I Love You, p.1
I Love You
By Andy Marlow
Copyright 2011 Andy Marlow
Discover other titles by Andy Marlow:
The Creative Sponge
Thomas Wilson is missing. When last seen, he was being taken away by a representative of the mysterious TGN organisation, his identity erased. Kathy Turner, his best friend, has gone insane searching for him. Or has reality distorted itself around her? This philosophical thriller brings their destinies together on a journey deep into the nature of identity, reality and existence itself.
What readers are saying about The Creative Sponge:
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The Reasonable Man
Terry Queen adores Sandy. So when she dumps him, he is devastated. So devastated, in fact, that he begins stalking her. Of course, she calls the police and he is hauled off to court. Yet as the courtroom drama progresses, a simple case of harassment soon develops into a fierce battle of words about the deepest of issues: do any of us really have a choice, or is free will a myth?
Table of contents
Chapter 2: December 1st, 1936
Chapter 3: February 12th, 1938
Chapter 4: March 2nd, 1938
Chapter 5: April 23rd, 1938
Chapter 6: June 21st, 1940
Chapter 7: September 2nd, 1942
Chapter 8: March 15th, 1943
Chapter 9: March 22nd, 1943
Chapter 10: May 7th, 1947
Chapter 11: September 1st, 1951
Chapter 12: October 13th, 1956
Chapter 13: July 17th, 1963
Chapter 14: May 14th, 1967
Chapter 15: May 7th, 1968
Chapter 16: December 4th, 1975
Chapter 17: August 2nd, 1983
Chapter 18: September 1st, 1991
Chapter 19: October 17th, 1998
Chapter 20: March 31st, 2005
Chapter 21: September 7th, 2011
Message from the Author
About the Author
“I love you.”
I say it earnestly, hoping she will reply. But she does not. I knew she wouldn’t. She simply sits there, gazing at me as if I were a stranger, as familiar to her as the postman or the milkman.
It’s been a while since she’s said it. Every time I tell her, I hope she will reply. I hope my love will be returned to me. But it is not.
I can’t blame her, though. She doesn’t just look at me like I’m a stranger. To her, I am a stranger, as much as it breaks my heart to say it. She has dementia. She can barely remember who she is, let alone who I am.
I smile. If she could see me now… in my mind’s eye, I still see my wife, Gracie Meadows, as the dazzling blonde with the knockout smile I met in my teens. To anyone else she would look old: a wrinkled, sagging granny, completely unappealing to the eye. In a way I see the same thing when I look at her. The woman on the plush, comfortable sofa sitting next to me is not my wife. She doesn’t even look like her anymore. All that defined my Gracie, all her memories and personality, died long ago, and now I am left with the torturous task of looking after the body she left behind, a constant visual reminder of the loss I have technically not yet suffered.
“I love you too,” Gracie would have said. So this woman cannot be Gracie, for she has not replied, except to give me the haunting, dazzled look she would have given to a stranger in the street who greeted her so.
Does she still love me? Can she? What even is ‘love’, when it comes down to it? I have known many different manifestations of the phenomenon throughout my life, none the same at the other.
I am an old man now. My legs, which once ran marathons, now cannot reach the kitchen without help. My hands, once skilled at woodwork, now hurt me when I try to change channel on television. I cannot do a lot these days. Even my mental faculties are slowly fading. Each day I feel a little bit duller, a little less knowledgeable. Yet I can still think. And as I look after the woman beside me, the abandoned body that is my wife, I have nothing to do but ponder the nature of love. What is it? Do we have it still?
Throughout my life I have kept a diary. I have not filled it in every day: rather, only on important days, days which meant a lot to me. You may be surprised to know that such days do not coincide with great historical events but are merely of personal importance. They are a great help to me, though, as I sit here contemplating. I flick through the pages and see what happened in my life, what was important to my younger self, as I try to fathom the eternal mystery that is ‘love’.
It makes sense to start at the beginning, so I turn to the entry for December 31st 1936: the first day I met Gracie…
Chapter 2: December 31st, 1936
“I love you!”
“Why? What did I say?”
That was Gracie, talking to me. We were working together in a sweet shop. I was sixteen, she was fifteen, and we had both found our first full time employment at Archibald’s Emporium in Birmingham city centre.
I had noticed her straight away. That’s not saying a lot when you consider that we were the only two employees, but I hadn’t known that when her beauty first hit my eye. I had wandered in here looking for some sherbert and she had simply been another person in the shop. She may have been another customer. Whoever she was, her appearance had instantly distracted me from my sugary quest. She had the most striking blonde hair I had ever seen, which she wore up in a bun, and clothes which were very fashionable for the time. Her bubbly persona was visible from a distance in the way she bounced around the shop while browsing.
She was already working there when I started. Though one year my junior, I was to be her apprentice; she, my teacher.
When we had first met, her bubbly persona had dissolved quickly as she thought about how to greet this strange boy who was to work with her. She had come across as nervous, but friendly. Yet five minutes after we were acquainted, she was a bouncy as ever, excitedly showing me around the shop she called home.
Let me clarify something. She had been the one to say “I love you”. I had been learning how to stack the shelves and had made the elementary mistake of putting gobstoppers in the liquorice box. She had shown me, and I had apologised hastily, embarrassed.
“You’re so bashful,” she explained. “It’s cute. I think I’ll keep you as my pet. My teddy bear.”
You have no idea how much of a compliment this was to me. Growing up, I had never had much luck with girls. I had always been spurned at dances, or ended up with the ugly girl nobody else wanted. To get such an endearing compliment from an attractive girl, then, was like gold dust.
“Thank you,” I said bashfully, true to my persona. I didn’t know what else to say so I hastily moved the gobstoppers back into the right box and continued my duties under her watchful eye. I made many mistakes, but this only served to amuse her. Every time I misused the till or took out the wrong box she would emit a shrill little giggle that went right to my soul before coming over to help me.
Gracie was the daughter of the sweet shop’s owner, Archibald. His plan was to marry her off some day, but until the right man came along he would work her in the family business to keep her useful. So she had grown up in this small, square room, spending her weekends and afternoons helping her papa vend sugary delights to joyful children. She knew all there was to know about the different types of lollipop and gum, boiled sweet and chocolate bar. In fact, her head was a living compendium of encyclopaedic knowledge on the subject of confectionary. She filled me in as the day went on.
“These are made in a factory in Sheffield,” she said, pointing to a jar of oddly coloured gumballs on the shelf. “I wouldn’t eat them i
“Although,” she beckoned me closer, “Don’t tell that to the customers- or we won’t sell any.”
I looked at her with a bemused expression on my face. She laughed her shrill laugh and got me in a headlock, grinning.
“Oh, I am going to love working with you,” she exclaimed. “You’re so simple. You’ll be so much fun.”
I must explain that I am not always such a simpleton. My mind was sharp at that age, so I understood completely all she was telling me about sweets and manufacturing. Yet what was so new to me, so mind boggling, was the simple fact that a girl was talking to me. She was nothing like any other girl I had ever met before, so easy-going and confident. It would take me a while to get over my teenage-boy nerves, but after a while I could tell that I , too, was going to enjoy working here.
Presently the bell rang and it was time to close up shop. A boy was waiting for Gracie outside : a tall, handsome boy, with a prim suit and stylish hat. She screamed with excitement when she saw him and ran out to greet him.
“That’s Graham,” she explained. “He’s taking me out tonight. Goodbye!”
“Where are you going with him?” I managed to ask. Hormonal interference had been blocking my vocal chords all day, but now that her boyfriend had turned up it made things a little easier, if a little less hopeful for me. In truth, it would have been nice to entertain the idea of me and her being together. Yet it was clear that horse had bolted long before I met her.
“To the pictures. Isn’t it exciting?” she squealed. “I mean- look at him!”
With that, she bounded out of the shop into the arms of her beloved.
Chapter 3: February 12th, 1938
“I love you,” she said, mournfully. “You’re the best friend I could ask for.”
It was almost two years since Gracie and I had started working together and we had by now become close friends. I had seen as she and Graham had grown closer. I had listened as she spoke excitedly about their upcoming engagement. And now, I saw how he had affected her when he had suddenly and unexpectedly broken it off and disappeared into the proverbial sunset for the sunnier climes and better lays of Suffolk.
She was sitting with me as I cradled her in my arms, listening to her rail about the injustice she had suffered.
“He said I could keep the ring,” she wailed. “But what good is it now? What does it mean? It’s just a piece of worthless metal!”
With that, she tore the band from her finger and flung it violently into the bin.
“We were going to get married. We’d even decided on the date and were about to book the church.”
“And it was his idea!” she shrieked. “He proposed! I wasn’t even sure I was ready, but I still said yes!”
“His idea!” she repeated, distraught, her tear-soaked eyes looking up at mine. Anger burnt deep within her soul, but its target was long gone. He had caught the eight o’clock train that morning and was by now probably inspecting his new house in Ipswich. One hundred and eighty miles separated him from the woman he had scorned and the hatred she held for him.
Her words collapsed into sobs and she averted her gaze from mine, simply comforted by my presence. I was safe company for her, a reminder that not everybody was so unreliable or heartless.
“You wouldn’t leave me, would you?”
“No,” I reassured her. “I’ll always be there for you. Friends don’t abandon each other.”
She smiled a weak, forced smile. Her wailing wound down into simple sobbing and she found the strength to sit up straight now, no longer using me for support.
“Thank you Patrick,” she said. “I knew I could count on you. You always know how to cheer me up.”
Something changed in that moment. She was looking at me with gaze anew, as if realising or noticing something for the first time. An idea formed in her head and forced its way out through her mouth.
“Patrick,” she began, “have you ever thought that… you and me…?”
Her sentence was incomplete, but I knew what she was saying. The thought struck me as ludicrous given the current situation and I rejected it outright.
“No,” I said firmly. “No, no, no. Gracie, I’d be a fool and a liar to say the thought had never crossed my mind. But right now you’re in an emotional state and don’t know what you’re saying. I wouldn’t want to take advantage of you. I’m your friend. That’s all I should be.”
She said nothing but just looked at me dispiritedly. Her tears dried up only to be replaced by a darker, quieter sorrow. Her gaze seemed thoughtful, contemplating my words and reluctantly seeing the wisdom in them. Nevertheless, the world was solidifying around her now and she found herself alone in it, with neither me nor the treacherous Graham there to hold her.
“Well, thank you,” she concluded, forcing a fake smile. “You really are a good friend.”
She stood up, zombie-like, and began to step forward towards the doorway.
“I’m leaving now,” she announced. Her voice was empty, automatic, like her conscious mind had shrivelled up and was running on autopilot. I felt truly sorry for her that day, despite my desires. A strange mix of emotions was swirling in my head as the baser part of my soul rejoiced that she was now available and interested, but my moral side told me that to take advantage of that fact would be wrong.
I walked her to the door and bade her farewell, resolving to check up on her the next day and maybe bring her something nice to eat. I was a good friend to her.
Soon, however, I would be something more.
Chapter 4:March 2nd, 1938
“I love you!”
Less than two months later, we were together. It turned out that Gracie’s request had been more than an emotional and ill-thought through rebound request. After two weeks she had just about recovered from Graham’s betrayal and as his memory faded from her head, my image reared itself once more as a possible suitor. Eventually, the idea found its way out of her mind and into reality.
It was yesterday when she had broached the subject.
“I’ve got nothing to do tonight,” she had moaned.
“Nor have I,” I replied absent-mindedly. We were both in the shop; she was behind the till, while I was pricing stock.
“We could remedy that,” she said, with something imperceptibly different in her voice.
A tap on the shoulder distracted me from my work and I turned around. She was standing right behind me, a sultry look in her eyes.
“So…” she said, glancing around anxiously. It was clear what she wanted me to do. She could not do it herself, of course, for it is custom that it falls to the man to do the asking. To reverse the trend would be to risk becoming oddities, freaks of our respective genders: I would be seen as a wimp for shirking my manly duties, while she would be seen as desperate.
I left my boxes half-filled and assessed the situation. She was within inches of me now and her fingers were playing with my shirt sleeve. It was now obvious that what I had taken two months ago to be an expression of desperation was actually something serious. It was now or never.
“Gracie Meadows,” I opened nervously. “Would you like to go on a date tonight?”
“Ooh, yes please!” she squealed excitedly. “I thought you’d never ask.”
So a date we had. It was a lovely affair: a candle-lit dinner in the poshest restaurant I could afford. Which, given my lowly wage and the soon-to-be onset of war, was not a very classy establishment. We sat in prime position at the Bull and Crown pub on Hagley Road eating freshly slaughtered lamb with freshly picked mint. She was slightly disappointed, truth be told, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
Tonight we did the same, only different. Today’s date took us to the cinema to see Judy Garland’s latest film. She had put in a fabulous performance, and when we went back to my place afterwards, so had I.
“That was amazing!” I exclaimed ecstatically.
We looked at each other and saw that each had enjoyed it equally. We began to giggle, uncontrollably and inexplicably, for what we had just done was very, very naughty. If our parents caught us, there would have been big trouble.
And it had been amazing. She had taken me to highs I never knew existed before. It was incredible how simply stimulating the right part of the body in the right way could produce such feelings, such indescribable sensations. Was this love? Is this what all those singers were talking about in their songs? If it was, I could now see why it was worth putting pen to paper and waxing lyrical about it. I could honestly have spent the rest of my days in that bed, with that girl, with that feeling of ineffable bliss forever.
Yet such feelings do not last forever. They require constant stimulation and, unfortunately, the human body needs sleep. So we slept together and in the morning returned to the normal drudgery of everyday life, all the worse now that we had experienced how much better it could be.
We found ways of keeping the spark alive, though.
Chapter 5: April 23rd, 1938
“Oh, I love you…”
Work had become dull by now. We would spend the day stocking shelves and selling sweets just waiting for the bell to ring signalling to us that the day’s work was over and we were free to go. Then was playtime.
But work-time was so dull. When we could, we would make it interesting. Presently we were in the stock room. It was just the two of us in the shop today, for Mr. Meadows had gone to scout out a new confectionary company on the edge of town to see if they sold anything of interest to him, and we were making the most of it.
The clock on the wall read half past two in the afternoon. Since our main customers were children and schools had not yet closed, we were confident that we would not be missed on the shop floor. At any rate, if we were, the customer could pull a special bell to call us out. We were safe.
It wasn’t the first time we’d done this. It had become a regular thing. On normal days we’d share the labour with Mr. Meadows, and those days were the dull ones. Periodically, however, he would leave on one of his business trips- those were the fun days. This must have been the tenth time we’d done this.
It was naughty to say the least. And messy. In the throes of passion we had once broken a glass jar containing a shipment of new stock. Unfortunately it was a new, experimental kind of sweet which resembled jelly in texture, so cleaning it up had been a laborious and only partially successful task. When the boss came back that evening, there had still been hidden shards of glass scattered across the floor which his meticulous eye picked up immediately. We had managed to successfully lie to him that a child had grown too excited in the shop front and run into the backroom; before we could stop him, he had made a mess. He bought it, thankfully .