Friends

28 August 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER TWO

Brian Porter lay on the couch supported by plump cushions, all set for a much needed nap until he heard Gladys let herself in the front door. He groaned. He had forgotten it was Friday. He was hot and tired and not in the mood to cope with a vacuum cleaner motoring round at breakneck speed.
           
Gladys Stanhope breezed in, rolling her sleeves ready for action. 'Morning,' she trilled. 'Didn't expect to find you here.'
           
'Day off,' growled Brian.
           
'S'all right for some, I suppose.'
           
Brian tugged a cushion to support his neck. 'If you'd worked most of the night, you'd want the day off.'
           
Gone were the days when he could work nights and overtime without feeling fatigued, though he supposed at fifty-three he was entitled to slow down a pace. Maggie used to tell him he would never pass forty. That was when they were younger and sexually active, a long time before he changed his allegiance and found a lover.
           
The vacuum cleaner sped into the room, driven by the woman he simultaneously treasured and was irritated by. This was one of those times when her presence irritated but he was honest enough to admit it was due to being tired. When the machine advanced towards him, he propelled himself from the couch. Carping that he couldn't call the house his own, he collected his cigarettes and the Daily News and strode outside.
           
He collapsed in the rickety deck chair with such a bump several sparrows flew from the apple tree, insulting him as they went. 'Same to you,' he muttered as he settled back to watch a silver plane dawdling across the blue sky. Bound for an exotic location, he wouldn't wonder. He transferred his gaze to the lilac bush where Blackie was crouched ready to stalk some poor creature, a bird, or maybe a mouse. The old cat was too slow to catch anything but he persevered. A bit like me, he thought as he lit a cigarette and threw the dead match amongst the flowers. He eyed the curling smoke and yawned. His heart cried: Where are you, Audrey?
           
Tiredness invariably made him hanker to be wrapped in her comforting arms like in the old days when she cosseted him, pressing his head to her breasts and whispering tenderly until he fell sleep. A trickle of self-condemnation washed over him and he cursed the selfishness that had finally destroyed his happiness, eight miserable years ago. If he'd been truthful with Maggie, he might now be married to Audrey. Ironically, it was after Audrey ended the affair that Maggie discovered his secret and divorced him.
           
It was an amicable parting, if that's a fitting description for the break-up of a marriage. The disagreements relating to who should have what in the way of material things were nothing compared to the rumpuses whenever he worked late, or said he did. In the end he and Maggie parted on cordial terms. They'd had enough of wrangling over minuscule matters and treated the separation as a blessed release.
           
Now he had no-one.
           
Brian expelled a cloud of smoke and hacked like a bronchitic, a state of health Audrey predicted he'd acquire when old age drew near. Old age was not a prospect he anticipated with any real pleasure, not on his own. He stubbed the cigarette in the grass and covered his face with the paper. Soon his heavy eyelids drooped, the bees droning in the lilac lulling him into forgetfulness.
           
He dreamed he was on a traffic island, wielding his arms at hurtling cars. A gang of workmen arrived to install a set of traffic lights, but they got stuck in the widespread chaos and he couldn't get them through. In the end they got fed up waiting and ditched their van. Ignoring his appeals to hang fire, they trudged away. As they disappeared from view, Brian felt a tug on his arm.

Gladys said, 'I've brought your lunch.'
           
He blinked. It took a while to realise that Gladys was not part of the dream, that she really had brought his lunch. He focused on the small table beside him, feasting his eyes on a welcoming spread of salad and Camembert and coffee. Brilliant, he thought, his earlier antipathy having entirely disappeared. The old dear knows exactly how to take care of a man.

*******

Brian spent the afternoon reading and doing laundry, in that order. Years ago Gladys had stipulated that he should scrub his own shirts and socks, alleging that doing his bedclothes was enough for any poorly paid cleaning woman. He had disputed the reference to insufficient remuneration. With a weekly wage twice that of other cleaners in Fieldmoor, not to mention the various perks, she was more than compensated for her efforts. When he challenged her claim, she assured him she was joking; when he threatened to slice her pay in half if she didn't behave, she warned him that she would suspend his guts from the window, appropriately labelled Skinflint. That was the year Maggie went. The ensuing years saw role reversal, the boss and charlady alliance converting to one of hectoring tyrant and reluctant slave, with him portraying the latter. He adored her, when his mood allowed.
           
At five o'clock he consumed three rashers of bacon and two fried eggs and washed the lot down with lager before tucking into the jam sponge Gladys had baked.
           
At six o'clock he went out, purchasing the evening paper at Setton's prior to strolling along the river to the Broadway pub, perusing the headlines as he went.
           
*******

Ron Pearce fingered the knot in his paisley tie. 'Here he comes,' he cried. 'Constable Porter in the flesh.'
           
'More like PC Plod,' retorted Fred Smith as he ogled his bloodshot eyeballs at the landlady's low-cut red dress. 'You look nice in that frock, Jane.'
           
Jane simpered. 'Why thank you, Fred.'
           
Her husband took no notice of the exchange, simply folded back his cuffs and poured the drinks. 'Heard a good joke today,' he said.
           
A wicked moan travelled the length of the bar.
           
'You wanna hear it?'
           
'Go on,' said Fred.
           
'An Irishman purchased a new scarf, but after a couple of weeks he returned it to the store saying it was too tight.' Peter Fleming held his corpulent gut and roared with laughter.
           
Fred Smith kept his face straight. 'You're incredible.'
           
'Aye, that's what Jane keeps telling me.'
           
The men drank in silence, watching Jane as she bent to top up the peanut bowls. Fred's right, thought Brian. She does look a picture in that dress. It's perfect for waiting on lechers.
           
Brian gave Fred a game of darts, while Bill Mountford halved his attention between them and his newspaper. 'Incidentally,' Bill said. 'Did anyone hear about the tramp in our midst?'
           
Peter squinted. 'Is this a joke?'
           
'You've got jokes on the brain.' Bill swigged his beer, belched, and turned a page. 'Ellen spotted him going into Ardenrose Road. Old Gladys Stanhope was terrified. She flitted up Brian's entry to steer clear of him.'
           
Brian held his throw. 'Who ran up my entry?'
           
'Gladys, to get away from the tramp.'
           
Brian's dart missed the board. 'What tramp?' he enquired, bending to retrieve it.
           
Bill Mountford sighed. 'The one walking the lanes. Last seen heading towards Arbor Road, probably en route to Audrey's residence. He's likely found out about her weakness for solitary males.'
           
The men sniggered. They all knew about Brian's passion for Audrey.
           
Dropping the darts on the table, Brian took a swig of beer. 'I'd better go and explore,' he said.
           
Fred was uptight. 'What about the game?'
           
Buttoning his jacket, Brian stepped towards the door. 'If you ask Bill nicely, he might take my place.'
           
*******

Once outside, he hesitated. Why on earth was he forsaking a decent pint and a game of
arrows just because Audrey's name was mentioned. He leaned against the wall and pulled his smokes from his pocket, debating whether or not to retreat to his beery refuge. The constitutional pull of drink and darts almost won. If it wasn't for a niggling conviction that tramps were perfidious, he would surrender to man's prerogative to indulge in occasional dipsomania and go inside. Lighting up and inhaling deeply, he supposed it wouldn't do any harm to take a gander; by and large it was preferable to be on the safe side, and he'd never forgive himself if he ignored the matter and something went wrong.

*******

Brian promenaded up one side of Arbor road and down the other, keeping his distance from the glare of street lights. It was so intensely quiet the smack of his boots on the pavement seemed to echo. There were no nocturnal sounds, no wailing cats, not even a blaring radio.
           
At number forty-one, at the precise moment he stopped to survey the house, Audrey swished the curtains across the bedroom window. The courage which brought him suddenly ebbed away. He reeled to face the fields, not daring to dwell on the intimacies experienced in that room.

(to be continued)

11 comments:

Lea said...

I've enjoyed reading this chapter of your story :-)

Brian Miller said...

smiles..i love your characters in this...they are broken and familiar....smiles.

Montanagirl said...

You paint your characters so well!

DeniseinVA said...

Another good read Valerie. Looking forward to the next with anticipation.

Ron said...

I always enjoy how share detailed glimpses into your character's past because it gives us a clear understanding of the present.

Love the scene with the men in the Broadway Pub!

Looking forward to your next chapter, Valerie!

Have a terrific Tuesday, dear lady!

X

Valerie said...

Thanks, Lea. I can't remember if you read the first chapter.

Mona, I tried to describe the characters to bring them to life.

Debuse, I like your choice of words... anticipation is what you should have, right enough.... grins.

Brian, oh yes, they're familiar at this stage .. to you, that is.

Ron, yes, I had to refer back to make the picture clear. Thanks for reading.

HermanTurnip said...

Call me crazy, but it felt as if this chapter had a better, more organic flow to it when compared to last week's. Both are good, but this one read so much better. Very strange...

Regardless, beautiful work! Can't wait for the next chapter!

faye said...

you do bring the characters to life..
another of your pleasurable reads...
on to chapter 3...

Valerie said...

Hi Herman. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate your observation. I've just re-read Chapter 1 and agree with you. I think I should have rewritten it, taken things at a slower pace. I was a raw beginner when I wrote it, not that that's any excuse...lol.

Ranita Sinha said...

Waiting for the next episode..this one is a wonderful read..:)

Valerie said...

Thank you, Ranita.