Way back at the beginning of September our writers’ club was, as usual, given a theme to write on: ‘After four failed marriages, the world’s tallest woman …”; there was more which I won’t bother you with. The theme didn’t do anything for me so I didn’t write anything. Yesterday I had an urge to write a short story about a tall lady. It’s raw, pretty much unedited.

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The Girl in Block 18

Elenor, aloof yet smiling as I passed her small office at one end of the lab. I fell in love with her almost from the minute I first set foot in that section.

It was the section to which I had been posted after completing the obligatory three months training in each of the sections devoted to mechanical, electrical and glassblowing work. The first section in which I would be doing real work; its staff worked on developing applications for semiconductors, particularly radar. Even without Elenor I would have been excited by that posting.

Elenor’s office, the section secretary’s office, had windows giving a view down the lab and thus giving me a view of her tapping away on her typewriter whenever I diverted my gaze from the oscilloscope, the Avo multimeter or the soldering iron. I frequently burnt my fingers.

Her slender figure curved over the typewriter, she being four or five inches taller than my not inconsiderable five feet eleven and a half inches. She was also two years older than my seventeen years, a fact elicited from the all-male team around me. I also learned she was “cold”, having refused all invitations to have a date from each of the several quite attractive young males – mid twenties to mid thirties – in the department, all graduate physicists.

She was, I was assured, “odd” as she had never had a boyfriend, as far as anyone knew.

Several times a day she would walk down the lab to deliver some document to one of the staff members and I was quite unable to prevent my eyes following her, there and back. As she passed me, before I could lower my eyes in confusion, she would look directly into them and smile.

It was perhaps in my third week in the section I was asked to deliver a bundle of papers to her. The words tumbled out, partly gibberish as I said something about the documents then, to my amazement, I looked directly into her eyes and heard myself saying “You’re very beautiful.”

She said nothing but, as I rushed out, I just caught her smile.

It took me a week to summon courage to enter her office again, a week in which she walked past me several times a day as usual, never saying a word but always meeting my gaze with a smile.

Meanwhile I had asked some ‘disinterested’ questions of the colleagues around me and discovered she was passionate about ballet.

I became more courageous, entering that office at least a couple times a week over the coming weeks. Early on I broached the subject of ballet, saying I’d heard that she liked it and telling her of my visits to all the best known classical ballets with my grandmother. She told me she had had ballet lessons for years with the aspiration to become a ballerina; then she was told she had become too tall and, disappointed, stopped the lessons.

I was due to be in that section for six months before moving to another. For four months I cut out smoking, ate little, economised on everything possible and put as much of my weekly wage as I could in a money box.

Four months later, with what I thought was sufficient in the money box, I entered that office and, visibly trembling, I asked her if she would like go to Covent Garden with me. I was truly amazed when she immediately said she would love to.

I was awkward on the tedious train journey to London, never having been in her company for more than a few minutes. In the opera house I felt more at home though I’d never been in it before. I almost forgot about Elenor once Swan Lake got underway, until I felt her hand find mine. Her passion for the dancing and the music was transmitted by frequent tightenings of her grip. We chatted animatedly during the interval, or was it intervals, and I easily took her hand after each act. She never withdrew it.

I remember little about the meal we had in a good French restaurant close by, other than we chatted easily about almost anything; none of the awkwardness of the train trip down.

The last train back was almost deserted and we were alone in the compartment. Within minutes she was asleep with her head on my shoulder. She woke just once on the two hour journey, when I gently kissed her on the forehead. She opened her eyes, smiled, kissed me gently but firmly on the lips and was immediately asleep again until we reached our destination.

I walked her home; this time the kiss was an affectionate one on the cheek, again the smile.

Monday came and the walks up and down, my eyes following her, resumed, with occasional short visits to her office in which sometimes we had a brief chat. Always the smile.

The following week, six months up, I was assigned to another section, maybe fifteen minutes walk to Block 18 where Elenor had her office, through the jumble of huts making up the central research laboratories of one of Britain’s largest engineering companies. I never made the walk.

Sixty years later, I often think about what might have followed had I done so.

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