10. A Joyless Marriage

10. A Joyless Marriage

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Walter Archer looked furtively around before he slipped into Mrs Bookworm’s literary shop as if he was trying to emulate the invisibility of ghosts, but nobody was looking his way and the fact that he didn’t look anything like a ghost didn’t actually matter.

Why, Walter,” she beamed at him, “I’m so happy to see you here. It must be two or three days…?”

Two or three days?” he queried, “since what?”

Since you called on me and my little shop, of course...”

Oh. Maybe it is. I’ve got a lot on my mind. Can I talk to you … frankly?”

She smiled so warmly that it would have melted many a man’s heart though it did very little to his.

I’m always here to help,” she said, “what can I do for you?”

It’s about my late wife. My dearest Peggy. You knew her, didn’t you?”

She fixed him with her eyes and then slowly shook her head. “It was Mr Bookworm who ran this place back then and I was just a housewife cooking shepherd pies and baking bread,” she said, “but I had him cremated a year or two back after he passed away. I wanted to keep him in the corner, over there near the reference section, you know, have him stuffed properly and preserved for posterity with that familiar smile on his face, but it isn’t allowed. It’s heartless, really, don’t you think?”

He blinked at her. “It is?” he asked.

Well, if Mr Bookworm, my lovely, lovely Mr Bookworm, had been a pet cat or dog I could have had him stuffed properly when he was dead. There are people who do it, it’s quite a respectable trade, I’m told. But because he was a man and not a pet they wouldn’t allow it and even the Reverend Smythe was horrified when I told him that’s what I wanted. I even contacted Ted McFly, the taxidermist in town, and he said he would never touch such a thing, never in a thousand years, though I said at the time the good Lord would never let him have that long to do anything, and thanked him for nothing.”

If the dear departed Mr Bookworm was … stuffed … and made to sit in that corner it might have put a lot of people off,” suggested Mr Archer.

You’re probably right, but I could never put it to the test so I had him cremated instead. His ashes are still here, on the premises, in that little urn over there...” she pointed to it set into an alcove in one wall, with a brass bar preventing it from falling out and smashing should there be an unexpected Earthquake or some other interruption to the normal stability of the neighbourhood. “But it’s not quite the same, don’t you think?”

Probably just as well,” he mumbled.

Quite. But your problem. What might it be? Your good lady, deceased, you mentioned.”

It was my Peggy. We’d been married above twenty years when she died out of the blue. We got married young, you know, still not much more than twenty, but right from the word go she had her own ideas about just about everything, and because I thought she was just about perfect I agreed with everything she said.”

A good husband,” sighed Mrs Bookworm, doubtfully.

He looked at her sadly. “Even from the word go she held the reins,” he said sadly, “We had a honeymoon booked in a Torquay hotel. I’d been told that honeymoons are the sort of holidays to look forward to. People, friends, my dad, all sorts of folk, told me it’s on your honeymoon that you really get to know who you’ve married, and that’s true enough...”

It can be,” encouraged the book seller.

Well, our honeymoon was a bit odd. And it wasn’t just me that thought that. My dad told me I needed to get my head tested and maybe he should have been a better example to me when I was growing up. He thought something must have gone wrong with my emotions and blamed himelf. But it wasn’t his fault, or mine really.”

What wasn’t?”

Peggy said to me on the bus on the way to Torquay that we were starting our lives afresh and, she said several times, she didn’t want me to think of having children because childbirth was painful and she couldn’t abide pain, so there would be no kids. She was adamant about that, and I agreed with her because, truth to tell, I wasn’t earning very much at the time and another mouth to feed did seem to be an unnecessary expense.”

Kids can be costly,” nodded Mrs Bookworm, encouragingly.

She said a few things I didn’t rightly understand. You must realise my background, that I went to a boys only school and didn’t have a sister or anything like that. I had a mum, of course, but it’s not the same when you’re little and she’s already getting old. What I really mean is I didn’t know anything about girls at all. Just that they sometimes had pigtails and usually wore dresses instead of trousers. And Peggy said it would be best by far if we started our honeymoon as we meant to go on, with no dirty stuff. That’s what she called it: dirty stuff, though I hadn’t a clue what she meant. I was a bit naive and didn’t really understand such things as personal lives and normal relationships, and I still don’t.

Must unusual,” murmured Mrs Bookworm. “So what did you do when it came to bed time?” she asked, “surely that’s when you discover things about each other if you don’t know them already, that is. I knew everything there was to know about Mr Bookworm before we got married, and he knew everything there was to know about me. We liked it that way. It left nothing open to doubt.”

Walter shook his head. “Peggy was most firm, and when we got to the hotel she changed our booking to two single rooms. I might have been a bit on the slow side, but even I thought it a bit odd. And that’s how we were. Right to the end when the sepsis killed her and took her away from me. She was the only woman for me, from the start when we met in church at a carol service for the first time right up to the day she died, bless her. We were happy in our own way, but our happiness was one of minds rather than bodies. She had rigid thoughts in her mind and I followed, to the letter, what she said. I was happy doing that. We weren’t even allowed to watch television programmes that had naked people in them, not that I believe there ever have been many. And if I ever wondered at the birds and the bees she took a rod to me until I actually hurt. That’s how much she loved me.

And what did you want from me?” asked Mrs Bookworm, disturbed by a surfeit of revelations. “I’ve heard all about Mrs Archer’s famed puritanism and the way she would have been happier living in a nunnery! But she’s been dead years now, and things, people, even you, move on or there’s stagnation.”

I like Miss Dewberry,” he said quietly, “she’s such a nice woman, but I get the feeling that there’s more to her than I can see.”

Like what?” asked Mrs Bookworm, knowing full well what the answer could be but so fascinated she wanted to hear it from his own mouth.

I took my trousers down...” he mumbled, “when I first saw her, that is. I thought she was the mending lady and I wanted them taken in a bit round the waist, this lockdown nonsense has caused me to lose an inch or two on the waist, but she wasn’t who I thought she was.”

She told me,” smiled Mrs Bookworm, reaching for her duster.

And when she saw my whatsit she blushed and I didn’t know why! She just stared then looked away as if there was something wrong with my body. Then I showed her the condom that Mr Jones had given me and she knew I had no idea what it was really for...”

You really should have had a smidgen of a notion though,” murmured Mrs Bookworm.

The thing is, how can I find out?” almost wept Mr Archer, “how can I get the inside information on such things if I’ve spent sixty years not knowing?”

I know,” murmured the shop keeper, feeling on the shelf under the counter, “I’ve got a few books I keep hidden so that children can’t take them. You know what kids are like these days, so filled with curiosity! Anyway, there’s one here that should help you.

It’s Indian and called The Karma Sutra and it’s full of illustrations to make things clear!”

© Peter Rogerson 02.07.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on July 2, 2020
Last Updated on July 2, 2020
Tags: honeymoon, marriage, innocence, ignorance


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 76 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..