Virgin at Fifty

 

 

Just what do you do when you’ve got no job, no family, no friends and the world you are plunged into is unfamiliar? This is the challenge for Angie Jarvis when she loses her faith and has to leave the safety and comfort of the convent she joined as a young woman, thirty years ago. But in her quest to create a new life for herself, there is one certainty; she plans to have sex and plenty of it.

 

 

Published in paperback on 25th January  2018 by Black Pear Press 

For more information  and the option to buy, visit my page at Black Pear Press

 

Chapter one

Angie Jarvis, age forty-nine and three-quarters, teetered on the edge of the kerb, her heels planted firmly on the pavement, her toes in free fall. She looked right, left and right again. The road was clear. Her feet refused to move. How could starting a new life be so hard?

‘It’s just a street,’ she whispered under her breath. It was more than that.  On this side, safe in the shadows, was Sister Ruth, former nun, former dutiful daughter. On the other side, appropriately the sunny side, was a doorway to a new life.

‘Don’t be melodramatic,’ her inner voice said. ‘It’s a coffee bar and you are meeting someone you knew at school. People do that all the time.’

‘People do, virgin nuns don’t.’

‘Shut up the pair of you’ said a third voice; ‘I’m Angie, the new me and I don’t plan on remaining a virgin for much longer. Enough with the voices, I’m not crazy. I’ve sold my dad’s old house and bought a bungalow, I’ve torn up my habit, I can cross a bloody road when I want to.’ And swear too. She smiled. That might come in very useful one day.

Angie took a deep breath and stepped across the empty road, into the sunlight heading for the newest café in town. Ironically, it stood on the site of the shop where she used to gaze longingly at the toys with her Christmas or birthday money clutched in her hand. Of course, her parents always made her buy a book or something educationally useful. In the window she could see piles of brightly coloured cakes that had replaced the toys and even in the street  the aroma of chocolate and homemade soup made her mouth water.

It was inviting, but she was about to meet the first old friend that had replied to her post on the school Facebook page, Maggie Henderson. She’d been the queen bitch of her year group. Her sole interest, apart from fags and boys, was making kids’ lives a misery, unless they were in her gang. Why did it have to be her?

It was a long time ago. Surely they’d both changed and besides, it was only for a coffee. She had earned some time off. She checked herself. Did it have to be earned? She’d taken enormous piles of rubbish to the dump, cleared and sold the old house. She deserved a break and a new life had to start somewhere. Was Maggie the same girl who used to emerge from behind the bike shelter each lunchtime in the arms of a different boy, hurriedly pulling down her skirt or tucking in her school blouse?

 

I’m a twice-married and now a very single mum of three kids. Ellie, the eldest followed in my footsteps and is a nurse in the States. The younger two, Tasha and Gareth, live at home. Tasha is at college and Gareth is copying my dreadful record at school and doing as little work as he can get away with.

 

It was impossible to read between the lines of that message, maybe she’d changed, maybe not. Wasn’t she allowed a little curiosity? Ugh, there it was again, “allowed”. Angela Jarvis might need permission, Angie can think for herself. She straightened up, opened the door and smelt the full bouquet of coffee and cake. She paused to savour the mix of chocolate, almonds, sugar and warm milk and to get her bearings. There are worse ways into a new life.

Sitting in the corner was a plump woman with rich red hair. This had to be her. It was definitely not the teenage couple in the corner or the old gentleman reading the paper. The Maggie she’d known had mouse-brown hair and was slim. People change. Or she hoped they did as all her old teenage anxieties of being picked on—or, worse, being left out—came back. Angie walked over to the table. ‘Maggie?’

The woman looked up. The hairstyle can change, the face adapts to ever increasing years whereas the eyes remain the same. Even though they were no longer caked in mascara and black eyeliner, they were unmistakeable. They had always reminded Angie of cat’s eyes, hazel flecked with gold. Except instead of being cold, they were just wary. A flicker of a frown crossed her face before it was replaced by a broad smile of recognition. She stood up. ‘Angela Jarvis? Is it really you?’

For a split second, there was silence as each took in the appearance of the other. Maggie was smaller than Angie had remembered and her red hair showed brownish grey roots that said the colour was the product of a bottle rather than nature. Although she was plump, she was dressed in a plain black jacket and trousers with a red sweater and a grey scarf knotted in a manner that Angie envied.

‘Yes. It’s me, Angie Jarvis.’

Maggie pulled out a chair for Angie to sit down. ‘Let me get these. What do you want?’

‘Just white coffee, please.’

‘One regular Americano with milk and one medium cappuccino, double shot,’ Maggie called out. Angie must have looked confused because Maggie added. ‘I suppose as a nun you didn’t get out much?’

‘How did you know?’ Angie fought to control the waver in her voice. Maggie was nothing if not direct and it was unnerving.

‘I’ve got a long memory. It was the talk of the town at the time.’

There was a pause and Maggie shifted in her chair as they waited for the coffee. Angie folded and unfolded her arms, crossed and uncrossed her legs and tried to look interested in the coffee machine as it hissed in the corner. This had all been a mistake. She should have stayed at home, polished the front door, done anything except allow herself to come under the scrutiny of Maggie’s gaze. ‘Ta, love, over here,’ Maggie called out to a slender girl in black trousers and a large white apron who deposited a huge bowl in front of Angie and an even larger bowl of white froth in front of Maggie.

‘Do you want to order lunch?’ The girl offered them card menus. At least this would give them something to do before they had to think of a new topic of conversation. Angie seized one and studied it.

‘I can recommend the ciabatta with goat’s cheese, rocket and red onion marmalade.’ Maggie was turning the menu over and studying every offering.

Angie tried not to pull a face again, she was totally out of her depth. Maggie must have realised as she leaned forward and whispered, ‘Think of it as a posh cheese sarnie with a bit of greenery and pickle and heaps better than what we had at school.’ She smiled. ‘Do you remember the caramel pie that stuck to the spoon?’

‘Or the coconut custard?’ Angie said.

‘We used to call it toenail soup.’

‘What about chocolate concrete, that cake stuff that nearly broke your teeth?’

‘And the stew where you had to send out a search party to find any meat?’

They both giggled. The spell was broken. ‘I used to reckon if you could put up with school dinners, you could put up with anything in life. If that’s what you recommend, I’ll be guided by you.’ Angie sat back. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

‘Two ciabattas, please.’ Maggie called out and turned her attention back to Angie. ‘Before you tell me anything there is one question I have to ask. Why did you leave? No, forget that question. Why the hell did you ever join the Holy Joes in the first place? A clever kid like you could have done anything? Not like me, thick as…you know.’

For a moment Angie was tempted to lie, she had a feeling that underneath all the bravura, Maggie could turn out to be a good friend so she wanted to be honest from the start. ‘I had to get away. First from home and then from the convent. I thought it would be a serene place, full of love and God’s protection. He let me down.’ She stirred her coffee. It gave her hands something to do to stop them from trembling as memories surfaced of her last conversation with Sister Catherine who again denied she’d ever suspected their priest of any wrongdoing.

‘I never had much interest in the God stuff—in my book it’s people who let you down.’ Maggie took a sip of the froth before she dabbed at the brown and white moustache that was deposited on her top lip. ‘Why did you go there in the first place?’

Angie sighed. ‘I’d always been more religious than the other girls in my year and when I was at college, there was a man.’

Maggie leaned forward, her eyes wide open, the cup poised half way to her lips. ‘Yeah? Man trouble eh? Did he break your heart?’

‘No. It was nothing like that.’ Maggie’s face fell. ‘The chaplain at the college encouraged me.’

‘Is that all he did?’

‘With me, yes. Though not with some of the more nubile members of the student body. I seem to remember that he liked them with big breasts. I always thought that I could be a better role model than him and so joined.’

Maggie let out a long whistle. ‘So what next?’

‘I want to get my life back, or rather get a life,’ Angie corrected herself. ‘I’ve got a lot of living to do.’ She took a deep breath. There was no going back. ‘That includes meeting men.’ Her cheeks felt like she’d accidentally rubbed chilli on them and she waited for the reaction. It came and it was not the one she had expected.

Maggie clapped her hands. ‘Well, you’ve got some fun times ahead of you. Where do we start?’

Over the ciabattas, which Angie had to admit were like posh cheese sandwiches, Maggie revealed how she’d got pregnant in the last year of school, kept it quiet until she’d left and married the father. They divorced within two years. She’d married again and produced two more children. She was living on the same estate where she’d been brought up and now worked as a care assistant in the Crystal Hill Care Home. ‘Today is my much-needed day off,’ she said.

‘A care assistant?’ Angie remembered the placement she’d been offered for her father in the last days of his illness and screwed up her face.

Maggie noticed. ‘It’s not like that.’ She spoke briskly. ‘We’re a small family-run business and take a pride in what we do. We get to know our clients and what they like and never, ever stick them in front of the television unless we’re all there and we watch as a family, like the Jubilee and the Olympics.’ She stopped. ‘Sorry. It’s one of my bugbears. I don’t think I could work anywhere else.’

‘I wish my father had been offered a place with you.’

‘We’ve got a waiting list as long as your arm,’ Maggie said. ‘Even so, money is very tight and I don’t know how long we can keep going.’ She stopped. ‘I’m sorry, I’m hogging the conversation, as always. What about you?’

‘After school I got a degree and qualified as a teacher. Most of my life’s been spent as a nun. I quit for a while to nurse my dad, who soon died.’ Maggie nodded sympathetically. Angie continued. ‘Since then I’ve sold his house, bought a bungalow with a dishy neighbour and I’ve left the convent for good.’ As Angie said the words, she realised they could never convey the enormity of what she had done and crossed her fingers Maggie would not press her for more details. She wouldn’t know what to say.

Maggie’s interest lay elsewhere. She leaned forward like a cat about to pounce. ‘What’s he like? Oh and by the way, fit is what the kids say today. Or hot, not dishy.’

‘Oh my age, slim, greyish hair. He drives a very smart new car.’ Angie hoped to put Maggie off. For some reason she didn’t want to say anymore. She’d been standing outside the bungalow with the estate agent when she’d spotted him. He had turned and looked at her. In that second, something had stirred deep inside, although she had no idea what it was.

‘Is he single?’

‘His wife died a few years ago.’ Angie would forever be grateful that the estate agent had leaked information. It was good to know that Paul Buchannan, as she’d found out he was called, was proof that there was at least one attractive and unattached male in town.

‘Way to go, kid.’ Maggie paused. ‘What happens next?’

‘That’s the problem. I’m so out of touch with modern life that I have no idea where to begin. Selling and buying houses sounds big, yet other people really do most of the work. The thought of shopping, especially for things like clothes or make-up, frightens me silly.’

‘Shopping?’ Maggie sat up, her eyes alight. ‘You’ve come to the right person here. If you’ve got your car, we can go to the retail mall and I’ll direct you to the places with the best bargains.’

‘The retail what?’

‘The cut-price designer outlet. No one pays full price nowadays. Check this.’ And she showed Angie the label on her jacket. ‘Fifty quid reduced from two hundred. These trousers, fifteen from ninety and…’ she stretched out a foot encased in red leather pumps, ‘…twenty quid. Job lot, bought special. Eat up and we can get going. You’ll get twice as much there as you will in any ordinary shop and it’s good stuff.’

Angie looked at the way Maggie knotted her scarf and how she pushed up the sleeves of her jacket to reveal the slimmest part of the body. She had to admit, Maggie had a sense of style. She always did, even when she had to wear the regulation school uniform. She looked down at her baggy black trousers and the sweater that covered all the lumps and bumps of the female anatomy and hid her away from the eyes of the world. ‘I can’t…’ She felt the air squeezing out of her body. Everything was happening too fast. ‘I can’t possibly take you away from your day off.’ Angie relaxed. It was a good excuse.

‘What about a time next week? I’m free on Thursday again? It’ll give you chance to find out what you really want. Check out the latest trends, you know?’

‘It’s very kind of you but—’

‘—but nothing.’ Maggie leaned over and patted Angie’s hand. ‘It’ll make a change to go shopping with someone and not have to foot the bill.’

The hand remained where it was, a touch of reassurance as if Maggie knew instinctively what Angie was feeling. With that, Angie got out her diary and circled the date. She could always back out later. After exchanging phone numbers, they parted and Angie watched as Maggie disappeared down the hill. With a sinking feeling she realised she didn’t want to go back to an empty house. She’d spend a bit more time in the town and perhaps find a hairdresser. As she poked her nose into Cuts R Us, the sight of the skinny assistants in black and grey with their multicoloured or artfully piled up hair made her feel even more dowdy. She closed the door and scurried away.

By the time she got back to the car park, a light drizzle was falling. She climbed into the car and turned the ignition. It growled, wheezed and stopped. She did it again. There was a clunking sound as if something important had fallen off. She turned the engine again and again, as a mounting feeling of desperation and irritation rose in her. ‘Stupid bloody car!’ she yelled and yanked on the ignition key. The engine screamed its indignation.

A hand tapped on the window. ‘Don’t do that. It just sounds a bit damp to me.’ She looked up into the face of a young man, a beanie hat pulled down over his head. Despite numerous piercings in his ear, and Bryony tattooed on his neck, he looked clean.

‘Sorry. What did you say?’ Angie wound down her window but stayed in the car. At least she could lock the doors and would be safe in case he started to behave strangely.

‘Open the bonnet and I’ll take a look at it,’ the young man said. He stood up, noticed her reluctance and added, ‘My grandad had an old Ford like this and they’re always tricky in the damp.’ Angie did not move. ‘I’m training to be a mechanic,’ he added as if to reassure her.

Angie stayed where she was and unlocked the bonnet. The young man fixed it in place before ducking his head inside the engine. He fiddled, twiddled and wiped something on a dirty rag he pulled out of his pocket. ‘Try again,’ he called. She turned the ignition. The engine sprang into life.

‘How did you do that?’ She got out and came to the front of the car and looked inside.

‘It just needed a dry and a tweak.’ He closed the bonnet with a bang. ‘Good as new.’ He turned to go.

‘How can I repay you?’ Angie asked. There was no reply. Her Good Samaritan was already heading off. ‘Thanks anyway,’ she called out to the departing figure. She raised her eyes to heaven and nodded her thanks before stopping. ‘What the hell are you doing that for? Stupid, stupid, stupid,’ she scolded herself. As she drove home though, she felt a twinge of gratitude that she’d found Maggie or Maggie had found her.

 

 

 

"This is an amazing review of the novel."

Simeon Rowsel

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