I miss the Court of Appeal Judge, said Amy.
This was peculiar, given what she was to tell me.
So you always say, I said. But I thought that you were going to tell me your train story featuring Hampshire.
It is my train story. It is an old story, from when the Court of Appeal Judge was alive. (If you report what I say, is it the usual rules?
The usual rules? I demanded quizzically. You don’t talk in broken English but I can use drivers for reported speech other than ‘said’?
I had anticipated her response, she twinkled, which was, however, in the affirmative.)
It was, she said, like mine, a strange story, involving lurches into the fashions of times gone by and also unexpected desire, the latter undercut by moments of farce.
Everything that one looks for in a story, I said: trains, nostalgia, lust, jokes. There was no lust in my train story. But Amy, unexpected desire and the Court of Appeal Judge? Surely not. You told me that he always wanted to have sex with you and you said: No: you married people from Hampshire, I married people from Kettering: no sex.
Once, she admitted wryly; only once.
He asked her to travel with him by train from London to where he lived in Hampshire. Something or other for Great Secret Miss had to be delivered or collected.
What about your family? she had asked. What do they think if you turn up with a Chinese person from a kefir bar?
Silly girl, he had said. You can be inscrutable with the best of them.
So she had gone.
You were right, she said, it was Waterloo. Many destinations not from the top drawer: Woking and so on – but then, in a corner by itself, the platform for the Hampshire train.
Have you read Harry Potter? Amy asked.
Haslemere, Brockenhurst, New Milton; all those Hampshire stations.
The Court of Appeal Judge ushered her into a First Class carriage. They had the compartment to themselves. A wine waiter appeared as if from nowhere and produced a bottle of St Emilion, two glasses, a linen napkin and a small table covered in red leather on which to place them. The Court of Appeal Judge thanked him with a meaningful look and pulled down the blinds against the corridor.
When you’re unsure with a wine list, he lectured her, go for the St Emilion. It’s rarely of the very top flight but you can’t go seriously wrong.
They drank. Irony, she reported. They drank more.
And the old goat seduced you! I expostulated.
Seduction, she told me, she was prepared for, but he was too straightforward for that. Before she knew where she was she was invaded.
He talk vintage she said, vintage this, vintage that, and suddenly he fingers in my knickers.
He carried on talking vintages as his fingers did their despicable work. Then it was too late.
In spite of myself, I shout, ‘Oh! Excuse me! I come!’”
So it was you, I said. I despised him for boasting to me about it.
He cleaned his fingers with the linen napkin, and finished the bottle.
Waste not, want not, he said. Well timed! Here we are.
Her mind was entirely confused, she recalled, as he steered his Daimler too fast through the lanes. They got to his house. I was curious what it was like, but Amy’s cultural references deserted her at this point. Maybe she was too shocked to notice; but I persisted.
Was it Lutyens? I enquired; Lutyens-type?
Lutyens Schmutyens, she replied. Not architecture story.
I forgot to tell you, my dear, the Court of Appeal Judge said, with a nasty laugh, the wife is away and the servants have been given the evening off. We’re alone.
He was unexpectedly powerful and before she knew what was happening she had been manhandled into the master bedroom and onto the bed.
Why, I asked, did you allow him to?
She’d thought about it. Two reasons, she said. One was that Court of Appeal Judges have decades of successful bullying behind them. The other was the nice things that he did with his fingers on the train.
The bed was a four poster, Jacobean in style but not, she noticed, right; it was Chinese early-Twentieth-Century repro.
He had her on the bed. He had the grace to use a condom but that was the beginning and end of his consideration.
He very strong, she recalled wistfully. Very strong, so old. He kill me. Of course, so old, only once.
When he’d finished he flung the condom into a corner of the room and lay there looking enormously pleased with himself. When he had recovered his breath he started again on his account of the wines of the Bordeaux region. Then it was time to get dressed.
There, he said, is the rubber johnny but where is the wrapper for the rubber johnny? Where did I put it, my dear? Little silvery wrapper.
She told him, recovering something of her self-control, that she had absolutely no idea; nor cared.
Must find it, my dear. Her ladyship finds it, all hell breaks loose.
As he searched she said that he gradually lost his self-possession and his pride. Within ten minutes he was on his hands and knees.
It can’t have just disappeared. What the hell have you done with it?
She said: Stop whining for a minute and listen. Then if you want to you can put your head back under the bed. You very strong but you bad man. You touch me again, I kill you. I go. Car keys please.
She left him feverishly turning over cushions (brocade, Peter Jones) and took the Daimler to the station. She dropped the wrapper for the condom and the keys for the car into a rubbish bin in the forecourt.
For all I know, she said, he was searching till the day he died.
The First Class carriages were at the back of the train. She got into the next one after them. She stared through the window at the First Class carriage. She stared hard. She stared so hard that as the train picked up speed it became detached. With the benefit of inertia it travelled, unhooked, at first at almost the same speed but fell further and further behind. Then it disappeared.
I say pouf, and it is gone. Nasty smell and no more. No more little compartment, no more wine waiter, no more linen napkin, no more bloody Bordeaux wines, maybe no more Court of Appeal Judge. All gone.
You made it vanish, Amy!
Train story. Maybe.