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The Innocents

Two innocents,
in no sense favoured,
short on looks and wits;
both sets of parents dead,
alone and separate,
they lived on benefit and cleaning jobs for cash.
The village kept an eye.
It told itself
that villages are good at looking after weaker brethren,
idiots they used to call them,
kept from harm, from doing harm.

One Sunday they were seen together holding hands.
The village grinned behind its hand
but on the whole approved
and turned up in large numbers at the wedding.
These are enlightened times. Why not?

At the village hall
there was appalling dancing
and refreshments.
Women stroked the woman, telling her
how gorgeous she was looking.
All the guests were thinking: how much do they know?

They went by train to Blackpool for a fortnight’s honeymoon

except that after two days they were back.
She had her leg in plaster
and they wouldn’t say

but later, one or other must have said.
The story was:

they had arrived. Were shown their room.
They stood.
She said, ‘You have a bath while I unpack.’
When he had gone (no ensuite here)
a naughty, lovely notion came to her.
She took her clothes off and put on a dressing gown.
She padded down the corridor.
The sound of running taps.
She nerved herself
and tried the handle of the bathroom door.

The room was full of steam, but she could just make out
her naked male, his back, his rump.
She stole across the room and slipped her hand between his legs.
‘Jingle bells,’ she sang/said.
The face which turned and stared was someone else.

She fled.
No scream would come,
no thought of where her bedroom was,
she ran downstairs, and stumbled, tumbled,
broke her leg and landed in a heap
in front of a surprised receptionist.

Her husband
in the other bathroom
in a state of sweet anticipation
heard a knock.
‘Your wife has had an accident.’
He went down to his trembling bride.
The ambulance was there.

The village was agreed:
the least successful honeymoon on record.
But the plaster came off six weeks later. From that day
the marriage was a love match though she limped.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington