Rachel cried for two weeks. She shed tears in her cooking, sobbed when she locked the house at night, wept buckets before dropping off to sleep. She cried for herself, for losing a husband, for losing a mother, for losing her heart to a no-good piece of trash in the first place. She damned her hesitancy in seeking a divorce, analysing it in her saner moments as wanting to prevent
At work she was blessed with the understanding of Cynthia and Ralph, though both implored her to petition for divorce. She said she would, in due course. Cynthia claimed she was daft to let
Eric acted with great self-control when she broke the news that dreadful weekend, only his fists and eyes giving away his ambition to flog the hides of both Gary and Amy. Since then he had been a frequent visitor, treating her like a real lady, with the utmost decorum, but habitually entreating her to disconnect the tether. Even as he understood her reasoning, he still felt it his duty to advise her otherwise.
Under the guise of cheering her up, Ralph took her out a few times for a drink. After Ben Collins' leaving do he persuaded her to join him on an outing to the
IT WAS a perfect day for a picnic: sunny, with a gentle breeze. Ralph showed up early, attired in thigh-hugging jeans, a white sleeveless cotton top and blue suede cardigan. Rex greeted him exuberantly, won over by the ball Ralph produced. ‘Fancy a day out in the car, my friend?’ Sparing him a quick sweep of his tongue, Rex sat panting in front of him. He had heard the two words guaranteed to turn him into the craziest dog in town: OUT and CAR.
Rachel called to Rex to get his lead and was sent flying as the animal swept round and scudded to the kitchen, thumping the door open with his head. Ralph was still helping her to her feet when Rex reappeared with a plastic bowl in his mouth, his head angled and one ear sticking up, expressive eyes fixed on his mistress. Rachel groaned. ‘I said get your lead, dimwit.’
Ralph burst out laughing. ‘I think he'd prefer being fed,’ he remarked, pushing Rachel gently towards the kitchen door.
THEY drove to the hills, Rex spending the entire journey excitedly leaping from side to side on the back seat. From the moment the car was parked, he whined to get out. Rachel was embarrassed at the way he slavered all over the rear window and scratched his paw on the door handle, but no amount of castigation would quieten him. She let him out, slipping the chain around his neck as soon as the door was open. Rex grumbled, not caring too much about going on the lead, but Rachel wouldn't take the chance of letting him roam free until they were well away from the road. Ralph collected a canvas holdall from the boot and they set off.
Stopping frequently to get her breath, Rachel climbed what she considered was more like a mountain than a hill. Ralph was unaffected, no doubt on account of his fanaticism for sensible eating and keeping fit. Rex bounded from tree to tree, sniffing, and leaving his calling card for other dogs to find. Eventually, declaring she could go no further, Rachel collapsed on an unoccupied wooden bench. ‘I'm going to stay here until my legs get back to normal,’ she said, expecting Ralph to join her.
But Ralph preferred a ball game with Rex. ‘Won't be long,’ he called, bouncing the ball as he ran off, yelling, ‘Come on, hound-dog, let's see how good you are.’
Left alone, Rachel extended her legs across the hollow under the bench, an erosion caused by a thousand feet, which housed the disgraceful remains of a family picnic. She eyed the dented Cola cans, and wondered why a baby's bottle should be discarded simply because the teat was torn. Incised on the bench were hearts and arrows, declarations of abiding love, proclamations of a cruder nature. It was the first time in ages she hadn't cried.
For all the disorder, it was a delightful spot. She inhaled the fresh air and concentrated on the noises around her: birds twittering busily in a nearby tree, the drone of a small aircraft, a baby crying in the distance. She was idly watching the antics of a pair of blackbirds when Ralph flopped down beside her, wheezing that he'd had enough.
He pointed to where Rex lay panting, his front legs stretched before him, the yellow ball between his paws.
Rachel delved in the holdall for a flask of water. Half filling the dog bowl, she carried it to him and put it between his legs. ‘Here,’ she said. ‘Drink.’ As if it was the last thing he wanted to do, and without getting up, Rex drank.
Returning to the bench, she opened a can of orangeade and drank until the fizz got too much for her gullet. Ralph was swigging tomato juice from a bottle. She put out a hand to wipe away a trickle of juice from the corner of his mouth. ‘You missed that drop,’ she said. Laughing to cover a sudden bashfulness, she settled beside him. The breeze ruffled her hair and brought the smell of grass to her nostrils. She was quite close to being happy.
‘This reminds me of when Terence was a kid,’ Ralph told her. ‘Whenever he visited us he demanded that Dad and I take him to
‘Who is Terence?’
‘My half-brother. His father and mother divorced when Terry was a toddler. His Mom married my Dad and I was born soon afterwards. That's the way the story goes, but I don't believe a word of it. Divorce didn't come easy then, and since there's only ten months between Terry and me ... well, let me just say neither Dad nor Mum told me the whole truth.’
Rachel listened with interest to Ralph's brief evaluation of his family, telling herself it could only be coincidence that he had a half-brother called Terry who besieged lorry drivers. ‘What's his other name?’ she asked.
‘You mean his surname?’
The colour drained from her cheeks.
Ralph was immediately concerned. ‘Darling, whatever's wrong?’
She let it all out, unfolding her suspicion that Terence Marshall, brother, and Terry Marshall,
Ralph flicked and rendered senseless an audacious fly which had landed on his wrist. ‘I can't see Terry agreeing to cover for
‘I've never met him. He sounds honest, if it's possible to tell from talking on the phone. I invited him to dinner, you know, just before the bust up. I feel ashamed about that. I guess I was only thinking of making
‘He didn't come then?’
‘No. I imagine
‘Would you like to meet him? I could arrange it. You could see for yourself what a nice bloke he is.’
‘I'd feel awkward. Whatever the truth is, I'd be ill at ease.’
Ralph put his arm round her and pulled her to him. ‘Go on,’ he said softly. ‘Give him a chance to defend himself. I'd be there as well, to protect you from his evil ways.’ He planted a warm kiss on her neck. ‘Go on, Rachel, do it for me.’
Laughingly, she agreed. After all, she would have to meet Terry in a different capacity if this affair lasted.
(to be continued)