Whether he was chattering to himself out loud or silently holding the conversation in his head, Billy Mullins always referred to their relationship as his Saturday Sunday Secret.
He never knew exactly when she would get home and let Billy know the moment had arrived to manoeuvre himself into position, to gather together all the things he needed. But the timing of her signal didn’t matter much to him anyway, because Billy would be ready long before her manicured fingers had flipped on the light switch.
And on the occasion which would turn out to be the most momentous of all his vigils, he had already been gazing from his living room window for over an hour as midnight approached. Just sitting there, except to nip back to the fridge now and again to top up his glass from the big plastic bottle of beer he kept in there for whenever he fancied a treat.
He had to grope his way to the kitchen and back in the dark, of course, his bony hands brushing the table to keep himself on track and his peeping eyes searching out the familiar silhouettes along the route. ‘Ouch! That was very naughty! Very naughty indeed!’ he chided the table leg as it stubbed his toe. His light was off, the telly was off, even the bulb in the fridge was unscrewed; to give himself away would be the biggest frustration of his life.
She hardly ever disappointed him. The last time she had stood him up was months ago, since then she had never failed to honour their appointment. True, she was a terrible timekeeper. Sometimes she would be back long before midnight, occasionally she would keep him waiting until one or even two o’clock in the morning. But Billy would be ready. He would never fall asleep. It was all too exciting, too exquisite, for him to miss. Already the little crescents of black at the end of his fingernails were busy picking away the round rubber caps that kept the dust from his binocular lenses. ‘Off you come, you little scamps. And don’t get lost!’ he scolded them. Billy was ready.
Only once had he seen her out in the street. He didn’t tag on to her on purpose, of course; that would have been pervy. No, he had merely found himself walking behind her as she hurried along the pavement. When she dipped into the pharmacy, he remembered he needed something or other himself and so he popped in after her. Naturally, he didn’t mean to follow her. He really did need something, although he forgot what it was and so he never actually came away with it. Lingering near the mascara counter, his gaze flicking over her from close up, he knew it could only be a lucky coincidence that found him standing in the presence of such a special beauty.
He watched her eyes shine a light blue, but they were deep, like a gorgeous summer sky. At least that was how Billy saw them – he remembered reading something like that in a magazine he had found on the bus, the kind that prattles on about TV celebrities. The writer had gone on to marvel at how the soap star’s features brandished no angles, they simply wore round softness. How her blonde hair was dressed in a few curls, but not too many – the idol apparently understood that Nature had saved its greatest handiwork for her and could scarcely be embellished.
But whatever the corny scribblings a magazine hack may have penned about an actress, it was certainly clear to Billy Mullins that the woman he was watching pay for her eyeliner in Boots shared with the celeb an understated assurance in her movements and her actions that only the truly lovely are blessed with. But the possession of his Saturday Sunday Secret demonstrated how Life would sometimes see fit to distribute a small fraction of its pleasures to the unbeautiful people of the world.
Light began to filter through her window at exactly twelve minutes to one, so Billy’s watch told him as he pushed the little button, holding it below the window ledge so the illumination wouldn’t leak away into the night. Checking the time was habit, really, because he knew by now she didn’t conform to a pattern, that there was no point in trying to keep track of her comings and goings.
That was another thing about the truly magnificent – they could just saunter through life as they pleased. He wasn’t jealous, that was simply how things were. Even as he cursed his cold and ran the back of his hand across his dripping nose and then wiped the dampness along his trousers, he was thankful. After all, he had his own delights to enjoy. And his Secret was the best of them.
Her gift to him was to have those venetian blinds installed in her bedroom. Billy’s flat was up on the seventh floor and when she shut them he could see right down through the gaps between the slats into her first-floor apartment across the street.
And where did his gaze rest after it had journeyed through the blinds? Her bed, which lay right underneath the window, that’s where! When she sat up, he could only make out thin horizontal lines, and that was more frustrating than thrilling. But when she lay on the bed, he could see everything! Everything!
After the light appeared, there was always a wait to be endured. Perhaps even twenty minutes or so dawdled by before the real fun began, minutes of aching longing and suspense during which he could only imagine the scene being played out behind the blinds. And then, at last, the most beautiful girl in his world would lie down on her bed. Billy grabbed a handful of tissues from the box beside him on the window sill, blew his nose, and tossed the wet paper hankies into the blackness of his room. ‘Stay there and don’t move. I’ll pick you up in the morning.’
Tonight she had chosen white, a silky white trimmed with lace. Just two tiny pieces of clothing, and even they would soon be gone. Billy didn’t know it, but his binoculars were burrowing a pair of red rings around his impatient eyes. ‘You’re so lovely. So pretty. So beautiful, my sweetheart.’
Perhaps this was going to be one of those wonderful nights when she would act out a truly magical performance which his imagination could replay for ages, until the images dimmed as they all eventually did and had to be replaced by a fresher movie.
But tonight was the final show. And it closed with a scene which, despite his fervent prayers and his most desperate hopes that he could purge the episode from his mind, he would indeed replay over and over. The concluding instalment of his Saturday Sunday Secret was the one film that never faded.
Billy Mullins would be watching the reruns that played inside his head until the end of his life.