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. village
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.
The table rocked on its spindly legs when
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. Audrey Buckham
She adored music and consistently at breakfast she set the volume high. Except when
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
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
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
was conferring with the window cleaner.
As Michael Spencer 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
'Ah. In that case, I wonder if you would both come to the vicarage for sandwiches and tea. Say ?'
'You can, my dear. Mind, I will be extremely disappointed if you cannot make it.'
was about to say
Wilding 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
The neighbour's dark head appeared above the privet which separated the two gardens. 'She's here,' said
'Come on round.' Diane Pearce
Stepping through the connecting gate, ducking to avoid sinuous lengths of honeysuckle,
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.
'Whatever are you doing?' asked
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.
Sam told me when he
asked for a date.'
Enlightenment dawned. The reason for
earlier bemused expression became clear to Sam Wilding 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.
monosyllabic astonishment was quite hilarious.
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.'
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
'Now sit down and drink this tea while it's hot.'
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,
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.
,' called Bess as she
Buckham Vera through the gate.
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.
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.'
The ringing telephone prevented
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.
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
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.'
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?'
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,
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
(to be continued)