When Mr Mullins proposed, I burst into tears. I was only eighteen. He had his call-up papers in his pocket.
“You won’t forget me, will you?” I asked.
“Don’t be a dolt,” he said.
We bought an engagement ring from a little market stall; a silly cheap thing, but it meant the world to me. He said we’d be married as soon as he got back.
He was away two years in all, serving Queen and Country. I wrote to him every week. He couldn’t write so often but he signed every letter “with love”.
And at long last he came home.
I was waiting for him on the High Street, just as we’d arranged. His train was due at three. I’d come straight from the hospital in my uniform and my hair kept slipping out of its pins. Every blond head made my heart jump. What if I didn’t recognise him? I checked my watch again and again; the town clock struck the quarter hour.
Then there he was in his blue sailor suit, striding up through the crowd. He was so handsome, my Mr Mullins. But I felt so shy of him there in the street. We stood like strangers. He seemed taller, darker, and the look in his eye was so peculiar. He’d grown stubble on his chin.
“Hello, Betty,” he said.
I wanted to take him to the tearoom and talk and talk, to chase away that awful shyness. But he dropped his bag to the ground, and it all happened before I could stop him. He grasped me round the waist and bent me backwards, pressing me down with his shoulder. I caught a musky, spicy scent and then his lips were on mine and something else too, wet and pushing against my teeth.
I twisted out of his arms and ran. I didn’t know what else to do.
That evening it all came out over the dinner table. Mother’s neck flushed and her lips went thin. After that, it was no good. I told Mr Mullins I couldn’t marry him.
Mother said it was a lucky escape. She said he’d turned to drink since coming home, and to other unmentionables. I later met another nice young man who liked to chat in the tearooms. But it wasn’t the same.
In the summer heat, I tossed and turned against the bedclothes. I smelled that scent again, musty, spicy. I tried to forget him, and I doused the back of my neck with cold water. But into all my dreams came Mr Mullins’ kiss, taken there in the middle of the street, with all the world watching…
I got home summer of ’44. The heat was something else. My train was due in at three and I was dog-tired. The straps of my kit-bad had worn a blister on my shoulder and I hadn’t shaved for a fortnight.
At the station people were swarming everywhere. I pushed my way through and headed for the High Street. I knew she’d be waiting. She’d written me every week.
She was a nurse now she’d said. Well, she always had a soft side. She had cried when I asked her to marry me.
“You won’t forget me, will you?” she said. I had my call-up papers in my pocket.
I just laughed. What a dolt, I said.
I came up just as the town clock struck the quarter hour. What a picture she was: the cap, the hair pins. She weren’t no little girl anymore, that was for sure.
She looked at me with those big blue eyes.
“Hello, Danny,” she said.
Her face was like one huge question mark. But she didn’t need to hear what I’d been through these last two years. We’d get married now and put it all behind us.
We stood there in the street. God she looked so damn clean in that nurse’s uniform. I thought of the legs and arms I’d seen, blown off like bits of tree branch, and the men they belonged to crawling about on their faces.
I grabbed her and bent her backwards, and kissed her hard on the lips. I could feel her twisting under me as I pushed my tongue against her teeth. I don’t know why I did it. I guess I just needed some of that whiteness to rub off.
A week later she to wrote to say she couldn’t marry me after all. She sent back the little ring I’d bought her. I reckon that’s what hurt the most.
The nightmares got worse. I tried drinking and dance-halls and other girls. But none of it worked. In the heat of the nights, I’d stare at the ceiling and think of Betty. But I knew she wouldn’t be thinking of me.
Well, in the end Miss Sinclair and Mr Mullins did not get married. You must have heard why: it was the talk of the town.
On that Thursday afternoon, Betty Sinclair was waiting on the High Street outside Morley’s, just as she and Mr Mullins had agreed. She was terribly nervous, checking her little watch and rearranging her hair pins. Would she even recognise him, she wondered? It was so long since they’d said goodbye.
Mr Mullins had proposed two years ago with his call-up papers in his pocket.
“You won’t forget me, will you?” she’d asked, dabbing her eyes.
He laughed and called her a dolt.
They bought an engagement ring from a little market stall; a silly cheap thing it was, but she was over the moon. He left a few days later, sailing away to serve Queen and Country. Betty wrote to him every week. He replied when he could and dutifully signed off his letters ‘with love’. Now he was coming home.
The town clock struck the quarter hour, and at last he came striding up through the crowds. What a pair they made, he in his sailor’s uniform and she in her starched nurse’s outfit. Quite the picture, if it weren’t for what happened next.
There they stood, hardly knowing what to say. She supposed they would go and have tea together – something ordinary like that. But he had something else on his mind entirely. And before you could say “Jack Robinson” he’d grabbed her round the waist and tipped her over backwards.
He kissed her full on the mouth, right there in the middle of the street.
Betty was mortified, and rightly so. Mr Mullins had always been such a nice young man.
Breaking down at the supper table that evening, she told her mother everything. Mrs Sinclair flushed and pronounced such behaviour disrespectful to say the least. Not long after, the engagement was called off.
It was probably for the best. Mr Mullins was rumoured to have taken to drink since his return; and to other pastimes better not mentioned.
But as peace-time dragged on, Betty feared she had been too hasty. She tossed and turned through the summer nights and thought again and again of that passionate kiss, in the middle of the street, with all the world watching…
You deserve nothing but praise for work well done. You’ve captured the essence of point of view. Your style adjusts to each POV. You are writing from within each point of view with credibility and great effectiveness.
Particularly commendable is the narrator. The narrator has a distinct voice and a specific time period, later than the action but still identifiable and unique. Great! Most beginners would write that narrator as if the author were speaking through him or her. In general, of course, that is ineffective, although the intuitive way to write. You have the gift to make the narrator work for your story without authorial intrusion. Be sure to use it consciously whenever it suits your story and purpose. It will continue to make your writing special.
Your work also points out the different effects that can be attained when switching point of view. How characterization changes. And how value judgments about what a reader likes changes, usually unique for each reader. For me, the pain seemed heightened in Betty’s POV. I was drawn in more and my emotional response was heightened. Perfect, especially if this is meant to be Betty’s story, and Betty’s emotional arc is featured. But the other points of view serve other purposes well, depending on how the story is structured and for what purpose. Certainly Danny’s POV rounds out his characterization well, and the reader’s sympathy for a sailor–male and somewhat detached from the encounter–is present, but not as strong as with Betty. Again, perfect. As Danny’s story, the emotional valence is right for a male sailor, and the scene effectively advances story plot.
The narrator point of view, I think, nicely emphasizes the morality complexities. It could be valuable in a number of different circumstances.
I hope the exercise was useful. You have demonstrated the use of point of view very well.
Thanks for contributing.
1 thought on “Work from P. East”
Many thanks, WHC
I did enjoy this exercise, and it also prompted me to go back to a story I wrote a while ago (about another Betty). I had fun with the narrator too – what a gossip she is!
I am looking forward to the next exercise, as I am finding them extremely useful.