Most of the dwellings she passed were ablaze with light, presenting a lived-in, inviting picture; but not this one. While Rex investigated the blades of grass near the gatepost, Rachel looked up the weed-filled path to the dismal house where her mother and the new friend attended séances and did mysterious things to attract forces from the other side. An impression of impenetrable cobwebs hanging like curtains inside the dark windows made her shiver.
She speculated about its occupants. Her mother had said an old woman owned the house but it was her elderly companion who conducted the séances. Had her mother not told her otherwise Rachel would not have believed anyone lived there. The house looked totally uninhabited, not one window showing light. The place gave Rachel the jitters. She tugged the lead and dragged Rex away and without a backward glance she left the derelict-looking property behind.
Rachel resumed the journey home, gathering pace as she neared the garden gate. Now she had taken Rex round the block there was not much else to do to fill the hours until bedtime. To avoid another endlessly boring evening she had decided to call on her parents after tea, mainly to consult her mother about taking up knitting, or sewing, or some other useful craft.
Rex raced up the path, his lead trailing behind him.
‘Wait for me, you daft dog,’ laughed Rachel, leaning over his bulky body to open the door. Inside, the telephone began to ring but the animal's presence impeded her and, as her cold fingers fumbled with the key, the ringing ceased. ‘Drat!’ she exclaimed, and turned on the dog, cuffing his back, crying: ‘That's your fault.’
She prepared tea with one ear on the telephone, the other on the radio, until a recording of a brass band, strident and not to her taste, compelled her to switch off. It's morning music, she thought, using a slatted spoon to lift an egg from the pan; certainly not an ideal accompaniment at teatime. After loading butter on the toast, she cut it into fingers before pouring salt onto the plate and slicing the top off the egg.
There was an awful draught from under the ill-fitting front door, hitting Rachel's knees like a whirlwind. Her fingers felt like icicles as she spooned segments of egg into her mouth, but she refused to close the kitchen door in case she missed the phone. She was on tenterhooks in case it had been
Afterwards, she got ready to go out. Double-wrapping a plaid scarf around her neck and encasing her hands in woollen mitts, she bid Rex goodbye and left the house.
WALKING in the dark near the playing fields made her nervous. She increased her speed until, trembling with relief, she arrived at the well-lit Boar's Head car park.
Whirling round, Rachel saw her father using the short cut to the pub.
‘What are you doing here?’ Toby asked.
‘Coming to see you and Mum.’
‘I rang you earlier.’
So much for her concern over
‘Funny thing,’ Toby said, ‘I rang to invite you out for a drink, and here you are. You must be telepathic.’ He pushed open the door to the lounge bar. ‘Come on in, I'll buy you one now.’
Rachel followed him through the swing doors. The heat inside the lounge bar immediately hit her. She had forgotten the marvellous winter fires that glowed day and night in the deep brick fireplace, a fireplace which in summer months was host to a huge display of dried grasses and ornamental dried flowers.
The landlord polished glasses behind the bar. He was talking to a young man, a stranger to Rachel but who was apparently completely at home in his surroundings. Harry Bentine looked up as they approached. ‘Good gracious, if it isn't my little sweetheart. I thought you'd vetoed this place now you were married.’
‘She wouldn't be here now if she hadn't seen me in the car park,’ said Toby, smiling fondly at his daughter.
Rachel unwound her scarf and folded it neatly. ‘I don't get many opportunities to go out with
‘Well, it's nice to see you, and your pa. Now what can I get you.’
RACHEL chose a table by the fire, sitting as close as she dared without scorching her legs. There was nothing like a real fire for quickly warming a body through; even a chilled soul got the benefit.
Toby put a glass of white wine in front of her. ‘Nothing like a coal fire,’ he said, reading her thoughts. ‘I nearly didn't leave mine but it gets a bit monotonous stuck there on my own night after blessed night.’
‘Where's Mum then?’
‘Consulting the spirits.’
‘Again? Where at this time?’
Toby stripped off his raincoat and draped it on the spare seat next to him. ‘That place near you, I think.
‘Really! I walked Rex that way tonight. I didn't see any sign of life.’
‘You wouldn't. They're all dead.’ Toby picked up a half-pint glass of lager. ‘It's a silly business and not one I approve of. I think talking to spirits is dangerous.’
‘You won't go with her, then?’
‘Not on your life. I'll say this, though, it's improved her temper. Ever since she took up with her woman friend and got interested in spiritualism she's been a different person. She's much easier to live with. When she's in, of course.’
Rachel studied her father's face over the top of her glass. Was he telling it as it really was or just being loyal? He seemed entirely relaxed, no trace of his old tension. If he was lying she felt sure she would know. Accordingly she gave him credit for telling the truth. ‘This friend of hers, does she have a name?’
‘As in Adam and Eve?’
‘Perhaps she's trying to check up on Adam.’
‘Very droll!’ Toby lifted his glass and drank until it was empty. Pushing away from the table, he suggested another.
Rachel declined. Too much wine made her merry and set off certain cravings she could well do without. Iced water would serve her better now that the fire's heat had warmed her right through.
Toby returned while she was mopping sweat from her brow. ‘Do you want to sit somewhere else?’ he enquired, surveying the room for a free table.
There was no free table and Rachel didn't fancy standing at the bar amongst a band of old codgers, clamouring for drinks as if judgement day was nigh. ‘No thanks,’ she said. ‘I'm going soon. I don't like leaving Rex for long, not when he's spent all day on his own. I'll give it another ten minutes and then I'll be off.’
Toby began rotating a ceramic ashtray which defined the wisdom of drinking the local brew. ‘
‘Doesn't he get fed up with travelling?’
‘He never mentions it, but I don't think so. He's probably glad to get away from me.’
‘I reckon you drove him to it the day you were wed,’ joked Toby, not realising how near the truth his taunting was.
It was the way our bodies squelched, Rachel.
Hideous sucking sounds.
I felt I was drowning in wet mud.
Rachel gathered her scarf and gloves. Little does he know how accurate his jesting is.
(to be continued)