by Maureen Bowden
Sandra Beesley lost her virginity to Eddie Wynstanley on the top deck of the New Brighton Ferry in 1959. She was fourteen. He was seventeen. The rest of the passengers were crowded onto the lower deck, sheltering from the rain.
“If my dad finds out he’ll kill me,” she said.
“ Nobody needs to find out.” He dropped the used condom over the rail and into the river.
She’d known Eddie for three weeks. They’d met at New Brighton’s outdoor fair, specifically, at the ride formerly known as the Caterpillar, now refurbished, and renamed the Rock ‘n’ Roll. It was a focal point for young males and females, who paired up and rode the cars to the accompaniment of the latest hits. Sandra wore a flared gingham skirt, over an under-garment with several layers of stiff net and a plastic hoop threaded through the hem, to keep her skirt airborne. Her long, dark hair was folded into a French pleat, her eye-liner was black and her lipstick was Chalky Tangerine. Eddie wore drainpipe trousers, and a black shirt with the collar turned up and the neck open, showing the top of his pink tee-shirt. Cliff Richard sang ‘Livin’ Doll’ during their first kiss. It became their song.
Two evenings after they consummated their passion on the ferry, Eddie was dead. He’d been washing his black shirt, and his hands were still wet when he tried to tune in to Radio Luxembourg. The electric shock stopped his heart.
After the funeral Sandra retreated to her bedroom and sobbed until her mascara streaked her cheeks with sooty rivulets.
Eddie’s ghost said, “Don’t cry, San. I’m still here.”
She stopped in mid-sob. “Why didn’t your mother wash your shirt? My mam washes all my clothes.”
“She won’t wash the black one. She doesn’t like it. Says it makes me look like an Italian.”
“Mussolini wore one.”
“That’s ridiculous. You don’t look anything like Mussolini.” She wiped her eyes on her pillowcase. “He was old.”
“I know but she doesn’t like any Italians. The army sent my dad to Italy during the war, when I was a baby. He was always harpin’ on about the Sistine Chapel and the gorgeous women. I think he did it to wind her up.” He laughed.
Sandra liked the sound of his laugh. “Don’t leave me, Eddie,” she said.
“I won’t,” he promised.
She had other boyfriends, of course, and when she was seventeen Denny Donahue got her pregnant.
“I’m sorry, Eddie,” she said.
“Don’t be. Denny’s okay, and you’ll be a great mam.”
Her father made Denny marry her and they had a son. She called him Edward. Ned, for short.
While her friends were stomping at the Cavern to Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Big Three, and the Beatles, who’d recently returned from Hamburg, Sandra was at home changing Ned’s nappies. She and Eddie sang ‘Livin’ Doll’ to soothe him to sleep, while Denny sat with his feet up on the couch, in front of the TV, watching ‘Opportunity Knocks’.
When Ned was twenty-four he married Shelley Boyd. They hired the British Legion function rooms for the reception, and a DJ, Whiplash Wilson, to provide the evening’s entertainment.
After Sandra had sunk a couple of Bacardi and Cokes she asked Whip, as he was commonly known, if she could sing. He helped her onto the stage and announced through the microphone, “Let’s have a round of applause for Sandra, the groom’s lovely mother.” He turned to her, “Come on, Darlin. Strut your stuff.”
Eddie sat on the edge of the stage and they sang ‘Livin’ Doll’ together.
Sandra reached her seventies before her heart failed. She lay in a hospital side-ward with Denny holding her hand. Ned, Shelley and their three grown-up children surrounded her bed. Her grandchildren’s faces looked familiar but she couldn’t remember their names. Eddie stood by the door, waiting. “What happens now?” she asked him.
He grinned. “What do you want to happen?”
She closed her eyes as she exhaled her final breath.
When she opened them she felt the ferry swaying beneath her feet and the rain on her face, as she watched Eddie drop the used condom over the rail and into the river.