The curtains waltzed in the warm breeze blowing through the open window. Bottles rattled in crates on the milkman's float. In the distance a baying dog accompanied a crowing cock. It was Saturday. The day when the entire community would gather for the village fete.
Restively, she rolled over to her other side and repeated aloud her determination not to go, but as she drew the quilt over her ears she remembered that Brian would also be there, which meant she would miss the chance of soliciting his advice about going ex-directory or investing in a phone she could unplug or switch off. If she needed to, that is. There would be no necessity if things stayed as last night, an equitable pealing phone and no voice, and even that was subject to her having enough moral fibre not to answer.
For ages she contested the benefits of attending the fete and in the end it was the attraction of wearing new clothes that decided her to go. 'You will go to the ball,' she cried, leaping out of bed and wrenching open the wardrobe door. She thought of
again as she touched the blue garment, all shades of blue being his firm
favourites and at one time the only colour he would ever buy.
It took no time at all to shower, swallow apple juice and bolt down wholemeal toast, and even less to ring the Vicarage to confirm she would set up the raffle, the late decision hailed by
as one which had literally saved his life. Then she flew upstairs to change,
steadfastly resolving to make the most of the day.
She stepped into the new skirt and pulled the embroidered top over her head, truly delighted with the casual way the fabric swathed her breasts, then adjusted the neckline a fraction higher so as not to bare too much. Finally, she slid her feet into the pumps and perfected a pirouette in front of the cheval-glass, ready and reasonably prepared to face the world.
Scrunching the chiffon skirt in her hand, she weaved through diverse tombstones to get to the final resting place of Buckhams. She had been assailed at the lych gate by a dash of conscience and felt strangely compelled to visit the grave. It was in a frightful mess. The grey marble headstone was grimy and covered with lichen and the sculptured book, which once had been so gloriously white, was now a mottled-grey and thick with wildlife droppings. She was saturated with guilt as she stooped to uproot chickweed and groundsel from the base of the empty urn. Here she was, in her finery, while her parents lay below the deplorable neglect. Silently, as she ferreted in her shoulder-bag for tissues, she promised her mother that she would cure her lax attitude and tidy the grave more often. Coming across a forgotten packet of moist-wipes amongst a conglomeration of cosmetics and letters and other paraphernalia, she quickly tore it open, withdrew one, and scoured her hands and nails until they were spotless. Only then did she continue the short journey to the church grounds.
Multicoloured banners fluttered over the gate, abutting a vividly printed poster inviting the public to Enter Here.
attention was drawn to a spot beyond where fuming villagers were laying siege
to , for some reason calling for
organised patrols and threatening to set up vigilante groups. It occurred to
her that if she hadn't stopped to mess about with weeds she would know exactly
what they were ranting about. Michael Spencer
The vision of
swinging his arms like a traffic cop in a bid to calm the wayward assembly was
to her mind greatly entertaining. She was beset by giggles when his clumsy
gestures caused his cassock (which she maintained was nothing but a long frock)
to spin out and reveal limbs encased in well-washed jeans. It was utterly alien
to her perception of a dignified vicar. In all the years since
came to Fieldmoor, she had only seen him in church garb. The concept of his
scrawny middle-aged body cavorting in jeans brought a fresh batch of giggles
and she was forced, lest he saw her, to employ facial contortions to overpower
them. Michael Spencer
The ballyhoo increased, a hubbub of a different kind, a shuffling, collective rearrangement.
stood on tiptoe for it was impossible to see what was happening from the
borderline of giants but, even as she lowered her heels, the throng separated
and 's mercurial form materialised.
Gypsy red skirts flying, she dashed to the forefront of the mob, yanking bodies
aside and bellowing, 'Get back, get back.' But the crowd tarried and the noise
persisted. Eventually Gladys Stanhope Gladys dragged
one of the stacking chairs from behind the trestles and clambered onto it.
'Ladies and Gentlemen, please listen.' Getting no response, she hollered, 'Hey,
you lot.' That did it; the clamour abated. Gladys
waited for total silence before continuing. 'There's no call to rant at the
Vicar because of what befell that poor girl.'
The motive for the melee now clear,
recalled the report in the local rag concerning the attack on the Dunkley girl.
Breathlessly, she climbed down.
remarked to the woman next to her.
Someone in the crowd applauded and others quickly joined in, and a voice bawled, 'Atta girl,' which made
blush. Nevertheless, she smiled and flourished her arm to encourage the
multitude to follow her to the marquee.
At the entrance,
manoeuvred her makeshift desk under a sycamore for maximum protection from the
sun, assisted by Diane Pearce Vera who had been
roped in to help for the first hour.
'How much are they?' asked
as she strewed her bits and pieces into place.
'Ten pence each or you can have a strip for fifty.'
'I'll have a strip then.'
The query, though well-intentioned, was somewhat ill-suited when
Audrey was trying so hard to
maintain a happy-go-lucky mood. It called forth the unfortunate day when Carol had sent her home, a day she much preferred to
forget. To avoid discussing her wellbeing, Audrey
handed the ticket over with a broad smile, airily assuring Vera that she was in splendid health. That said, she
swept swiftly away.
Further along a gravelled walkway, near an ice cream van, Doris Pinches was arranging a sizable fruit cake on a chrome base, setting it dead centre on linen-covered planks which served as a counter. Small cotton wool clouds puffed across the azure sky and in the thicket a robin chirped. 'I reckon he's singing for crumbs,' she remarked, bending to retrieve her Gladstone bag. 'I'll have a quid's worth,
before you sell out.'
'There's no danger I'll do that. I've got enough here to last a month.'
After extracting a couple of strips from the book and dropping the pound coin in a drawstring pouch, Audrey walked to where Eileen Finnigan was sorting jars of preserves, neatly labelled and sealed with cloth lids tied with ribbons. She was studying the effect of her labours.
'What do you think?'
'It's my first attempt at jam making.'
'Then you deserve a medal.' It did
heart good to see Eileen's pride.
Impulsively she tore out ten tickets. 'Here,' she said, as she presented them
to her. 'I'll treat you and if you win remember who to thank!' She laughed at Eileen's stunned expression and scuttled away.
The plant stand, superintended by
and Fred Smith Carrie, was next in the avenue of
stalls. Pensive ( Fred) and forbidding
( Carrie), they stood like stone
statues amongst the foliage and flowers. Fred's
lips, smeared with ice cream, lengthened into a sickly grin as Audrey approached. His eyes strayed over her blouse.
Feeling exposed, she pressed a hand to her throat. Carrie
scowled at her husband then guided an accusing glance at Audrey
as if she alone was responsible for his lecherous nature. She wanted to scream
in her own defence that Fred belonged
to Carrie and she was welcome to him.
Instead she rushed off, steadfastly intent on putting space between her and the
Halting at a far-reaching oak, she hunched over and rested her arms on its ridged bark, ingesting deep inhalations in order to flatten her rising temper, instructing herself not to allow the incident to mar the day. It took a minute or two, but she accomplished it. Glad that for once she had come out on top, she straightened, stuck her chin in the air and carried on until she arrived at the tent bearing a notice proclaiming that here sat Gipsy Rose and her Famous Crystal Ball. She paused to recapture her former composed state and, directly her chest stopped its heaving, she darted under the canvas flap.
'You should wear colours more often,' advised
Audrey, but didn't press it when she saw her friend's
frown, always manifest when her morbid attire was criticised. Absently running
her fingers over the opaque globe, she said, ' Michael
won't be able to thank you enough for what you did earlier.'
'Why did you do it then?'
'Sam thinks you're a rum 'un.'
'It was nothing.' Using an orange duster,
Gladys carefully erased the fingermarks from her
precious orb. 'Mind you, I can appreciate how they feel. The attack is
'I daresay it was a one-off. I don't think it warranted the fracas we saw this morning.'
'I hope you're right. Now, I must get on. I want things right for my first customer.'
'Do you think
'Course he did. The man's smitten. You can't do anything wrong in his eyes. You could rob the Bank of England and he'd think you were wonderful.'
Audrey waved the books
again and blew her friend a kiss. 'See you later, you siren you.'
At the centre of the field Paddy Finnigan was stacking hoops for the Hoopla and Bill Mountford was assembling coconuts on the shy - one handed, since the other had custody of a partially-eaten cornet. A gentle skirt-blowing wind promised to maintain the day's heat at a bearable level.
Audrey figured it would suit
who was already a hardy pink with the strenuous effort of organising a mountain
of wellies. Ron Pearce
She hung around while he slung more boots on the heap, hoping that when he had fulfilled his task she could explore the whereabouts of
Brian. But Ron
didn't appear to be in a receptive mood and in the end she hurried off without
even saying good-day. She would return when the fete got under way; Brian would undoubtedly be there then.
At the white elephant stand, arrayed as usual with worthless jumble,
was rummaging through a variety of Liz Tomlin Tiffany shades as if survival depended on unearthing
one in near-perfect condition. At her side, Gerald
sucked in his cheeks in exasperation. Giving him an ill-natured glance, Liz turned her attention to a grouping of wall
plaques, wine glasses, boxed teaspoons, and a decorative clog. The teaspoons
took her eye and she picked up the box for a closer look. Gerald
waited impatiently, the whole time fussing about the heat and constantly
mopping perspiration from his neck. He maintained non-stop that ice cream was
essential to lower his temperature until Liz
capitulated and suggested he fetch one, resuming her examination of the spoons
the instant he jogged away.
It's like giving permission to a schoolboy, thought
Audrey, as Gerald
trotted by. 'I trust he's got plenty of capital,' she said to Liz. 'The ices here are exorbitant. You need an
additional mortgage to pay for one.'
'Oh, I don't think he actually wanted one,' replied
Liz. 'All he wanted was to get away from me.' She put
the lid on the box of spoons and produced the requisite cost. 'I expect he's
frightened I'll spend his beer allowance.' She added a shallow laugh and combed
her fingers through her hair, and looked significantly relieved now that her
husband had gone.
She followed the chattering horde into the main arena in time to witness the procession of dignitaries nearing the platform. The sight of
stumbling up the steps produced a few laughs from those at the front. His
composure remained intact, his happiness visible, his immense pride as he
bustled his daughter to her flower-decked throne almost infectious. The sun
captured the spangles in Norman Dingle-Jones Clarissa's
hair and an appreciative purr swirled through the spectators when she crossed
her legs to unveil an expanse of thigh.
At length, his address over,
invited Clarissa to open the fete.
Amid impassioned cheering she glided to the brink of the podium and peered at
her fans, manipulating the microphone as if fondling a living thing. Her
worshippers loved it when she massaged the shiny rest with crimson-tipped
fingers and, when she announced in a melting voice that the fete was open,
their vocal ovation soared.
Bored with the monotony of it,
sat creasing tickets at her designated table. An obese woman, almost touching
her left elbow, slid her tongue on a wafer of strawberry ice cream and followed
the procedure as if it was an operation of unusual skill. By shaking her head,
the woman declined Audrey's proposal
that she buy one. Audrey endeavoured
to divert the stringent inspection to the dog handlers leading their Alsatians
to the showground. The woman took no heed. Deciding that she was either stupid
or dumb, Audrey repositioned her
posterior on the rigid seat and settled to watch the dogs. A moment later, the
woman shifted to one side to see past another large individual who was blocking
the view. The intense scrutiny was over.
As the tail-end of the canine column passed into the enclosure, a commotion erupted by
improvised counter. Doris Audrey's curiosity
was aroused. She thankfully crammed the scraps of paper in a wooden box and
went to investigate.
Doris Pinches was beside herself with frustration. Her mother, in russet straw hat and mesh gloves, sat on a picnic stool flush with the front of the cake, an unfortunate location considering the purpose of its exhibition.
took Doris Audrey to one side. 'I've tried
inducing her to inspect the other stalls, but she won't budge.'
'Maybe she thinks she's helping.'
'All I know is that I want her out of my way.'
It was the box in her hand that furnished
Audrey with the idea of enlisting the old lady's aid.
Squatting on the grass, level with and in full view, she
commenced ripping out counterfoils and folding them in quarters. Mrs
'Roll up, roll up. Get your lovely raffle tickets.'
'Didn't I do well,' mouthed
'You did!' said
'You certainly did!' Doris
called out, 'You can move in with us, whenever you want.' Doris
Bess and Vera dallied in the foreground of the mobile hot dog stall waiting for Steven Smith to devour a burger in a bun. Thin streaks of tomato ketchup oozed from the corners of his mouth and dripped onto his school shirt, giving him the look of a Chinese mandarin. The girls clapped when he rammed the ultimate portion of burger in his mouth.
implored him to hurry before everything finished for the day. Steven screwed the paper bag in a ball and aimed it
at a nearby litter bin.
Having had to nip smartly out of the way to avoid being hit,
Audrey commented on the accuracy of his shot.
'I do even better with a tennis bat,' he said.
Bess groaned. 'Don't set him off,
We'll never get on if he starts on about his tennis. Miss B.
'Two minutes won't hurt, Bess,'
said, and went on to enquire if Steve
had seen anything special.
'Well, his teeth might've gone right through,' Bess grumbled.
believing she would see Brian, tagged
Ron provided Steven with wellies, then drifted over. 'This must be what slave labour's like.'
Grasping the opening,
asked why Brian wasn't helping.
With a crafty wink,
told her he'd gone for coffee to assuage a raging thirst. 'Too many ice
creams,' he said. 'Packs it in like it's going out of fashion.'
'Sling it, Stevie,' yelled Bess, miming the action with her cardigan.
The boy heaved the boot over his head. 'I am,' he gasped as the welly left his hand and thudded to the ground by his feet.
Bess chuckled at his confounded expression while
Vera twirled on her toes and sang, 'Hopeless,
hopeless, hopeless,' as she restrained her ballooning skirt.
Bess glowered. 'Shut it, Vee. He did his best. It's not easy, is it, Mr Pearce?'
Abruptly terminating her jigging,
looked towards the barrier where ,
the unwashed son of Colin Mountford Bill and Ellen, worked his jaws on chewing gum. His eyes were
out of service and his head bounced to the rousing music emanating from the
marquee, swishing his rat-tailed hair over his shoulders, nodding like the toy
dogs seen in car windows. Vera sighed
dreamily when he engaged two grimy digits to drag a rope of tacky substance
from his mouth.
'Come on, we're going to the fair.'
here.' Coyly peeping at Colin, she
patted her hair.
sleeveless cardigan. 'We can see him later. Come on, Steve's
'I'll catch you up.'
then Vera, 'You keen on him?' When Vera didn't reply, she whooped, 'You are! Hey Steve…'
'Don't you dare!'
Bess tittered. 'Why didn't you tell me?'
'Why should I?'
'I'm your best mate. You're meant to tell best mates everything.'
With that final utterance, Bess ran after
followed, but her progress was slow.
'Was I ever like that?' mused Ron, shaking his head.
'I was more unruly if anything. But I grew out of it.'
Audrey presumed Vera
would, too, with the right influence.
There was a legion of diabolical smells in the refreshments tent: stewed tea, greasy doughnuts, and sweat. Every year
vowed she would bring sandwiches, but never did. She would have returned to the
fresh air, but quenching a momentous thirst took priority. She joined the queue
and prepared for a tedious wait.
Among the tent ropes, lying like snakes in the roughly hewn grass, families juggled with polystyrene cups and paper plates. Rowdy children, skipping in and out of the flaps and dangling on the poles, were perpetually threatened by parents and minders to act properly.
There was no sign of
By the time
got served to a cup of tea and salad rolls, two seats were vacant by Carrie and Diane.
Pushing aside the desire to cold-shoulder Carrie,
she went to join them.
'Oh, my God!' said
sheltering her eyes. 'It looks worse on than it did in the box.'
Chewing on a morsel of celery,
thought that to say Kim's outfit was
gaudy would be charitable; truthfully the wild purple, pink and orange bands
orbiting her body could only be described as atrocious and, judging by Diane's black look, the monstrous costume had added
another contretemps to the Pearce stockpile.
'And to think we parted with Ronnie's hard earned wages for that,' Diane said as she whisked sugar into her tea, tossing her head and gazing at other diners as if defying them to comment.
'She's doing all right for chaps, whatever it is she's wearing.'
Carrie said, taking a fifty
pence piece from her purse. 'Here, Aud, I'll have five winners off you.'
The rare demonstration of friendliness took
Audrey by surprise. Even so, as she tore the tickets
from the book, she itched to charge her double.
Her shrill voice had enticed others to gape at the doctor and his lady friend, some even lifting backsides from seats for a sighting, though why
Diane should think it was such a
big deal was a mystery. had been with Len all
day. And why not, Kate
Dingle-Jones Audrey concluded.
Being seasoned adults and of like intellect, it was a natural pairing.
'Looks thick with her,'
It was a Carrie-style declaration, yet even she was shocked. 'Lord,
Di, that's a mite strong.'
'Serves you right,' hissed
'Who on earth's that?' he asked, screening his ears.
. She's supervising my
raffle. Doing a grand job too. Mrs
was desperate to get rid of her.' Doris
'She wouldn't shift for me.'
'It was a case of finding something useful for her to do.'
'D'you think she's safe?'
said as they trailed past the bandstand.
Uniformed musicians, beginning the second half of their repertoire with the Floral Dance, brought boys and girls sprinting to the area.
Sam's arms swung to the beat, his nose
wrinkling at the whiff of alcohol flowing from the beer tent. Audrey strode out with surprising buoyancy as they
hiked to the entrance. Sam had been
assigned to collect the bank-notes from Diane
and Audrey aspired to peddle more
raffle tickets to latecomers.
'Where is she?'
queried as they reached the reception area. The desk, askew on its trestle
support, was devoid of the tackle which goes with guarding the admissions. No
admittance cards or their container, no cash box, and no Diane.
'I was damn well knocked on the head.'
He righted the chair and she fell onto it. 'Bloody kid tried to snatch the cash box,' she said. 'But he didn't get the money.' Plucking the box from the overgrown grass, she elevated it. 'Not a penny!' She glanced surreptitiously at Audrey and quietly asserted that it was punishment for being nasty to you know who.
'Did you give him hints?'
'You're a dreadful woman!'
A hoarse cry trundled through the canvas flap. 'Roll up, roll up'.
'This I've got to see.' Sweeping the rest of the profits into the bag,
Gladys hoisted her abundant
skirt to her armpits and secured it in a leather belt sitting snugly on top of
her black knickers, then, letting the skirt fall, she whizzed out of the tent.
'By heck, she's rejuvenated,' said
grinning. 'Come on, Aud. While we're here, let's gauge the weight of this
'One'll do,' said
offering a pound coin.
Slipping her a stony look,
deflected to .
'Did you get to see the opening?' Doris
'Ooh, yes. Vicar's speech was an improvement on last year, he didn't use such long words. And I couldn't cart me beady eyes off young Clarry.'
mother from her station across the way. Doris
Appalled by such fierceness, Audrey retorted, 'That's cruel, Mrs Pinches. She's very nice.'
'That's as may be, but she's an actress, isn't she?'
'Oh mother, what's that got to do with it?'
'Actresses are not principled.'
And she would not be persuaded otherwise.
Ronnie gone to
check on Diane, Brian
was swamped by clamouring lads. The fete seemed rowdier this year and he
couldn't kindle any enthusiasm for dealing with barrages of boys who screeched
at each other for no discernible reason.
Nearby shouts made him peer over the temporary fence where a troupe of white-faced clowns performed acrobatic routines, exuberant infants scampering behind like rats in Hamelin. The scene prompted him to think of David, who scoffed at his brother for being scared of clowns at the circus; of Malcolm, who whimpered for a week and declined to go to bed … though declining to say why; and of Maggie, who overheard David threaten Malcolm that the clowns would get him when he slept. He pondered on the pain within his heart that night as he belted his eldest son.
'Penny for them!'
Wagging a finger,
warned, 'If you mention my guts and fortitude, I'll shriek!'
In the deserted tea tent
nursed a cup and observed Brian. How
well she knew his countenance, every curve, line and freckle. She was mustering
the nerve to go over, wishing she could stalk right up to him and say, Hey, Brian,
I need to talk. The scenario as she saw it was for her to adopt a
nonchalant pose and invite him to fork out for the raffle. A quite legitimate,
though insubstantial overture.
He doesn't honestly care,
thought, her insides trembling as she forced herself to respond. 'I'm fine,'
she said, in an over-bright voice. Was this what she had spent all day
planning, even short-sightedly dreaming he would afford her at least an ounce of
comfort? She had not anticipated this aloofness and she could definitely do
without his arrogance. She turned to leave while she still possessed some
She hesitated before withdrawing her hand, sensing a switch from his resolute manner to one of tenderness. With an unsteady heartbeat, feeling extremely confused, she walked away.
At the conclusion of the fete, People swarmed home clutching prizes and souvenirs. New alliances had been formed and affairs begun as tradition decreed.
home was spent reflecting on the day's adventures: the exploits of old ,
Mrs Pinches Gladys's persuasive performance. On
the whole the occasion had been pleasant, except for that brief and baffling
encounter with Brian. Thanks to her
peculiar detachment she deserved his negativity, though she had not envisaged
The sky dimmed to an ominous grey as she arrived home She scanned the heavens, thinking it was well-timed, until a creepy and ominous thought came to her that henceforth those same clouds would permanently darken her doorstep.
Letting herself in the house, she allowed the door to bang to and sank on the hall chair to discard her dusty shoes. She let her shoulder-bag fall to the rug, clenching her hand to eradicate the tingling consequence of
Brian's touch, a solitary tear moistening her lashes
as she struggled to make sense of it all.
And then the phone rang. It both irritated and pleased her, feelings she later put down to the light-heartedness of the day. Whatever it was, she no longer feared to answer.
'I saw you today.'
The blood drained from her face.
'Your thigh felt like a cushion.'
'Were you cross about the ice cream on your fancy frock?'
Her mind raced, trying futilely to pinpoint the moment of contact. A useless exercise allowing that the site had teemed with humanity. 'Where were you?'
'The ice cream drove me mad. I thought if I daubed it on your tits ....'
She squeezed her eyes tight. The sensible section of her brain wanted to slam the receiver down,; an irrational offshoot pleaded with him to go on.
'It'd be as tasty as sucking sap through chocolate.'
Her hand crept down to the gluey discharge between her legs.
'Ain't y'gonna speak to me?'
(to be continued)