By mid-afternoon, Rachel had completed her preparations for the evening. She had cleaned the kitchen floor, vacuumed the hall carpet, tidied the shelves over the bureau, plumped the cushions, and straightened the rugs. The work was vigorously done in an effort to repress the sadness borne from
's departure. Gary
The wine was cooling in the fridge, all she needed to do was cut the steak into smaller portions and prepare the vegetables ready to cook in the last half hour. She decided to do it now so that she could relax for the remainder of the afternoon. Rex had not had a proper walk but he seemed happy enough watching her work. She mentally promised to take him later on, providing the threatening rain held off.
Rachel went into the kitchen and began separating broccoli florets from the stems, letting each one drop into a bowl of cold water. It was a vegetable
found distasteful, but one which Ralph enjoyed. She was not looking forward to the dinner party, not now she had seen Gary . She still felt choked at the prospect of never seeing him again. Gary
Three short rings on the doorbell introduced Eric's arrival, somewhat surprising considering he knew her programme as well as she did. Nevertheless, she was more than happy to let him in. ‘Thought you were going to the Bridge Club,’ she said, raising her cheek to receive a glancing kiss.
‘Mildred's gone to an emergency committee meeting. There was no point going alone. I thought you might like some help.’
‘I've been wishing you were here since this morning, ever since
? Has he been here?’ Gary
‘Yes, but he's gone now, for good, to work on an oil rig.’
Eric gawked. ‘An oil rig?’
‘That's right. He's deserted.’
‘Saints preserve us!’ Eric extracted a handkerchief from the pocket of his raincoat. He wiped his neck, then noisily blew his nose. ‘Where does that leave you, dear girl?’
‘Exactly where I was before he arrived, only more miserable. Take off your raincoat, Eric. Would you like some wine?’
‘Have you any vodka?’
‘Then wine it shall be.’
While he hung his raincoat in the hall, she removed one of the bottles from the refrigerator, thankful she had put it there so early. She took the opener from the cabinet drawer. ‘Could you uncork this,’ she asked, when he came in. ‘I was wondering, if Mildred is out, why don't you join my little dinner party? There's plenty of steak for four of us.’
‘Kind of you, dear girl, but I imagine Ralph would rather he and his brother had you to themselves.’
‘It's got nothing to do with Ralph. I want you there.’
‘Something like that.’
‘I could leave straight after the meal, I suppose. Give you young people some space. Only fair, after all. If I did stay, who would you pass me off as?’
The question startled Rachel. ‘My friend, of course. That's what you are. My very best friend.’
‘Thank you, Rachel. I love you, too, and I accept your invitation.’ Eric took a sip of wine. ‘Now, there must be some task I can do to assist.’
‘You could take Rex for a short walk.’
Rex's tail started to rotate.
‘Ah, the mutt. Mustn't forget him. I will take him to the field as soon as I've drunk this.’
ERIC set off the back way, through the garden to the right-of-way which would take him to the road alongside the field. Rachel waved at him through the open window, then went back to preparing the broccoli, more content than she was before he showed up. Outside, next door's black cat leapt soundlessly across the bottom fence. Rachel paused to watch. There was not a sound. No twittering birds, no speeding cars, no gossiping neighbours or rowdy children. Even the house was hushed. The whole world, it seemed, was taking a siesta. It was pleasurable, rejuvenating, a moment not to be ruined by the chaos of mundane noises.
The sound of the door bell reverberated cruelly through the building, someone anxious to gain prompt admittance judging by the insistent hammering on the panels.
Resenting the person who had deigned to target her private retreat, she opened the door to find Amy standing on the path, bulging grotesquely with child. Her coat flapped open to reveal a flowered top that looked as though it had seen better days. Rachel stared at the woman who had not only stolen her husband, but had the effrontery to besmirch her door with her filthy, man-fondling hands.
Amy pushed in as though it was her right. ‘I want to see
‘He's not here,’ Rachel barked, trying unsuccessfully to bar her way.
Amy went first to the living room, then the kitchen, then retracted her steps and returned to the hallway. Propelling Rachel to one side, she started up the stairs.
Galvanised into action, Rachel threw herself at her. ‘What the hell do you think you're doing?’ she yelled, spinning her round.
‘I want that dirty, double-crossing, useless bastard.’ The bawling, abusive name-calling was reminiscent of the hurtful labels Amy pinned on Rachel as a child.
‘I SAID he's not here.’ Hauling Amy into the living room, Rachel rammed her onto the couch.
Amy thrust herself forward, striving to lift herself up. ‘What ….’
‘Shut up!’ screamed Rachel.
‘Don't you ....’
Balling her fist, Rachel hit her in the face. It felt good. A lifetime's frustration had gone into that punch. Blood jetted like tap water from Amy's nose, falling on the flowery smock where it was lost in the flashy purples and glaring reds.
I didn't like it anyway, reflected Rachel, fascinated by her mother's futile attempts to quench the flow. And Dad would have been horrified to see her wearing such hideous gear.
‘Get me a cloth, Rachel.’
Rachel didn’t move. She was delighted to see Amy's distress. In fact, she would have conceived a deal of joy from adding to her misery, bestowing a few cuts and bruises to lastingly deface. The nose continued its prolific bleeding. Red streaks on the plain ecru cushions prompted Rachel to fetch a cloth and a bowl of soapy water. Gary would curse if they were ruined. Pushing Amy to one side, she knelt in front of the couch, coolly setting about cleaning the covers, dunking and squeezing the rags, swabbing in circular motion.
‘You don't care about ….’
The waterlogged rag met its target, right in the middle of Amy's face. The slapping sound was delicious. Resting her weight on her heels, Rachel hissed, ‘Don't you ever talk to me about not caring.’ She aimed her fist once more at the nose, grimly determined to smash it to pulp. ‘The only thing that stops me from battering the life out of you is consideration for father's child.’ It was the least she could do for the poor mite.
Amy wiped her face with the hem of the smock.
Giving her mother a disgusted look, Rachel marched into the kitchen and dumped the bowl in the sink. The table was crammed with cooking implements and basins of goodies waiting to be cooked. For tonight! She eyed the clock, not at all sure what to do. Two hours to lift-off. No time for the battle she craved. No time for feuding or physical remonstration.
She sank onto a chair. There was so much to do, apart from knocking senseless the quivering cocksucker on the couch next door. Idly, she fingered the broad blade of the chef's knife. Dinner would be delayed if she didn't get rid of Amy soon. Her visitors would arrive and she would have to introduce the dishevelled woman as her mother. It would be too cruel. Unwittingly, Rachel combed her fingers through her hair, sweeping it over her head until it was in complete disarray.
Rachel twisted round.
fancied me instead of you.’ Gary
Rachel's world plummeted.
Amy grinned maliciously. Her bloody smock hung crooked, making the protrusion seem unbalanced. ‘He used to tell me how obsessed you were with your father.’
Loathing rose like bile. Astonishment, too. Rachel had no idea what Amy was gabbing about.
‘I told him about the times you ran to him instead of me when you were in trouble.’
Angrily, Rachel got to her feet. ‘Don't be so bloody brainless. Who else could I turn to? You were never there.’
‘I wonder why!’ Amy turned and walked leisurely through the living room, presumably on her way to the front door. She called over her shoulder, ‘Tell
he needn't think he can shirk his responsibilities.’ Gary
Rachel's legs went weak. She lowered herself back on the chair and gripped the chef's knife, twisting it against the light. What charges was her mother laying at
's doorstep? Gary
‘You hear me, Rachel?’
Placing the knife on the table, Rachel unhurriedly stood up. She heard next door's cat, meowing to be let in. Lucky black cat! She went into the living room and stared at her mother, seeing her gloating expression. Victorious!
Amy embraced her swelled belly with her bloodstained hands and gave Rachel a triumphant leer. ‘Do I take it you didn't realise this is
's child?’ She threw her head back and let out a harsh, witch-like cackle. ‘Oh, God, that's rich. She didn't know.’ She looked evilly at Rachel. ‘Your splendid husband's child is basking inside me, waiting to get out and taunt you. Your half-sister.’ Gary
The missile winged through the air, captivating Rachel by its grey-black beauty. It mesmerised her. She followed it with her eyes, calmly wondering from whence it came. Tears glistened on her cheeks. Rapidly, the knife zoomed across the room, it seemed to be journeying through distant time. Towards Amy. Equally bewitched, Amy stood, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, hugging her bastard child. The knife reached its destination. Incisively. Chillingly sharp. In slow-motion, a little startled, Amy collapsed to the floor.
(to be continued)