The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Book: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rachel Joyce
sometimes shared a table in the canteen or you dropped by my office to discuss the next route, but there were always other people close by on those occasions. It was when we were alone in your car that you were mine.
    After all I’d been through, I felt human again. I woke in the mornings and the day wasn’t something to hide from. I’d sit on the bus, getting nearer and nearer to the brewery, with my heart beating wild in my chest, and that is a gift: it is being alive. I knew you’d never leave Maureen. You were too decent for that. Another reason, of course, to love you.
    I began to write poems. Love poems. How else could I express myself? I kept them in the zipped-up compartment of my handbag. I’d reach inside, touch the corners of the pages with my fingertips, and I’d wonder, Will I do it today? Will I tell Harold Fry how I feel? Instead,I’d offer you a boiled sweet.
    So when I turned my head away in the passenger seat and said nothing, it wasn’t because I was sleeping, Harold. I was picturing you and me. I imagined what it would be like to exist permanently at your side. Or I’d gaze out of the window and look places over, just for fun, to see if we might live in one of them. A nice pink detached house with a bit of lawn for you to mow, handy for shops and the laundrette. Or a cottage by the beach, more remote, but with sea views. Inside my head I put us on dining chairs at a small round table. I put us on an upholstered sofa. And yes, I even put us in a bed. I watched your hands on the steering wheel – and I am sorry to say this but I promised at the beginning you would get the truth – and I imagined those hands on my hands. On my breasts. Between my thighs.
    When you are imagining a man naked beside you and actually he is wearing fawn casuals and driving gloves and is married to another woman, you have to do things to throw him off the scent. Once I said I could sing backwards and you looked astounded and said, Can you really? I couldn’t, of course I couldn’t, what did you take me for? I’d been a classics student. It was my father who could sing backwards. He did it as he planed a piece of wood or rubbed a plank with linseed oil. Nevertheless I went home after you asked that question and I taught myself ‘God Save the Queen’.
    (The more traditional version.)
    Backwards.
    What else had I to do?
    ‘Good Lord,’ you laughed when I got to the end of it. It was the way my father used to laugh when I was a child, full of wonder that I knewthings and he didn’t.
    Now, I could have said to you, Let me tell you about Socrates. Or I might have asked, What are your views on Bertrand Russell? But we had got ourselves to a place, you and I, that was both unreal and supremely ordinary. We were a tall, married man who was kind and a short, single woman who loved him. It was better to eat sweets and sing backwards than risk unbalancing the small thing that we had. And after a while it became our routine, it became our language, in the way that some people like talking about the weather or driving routes instead of saying the bigger things. There was a boundary.
    ‘I don’t have many,’ you said to me another time. It must have been early summer, because we were sharing lunch by the side of the road. I was in my suit. You were head to toe in fawn. We looked like two winter shrubs off for a picnic.
    ‘Many what?’ I smiled. ‘Whatever are you talking about, Harold?’
    ‘Friends,’ you said. ‘Friends.’ You picked the shell from a hard-boiled quail’s egg and dipped the egg in celery salt. I’d supplied both items, as well as the spread of carved ham, chutney, grapes, tomatoes, napkins and paper plates. ‘I have Maureen. And David. But no one else.’ You mentioned your mother. How she’d left just before your thirteenth birthday. You said something about your father too. Drink, it was. I assumed that was the reason you were now teetotal, and I felt a rush of tenderness. It was the most

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