Sunday morning turned out to be propitious for study. By the time
her mother called out that lunch was ready, Jillian had caught up even further in
her work, and she realised with some satisfaction that she had given no significant
thought to Keith or the accident, and that she was becoming inured to those topics
that she had thought horrific and painfully intimate only a week previously.
"You look pleased with yourself."
"Yes, Dad, I think I might be starting to catch up."
"I haven't wanted to ask you, but are your faculty doing anything to
"Yes. I see my study advisor every two weeks. He's supportive enough,
but really I've got to depend on myself."
"Only so far, you know. We all depend on others. You can go to family
and friends for help in your life, as you go to lectures and books for information
on your studies."
"Yes, Dad, but in the end it is up to me. I'm the one who has to do
the learning, do the reading, apply it in practice. And I've done enough learning
for this weekend. How about a game of chess after lunch?"
They took the chess board onto the porch, into the soft spring air.
As they played, Jillian thought about what they had been discussing. I wonder if
I could find Keith in a book? Is he a common type? He has to resort to criminality
to get laid. Is that a type, a condition? It's pathological behaviour, surely? Where
would I find that written up? University library would be the best place to start,
"Checkmate, Jillian. You've been somewhere else, haven't you?"
"But I'm back now. Set them up again while I help Mum with the coffee.
I won't be so easy for you this time."
She lost to him again, managing to hold him off well through the middle
game, but collapsing in the end game. Improving, she thought, but I need much more
practice yet before I can beat him. It might be the same for Keith, too. And that
is a much more important battle.
The new week started routinely enough. Though certain that her Parkway
incident would never appear there, Jillian continued to make her early-morning pilgrimage
to collect a daily paper.
At university she found herself much more comfortable in all her classes,
gradually catching up, though still perceptibly behind. Her technique in practical
classes would need extra work, she realised.
During the lunch break, on Monday, she went to the university library
and hunted for a book to give her the insights she needed for diverting Keith into
more a palatable outcome than he so obviously had planned for her. She already thought
that his behaviour was pathological, so she looked for that in the psychology files.
There were several books that might be relevant. She noted their titles and locations,
then hunted them down and browsed through them. One, John F Oliven's Sexual Hygiene
and Pathology, seemed to cover the topic. It was a reference book, so, as she was
not a staff member, she could not take it out, but she reserved it for her use in
the reading room every lunch hour that week, then sat down with the book and a pad,
and started taking notes. She would do this every day, she decided, until she had
a much better idea what she was dealing with.
Each evening, she continued to catch up with her backlog, spent some
time chatting with her mother, though never about anything of great import, and played
a game of chess with her father. Her parents seemed much less concerned about her.
That's the way it should be, she realised. I'm starting to get my life back into
Each night, before going to sleep, she read over the growing pad of
notes that she was taking in her lunch hours. She was getting some clues, nothing
specific yet, but some sort of pattern was beginning to emerge. Nothing that exactly
described what she thought Keith might be, but he was gradually becoming more understandable.
On Wednesday she went back to her studies advisor, as she had promised.
"Come in Miss Jones. Sit down. Coffee?"
"No, thank you. I'm hoping we shouldn't be too long. I've got a lot
on. As you've told me." She smiled. She didn't want him to think that she was being
"I'm due for a cup, anyway. Sit down then." He went over to his brewer,
poured himself a mug. "How have the last two weeks gone? Have you taken my advice?"
He came back and sat down. Slouched back. Looked at her over the edge of his mug.
"I read the book. Thank you." She took it out of her satchel, put it
on the desk between them.
"And what use have you made of it?" He took a sip of coffee, kept looking
at her. She thought she saw something more than just academic support in his eyes.
Maybe I'm starting to become over-sensitive to men's attitudes, she thought.
"I got myself taken to the movies on Saturday. By an acquaintance from
a year ago, who I ran into again at a party the previous Saturday. And I'm spending
more time with my family. If I keep playing chess with my father as I now am, I might
be able to beat him, finally, some day soon."
"All sounds very positive. Have you noticed any effect on your work?"
"I think I may eventually be able to control my adverse feelings about
some subjects." No sense in seeming too positive. If I can't catch up fast enough
I may need some slack cut for me when finals come around.
"Good. But what about your backlog? Still a lot of catching up to do?
How is that going?"
"Yes, I know. I've been doing a little - quite a lot actually - every
day. I don't want to do it all at once, it wouldn't allow me enough time to keep
up with current work. And at the same time I must avoid getting too cloistered."
On a whim, she tried to make herself seem close to tears, something she had really
had been, she recalled, last time she saw him. I don't want him think it's all been
too easy - for it hasn't. Isn't. "It's very hard to keep a balance." She gave a little
sniff. Hey, that's not bad. I can feel my eyes being all watery. He passed her the
box of tissues. At least this time he had it close at hand, ready.
"I wouldn't worry too much. We think you show a great capacity for
hard work, when you are focused. This past week you've seemed to be concentrating
better when you are in the labs, and your technique might be starting to improve
a little too. Have you felt any changes like that, or are your tutors imagining it?"
"Oh, I hadn't realised anyone ever noticed those things."
"We're not in the bad old days, you know. We look after you much better
now. These days we need your money. Please don't quote me. Just a bad joke. Some
truth in it, though." He pushed himself back and stood up. Walked round the desk
to her. She stood up, too.
He walked beside her to the door, dropping his hand on her shoulder,
perhaps more caressingly than the previous time. Perhaps for longer. Yes, definitely
longer - he paused with his hand on the doorknob. "You do know," he looked into her
eyes, smiled invitingly, "you can come and see me any time. About anything. I'm always
pleased to see you."
I'd better play your game, you old goat. Oliven has section on you.
I know how to deal with you now. Small girl. Demure. She tilted her head slightly
to the side and forward. Gave him the 'Princess Diana' smile, looking up at him through
her lashes. You don't have to look very closely to see you preening yourself, she
thought. "Oh, thank you. I will. If you truly don't mind?"
"I'd be delighted. And in any case, two weeks from now? As usual? At
least until we are all agreed you are right back on track?" He smiled, encouragingly
this time she thought, opened the door and released her shoulder.
"Of course. Until then." she said. And stepped through to freedom.
What an opportunist. If Keith had a little more self-control or common sense there
would be nothing to choose between them. They're both sick.
Then she went straight round to the Student Health service and came
away with a prescription for contraceptive pills. I may get raped, she decided, but
I'm not going to get pregnant, too. What a mouse I've been. Using pregnancy as an
excuse, to myself mind you, not to get too close to any man. Nothing like getting
raped to wake your ideas up to what can happen in this big bad world. When she collected
the prescription she had a brief conversation with the lady pharmacist, and added
a pack of condoms to her purchase. I'm not ready to discuss these things with a man,
she admitted to herself.
By Friday afternoon she had filled a whole pad with notes on Sexual
Hygiene and Pathology and thought that she had learnt as much about it as she would
want to know for a long time. A very long time. It was interesting enough to read
about, to study, but it was daunting to realise that her reading applied to everybody
around her, even to herself, and that there was no such thing as sexual normalcy.
Only various levels of weird. On the bus home she mentally reviewed what she had
One, my parents love each other. They have adjusted to each other's
peculiarities, and enjoy the attentions they show each other. Father does not exploit
their relationship to force Mother into actions she deplores. I now view that as
one of the main measures of what separates, for me, acceptable behaviour from the
unacceptable. And I think I'm starting to know what I'm talking about, here. Nothing
like a well-planned extortion to make you value free-will.
Two, sexually I'm as normal as the next. I can say that, now that I
know how widely to interpret what that means. I'm shy, scared, inhibited, inexperienced,
over-protected, perhaps shocked by some childhood incident, but I don't feel any
deep repugnance for men, not any longer, provided I can retain control over what
I am expected to do. I think that I could be prepared to initiate something, when
I meet the right person, some day. It mightn't be Chris, though. It won't be Keith
or my tutor, for sure.
Three, Chris is either very similar to me, or he is hiding relationships
that he has with other women. I'm not sure which, and so I'm not sure about him,
and can't feel totally comfortable with him.
Four, Keith was probably damaged somehow in his childhood. Perhaps
not very seriously, but enough that he needs to feel that he can exert power over
a woman before he can function sexually with her. He probably doesn't know how to
enjoy a truly mutual, symmetrical relationship with an adult woman. He may be able
to learn, or be taught, eventually. Right now, though, if he were confronted with
a strong, female, sexual demand he would probably feel inadequate, alienated, be
unable to perform. Mockery at that time would probably quite destroy his self-control.
I can do that! Got you, Keith! And then she thought: Careful, girl. Pride goeth before
During her usual chat with her mother, clearing up in the kitchen
after dinner that evening, she asked, "Mum, can you spare me some time tomorrow morning?"
Her mother looked at her. "Saturday? What for, Jilly?"
"I wondered whether you would like to come shopping with me. I've been
letting my allowance earn interest for long enough. Do you think I could do with
something new for my wardrobe? You mentioned it last weekend." Let's see how she
takes that. This will be a first for us. She watched her mother closely, apparently
waiting for her reply, actually wondering what she would be thinking, feeling. I
do believe she is close to tears. I must have been so distant, for so long. Stupid.
"Oh, Jilly, Jilly, I'd love to. We could take the bus into the city
- I hate trying to find a car park. I'd love to. What time would you like to go?"
"Whenever suits you. I'll be ready as soon as we've had breakfast.
I can fit in with you."
The following morning the two women went shopping for clothes. Jillian
had realised that she had been dressing like a girl. Like a young girl, not an adult
girl, and she wasn't satisfied with that any more. "I'm going to be a doctor, Mum.
I'm still a student, but I'm going to be a doctor. At lectures, they wear jeans,
and dresses. Some wear suits, but I think they are totally pretentious. We can just
get one thing and see how it goes, then come in again some other time. What would
you like to see me in? You dress me, go on, enjoy yourself."
Her mother was close to tears. "Oh, Jilly. I've been thinking about
that for such a long time. Come with me, I know just the place." When the bus delivered
them to the city she took Jillian's hand - Jillian, amused, pretended not to notice
- and steered her through the shops.
When they had bought an outfit, her mother suggested a coffee. Jillian
agreed. They found a cafe and sat down. After they had ordered, Jillian looked at
her mother. "I'm enjoying myself." She was surprised to find that she meant it.
"Me, too. You've changed, Jilly. More confident, somehow. Calmer, even.
Certainly more mature."
"Thank you, Mum."
"No, I mean it."
"I know you do. And we've found lovely clothes for me to wear to lectures.
Look, while we are in town, perhaps we can find something I could wear tonight. I
think Keith might wear nice slacks and a sports jacket tonight. Perhaps with a tie.
He was, last weekend. I'm not sure that anything I've got would be quite right."
"What about what we have just bought? Have you considered that?"
"No, actually - I was thinking only of my old wardrobe. That's a good
idea. Great. We are done. Is there anything you would like to do, now, while we are
still in town?"
"You've not been one for using makeup. Do you still feel the same way?"
"Oh, perhaps. What would go with the clothes? I only have a couple
of lipsticks and they would both be the wrong colours."
"Let's go and have a look at the cosmetic counters."
A half hour later Jillian had bought basic cosmetics to suit her new
clothes, and had been shown by the assistant how to apply them. She glanced at her
mother, suddenly feeling a little shy. "How does it look?"
Her mother had the almost teary look again. "You look lovely, dear.
It will look great with the new clothes." She thought a moment, suddenly looking
uncertain. "Your underwear drawer is getting a bit thin. Do you want to think about
"Oh, mother, what a good idea." I'm glad you suggested it finally.
I thought I would have to bring it up. I don't want to look adult only on the outside,
but to be it, through and through. "Nice new knickers for when a bus knocks me down."
"Oh, Jilly, now you are making fun of me."
"Yes, Mum. But you are right. If I am knocked down by a bus I want
to go the morgue looking all in style, from the skin out."
"Jilly, what a gruesome mind." But her mother was laughing.
"Can't help it Mum. Comes with the territory. When you are learning
all the ways people can die you get a macabre sense of humour. Or you give up. And
I'm not going to give up."
"I know you aren't, Dear. But there were times when I thought you were
bogged down. Oh, you got tremendously good marks earlier, but lately not so good,
and at a terrible emotional cost. You were like a little machine, not a person. I
don't know what has changed recently, whether it is Keith, or what, but I'm glad
that it has."
You wouldn't be so pleased if you really knew, Jillian thought. Let's
get off that, back onto a safer topic. "I thought that red might make a nice change."
"Red what? Oh, underwear. Oh, my word. That would make a statement
if you were knocked down by a bus, wouldn't it? What fun. I might get some as well.
That would be a change for me too. A long time since I did anything like that. If
you don't mind, of course - this was supposed to be your expedition, after all."
"Oh, Mum, don't be silly. Why shouldn't we both be shopping for things?
Silly to drag into town twice, now that we are here."
Half an hour later they both had new underwear, red for Jillian, black
for her mother. Without thinking they linked arms as they came back onto the street
and turned toward their bus stop. Barbara looked at her daughter. How things have
changed, and so quickly, she thought. Suddenly I have a friend rather than a child.
"Let's leave your dad to fend for himself. How about lunch?"
"Lovely. What about here?" I wonder what she wants to talk about, Jillian
thought. She isn't threatening, and she isn't being too pushy. What's on her mind?
"Fine." She has been her father's little girl for so long. I know she
loved us both, but I could never build tree houses or play chess. All the cooking
and ironing has to be done, but it will never get the attention of a new toy or a
game. Men have it made when it comes to being friends with their children. A chat
over the stove isn't really enough. Now I'm having a turn too. Lovely.
When they were seated they ordered salads, smoked salmon for Jillian,
ham for her mother. They looked at each other, then spoke at once, and both burst
out laughing. "Did you want to talk about something, Mum?"
"Oh, I wondered if you wanted to. Red underwear. My little Jilly. Jillian.
Jillian indeed. Wow. Is there something about Keith that I had missed? What have
you really got planned for tonight? No, don't answer, I have no right to ask. It's
not my business. I shouldn't have said anything. I'm sorry I spoke out of turn, but
I couldn't help it—you look so happy. Almost radiant."
"Oh, Mum, I don't think I have ever had such a good time with you for
as long as I can remember. It's that simple. Forget about Keith, though. He might
be nice enough, or not, but nothing to do with this. This is just you and me. Getting
to know you as a woman and not just 'the mother'. I like it."
"But something has changed between you and Keith. You used to hate
"That's true. But you would never believe how I depended on him when
I was driving home. A week ago. Only a week. Seems like an age. I was terrified,
though. Truly terrified." Truth is best, she thought. But it doesn't have to be the
full truth. If I tell the truth I can't be caught out. I just don't mention the crash.
"I don't know how I would have coped if he hadn't been there. The least I can do
is let him take me to a movie or two if that's what he wants. I owe him that much."
"And the red bra?"
"Now, Mum, the new underwear was your idea. And why not red? At the
moment my preference would be that he doesn't get to see it, but if he does, I'd
rather set him back on his heels than have him take me for granted."
"Good for you. And you would certainly be dressed for anything. You'll
be right for walking, the movies, or a dance. Except -"
"Except? Except what?"
"Please, you've been buying all these things out of your allowance,
but would you let me buy you a pair of shoes? You've not anything that would be just
right. Please let me."
"What a lovely thought. You are right, of course. It needs something
dressy, doesn't it? Thank you. Yes. Thank you very much."
After their lunch they went shopping for the shoes, and two hours later
were back at home, in time to make afternoon tea for Gerald, who said, "It's just
as well I didn't expect you two back in time for lunch, I would have starved, waiting
Both the women laughed at him, as he looked from one to the other.
"I don't know that I have ever seen you two in cahoots like this before. I'm not
sure that I'll ever feel truly safe again." And this time he joined in the laughter.
Then Jillian spent an hour at her desk, memorising the main points
of several of her lectures, before showering, washing and blow-drying her auburn
hair into full, brilliant waves, something rare for her. After dressing in her new
clothes, she put a towel round her shoulders, and applied her new make-up as she
had been shown. When her mother called out that dinner was ready, she took the towel
off, hung it up, and went down to the dining room.
Her father looked up from carving, and nearly dropped the knife. "Oh.
My," he whispered, "you take me back to when I was courting your mother. You're a
gorgeous woman." He had tears in his eyes as he went back to carving. The next few
pieces of meat were hacked lumps, instead of the thin, even slices he usually produced.
"Thank you, Father. Mother helped me. This is as much her choice as
mine. We had a lovely time together."
"Keith doesn't deserve you. You're too good for him."
"Now, Dad. I've heard all about fathers. They don't think any man is
good enough for their little girls."
"You're not a little girl any more, though."
"No, and I might be too good for Keith, too. He has changed, yes, but
I feel that I've changed more. We'll see."
Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins