'Day off,' growled
S'all right for some, I suppose.'
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
Now he had no-one.
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.
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.
At he consumed three rashers of bacon and two fried eggs and washed the lot down with lager before tucking into the jam sponge
At 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.
'More like PC Plod,' retorted
as he ogled his bloodshot eyeballs at the landlady's low-cut red dress. 'You
look nice in that frock, Fred Smith Jane.'
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
'An Irishman purchased a new scarf, but after a couple of weeks he returned it to the store saying it was too tight.'
held his corpulent gut and roared with laughter. Peter Fleming
'Aye, that's what
keeps telling me.'
The men drank in silence, watching
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.
'You've got jokes on the brain.'
swigged his beer, belched, and turned a page. ' Ellen
spotted him going into Ardenrose
was terrified. She flitted up Gladys Stanhope Brian's
entry to steer clear of him.'
Gladys, to get away
from the tramp.'
The men sniggered. They all knew about
passion for Audrey.
Dropping the darts on the table,
took a swig of beer. 'I'd better go and explore,' he said.
Buttoning his jacket,
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
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.
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)