I think I fell in love with my wife, Sally, the first time I saw her. It was across the refectory at Leeds University where I was in the second year of my PhD, researching language shifts in Early Modern Europe and she, as I later found out was a fourth-year medical student. I had two documents that I was working on open on the table in front of me, both transcripts of different copies of the same section of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. What I was doing with them was making notes on the lexical and syntactical differences between them. As a result, I was taking up half of a four-seat table and, consequently, nobody had bothered asking if they could join me. Which suited me. I was just lifting a forkful of Shepherd’s Pie into my mouth when a light contralto voice asked, “Is this seat free?”
Absent-minded, I waved a hand and muttered, “Be my guest.”
I saw a plate of salad placed down on the table and then, as I continued with what I was doing I saw a face. It was the girl I’d seen across the room and she was much nicer up close. From a distance, she was pretty and had, in the words of an old school friend who had opted for a life on the ocean waves, skin like the lee side of a sun-kissed peach.
“Hi,” I said, smiling at her, “I’m Dave Parker.”
I looked at the textbooks that she’d put down at the side of her tray. Gray’s Anatomy and the British Pharmacopoeia Codex.
“Medical student?” I asked.
“Hm,” she replied, obviously a woman of few words. I got back to my Shepherd’s Pie. Half a minute went by in silence, then suddenly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “did you say something? I was going over my last tutorial in my mind, I get distracted like that.”
“Nothing important,” I said, “I just told you my name and asked whether you were a medical student.”
“Well, mine’s Sally, Sally Willis and yes I am.”
She held her hand out, it was soft and warm, like her smile.
“Dave Parker,” I said, “pleased to meet you Sally, Sally Willis. So good they named you twice, eh?”
She looked at me for a moment and then laughed.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I should get out of that habit. Too many Bond films I guess.”
“Wouldn’t it be Willis, Sally Willis in that case?” I asked.
There went that laugh again, musical and tinkling, like a silver brook cascading across stones.
She seemed to wolf her salad down and was soon gathering up her things.
“Another lecture?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “sorry I can’t stay and chat, but I’m going to be late.”
“No problem,” I said, “you can leave your tray if it helps, I’ll take it away with mine.”
“Thanks,” she said, “don’t you have lectures this afternoon?”
“PhD Student,” I said, “the only lectures I have to attend I give to first-year students.”
I watched her departing back and the sway of her hips as she walked across the room to the main doors.
“Good luck there, mate,” a familiar voice said.
“What drags you out of bed before three o’clock, Phil?” I asked as Phil Brown, IT Geek, rock drummer and my closest thing to a friend in the whole University sat down in the chair recently vacated by Sally.
“Hmm,” he said, “the seat’s warm, I always knew she had a hot arse.”
“Do you ever think of women in terms other than their bodies?” I asked.
“Well yes,” he replied, “they need to be able to cook as well.”
I knew that this was an image he liked to create around himself. I also knew that in reality he was happily married to Abigail, who, if she caught him so much as looking at another woman, would rip out his testicles, pickle them and feed them to him.
“So have you succeeded where all around you have failed miserably?” he asked.
“Succeeded in what?” I asked.
“Persuading her to go out with you?”
“Since I have never actually tried to persuade her to do that, I don’t see how I could have done either,” I replied, “and what are you babbling about anyway?”
“Little miss tin-knickers there, for the last four years just about every male in the place has been asking her to go out with them,” he said, “there is no evidence of any of them ever being successful.”
“Maybe she has a boyfriend at home that she’s madly in love with,” I suggested.
“No,” he asserted, “I don’t think so, I think she’s just frigid.”
“Well, if I ever see her again, maybe I’ll try my luck,” I said.
As it happened, I didn’t see her again for the rest of that term.
Nor for most of the spring term either.
When I did see her again, I was in the library. Part of my package with the University was to run a couple of introductory courses for students and guide applicants around the campus on open days. Normally I only did humanities students, but on this particular occasion I was showing a group of would-be Medical students around and we entered the library.
Normally you can’t get into the library without swiping your student card in the slot in the barriers, but with a large group of outsiders, the guide has to ring the library beforehand and let them know how many are coming and a member of staff will override the locks on the barriers to let you in.
It was while we were waiting for the gates to be opened that she walked into the library.
“Hello, again, Sally,” I greeted her, “I’ve not seen you around for a while.”
It took her a few seconds to place me.
“Oh, hello,” she said, “nice to see you again.”
“Hey, do you have a couple of minutes, these folks are all potential medical students, perhaps you could give them a quick view of what life’s like for them.”
“Yes,” she said, “I can spare five minutes.”
Just then a librarian came and opened the barriers for us to get through and we were ushered into a meeting room, where Sally spent longer than the five minutes she had promised, answering questions about studying medicine at Leeds. With the tour of the library finished my responsibility was at an end. I said goodbye to them all at the entrance to the library and directed them back to their rendezvous point and walked down the steps to return to my office.
I was halfway down when I was stopped by a shout from behind me.
“Dave, wait,” it called, I recognised it as Sally’s.
I turned and held my hand up to let her know I’d heard.
“Yes, Sally,” I responded.
She ran down the steps to me and stopped one step higher, which just about put our eyes on a level.
“Could we go get a coffee somewhere and have a chat?” she asked.
“Yes, of course,” I replied, “how about my office, it’s just next door and I’m told I have the best coffee in the department.
“All right,” she agreed, “will I be safe alone with you in your office?”
“You’ll be as safe as you want to be,” I replied, “if you like we can leave the door open. I usually do that when I have a female tutee in there alone with me.”
“OK, then,” she agreed and we set off to walk the sixty metres or so to the rear door of the History department.
When we arrived at my office, I was glad it was locked, that meant that the researcher with whom I shared it, Bill Pickering was out. I let us in and was happy to see that, before leaving Bill had set a pot of coffee to brew.
Take a seat,” I invited as we walked in, “how do you like your coffee?”
She took it white no sugar.
“So,” I said as I sat down opposite her in the little conference area at one end of the office, “what did you want to chat about?”
“Do you have a girlfriend?” she asked.
“A bit personal,” I commented.
“Or a wife?” she added.
“No to both,” I said, “why do you ask?”
“Because I need a boyfriend,” she replied, “and since you’re the first male I’ve met in this place who looks me in the eye when he talks to me and not at my chest. I thought I’d give you a chance.”
“Well,” I said, “you have a refreshing directness and how would this arrangement work?”
“I find it’s the best way,” she said.
“That’s probably your medical training,” I replied, “my Dad’s the same.”
“Your Dad’s a doctor?” she asked.
“Specifically, he’s Professor of Surgery at Manchester University, my sister and her husband run a GP practice in Pontefract and my Brother is a first-year Med student at Manchester,” I said, “I’m the black sheep of the family. I decided to study Mediaeval History.”
“And now you’re going to be a doctor, but a different type.”
“That’s about it,” I said, “what about you?”
“Me?” she asked, “nothing as grand as having a father who is knighted, just an Anglican Archdeacon and my Mum’s a humble priest’s wife in Lincoln.”
“No brothers or sisters?” I asked.
“No,” she replied, “an only child.”
“All right,” I continued, “about this boyfriend thing. I hear that you’ve had plenty of offers but turned them all down.”
“Yes, I did,” she agreed, “as I told you, their eyes never reached above my neck. And I got the impression that they would stay around until they got my knickers off and then move on to pastures new.”
“And you don’t think I would be like that?” I asked.
“No, I don’t,” she replied, “I think you’d be willing to wait until I decided to take them off.”
I looked at her, letting my eyes roam all over her body.
“They all missed a treat,” I said, “you’re very beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Do you have any plans for Friday?” I asked.
“No, why?” she asked.
“Then I’ll pick you up at seven, Friday evening,” I said, “smart casual, suitable for going on to a club later.”
“You’re saying yes?” she asked.
“I’m saying I’ll pick you up on Friday,” I replied, “for the rest, we’ll take it a step at a time.”
Before she left, I got her address and phone number and when I picked her up and looked gorgeous in a yellow floral pattern dress, a matching cardigan and sensible shoes. That impressed me, I’d mentioned going to a club and she’d got shoes that she’d be comfortable in.
The evening was a success and we agreed that a repeat would be a good thing. That repeat date was repeated and by the time, three weeks after the first date the Easter break came round, Wednesday and Friday evenings were spent together and usually at least one of the weekend days.
Now we faced three weeks of being apart.
“I’m going to miss you,” I said as I dropped her off at her house on Friday evening, the last day of term, “three whole weeks without you.”
“We’ll survive,” she said, “and there’s always the telephone. Or you could always get in your car and drive down to Lincoln.”
“Won’t your father object if a heathen turns up at the door?” I asked, one of the first things I’d revealed to her was being Jewish.
“Dave,” she said, “he worships a Jew. Are you going home this Easter?”
“I’ll go over for a few days, but I have a pile of work to catch up on.”
“Well, make sure you take some time off as well,” she said, “hey, maybe you could come down for Easter.”
“I’d love to,” I said, “just about any other year, but this year Easter Day is April the fourth, right?”
“I think so, yes,” she replied.
“And Pesach is twenty-ninth of March until sixth April. My parents expect me to be home and playing at being a good little Jewish boy for that.”
“My Dad’s the same with religious festivals. For the past three years, I’ve been able to skip Easter because of placements, but not this year.”
“Then we’ll just have to stick with the phone unless I come down for the day some other weekend.”
“That would be nice,” she said, then we had our usual goodnight kiss.
“Good night Dave,” she said, “have a nice, what did you call it Pesach?”
“Yes, it’s the Hebrew word for what you call Passover,” I said, “one of the two biggest festivals in the Jewish calendar.”
“I know, the other one’s Hanukkah?” she said.
“That’s right,” I replied, “then there’s Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and a whole host of others, most of which I completely forget about.”
“Well just remember to ring me often,” she said, “and I’ll see you in three weeks if you don’t manage to get down.”
We shared another kiss then as I started down the path to the street I turned.
“How are you getting there?” I asked as I turned back to face her.
“Train,” she said, “Leeds to Newark, then Newark to Lincoln.”
“Well, why don’t I take you down,” I said, “I’m not doing anything. Unless you’ve already bought your ticket.”
“No, I haven’t,” she replied, “that would be lovely, and I get to see you some more.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll pick you up at, what? Half-past nine?
“Done, she said, “I’ll ring Mum and tell her to expect an extra for lunch.”
We said goodbye again and I walked to the car, got in started it up and drove away.
Her parents were charming. Her mother apologised to me when she served up pork medallions for lunch.
“Don’t worry about it, Mrs Willis, my whole family are only observant when the Rabbi comes round. To be honest, I had a bacon sandwich for breakfast.”
“So you don’t believe much in the teachings of the Torah? Her father asked.
“I think the dietary restrictions were right for an arid, hot country three thousand years ago,” I replied, “but we’ve invented refrigeration since then. You know Mr, Reverend.”
“I think, young man, if you’re dating my daughter and eating lunch at my table, then just Charles might suffice.”
“And I’m Amanda,” Sally’s mother added.
They were a really nice couple and I invited them up to Manchester sometime when they were free. They thanked me and agreed that they’d try and manage it sometime in the next three weeks.
“But I’m sure you only asked because then you get to see more of my daughter,” Charles asserted.
“Oh no Charles,” I replied, “that’s just a bonus.”
The three of them saw me to the door when I left around three o’clock.
They never did make it to Manchester that Easter break, but they did the following Summer.
On the last day of term, when I was due to go off to Chicago on a historical research conference, Sally and I went out to dinner. Between the main course and dessert, I stood up and walked around to her side of the table, my hand in my jacket pocket and got down on one knee beside her seat. The look on her face told me that she had guessed correctly what was coming next. At the end of my carefully prepared little speech, she gave me the answer I wanted and I kissed my Fiancée, to a round of applause from the other patrons.”
“Did you ask my father?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied, “I wanted to do things the right way.”
“What would you do if he’d said no?”
“I would have politely reminded him that I was asking for his approval, not his permission.”
I was away for the following three weeks, so the engagement party had to wait. We had it during the last weekend in July, in the Garden of my parents’ home in Cheadle, hosted jointly by both sets of parents.
We learned that weekend that my future father-in-law would be changing jobs and addresses shortly. He was to be enthroned as the new Bishop of Winchester, which would mean a seat in the House of Lords. Everybody congratulated him and I think we were all genuinely pleased for him.
We weren’t staying, Sally had a placement over the summer back in Leeds, with a GP surgery in Bradford and I had my research to do. So, on the morning after the party, I loaded my bags into the car and drove down to the hotel that she and her family were staying in and picked Sally up.
As we came off the motorway, I turned towards Brudenell Road, which was where Sally lived.
“Let’s go to your place first,” she said, “there’s something I want to talk about.”
I changed direction and headed for my flat in Headingley.
After I let us in, Sally walked into the living room, sat on the sofa and patted the seat beside me.
“Sit here,” she said.
“Dave,” she said quietly, “I think, now that we’re engaged, it’s time.”
“Time for what?” I asked.
“Time for you to take me to your bed,” she replied, “time for me to give my virginity to you.”
I looked at her in disbelief.
“You’re still a virgin?” I asked.
“Yes, I thought you’d worked it out,” she replied, “and that’s why you didn’t make any moves.”
“I didn’t make any moves because I was waiting for you to indicate that you were willing,” I answered.
“And I was waiting for the right man and now that I have him, it’s time.”
“Are you certain?” I asked, “it’s a one-time-only thing, you know. Once it’s gone.”
She silenced me with a finger on the lips.
“Shush,” she said, “I’m a medical student, we covered all that in the first year. Yes, darling, I’m sure. While you were away, I even went to the campus health centre and got the precautions sorted.”
“So you’re on the pill?” I asked, “has it had time to take effect?”
“This one takes seven days,” she said, “now are you going to take me to bed, or do I have to rape you?”
We became lovers that day and she started to spend nights at the flat with me. Not every night, but usually two or three a week.
It wasn’t until the start of the Christmas holidays that she broached the subject of moving in. I, of course, was all in favour but the only downside I could see was the notice period on her current house share. Why was I not surprised when she said she’d found someone to take her place?
She was very happy when she asked me when Hanukkah was that year and I told her the first week in December. Her idea was that it meant that we could spend the weekend in the middle of the holiday with my parents and then Christmas with hers.
“Would you get into trouble if you came to church with us?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, we’re secular Jews, we celebrate the festivals but we don’t take the religious bit too seriously,” I told her.
“Good, you know my Dad is being enthroned this Christmas, so it will be down in Winchester?”
“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten,” I said, “no problem. Just one thing, do your parents know about our new living arrangements?”
“No, but they will by then,” she said.
I was surprised when neither set of parents showed any surprise whatsoever at the news. My bedroom in Cheadle now had a double bed in it. And Sally’s parents were surprised that we hadn’t been living together for months.
Of course, both our mothers wanted to know if we’d set a date yet and we hadn’t, but we had decided that it wouldn’t be until Sally graduated at the end of the current academic year, since I would also be getting my doctorate at that time as well, all being well.
The other big question in my mind at the time was, what sort of a career does a man with a PhD in Mediaeval languages history have?
My question was answered three weeks into the Spring term and dropped an envelope on my desk.
“What’s that?” I asked.
He turned to Bill with whom I shared the office and asked him to give us a minute. Bill left.
“I haven’t told you this,” he said, “but we’re expanding the department, there are vacancies for two more lecturers, one of which is right up your street. Lecturer in research methods and mediaeval English Language.”
“That does sound like me,” I said.
“I am glad,” he replied, “it was designed specifically for you.”
“What?” I asked, surprised.
“Dave,” he said, “you’re good. I can tell you now you’ll get through your Viva with minimal revisions asked and the department doesn’t want to lose you.”
“Well,” I said, “I’m flattered, but can I think about it.”
“Of course,” he replied, “so long as the form is on my desk by a week on Friday.”
Then he left.
I applied for the job at Leeds and got it, we both graduated at the same time (although our ceremonies were on different days).
Sally’s academic dress, standard black gown with a dark green hood lined with light green accentuated her blonde good looks, mine was all green with scarlet bindings. Her cap was the standard black mortarboard, mine was a black velvet cap with a gold cord. Both sets of parents were there for both ceremonies and I believe both were equally proud of both of us. Of course, both our fathers decided to turn up in their robes. Charles with his Oxford Doctor of Divinity robes and my Dad with his Cambridge scarlet MD’s robes. We both had our official portraits taken and then the pair of us joined Sally’s fellow students for their celebration before dinner with our parents in town.
I suspect that some strings had been pulled in the medical fraternity since Sally was offered a position as House Officer at Leeds General Infirmary for her pre-registration time. We knew the next two years were going to be difficult, she would be working strange, long hours and often have to be at the hospital on call for up to forty-eight hours at a time. They were, but we got through it and within three years, Sally had an appointment as a surgical registrar in the cardiac department. We bought a house in Horsforth and began talking about a family. Things were great, we celebrated ten years together and all was well in the Parker world.
I gave up my post at the university after my first Historical novel was published, a story of Aethelflaed of Mercia and immediately optioned for a film. Hollywood offered me a lot of money to write the script and develop an outline for a sequel. Enough to give up academia and concentrate on writing, my second novel, based on that outline told the story of her daughter, Aelfwynn topped the Times bestseller list and made me more money from Hollywood. So I got to stay at home all day and write, Sally continued to progress in our career and by the time of our tenth wedding anniversary, we’d moved to a better house and were, frankly rather well off.
It was Wednesday morning, as always, I kissed Sally goodbye on her way to work, sat down to a cup of coffee, then settled down to an hour’s work on revisions to the screenplay for the Aelfwynn film.
I made some notes on where I thought the weaknesses were, typed them up and emailed them to the production team, then decided on a spot of housework.
We didn’t create a huge amount of washing, there just being the two of us, but the laundry basket was reasonably full and I started to sort through it to see if there was enough of anything to make up a full load. I sorted it into four piles, delicates, whites, coloureds and underwear. It was one of Sally’s things to wash underwear separately.
There were only three items in the ‘delicates’ pile, so they went back into the basket. There were enough whites to make up a load, so I pushed them into the washer, loaded it with soap powder and conditioner and set it going, then turned to the rest of the piles. There weren’t enough coloureds for another load, so I put those back into the basket. There were about ten sets of my boxers, fourteen or so pairs of socks between the two of us, four bras, two vests and a pile of Sally’s knickers. Including a pair, I hadn’t seen before.
They were pink, had yellow bows and looked to be a bit large for Sally. When I looked closer at them, they also had a C&A label in them and I knew that C&A no longer traded in Britain. I was intrigued. Then I noticed the gusset. In the gusset, there was a slightly off white. Bordering on pale yellow encrustation. I knew that Sally had had a vaginal discharge a few months earlier, but that had been cleared up and besides, if it had come back why had she not told me about it?
I put the garment to one side and put them all back in the laundry basket. I was both intrigued and worried. Who could I ask about this? Who could I trust?
I took the knickers back to my study and locked them in the desk drawer, then I sat down to think. It took half an hour, but then I had a thought.
Peter Baker. Professor of Forensic Science at the University. He could at least point me in the right direction.
“Dave, what can I do for you?” he asked in his sing-song Welsh accent when I identified myself, “How’s it going? I haven’t seen you since you left.”
“Pete, I’ve got a bit of a problem and it’s rather delicate,” I replied, “is there any chance I could come in and see you, or maybe meet up for a quick pint?”
“A pint sounds good,” he agreed, “where and when?”
“How soon are you free?” I asked.
“Well now,” he said, “we’re on break at the moment, so we’re all here thinking about our next research grant.”
“Then how about I come down now, “I said, “we can talk about my problem and then I can take you out and buy you a pint?”
“Now, that, my boy, sounds like a fine plan, how long?”
“About an hour?” I suggested.
“Then I’ll see you when you arrive.”
We said goodbye and I stood, re-opened the desk drawer and put the knickers on the desktop then went to the kitchen to find a plastic bag, which I took back to the study and put the knickers into, then placed the bag in my jacket pocket, put the jacket on and then retrieved my keys from the hall table, unlocked the front door, stepped outside, locked the door behind me and flashed my car unlocked.
I arrived at the University early, paid the parking fee and went in search of Peter’s office in the sciences building. He was waiting for me. We shook hands and, at his invitation, I sat down.