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Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

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Book III: At Home With Robert

Chapter 5: Summer Nights

part 2 of 2

A few weeks later I got a call from Catherine. And the first thing she said was ‘It’s happened again, Robert.’

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather!

Oh my god.

I didn’t actually say anything to Robert at this point, of course, but that’s exactly what I thought! He must have decided to try and contact his old flame after all, the day after that pub lunch, and somehow found her phone number. And they must have agreed to meet up again, for old times’ sake, and then ...

Yes, ‘Oh my god,’ I had thought, as he was talking. Because that Catherine was now going to have another baby in Wood Green, and this must surely have been taking place around the time that ...

But that would also mean that Robert was actually ...

But this was still crazy! On the other hand, everything seemed to ...

No, Donna. No. Pure fantasy.

Anyway, that’s exactly what I thought, there and then, and I’ve typed it up now, so it can stay here, dammit!

Of course the lady already had everything planned out, once again, and I could hardly get a word in edgeways — just as before!

And the very next thing she told me was that she had a close friend — a woman she’d originally known at secondary school.

‘I’m two years older than her, Robert, so we weren’t at all close at that time, and we both forgot about each other once I’d left school and started work. But we met up again at a local evening class just a few months ago, and then we got to know each other quite well. It turned out she’d eventually gone off to university somewhere up north, and then come back to live in Wood Green.’

But I’ll bet she didn’t mention that woman’s name to Robert. Typical Catherine cloak and dagger routine ...

I was already wondering why she was telling me all this. She was normally a lot more frugal with the facts! But I guessed she had her reasons, so I just carried on listening, stunned into silence once again ...

‘My friend told me she was an only child, Robert, and each of her elderly parents had been an only child too. And just seven months after she’d started at university, both of them had died in an awful traffic accident. After that she had no family left, apart from two senile grandparents both living in faraway Nursing Homes. Suddenly she was totally alone, and with no inheritance — her parents had always lived in rented accommodation, and never had much money to spare.

‘She got through that first summer vacation by living on campus and keeping her head above water by waitressing in the city every evening.’

‘But Catherine, surely we need to ...’

‘No, please let me continue, Robert.

‘Then, at the start of her second year, she met a local lad who’d stayed in his hometown for his university course and had just switched across into her faculty. He came from a small family too — very tight-knit and old-fashioned — and he had no brothers or sisters either.

‘Well, they went steady for a while, got married on the cheap in their final year, and graduated in the summer of 1970. They’d both picked up reasonable jobs in central London, which suited them perfectly — she was keen to return to Wood Green, and he was happy to escape the shackles of his parents and their petty little world.’

I had been getting more and more tempted to ask Robert the obvious question, but he beat me to it ...

‘Catherine, did these friends of yours by any chance have names? It’s really hard thinking of them as just “he and she”!’

‘I’m not going to tell you, Robert. It’s a condition of the whole scheme that nobody should ever know who they are.’

‘Very well. It’s no surprise, I suppose, given your track record! But I’m already imagining them as Bonnie and Clyde ...’

‘Fair enough. Those names will do as well as any others ...’

I was really disappointed when I heard that.

But then I shook myself out of the silliness once again. Still clutching at such coincidental straws! Just ridiculous, Donna!

‘Now, where was I, Robert? Oh yes ...

‘Clyde’s parents had never liked Bonnie. So when he went off to live with his new wife in the evil capital city, they simply stopped communicating with him. And he was secretly very grateful for that.

‘They rented a small flat here in Wood Green — nice easy Tube journey into town — and lived in happy isolation, saving what they could from their low starting salaries. And two years later they took out a 98% mortgage and bought a much nicer flat of their own, just two streets away from my place.

‘In 1974, Bonnie decided she wanted to start a family, and they agreed they could probably now afford it. But nothing happened for over four years. In the autumn of ’78, after the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby here in England, Bonnie really wanted to contact the doctors who’d pioneered that approach, and volunteer herself. But Clyde refused. Pure male pride, she told me. So she suggested adoption instead, and he refused that too. “At least for a few more years,” he insisted. He was clearly not very interested in starting a family after all. It was stalemate — literally!

‘Well, as I said, Bonnie told me all that soon after we met up again a few months ago. And now this has happened! But the perfect solution is staring us in the face, of course. We’ve talked it through with my parents, and everyone agrees I should propose to Bonnie and Clyde that they somehow contrive to adopt the baby “beyond official view”.’

‘But surely ...’

‘But before I do that, Robert, I want you to give the plan your full support as well.’

Oh my god. This was all still fitting! Bonnie and Clyde really must have been my adoptive parents! Well, quite possibly, anyway. And ...

‘Robert, can I please ask you a very personal question, here and now?’

‘Certainly, Donna.’

‘How on earth did you feel about the idea of becoming a father for a second time, but still being so strongly discouraged from fulfilling that role?’

‘What? Oh, Donna! Whatever made you think such a thought? I wasn’t the father!! It was Peter!’

‘Peter? PETER?? Oh my goodness! Oh, I’m so sorry, Robert ...’

‘It’s all right, Donna. Please don’t worry about it. But yes, Peter had told me he was staying on at his hotel for a few days to see the sights, but they clearly weren’t of an architectural nature ...’

‘But how on earth did Catherine get hold of your number?’

‘What a strange question! From the telephone directory, of course!’

I didn’t say another word. Because I must already have been looking extremely foolish, and I might still have been completely wrong. And this was Robert’s own, very personal story, of course.

But I was now pretty convinced that Peter and Catherine were my true parents. She must have put a lot of effort into discovering which hotel he was staying at, that weekend, and then taken the initiative, as usual ...

So once again Catherine had given me Hobson’s Choice. In fact I’d still hardly said a word.

I asked her about the obvious risks I could imagine, off the top of my head, and she assured me they were all acceptable or manageable. Then she went through a few more details of her grand plan, and I raised a couple of objections, but she knocked them down one by one. Then she summarised all the rules and conditions, and I ended up agreeing to it all.

And it wasn’t so hard to do that, this time around. Right then I was even keener on a quiet and uncomplicated life than I had been back in ’63!


And then she thanked me very sincerely, as always, and said she would phone me again once everything was sorted out.

I had a few more misgivings about it in the days that followed, of course. I even thought about calling her back, but then I realised I didn’t have the number of her own house, and I wasn’t about to phone her parents’ home! So I just sat tight, and waited.


* * *

Catherine rang again about a week later, and told me straight off that her friend Bonnie had jumped at the idea of “having” Jane’s baby.

‘Wait a minute, Robert! Do you really mean it was Jane who was going to have that baby? Not Catherine?’

‘Of course, Donna! Whatever made you think it might be Catherine??’

‘Well ... oh, it doesn’t matter, Robert. I’m very sorry again. Give me a moment, will you ...?’

So I was definitely not that baby after all, because my real mother was called Cath or something like that, wasn’t she? Not Jane! It was still nothing at all to do with me! Stupid girl! This was still just dear old Robert’s story about his very complicated family, not mine! I really had to stop confusing the poor man like this!

I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed at that revelation, though. All I truly knew was that I’d been through a lot of emotional turmoil in the past few minutes. But at least I could now relax and let Robert continue.

And then I realised what I had unwittingly implied by suggesting he was the baby’s father! Oh, Donna! But then I realised the implications of its being Peter instead ...

Oh my god.

‘But Robert, since Peter was Jane’s uncle, wouldn’t that mean ...?’

‘I was just coming to that, Donna.’

‘OK. Sorry once again.’

Catherine’s only real concern had been Peter’s blood relationship to Jane.

She’d explained to me, in that first phone call, that when Jane told her she was pregnant and definitely wanted to have the baby, Catherine had seen no problem with agreeing straight away. She was obviously still as “sixties” as ever — pragmatic, liberal, no hang-ups or taboos or religious positions or whatever. But then Jane had announced that Peter was the father .......

‘Well, I really had to work hard to hide my shock at that news, Robert!

‘I asked Jane straight away if Peter now knew that the two of us were mother and daughter. And she promised she had said nothing about it to him, after taking my silent hint at the lunch table. I often do that, by the way, to make our social lives more interesting and hide my true age!

‘And in fact Jane then swore that neither she nor Peter had even mentioned me, following that first meeting. As far as he was concerned, we were just two regular girlfriends with very differently coloured hair and a few years apart in age ...’

And Catherine still hadn’t wanted to reveal anything about me to Jane. So of course she’d given her daughter no hint that she was now communicating with me again. The silences were steadily thickening.

Catherine had quickly decided that the Bonnie and Clyde plan might be essential. And while she’d been busy hatching that little scheme, she’d also been doing some careful research in the local library. And she’d soon concluded that there was only about a one-in-ten risk of Jane’s baby inheriting a genetic abnormality. Not much higher than the risk in a marriage of first cousins, it seemed, and not really very high at all, she’d convinced herself.

And since nobody else in the Horten family had the faintest idea that I was Jane’s father and Peter was her uncle, Catherine had resolved to continue to say nothing about it to her daughter either, and to run with the “small risk” she’d fixed upon. Because she knew very well that if the truth did see the light in the near future, it would be illegal for the couple to marry, even if they wanted to. And she was also guessing that official adoption would probably prove very difficult to arrange in the circumstances. So then there might have been only one legitimate option open to them, and she knew that neither she nor Jane wanted that at all ...

Oh boy ...

Anyway, as I was saying, Catherine had called me back to say Bonnie was clearly delighted at the whole idea. But the lady had of course left out that minor detail about Peter, and most of the others too ...

‘She knows nothing at all about the baby’s father, Robert, and she’s studiously not asking about him, in case that should bring along any extra little problems. Well, she did actually ask one small question: “Is he white?” But that was nothing to do with prejudice, she insisted: it was just utterly pragmatic, in the circumstances. She was quite right, of course. And I assured her that he was.

‘But she also told me that Clyde, for his part, was rather uncertain about the whole plan, and for lots of reasons — legal, moral, religious, financial, his old male pride, a general lack of interest, and so on — and he apparently put up a big fight behind the scenes for several days, until Bonnie gave him an ultimatum. They would either run with this plan, or she would walk out that very evening and find herself a real man ...

‘So Clyde finally agreed. “Just to help everybody out,” he apparently said. And he also declared that he would never re-open communications with his own family, especially since that would entail extending what he insisted on calling “this awful pretence” ...’

And that’s where Catherine stopped in that second phone call. Her final words to me were ‘Now all we have to do is put it into practice! Wish us luck, Robert.’

So I wished them luck, and I put down the phone, and that was that.

* * *

‘Can I ask a couple more questions please, Robert? Just to clarify things in my mind, you know ...’

‘Of course, Donna.’

‘OK. Well, firstly ... Catherine obviously hung on to Jane when she was born back in 1964, didn’t she? So why was Jane so willing to give up her future baby to a foster mother? Was she completely happy with that idea from the start, or do you think Catherine put her under a lot of pressure ...?’

‘I obviously don’t know all her reasons, Donna. I never spoke to her about any of it. But I’m guessing that if Peter hadn’t been Jane’s uncle, Catherine might have been quite happy to play the whole thing exactly the way she and her parents did with her own baby. But yes, I got the firm impression that she actually had to do quite a lot of persuading — and as you know, she was resolutely unwilling to reveal the most important consideration of all!

‘There were two separate issues, of course. You’ve mentioned the first one: whether or not Jane should keep the baby after it was born. Well, it turned out that her situation was very different from Catherine’s ...

‘Because when I met her, all those years ago, she’d already left school, she had a dull and poorly-paid job, and she was very keen to get herself onto a Council House waiting list with some level of priority. So I’m fairly certain she engineered her pregnancy quite carefully. And since I suffered no inconveniences because of it, I’ve never had any complaints about that. But then she clearly worked very hard, largely on her own, to bring up the little girl who turned into the lovely young lady I got to meet for just one hour on that summer’s day. So Catherine obviously really wanted her baby for its own sake too, and for that reason she still enjoys a great deal of my respect, despite my misgivings about her methods and her morality.

‘But getting back to Jane — as I said, it was all rather different with her. She had clearly been born with my very good looks, but she’d completely failed to inherit my very poor academic abilities! Seriously, though, she’d done very well at school, and passed her O-level exams with good grades all round. She was all set up for sixth-form, A-levels, and probably university to follow. So she really didn’t want to throw that all away.

‘And Catherine told me she’d also admitted to Jane — and I believe her — that she now honestly felt it would have been better for everyone concerned if Jane had been brought up with a father as well as a mother. Now for Catherine, of all people, to say something like that — to listen to the voice of experience rather than stick with her original dogmatism — was quite remarkable. And then she told me that Jane had agreed with her at once — she too had always wished she’d had a father as well as her wonderful, dedicated mother. But Jane saw no point or hope in trying to trace Peter and drag him back to England to take up his “responsibilities” — and with that view she was clearly displaying the pragmatism she’d inherited from her mother ...

‘So those two factors seem to have been enough to convince her to agree to let the baby go to a caring and loving couple when it was born.

‘And I think I can make a good guess at your other question, Donna ...’

‘Of course you can, Robert. Why did Jane agree to breaking all the adoption rules, rather than going through the formal procedures? Especially since she knew nothing about the complications with Peter and yourself ...’

‘Well, Catherine said she’d sold it to her on the simple grounds that Bonnie and Clyde were trusted personal friends who desperately wanted a child, and also that they lived locally, so Jane should in principle be able to see the baby any time she wished to. Whereas if she were to “lose” it to some unknown, official foster couple, well, they could disappear off to the other side of the world at any time, couldn’t they, and then ...’

‘That all sounds a bit unrealistic and heavy-handed, Robert.’

‘I agree. But this was Catherine in full flow, remember! And whatever you and I think of her tactics, they clearly worked, and by the time she made her proposal to Bonnie and Clyde, Jane had agreed to play along with it all. But on just one condition ...’

‘Jane actually got to influence the outcome?’

‘Only slightly, Donna. Her single condition was that since she was going to give up her baby, and she wanted the freedom to detach herself from it however and whenever she wished, then Peter must never be told.

‘And those had actually been Catherine’s final words to me in the first of her phone calls. “Peter must never be told.” And of course I had agreed.’

Proceed to Chapter 6 ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

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