THROUGHOUT 1964, Derek kept a promise to Lisa. He tried hard to create a meaningful rapport with her mother, but he constantly found himself at odds with her distorted views on social standing. In particular, he found it impossible to fathom why someone from an almost identical background to that of his own parents should regard the Cockney working class people of London with such hostility. He couldn't claim to be a genuine Cockney Londoner himself, but he was proud of his family's strong Cockney roots. Above all, he deeply resented any unfounded attack on the culture and heritage of the Cockney people.
Another of Mrs Miller's pet hates was council tenants. In her opinion, everyone who lived in a council house or council flat was 'common the lowest of the low'. Having lived in a council flat since 1960 and having spent all of his pre-teen years growing-up in other council-owned dwellings, Derek didn't share that view.
Many times during 1964 he was on the point of reacting to Mrs Miller's cutting remarks, but he stopped himself short by biting his lip and saying nothing. Yet he seethed inside, knowing he was engaged in an ideological battle of wills with Lisa's mother. Nevertheless, he was careful to keep his resentment and anger in check, for fear of alienating her completely and, in so doing, losing Lisa in the process.
In contrast, his relationship with Lisa's father was far more positive. Chas Miller was a quietly spoken, studious man with a remarkable aptitude for arithmetic, and a broadly philosophical outlook on life. His computer-like ability to scan lengthy columns of figures and always arrive at the correct answer was much admired by Derek, as was the calm manner in which he responded to his wife, especially when she was at her most vocal. That calmness was evident when, in October 1964, Derek and Lisa announced their desire to get engaged the following Valentine's Day. Mr Miller reacted favourably in his customarily quiet way. Placing the newspaper he'd been reading on his lap, he eyed his daughter and her young man over the rim of his horn-framed spectacles, smiled warmly and offered the young couple his tacit approval with a casual, That's a nice idea you two.''
However, Mrs Miller was cool and reserved judgement. Don't you think you're both a bit young to be thinking of getting engaged? You're only just eighteen Derek, and Lisa won't be eighteen until next July. Why not wait a couple more years?''
Later that same evening, they sat quietly in Lisa's bedroom, mulling over her parent's response. At least they didn't have a fit when we put it to them,'' remarked Lisa.
Derek agreed, and added, Most important of all, sweetheart, neither of them said no.''
By the time they kissed goodnight at her front door, they had decided in principle to go ahead with their plans, but to meet Mrs Miller half way by moving the proposed date to Valentine's Day 1966. It seemed an awful long way off, but they hoped their gesture would meet with Mrs Miller's approval. Neither of them, though, could have foreseen on that balmy October night, the circumstances that were destined to escalate into a full-blown confrontation that would, in turn, bring ruin to their plans, and their relationship.
It all began innocently enough on the evening of Friday January 22, 1965. They were sitting in Lisa's bedroom, chatting happily and half listening to the Beatles for Sale album she had given Derek for Christmas. Their main topic of conversation centred on arrangements for the following evening when they planned to attend a mid-season dance at Beckenham Rugby Club. Unbeknown to Derek, during her lunch hour that day, his girlfriend had been shopping in London's Carnaby Street and she'd bought him a special gift. John Lennon was singing Every Little Thing as she reached under her bed, slid out a large rectangular box wrapped in plain blue foil and presented it to her boyfriend.
For me? Hey, what timing,'' he laughed with feigned surprise. And just listen to those words.'' He was convinced she'd waited patiently for that moment to make her presentation.
Lisa laughed too. No, Derek. Honestly. It was just a coincidence, but a very happy one. I do hope you like it,'' she replied, and crossed her fingers.
By that time, he was carefully unpeeling the sticky tape from one end of the package. Holding it upright above his lap, he allowed the inner box to slide out of the open end of the wrapping. As it did so, his jaw dropped. She had bought him a fashionable pale blue tab-collared shirt and matching navy blue knitted tie. Oh wow. My goodness Leese, it's perfect. Thank you so much.'' Reaching out for her with his left arm, he placed his hand softly on the back of her neck, pulled her gently towards him and kissed her on the forehead. Repeating himself, he said, Thank you sweetheart, it's absolutely perfect.'' Then he kissed her again; this time on the mouth.
As their lips parted, Lisa insisted on an impromptu fashion show. Come on Derek, put the shirt and tie on now. I can't wait to see you in them.'' While she carefully removed the garments from their cellophane wrappings he undid the buttons on his casual check shirt and slipped it off. By then, she was waiting to help him on with the new shirt. Easing his arms through the crisp sleeves, he tucked the tail of the shirt into his trouser top, while she fastened the buttons. As she finished doing so, he was knotting the tie loosely around his neck. She playfully brushed his hands out of the way and adjusted the tie, after which she fastened the tab. With a final few flips of her slender fingers on his chest, she stepped back with an admiring smile.
Hey, that looks great,'' she announced. Now give me a twirl, but not too fast.''
He turned slowly as instructed but, as soon as he heard her next words, he knew a follow-up instruction was on the way. Darrliiing,'' she sighed. Will you promise me something pleeeease?''
Derek glanced over his left shoulder to see his girlfriend's big doe eyes appealing to him in a way that always melted his heart. What's that, sweetheart?'' he whispered inquisitively.
She placed her hands on his shoulder, stood on tip toe and kissed him on the cheek. Your shirt looks absolutely great on you, but your hair is just spilling over the collar at the back and it's spoiling the effect. Promise me you'll get your hair cut in time for tomorrow night. Pleeease?''
His heart sank. But Leese, sweetheart, the reason my hair is creeping over my collar is because the collar is half an inch deeper than all my other shirts. Besides, it's the fashion my love. We fellas are wearing our hair longer these days, just like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.'' His attempt to reach a compromise elicited an exaggerated curl of Lisa's lower lip, and big, beautiful doe eyes once again. He surrendered, as he always did. Oh all right, I promise. Anything for a quiet life.''
The following afternoon, he arrived at her front door and rang the bell. A fraction of a second later, he heard an excited cry of, I'm coming darling,'' from inside the flat, followed by the sound of slippered feet running the length of the hallway. Lisa threw open the door with her usual flourish, but the smile on her face evaporated in an instant. You haven't had your hair cut. But, Derek, you promised you would. You promised...'' Her words tailed-off in disappointment as he attempted an explanation.
I'm sorry, my love, but we had a bit of a crisis at home, and I had to run a couple of errands for my Mum and Dad. I simply haven't had time. I'll get it cut during the week.''
As he stepped forward to plant a kiss on her lips, Lisa made her displeasure abundantly clear by turning her back on him and marching down the hallway, muttering angrily, I suppose you'd better come in.'' Striding into the lounge, she flopped petulantly on the sofa, while her boyfriend positioned himself in an armchair at the far end of the room. An uneasy silence ensued for several minutes until he attempted to reason with her.
Sweetheart, look, if I thought it would do any good to get my haircut here in Hayes, I'd go right now. But you know what barbers are like. You ask them to do one thing and often they'll do something quite different. No, I'm not prepared to take that risk.''
Lisa remained unmoved and snapped back, But you promised.''
As her words left her mouth, Mrs Miller walked into the room and stopped abruptly in her tracks. My goodness,'' she said with a smirk, You could cut the atmosphere in here with a knife. Are you two having a disagreement?''
Sensing she had an ally, Lisa sat upright on the sofa. Yes we are mummy,'' she replied witheringly, And it's all over Derek promising me last night that he'd get his hair cut in time for tonight's rugby club dance. But he hasn't, and he doesn't intend to.''
Derek had observed it many times before, and he could tell from the deadpan expression on Mrs Miller's face that she was contemplating a sarcastic, wounding reply. He didn't have long to wait. She rested her hands on the back of the sofa on which her daughter was sitting, regarded the young couple in turn and then gave vent to one of her acidic asides.
Well Lisa,'' she sneered pompously, I suggest you give your clothes to Derek then get him to give you his clothes in return and, I dare say, you'd make a better man than he is.''
Her words scythed into Derek's head and, for a moment or two, he was rendered numb with disbelief. As his thoughts cleared, though, a feeling of outrage washed over him, and he rose single-mindedly from his armchair. That does it!'' he retorted sharply. I've had just about all I'm going to take from you Mrs Miller. Now it's my turn to speak.''
Momentarily glancing at Lisa, he noticed a look of horror had suddenly masked her face. She instinctively knew the careless appeal to her mother and her mother's derisive response were about to unleash a tidal wave of pent-up emotion in her boyfriend, but she was powerless to stop it. Mrs Miller's mouth flopped open, as if searching vainly for something to say in reply, but before she could respond, Derek launched into a scathing retaliation.
In the fifteen months I've known you Mrs Miller you have proved to me that you are the very worst kind of insufferable snob. In fact, you're a thoroughly nasty, opinionated woman. Quite why you have such a false impression of your station in life is beyond my comprehension. You come from a working class background just like I do, but the difference between us is I'm proud of my roots and you're not. One of these days, I believe your wicked tongue and your unspeakable snobbery are going to be your undoing. All I hope is that I'm around on that day to watch it happen.''
Bursting into tears, Mrs Miller fumbled in her apron pocket for a handkerchief, raised it to her face and, without another word passing her lips, left the room. By that time, Lisa was also in tears, and unsure of how to react to her boyfriend's verbal onslaught. Sitting down in his armchair, he felt relieved of a great burden. He'd waited a long time to make his true feelings known to Lisa's mother and, now that it was done, he felt good. This was no time, however, for triumphalism. In his view, it was his girlfriend's turn to speak, but she seemed to be struggling to find the words. In the end, she sprang to her feet.
I'm not going with you to the rugby club dance tonight with your hair like that, and that's final,'' she cried defiantly.
Suits me,'' he replied nonchalantly.
Lisa's expression changed to one of shock and she began to cry again. Then, as quickly as it had appeared on her face, the look of shock gave way to anger. I'm going out,'' she shouted.
Unmoved, Derek's spontaneous single word response of, Cheerio,'' only served to increase her irritation. She stamped her foot, spun on her heels, stomped along the hallway, then noisily opened the front door and slammed it behind her.
Half an hour later, he was still completely alone in the flat when he decided to return home. That evening, in an act of defiance, he wore his new shirt and tie to the Saturday night dance at the Beckenham Court Ballroom. It felt strange not to have his girlfriend at his side but, as the evening wore on, he began to enjoy a long-forgotten sense of freedom. By the time he arrived home, as far as he was concerned, it was all over between him and Lisa. The prospect of married life in her mother's shadow was, for him, unthinkable, so it was best that he and Lisa went their separate ways there and then.
For a while, though, his Libran temperament kept reminding him there were other angles to consider. Firstly, he was still very much in love with Lisa and, secondly, if this was the end, it was probably going to take a long time to get over her. Eventually his head overruled his heart, and his mind was made up. He was through with her and it was time to be mentally stronger than he'd ever been before.
That night Derek dreamed yet again of being trapped in a room. As before, he was backing away ' with arms outstretched as if suspended on a crucifix ' from a door that was being battered down by brute force. Once again, through an all-embracing rush of fear, he could sense that he was shielding a woman. For the first time, though, he was able to turn his head far enough to see her face. It was Lisa or, more accurately, a slightly older Lisa, and she seemed to be speaking to him frantically in a foreign language. He took the language she was speaking to be Germanic in origin and, as he strained to understand even one word, the door came crashing inwards and everything turned black. A few seconds later, through the deep darkness, he could just begin to make-out what looked like a shallow grass bank laced with dead bramble shoots and crowned by a leaf-less hedgerow. Protruding from the tangled undergrowth was a grey-brown, weathered wooden post, and lying near the foot of the post was a two-inch thick, blue covered book. As his gaze followed the post upwards, the distant echoing howl of a lone hound broke his concentration and the grass bank, bramble, hedgerow, wooden post and book all disappeared.
The next howl from the hound was much closer, and his fear rose again. The third howl was closer still and the unknown terror it brought with it forced him to wake-up. Puzzled by the new elements in his recurring nightmare, he lay awake analysing them for a while before slipping into a far more peaceful and dreamless sleep.
Waking late at 11 am that Sunday morning, he divided most of the rest of the day playing guitar for his own amusement in his bedroom, and mulling over his dream the night before. In particular he was intrigued by Lisa's appearance in it. Over and over again, under his breath, he gave voice to the same questions. After so many years of trying to identify the other person with me in that room, why should she suddenly be revealed as an older Lisa? And why now of all times?'' In the end, he put it down to his determination to make a clean break; a decision with which he grew ever more comfortable as that Sunday afternoon turned to evening.
By the time he arrived at work the following morning, his mind was settled once and for all. His relationship with Lisa was at an end, and he could now look forward to a life free from her mother's dark and overbearing influence. However, his presumptions were about to be proved premature. Right on his daily deadline at 9.50 am, he was just finishing his pasting-up of that day's Post Office related newspaper cuttings when his concentration was broken by the kindly voice of his boss, Mr Ainsworth, calling his name.
The Senior Information Officer's naturally wrinkled brow was furrowed even deeper with concern as he quietly relayed a message to his junior clerical assistant. Derek, your Mum's on line three, and she sounds a little upset.''
Taking hold of his own handset, Derek casually flicked the key to line three on his desk top unit and spoke into the mouthpiece. Hello Mum, what's the problem?''
Dot's voice trembled with emotion as she revealed the reason for her call. Oh Derek, it's Lisa. She's turned-up at the flat and she is in the most awful state. She just keeps crying and asking me to tell her it's not over between the two of you. I just don't know what to do or say for the best, my son.''
Don't worry, Mum, you've done absolutely the best thing,'' he replied spontaneously. Let me speak to Lisa.'' His mind raced as he waited to hear her voice. He had to think of a way to take the burden off his mother's shoulders, and he had to come-up with that solution quickly.
Suddenly Lisa's distraught voice was in his ear. Oh Derek,'' she sobbed. Please tell me it's not finished between us pleeeease.'' His stomach churched. He desperately wanted to tell her he still loved her, but the words simply wouldn't come. It was as if he was being prevented by some unknown force from saying what he truly wanted to say. Then an idea formulated in his mind.
Leese, listen to me carefully. I want you to take a train to Holborn Viaduct station and I'll meet you there, by the newspaper kiosk, at around eleven-thirty.''
Without hesitation, she agreed and called a final, I love you Del darling,'' to him as she handed the telephone handset back to Dot.
Derek waited to hear a, Hello?'' from his mother, and then he apologised profusely. I'm so sorry you've had to go through this Mum. It has come completely out of the blue. I never imagined anything quite like it might happen. I'm truly sorry.'' He then explained the rendezvous he'd arranged with Lisa, and finished with a reassuring, Leave it with me, Mum, I'll sort it out.''
Replacing his telephone handset on its rest, he flipped the key to line three to its 'off' position, and slumped back in his chair with a sigh. He then turned to his boss with a request. You've possibly already guessed, Mr Ainsworth. Lisa and I have broken-up. However, she has just turned-up at my Mum and Dad's flat in floods of tears, and poor Mum is not sure what to do for the best. I've asked Lisa to meet me at Holborn Viaduct station at 11.30, but I need to telephone her father and tell him to meet her instead. Do you think I could make a personal call?''
By that time, Mr Ainsworth had walked from his desk and placed a comforting hand on Derek's shoulder. You do whatever you think is right, Derek. Make as many calls as you need, my boy, and I'll give you all the support I can.''
His, Thank you sir,'' was acknowledged by his boss, who then pulled-up a chair beside the young clerk. I'm so very sorry to hear about your split from Lisa. She's such a lovely girl. You may not have realised this, Derek, but she was centre of attraction at our office Christmas party a few weeks ago. Everyone was saying how very attractive she is, and how good you two looked together.''
Derek was close to tears but he fought hard to keep his composure. Yes I know, sir. In fact I saw some of those admiring glances at the party, and all that attention on Lisa made me feel like a million dollars to have her by my side. Now, just one month later, it's all crashing down around me. I'm still in love with her, Mr Ainsworth, so very much in love. But it's her mother. She casts such a dark shadow over our relationship. The thought of having her for a mother-in-law drives me to distraction.'' Hanging his head, he gazed at the floor and, as if thinking aloud, added, It's no good. I've got to go through with this, or that woman will drive me insane. For months I've been searching for a way out for both Lisa and myself, the two of us together, but today there's something deep down telling me it has to be done this way. We have to go our separate ways, or my life will become unbearable.''
Bert Ainsworth placed his left arm around Derek's shoulder again and gave him a reassuring squeeze. Take a deep breath, Derek, and do whatever you feel you have to, my boy. I'm with you all the way.'' The clerical assistant thanked his boss and reached for the telephone.
Less than a minute later, he was explaining to Lisa's father the events of the previous quarter of an hour. As much as I'd like to, Mr Miller, it's not for me to meet Lisa at Holborn Viaduct station. We've both been hurt quite enough as it is. She's your daughter, sir, and as much as I love her, she's your responsibility.''
Despite the tears that threatened to accompany his words, Derek remained stoical throughout their conversation and Chas Miller thanked him for his courtesy, before offering Derek a polite, Goodbye''. Emotionally drained, Derek placed the telephone handset on its rest, propped his elbows on his desk top and sunk his head in his hands.
From his vantage point on the far side of the office a deeply concerned Bert Ainsworth attracted his office junior's attention. Why don't you take an hour off, my boy, and go for a stroll?''
Encouraged by his boss's support, the young man smiled and shook his head. No, but thanks all the same, Mr Ainsworth. I'd much rather occupy myself with my work.'' Then, with even more sadness in his voice, he added an afterthought. Besides, at this moment in time, I can't trust myself to stay away from that newsagent's stand at Holborn Viaduct station. No, I'll be okay, I promise.''
Copyright: Lewis Adler (a.k.a. David Lowe) 2011
All rights reserved
"Redeeming Factor" is available as an e-book for Amazon-Kindle, iPad, Kobo and all other e-readers at 77 pence (GBP) or around $1.20 (US)