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The Boy I Love
Paul Harris, still frail after shellshock, returns to his father's home and to the arms of his secret lover, Adam. He discovers that Margot, the fiancee of his dead brother, is pregnant and marries her through a sense of loyalty. This story is set in the aftermath of World War One.
November 1919 Hiding in Adam’s pantry, Paul remembered how he was once forced to eat marmalade at school, a whole pot of marmalade, Jenkins twisting his arms up his back as Nichols held his nose and clattered the spoon past his teeth. He stared at the jar on Adam’s shelf. Its contents were all but finished; only a dark orange residue speckled with toast crumbs and marbled with butter remained. He unscrewed the lid, wondering if marmalade could taste as bad as he remembered. The scent of bitter oranges assaulted him as outside the pantry door his father’s voice rose a little, as close to anger as he ever came. ‘He’s not well enough to be out on his own.’ ‘Doctor Harris, I swear I didn’t even know he was home.’ ‘He writes to you.’ ‘He wrote occasionally.’ Paul placed the marmalade back on the shelf, listening more carefully. That pinch of truth would help the lie down – that “occasionally” held the right note of disappointment. His father might almost believe his letters to Adam were infrequent. George sighed. ‘If you do see him…’ ‘I’ll bring him straight home.’ Paul listened as Adam showed George out, waiting until he felt sure his father had gone before pushing the pantry door open. In a stage whisper he asked, ‘All clear?’ Adam sat down at the kitchen table. Taking off his glasses he ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. ‘Jesus, Paul. He knew you were in the pantry. He bloody knew.’ He looked up. ‘He didn’t speak to me. He spoke to the bloody pantry door.’ Sitting opposite him Paul reached across the table and took his hand. ‘At least you didn’t give us away.’ Adam drew his hand back. ‘He could smell your cigarette smoke.’ ‘Maybe he thought you’d taken up smoking. Maybe you should.’ Paul shoved his cigarette case towards him. ‘Calm your nerves.’ ‘You know I hate it.’ Lighting up, Paul blew smoke down his nose. ‘Hate what? Lying, smoking or having a one-eyed lunatic hiding in your cupboards?’ ‘Smoking.’ Adam sighed. ‘No point hating the rest of it, is there?’ Adam polished his glasses on the corner of his shirt. Hooking the wire frames over his ears he smiled at Paul. ‘Cup of tea?’ ‘I should go. He’s had enough worry, lately.’ ‘Haven’t we all.’ ‘I’d better go.’ ‘Yes. Of course. Better go.’ Neither moved. Paul’s bare toes curled against the cold lino. The kitchen of Adam’s terrace house was always cold, always smelt of yesterday’s frying, always made him want to take boiling, soapy water and a scrubbing brush to the sink and stove and floor. He thought of the stale-biscuit smell in the pantry, the damp in the corners, the nagging suggestion of mice. He shuddered and wiped imaginary marmalade stickiness from his fingers.