Friends

21 August 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 1

The fictitious village of Fieldmoor is where forty-nine year old Audrey Buckham embarks on an ordeal by phone and steps into a nightmare of sensual desire shared exclusively with a mysterious, licentious man. A single woman, she lives alone now that her son, Matthew, works abroad. She is still attractive to the opposite sex, but the eight years following the split with Brian Porter, Matthew's father, have been entirely chaste. Because of loneliness (Gladys Stanhope is her only true friend) she tends to imagine situations where none exist.

Was it the Vicar. Or Brian? Or Norman or Fred or Bill. Or maybe it was Brian's son, David, who was responsible for the distressing calls. Whoever it was, he was driving Audrey Buckham towards a cerebral breakdown.
           
A mature and beautiful woman, not ordinarily susceptible to feelings of fear, her nerves were rapidly reaching saturation point. Her whole world would soon disintegrate and the self-loathing, a consequence of the calls, would propel her to that blessed place they call insanity.

Read on…….

CHAPTER ONE

The table rocked on its spindly legs when Audrey Buckham banged down the phone. It was the third time that week it had rung and no-one answered, and twice the week before. 'Must think I've got nothing better to do,' she grumbled as she stalked back to the kitchen, but quickly forgot the incident when she resumed her breakfast and surrendered to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

She adored music and consistently at breakfast she set the volume high. Except when Matthew was home. He elected for peace and quiet after an exhausting stint abroad, though not for a moment did Audrey believe that teaching English to the Germans was as exhausting as he made out. She suspected most of his tiredness came from too much beer and courting too many young girls.
           
Glancing at the clock, she wondered if there was sufficient time to toast more bread, but the music changed to her favourite composition and she began instead to wave a finger of buttered toast in tune. The piece reminded her of Brian, waving his arms and whooping Crescendo whenever the melody soared. She could still picture him as he was when they met - charming, and a bit of a clown - uttering the words which ignited their affair: I'll be able to come round for a cup of tea.
           
Clicking off the portable tape recorder, she paused to study her son's photograph on the wall, hanging crooked because of her inability to hold the picture hook steady while she hammered in the nail. 'You're a handsome brute, Matthew,' she said, and fancied she saw his eyes twinkle in agreement.

His resemblance to Brian was uncanny. He possessed the same craggy features and furrowed brow as his father, and both had a cleft in the chin. She had heard somewhere that a deep cleft was supposed to be the sign of a sexy man, which was certainly true of Brian. She couldn't speak for Matthew.
           
Once again glancing at the clock she was shocked to see it was time to leave for work. Hastily she patted powder on her cheeks and swept her hair into a knot, pinning it to hold the weight. Gathering her white nylon overall, bag, and spare handkerchief, she left the house, humming the tune which threatened to haunt her day.

*******

At the corner of the road the Reverend Michael Spencer was conferring with the window cleaner.  As Audrey approached he interrupted his conversation and lifted his black trilby to greet her. 'Good day, my dear. I was just saying to Samuel how nice it is to enjoy some warmth after months of wind and rain. I pray it stays like this for the garden fete. Are you working today?'
           
'Part of it,' Audrey replied. 'I'm spending the afternoon with Gladys.'
           
'Ah. In that case, I wonder if you would both come to the vicarage for sandwiches and tea. Say five o'clock?'
           
Audrey cringed. 'I'm not sure what Gladys has planned. Can I let you know?'
           
'You can, my dear. Mind, I will be extremely disappointed if you cannot make it.'
           
Audrey knew by the way he persistently closed in on her that Michael liked her, but his nearness gave her the creeps. She wasn’t one for familiar immediacy. Occasionally his head came so close she caught his sour breath, a distasteful experience even with someone she liked. On those grounds she would have to reject the offer, not forgetting that if she accepted this first invitation others would surely follow.
           
Sensing that Sam Wilding was about to say something, Audrey waited, but when no words came she took her leave. If she was late reaching the store Carol would have another go about her timekeeping. She would then feel obliged to stay over and that would disrupt the whole afternoon.

*******

Audrey bent to pinch out a few leaves of thyme which grew in small clumps between the slabs of Gladys's path. Sniffing her fingers, she carried on towards the maroon door where a single bearded Iris inclined towards the drainpipe as if trying to escape from a carpet of purple Aubretia. Receiving no response to the second knock, she went round to the side of the house. The gate screeched on neglected hinges, setting her teeth on edge. She thumped on the back door and yelled, 'Gladys.'
           
The neighbour's dark head appeared above the privet which separated the two gardens. 'She's here,' said Diane Pearce. 'Come on round.'
           
Stepping through the connecting gate, ducking to avoid sinuous lengths of honeysuckle, Audrey encountered Cocoa, Diane's aptly named Labrador who was sprawled across the gravel feigning sleep. One dark brown eye opened when she stooped to stroke him. 'You're an old fraud,' she laughed.
           
Gladys was kneeling on the lawn, her black skirt spread out like a circular rug. Even though her term of widow's mourning finished years before, Gladys Stanhope still wore black. Diane squatted opposite. Albeit a little unkempt, she appeared rather youthful in a simple flowered shift. Between the two women were varying lengths of wallpaper, stretched out and secured at each corner with stones.
           
'Whatever are you doing?' asked Audrey. She listened to Diane's explanation that Gladys wanted wallpaper for the vicarage shelves, then took advantage of the ready-made opportunity to drop her bombshell about the Vicar's unexpected solicitation.
           
Diane's reaction was one of utter amazement. 'What!' she cried.
           
Gladys smiled and mumbled that she already knew.
           
Audrey demanded to know how.
           
'Sam told me when he asked for a date.'
           
Enlightenment dawned. The reason for Sam Wilding's earlier bemused expression became clear to Audrey, as did his recent practice of always being near Gladys wherever she happened to be. Michael's invitation must have thrown the poor man's plan to the wind.
           
'Sam?' squawked Diane.
           
'Yes,' replied Gladys.
           
'Lord!' Diane's monosyllabic astonishment was quite hilarious.
           
Gladys clambered to her feet. 'You'll have to go solo, Audrey,' she said as she began rolling the last length of paper. 'Bless you for this, Diane. If the Vicar ever notices he's got shelves, I'm sure he'll be pleased they're covered.' Clutching the awkward bundle, she struggled to the gate, calling over her shoulder, 'Thanks for the coffee.'
           
Audrey grinned as she trailed behind Gladys. She could tell Diane was flabbergasted by the small incursion into her neighbour's private life. 'I'll keep you posted with developments,' she called, closing the gate behind her.

*******

While Gladys brewed the tea, Audrey stayed in the parlour, gazing through the window at Brian's cat curled beneath a bowing Philadelphus, completely oblivious to the scurrying squirrels. It seemed to her that squirrels led very uncomplicated lives, unlike humans who bustle into turmoil at the press of a button. What should she do about Michael? Could she perhaps invent a headache? Or maybe Gladys would .....
           
'You could come out with us.'
           
Audrey swivelled round to see Gladys propped against the door. Utterly amazed that she should make such an appalling suggestion, Audrey refused on account of it being unfair to Sam, and went on to expound the reluctance she would have felt to include a third party in an outing with Brian.
           
Gladys shrugged and returned to the kitchen.
           
Endeavouring to find an excuse which would cause least offence, Audrey wrapped her tongue around a couple of the favourites she used in her old job at the police station … a migraine or an appointment. But she was acting like a ten year old. Why couldn't she tell him straight she didn't want to go? Cross with herself for being cowardly, she shot into the kitchen and faced Gladys, standing with legs astride and arms akimbo. 'I don't have to do anything I don't want,' she cried.
           
'Of course you don't,' agreed Gladys. 'Now sit down and drink this tea while it's hot.'

*******

Audrey arrived home earlier than expected, her normally high spirits in decline. The cause mystified her though she suspected it had to do with Michael's summons, and if that was the case she should be committed for allowing a man like him get her down. He had accepted with good grace her excuse about expecting a call from Matthew, but the actual falsehood depressed her. To lie to a man of the cloth was a despicable thing to do, but she could hardly confess her view that he was objectionable. Attempting to put the matter behind her, she collected her library book and knitting and went into the garden. Basking in warm sunshine would do her more good than mentally struggling with her misdeed.
           
She sat on the peeling rustic bench so that, if she wanted, she could put her feet up and have a nap. As soon as she settled, as if they had waited for her to stop fiddling about, four blue tits landed on the birdbath. Without a sound she lowered the book, hoping that if she remained motionless they might bathe. One bird hopped in but right away flew out, and he and his mates departed in a panic to a nearby tree. Audrey looked to see what had caused the disturbance, expecting to see a prowling cat or a fox, hearing instead the recognisable thumps of Vera and Bess clumping over cobbles to reach her gate, dragging school bags behind them, typically choosing the most difficult route instead of using the path. At fifteen, Audrey considered they should have better regard for their belongings.
           
The two girls had been firm friends since infants. With Vera living next door, Audrey had watched them grow. They treated her as a companion instead of just another meddling grown-up. She guessed it was curiosity that brought them initially, but they soon recognised that she was someone they could talk to and discuss their problems with. They were colourful characters. One day Audrey hoped to have grandchildren just as chirpy, but Matthew showed no sign of settling down. It didn't bother her much; frequently she told herself that forty-nine was much too young to be cast in a grandmother's role.
           
'Coo-ee, Miss Buckham,' called Bess as she pushed Vera through the gate.
           
*******

Audrey planted a kiss on each girl's cheek and advanced towards the house, inviting the girls to taste her fresh lemonade. When they didn't respond, she enquired if their tongues had gone walkabout.
           
Bess coloured, and mumbled, 'Yes.'
           
Unable to resist the temptation to tease, Audrey enquired, 'Yes what? A walkabout?' Her sarcastic humour, however, fell on stony ground.
           
Vera was quiet. She was like that some days, sulking over something her mother said. When that happened, it was hard to pull her out of it. Her mother, Liz, was a short-tempered, discontented woman who argued with her husband and nagged at her daughter. On the other hand Gerald was placid and kind, more like a chum than a father. Vera loved him. She only mentioned her mother if there was a stupefying report to divulge.
           
The girls leaned against the fridge-freezer while Audrey poured lemonade into the new tall glasses, the ones with hand painted lemons she bought especially for them to use. She threw in a few cubes of ice and added straws.
           
'Mum uses straws now,' stated Bess. 'It's easier for her when she's in the wheelchair. I only give her a mug when I get her out. I got her those curly ones last week. She likes them.'
           
Vera sucked on her straw until the lemonade reached the half way mark. 'Did you know there's a tramp in the village?'
           
The ringing telephone prevented Audrey from replying. She went to answer it, listened to the silence for a minute, then exclaimed, 'Really,' and crashed the handset on the cradle. Muttering profanities, she returned to the kitchen and began to drag the chairs in place, picking crumbs off the cloth and moving the cruet an inch or two. Her cheeks burned with exasperation ... the business with the telephone was beyond a joke.
           
The girls viewed her with amusement. Audrey reckoned they had a right considering her uncharacteristic behaviour. She made an effort to concentrate, to recall what they were discussing before the damn phone rang. She sat down and at once stood up to fetch more drinks. If only she could remember.
           
Vera moved her straw across the bottom of the glass with her mouth, drawing up every drop of lemonade. 'Mrs Coombes said he's dangerous and we mustn't go near him.'
           
'Who?' asked Audrey.
           
'The tramp.'
           
Ah, yes. The tramp; the man who looked like a delegate for a rag merchants' conference and reeked like summer dustbins. But that didn't mean he was a threat. As she refilled the glasses, she disclosed the fact that certain men choose to live in the open and aspire to cut themselves off from society. Deep within she wished the person on the phone would also sever his or her attachment to civilisation.
           
Bess smoothed her urchin-cut blonde hair, crossed one bare leg over the other. 'I'll give him a thick ear if he comes near me.'
           
Vera burst into hysterical laughter.
           
Audrey saw why, and it was all she could do to keep her own face straight.
           
Bess looked indignant. 'I will,' she insisted, breaking off when she saw Vera pointing at her lap. Uncrossing her legs she went to stand in front of her and, with her hands placed on her hips, demanded, 'What's wrong with you, stupid?'
           
Vera hiccuped twice, then belched and blurted out, 'You've got a hole in your drawers.'
           
Audrey slapped Vera's back to stop her from choking.
           
Mortified, her bottom lip drooping, Bess plonked her grey school hat on her head and, without a word, marched out, leaving Vera to follow.
           
Harking back to her own schooldays, Audrey giggled. How well she remembered the navy-blue knickers, the tight elastic which scored red weals on her thighs, the split seams you could poke a finger through.

(to be continued)


12 comments:

Brian Miller said...

hehe nice...you have opened up a lot of characters...and some playfulness that def foreshadows what is to come...smiles.

Montanagirl said...

I'm into it already! You have such a talent for weaving myterious and interesting characters into a reading theme.

Valerie said...

More to come, Brian. They were needed to distribute 'suspicion'... grins.

Thank you, Mona. I hope your interest continues.

Ron said...

Great Chapter 1, Valerie!

And I love that you included a preface.

Your wonderful set up with the characters has left me eagerly anticipating what's to come.

I have learned so much about writing (plot structure and character development) through the various stories you've shared with us. Thank you!

Have a terrific Tuesday, dear lady!

X

Valerie said...

Ron, the preface was an afterthought, mainly to explain why there are so many characters. Thank you so much for your comment, i hope you still feel the same somewhere down the line... Smiles.

faye said...

a rainy day here and made a little
brighter by having something good to read... waiting on chapter 2.

Akelamalu said...

Lots going on in this. Great standard of writing as always Valerie. :)

Valerie said...

Thanks, Pearl. Yes, there is a lot going on... but it's really the lull before the storm.

Pat said...

I like all the interesting characters. This is a good read. I wonder who's making those calls?

DeniseinVA said...

That was such an enjoyable read Valerie, I'm totally invested in your characters already. I will look forward to the next installment. Thanks so much for stopping by and wishing our son a happy birthday :)

HermanTurnip said...

Ahhh....the good old village tramp. They're much more interesting than the village idiot. ;-)

Great setup. Was concerned about the length, but I quickly got sucked up into the story. Looking forward to the next chapter!

Valerie said...

Thanks, Herman. Sorry about the length but as it's a fully fledged novel the chapters vary in size. I'm leaving it on for two days in case someone wants to take longer to read. Would be glad of your opinion on this.