This is a slightly updated version of this tale. That -- for some reason that I can't recall now -- was not posted elsewhere under its full title. There have been a few minor changes to the text. I thank my proofreaders who assisted in preparing the original for posting. But I'll add, that they have not seen this later version.
You must understand that most of this happened a long time ago now; well the true beginning of it did anyway. The world was a completely different place back then; well as I just said, it was at the beginning. As teenagers we were kind of innocent, and we were keen to explore the new boundaries that certain medical advances had left open to us. I'm talking the birth control pill here and the magical properties of antibiotics that meant most of the better known STD's could be cured with a couple of injections; well reputedly so.
Yet at the same time we were angry about what the old fuddy-duddies had heaped upon us younger generation's shoulders. I'm talking about what is sometimes described now as that "Crazy Asian War." It was the American teenagers who had their innocence stolen by it, but we were with them in our hearts and minds.
It's highly possible that no one, who isn't old enough to have been in the sixteen to, lets say about twenty-five (or maybe thirty), age group during the sixties. Will ever be able to understand what it was like back then; but then all you younger folks have grown up with HIV and antibiotic tolerant super bugs.
I suppose the best place to start the story is some considerable time after the sixties; well after I'd kind-of returned to living in the somewhat more staid society that we all share today.
To be perfectly honest with you, I can't really explain how I came to join that Life Class in the first place. Well, not in anyway that doesn't make me sound like either a pretty sad case, or even a pervert or something. It's all a bit embarrassing to attempt to explain actually; but I'll try.
I was thirty-six and had just come out of a pretty disastrous five year relationship. For the life of me, I can't figure out how it had lasted as long as it did; we had very little in common. Well, that's if you don't take into account a mutual appreciation of sex. But hey man, sex might be fun; but you can take it from me, that sex alone does not make a sound foundation for a long-term relationship. There has to be that little spark, that inexplicable something that draws you to the one person who's destined to be your life partner. Sex helps, but there has to be something extra there as well.
In comparison to a lot of people at the time, Clair and I had everything. A nice home and cars. We were both young, beautiful, athletic and fit. Yeah well, we had an energetic horizontal workout most seven nights a week.
To cut a long story short. Eventually we both eventually came to realise that we were spending more time arguing with each other during the day, than we were making-up those arguments in bed at night. So we called it a day by mutual agreement.
She moved out and left me living alone in our flat. I do believe she eventually shacked up with one of my old friends. Our constant bickering had sort-a lead to an estrangement from nearly all of our close circle of friends. Folks really don't want to spend their free time in the middle of a war zone; yeah that's how bad it had become.
That kind-a left me with a mighty big problem after Clair had gone; I no longer had a circle of close friends. Shit, I hardly had anyone who I could call a friend anymore, except for a couple of the guys I worked with at the office.
Yeah all right, probably I was being a little stubborn, but after folks have purposely pushed you away and left you off the old invitations lists for a few years. You're not inclined to go hunt the buggers out again; well I wasn't.
Anyway that's how I started hanging with Arthur. Arthur was just another of the guys from the office. A couple of years older than myself; he apparently was also on his own most of the time. The disadvantage where Arthur was concerned was he had the reputation of being bit of a weirdo. No that's not right, maybe a little strange from most of the guys' perspectives. Well, on the quiet Arthur was considered to be a little ... odd by most everyone else in the office.
In truth, Arthur was (and still is I would guess) what is sometimes described as an arty-farty type. He was into opera, ballet, art and all that crap. I do believe the only reason I first teamed-up with Arthur, was because -- unlike most of the other unattached guys in the office -- he did not appear to spend his every nonworking moment drinking. Although surprisingly I was quickly to discover that Arthur spent a lot of he free time fornicating.
I have to admit that I soon discovered that I didn't enjoy opera very much. Although I did enjoy the company of the two very cultured and uncommonly (for the time) loose moral'd young ladies who Arthur arranged for us to escort that evening.
Ditto, goes for the few evenings we spent at the ballet as well. But Jesus if we kept that game up for very long I'd have had to cut my hours at the office back; god knows where Arthur found all those frustrated females.
Luckily our employer had been one of the first around to introduce flexitime working. That meant that I could take time to recover and go into the office late the morning after we did go the ballet. Oh well, you see, the seats are cheaper on weeknights and Arthur and I weren't particularly made of cash.
The art exhibitions Arthur dragged me along to, were a little different. There, we had to do some work, and actually hunt down our prey. I can't honestly say we, or rather I, was very successful at those little soirees.
Geeky old Arthur seemed to be able to pick up a bit a spare at the drop of a hat, almost anywhere. God, the other guys back at the office, especially the office wolves, would never have believed how much of a babe magnet Arthur was on the quiet.
Maybe that was Arthur's secret; perhaps the ladies sensed the utter discretion of the man. Arthur never did brag about his conquests; even to me. And I'd seen him heading for the bedroom with some unbelievably tasty looking females on his arm. Too often, I might add, married females. But then again, they might have been divorcees; I have no idea how to tell the difference for sure.
Whatever, wandering around those art gallery's, raised my appreciation of one particular type of art, nude studies. In particular tastefully drawn studies of the female form, nude. Yeah, all right, most men appreciate the female form anyway. But I seemed to develop a kind of infatuation of pencil or charcoal sketches of slender female bodies.
Nothing too detailed, or what might possibly be described as crude. Just a few cleverly drawn lines on a plain background, that implied in the viewers mind, the beauty of the subject.
My trouble was that I could rarely afford to buy any of those pictures to take home with me and admire at my leisure. I'd soon be very broke, if I got into that game. I liked far too many of them to chose just one or two to buy.
Then at an exhibition one evening, after I'd lost track of Arthur when he'd latched onto to a very affluent looking female, who I do believe was possibly spending her ex-husbands retirement plan. I found myself totally lost in admiration of one particular sketch.
It was no more than a few gracefully curved lines, but had captured my imagination. But the price tag was well over five hundred pounds. And there was no way in the world that I could justify to myself spending that kind of money on a piece of paper.
I was still staring at the masterpiece, when a guy approached and placed a sold ticket on it.
I have no idea why I said, "Shit!" out loud, although it was what I was thinking. That label meant that I would not be able to return to the gallery at a later date to study the sketch again.
"Beautiful isn't she? I'm very proud of that one!" A voice said from behind me.
I turned to see that Elvira -- the artist in question -- had been standing behind me; Arthur had introduced us earlier in the evening. Elvira was at least sixty, and maybe even older. Mutton dressed up as lamb, unless I was very much mistaken, she was as bent as a nine bob note. Elvira certainly appreciated the female form.
To be honest Elvira must have been a real looker in her younger days. "What a wasted life!" Had been the first thought that had crossed my mind when I had been introduced to her.
"Yes, you really have captured the essence of the sitter in that one, Elvira. I envy you, for your skill in being able to do so." I replied, trying my damnedest to use the same kind of arty-farty language that Arthur appeared to be so adept at.
It must be the cultured way Arthur spoke that attracted those females to him. It certainly wasn't his looks. But then again, maybe Arthur carried something around in his trousers that most of us other mere mortals haven't got? You can never tell with geeks, you know. Well us guys can't anyway; god alone knows what kind of x-ray vision or radar women have, that can tell the difference between a rolled up sock and human flesh.
"Do you paint yourself?" Elvira asked.
"No, I have to admit that I've never really tried. Well, I buggered about in the art class at school, but I can't say that I was any good with a paintbrush. Don't do a bad job with the old roller on the house walls though." I grinned back at her. Immediately wishing I hadn't tried to be funny.
She smiled, glanced back at the picture before us and then looked at me again.
"Art classes at school rarely inspire anyone... ?"
"Jerry" I said in answer to Elvira's unasked question.
"Yes Jerry, I'm sorry; you're Arthur's friend, aren't you? Perhaps, if you tried to draw the right subject, Jerry, one that you found a little inspiring; perhaps then, you might fair a little better." She suggested glancing back that the nude on the wall again.
Following her eye-line I found myself embarrassed and lost for words. I think I quite possibly "Um'd" and "Ah'd" a little; I really can't recall now.
Elvira laughed out loud and I quite possibly blushed even more.
"Oh don't be so self-conscious, Jerry. I can assure you that there is nothing that compares with sketching a beautiful female body, from life. Look, I tell you what, I run a little life class at the college on Tuesday evenings; why don't you come along and give it a try."
I can't quite recall how the conversation went after that. Although by its conclusion I found myself signed up for a hundred pounds worth of life drawing classes. Well verbally anyway.
Jesus no wonder Elvira was such a successful artist; the damned woman could sell coals to Newcastle.
Anyway as a result of that conversation, seven-thirty eight the following Tuesday evening found me standing by an easel in one of the classrooms at the local art college feeling very self-conscious of myself.
Draped on a chaise longue before the class, was a somewhat overweight and very naked female. Who, to put it bluntly, wasn't in the least having the desired effect on my little grey cells. Or any other part of my anatomy, come to that.
"I'm sorry Jerry. The sitter I had booked for this evening is unfortunately indisposed; apparently she's had an accident of some kind. I'm quite concerned really; I believe her partner has a bit of a reputation for becoming a little violent on occasions. One has to wonder whether they've had another confrontation."
"Oh one of that sort is he?"
"They are not together anymore, but I think he might have overdid things a while back. For some people there is a price to pay, for taking too many trips." Elvira's facial expression confirmed that she was referring to tripping-out on drugs. "Abigail has never said, but I get the feeling he finished up on the hard stuff or something. And it could be that sometimes he searches Abigail out when he needs some money to pay for his fix. I'm sure you know what it's like Jerry; you can't reason with them when they are that far down the road."
I had seen the scenario of course. A little grass, leads on to other mind-bending substances; it was usually LSD back in my day. Eventually the idiots among us, finish up on heroin or some other hard drug that they can't break the habit of. Then their whole life dissolves into where the next fix is coming from, and they don't give a fart for any bugger they have to hurt to get it.
I've smoked my share of grass in my younger days, and I've even taken more than a few trips to never-never land on LSD in my time. But I'd kept my eyes open and seen what hard drugs had done to some of my peers. At a fairly young age, I'd made a conscious decision that it was never going to be a path I'd follow.
The odd thing was that Elvira instinctively appeared to know that I'd lived on the edge of society at one time. I had been a card-carrying hippie for a few years; Elvira still was a bit of a bohemian. Perhaps she saw something in my demeanour that most other people don't
"With any luck she'll be back next week." Elvira was saying, "Abigail was the model for that sketch of mine you appreciated so much; I'm sure she will manage to inspire your hand."
The following week a handsome and somewhat arrogant young man had strutted into the studio just after I'd arrived. He'd promptly divested himself of the dressing gown he had been wearing, before Elvira had asked him too.
I must admit that he had been blessed with a fine body and some pretty impressive ... wedding tackle. The sight of that tackle promptly brought embarrassed sounding giggles from some of the younger, female students. And, a lot of admiring glances from a couple decidedly effeminate looking guys who were also in the class.
The sitter took up a pose staring at one particular -- very pretty -- young woman. Who appeared so embarrassed about the fact that she turned a bright shade of pink and couldn't look his way at all. Shortly after the session began, Elvira stepped in and, with a wink in my direction, got the young lady to exchange easels with one of the guys I mentioned just now. The sitter was then lumbered, he'd already picked his spot in the room to stare at, and every time his eyes wandered elsewhere, one of the other students would ask him to return to his pose.
I do enjoy watching an arrogant little shit coming unstuck. So, in a way, it was fun evening from my point of view. But once again unfortunately, not a very inspiring one.
But I was really beginning to wonder how I'd let myself be talked into going to those bleeding classes by the time I got home that night.
Elvira had apologised to me, that Abigail hadn't been able to show up again. By that time Elvira's raving on about Abigail had begun to get to me. Consequently there was little any chance that I'd cut my losses and throw the course up, until she had shown at least once.
The third week I was chatting with one of the poofter's when a long off-white dressing gown, toped by a tussled looking mop of long jet-black hair entered the classroom.
"Oh goody Abigail is back." New friend gushed "Jerry, you've never seen such a gorgeous body, in your whole life!"
I'm not sure what kind of a look I gave the guy.
"Oh come on Jerry, even you have to admit that that boy last week had a beautiful body? All rippling muscles, in all the right places."
"Yeah well he was well built."
"Well, Norman and I are allowed to appreciate a beautiful female body when we see one. Unlike you though, we wouldn't necessarily want to take it to bed with us. But, we know how to appreciate beauty in all its forms when we see it."
Whilst I had been talking to -- whatever his name was -- Elvira had introduced Abigail to the other new members of the class. I noticed that Abigail kept her eyes down. As far as I could make out, she didn't look directly at anyone. When she eventually did turn my way for a second I was somewhat disappointed that that long black hair of hers almost completely obscured her face. But I also had to admit that there was something about the woman that immediately got to me; even if she was completely shrouded by her hair and that dressing gown.
Maybe I should point out here, that I'd been a little self-conscious on my first evening. Much to Elvira's amusement, I had chosen myself an easel tucked away in a quiet corner.
The chaise longue had been returned to dais the middle of the studio. The previous week, the young stud had made do with a chair, that he stood with one foot on. Abigail actually sat on the chaise longue with her dressing gown still on, only divesting herself of the garment when Elvira requested that she did.
The thought struck me that Abigail wasn't exactly comfortable in her chosen profession. There was an undeniable air of vulnerability about her, which for some reason told me she was there by force of circumstance, not by choice.
In her first pose, all the sitters did at least two poses during the sessions, Abigail had her back to me; so I still could not get a good look at her face.
Odd that, even though at that time I hadn't seen her face properly. But it's funny, but the quick glance I had got of it when she was being introduced ... well, it had stirred me somehow.
Hey look, we're talking artistically here. I'm doing my best to explain what I felt at the time.
Using charcoal I did my best to sketch Abigail's wonderful figure, even if it was from the back. Well three-quarters from the back, but kind of head on at the same time. i.e. was looking at the back of her head, slightly from above if she had been standing.
"Oh my, I knew that with the right sitter to inspire you; you'd show me you had talent." Elvira said over my shoulder, after I'd been sketching away for about five or ten minutes.
I think I actually jumped when Elvira spoke. To tell you the truth, I'd completely lost track of time, and just about everything else, as I worked on my sketch. My whole world had become the model Abigail, and the piece of art paper on my easel
I stepped back and sure enough, I'd created a wonderful work of art with my own hand. Hey, this might be a subjective opinion, but that picture still hangs on my wall at home. I'm proud to show it off to anyone and everyone, and I've even been offered a good few bob for it, on more than one occasion.
Mind you, my wife will often cringe when that picture comes up as a subject of a discussion.
Before I'd had time to reply to Elvira she had moved on to the next student. It took me just a second or two to get back into my creative bent.
It seemed no sooner than I had, when Elvira called a halt to proceedings and said we'd take a short break before Abigail took up her second pose. Abigail herself promptly covered her nakedness with the dressing gown the instant Elvira had spoken.
I must admit I was still adding little finishing touches to my sketch from memory during the short break, and taking little notice of what anyone else was doing, or what was happening in the room.
Eventually I was brought back to the present with a jolt when Elvira asked, "Are you ready, Jerry?"
"Yes, sorry." I blustered, hurriedly changing the paper on my easel.
Looking at the model Abigail again, I was somewhat surprised to see that the Chaise longue had been turned around on the small dais in the middle of the room. Actually it's quite possible that the whole damned dais had been rotated whilst I wasn't watching.
Whatever, I was now viewing Abigail from the front. And what's more, she'd divested herself of that dressing gown again. That long dark, no her jet black hair hung down and still covered more than half of what looked to me like an exquisite face. However maybe because I was so inexplicably aware of Abigail's embarrassment, I didn't ask her to brush the hair aside.
Someone else did however. And then well ... then time kind-a stopped for me. Abigail moved the hair from her face with a gentle sweep of her hand, not only did my jaw drop almost to the floor, but the piece of charcoal I was holding actually did; where it shattered into a thousand pieces.
I really could not believe what I was seeing. "It can't be!" A little voice shouted in my mind. Then, very slowly, I lowered my sight line until it fell upon Abigail's left breast. Sure enough there it was, by then no longer hidden by her hair. A tattoo in the shape of a five-pointed star, it had the five delicate lines emanating from the spaces between those points.
"Holy mother of god, Starshine! What the heavens name, are you doing here?" That voice demanded in my mind somewhere.
At the same instant, I found that I was having trouble breathing. Well to be honest, possibly I'd had such a shock, that I'd forgotten to breath. That does happen you know. That's how some folks have come to die of shock, or fear.
I think I almost keeled over, before I got myself, and my emotions, under some semblance of control again. Placing one hand on the easel to help hold myself up, I struggled to get a grip on my thoughts.
There was no doubt in my mind that Abigail, wasn't Abigail at all. She was in fact Ursula, er, shit, well I had never known her surname. To be honest I'd only discovered that her real name was Ursula by chance. Back in those days Abigail went by the name of Starshine.
Hold on, not even that is true. She had been just plain Star, until I paid to have a birthmark she was so conscious of, covered with that tattoo of a shining star.
From that day onwards, she'd become Starshine to me. You know, like the line in the song from Hair. Every morning when we woke up in the same bed together, I would greet her with the words "Good Morning Starshine!" And then we'd ... well, I'll leave that to your imagination.
You got to understand what it was like back then, Starshine and I were ... Well it, bugger we were Hippies and soul mates. Hey no, not your usual British weekend type hippies, but the real thing. Well, as close as you could get to being a hippie back then, and still live in the UK.
Along with a crowd of other hippie friends, we lived in commune down in Dorsett. Actually the place belonged to some titled bloke, who'd been left it by his old man. Still, he was a believer and hippie at heart; Lord, or whatever he was or not, he kind-a fitted in with the rest of us just fine.
And, possibly because he was getting laid regularly, he never did ask for any rent from anyone. I guess he must have laid nearly all the females there at one time or another, even Starshine.
It was a bit of an odd set-up really, even for a hippie community. The guy who owned the place kind run like it was a religious sect or something. Thinking about it, he was probably trying to find his way around taxes or something. Religious organisations in the UK can register as charities, and then get themselves some tasty tax breaks.
I know you might have trouble understanding this, but we all believed in, and practised, free love back then. If you fancied a female and she fancied you ... well, you just got on with it and did the dead; anytime and almost anywhere you felt like it.
Yeah well, that was all right until Starshine -- or Star as she was back then -- and I got together. Bells range and sparks flew that first evening we ... um yeah. Anyway instantly we both knew that we were destined to be together. The two of us kind-a withdrew from the free love bit most of the time after that. But if there was a party going on, then sometimes, with each other's nod of approval that is, we'd let loose.
Actually with hindsight, that was probably most weekends, when visitors, or part-time hippies turned up, with some decent weed, or maybe something a little stronger. Even in those days, it was all down to how much cash you had.
Don't go turning your nose up, I told you earlier that it was a different world back then. Starshine and I were living in a hippie society that believed in free love. I fear that the world will never be able to see the likes of those times again.
I feel I need to point out here, that convention has drawn an unnatural correlation between sex act and love, or being in-love with another person. That isn't actually the case in nature. The sex act releases certain endorphins into the participants systems that gives them pleasure. Unfortunately, all too often, this happening can be mistaken for love; it isn't, it's just the natural result of two people having sex.
When you are "in love" with someone, just their very presence, and/or touching them, will give you the same feeling of pleasure those endorphins produce. In consequence, when the two of you do have sex with each other, you get double (or even more) the pleasure for your money, so to speak.
Close observation of people will nearly always tell you whether they are truly in love. Very often, they will defy convention by touching each other at regular intervals; not in a sexual way they just have a need to touch when they are close to each other. They very often hold hands etcetera, when out walking. They will by choice sit very close and they are always making eye contact with each other. Actually they are having private little conversations with their eyes.
I can explain no further, if you've never been there then I doubt you will understand. But take it from me "Sex" and "Love" are not the same thing. They have been tied together by convention though. In part -- for those of us who took part -- the hippie era was an experiment in discarding that convention and many others.
Where was I, I've wander off the subject a little. Oh year, the commune. Well it will probably sound like a strange place to most people. Everyone there was equal. You entered with no history, who you had been was of no interest to anyone. It was how you related to the rest of commune family that counted. Everyone had their one name, no surnames and most didn't even use the given name they'd been born with. I've got to admit that once you entered our particular community full time, most folk's kind-a became estranged from their birth families.
I think that was possibly a result of the sect mentality the guy who owned the place tried to promote. Although he did own the place, he didn't really run the community, although possibly because he did own the place, often his wishes were ... I don't know how to put it. Maybe his wishes acquiesced to by the majority a little more than most of the other members were.
Starshine and I had been together for about a year I'd say, when disaster struck the commune.
Some visitor guy, who I vaguely knew, had given me a lift into town early that morning. For a long time I thought possibly to collect my dole, I just couldn't remember. For the life of me, I couldn't remember why Starshine hadn't come along that day either.
Anyway, we were on the return journey, when Moonbeam ran out into the road and flagged us down. Climbing into the car she gave us the news that the police had turned up in force to raid the commune.
I suppose I'd better explain that some members of the commune weren't averse to doing a little gardening. If it had mind-bending properties, and it could be grown in the UK, (or one of the greenhouses in the walled garden) then some bugger with green fingers was sure to be growing it.
Moonbeam told us, that she'd been in the woods picking mushrooms -- yeah those mushrooms -- when had spotted the police arriving. Moonbeam had hidden amongst the trees and watched as everyone in the house had been arrested, and then carted away by the police. Moonbeam also informed us that more policemen were hanging around place waiting to nab anyone who returned to the house.
"Starshine?" I'd asked.
"She got away, I think. She went over the back wall, before the police had spotted her. I don't think they got her, anyway. They certainly never got Apollo; I saw him riding off on that motorbike he keeps hidden in the woods and I'm sure it was Star on the back of it with him."
Like everyone else in the commune I'd known about Apollo's motorcycle. Not everyone in the place embraced the ideal, that what belonged to one, belonged to all. I for instance was very protective of my old, and very much battered, guitar. No one, except Starshine, who I was teaching to play, ever dared lay finger upon the hallowed instrument.
Of course Moonbeam had no idea where Star and Apollo had gone. You know we had never discussed -- or even contemplated -- that the police would raid our commune. So Starshine and I had never made any plans about what we would do in that eventuality.
Well, the "upper crusts" mansions didn't often get raided back in those days. Having a handle to your name kind-a raised most of them above the law. Well that was the way most people saw it back then.
We hadn't taken into account that the establishment was more than a little frightened of the Hippie movement, and it had decided to do its best to crush it, and the lifestyle.
It was pretty obvious that Moonbeam and myself could not return to the commune, or we'd both be arrested as well. So we abandoned our gear in the house, including my beloved guitar. The guy drove us to another commune we knew of, about thirty miles away. I thought that there might be a chance that Star and Apollo could have gone there.