Friends

27 November 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 15

Brian kicked the door with his heel and waited for the latch to click before moving away. He dumped his bags of groceries on a wooden shoe chest and sank wearily beside them. He massaged his inflamed palms where the plastic handles had dug in. The pain was searing. Shopping was not a favourite pastime. In fact, it was an expedition he would avoid if he had the choice. He had bought enough today to save making repetitive journeys for mundane items and having constantly to work out which were Audrey's half-days.

Manipulating his knuckles, he sighed at the loss of bygone days when he popped in the store for the sheer pleasure of seeing her. For a minute or two he allowed himself to reconstruct the happiness she tried and failed to hide whenever he walked in; she, too, replete with the previous night's lovemaking, but not wanting the whole village to know. Those former joys were so inbred that he only had to close his eyes and he could almost hear her wonderful giggle, catch the exquisite scent of her body. He sniffed the air as if to catch it now and so rapt was he that the first creak of floorboards was lost somewhere in the recesses of subconscious. But the second thundered into his mind like an ambitious bullet finding its mark. It came from upstairs. Wood thudding against wood, followed by the squeak of the loose board on the landing which he meant to fix and never got round to. Whoever was up there had gone in and come out of the guest room.
           
Too quickly, forgetting where he was, he shot up. The plastic bags collapsed, tins and jars clattered onto the quarry tiles, making enough din to give skeletons a headache. Instinctively creeping, he went to the foot of the stairs, paused to take stock. Should he rush up, or lie in wait? Deciding on the latter, he held his breath and sneaked round the balustrade. The noise came again. Brian was conscious of a figure emanating like an apparition from the upper floor's shadows. He looked towards it and was flabbergasted to see David on the landing, ready to descend; clutching what looked like a dinner plate in his hand.
           
'Hello, Dad.' David Porter's white trainers flashed as he ran lightly to ground level, his dark, lank hair flying at an angle to his neck.
           
After the shock of seeing his son, and an accompanying feeling of foolishness for tiptoeing round like an overzealous cop, Brian's greeting, though not hostile, was definitely on the cool side. He strove to comprehend why David was there. In his absence, the boy would have let himself in with his key and he might have gone to piss in the bathroom, but the route there avoided completely the insecure floorboard, not forgetting the fact that apart from bathroom requirements there was no need at all to go upstairs. Fleetingly, Brian regretted giving him the key. He had provided it under pressure from Maggie who felt the boys should be allowed to infiltrate their parents' homes without having to be invited. Against his greater judgement, principally for the sake of peace, he had given in.

Still puzzling over the reason for the unexpected visit, Brian piled the shopping on the ancient hall-stand. Had it been Malcolm up there he would have challenged him for an explanation, but he had long ago ceased to question his eldest son. He preferred not being on the receiving end of his vindictiveness. David seldom dropped by, professing in his supercilious fashion to dislike the obscure memories which came to life whenever he saw familiar things. So why was he here? And how would he like it if all and sundry paid unsolicited sojourns to his tawdry apartment.
           
'I took this off the wall,' David said, breaking into his father's abstracted musing on the wisdom of trusting shiftless kids. He was holding a silver shield, an old school prize earned by completing an orienteering course. 'I'm afraid it's left a white patch on the paper.'
           
Much as he would have liked to, Brian couldn't complain about David taking his own property, though he was more than a little curious about why he wanted it now.
           
'It's nice to see you,' David said.
           
That'll be the day, thought Brian as he carried the bags to the kitchen. He was aware of his ungracious judgment yet unable to change his view. Notwithstanding, he quashed the sentiment and fractionally softened his voice when he invited his son to take coffee.

*******
           
David shrugged off his black windcheater and draped it on a chair, then rolled the sleeves of his white shirt as if preparing for a fight. 'Don't forget, no sugar.'
           
He's as skinny as ever, Brian noted, spooning coffee into two beakers, but he made no comment. David was old enough to take care of himself. If he didn't, then he just had himself to blame. He filled the mugs with hot water, and decided it would be wiser not to interfere. It would only provoke David's anger and produce one of his distressing tantrums. He carried the mugs to the table, where David was closely vetting the shield, scratching it here and there with his fingernail and breathing on the inscription before rubbing it with the corner of the tablecloth. By design, Brian ignored his cheek. 'It's not real silver, you know, if you were thinking of selling it?'
           
'I want it for my wall.'
           
'You could have asked.'
           
'I know,' David said, a hint of skittishness showing through.
           
David rented a small lock-up shop in a sleazy alleyway in Redhampton, not far from his two-bedroom apartment. He sold second hand goods, furnishings, silver and jewellery. No garments, for he believed them to be untouchable habits of either the luckless or the dead. Brian found the place distasteful. He was repelled by the smell which he likened to an inhabited grave. Though recognising that decent money could be made from dealing in unwanted chattels, he couldn't help feeling it was a waste of good education.
           
Elbows on the table, hands clasped round the body of the mug, David slurped his coffee. His resemblance to his mother was uncanny, particularly those amazingly beautiful eyes and thick lashes. Brian wondered if his countenance would be less feminine if he had inherited the Porter features rather than Maggie's - like Malcolm had, and he was all right. From the number of on-off romances he enjoyed, his sex life would appear to be thoroughly normal.
           
The silence was getting on his nerves but Brian didn't know how to end it, so he slit open a packet of biscuits and offered it. David's flaccid wrist action as he selected one, and the way the little finger stood rigid, reinforced Brian's belief that he would never get used to his son's lifestyle. A single man, now thirty, David had never had a serious liaison with a girl. Short lived affairs with students were soon abandoned for the company of young, attractive men. Brian saw him once in town, holding his paramour's hand like lovers do. He was so disgusted he hurried away in the opposite direction, fearing he might disgorge his breakfast or whatever meal had preceded that repellent spectacle.
           
'I roamed round a bit while I was waiting,' David said, without unveiling even a trace of guilt. 'That snap of Malcolm and me, was it taken at Blackpool?'
           
'Which snap? There's two.'
           
'The one in the silver frame on the mantelpiece. Him on the donkey. Was it taken at Blackpool?'
           
'Yes.'
           
'And the plaster figure of a boy archer which Malcolm won at the fair, was that the same year?'
           
'I think so.'
           
Brian recalled that fair: colourful, gay and deafening. Maggie had been terrified on the waltzers, especially when the attendant spun their car for an additional thrill. Out of the blue, Brian was gripped by nostalgia and the longing for a sight of the past sent him scuttling to fetch a box of old snapshots which he could never bring himself to destroy.
           
The single stone in David's signet ring sparkled as he riffled the jumbled heap. Choosing one of Malcolm toddling along Menorca's huge marina, he said, 'I was thinking about dear brother earlier.' He tossed back a lock of hair. 'Remember the miniature helter-skelter we had in the yard? I can still hear him crying because he was too scared to let go. I pushed him extra hard once and he squawked all the way. That gave him a something to cry about.'
           
'You two never got on,' observed Brian. He was examining a picture of his sons, aged two and four: Malcolm on a blanket, happily holding a beach ball, David glowering behind him. 'I hoped the bond would improve when you grew up. I assumed when he moved in you'd outgrown your differences.' Malcolm had shared David's home for eight months, but after a massive argument he returned to live with their mother.
           
Instead of answering, David studied a snap of his parents posing in Brighton, thoughtfully inverting it to look for a date. 'I get an impression of angry words when I look at this. Hadn't you been there previously?'
           
There had indeed been a veritable reservoir of angry words. Brian had been there on a prior occasion, with Audrey, for a sinful weekend they dubbed sex in the sun. Without thinking he had let slip a local snippet which he ought not to have known and on which Maggie had pounced as if unearthing a jewel from the sand. The ensuing bitter quarrel took months to overcome.
           
David sauntered to the window and, with his back to Brian, he said, 'Do you rendezvous with Mum when you go into town?'
           
It was a mystifying query considering the numerous years since the divorce. Brian wondered, as he took a crushed pack of cigarettes from his pocket, why David had asked. He took his time lighting up. 'We bump into each other periodically,' he said, wafting the blue smoke with his hand. 'In the supermarket, mostly. We've had coffee there a few times.'
           
David came back and straddled the seat, blowing away a circle of smoke. 'She's lonely, and frightfully unhappy,' he said, twisting his hair round his fingers. 'She doesn't ever say so, but I know she is. It's my opinion she misses the nooky. I thought if you went to see her ....'
           
'There's nothing I can do about it,' Brian exclaimed, utterly horrified that David should even mention his mother's personal inclinations. 'As for being lonely, that's bloody poppycock. She's got plenty of friends, as well as your do-gooding aunts. I presume they're still around. And Malcolm's there to keep an eye on her.'
           
'Him! He couldn't help himself let alone Mum.'
           
The remark was uncalled for, no matter what their relationship. Brian fiercely defended his second son. 'Your brother's regard for your mother's welfare is commendable. He does everything for her.' Grinding the half smoked cigarette in the ashtray, he added, 'She doesn't have to lift a finger.'
           
A rising high colour indicated David's annoyance. 'Not like when you were married to her, eh?' He slammed his hand on the table. 'She had to do everything then. You were never there. Supposed to be working.' His voice conveyed resentment. He stabbed Brian's hand with his finger and growled, 'You forced the situation on her. You owe her a little support.'
           
Altogether confounded by this attack, and especially the unforeseen change in David's attitude, Brian fiddled with the metal ashtray, viciously shovelling ash into a heap with the squashed nub, desperately needing to repossess his composure and not show that he was riled. 'What are you trying to do, Dave?'
           
David got to his feet and stared down at his father, the sudden emotional flare-up apparently subsiding. 'I didn't mean to get on my high horse. It's just that I worry about Mum's mental state. Malcolm ...' Seeing Brian was about to interrupt, he held up his hand. 'Let me finish. Malcolm's capital with physical jobs, but he doesn't understand her psychological needs.' And with that peculiar statement, he snatched up his coat and slung it casually over one shoulder, saying, 'I'd better go.'
           
Lulled into a sense of sentimentality, Brian ignored David's extended hand and pulled him close, completely forgetting for a moment the discrepancy of genes. The fleeting contact was like drowning beneath a pounding breaker of mushrooming embarrassment and the force with which they shoved each other away signified that the devastating experience was mutual.
           
At the front door, though keeping his distance, Brian made a last attempt at fellowship. 'I didn't see the motor when I came in. D'you want a lift?'
           
There was no comment about the car nor gratitude for the offer. All David said was, 'I'd rather use the bus.' At the gate he stopped. 'By the way,' he sneered, returning to the vitriolic style his father loathed. 'I like the photo.'
           
'Which one?' There were so many.
           
'The bitch by your bed.' The venom in David's utterance was odious, but his malice wasn't sated for, as he twisted on his heel and strode away, he scurrilously yelled, 'Man's best friend, she who only fucks married men, the one who pinched you off my mother.'
           
Solidly stupefied, Brian started to chase after him, but David was too quick. He was out of sight before he reached the gate. Brian stood there, surveying the empty road, knowing it would be futile to try and catch him up. Though he was stronger and could easily crush David, he was responsibly aware that battles were never won with fists. And he reluctantly admitted that David's command of scathing language was far too vigorous for him to compete with. He went into the house and crashed the door so hard that a vase toppled from the adjacent sill. It hurtled to the floor. He disregarded it, went instead for the whisky, gulping it in one before racing upstairs to check on Audrey's picture. It was in its rightful position, facing the bed, not mutilated as he had feared it might be. He ran his forefinger over her lips, outlining the welcoming smile. 'He won't get away with maligning you,' he said. 'I'll see him in hell first.'

*******

Armed with a glass brimming with scotch, Brian slumped in his armchair and agonised over all aspects of the visit. Nothing would have been achieved by explaining that he and Audrey were no longer a twosome, even supposing David had a right to know. Taking a long swallow, he threw his leg over the chair's arm. Thanks to David he was now encompassed in a low spirited hopelessness which was akin to grief after death.

(to be continued)

12 comments:

Brian Miller said...

ugh...really great timing with this chapter....a new wrinkle...a new spur for the characters...a new suspect...haha...and we learn a bit more of brian as well...

Gill - That British Woman said...

just wanted you to know I have a link back to your blog on my post today as I "borrowed" your funny from yesterday,

Gill in Canada

Valerie said...

Hi Gill, hope you manage to remove the remote from DHs hand.... grins.

Valerie said...

It was all there then, Brian. But there is more to come....

Montanagirl said...

Hmmm....I'm not quite sure what to think about all this. The plot thickens . . .

HermanTurnip said...

"supercilious"? Off to Google I go!

And this story comes at a strange time. Last night I learned that my sister is getting a divorce. Coincidence? Hmmm....

Valerie said...

Hi Herman, I am so sorry to hear about your sister. Divorce is not easy!

Banker Chick said...

You laid out the family dynamics and offered another potential candidate for suspicion. Well done!

DeniseinVA said...

Brilliant Valerie!!! You weave a great tale. "Supercilious" I know well as my family used it when describing the occasional not-so-nice type we would run across. I forget who started it but once you know it, it sticks in your head ;)

Valerie said...

Hi Denise. My family was the same. As you rightly say, once the word is known it stays with you for life. Thanks for reading.

Lea said...

I loved that this scene is focused on Brian and another who is an addition to my list of who the suspect could possibly be, LOL. The relationship played on the scene helps us know more about the characters more. Another great chapter, Valerie!

Valerie said...

Hi Lea, your list must be growing now... grins. I'm glad you liked the insight into Brian's previous life.