Song of songs, p.60
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       Song of Songs, p.60

           Beverley Hughesdon

  ‘Doeshn’t matter – you’re clean enough for me.’ He began to tug at his braces and I climbed into bed and lay waiting for him. I did not have to wait long – he pulled his trousers and underpants off together and then tumbled on to the bed in his shirt and socks. ‘Let’sh get at you, ’Elena, let’s get at you.’ For a moment I tried to pull away, but even drunk he was much too strong for me, and as he began to tug at my nightdress I stopped struggling and let him get on with it. ‘I don’t know why you bother with theshe thingsh, ’Elena – they only getsh in my way. Thatsh better.’ He began to pull my legs apart – although he was drunk tonight his hands were much gentler than the evening before, and he kept stopping to pat and stroke me. And when he had positioned himself above me he asked, ‘Are you ready, shweetheart – cosh I’m ready.’

  I was almost smiling as I replied, ‘Yes Ben – I can see that.’

  He lunged his hips forward and his maleness pressed hard against my thigh; he pulled back and then swung forward again – and now it was the other thigh he was pushing unavailingly at. He drew back again and exclaimed, ‘I can’t find me way in, ’Elena – it’s gone! ’Ave you moved it?’ He looked so surprised that I began to giggle. Then I remembered last night and drew up my knees and spread my legs as wide as I could and he heaved forward again – and this time I felt him push full inside. ‘Aah – thatsh better – I’ve got in, ’Elena, I’ve found me way in.’ His red sweating face was inches from mine and he had obviously been eating pickled onions; I turned a little sideways and he began to pant in my ear. ‘Thatsh lovely, ’Elena – thatsh really lovely. You’re a shweet lash to be so good to me.’

  I said tartly, ‘I don’t seem to have much choice, Ben,’ but he was too far gone to understand me as he grunted and panted between each thrust. Then he gave a loud, satisfied groan and his full weight slumped down on top of me as he began to throb. I could scarcely get my breath for the weight of him as he filled me. He still lay sprawled across my body long after his hips had stopped jerking, and for a moment I wondered if he had fallen asleep, then he slowly raised his head. ‘It’s ’ot in ’ere – in your little fire ’ole.’

  ‘Then come out, Ben!’

  ‘Aye, thatsh an idea.’ He heaved himself obediently off me; my nightdress was sodden with sweat where he had lain on it, and I began to pull it down. He gave an enormous belch as his hand came out and seized my wrist. ‘It’sh not worth it, lash – I’ll be ready again in a minute. ’Ere, let’sh ’ave your ’and.’ He pulled it down and clamped it over his maleness, as he had done the night before. But this time there was no answering quiver – it remained limp and soft in my palm. ‘It’sh not working!’ He sounded incredulous.

  I decided I had had enough; I wrenched my hand away and said loudly, ‘You’re drunk, Ben Holden,’ then rolled over and turned my back on him.

  As I lay there I heard him muttering to himself. ‘She shays I’m drunk – she shays I’m drunk.’ He gave another enormous belch then called, ‘’Elena –’

  ‘Yes, Ben – what is it?’

  ‘I’m drunk.’

  ‘Go to sleep.’

  ‘Yesh, ’Elena – goo’night.’ He gave a mighty heave and pulled all the bedclothes off me as he turned on his side and began to snore. I waited a few minutes then exerted all my strength to haul them back again – if he got cold it was his own fault. Then I pulled down my damp nightdress and dropped off to sleep to the dissonant music of my husband’s drunken snores.

  I woke later to hear him pushing himself out of bed and pulling open the bedside cupboard; I lay rigid until, muttering under his breath, he began the long trek down to the backyard. After he had gone the second time I started to giggle – it really did serve him right. When the mill hooters sounded in the morning, I glanced at the clock; then I realized he had forgotten to set the alarm, and leant over and shook him awake. He groaned and pushed his face into the pillow. ‘Make us a cup of tea, there’s a good lass.’

  I went downstairs to put the kettle on and he shuffled down after me a few minutes later; he looked very shamefaced, and did not meet my eyes. He was pallid and sweating, and as he moved past me his breath stank. I asked, my voice very sweet, ‘Would you like me to fry you an egg, Ben?’ and watched his face go green as he mumbled a hasty refusal.

  I tackled my housework quite cheerfully as soon as I had had my breakfast – and every time I remembered Ben’s ghastly face that morning I wanted to laugh – really, men were such children at times. The gallant Sergeant-Major Holden – rallying his men for the counter-attack, leading them forward across No-Man’s-Land to capture an enemy trench – and with a few pints of beer inside him he could not even find his way into his own wife! I heard again his puzzled: ‘’Elena – it’s gone! ’Ave you moved it?’ and dissolved into helpless giggles. But despite his drunkenness he had found his way in eventually – and then he had taken me forcefully and fully, as a man should take his wife. I shivered a little as I wondered whether he would have recovered by tonight – and felt my cheeks burn as I wielded the duster more vigorously.

  After lunch I decided to black lead the range; Letty’s book told you how to instruct a servant in this art. I got quite filthy and broke a nail, but finally the range gleamed soft black and I was satisfied. It was soon burning well again so I was able to run off some hot water and carry it through to the scullery to treat myself to a bath. I lay back in the warm water and explored my breasts just as he had explored them – and watched my nipples rise firm and pink, just as they had done for him. I raised myself a little and looked down at my flat belly, and the dark soft mound below – and wondered whether he would be pushing his way in there tonight – and knew that of course he would; he was a strong man, a vigorous man: he would fill me every night now until I bled again. I stood up and shook off the silver drops and began to towel myself slowly dry. It was time to cook his meal.

  Ben looked very embarrassed as he came in, and still could not meet my eye. He had his bath and sat down to the food I put in front of him without speaking a word. It was only as he chased his last sausage round the plate that he broke the silence, then without looking at me muttered, ‘I reckon I owe you an apology, lass – it’s not often I’m worse for drink, but I were last night.’

  ‘That’s all right, Ben. I’ve seen men drunk before.’

  He still looked down at his plate, then mumbled. ‘But – well, I reckon I shouldn’t have – well, you know – not when I were drunk.’

  I felt quite sorry for him. ‘But I am your wife, Ben.’

  He looked up, and I smiled at him, and he seemed much more cheerful as he agreed, ‘Aye, that’s right – so you are.’

  Chapter Four

  After he had been up to his plot he sat yawning over his newspaper until I suggested an early night. I half expected him to fall asleep as soon as he climbed in after me, but we had only been in bed for a minute or two when I heard his breathing quicken at my back and felt his hand reach out and squeeze my behind. Then it slid down over my satin-covered thigh and began to push up under my nightdress until it could stroke the inside of my legs. I parted them a little and his stroking fingers moved higher as his other arm came round me and pulled me hard back against his chest. He whispered in my ear, ‘Reckon I’d best check where I’m going first – after performance I put up last night.’ I felt his hand gently open me, and lay very still as his blunt fingertip pushed fully inside and began to stroke. He kissed the back of my neck. ‘By feel of that I got a lass here who needs a bit more ’an a finger to see her right. Over you come, and we’ll get this nightie out of way.’ Slowly I rolled over on my back, and lifted my hips so he could push my nightdress up: he came into me at once and I curled my legs round his and tried to move in time to his steady rhythm. ‘That’s lovely lass, that’s lovely – push a bit harder now, don’t be afeared – you won’t push me out. That’s right lass – oh, Helena, Helena…’ and then he was groaning and panting and he did not speak again until he had finished. ‘Tha
nks, sweetheart.’ He fell asleep at once with his leg across mine and he was too heavy for me to move, so I slept under him.

  Waking later I could tell by his breathing he was no longer asleep, and his maleness was pressed hard against me, swollen and throbbing. I felt a flicker of excitement as it jumped against my thigh and stirred a little. At once his voice came out of the darkness, ‘Are you awake, lass?’

  ‘Yes, Ben.’

  I heard his sigh of relief. ‘Come here then, sweetheart – I seem to have been lying here for hours waiting for you to wake up.’ I tugged my nightdress up and raised my knees, spreading them wide. ‘Good lass – you’re getting th’ idea now.’

  As soon as he came out he fell asleep again. I lay beside him in the darkness listening to his steady breathing; he had needed me, and I had satisfied him – I could still feel deep in my belly the passage of his strong thrusts – and I tingled between the legs where his weight had pressed against me. I edged myself closer to him and his body seemed to curl round mine as he slept.

  Much later I drifted into wakefulness, conscious that a firm hand was pushing between my thighs; he began to stroke them, high up, then his movements became more purposeful – his fingers were so determined now they were almost hurting me. ‘Come on, sweetheart, wake up – I need you again.’ But I felt so drowsy, and did not want to wake up as I muttered, ‘What time is it, Ben?’

  With a laugh he replied, ‘Time you were opening your legs again, lass.’ But I lay still; I did not want to bother now. ‘Come on, lass, come on.’ Slowly I made room for him. ‘You’ll have to hold me properly, Helena – I’m near sliding out – you’re that slippery down below.’ He chuckled, ‘I dunno what you been doing in there.’ I thought resentfully, it’s what you’ve been doing Ben Holden, and he added, as if he had heard my thoughts, ‘Course, I have been presenting me compliments to you pretty regular tonight – and I suppose with you being so narrow round the hips you’re not able to accommodate as much as most women.’ He continued to pound up and down on my narrow, inadequate hips until he suddenly pushed hard and grunted and began to force even more of his seed into me. As he pressed against me I felt quite sore, and it was a relief when he finally came out. His hand fumbled for my nightdress. ‘I’ll pull this down under you, lass – sheets are all damp, they’ll be stained in morning, I shouldn’t wonder. Still, you’ll be washing them on Monday, so it won’t matter.’ As he fell asleep his last remark suddenly struck me – he was expecting me to do the household washing on Monday, just like all the other wives in Royd Street – and I had not the faintest idea how to go about it. I remembered the smell of soap and steam in the laundry at Hatton, the sweet scent of freshly-washed clothes being ironed, and the bustling laundrymaids who had never been too busy to spare a smile and a word to us as children when we had peeped in on our way back from the stables. I felt a sudden pang of homesickness, and wondered however I would cope. Then I finally faced up to the fact that I needed to make the long trek to the backyard again and begun to edge myself out of bed.

  I woke to the ringing of church bells. The man beside me stirred and stretched his brawny arms. ‘I’ll pop down and make a nice cup of tea, and bring it up to you, lass.’ He heaved himself out and padded off barefoot, the tails of his nightshirt flapping. I lay in bed waiting – I needed to visit the closet again, but I did not like to go while he was in the kitchen – and it was comfortable in bed on my own.

  He came back quite quickly, but he had two cups and saucers on a tray, and as soon as he had put them down he climbed back into bed beside me. He pressed his large body against mine as he leant across for his cup, and I stiffened uneasily; then he lay back against the pillows, watching me intently. I lingered over the last dregs in my cup, but had to put it down at last, and he reached out for me at once. As he held me to him, stroking my belly, I knew I should tell him that I needed to go downstairs first, but I was embarrassed and then suddenly it was too late – in one quick movement he had entered me. The force of his thrusts on my full bladder were very uncomfortable, but there was nothing I could do now except put up with them.

  When he had finished he rolled off me and slid down under the bedclothes; I began to move towards the side. ‘That’s right, lass, you go down and fry me a couple of eggs for me breakfast – I like a nice soft yolk. I feel right comfortable now I’ve eased meself again – reckon I’ll snooze for a few minutes. You give me a shout when they’re ready.’ He closed his eyes.

  But I was anything but comfortable as I sat over the bowl – and as soon as I got back into the kitchen I felt as if I needed to go out to the closet yet again. My hands were clumsy, tapping the first egg with the knife over the frying pan, and the yolk broke – I would have to eat that one myself. I managed to get two more in safely but as soon as their whites were set I felt I just had to run out to the closet – though when I got there I could barely squeeze anything out – and back in the kitchen I found the yolks were already solid.

  I called up the stairs to him and began to butter some bread. When he appeared he was in his shirtsleeves and braces, with the dark shadow of his overnight bristles clearly visible on his chin; he sat straight down at the table. ‘Smells good.’ I watched him raise his knife and bring it down with a quick slice on the yolk of his first egg, and saw his face fall. ‘Yolk’s hard, Helena.’

  ‘I’m sorry, Ben.’ I toyed with my own battered egg. He sighed and began to cut his eggs into squares and put them between two slices of bread to make a sandwich. When he had swallowed his last mouthful he said, ‘Emmie Greenhalgh always used to cook me Sunday breakfast at Clegg Street – she’s got a real knack with a yolk, has Emmie – lovely and soft every time.’ I put down my knife and fork and pushed my plate away. ‘Don’t you want that, Helena?’

  ‘No thank you, Ben – I’ve had enough.’

  ‘Pass it over here, lass, and I’ll finish it for you.’

  ‘I thought you didn’t like hard yolks.’

  He grinned. ‘That’s a lesson I learnt in war – you can’t afford to be too fussy, you got to make use of what’s available.’

  As I stood up and went to fill the kettle I felt the soreness between my legs and thought bitterly, yes, and I am available – and he is certainly making use of me – even though my hips were too narrow and my womb too small to accommodate all his seed, and I could not cook.

  When I came back he swung round in his chair. ‘Come here, lass.’ I went to him slowly and he pulled me down on his lap and began to kiss me. His bristles scratched my cheek, but his lips were warm and coaxing and after a little while I felt my bitterness ebb away and I began to respond. Then I felt his hand come down on my knee and lift my skirts; he did not waste time stroking my leg, it was obvious where he was aiming for and the blunt directness of it sickened me and I tore myself from his grasp. ‘Ben – how dare you – at the breakfast table!’ I was shaking with anger.

  He said defensively, ‘Don’t be so hoighty-toighty, Helena – with them lace curtains at window nobody can see owt – besides, I were only having a feel.’ When I did not reply he shrugged and pushed his cup towards me. ‘Give us a refill then – we mun be leaving for Ivy’s shortly, and I’ve still got to have a shave.’

  At the last minute I darted back to the closet; as I came back he was standing at the front door with his watch in his hand. ‘Come on, Helena – or we’ll miss train.’ As I came up to him he put Eddie’s gold watch back into his waistcoat pocket, and my legs began to tremble. He seized my hand and rushed me out.

  By the time we were on the train to Blackburn my bladder had filled once more and it was difficult to sit still. I rushed to the cloakroom as soon as we arrived and because I had to wait, we missed the connecting tram. Ben was tight-lipped as we stood at the stop waiting for the next one. I was already uncomfortable again – and I felt miserably apprehensive.

  A grey-haired woman in her fifties opened the front door as we walked up the short path; her eyes were scanning me closely. Ben kissed her
cheek then pulled me forward, ‘Here she is, Ivy, Here’s Helena.’ We shook hands warily. ‘And this is Fanny, me eldest niece.’ The fair-haired woman behind Ivy smiled shyly, then there was the thunder of boots and three tousled heads broke out of the front room: ‘Uncle Ben, Uncle Ben!’ Ben laughed and tossed the smaller boy high up in the air and he shrieked with glee as his brother demanded, ‘Did you like our rug, Uncle Ben? We picked colours – I did blue stripes and Edie did red.’

  ‘It were champion, young Benjamin - you both must’a’ worked real hard – and your new auntie thought it were right beautiful, didn’t you, lass?’

  I moved from one foot to the other and managed to smile at the beaming faces. ‘Yes, yes – it was a lovely surprise – thank you so much.’

  The children’s jaws dropped a little, and the youngest boy’s voice was piercing as he tugged at Ben’s hand, ‘Uncle Ben – lady talks right funny.’ There was total silence for a moment, then everyone spoke at once. It was Ivy who overbore the others: ‘What am I thinking of, lass – keeping you in hallway like this – come upstairs and leave your hat.’ I opened my mouth to refuse – one always lunched in one’s hat as a visitor, what an odd thing to suggest – then thought better of it; it would give me a chance to ask Ivy the whereabouts of her water closet. Upstairs I sensed Ivy’s eyes watching me as I patted and pushed my hair tidy, but she only spoke of the weather. The house was a terrace, but larger than Royds Street, with a wide staircase and full landing, and I looked anxiously about me. Ivy said quickly, ‘End door’s the bathroom,’ and I rushed towards it. Yet when I sat on the mahogany seat I could scarcely squeeze out a few drops - and it was no longer soreness I was experiencing, it was pain.

  Fanny took the protesting children back up the street to their own lunch. ‘Uncle Ben’ll still be here after dinner – but I’ll not let you come back unless you behave yourselves now.’ Silence fell and the three of them headed for the door while Ben’s jovial brother-in-law ushered us into the dining room.


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