The clock's failure to sound its alarm was a puzzle to
Audrey until she remembered it was her turn to have
Saturday off. Clasping her hands behind her head she sank against the pillows
and listened to the tireless twittering of tiny birds until the pandemonium
began to grate and her back ached from lying too long in one position.
Wriggling free of the crumpled duvet, which was tacky with her perspiration, she wondered why she didn't change it for a lighter one. She couldn't count the times this week she had thrown it off, then hugged it to her when she cooled. For the millionth time, she deliberated the possibility of reverting to sheets, not altogether sure why she still kept one on the bed since it was
Brian who preferred a
quilt, not her. She resolved that sometime soon she would go to town and
purchase those luxurious silk sheets she'd seen advertised in the local rag.
Maybe next weekend.
After showering, she unscrewed a fresh pot of moisturising cream and began to massage her skin, paying particular attention to her face. She had scarcely any wrinkles as a result of routine cleansing and creaming, only the naevus on her cheek and she couldn't do anything with that. During the self-conscious adolescent years she moisturised her skin with meticulous care believing it would help eliminate the unsightly mark. She hated it and blamed it for everything that went wrong in her life. She had learned to hide it with her hair and became expert with cosmetics. Pressing two fingers on the blemish, she remembered how long it had taken
to stop pretending it was invisible.
Dressed in a cool blue dress, sandals on her feet, she sailed downstairs to the kitchen. She opened the window wide to let in the warm air and was tempted to close it again for it heightened the noise of next door's quarrel. Going by the emanating bumps and crashes, it seemed as if the bailiffs were in.
She tossed puffed wheat and a handful of muesli into a bowl and added cold milk, then leaned against the cupboard to eat instead of sitting down. Liz Tomlin was screaming something that sounded like slaughter, though it could have been a reference to her daughter, but it was Gerald's enraged ‘Drop dead’ and the ensuing astonishing silence that caused Audrey to choke on a mouthful of muesli. She ladled milk into her mouth to wash it down.
Filling the bowl with soapy water,
put her glass and bowl to soak. She returned the milk to the fridge and the
cereal boxes to the wall cupboard. Arm raised like the Liberty statue, she suddenly
stopped, holding the pose. Feeling oddly perturbed she recalled her uneasiness the night before, the
uncomfortable impression that someone was watching.
Keeping in the shade of the horse chestnuts,
Brian hurried up the gravel drive to Romane House,
the rambling domain of Norman and .
He followed the narrow path leading to the tradesmen's entrance and rapped the
door, ducking in without waiting for a response. The sunny kitchen smelled of
dough and the sweet fragrance of confection. He faced a sheer stockpile of
food: one long work counter was home to wire racks filled with iced cakes,
film-covered platters of sandwiches covered another, and bowls of green salad
and colourful trifles swamped the giant scrubbed table. Maureen Dingle-Jones
He had come because of a message claiming that Doris Pinches, the cook, was unconscious. No more than that and no details. By the very nature of the word unconscious, he expected an atmosphere of panic instead of the sleepy ambience around him.
He asked where
'What happened to her?'
'We're not sure. She isn't awake yet. There's an almighty gash on her head. She'll have concussion at least.'
plunged her nimble hands into a huge crock mixing bowl. 'I'll carry on, if you
don't mind. I'm trying to finish this for the old girl. There's tea in the pot
if you want some.'
'I thought you were opposed to working weekends.'
'Where was she?'
asked, as patiently as he knew how.
Giving him a hard look,
continued. 'I tried the kitchen garden, thinking she might have stopped to pick
a lettuce, then I went to the old pig sty where the dustbins are. I don't like
going that way 'cause the cobbles hurt my calluses. Give me gyp, they do.' She
paused to lick an atom of icing from the corner of her mouth. ' was lying
on the path.' Doris
At that moment
entered the room, impeccably dressed in lilac and grey. She extended a
gracious, ring-free hand. 'Good day, Maureen Dingle-Jones Brian.'
How's the patient?'
'Do you know what happened?'
'It appears she tripped. We reckon she struck her head on the wall near the refuse containers. I am so sorry to have bothered you. A strange man lurked, you see ... and I thought ... well, one never knows, does one? She might have been attacked. One hears such stories.'
Suppressing a smile,
stated that he would call and see
in case there was something he could do. Doris
. You are
headed for Doyle Square,
otherwise known as the Green. She stopped at the six wide steps leading to the
library entrance where , wearing a simple though
frayed button-through dress, counted coppers from one hand to the other. Eileen
The Finnigan finances were meagre with only unemployment benefit and their daughter's wages to rely on.
couldn't understand why Eileen wasn't
better able to organise her husband's spending now that he was home. She must
have had plenty of practice in household management while he was in gaol.
Tipping the money into a plastic purse,
made a great show of separating coppers from silver.
'Does he read books?'
pictured her own extensive collection.
'He reads anything when he's not on the phone to his damned cronies. He likes books, but they're pricey. We can't afford luxuries.'
'You could borrow some from the library.'
Pressing her hands together in praying attitude,
Eileen proclaimed, 'You have to be a member.'
A fever of impatience pierced
like a charred splinter, nevertheless she endeavoured to be charitable and
offered to help her join.
With the business in the library settled,
Eileen set off home and Audrey
strolled to the handful of shops. There were seven, not counting the post
office or the bakery-cum-cafe. Every weekday and occasional Sundays the wooden
benches located outside the stores were occupied by local women observing and
discussing the village doings and the affairs of people who live there.
'Too nice,' complained
'I'm absolutely sweating in this jumper.'
Shielding her eyes,
criticised her friend for wearing sweaters at this time of year and advised her
to take it off.
'Don't be impudent.'
said, mopping her brow with a handkerchief.
'Have you seen the tramp yet?'
'God, it's getting hotter,' complained
undoing the two top buttons of her blouse.
From the depths of a canvas bag
extracted a thick magazine and brandished it to and fro.
Holding her paper-wrapped purchase,
left Ellen Mountford 's greengrocery shop and lumbered
over to the benches. Everybody shuffled along to make space, wrinkling their
noses at the potent smell of fish. Stan Barnett Ellen
wedged two carrier bags between her plump legs. From one she plucked a shiny
green apple, scrutinised it for defects, and polished it on her skirt. 'Anyone
want one of these?'
A buzz of refusal travelled the row.
Looking from right to left along the line-up,
Ellen declared, 'I've decided in future not to go out
at night without Bill or our Colin.' Her statement delivered, she gnashed her
teeth into the apple.
as she contemplated her feet.
'I never thought of that,'
cried, waving the rolled magazine. 'I'd better take our Steven
with me when Fred goes pubbing.'
ordered Carrie, flicking through the
pages of her book. 'It's no laughing matter.'
Even though she felt her pique returning,
Audrey sat quiet. It was not her place, she told herself,
to update their brains.
Ellen Mountford tossed the apple core into a litter bin marked Paper Only and started to complain about the extra time Bill was putting in at the golf ball factory. 'He's so tired when he comes home. I wish he'd make his calls during office hours. I did suggest it once but, according to him, it's impossible to pin sales reps to specific times.'
The ensuing cruel laughter was too much for
Audrey. She threw herself off the bench and stalked
off without a word, leaving the band of hardhearted women to steep in their own
They charged in as though pursued by rampaging tigers.
Audrey flinched as the gate slammed behind them. She
opened her mouth to issue a rebuke, but closed it again. What was the point
when Bess was obviously dying to impart some crucial information, hopping from
one foot to the other, plainly unable to contain herself.
with the window cleaner.'
Looking first at
then at Audrey, Bess began again,
'They were walking …'
'Get on with it,' broke in
'Why don't you just say he was holding her arm?'
Stripping off the clay-packed gloves,
commented that it was a gentlemanly thing to do.
'They don't usually stroke people,'
retorted. ' was stroking Mr Wilding 's
arm.' Mrs Stanhope
Kicking the rubber galoshes into a corner of the tool shed,
Audrey ran barefoot into the house to respond to the
shrill ringing of the telephone, determined that at the first opportunity she
would chase up the matter of the stroked arm. Grinning in anticipation of
teasing Gladys, she snatched up the
receiver. 'Hello,' she said.
Unable to believe it was yet another mute call, she kept the receiver pressed to her ear until the pressure hurt, then furiously wrenched it away. What wouldn't she do to identify this kook with a fetish for making dumb phone calls.
returned to the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink, drying them by
mistake on a cotton blouse waiting to be ironed. She slung it on the drainer,
disgusted by her inability to cope when bothered by someone with a cracked
personality, who only had to pick up the phone and dial her number to send her
into a paroxysm of heedless preoccupation. Seizing a knife, she hacked into a
slab of fruit cake as a butcher might to a piece of meat and vowed to swing for
the wretch if ever she discovered who it was. The whole thing was getting on
'Are you all right?' queried Bess, from her seat at the table, her plimsolled feet wrapped round the chair legs in total disregard for their (so far) unmarked and immaculately polished condition.
Bess persisted. 'It's not like you to be so quiet.'
Both girls giggled.
Firmly bent on getting back to normal,
dragged her chair to face them. She perched on the edge. 'Right, you two. I
want to know every detail about and Mrs
Come on, spill!' Mr Wilding
answered the phone, Audrey plunged
into sportive inquisition. 'What's this I hear about you and Sam?'
'I heard he was stroking you.'
'Who told you that?'
'The breeze told me. Is he after your money?'
'That'll be the day when I've got money.'
The idea of
having a decent night out filled Audrey
with pleasure. She gave everything to the community and friends and took
nothing in return. Reliable, trustworthy, and well respected, Gladys was regarded by most as Fieldmoor's linchpin
and she deserved a spot of long awaited pampering.
'There's someone at the door, Aud. I'd best go. I'll speak to you tomorrow.'
Straddling a high stool,
nursed a measure of whisky. He glimpsed Norman Dingle-Jones through the bar
mirror and turned to greet him, taking in the classic slacks and sweatshirt
trimmed with suede.
'I am. I felt in need of some congenial company.'
assigned Norman Jane a meaningful glance.
In response, she pouted her glossy red lips which reminded Brian of his mother, who was young in face and body until the day she died, to the delight of his waggish father.
As fast as
polished the drinking glasses Jane put
them away, straining to deposit them on the glass shelf. Peering over her arm,
she asked, 'How is she now?'
maintained she would feel
like a millionaire in a couple of days.' Leonard
'No, thank you,
Actually I must go. Maureen's bound to
have a catalogue of tasks ready for me to tackle.'
came in, pushing the
door wide when he noticed Bill
Mountford . Norman
as he rushed past him. Norman
'Hello, and goodbye,'
called, and advanced towards the bar. He placed his brief case on a stool.
'Finished at work. I've got a helluva lot to do at home, though. I'd stay at the office to finish if
didn't get so miffed.' Bill ordered a
gin and tonic and unfolded his evening paper.
If he has so much to do, mused
why does he come in here?
That was a surprise. Arnold Trevors hadn't mentioned anything last time
Brian saw him. 'I might pop
over and take a gander,' he said, feeling it might be a good idea to see the
body who was causing him so much unrest. He checked the time by his watch. If
he left at once he'd be bound to catch securing the gates which
would save knocking him up and plying him with questions. Arnold
'I hope he's not going to be a nuisance,'
Jane said. ' Susan's
been under the weather lately.'
Brian strode up the high hedged lane leading to the Trevors' farm, wondering how long it would be before the council thought fit to install street lights. Didn't they realise that country areas needed light the same as the village? He was considering switching on his rubber torch when the window of a nearby farmhouse was suddenly illuminated, splashes of light being generated by two or three kids swinging on curtains like monkeys in a glass cage. He sent wordless thanks to the spirited children for the intermittent light enabled him to see that Arnold's cross-barred gates were padlocked top and bottom, which meant he had completed his final inspection.
It was graveyard quiet.
shuddered and ground his teeth as a bat of wings sounded overhead. Hugging the
hedgerow, he circled the perimeter until he reached the gate leading to the
Sensing movement ahead, he stood stock still and waited. Out of the gloom a man's silhouette emerged, levelling what appeared to be a rifle.
Brian melted into the hedge, watched
the figure slowly turn, holding the firearm steady. He groped for his torch.
The man was almost facing him. Brian
stole away from the hedge and waited until the man's face was in view. A twig
snapped beneath his foot, and a voice cried, 'Who's there.'
Flashing his torch,
directing it straight at the eyes.
'What the…?' cried Arnold Trevors.
'Did you think I was the down-and-out?'
'Nah! He's tucked him up for the night in the far field. I didn't reckon to see you hereabouts.' He opened the gate to override a timed floodlight, the sudden harsh glare exposed a scamper of mice near the sheds, caught out while stealing grain.
The farmer laughed. 'That's better. I can see you now. What were you up to?'
'Patrolling, and checking.'
'You're a bloody idiot waving that thing about. I've a good mind to put you on a charge.'
'I wanted to scare a prowler.'
'What would you have done if I'd lashed out, squeezed the bloody trigger?'
'So, nearly pulling the trigger was a joke, yes?'
'I'll watch it.'
'Fuss over nothing. Indigestion, that's all. She's okay now.'
In the process of opening the gate,
yawned. It had been a hectic day and he needed his bed. He stumbled against the
'You need tucking in. Want to borrow a tarpaulin?'
wagged a stocky finger. 'Your Arnold Audrey
ought to make sure you get an early night now and again.'
Good Lord, thought
He assumes we're still together. He had forgotten that Arnie and Susan lived in a cocoon, choosing to keep their own
affairs private. He found it incredible that two people should spend their
lives not knowing what went on in the outside world. If that's the way they
wanted it okay, but to be years out of date was scandalous.
He walked off into the night, plodding cautiously along the dark lane. Fingering the torch in one pocket and his cigarettes in the other, he pondered about his own future. It wasn't so bad a married couple forsaking the world, but imagine how devastating that kind of life would be on one's own. He would have to make sure he resisted the lure of seclusion when eventually he stopped work.
(to be continued)