Three months later they bought a house.
It was a good house on Jesmond Avenue. Nice neighbourhood, upper-middle range of the price bracket. Philip was pleased with his purchase. He fronted most of the deposit and as the security credit checks were all run on him, the house went in his name only. That was okay, Julie didn’t care about all that money and paperwork stuff, as Philip assured her it would be his house but their home. They were going to be happy there.
There was only one black cloud marring their horizon. Philip just couldn’t seem to find the courage to tell his parents he was leaving home. Through the exhilarating and tense weeks of the house sale going through, he was borne down with the extra worry of how his parents would react. He put it off first for days, then for weeks and finally for the full three month it took for the house to be officially theirs. She said they would go and face his parents together. How bad could it be? But Phil wouldn’t hear of it. He knew all about waving red rags in front of raging bulls.
They went to pick up the keys together. It was supposed to be the day they were moving in. There was a hold up with the other people and instead of picking up the keys at nine in the morning; it was three in the afternoon before they finally took possession of the little pieces of brass that would let them into their new home. It was the perfect excuse for Philip.
‘You move in today, love, and make everything nice. I’ll talk to the folks tonight and join you tomorrow.’ She hated the idea and refused. This was the start of the rest of their lives. They would enter that house together, or not at all. It was more than that, though; instinct told her that if she’d moved in alone, he might never have joined her. She wasn’t mercenary, didn’t see the benefits of such an arrangement. They only had two days booked off work and one had been wasted. Common sense, and Philip bringing his greater will to bear, decreed that they’d leave the house move until the weekend. They celebrated with a champagne dinner that night, but the mood was broken and a tense atmosphere lay between them. Julie wouldn’t have cared if they had to work the whole night through. She’d looked forward to this day for so long and now she was going home, to sleep in the same single bed that she’d slept in almost every night of her life.
Phil didn’t talk to his parents on the Monday night. He couldn’t find the right moment. He didn’t talk to them on the Tuesday or the Wednesday or the Thursday. They were moving into the house on the Friday.
Each of those evenings after work they’d hit the shops and spend money lavishly, giggling as they piled the house high with beautiful things. Every night the bubble would burst and they’d each go back to their own homes. Julie’s parents were diplomatic. They said it was a big thing for him, and to give him time and be understanding. She tried, but it was so difficult.
He told his parents on the Friday morning, blurting it out over the breakfast table. It didn’t go well. He left his mother sobbing and his father yelling. He had never defied them before.
Julie didn’t have a lot of money, but when her Auntie Mavis had died, some money had been put in trust for her. She hadn’t touched it when she turned eighteen, she had no need of extra money but she drew every penny of it out now. Philip was broke, all his money had gone on the house deposit, so, Julie’s inheritance was spent furnishing the house. She had good taste and was amazed when Philip took a back seat and gave her almost a free rein when it came to buying furniture and fittings. She found that out of character for him. Usually he could be very demanding and she hated to actually formulate the word, because once said, it couldn’t be withdrawn, but Phil was controlling. With something as big as his first ever house, Julie expected him to be picky to the nth degree, but on the contrary, he let her buy pretty much whatever she wanted. It was the spending spree of a lifetime carried out over several weeks. As Phil’s wages came in those first few happy months, more was added to the pot. He was generous, denied her nothing and she had the time of her life spending money like water.
Phil was twenty-six, Julie just nineteen; neither of them had lived away from home before. Once the novelty of ‘keeping house’ had worn off and the pin money had run out, things became difficult. They had to tighten their belts dramatically and the first sign of things to come insinuated its way into their paradise.
They would come home from work, tired and fractious. Phil was used to a meal on the table; Julie had never cooked in her life. When he was on early shifts, Phil would do all the housework. He finished at three and when Julie walked in at half five she would be greeted by the smell of pledge and home cooking. On these days, Phil ran his home like an army base, everything just so, everything done properly.
When he worked a full day, the weave of his ordered life unravelled at the seams. Julie wanted to sit and relax when she got home from work. Phil wanted his tea and a clean house, just as his mother had always provided at the hotel. But, this wasn’t the hotel, this was a house with dust on the units and the breakfast dishes still in the sink. He found it difficult living in a house and having to do everything for himself or rely on Julie, who didn’t do things the way he wanted them to be done. The washing piled up. He hated that. He could see the sheen of dust on the units. It enraged him. Julie was in the habit of leaving clothes lying around. He couldn’t tolerate it.
They began to fight.
Things had not improved between Phil and his parents. He didn’t see them at all for those first idyllic three months before the arguments started, but one day he had to ring them about some paperwork that he needed to collect. He said he and Julie would call at the hotel that evening. He always picked Julie up when they finished work. They’d go to Windermere. He saw no reason why there had to be any animosity.
‘Don’t you dare bring that gold digging tart to my home. Don’t you dare, you little bastard,’ Violet screamed down the phone.
Phil sat down heavily on the chair beside the telephone. He was rocked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Never, in his entire life, had he heard his mother swear at him. He hung up in a daze. He didn’t go for his paperwork that night after all. But the row with his mother coincided with the first big fall out with his girlfriend.
The next time Phil spoke to Violet was when he rang to tell them that he was marrying Julie.
And, then of course, there was the S word. Julie was confused and didn’t understand. He knew that, but when she came to him, insinuating with her ripe body that she wanted to be intimate, he couldn’t help freezing. Her curves disgusted him a little bit and the thought of actually doing it terrified him.
That’s why he proposed.
To buy some time.
In the first days of their courtship she had been all over him. It shamed him and made his cheeks burn the way her chaste kisses had become open mouthed and demanding. He didn’t like that. He felt as though he might be swallowed up into the slightly sweet, slightly sour-tasting mouth. Sometimes when they said goodnight, she’d rub her body against him, her breath harsh and her eyes wanton. It scared him. He didn’t like the feel of her breasts pushing into him. He felt the hard points of her nipples against his body when she embraced him and he felt filthy. He’d noticed she wasn’t even wearing a bra.
He was horrified when she brought the subject of sex up. She actually said it, like a strumpet.
‘Don’t you want to make love to me?’
He certainly did not. ‘Of course I do.’ The thought was abhorrent.
He felt hot, the room was stifling. He wanted to run, aware of his testicles contracting and his limp penis tortoising its way back inside his body. He’d heard that it was wet and that a woman is slimy down there and smells of fish. Why the hell would anybody want to subject themselves to that?
‘Of course I want you, baby,’ he lied. ‘It’s just that, well, you know. I’m a Catholic. It’s not allowed.’
She eased off then. Didn’t get herself so het up. He was relieved, and maybe that’s why he let her push him into buying the house. Maybe he thought the problem of the S word had gone away and she wouldn’t expect to do it. He felt that he’d made his feelings clear.
He was wrong. It was obvious the day that they went to buy beds. He didn’t mind her having a double bed. It was okay when she talked about the bedroom. Of course she could have the biggest room, which was fine by him, he’d already picked himself the attic room with the sloping roof and skylight that shone shafts of bright sunlight down on him in the mornings, and framed the beautiful vista of the stars at night. He suspected that she had other ideas, but he hated confrontation. He never voiced his opinions on the bedroom arrangements. Like telling his parents about moving out, he felt that the whole sleeping together issue was something that he’d have to work up to.
He never said a word until bedtime on their first night of living together. She went up for a bath and while she was primping and pampering herself he crept quietly up the second stairs and got into the snug single bed that she had bought for guests.
It’s better this way, he reasoned to himself, no embarrassing scenes. She’ll get the message now.
But she didn’t get the message at all; she said she was hurt and confused to find him fast asleep in the attic room. She didn’t understand.
‘What are you doing in here?’ she asked, tears already forming in her eyes. ‘Aren’t you coming to bed?’
He thought it was obvious that he was already in bed, and he would have to talk to her about knocking before she entered his room. He needed his privacy.
She was almost naked, she had on a thin white negligee and he could see the form of her, even in the pale moonlight coming through the window. Her breasts were full and the nipples stood out against the cold, enormous. His eyes betrayed him by travelling lower to the patch of darkness pushing against the fabric of the night-dress. His small penis shrivelled smaller and lay flaccid against the cushion of his testicles. He flattened his arms against the duvet, hiding himself from her.
She smelled of shampoo, and shower gel, talc and deodorant and some cloying sickly perfume. He just wanted her out.
‘Go to bed, Julie, we’ll talk things through in the morning.’ Her head hung and she went to the door and she was just closing it behind her when he called her back.
A smile came to her lips and the tears froze on her eyelids. She was framed in the doorway, backlit by light from the hallway and spotlighted in the glow of the moon. He saw her completely then, the swell at breast, stomach and hip, the thatch of dark hair between her legs, the want in her eyes. He was repulsed.
‘In future, would you mind knocking before you come into my room?’
The next morning he came down to breakfast as though nothing had happened. Julie was already up, curled miserably into the plush armchair with her legs pulled under her. Her face was puffy with red eyes from crying most of the night and the double bed had been left undisturbed. She was confused and unhappy, she felt unwelcome in his house. Julie wanted her mum.
She wanted to talk it through. Didn’t she understand that he just plain didn’t want to do that? For the second time he fell back on his religious beliefs and said that he couldn’t have sex out of wedlock. She pushed and wheedled and before he was totally aware of what he was doing, he’d grudgingly agreed that, yes, they should get married so that they could make love. She said she understood perfectly and he bought another few months in his own little bed looking at the stars.
‘Jules and I are getting married, Mother.’