A new day had begun. Trees had taken shape and the garden had materialised from the shadows of dawn. From the bedroom window,
setting off to work, gently closing the gate to avoid disturbing his slumbering
family. He waved to the milkman on his float. Two early birds and not a worm in
sight. But she knew there was one, hiding in a secret hole, waiting for the
opportunity to ring. Gerald Tomlin
She surveyed the awakening village, wondering which house the encroaching moron belonged to, which family might be protecting him with unwitting silence. Would they still be keen to shield him if they knew? Would she defend
Matthew if he was tainted
that way? Much as she loved him, could she live with herself if he resorted to
inducing fear and dismay into some unsuspecting female, and she, his mother,
said nothing? Though she might have done had she not been on the receiving end.
She knew better now than to safeguard the identity of transgressors, even one who had committed such a minor offence as the one directed at her. Once she discovered who it was she would expose him to the world, shout it from the roof-tops if necessary.
A semblance of her normal fortitude had striven to be recognised and had momentarily won, but the restoration of common sense was short-lived and a fermenting fury recurred. Thrusting her feet into navy blue mules she stormed down the stairs, coming to a halt by the phone. 'You wait!' she raged. 'Next time I'll give you such a bloody mouthful.'
Perched on the bench outside the empty shop,
Audrey awaited the first customer. She was on her
own, it being Carol's turn for a
lie-in. She persevered with the bewildering struggle to tag her caller's voice
and her head reeled with the constant recall of his baleful laugh and apparent speech
inflection, every attempt at recognition driving the modulation further and
further out of reach. He was probably laughing himself silly over the quandary
he had imposed upon her. Whoever he was, he was fixed on being more than a mere
nuisance. That much was made apparent last night.
She persisted in her bid to assess the men of Fieldmoor, starting with
. He was notorious for
mentally undressing women, regardless of age, the disagreeable quirk doubtless
the cause of his wife's bitchiness. Nevertheless, Fred
couldn't envisage him utilising mechanical means to satisfy voyeur tendencies
unless something advantageous was to be gained.
A nearby shout prevented further introspection.
Carrie and Diane,
wearing track suits, were chasing after Eileen.
Beyond them the redoubtable wandered from one shop
window to another. Liz
Tomlin Audrey issued a
wordless plea for her to go elsewhere. She was too low spirited to deal with
her this morning. Her supplication was rewarded for Liz
stopped window-gazing and hurried to the bus stop. Consequently, unless that
was the destination of the others, Audrey
had only three to contend with.
'He's ever so helpful nowadays. He washes dishes and does the beds instead of skulking off to read his paper.'
was responding to Diane's inquiry
about Paddy's welfare. Eileen's neck
seemed to retreat into her shoulders as she scanned the store to establish that
no-one could eavesdrop. Discovering they were the only customers, she
straightened and carried on. 'I can tell he's happy to be working because his
whole attitude has changed, particularly towards me. He's more affectionate.
And frivolous.' Eileen peered round
again. 'Especially in the bedroom.'
'You'd better watch it,' warned
'you might find yourself in the club.'
'He even brought me flowers.'
'Go on!' exclaimed
Thoroughly fed up with standing like a dummy waiting for the exchanges to lapse,
Audrey bawled out,
'Does anyone require serving?'
Without a word,
tendered her shopping list and swivelled back to hear the rest of the
insisted. 'First I've had since our wedding.'
That's nice, thought
putting a bag of sugar into a plastic carrier.
Using the flat of her hand
slammed the counter. 'He did NOT steal them,' she snarled. 'I'm surprised at
you, . For your information, Diane Pearce Maureen said he could have them.' She released an
outraged snort. 'Anyway, I shouldn't have to justify his actions to you.'
Carol swaggered in at noon, dreamy eyed and glowing, bragging about having spent the entire morning engaged in shove and wedge with
Audrey went on unloading a batch of canned sweet corn. 'I trust you enjoyed it,' she said, pretending not to see
salacious grin. It was not an appropriate time to be drawn into a discussion on
lovemaking and being criticised for despatching Brian
The quiet period was used to clean the slicing machines and scales. They grafted until mid-afternoon when an influx of wet-haired schoolgirls, intent on purchasing chocolate and chewing gum, scudded in like a deputation on an assignment.
was last in. She had a
screwed up swimsuit under her arm and was towel-drying her red hair. Shoving a
bow-shaped hairclip in place, she tried to see how it looked in the door's
brass finger-guard. Vera
'Come on, slowcoach,' grumbled
'I've been here ages.'
'It's only just gone half three.'
Bess lifted the basket onto the counter and adjusted the blue gingham cover.
Audrey's fingers played
with the corner. 'It smells inviting,' she remarked, breathing in the rich
'Bloody rhubarb fool and mince stew.'
raised eyebrows, Bess chewed her lip and stared intently at an array of tinned
peas. 'Sorry, .' Miss Buckham
'If it's imperative you speak in such a manner then please keep it for your friends.'
Bess punched her on the arm. 'Shurrup, you, and tell me about the swimming?'
'Don't do that
Carol commanded. 'This is a food store
not a hairdressers. Remember where you are.'
'Sor-ry!' She didn't look it, but
let it go. ' said we're doing the breast
stroke next week. Imagine that, sex at the swimming baths.' Miss Stevenson
'You might be forced to stroke somebody you don't like.'
The teenagers crashed about laughing, only
Vera recovering sufficiently to proclaim, in
strangled words interspersed with hiccups, that she intended to ask if Bess
could go. 'Her breasts could do with a massage,' she roared, before collapsing
on Bess and both girls howling until they ached.
To kill time until closing
and Carol cleaned the shelves. Carol climbed the steps to scrub the ones at the top
while Audrey disinfected those at the
bottom. But everything went wrong when the telephone rang in the office and a
spasm of nervousness caused Audrey to
project her arm sideways and knock over a stack of tins. With the display
capsizing, she stepped back and stumbled against the steps. Hearing Carol's cry above her, she wheeled round. Her foot
struck the galvanised bucket of soapy water. She braced herself for the
avalanche she was sure must come, supporting her head as if it too would fall,
and crying, 'Oh, God!'
The ringing ceased before
reached ground level. Mistaking Audrey's
confusion for concern about her safety, she touched her pale cheek. 'It's
okay,' she soothed, 'I'm not hurt.'
'It was an idiotic thing to do,' conceded
Audrey, with an over-bright air. 'I'm developing
jumpiness in my old age.'
Jumpy was correct. The episode had genuinely ruffled her.
'I'll make us some tea,'
said, hurrying into the back room.
Without attempting to repair the damage,
Audrey moved to the other side of the counter and sat
on the chair kept for disabled customers. She rested her elbows on her knees
and nursed her head. Would she always be perturbed by booming telephones? Was
she fated always to suffer anxiety bouts? Was this what he wanted?
Not yet, Carol, give me time.
As if reading her mind,
returned to the chaos caused by the clanging phone, and Audrey
decided she would disclose the diabolical affair when she was less sensitive,
Arnie confirmed that he'd given the stuff as a token of gratitude for his support. He regretted that the guy couldn't stay longer, though recognised the necessity to journey on. That was when
Brian learned the truth about the man, who was not
the tramp folk took him for. He was a man with a mission, a father searching
for Melanie, his teenage daughter, who
had disappeared the previous year. Once or twice Brian
questioned the validity of Martin's
tale, but was finally convinced by his apparent genuineness.
was a widower, his wife having died in childbirth. By trade a plumber, he
couldn't concentrate on work with his child missing, so he appointed a manager
to keep an eye on his business and began scouring the country. Sleeping rough
enabled him to travel fast and keep expenses to a minimum.
When Chris queried why Arnie furnished him with binoculars, Brian reiterated the farmer's words, 'To augment his search or sell if he wants to.'
Dropping his feet,
sat erect. 'That's it, then. He's history.'
'Yeah! I put him on the mid-day bus. The village can relax again.'
'And you'll believe anything!'
The real telephone call came at eight, the same hour as the previous night. Ruthless peals ricocheted around the lounge, each note pulsating inside her.
Audrey flung aside
her book. It toppled to the floor, spine uppermost, pages splayed. She screened
her ears, willing the din to stop, and when the awful booming terminated, there
lingered a silence comparable to a tomb, and equally as cold.
Yet it wasn't over.
More soprano knells vibrated into the room.
She jerked rigid, her wrath recognising no margins. Rehearsing the profanities she intended to rant, she flew to the hall and banged the receiver to her ear.
'Black panties,' whispered the covert voice.
'What the hell do you want?' she thundered, and swiftly cursed the stupid question.
He disregarded her. 'See-through panties.'
She yanked the phone to a mid-air position. Her knees shook as she flattened against the wall and commanded herself to sever the call. But what would it achieve? It was a safe gamble he'd ring again. Recovering slightly, palms moist with perspiration, she determined not to listen. Lowering the handset to the table, she positioned it with the earpiece pointing away from her, visualising him fuming at the other end, a puny character with odious pockmarks.
Garbled, vile sounds grew louder as he began to bellow. He knew, of course, what she'd done. Instinctively she stepped back, rucking the carpet runner with her heel. She bunched handfuls of hair over her ears and had a childish impulse to run. A futile exercise when he claimed to know what she was doing in her own home and therefore would know her other retreats.
And then, glory be, it was over, the emerging dial tone indicating that he had finished hounding her. Trembling,
replaced the receiver, unconsciously wiping her hand on her skirt. It was
imperative that she confer with someone, Gladys,
Carol, but she would have to leave it
until tomorrow. No way was she touching again that contaminated phone.
'You'll soon be showing your assets, dear,' laughed
Jane, planting her foot on the bottom rung.
She can talk, thought
eyeing the plunging V-neck of her cardinal red dress. Tearing his eyes away, he
selected one of the stencilled papers strewn along the bar, skimming the
petition for jumble and volunteers printed in bold capitals. 'Good Lord,' he
said. 'Is it feting season already?'
a cajoling grin at the men. 'I have flower baskets to hang if anybody cares to
A young courting duo lit cigarettes and a liberal amount of distasteful grey smog ascended like chimney smoke. The anguished expressions on the faces of the non-smokers prompted
to ask if they were still managing not to indulge.
The chorus resembled yelps of pain.
'I shouldn't have asked,'
'As a matter of fact ....'
paused to clear his throat. 'It's Norman Clarissa.'
a pace to dodge a kick on the shin.
'Spit it out,' urged
levering the beer pump.
'The most gorgeous pair of limbs gliding from a taxi.'
Ron shut his eyes, obviously reliving the experience.
'They took forever to reach the path, followed by a body in a slinky red skirt and a bare midriff ... sort of oily ....'
'Her white top clung like skin.'
'Who was it?' demanded
placing a dripping pint in front of Ron.
'Didn't I say? It was
Ron outlined a female form with his
hands. 'She's grown since I saw her.'
In the sudden hush, all eyes turned to
It was a few minutes before
noticed him standing four removed. Overcome with embarrassment, he tossed down
some beer and made a detailed examination of his brown shoes.
A little badinage was in order.
broke into a slick routine guaranteed to compel Norman Ron
to shrink with mortification. 'I am pleased you approved of my daughter, Ronald. Please do come to tea on Sunday. Or brunch,
if you prefer. You and Diane can
resume your acquaintance.'
'Talking about appealing women ....'
glanced meaningfully at Brian. 'I
spotted Audrey leaving the shop. Not
at her best for once. She seemed nervy. I got the impression she'd been
'Perhaps she had a row with
The old frustration of not having easy access to Audrey returned. He contemplated ringing and promptly abandoned the idea. It wouldn't do to disrupt things. Whatever had happened between them, he could trust her. If it was essential he knew, then she would notify him. Most definitely.
Impatient to relocate,
rose. He would go home where he could do his worrying without interruption.
(to be continued)