Considering the quantity of alcohol she'd consumed the night before
Audrey's head was remarkably
clear, although her perception of the evening was boxed up in an obscure corner
of her mind. She stood at the sink trying to recollect what subjects she and Gladys had covered. She knew that pre-alcohol they
discussed the calls and she thought a bus was mentioned, but she couldn't
recall anything else.
Donning rubber gloves, she pressed on with the washing up. Cups and plates and too many glasses. Was she drinking too much? For about a week now she seemed to be in possession of a corkscrew or the gadget for unscrewing bottles. 'Dear God, don't let me drink more than I should,' she said, aiming the short prayer at the ceiling.
She tilted the bowl to let the water run down the drain, rinsed the pots under a running tap and stacked them neatly in the rack. She seldom dried crocks with a towel. It was a custom she picked up from her mother, who believed the only thing achieved by using towels was the transference of germs from cup to mouth.
When the kitchen was tidy enough for a troop inspection, she went in the lounge to draw back the curtains. She frowned at the scattered apparel, puzzling over the extraordinary state of the room. As she collected the discarded clothing, she shamefully begged to be blessed with the knowledge that she'd strewn them after
departed and not before. 'Dear God,' she wailed to the ceiling, 'are you sure
I'm not drinking to excess?'
She stacked the floor cushions between the television and the fireplace and assigned yesterday's edition of the Mail to the brass log box on the hearth. Crossing the room to close the drinks cupboard, her jaw fell when she saw the empty sherry bottle. Who was it who’d drunk the most, her or
Just then the telephone rang. Somewhat jubilantly she went to answer it. Now that she'd lived through a call-free evening the incessant jingling didn’t worry her. Certain it would be
Gladys she was ready to accuse her
of swigging all the sherry, Audrey
lifted the receiver.
Matthew! Oh, Matthew.'
Though pleased to hear his voice, instantaneous reproaches came to mind: how long it had been since he rang, how thoughtless he was not to get in touch more often, how inconsiderate he was not to worry about things at home. Mean reprimands, selfishly administered to achieve a hundred-percent proof of his love, so unnecessary and so unlike her. She had never been possessive with
Matthew, so why the
sudden irrational onslaught? Was her brain turning? Was she becoming
unreasonable? Had He so changed her?
Aware that he didn't care for sloppy responses (being uncomplicated and practical)
went straight on to ask, 'Why aren't you at school?'
'I've redesigned my career, transferred to a school with superior prospects. Younger children, easier to control. And exceptional remuneration. It was that as much as anything that swayed the decision to change. It was a lucky break. A pal of mine recommended me, otherwise I don't think I'd have stood a chance.'
Not for the first time,
wished her parents could have witnessed their grandson's success.
'How are things?'
'Fine!' she said, and moved swiftly on. 'When are you coming to visit your poor old mother?' Directly she regretted the question, particularly the implication that she was old and poor, but more especially the niggling suggestion of wanting maternal control. Her heart dipped during the subsequent three second silence, and soared when
confirmed his intention to organise time off.
'I'll give you notice,' he promised. 'I won't land on the doorstep unannounced.'
Without doubt, she would be delighted if he did.
In the wake of
call, Audrey felt so rejuvenated she
literally skipped into the kitchen, her recent traumas forgotten. Unhooking her
overall from the peg in the pantry, she vetted it to ensure it was fit to wear,
uncharacteristically disregarding a negligible brown stain below the bottom
button. Throwing it over her arm she sailed to the front door. She was appalled
to find it unlocked. 'You stupid fool,' she scolded. 'That's what comes of
tippling.' Determining to be more careful in future, she firmly secured the
double lock and hurried off to work.
A puffed up paper bag bowled along the gutter. Smelling rain in the air,
Audrey scanned the livid
clouds, hoping that if a storm materialised it would be short lived. A downpour
in the ensuing forty-eight hours would turn the field behind the church into a
quagmire and the fete would be ruined.
Regardless of impending inclement weather the shopping centre bustled in a frenzy of preparation. Workmen on ladders fastened banners to trees and street lamps. Council gardeners decorated the frontages with flowers and rosettes.
, bent double in his shop
window, anchored a silver-painted board in a mass of purple silk. Onto this he
attached a life-size head and shoulders photograph of Tom
Clarissa Dingle-Jones Tom did a thumbs-up to Maureen who watched from the pavement, viewing the
display from every angle.
'It's attractive,' said
examined the picture. 'Purple is not Clarissa's
favourite colour. Apart from that, I rather approve of Tom's
'It's a great picture. It captures all her best features.'
Leaning lightly against Setton's window frame,
Audrey took in the gala-like atmosphere, riveted by
the essential hurly-burly that preceded the village fete, and all for one day. In
the doorway was discussing the fete
with a friend, the pair of them planning what to wear. Kim
The event was as popular now as it ever was, attracting people from miles around, everyone taking the opportunity to dress in fine clothes. Her mother used to sew for weeks making garments for the big day.
Audrey had marvelled at that since her own aptitude
with the needle was limited to replacing buttons.
Teenagers enjoyed the festivities. Free for the day from the shackles of home, young males demonstrated their skill at charming girls and demure misses set about catching boys of their own choosing, while the adults, remembering their own youthful chases, watched the antics with amusement.
There was such a generated furore around that
Audrey warmed to the idea of dressing up for the
occasion. Going unescorted made it more important to look her best. As she
continued her journey to the store, she planned a visit to Redhampton when she
finished the morning slog. She would buy a new dress, maybe two. After all, Matthew's homecoming was another reason to look
The bus entered its lane at the Redhampton terminus and the instant the doors opened
skipped off then turned to help an elderly gentleman to dismount. He descended
the two steps slowly, cursing the rubber-tipped walking stick, which hampered
his grip on the rail, and his inability to walk unaided. He hung onto her as he
thanked her for her kindness, then doffed his cap and shambled away.
'Hello, lady.' The bass voice came from behind.
She whirled round and saw
black face beaming from the driver's cab, his gleaming white teeth framed by
generous pink lips. Alan Benjamin
'What're you doing there?'
'Would you believe driving a bus?'
'Just done a change-over with
He indicated the other driver walking towards the ticket office.
'For a minute I thought I was going daft,' she said. 'I mean, I couldn't have paid the fare and not realised who I was paying it to.'
'At our garage the objectives are to confuse the public.'
'Haven't seen you in ages,'
remarked. 'I reckon Carol keeps you
'Right!' For obvious reasons
and Carol could not take the same days
off. Still, it was fun to jest.
Millards was the store which, so the advertisements asserted, stocked garments for women wanting elegance and quality, a store whose furnishings and luxurious carpet and soft classical music made shopping comfortable.
Audrey bought clothes
there whenever she could, ordinarily patronising the store at sale time. Today
was an exception.
She dumped her bag on an intricately carved high-backed couch and hunted the rails for a two-piece costume. She had a yen for blue and waded through a diversity of styles until she found four she liked. Signalling her intention to the sales assistant she went eagerly to the changing room to try them on. Lamentably they varied between too big, too tight, and too revealing. The disappointment swamped her earlier happiness, bringing a fear that if she couldn't buy anything in this store then it was unlikely she would find anything suitable anywhere else, so it was with some trepidation that she handed over the garments and proceeded to the exit.
Then she saw it, in an alcove, on a faceless dummy, the perfect ensemble in the richest shade of blue. She had almost missed it. Giving a squeal, she retraced her steps and buttonholed another assistant. 'Have you got that in my size?'
The young attendant scurried away.
Five minutes later
stepped out of her pleated skirt and into one which extended to the ankles, her
bare legs sliding into folds of silk chiffon. Already enamoured with the
two-piece, she slipped the top over her head and smoothed it over her waist. It
was embroidered with blue roses and fitted as if assembled specially for her.
She giggled at the transformation, wiggled her hips like a model on a catwalk.
That'd be the day, she thought, as she carefully removed the blue creation and
climbed into her own workday number.
At the desk, while one assistant wrapped the outfit, another took care of the credit card transaction, the only means she had to pay. It was a ludicrous price and she didn't care. It wasn't as though she was routinely imprudent, but she was entitled to a smattering of extravagance now and again.
While she waited, she studied the lunchtime shoppers swarming by the window, crushed together like sardines on the narrow pavement, some having to wait to get past a solitary red Escort, with its hood folded back, carelessly parked on a yellow line in a road rife with traffic wardens. A car similar to
Brian's. If it was his,
then he deserved a ticket, but she knew she was mistaken for she had seen him
outside the station talking to Sergeant prior to her taking the bus. Beresford
When her salad arrived, she planned the next move now that she'd spent a small fortune on a single outfit. Could she afford shoes? Did she need them? The new get-up deserved better than to be accompanied by tatty sandals, but she dare not be frivolous twice in one day. There were, of course, those blue suede pumps still wrapped in tissue, worn once at a wedding. They might match. In fact, the longer she thought about it, the more she thought they would. She had a good eye for colour and, as
often said, she could carry colour in her mind. She ate quickly, determined now
to get home and try the pumps.
In her growing excitement and her anxiety to get the next Fieldmoor bus, she did not notice the shadow fall across the table.
'Can we join you?'
Shaping a polite smile,
said, 'Of course.'
'It's garlic, I imagine,' replied
sniffing the atmosphere.
leaned across and turned the pages to those marked with a Union Jack, but he
needn't have bothered for the moment Carrie
spotted the English text she remembered her dislike of foreign food. He
recommended they share a pizza. Not seeing anything else she could eat without,
as she put it, being violently sick, Carrie
agreed. Fred placed the order and the
waiter withdrew in a huff, plainly condemning the idea of one of their
masterpieces being treated as a communal dish.
Thinking it impolite to leave the table so soon after they'd arrived,
Audrey sat on, privately
bemoaning the possibility of missing the bus and having to wait an hour for
another. So, while Carrie indulged in
her personal pique, Audrey watched Fred prop an ungainly parcel on the vacant seat,
noting the small hands and stubby nail-bitten fingers, his bloodshot eyeballs,
and hair slick with grease, neither dowdy nor smart in a grey suit and maroon
tie. She experienced a flicker of disquiet as she remembered Brian’s account of the crude way Fred talked about women when he was in the pub.
Retaining the bad-smell-under-the-nose expression,
Carrie refrained from speaking while the waiter
deposited their food, but, the second he departed, she groused, 'I don't like
'You must be very proud,'
remarked to Carrie, trying to ignore
the slight pressure of Fred's finger.
Removing her hand and pretending to search for a tissue, and annoyed by
Carrie's strange attitude, Audrey addressed herself to Fred.
'My Matty would not study. He refused
to apply himself to lessons no matter how often we praised or chastised him.'
the word under her breath.
Carrie and Audrey peered out.
Inasmuch as it would be churlish to decline,
Audrey accepted Brian's
proposition to run her home. She arranged herself in the passenger seat,
adjusting her skirt to cover her knees. As she connected the inertia seat-belt
she saw Carrie in the restaurant
window, grinning and looking positively triumphant, no doubt considering she'd
come across a juicy titbit which she could and would pass on.
The aromas in the car were familiar: leather seats, stale cigars in the ashtray, and
maleness. She crossed her legs and counted the years that had elapsed since she
last scrutinised his irregular profile as he focused on the road … the hairline
that curved seductively around the ear, the ear she used to nibble, and the
nest of freckles on his neck she used to kiss. Pulling herself together, she
turned to gaze dead ahead.
'How are you?' she asked.
'Middling. And you?'
'Okay.' Risking a lateral peep, she saw an impish smile loitering on his mouth.
'Never seen anyone so handsome, eh?'
She blushed and edged nearer to the door.
'Red becomes you,'
said, gauging the traffic prior to executing a right turn. The manoeuvre
completed he returned his concentration to Audrey.
Assuming her reaction to his sarcastic comment was one of resentment, his voice
was challenging when he spoke. 'For heaven's sake, Audrey,
can't we travel in the same vehicle and talk like mature people?'
veered to a stop at the side of the road, yanked on the brake. He reached out
and cupped her chin, turning her head towards him. 'Am I too close now?'
'I miss you, Aud.'
voice was husky.
She knocked his hand away. 'Didn't you hear me? I said, don't.'
switched on the ignition, shot the gear lever into first, pitching Audrey forward so sharply she slammed her hand on the
dash to save herself. She supposed it served her right for being stupid enough
to get in the car in the first place.
The Ford screeched to a halt and
bounded out. He vaulted the gate, raced up the path and angrily twisted the key
in the lock. Bursting in the house he went immediately to fetch the .
The first shot was chased by a second. Hugging the square bottle to his chest,
he sank in an armchair to savour the warming liquor. He craved the blind bliss
of intoxication as never before, deeming himself all classes of fool for
unveiling his emotion the way he did and for collapsing in a sentimental mound
because he was rebuffed. Again! He splashed extra whisky in the glass. At that
moment someone pressed the bell. 'Get lost, whoever you are,' but further
persistent rings persuaded him to investigate. Jack Daniels
He threw open the door. 'Where's your key?' he snapped when he saw
Gladys fidgeting with her
'Never mind that. What do you want?'
'I came to tell you about
'She doesn't want the police involved, but my conscience won't allow me to rest. Anyway it's not fair to let her suffer alone.'
Rubbing his brow,
endeavoured to interpret what she was talking about.
As he absorbed her words, he lost sight of the muddled afternoon; undergoing feelings of anger, anxiety, and loathing, until eventually he paced the carpet and acknowledged the murderous designs bubbling inside.
'So when's he due?' enquired Bess, when
concluded her recital about Matthew's
'Are you okay?'
said, noting her heavy eyes and pale complexion.
'She's had words with her folks,' intoned Bess, and cringed beneath
Vera's deadly gaze.
Deciding that diversion was more expedient than a rebuke,
Audrey grabbed a tin of meat and a jar of mustard.
'Who's for corned beef sarnies?'
'Me!' shrieked Bess.
'Then come and help. Bess, you butter.
get the plates.'
Vera unfolded her
body from the chair and drifted to the dresser, Bess excavated the butter from
the pot and complained that it was too hard. 'You should've got it out sooner,'
she said to Audrey.
'Why were they rowing?'
'That's enough, Bess,' scolded
'You're very rude.'
Deaf to the admonition,
continued, 'Dad wanted sex. She didn't.'
Patently shocked by the disclosure, Bess gaped. 'That's not right,' she cried. 'He's entitled to have sex when he feels like it. It's not up to your Mum to decide.'
In the event,
supplied the answer. Audrey heard her
say, 'God, you're behind the times. Haven't you heard about women's lib? Women
don't do it nowadays if they don't want to.'
confided in . Several times he sat at
his desk, then rose again, until Chris
planted his Biro on the blotter and professed he was making him edgy.
Throughout Brian's narrative, Chris fixed a stare on his black travel alarm clock.
He twiddled his ear lobe with one hand and drummed the fingernails of the other
on the desk.
'What can I do?'
'Just keep your ears pinned.'
ambled to the filter machine and sorted a clean mug from the assortment on the
tray. 'Want one?'
'Did she unearth the culprit?'
'Nah. She wasn't bothered, so long as he didn't pester her.'
Deciding to heed advice and put his ears on alert,
Brian left Chris
to his reports and cleared out of the station.
The Broadway was the obvious venue to catch gossip and detect who was doing what. Apart from that, where else could
assuage his eagerness for a drink now that his own stock was depleted?
'I've been making phone calls all bloody day. My throat's parched with it. Get a spurt on,
On the other side of
was talking about the fete,
conceding that as local doctor he was obliged to attend the field day but
saying he preferred quieter functions, specifying the Bridge Club's annual
dinner and Sunday tea in the cricket pavilion. 'I shall pray for a cooler day
and a happy liaison with the first-aid team. What about you, Len Bonser Sam? Will you be there?'
install the trestles and generally keep an eye on things.'
'Wouldn't you like to know,' parried
thumping him in retaliation.
'Make mine a pint,
said Paddy, coming to a standstill behind Ron.
A wide smile lit Paddy's features. 'It's great. I've never been so well off.' He raised his glass and drank steadily.
Paddy licked froth from his mouth. 'Blimey, yes. She was in yesterday. Decked in white. What a picture! I told our
about her. She didn't seem interested. Me, I was too bloody interested.'
with his fist and promptly switched to the subject of the Vicar's duty
schedule. 'He's put me down for the hoopla again.'
'Last year was a hoot,' said
'Might have been for you. I was stuck with the bloody hoopla.'
The men continued to chat, making boorish observations about the glamorous
Clarissa and women in
general. Brian found it offensive.
Furthermore, he deplored the smutty submissions he had so entertainingly
contributed over the years.
Blocking the risible laughter, he immersed himself in
Audrey's plight. Dare he visit? Even as he asked the
question he recognised the absurdity of it. In view of the disastrous episode
in the car, he didn't think she would greet him with enthusiasm. She was liable
to snub him totally. Moreover, according to Gladys,
she didn't want him informed and, despite the fact that he wasn't named, Police
The more thought he gave to the debased creature who was victimising her, the angrier he became. His fury roared inside like a caged lion. He started for the door, aiming to hotfoot it to
Arbor Road, but stopped as soon as he got
outside. What was the point of banging on Audrey's
door at this time of night. Not only would she be annoyed, she'd be scared.
Still pondering the problem of confronting her, he walked home, squeezing his shoulder-blades to unfetter the strings of tension. Tiredness prevented him forming a sensible resolution. Under the circumstances, perhaps it would be better to leave it until tomorrow.
slumped on the sofa, relief overtaking the encroaching suspense. Her neck
stopped twitching and the throbbing in her temples subsided. She enjoyed a
sense of complacency as if she had achieved a major ambition. Coming out on
top, so to speak. However, her euphoria plummeted when He called at .
She heeded the rings until her nerves were skinned, then seized the receiver and yelled, 'Go away.'
His maniacal laugh clamoured down the wires. 'I'm staying right here, bitch.'
Tiny hairs quivered on her neck. 'What do you want?'
'I want to suck your big breasts.'
Thrilling vibrations stirred along her spine, nervous flutterings hurtled in her stomach. A sob caught in her throat as she held the phone away from her ear.
'Don't hang up!' he bellowed as if wise to the movement.
She took it as a directive to return the receiver to its legitimate position on her ear.
'Now,' he said, protracting the word. 'Turn 'em loose.'
His provocative tone continued to lure her to a bedrock of aching groins. She sobbed as she promised to give him her full attention, to execute his wishes at all times. At length, he let her go, a final instruction firmly imprinted on her brain.
Naked, she launched herself on the bed. Flushed with desire, she pinched and fondled and stroked with intensifying speed, sweating and writhing, until she screamed with the joy of orgasm.
(to be continued)