Text book love
Maeve Binchy, who died last week, was the small-town wrtier who became a global bestseller. This unmissable short story was posted on her website shortly before her death. Here, as a tribute, we reprint it in full...
They knew very quickly that Brian was in love. It was almost a text-book case of love, all those hours in the bathroom, the combing and re-combing of his hair and most of all his sudden and violent intolerance of everyone in the household. Nothing you could say would please him. If Rose said he looked well going out to the office in the morning he would fly at her in rage.
What did she know about looking well? He looked absolutely awful, his jacket was wrong, his trousers were a joke, his shoes were like something you had seen in a circus, his skin looked like the wrong side of the moon. How stupid of his mother to say he looked well. It was typical of her to think that anyone who looked this terrible was all right. Then he would bang out the door.
His father fared no better. A mild enquiry about how things were going at the office brought a similar tirade from Brian. When his father asked how things were going what exactly did he mean? Did he mean how were things going for industry in general, because if so the answer was badly, the country was in a recession or perhaps his father hadn’t noticed. In the unlikely event of his father wanting to know how Brian himself was getting on, that was too huge a question for him to answer but some day if his father had 15 hours, Brian would tell him.
‘I have all the time in the world,’ said Christopher, Brian’s father. ‘Tell me all about it.’
‘You have all the time in the world because you don’t go out to work as early as I do,’ Brian would say and yet again the foundations of the house would be tested by the banging of the door.
‘I suppose everyone is like this when they’re in love,’ Rose said forgivingly as she sat at the breakfast table after one of Brian’s noisier departures.
‘We weren’t,’ Christopher said.
They thought back on it. No, of course they weren’t. But then things were different. They had fallen in love a long time ago. It was the year that Rose had come to London from the North of England and been very homesick, and Brian had come to London from the North of Ireland and been as lonely as hell.
They had met in Hyde Park on a spring day, both on their lunch hour, neither with anyone to talk to or anywhere to go. They had got on from the very start. They smiled, thinking back on the year. And they sat on companionably and thought about Brian. Tall, handsome Brian, 17, sunny and good-humoured all through childhood and school, eager to join in everything they did. Brian, their longawaited baby, who had delighted both sets of grandparents, and brought them together in a way that Rose and Christopher had never been able to do.
They often joked and said that if only they had been able to produce Brian at the wedding, the ceremony would have been less difficult, with both sides staying formally apart. It was one of the least jolly gatherings either Rose or Christopher had ever attended. Even the pictures looked as if everyone was on trial for their life rather than celebrating a marriage. But by the time Brian had been born and introduced to both sides, the cordiality was overwhelming. Nobody minded which faith he was christened in or who performed the ceremony. He could be christened in a dozen faiths just so long as they could all be there. And now this sunny, good-tempered boy had turned into a snarling, raving creature unable to throw them a civil word before he loosened the foundations of the small house they had worked so hard to pay for.
Then love took a different but just as confusing turn. Brian was now deeply into advice-seeking.
‘What did you do to attract girls, I mean to make them fancy you, when you were 17?’ he asked his father, and Christopher said that he really wasn’t avoiding the question but it had been so different in Belfast in those days, it was like talking about a different planet.
‘What do women want? Basically?’ Brian asked his mother, and she said that it depended so much on the woman. In her own case she wanted a bit of peace, better pay and less draughts at the supermarket where she worked as a cashier near the door, to lose 12lb weight and go on a holiday to Spain. But other women probably wanted different things.
And then as swiftly as the black moods had started, they were over. Brian was whistling again, full of chat about the people he worked with. The name Shirley came into the conversation a bit, but along with the Roberts and Mikes and others who had been there before.
‘I discovered something about women,’ he said one morning. Rose lowered her eyes and hoped it would be something a family could share.
‘They’re just the same as the rest of us,’ he said. ‘I used to be putting on an act for Shirley but she’s quite normal, she loves football, and the engines of motorbikes. She’s perfectly easy to get along with.’
Brian’s parents nodded sagely. Nothing on their faces betrayed that they were thinking of the time that they had been in love. When Christopher had pretended he was interested in clothes, when Rose had pretended to care about who won the British Open.
And as they nodded they each thought about how strange life was. The world had changed enormously in almost everything, but love still went by the rules in the text book.
Maeve Binchy: born 28 May 1940, died 30 July 2012.
The fee for this article was donated to the Irish Heart Foundation and Arthritis Ireland.
© Maeve Binchy
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920