30 November 2011
28 November 2011
The noise of the telephone broke Rachel's concentration. ‘All right, all right,’ she yelled as she removed her hands from the typewriter and irritably snatched up the receiver. It was
After two days of pining, so did she.
The idea of visiting a cinema alone never occurred to
Responding to Cynthia's interrogation about the proposed trip to the cinema, Rachel professed to not being interested in going, explaining that it was
Cynthia suggested a night in might be more beneficial, sarcastically expounding the demerits of theatre managers who refused to show their films in well-lit premises. ‘So,’ she concluded, ‘if all you want to do is gaze at your beau, your best bet is to stay in.’
Rachel inserted carbon between two sheets of paper and rolled them in the typewriter. Cynthia was right. It would be lovely just spending time alone with
‘Well, he is exceptionally handsome,’ Cynthia said.
Rachel licked her lips. Didn't she just know!
She began to type, her fingers flying. ‘Don't hinder me,’ she said to Cynthia, who was lighting up again. ‘I couldn't bear to work over, not today.’
AT four-thirty, Rachel consulted her wristwatch. In precisely one hour the works' whistle would sound; one hour in which to complete the day's toil, made more arduous by Cynthia's vexatious teasing and her relentless smoking. Praying there would be no mistakes she sprinted into Eric's room and slapped the correspondence in front of him.
‘Have you checked them?’
‘Yes,’ she fibbed, glancing again at her watch. In eight minutes
‘Anxious to get off, are you?’
‘Meeting the boy friend?’
Signing his name with a flourish, Eric remarked, ‘He's a lucky man, a very lucky man!’ He ploughed through the heap, autographing the correspondence without his habitual perusal. ‘There you are, the last one. Be off with you.’
Rachel stopped long enough to seal the envelopes ready for Cynthia to stick on the stamps. Clutching the letters to her chest, she scuttled into the outer office and snatched up her coat, almost afraid that if she didn't get there on time,
Having assumed he would use his own car, Rachel was surprised to see
Eric Hudspith drew alongside. ‘I thought you were in a hurry, dear girl.’
Instead of replying, Rachel trotted over to
Shrugging into his grey Mac and adjusting his trilby, Eric queried their intended destination as if he had a right to know. His response to the news that they were going to the Odeon, was: ‘In the best seats, I hope. Our girl must be treated properly. As a matter of fact, she's earned a whit of pleasure, having taken dictation three times today without a murmur.’
Colour flooded Rachel's face as she linked
Eric finally took the hint. ‘I mustn't detain you,’ he said, looking directly at Rachel. ‘Now don't forget, dear girl, bright and early tomorrow. We must clear those export letters.’
The foreman lowered the shutters to secure his section of the building, the mechanism groaning as he cranked the handle.
‘Nothing,’ returned Rachel, alarm in her voice. The flush rose again when
‘Wish I could come with you,’ grumbled Rachel as they passed the corner shop and took the side road to the river.
They strolled up the main road alongside the River Tame; a fair name for a river, gentle sounding. One would think, without full knowledge of the immediate district, that the area would be rural, with cows grazing in the fields and picnickers on the embankment, and it might formerly have been so, before the erection of industrial buildings.
Frequently, Rachel halted to lean on the railings and study the rippling water, loath to arrive home too soon. Once there, if her mother was in,
‘Did you miss me?’ Rachel inquired sulkily, not caring that it was against the rules to pressurise a man.
Apparently failing to hear,
Now that she was grown-up and childish misdemeanours laid to rest, Rachel could not envisage transgressing at all, let alone committing crime serious enough to warrant long-term confinement, but she would not be responsible for her actions if this man, sauntering like a toff at her side, didn't get his act together.
Amy was leaning over the sink watching a dying bluebottle, clearly captivated by its feeble attempts to lift its wings. A recent discharge of Summer Bouquet had not quite masked the smell of last night's chicken curry. ‘This one's a survivor,’ she said, unfolding her body and depositing a long-handled fly swat on the window sill. ‘It's driven me crazy trying to whack it.’
‘But you succeeded, Mum.’
‘Oh, yes. Couldn't let the little beggar win, could I?’
For the umpteenth time, Rachel thanked the Lord that her parents had resolved their differences. Toby had wholly forgiven his wife for the incident with the knife, and the last few weeks had seen Amy a happier woman; still snappy, but there was logic in her complaints, whereas previously they were totally irrational. It was the coquettishness Rachel disliked, though her father didn't seem to mind.
Suddenly aware that
Amy planted her forefinger on his chin and softly uttered: ‘Splendid.’
The drama made Rachel want to puke. She filled the kettle and unhooked the mugs from the dresser, banging them on the table, then slammed about collecting milk and sugar and salad for tea while Amy sat with
As always, Toby timed his arrival for when the food was ready. He greeted
‘Yes, thank you, Sir.’
Amy's already erect spine straightened another inch.
Toby asked if Amy had told
‘Oh, I'm sure he doesn't want to hear about my tedious expedition. Do you,
‘Well, I ....’
Announcing that tea was ready, Rachel slapped down a dish of salad. The dish was cut-glass, her mother's prized possession, but Rachel didn't care. It would serve her right if it got demolished. ‘Come on,’ she directed
Amy shuffled her chair in. ‘Isn't it pleasant to have company, Toby? We must invite
Prevented from responding by a mouthful of gammon ham, Toby grunted, but he noticed Rachel's disdain and dipped his head to petition her to have patience.
It wouldn’t be easy, not with Amy displaying her most feminine attributes.
At me, Gary!
That night, Rachel examined her naked body in the looking-glass, nipping the inches of surplus flesh where her waist should be, recoiling at the hugeness of her hips. Her belly protruded, her breasts were too full, and her thighs wobbled as she swivelled to inspect her rear. Zooming away from the mirror, she grabbed her filmy nightdress: pale blue, her mother's gift last birthday, an unwise choice in view of her gross size. ‘A strict diet, Rexie,’ she cried. ‘No more chocolates or chips.’
Rex ceased cleaning his paws and gazed at her longingly, chips being his favourite food next to battered fish and strawberry ice cream. He looked thoroughly downcast when she hopped into bed.
‘You'll never have chips again, Rexie,’ she said, huddling inside the duvet. ‘You'll have to do without, like me.’ And she burst into tears, as much frustrated by the prospect of starvation as her mother's theatrical performance.
27 November 2011
26 November 2011
25 November 2011
It was an awful day and I’m not referring to the weather. It was Wednesday. Nothing ever goes wrong on a Wednesday. Until now! Wednesday of this week was the day my hair was cut too short and the doctor decided to retire. It’s so upsetting.
Let me start at the beginning, at the hairdressers.
I always have an early appointment to facilitate parking the car. I have strong objections to parking it half an hour's walk away, especially if it's raining.
It was 8.50 am, a quiet time in that area. In fact I was ten minutes early but my stylist (who owns the shop) beckoned me in. She was busy dealing with her phone messages, writing notes, making return calls, that sort of thing. Just after nine she was ready to perform wonders on my hair.
Suitably clad in the latest
Okay, so she finished on the phone and came back to me. Two seconds later, the phone rings again. Off she went to the reception desk, while I waited.
Cutting a long story short the phone must have rung a dozen or more times before Dawn arrived. I spent a lot of time on the iPhone playing Scrabble … anything to suppress the mounting anger.
Then some of Jackie’s family arrived, daughter and son-in-law plus young granddaughter. Time was taken up with greetings and ushering the new arrivals to the upstairs flat.
Ha…. I felt we were getting somewhere.
Jackie settled down to sort out my hair which I felt must by now be standing on end. Out came the scissors and in walked Jackie’s husband. He’s got one of those ‘man’ problems and he’d been for test results at the hospital. Naturally we all wanted to know the latest position with his health.
Apparently it was husband’s birthday as well so granddaughter had to give him lots of love … in the salon. While I waited. When it was time for them to leave Jackie’s dog decided he wanted to go with them so he had to be caught and told he couldn’t go. Now he’s a young dog, able to run rings round humans. You can imagine the scene.
I too was barking mad by this time and trying very hard to control it, after all I didn’t want to walk outside looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Well, eventually I had Jackie’s full attention but by this time she had forgotten where she’d got to in the cutting process. Off went the hair, en bloc, or so it seemed when I looked in the mirror.
I spent the rest of the day almost in tears. I was absolutely certain that I would look a right mess for the WI Christmas lunch the next day. As luck had it, I was able to perform miracles. I didn’t look too bad at all but I was very ‘gel’d up’ at the lunch, sort of spiky.
What else could go wrong, I asked myself.
I didn’t have to wait long. In the afternoon the neighbours announced that the doctor, MY doctor, was retiring at Christmas. How flippin’ dare he? I was/am appalled by the news. He was the one who told me to go back and see him around Christmastime for a check-up. No mention of retirement! I’ve made a rapid appointment to see him before he goes and I shall give him a piece of my mind. You know how much I adore my doctor. Now I’m wondering if all those loyal years have ceased to mean anything to him? I am distraught.
I blame his doctor wife. She retired earlier this year. I heard all about her joining the WI. She’s probably gone all spiteful and persuaded him to retire as well. Women!
The very idea of going to someone new, someone I have to learn to trust, is not doing my indigestion any good. My Guy feels the same and apparently so do the neighbours. This is terrible, it’s worse than having my hair cut too short. I can’t go on folks, it’s too upsetting.
24 November 2011
The voice travelled across the field like a whirlwind of crows. Giving an exasperated sigh, Rab stopped casting his line and leaned against the gnarled tree. He wondered if he would ever escape his mother’s continuous efforts to monopolise his time.
It was just like the old days, mother nagging son, son hiding from mother. It wouldn’t be so bad but he was forty-five years of age, more a mature student than a junior. Despite himself, he couldn’t help smiling at the idea of his mother standing in the garden calling ‘Mature Student’. The name was the forfeit he paid for being the youngest son. He was now a senior executive and well respected but to his mother he would always be Junior. And he hated it.
Known by all as Rab, Richard Aloysius Benjamin Kendal decided to ignore his mother’s call. He had come here for peace and quite, to fish and to contemplate his future. Elaine had been gone a long time but this was the first time he’d found someone who fitted in with his lifestyle.
Elaine Kendal died in childbirth, taking their son with her. She was twenty-four and the most stunning woman ever to walk the earth. Everything about her was beautiful. Her looks, her body, her character. She had only to gaze at him with those sparkling blue eyes and he was putty in her hands. She had been his world; from the time they met he wanted nothing else but to be with her.
Their marriage was a secret affair, wedded bliss without the crowds. Two people in love. His mother never forgave them for denying her presence at her son’s wedding although she did rally round when Elaine died. Rab thought it was more to do with losing a grandson than a daughter-in-law. The two had never really got on. In fact, she didn’t get on with either of his brother’s wives. Jacob, the eldest, said to ignore it, whilst
Elaine and Rab had such plans for their first born. Rab had been so sure they were having a son and he was right, only he wasn’t to know that until Elaine died. He’d spent months planning to teach his son everything, things like football and fishing, even dating girls when he was older. He even started to collect miniature trains in the hope that father and son would bond together over the Flying Scott and other well known engines.
That was twenty years ago. Twenty lonely years spent working his socks off trying to cope alone, his mother doing her best to remove the desperate isolation that refused to go away. Oh, it had eased a little but the guilt remained. Rab blamed himself for Elaine’s death. If he hadn’t made her pregnant they would still be together. It was a terrible cross to bear.
When his mother discovered that the sympathetic approach didn’t work she changed her policy to one of chastisement. She began to nag, to force him to face the world and get on with life. Rab felt it was all right for her, having divorced his father she hadn’t actually lost someone she loved.
It was time he moved out. His brothers had repeatedly told him so.
A year after Elaine’s death Rab entered a new phase of existence, working through the days and months like an automaton. The guys at the office helped by inviting him to golf clubs, football games, and nights out until gradually he adopted the routine of a single man. Most of the time his heart wasn’t in it but he persevered.
Sunday mornings were taken up with swimming at the local baths. He swam like a fish and according to the ladies he was very easy on the eye. Equally fascinated were the female members of the book club that met on Wednesdays. Rab would go armed with preparation notes and it rarely registered that the group leader always got him to speak first, leaving the ladies inwardly drooling.
The decision to enrol at night classes was the best idea he’d had. It was through Brenda, the art teacher, that he started painting landscapes. After a year he fancied himself as a great artist but his mother wisely ridiculed his dream. He supposed she was trying to protect him from disappointment although a positive attitude would definitely have had a more constructive effect.
Painting was his salvation. Landscapes were what he did best. Weekends were spent touring the countryside with Brenda, hunting for paint worthy scenes. When she was otherwise engaged he would take advantage of fine days to set up his easel by a lake or a shingled beach. He was turning out some good stuff and Brenda’s praise escalated. So did his ego. He did so well he started to sell his pictures at the local market. He became well known as an artist and his life took on new meaning.
Until he and Brenda fell in love.
Rab was drawn to Brenda almost as soon as they met. How well he remembered the first time he had seen her, how taken aback he was by her uncanny likeness to Elaine.
In looks she could have passed for Elaine’s twin, the same sparkly eyes, soft, wavy auburn hair that Rob loved to run his fingers through. Their build was identical, as was the intelligent way they had of thinking things through. What’s more they had matching ideals.
As their friendship grew he discovered that she had the same temperament as Elaine, a placid disposition laced with spikiness when confronted by careless workmen. Rab was astonished that two women could be so alike.
Yet doubts existed. Yes, he loved Brenda, but he had loved Elaine the same way. Now he was confused because he couldn’t be sure if he was making her a surrogate for the wife he’d adored.
Rab gazed into the lake, seeing the ripples made by a jumping fish, but all thoughts of fishing were now abandoned. At the top of a nearby bush a yellowhammer chirped its message. It was a bird Rab easily recognised having read somewhere that the yellowhammer’s call sounded like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Easy for him, he thought, the world was its oyster, no worries, no nagging doubts. He rubbed his hand against his chin, feeling the forming stubble, wishing that dilemmas were as easy to remove.
What should he do? Should he break off the relationship with Brenda? He shivered, even on that warm day the thought of separation made him go cold. How could he cut himself off from Brenda’s warmth now that he’d got used to it. But wasn’t that the problem? Wasn’t her warmth bringing about the resurrection of his first love?
His mother’s voice cut through the depression. Slowly Rab pushed away from the tree and got to his feet. It was no use ignoring her summons any longer. Reluctantly he drew in the rod and creel and packed his fishing tackle away. Stepping over the thick tree roots he made his way to the field gate.
The smell of grilled pork was enough to make Rab forget his troubles for a while. Cooking was what Rhoda Kendal did best. Watching her serve roast potatoes from a willow pattern dish, five on Rab’s plate and two on her own, was making his mouth water. He couldn’t wait to start eating. That was one of the things about fishing, it gave him a tremendous appetite.
‘Brenda phoned,’ Rhoda informed him as she doled out spoonfuls of sprouts. ‘I told her you were out fishing; she said she’d ring back.’
Oh God. The nervousness came back. His hands felt clammy. What could he say when she rang? The last time they’d spoken the conversation had ended on a precarious note, his rejection of an invitation to meet her father leaving her bewildered and just a little exasperated.
Placing a jug of steaming gravy in front of him, Rhoda urged him to start eating or the Vicar would arrive before they’d finished.’
The Vicar! Rab had completely forgotten he was coming. If only he was in a better frame of mind he might enjoy seeing the man. Rev. Beresford was a great guy, a widower. He’d been a big help at Elaine’s funeral, the only one who could offer solace as well as common sense. It was perhaps fortuitous that he was calling when Rab was feeling so down. Rab began to eat the meal somewhat heartily, feeling suddenly brighter, as if a magic wand had been waved over him.
Reverend Beresford put his hat on the telephone table and swept into the room. He was full of bonhomie, greeting Rhoda like a long lost friend instead of one he’d seen only the day before. He approached Rab with equal friendliness, offering his hand and patting him on the shoulder. ‘So nice of you to invite me round, Rhoda. The church bazaar will benefit from your expertise,’ he said.
Not only did Rhoda help with the floral decorations, she also planned the layout of the stalls. The vicar swore no-one else did the job as well, a sentiment that Rab thought was slightly over the top. It pleased his mother no end; she preened like a peacock under his praise.
Rhoda gushingly invited him to sit down and proceeded to lay her plans on the table. They were to peruse them to see if there was any way they could expand the number of stalls at the bazaar.
Rab was about to join them when the telephone rang. He tried to ignore it but Rhoda was adamant that it would be Brenda and therefore he must take the call. Rab felt his confidence wane. He muttered something about ‘being out’ and gesturing to his mother to give Brenda his apologies.
Reverent Beresford looked from one to the other, obviously mystified by Rab’s reluctance to talk to his lady friend.
The afternoon wore on with Rab feeling very low spirited. When the plans were finalised the Vicar, after declining a third cup of tea, rose to leave. Rab handed him his hat, inwardly reeling from the man’s direct gaze.
‘Why don’t you come and see me sometime,’ the Vicar said. ‘I generally take a glass of something in the evening and you would be more than welcome to join me.’ Without waiting for a reply, he left the room to say goodbye to Rhoda who was waiting by the front door.
That evening Rab did call to see the Vicar. He had been intending to go to the Golden Goose but half way there he changed his mind. It wouldn’t hurt to go and see the old guy in his own establishment. The fact that he had deliberately avoided speaking to Brenda was worrying him. No matter how he felt about things avoidance was uncalled for. She, after all, had done nothing wrong. The worrying part was that she was so sweet natured she wouldn’t think anything was amiss. That was even more upsetting.
Although a fairly regular churchgoer it was the first time Rab had been inside the vicarage. He was surprised by the warmth of the decor. For a single man the Vicar had extremely good taste. The furnishings were comfortable and inviting and the soft lighting made the room quite cosy. What surprised him was seeing one of his paintings in an alcove next to the fireplace.
‘I liked the way you captured the serenity of the lake,’ explained the Vicar. ‘The picture suits this room, don’t you think?
Rab smiled as he thanked the Reverend. It felt good to know that his work was appreciated. Glancing through the window he saw a tidy garden edged by tall trees, the waning sun producing shadowy shapes on the lawn. In the centre there was an arrangement of colourful flowers in a large stone pot, its shadow stretching out to touch a wooden bench at the side. He committed the scene to memory.
Rab was invited to sit in the armchair facing the one used by his host. Reverend Beresford’s chair was beside a coffee table already laid with a tray of drinks. Holding up a glass and a bottle of scotch, he enquired of Rab’s preference. Rab declined the whisky on the grounds that it might affect his driving and asked instead for a small glass of white wine.
After a good half an hour of untailored conversation, Rab raised the subject of his relationship with Brenda. It wasn’t something he had intended to do and he wondered if the peaceful ambience of the room had influenced his thinking.
‘Ah yes,’ said the Reverend, ‘I detected something was wrong when you refused to talk to her on the phone.’
And so Rab divulged all, starting with a résumé of his life with Elaine and how, after all these years, he still missed her.
The vicar placed his glass on the table. ‘That’s understandable when you were so much in love.’
Leaning forward, Rab placed his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his hands. ‘Vicar,’ he went. ‘I also love Brenda. The only trouble is I’m not sure whether it’s my love for Elaine showing through. Elaine and Brenda are so much alike I often think Brenda is the reincarnation of my wife. I can’t let the relationship continue while I’m so uncertain.’
The Vicar looked thoughtful. For a moment or two he remained silent, just sitting there gazing at Rab. Finally he asked ‘Remind me, how long has it been since Elaine died?’
‘How do you know they look the same? Forgive me for saying this but if Elaine was alive now she might look entirely different to Brenda. I fear you are living in the past, Rab, and it’s time to move on. Anyway, is it so terrible to have the same strong feelings for Brenda as you had for Elaine? Doesn’t that prove something?’
Rab hadn’t expected such a reply. ‘Prove what,’ he asked?
‘Why, my friend, it proves that you are capable of great love. Now, if you stop comparing the two women you might understand what I mean. I don’t want to sound too severe, Rab, but Elaine has been gone a long time. The shock of losing her was monumental but you moved forward. Naturally you will never forget her but now you need to look at Brenda in a new light. She isn’t Elaine, and you know it. You are merely tormenting yourself. For pity’s sake, man, don’t feel guilty for falling in love a second time.’
At first Rab felt wounded by these remarks, but then an element of common sense crept in. ‘So you think it’s all right to love two women in exactly the same way?’
‘It’s not ‘exactly’ the same, Rab. It’s a new love, and a new life. Have you talked to Brenda about it?’
‘Good Lord, no.’
Rab didn’t know the answer to that question. He had wanted to discuss it with Brenda but it had never seemed the right thing to do. He didn’t know how she would take the fact that he loved her as he had loved Elaine.’
Reverend Beresford reached across and picked up Rab’s glass. As he stood to pour more wine, he suggested that Rab explained his feelings to Brenda as soon as possible. ‘Trust me, dear boy, she will be grateful for your honesty.’
Rhoda quizzed her son about his evening with the Vicar. ‘I’ve been worried about you for a while now,’ she said. ‘You and I have never been able to discuss things, that’s why I invited the Reverend round here. If anyone can talk sense, he can.’
‘How did you know I’d been to see him?’
Rhoda admitted that the Vicar had reported back.
After a moment’s silence Rab started to laugh, and Rhoda laughed with him. ‘Your old Mum isn’t so bad, you know. I might be an old nag but I have your interests at heart.’
Rab gave his mother a huge hug and whispered in her ear,’ I love you, Mom. I’ve been such a mental mess lately.’
‘I know son. I know. And I hope it’s all over now.’ Just like a Mom, she pecked his cheek, then went to brew a pot of tea.
That evening Rab rang Brenda at her home. First he apologised for not taking her call and then he asked if she would like to go out for a meal the next day. ‘I’ve got so much to tell you,’ he said. Hearing her cheerful acceptance made him feel good about himself. In fact his heart felt full to bursting knowing that finally his future was sound.
23 November 2011
Then I rushed to the front of the house to see what it looked like there. It might sound daft but I felt really excited. We are surrounded by gorgeous trees that tend to block the view but in any case the clouds usually stop the sun getting through. Sunrises around here tend to be weak and uninteresting... until today. Maybe this is the end of the world.
21 November 2011
Amy and Toby Skinner bickered about the most inconsequential matters, often coming to blows as the arguments reached their peak. Striking each other was the only way they could end their quarrels. A battle was in progress when Rachel arrived home and she paused outside the door, wishing that
Listening to the muffled accusations her father slung at her mother, to do with a new interest in the occult and occasional visits to consult with a medium, Rachel questioned the viability of her parents' marriage, doomed as it was to stand beneath an umbrella of perpetual disagreement. With her heart set on marrying
Deciding she had waited long enough, she opened the door.
‘Where've you been?’ screamed Amy.
‘Don't start on her,’ shouted Toby. His face flushed with anger.
Rachel edged round the kitchen table, hoping to retreat to her room before the real action commenced. Rex would already be there. He was no fool, he would have departed the minute he caught the first sharp tone. Still heading for the stairs, she kept her mouth tightly buttoned, firmly believing that silence was less likely to provoke her mother further.
‘Did you hear me?’ Amy screeched.
Rachel faced her ill-tempered mother, boldly staring. ‘I've been out with
‘And why didn't you come in at the proper time?’
Now that Amy's annoyance had been diverted away from him, Toby subsided into his chair. Rachel moved towards him, speechlessly defiant yet keeping a cautious eye on her mother.
‘I’m waiting,’ hissed Amy, with menacing calm.
Next door's radio echoed through the party wall. It had to be loud for old Mr Dunthorne to hear since his hearing was fast failing. How uproarious was the noise in the Skinner household if it suppressed even that.
Rachel shrugged and hastily mumbled an apology. She had seen her mother's sights fix on the black-handled bread knife and in that mood anything could happen. She gripped the chair, rocking it to attract her father's attention.
The blade flashed as it skimmed through the air and penetrated the cushion, an inch away from Toby's thigh. He vaulted from the chair and grabbed Amy’s arm, jerking her round to face him. Then he hit her, hard, right on the jaw.
Rachel winced as her mother's head fell back, and she stared aghast when Amy crumpled to the floor. To her knowledge, it was the first time her father had been goaded enough to knock her mother out. She looked from her mother's helpless form to her father, not sure whether to commend or condemn his action; but Toby didn't give her the chance to do either, he stalked out and bounded up the stairs, leaving her alone with her recumbent mother.
The distressing episode brought a bleakness to her mind and body. Rachel went to the fire, intending to sit in the seat vacated by her father, but the sight of the knife stalled her, its blade reflecting the flickering flames. Kapok spilled from the slashed cushion when she extracted the knife. She was shocked to think how close it came to entering her father's leg.
What drove Amy to such violence? It wasn't the first time she had wielded a weapon. A red plastic bowl in the garden shed was evidence of what she could do when roused. During one heated altercation she hurled a meat carver, but her aim was poor and it hit the upturned bowl in the sink.
Rachel's punishments, deserved or otherwise, had never been carried out with a knife. They varied, but in the main her mother employed her favourite method: forcing Rachel against the Welsh dresser and punching her on the jaw. Her head would repeatedly smash on the cupboard doors and a myriad stars would swirl if the door-knob got in the way.
Rachel wondered what to do about the prone figure, not sure if she should try resuscitation or leave her mother to regain consciousness on her own. Her chest was rising quite rhythmically which was probably a sign that she was not seriously hurt. After some deliberation and several bouts of pacing she decided on the latter course, noting the time as a precaution; if it was any longer than thirty minutes, she would ring for the doctor.
She switched off the light before leaving the room, then switched it on again, foreseeing the ensuing chaos if her mother came round in total darkness. She guessed she should have waited but her commitment to combat was not compelling enough to hang around.
Mr Dunthorne's radio subsided into nocturnal silence. Rachel wondered how much he knew of the Skinners' frequent sparring. What scandal there would be if the news got out; the shame would be too dreadful to contemplate.
Gently, she closed the door and drifted towards the stairs. As she negotiated the bend, she heard broken sobs coming from her father's room. She cleared the last few steps to his door and gingerly twisted the knob. It was locked. He didn’t respond when she called so she tried again, calling urgently.
The desire to help him was overwhelming. She rattled the door, begging to be let in. There was no reaction to her pleas and there was nothing she could do. Rachel gave up when sounds below told her that Amy had recovered. She fled to her own room, scampering along the landing as if her mother was already chafing at her heels. Swiftly slamming the door she crashed home the bolt, shuddering as relief engulfed her.
Rex crept out of his bed and came to her side. He delayed wagging his tail until he was sure she hadn't been tainted by the domestic war, then hesitantly offered his paw and sat with his head slanted awaiting Rachel's response. ‘Come here,’ she said, drawing him to her in such a fashion that his eyes and nose were covered by her sleeves. It was not a deed he normally liked, being an independent dog and preferring to arrange his own postures, but he sensed her upset and allowed her to have her own way. ‘One day, Rexie,’ she said, ‘we'll forsake this place and go somewhere peaceful.’
Outside, Amy tried Toby's door. ‘I'll get you, Skinner,’ she yelled.
And Rachel thought: She will, too.
Both of us.