Friends

06 March 2010

All Change (Repeat)


Martha strutted along the window sill, head erect and tail held high. Closing the new-home card, Jenny reached out to fondle her ears. There was a lot to thank her for. If it hadn't been for her twitching her whiskers at Steve and fashioning those symmetrical markings into the feline grin that had so captivated him, Jenny might still be living in her former home. Alone and thoroughly miserable.

Moving house in the middle of a blistering summer was not an ideal operation in Jenny's book, though it wasn't so much the heat she disliked as coping alone with the upheaval. The nation was enduring an interminable period of water rationing, peevishness, short sleeve orders and teenagers barely dressed at all. It was unfortunate that contracts had to be signed while August scorched.

Jennifer Cavell was moving to a new flat, leaving behind the pre-war property that had seen the demise of her mother, her father's emigration, two burglaries, and her husband's dereliction. With a history like that she should have been glad to go but whenever she checked the cardboard boxes containing the paraphernalia that represented her life, her despondency deepened. She had lived with the boxes for weeks; she felt as if she'd still have them around for the next few months.

Jack's flight into her best friend's arms had forced her to take stock. The house was far too big and too costly to run on a typist's remuneration. It was a sad house, teeming with nightmares, yet she was bound to it by the fact of being born there. It was Steven Brice who persuaded her to leave. Two tearful years was more than enough, he said, referring to the period of Jack's absence. It was time to move on.

As removal day approached, Jenny's mood had improved. The sight of packing cases seemed less daunting, her stomach stopped its silly plummeting every time her friends broached the subject of the move, and by the time the actual day arrived she was as excited as a teenager on a first date.

Working her fingers through the bunch of mouse coloured hair, Jenny gazed pensively out of the window. A woman was gathering washing from a rotary line. Behind her a frustrated toddler yanked his bicycle in an attempt to free the stabilizing wheels from the wooden fence. The woman stopped her chore to fuss the tearful child, soothing him, her lips forming reassuring sounds.

Beyond the three-storey development block, squirrels skipped across the lawn in the direction of the stream. Picturesque location. It didn't matter that the flat was on the top floor and the only access by means of stairs. Easy access. Everyone said it was a mistake. All those stairs and no lift; not even a balcony to dry clothes on rainy days. Jenny had ignored them, telling herself they were resentful because their homes were lower down the Desirable Residence market. Older and nowhere near as posh. Not one of her colleagues could boast the luxury of en suite, let alone one in avocado.

Jenny removed the band that secured her hair in a bunch, shaking curly locks to freedom. Martha lifted her paw to swat a flagging fly. Stunned, the insect dropped to the sill, buzzing noisily as it spun frenziedly, upside down, trying desperately to recover. The heat affects all creatures, Jenny thought, letting her mind wander over the day's occurrences.

The move had been like a scene in a Laurel and Hardy film. Momentarily, she was pleased Steve wasn't there to witness the chaos. Workmates had convinced her she could do without the expense of a removal firm. They would help, they said. Leave it to them. The distance wasn't far and they all had cars. No-one reckoned on the sweltering heat. Men in shorts and women in skimpy frocks passed goods and chattels one to another in a human chain: thirty feet from road to entrance, a thousand up the stairs, someone said. Another professed it to be at least forty miles from car to flat.

Dressed in stonewashed jeans, the white of her T-shirt enhanced by a broad, black leather belt, Jenny rushed here and there in an absolute fever of happiness. She delighted in her new surroundings. She felt welcome, as if the building had taken her under its wing.

Touring the apartment, Jenny was amazed at how quickly the rooms had assumed a new identity, switching from consummate bareness to sunny occupancy. So well did her possessions fit in, one could imagine they had been there forever. Even the inherited curtains and carpets looked brighter.

In the bedroom, she tracked down the suitcase that held what she termed her better garments. She selected a blue organza dress, plain, but classy, bought to wear at a dinner party given by Steven's boss. Tearing off the T-shirt and dropping it in a wicker linen-bin, Jenny went into the bathroom to wash. A stone's throw compared to the trek along the landing at the last house. She filled the sink with as yet unheated water, welcoming the coolness. Though her mouth was dry, she did not attempt to drink. The noise of an aeroplane droning overhead was more distinct now that she was nearer to the sky. 'Closer to God, too.' Chuckling, she returned to the bedroom.

Freshly made-up, aware that she looked her best, Jenny went to the kitchen for a drink. Martha was already there, miaowing to remind her it was feeding time. Jenny giggled as she hunted through countless cupboards. 'I'll have to label the doors,' she said, finally locating the one in which someone had shoved the cardboard box marked Cat Food.

Carrying a glass of blackcurrant cordial, sipping as she walked, Jenny returned to the sunlit lounge. Tiredness threatened to dampen her exhilaration but she didn’t give in to it. Hearing a car outside, she deposited the glass on the mantelpiece and rushed to the window. Disappointment engulfed her. A delivery van was reversing into a marked parking space. She would much rather have seen Steve emerging from his silver-grey Volvo.

Forgetting her drink, she leaned against the sill, positioned so that she could see the cars entering the estate. Predatory starlings searched the lawn for leather-jackets, fearless now the gardeners who tended the orderly flower beds had gone. The stream glistened, rippling gently. A squirrel nibbled an acorn beneath a burly oak. Jenny wondered if it was the one she saw earlier, abandoned by its mate.

Her thoughts rambled through recent months. Separation had its compensations, she decided, starting slightly as Martha leaped and landed effortlessly beside her, so close her fur brushed Jenny's bare arm. If Jack hadn't run off like a lovesick baboon, she wouldn't have pursued him, and she wouldn't have run across Steven, estate agent and cousin to her ex-best friend. He offered drinks and a meal and a sympathetic ear. He was her mainstay when her heartache overflowed, steadfast in his determination to pull her through. Unlike Jack, Steven Brice was a man of integrity. Jenny picked up the new-home card and opened it, reading again Steve's message: an expression of hope and a testimony of his eternal love. Tenderly, she pressed the card to her lips, cherishing it, wondering if it would be infantile to thank Jack for the part he played?

7 comments:

Akelamalu said...

Every cloud has a silver lining eh? :)

subby said...

To be continued, yes? Good imagery here :)

Teacher's Pet said...

My first reading, Val.
Every image is clear...I don't have to tell you that you are an exquisite author. Your work says that very plainly.
I do hope there's more....please?
Love,
Jackie

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Dearest Val,
I loved this the first time...and I love it all the more the second...Jenny is a character who feels like a best friend!!! I am cheering her on!!! Love, Janine XO

An English Shepherd said...

Lovely story :-)

Wizz

Maggie May said...

That was a good story.

Nuts in May

cheshire wife said...

The story line is all too familiar these days.