Friends

13 November 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 13

Brian whistled at a greenfinch perched on the television aerial. Most of the chaps were in the grounds where they should be on a fine Sunday. Paddy Finnigan was helping Jane carry empties into the bar, strutting in her wake like an adoring slave. Bill Mountford's legs were propped on one of the larger flower tubs. He was struggling to complete the crossword. His brindle boxer (named Bruce because of a permanent reluctance to give in) lay chewing a leather lead between him and Ron.

Tilting his seat back as far as he dared and tweaking a sprig of lavender from the tub, Brian gazed contentedly across the lawn, happy to be on home ground after yesterday's upheaval. Lazily he lit a cigarette and watched Paddy trail happily after Jane, an empty tray suspended from each hand.
           
Bill pressed the end of his pen on his bottom lip. 'What d'you think you're doing, Brian Porter?'
           
'Eh?'
           
'You're smoking.'
           
'I need the nicotine.'
           
'What about the charity?'
           
'To hell with the charity.'
           
Jane lodged her tray against the flower tub and pushed the sleeves of her ruby red dress further up her arms. She commanded Bill to leave Brian alone, appealing to his sense of indulgence, adding that he, too, would crave cigarettes if he had police business to attend to.
           
Bill scratched Bruce's head. 'I'm not criticising. I'm just surprised he's the first to submit.'
           
'He's not actually.' Norman Dingle-Jones was at the door, holding a lighted Churchill cigar.
           
Likewise, Ron Pearce looked shamefaced.
           
Pointing at Ron, Bill cried, 'You dog. You might have told me.' He turned back to Brian. 'See what you've started? I suppose Fred's fallen as well.' He went suspiciously quiet for several seconds, then sneaked an artful glance at his pals. 'Anyone got a fag?' he asked, and promptly ducked so that Brian's empty packet missed its target.
           
Depositing a tray of drinks, Peter Fleming said, 'Thank goodness that's over.'

*******

As she closed the cutlery drawer, Audrey sniffed the beefy aroma with juices running amok in her mouth. Quickly she ladled vegetables alongside the steak pie then sat in her usual place. 'Thank you, Gladys,' she said as she unfolded a starched napkin.
           
'You're welcome.'
           
And that was how Audrey felt. She had been welcomed to this house for so many years it seemed she was part of the furnishings, comfortable, at home.
           
As they ate, Gladys reviewed her fortune telling venture, imparting interesting snippets about the customers. 'Most of them were gullible,' she said. 'If I supplied them with a letter from the alphabet they clung to it like they would a life raft. But they went off happy.'
           
Audrey chewed a chunk of meat, reflecting that she hadn't had her fortune told this year. She quaked as she grasped the significance, the concept of illuminating potential developments filling her with alarm. There was ample to worry over without dragging destiny into it. She couldn't bear knowing in advance the consequence or penalty for her actions.
           
'That reminds me,' Gladys said, 'you didn't have your fate dealt with.'
           
'No.'
           
'Don't suppose you had chance this year.'
           
Audrey abruptly changed the subject. 'Did you hear the news about Len and Kate.' Seeing Gladys's inquisitive look, she went on, 'They were really hitting it off.' Inwardly, she thought Kate had more success with Len than she'd had with Brian, but then her quest had been to seek advice rather than capture a lover.
           
Gladys topped up her water glass. 'I didn't notice much about anyone except old mother Pinches.'
           
'They were quite friendly.'
           
'By friendly you mean…'
           
'Close.' Audrey forked another portion of pie, blowing to cool it. 'Kate overheard Diane say that Len was only interested in her money. I can't remember what she threw back, but it hit home.'
           
Gladys tutted and stated that Diane could be very cruel when she liked.
           
'I bet the lad who tried pinching her money box got a mouthful,' Audrey said. 'It probably cured him of theft for all time.'
           
Gladys took an age organising the coffee, patently preoccupied with inner thoughts, but by the time she added spoons to saucers she was nodding as if a conclusion had been reached. Feeling a little apprehensive, Audrey began to wish she was adept at mind-reading. She also wanted Gladys to speed up the coffee pouring so she could tame the thirst which had been with her since yesterday, which the pie had worsened.
           
Gladys finally completed both the task and the deliberations and, as she handed a cup to Audrey, she gave her a protracted look and enquired if she had received any more calls.
           
Straight away Audrey's easy demeanour subsided and a cloak of secrecy settled over her, guilt and shame blocking all discussion. Taking a deep breath, flushing slightly, she forwarded the false explanation that someone had played a practical joke.
           
'That's all right then,' Gladys said, though she continued to explore Audrey's discomfited countenance.
           
Audrey feared that if the formidable examination persisted she would blurt out the truth. On the pretext of viewing the garden, she slipped over to the window. Whatever happened, she must never reveal the influence He had over her.
           
Coming up behind her, Gladys placed a hand on her shoulder. 'Brian loves you, you know.'
           
Indeed, until yesterday Audrey had believed he cared a great deal. Fishing her cigarettes from her pocket, she lit one without transferring her gaze. 'Fifteen years,' she said in a cynical voice. 'Fifteen years of being the other woman and in all that time there was no progress. Oh, I always knew there could be no future, yet deep down I hoped for one.' She puffed at the cigarette, then veered round. 'He would never have left Maggie. It took me long enough to find that out.' She faltered then, poignantly remembering her decision to end the affair. 'It was up to me to reinstate him with his wife. How could I have known she would find out and quit.'
           
'Couldn't you…'
           
Audrey spun back to the window. 'How do I know he wouldn't deceive me like he did Maggie?'
           
Gladys kept her own counsel.
           
Outside Ron Pearce was hosing his lawn, the noise of spouting water acting as backing to Diane's tuneless chirruping. A distant car backfired. Tomcats hissed and spat. Life's normal sounds. Audrey's vision blurred as she pondered on everyday situations and familiar things. Brian and I were familiar with each other, and look where it got us.
           
'Come on, love,' urged Gladys. 'Finish your coffee.'

*******

She switched off the television. Sunday programmes did not stimulate her and even if they did she wouldn't be able to concentrate. It was five to eight. Five minutes to go and already her loins ached. She jumped at the introductory ring.
           
It was Gladys, to say she had found her cigarettes on the floor, with the matches.
           
Cigarettes!
           
Audrey laughed as she replaced the receiver and as quickly stopped, unexpectedly irritated and distraught with disappointment. She giggled at the parody of a box of matches flaring up and filling Gladys's keen eyes with smoke, blinding her to what was going on. Only safety matches wouldn't do that, not without being struck. This fact seemed even funnier and she chortled with the absurdity of it all. As the hysterics took hold and salty tears plummeted, she sat on the hall chair to wait.

(to be continued)

6 comments:

Brian Miller said...

nice...i like that you wait til now to let us in on a bit of the back story and fill in the gaps a bit...i find her unease with brian funny a bit....the other woman until she isnt and then shes afraid he might do the same to her...

Ron said...

I love how Audrey is now eagerly anticipating these calls; going from being afraid to hearing the phone ring, to wanting the phone to ring!

As Brian shared, I'm really enjoying the back story.

Well done, Valerie. Well done!

Happy Tuesday, dear lady!
X

Valerie said...

Hi Brian. Audrey was very mixed up, I wonder why that us....

Good afternoon, Ron. At some point the tide has to turn and does ... when the villain is identified.

HermanTurnip said...

Man, I've lovin' Gladys. Could have done with a bit more reading, today being a rare day where Tyler is still eating diner with mom and I can actually concentrate on your writes.

Can't wait for the next installment!

Valerie said...

*Smiling*... good on you, Tyler. Yes, I rather like the Gladys character.

Lea said...

I smiled when Audrey was disappointed that it was Gladys who called. Hmmm... missing her phone pal, lol.