should live his own life. Perhaps, she was only saying that he could still marry when she didn't even know Penelope and only assumed she wanted a white wedding. Also, Mrs Bumble had said to him that he had once told her that he wanted to marry Penelope. And so he should do this without complaining more. Nor should he grumble either about them not sleeping together yet. And he should marry her only for the sake of love and not necessarily passion. This is if he did indeed love her. Now he remembered, Mrs Bumble had explained it all really reasonably but he had still felt something was wrong. As well, he felt some gall that she really might not understand his feelings. 'How could he try this thing for himself that he had heard?' Really, he didn't know. Perhaps he would try to think some more about it. But for now, it made him feel a little sick.

Then he took a break from his worries and instead allowed himself a chuckle. 'Begging' was how it seemed when he asked Penelope. And this begging had gone on for some time. 'How could she like him when he had to beg?' He didn't know, but perhaps she liked him for other reasons and so didn't see it as that. And they would laugh about it later. When that day came, they would put all this behind them. Now, he felt sick again thinking of it. As well, he felt angry. But he did after all want a wife soon. Mrs Bumble had said he was ready as she had known him for years and so could tell. And so he would marry. Yet, he wanted to sleep with his girlfriend beforehand. He went through some ideas that he knew about sex and marriage. 'Find out whether you are sexually compatible'. 'Share intimacy'. 'For the sake of your future life together, try living as near now to how you will live after you marry'. This and similar advice sounded only right and sensible.

They met again at her apartment and she chatted about a hobby that she had not talked about before. When she talked, her gabbling and chattering played oddly, but pleasingly with his emotions. Her voice rose and fell like a beautiful bird in song. And this made him happy. She told him all about a hobby. And they talked about much else as well. Often though now, they would just gossip. She was more open and friendly than ever. It was so long since they had talked properly and she was even more of a flirt than he remembered. Also, he felt she had at last told him something about her life and given a bit more of herself to him. He felt happy that he had met her, as she was gentle, friendly and kind to him. Even though she was pleasant to everyone, she was still very pleasant to him and this counted for something in a mixed-up world.

He went around her house again another time and her greeting him with a lovely smile meant he already felt good about the evening. Or he would almost have felt good about it if he did not still have some nagging doubts it was not going to work out. Scented candles and low lighting in the room raised his hopes that the play of the previous evening had paid off. He supposed they would sleep together soon or perhaps even this evening. After they talked normally for some time, he asked her to come and sit next to him on the sofa. They sat for some time with their arms around each other not saying much. And then, as casually as possible, he lifted her clothing. But his play did not work and she got up. He thought that he had picked this trick up only from experience. This is if you call it a 'trick' playing around on the sofa with your future wife. Yet strangely, he couldn't remember where he got it from assuming it was even a trick and not something completely normal.

"Do you mind?"

"Why can't we do it?"

They discussed it for a while before she said, "Do you know what you sound like?"

"We have to do it."

He ran through all the reasons she might want to do it before they started their lives together.

"You're going to ruin it if you continue," she said. "Please go! And call me again when you feel able to speak better and not in that awful way. We need to speak some more before we do anything more. Love you!"

His heart fell and then rose again. And then he left for the evening but not for good, although it felt like that. Now when it was getting so close to the wedding he thought that he had only one choice left. And that was to marry her and wait until after the wedding to do 'it'. So he'd just have to wait until after for everything. With a start, he realized how important 'it' had become. A horror gripped him. He, and her as well, would have a wedding night to get through. It reminded him of some horribly old idea that had long ago gone out of fashion. But by chance, it was now in his thoughts. He did not know that he really wanted any of it. However, he would just have to do it. And if he had ever thought he would like this, then now he might really have it. He might know what it was like soon. This was even if he could believe that he was saying this just to himself and let alone anyone else knowing about it. He had almost forgotten what it was like to date a girl normally and now he was marrying one.

Chapter 2, To Think Back to This Time

They did talk some more. And they met at times. Maddeningly when he wanted to discuss his feelings with her, she would say almost nothing. One evening, he felt low and it was as if nothing mattered any more. After a while though, he did not feel so bad. And this feeling continued for some time.

On a whim, he asked her inquiringly, "Do you want to marry me?"

To his surprise, she responded by saying high-spiritedly, "Is that a proposal?"

"Yes," he said, seizing this moment to reaffirm their commitment as she was playing it.

He loved her now for creating this thing. And she had created it for them both. He might still remember her doing something like this when he was old and fit to die in his bed. Already that evening he felt relaxed and he now felt even more relaxed. It was as if he had woken early after a long night's slumber in a comfortable and quiet room and had heard the birds singing.

"The bed is through there," she said, gesturing to get his attention as he had allowed his mind to wander thinking this. She said this quietly and unemotionally despite some extravagant hand gestures.

"Aren't we going to wait until after we're married?"

It had come as a shock because he had allowed himself to entertain thoughts they would not do it until after. And now he felt disappointed despite himself.

"Yes, of course," she said with a tear in her eye.

She managed a smile and he knew that he would only see her smiling again when it was their wedding day.

The wedding ceremony was charming if only because they were both young and starting a new life together. Penelope wore a white dress and many of the guests commented on it. And some guests were still there to see them leave sticking up a few hands to wave.

In the car, they made little conversation. When they got to the honeymoon hotel, he picked most of their bags out the car whilst she only carried a light vanity case. They went to the hotel reception and booked into their room. After they climbed the stairs to the room, they unpacked some of their stuff and stuck it in their bedroom closet. Yet they could see the closet was not big enough and did not have enough hangers for all their clothes. After discussing it for some time, they agreed that they had to admit defeat. It seemed that both their sets of clothes could not fit in. She took his clothes and hung some. However, it seemed she took the opportunity to hang up mostly hers. Nor did he notice when she dumped most of his clothes on top of his suitcase. And this was without even folding them.

To him, she was a young bride smelling sweetly with red rose cheeks. Yet, he wondered what he was to her even now they had just married or because of it. She smiled at him as if asking what he was thinking. But he did not say what he had just thought. Instead, he said an earlier thought that he had loved her even before they dated. She smiled or perhaps it was a laugh. He drew her towards him, but she pulled away.

"Don't bother," she said. "You really are quite experienced."

"Don't you want that?"

She sighed and stood up. Now the mood had changed and it was no longer sexy.

Somberly she said, "You don't have to leave the room but keep to your side of the bed. And don't wake me until morning."

"Do you want to sleep at opposite ends of the bed?"

He said this as he remembered a party he had gone to as a teenager when he and some others had really needed to sleep and so done this.

She let out a laugh.

"No," she said. "We don't need to do that but keep to your side of the bed though."

He began dressing in his pajamas.

"Lie in the bed and then I'll switch off the light," she said. "Sleep well tonight!"

She took her wash bag and went to the bathroom whilst he lay on the bed thinking. When she came back, she got undressed under her nightgown and got into bed, laid on her side and then turned over and seemed to rest and sleep. 'She is a good, caring person' he thought. Then he felt ashamed to have thought that about his wife. Just as he was thinking this, she turned off the bedside light and complained heavily that his lying awake meant that she could not sleep. Then he felt quite tired, turned over and dozed a bit. He had turned away onto his side of the bed to try to get to sleep and perhaps fell asleep almost as soon as he did so because the next thing he knew was waking up early the next morning. His wife as she was now and no longer just a girl he knew was already up. And he saw that she had dressed already and was packing the last few things into her suitcase.

They started their new life together. Despite some heaving a few sighs, he was grateful nobody asked them whether they were sleeping in the same bed. Some of his friends were busy. One said that she didn't see married men. Others texted him saying that they were also busy. He spoke to Mrs Bumble about it.

"They really are busy," she said. "You have your wife now to live with and with whom you can talk. Go out somewhere nice. That's my advice."

"Yes," he said, "but we're saving for something."

"Oh no," she said. "You've already got all you need."

"No, we said we needed other things…"

"Do you mind leaving?"

As he was leaving, she said, "Did Penelope agree you needed to save like this?"

"Yes," he said.

Mrs Bumble said no more but watched him leave.

Chapter 3, In the End You Find an Answer 

He was packing the vacuum cleaner away in his home when he felt hot and sweaty. There was an attractive virgin in the same house as she must be or they would have done it before now. He allowed himself a chuckle at this thought. 'Hot virgin!' he thought, and then felt uneasy and ashamed.

"What are you doing?"

His wife had passed by the door, looked in the room and seen him laughing.

"Nothing," he said feeling embarrassed.

In a small way and despite his not sleeping yet with his wife, he felt pleased they had married. And he felt pleased it was so easy not to explain anything that she could have pressured him for harder. This was though he knew she wanted explanations. However, he also knew that he'd prefer not to give them if he could avoid it.

He was on a bus to work and a woman sitting opposite him tapped him on his leg.

"You look annoyed. I would be too if my wife slept with other men," she said sympathetically. "I think you should know because I like you."

"How did they do it?"

"He knows her, spoke to her and invited her back."

"He did?"

"Yes," she said. "They go back a long way, you know, as he knew her years ago."

"How did he untie the knot?"

"What does that mean?"

"My wife, I couldn't persuade her to sleep with me. But how did he do it?"

"I don't know like that," she said, looking away a little peeved. And then more angrily, she said, "Why are you so interested anyway? Donald didn't mention it that I know of and... I don't know what he said."

This gave him bad feelings that he didn't fully understand and when he saw his wife again, he said, "Someone told me that you went back to some man's house you met at work."

"Yes," she said.

"Why didn't you do it with me?"

"How…" she began and then after a pause said, "I don't know what you're talking about. How could I have done it with you?"

"How do you know Donald?"

He said this suddenly feeling interested, but with such strong and hurtful feelings that he didn't like it.

"I've known him for a few years. Usually he works in another building, but I happened to see him the other day," she said with a laugh. "Although I've seen him around, we hadn't had much of a chance to gossip. That was until a few days ago when we had some reason that we were doing some work together. We chatted and he helped me. Then we just decided that we might as well do 'it'. And so 'that was that'. We did 'it'!"

"What do you think of him?"

"He's good looking and pleasant and I like him."

"That makes me feel bad."

"Why should it? What are you talking about?"

"Why didn't we do 'it' before we married?"

"Why would I have...? What was that on the sofa when you groped me and stuck your hand up my back...? Why couldn't you be like any normal boyfriend I had before I met you? And you could just say something like, 'Can we go through to the bedroom?' Then I would have done it. I would have dropped my knickers if I knew that was what you wanted to do with me. Instead, you bored me the entire time. Really, what's wrong with you?"

"Thanks for telling me," he said so wholeheartedly that it surprised even him. "But what was so bad about what I did?"

"You scratched me. My body had red marks for days from your fingernails."

"Sorry. But I needed new nail clippers. My old clippers were rusty. I didn't realize I had long nails that would need trimming before I came to visit you."

When she said nothing, he said, "So that's it then! I hadn't gone to the shops and missed out!"

She laughed an almost hearty laugh, and he said, "Why didn't we do it after that? Why couldn't you, instead of me, possibly have suggested going to the bedroom?"

"Remember! I did ask you, but you said 'not until after the wedding'."

"That was a chance also as I had become so used to thinking I would have to wait..."

She tried to say something, but he continued, "...That you wouldn't sleep with me for the years we had known each other…. And so I began to think I might as well wait… as that's what you wanted... because you always said we could sleep together, but then we didn't..."

He continued some more and she listened patiently and pensively. Really, she wanted desperately to interrupt but was keen to hear what he had to say, and her own opinions could wait a while longer if she said them at all.

Finally, he stopped speaking and she looked less pensive.

She said, "I don't know it matters now or it matters now what you think. Perhaps, I'll talk to you when you're not so worried and uptight about this. We'll see if we have our day to talk it over."

He spoke to Mrs Bumble.

"Oh, no," she said. "I told you to take her out. That's what I said! It was so you could go on a date to soften her up." Then she added angrily, "Why do you think I told you?"

"I don't know," he said softly.

"Take her out somewhere nice now," said Mrs Bumble's friend.

He did and they went out together a few times. And they slept together as Mrs Bumble and her friends had said they would. But he couldn't stop worrying about the same things.

"So near but so far!" he exclaimed adjusting a mirror in their living room one lazy weekend morning.

However, it was only to him he exclaimed this and Penelope had looked away and pretended she hadn't seen him doing it.

Another time, they did talk about new and different topics. It seemed like they had just met. Then they stayed quiet and happy, contented to have finished chatting, without the need to talk and not even when they could have said more.

They were at home watching TV and Penelope looked over and smiled at him. He felt something had indeed changed. Now they often talked about anything and everything and many other things were going better for them.

Penelope started a course to learn office skills and she would come back from her class and chat about it.

"Others on my course, and who I will meet at work, do stuff you wouldn't even dream about. You will never do what they do even in a lifetime."

"Like what?"

"Don't make me laugh!"

He felt pleased for a few days that she was doing all right on her course as she might bring home some extra money. Yet now his morose thoughts returned and he wanted help with his worries again. Really, he felt that he just wanted someone to tell him the answers he needed. Then he could live his life and not have to worry. He wanted to have a better life for himself, but he didn't want to let others down as well. Also, he imagined that these problems might have brought him and his wife closer. He went up to Penelope as she was working in the kitchen and spoke fondly about this to her. They were both in warm clothes, he in a jumper and she in a cardigan. The first chills of winter had come and the panes of the kitchen window had frosted over. As well, the small garden also carried frozen crystals on top of tufts of grass. He thought that Penelope might like a hug to warm her up. And he would like one back from her. But she did not want him to hug her and nor did she accept him saying that he loved her. Or she just hadn't wanted a hug from anyone at all. He talked about how well they had been getting on but she turned away not interested and without hearing all he might have said. Then turning back, she stroked his arm before returning to what she was doing. Really, she seemed upset. 'Was she though?' He didn't know, but he couldn't ask her when he might be the cause. Yet he still wanted to know things that he thought she could tell him. Going to stand now at the kitchen door, as though a compromise not to ask so directly, he thought of what to say for a moment. She looked over at him and tossed her head.

Then she spoke quietly, saying, "Later we'll have a sit down to talk about it. Wait until I've finished cooking and we'll speak. Don't though get your hopes up too much. It might not come to anything. But you can hope it will be for the best."

"I'm still worried about 'us'," he said, taking the opportunity to talk.

She looked concerned and caring, but she did not turn fully to him. And really, she ignored him now.


She stuck her hands in the sink again peeling some vegetables, but after she came and sat down next to him saying that the meal was still cooking in the oven.

"See! I've sat down with you like I said I would."

She said this happily, but her smile waned as though she had been recently crying. Perhaps, it was all an emotional high to talk about this all the time. Now though, she might want to talk. It might help her if she sobbed some more even though she had cried already.

"I feel it was my worst nightmare…," he said beginning a prepared speech he had thought of as his wife cooked, "to bring my intended back to this house... and not to consummate my marriage with my young bride before..."

"Oh! Stop! First, you don't know where what you're saying comes from at all! Others have read lots of fiction, stories and poetry, but you have read none. Can't you see how you must sound! I had a boyfriend years ago who wrote love poems. And his poetry was a thousand times better than what you've just said..."

"Oh, did you know someone like that? So you had a boyfriend who wrote poetry, did you then? Was it all unrequited love...? I suppose it was…?"

"No, it was not all unrequited love. He wrote a lot of poetry and all kinds, romance, love and sex poetry."

"What was that last thing you said?"

"Never mind..."

"No! What was it?"

She laughed, "Please!"

"No, I don't understand."

"I don't know I want to tell you because you might ask which ones were about me. It's personal from that time I had with him. And I don't want it part of our marriage that a poet wrote about me or for you to say anything about it. How can it be something for the both of us? I have you now...."

"So what are you saying? You mean that he 'penned a few verses...'"

"He wrote it and shared it with friends. And I think got it published, or some of it."

"How did you know him?"

"I went out with him."

He bit his lip, as he couldn't bring himself to ask if she'd slept with him. 'Why wouldn't she have had sex with him?' he pondered. She must have or it was quite likely she did.

It seemed as though a cloud had lifted but for some contrary reason. She would have slept with someone if she'd dated anyone before him. And this was if they were normal people at all or she had been anyone's girlfriend. However, although he thought this, he decided instead to talk more about his fears that he'd had for so long as he wanted a more convincing way of ending them. He didn't want all this worry. But nor could he just close the book he had been on now for so long and do something else. Nor could he yet be someone else that didn't dwell on things after so long worrying and not living his life. Nonetheless, he knew he now had most of the answers he was ever going to get and he really just had to stop worrying.

He asked her about it again. She turned then to look more fully at him, although before she had studied his face keenly, but dispassionately.

"I've explained it all," she said exasperated. "You had long fingernails. And for some reason of your own, you didn't accept my invitation to go to bed."

She said it nicely, but she could barely hide her anger. And he took some time to think about it.

"Does that mean you slept with him?"

He said this as evenly as he could when he was not concentrating that well. However, he thought he should continue the conversation somehow.

"Hadn't I mentioned other boyfriends? How do you explain that if that is what you think?" When after some time he could not think of any good answer, she tired and picking up her handbag said, "I've got to go somewhere."

On the morning Penelope was starting her new job, they sat together in the living room.

"Can we discuss why we didn't do it?"

He felt now was the time to discuss it. Yet he had a sense of doom. More than that, he worried that it was the past and today they had different lives. He felt he risked the future by taking up the past, but to cope he still needed some answers.

Someone had told him once that you should cope completely well with anything to get the benefits you want if you try to solve your problems at all. And perhaps one way to do this was for the problems of the past to stay firmly in the past. Alternatively, someone else had said that if you keep talking about problems, then they stay solved. Or at least, you have solved them as well as you will ever do. Otherwise, they stay with you and will get worse again.

He didn't really know whether he should talk about them or not, and he said this to his wife.

She considered an answer, but instead of the answer she was going to give, she said something she had thought a moment earlier.

"Is that what you have done all this time? You have talked our problems to death. And you have talked about our marriage and us to death. You have talked me to death as well. Now, I'm bored with it."

She looked down and across the room and then not angry any longer, she said smilingly, "Don't dwell on it too much, I won't."

He thought she was a joking and laughed, but she said she had not said anything funny.

"Why didn't we do 'it'?" Even to him his speech now sounded strained, tired and crude and thinking he should communicate better, he added, "Before we started on our shared life together."

"Did I tell you the matter was still up for discussion? Or did I possibly tell you anything that meant you'd just shut your mouth and not talk about it."

She raged some more and got up agitated knocking over a plant pot with her sleeve. However, after that, she calmed down.

"Is that what's bothering you?"


"What about how you scratched me on my side? And you did say that you didn't want 'it' until after we married? What did you think you were playing at?"

"Sorry! I was clumsy," he said.

She got angry, but sat back in her chair.

Then she added, "I told you more than once about how you scratched me and what you said to me. Now then, what's your problem still?"

He tried to feel calm and explain his feelings better so they could both understand them.

"When I went out with you, it was the first time I'd had a girlfriend and not slept with her. And you were the only girl with whom I did or, should it be, 'didn't' do anything. It created all kinds of problems in my life I'd never had before. I cannot even bring myself to tell you some of my worries. My worries were about me, you and everyone else. Why in the first few years we went out, did you not invite me to bed?"

"What did you think we were doing all that time?"

"You made me think we could go to bed at any moment! You offered it, but you never did it."

"I call that 'flirting'. I thought you were a male friend. But now I might regret it."

"You kept me going by saying we would do it."

"'Flirting' I just said I called it. Didn't I tell you I had a boyfriend?"

"Yes, you did. But I thought you still didn't have one."

"Why would you think that when I told you I did have a boyfriend?"

"Because you never said anything about him..."

"You don't expect me to talk about him to you? Would you like it if I talked about you? Perhaps I should have as he would have thought nothing of you."

"Don't! Who was he?"

"He died."

She told him about her ex-boyfriend who sounded like he had plenty going for him. And he was obviously sexually active. The more she said about boyfriends and male friends, the less believable she was a virgin. At least, she would not have been a virgin for long.

Perhaps, he still did not know all he might like to know. But after so many years, he could see he needn't have worried. And perhaps he needn't have about any of it. He had taken Penelope out on dates as suggested. They had properly started their relationship and had stayed together for so many happy and contented years. It seemed they both felt happy and contented. Perhaps, it was true love just as promised.

He said sympathetically, "When did he die?"


She said this irritated and distracted once again.

"I've got to go now. Save that thought until I get back. And then you can tell me what you think it means to someone like me who knew him when I see you next."

When he saw her again, it was after they had come in from work. She was wearing a dressing gown and she'd taken a shower.

"Why did you shower?"

"To relax," she said.

He hadn't heard such a thing for some time and it made him uneasy.

But he ignored the feelings he had from her saying this, and instead he said jokingly, "Is this a 'woman's thing'?"

"Yes, it's a 'woman's thing'!" she said laughing.

However, he didn't see the joke. But it might just be a 'woman's thing'. And perhaps they had found out something of value that would help them.

When he said something about this, she got up saying she was going to bed.

Over the next few days and weeks he tried to talk to her some more.

Eventually she said, "Why don't you ask me how my day was?"

"How was your day?"

"I'm going out. I've an invitation to a friend's house and I'll be sleeping over."

"Do married women have sleepovers with friends?"

"You are just about doing it," she said demonstratively.

And then she left.

Chapter 4, It Ends In Front of the TV 

"I don't know, but I don't think marriage is all they say it is."

"Why do you think that?" said Mrs Bumble.

"I would be better off single, dating and having no worries."

He told her about recent things with his wife, her criticisms, and the sleepover.

"The sleepover does sound strange," Mrs Bumble said. "And nagging is a terrible drain on you both. You should tell her to stop that."

As she said it, he felt a tremendous sense of relief. It was as though she had understood him when he felt that nobody understood him. It seemed that now he had explained himself without having to make too much effort. He had made efforts for years, but had gotten nowhere. And now he felt tired. Some of his problems were easier than before and he could think better about anything that still worried him. He did not have so much now that was still a major worry and nor so much that needed his attention.

"What if Penelope is being unfaithful? Does that mean that I should end the relationship? Perhaps, I should have an affair myself?"

Mrs Bumble, after the briefest of pauses said, "No, never do that. It will lead to unhappiness. I know Penelope loves you. Let me reassure you of that!"

"But I still don't know," he said. "I thought it would be better than this somehow."

At that, Mrs Bumble changed, she moved closer and her body lost 10 years of worry and tension. Her voice was like a beautiful bird's song and it was unlike anything he had ever heard. She came close to speak to him with her face bright and filled with love.

"Remember when you were a teenager? I promised you that you would have the most wonderful marriage, a fairy-tale wedding, and idyllic years. Do you remember all the worries you had then? And think how far you've come now in your journey of life. What I promised you so many years ago has come true just as I said it would. And it has because you brought Penelope back to these hills…"

Then she looked around and her eyes filled with tears seeing her room with its old curtains and sticks of furniture and photo frames on top of everything.

"What do you mean 'these hills'?"

"These hills here," she said testily. "The ones you can see outside the window with the houses on. That's what I mean by 'these hills'."

She took a deep breath, calmed down and talked again.

"I know," she said, speaking warmly, "that you wake up to hear Penelope moving around in the kitchen making breakfast and not some floozy who doesn't care about you, drags on her clothes and walks out the door…. And I know you want someone to care about you," she said pausing for him to affirm this.

"My Geoffrey when he was alive was the meaning in my life. And he still is although I get lonely."

"What do you have to do?"

"I have my books. And I look up photos of all kinds. Also, I have the TV. And I go out with friends. So I couldn't ask for more."

"What books can I read?"

"I mean, what books do you think? What ones could I be talking about?"

Mrs Bumble looked over at him and said now less testily, "I don't know about you sometimes. Did you know that there is plenty on the TV and radio?"

He said that he did know there was.

Sympathetically, Mrs Bumble said, "Penelope would like to hear what you've done. You should tell her. Now, is there anything else you are going to ask me ever again…? Let's see, there's a good show tonight on the TV…. If you go now, you won't miss the start…. I think it has a good story to it…. Why don't you just go...? I've things of my own to do…. Enjoy the TV and don't think about your problems…. Nor go back to thinking about them either after the TV is over…. I didn't tell you this before, but when I feel down I just switch on the TV or I pick up a book."

Then she smiled wanly at him and said, "Now I've told you my little secret about how I manage and cope on my own. But you have Penelope to talk to and with whom to share your things. Please go now to your own home with your wife. And you can tell me what you have watched on television the next time I see you!"

Looking at him again just then, he saw it was in the same way that she had always looked at him. But now he realized something was not all he thought it was beforehand. And it wasn't the same as before when he could not now remember exactly how it was that they had talked just like this and so many times and over so many years that they had done so.

"Why don't you in a minute go out somewhere?" she said evenly but a bit testily.

And then looking away and talking more quietly, she said, "You really do have Penelope to go out with, to take everywhere and to then go back to your house with. And as far as I can tell, you share a bed with her. Do you sleep with her in the same bed...? I mean, do you...? Perhaps you should go out on your own and make some new friends. Or is it true you really do sleep with her...? I don't know if I ever did with my Geoffrey.... And I might regret that now. But it seemed the right thing at the time.... Ah, well, you shouldn't mind little things like that.... That's what they say anyway.... Now, I've already listened to all your problems.... That's all I can say that I've said now to you about them. So don't please ask any more. And we'll talk about something different next time.... Now, as well, I'm an old woman and going to bed…. You can show yourself out."

He was just leaving when she turned to look at him more fully from her sofa where she was just putting a book and few things away, and she said considerately, "Is there any more advice you'd like...? I mean is there any more you'd like to ask me.... You can ask me anything else and anything at all.... I really don't mind if you do. It is just that I like to see if I can help... I have done ever since I can remember. Are there any other worries you have still that I haven't helped you with that I might be able to as well...? Would you like another chat...? Perhaps, we could have one on another day about it.... I would be pleased to chat with you about anything at all.... That is if you had something more to say about it and not the same things.... And we'll see if I've learnt something in all my years of life and experience, all the books I've read or because I've picked up a few things from gossip with my friends.... These things mean we can have chats when we meet.... Or we can talk about anything you'd like to as well."


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