Friends

11 December 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 17

'Cheers, Alan, and thanks.'
           
Matthew Buckham jumped off the bus, grateful to Alan Benjamin for pulling up a hundred yards beyond the bus shelter. Dumping his holdall and battered suitcase on the grass verge, he rubbed his hands together and surveyed the scene. After a year abroad he expected change, but from where he stood the village seemed as sleepy as when he left, until the school bell rang and a pack of schoolchildren launched themselves out of the building.

Pushing his long fingers through his curly hair, he watched the crowing and screaming youngsters, each one desperate to be first out of the iron gate. One boy, a facsimile of himself when he wore torn trousers, ran towards the shops where the loquacious housewives sat, in exactly the same position as a year ago. It was only their nodding heads that convinced Matthew they were real and not a fearful monument to discourage men from taking that route to the pub.
           
All his life the women had occupied those benches. When he was a child the site was used for presenting, debating and resolving problems, the women portraying themselves as mentors of the truth, dedicated to coach the immature in the ways of the world, or the village. But those who censured children and awakened their trepidation had been replaced by a different variety, commonly known as gossip-mongers. Looking at them now, he wondered: Did they ever relocate? Did they ever go home to cook, or clean, or make love?
           
While he pondered on the group's mobility, Ellen Mountford separated from the others and waddled towards him with her arms outstretched. Gripping his hands, she welcomed him home. 'You look great,' she said. 'So tanned. How long are you here for?'
           
There it was. He knew it wouldn't be long before someone put a marker on the brevity of his leave. Ignoring the question, he enquired about the welfare of her family.
           
'We're all fine. Rachel's growing up fast. She's fifteen now. And Colin's in sixth form college ....' She tailed off as Diane Pearce trotted towards them, her hair bouncing to the rhythm of her steps.
           
Diane squealed, 'Matthew! Smashing to see you.' She arched back to gaze at him. 'Goodness, I swear you're nine feet tall. How long are you home for?' Failing to notice Matthew's raised eyebrows or pick up his exasperated sigh, she babbled on without giving him an opportunity to speak. 'When you've settled, come and see Ronnie and the kids.' She giggled at that. 'Did I say kids? Ralph and Kim aren't kids any more.' She stopped when Matthew examined his watch. 'Oh my,' she said, brushing the fringe from her eyes. 'There I go, rabbiting.'
           
As politely as he could, Matthew excused himself and proceeded in the direction of home.

*******
           
Before he had covered twenty yards, Barbara Finnigan teetered across the grass. That's better, he thought, returning her wave. A woman my own age. With practised eye he admired the swinging hips and bra-free breasts buffeting inside a cotton shirt. Lowering his luggage, Matthew tucked his hands deep in his trouser pockets and waited.
           
'Hi handsome,' drawled Barbara, her flirty eyes absorbing him. 'How many days this time?'
           
'Only ten.'
           
'Bet your Mum's looking forward to seeing you.'
           
'She'll have had the kettle on for ages,' he said.

Indeed, she would have worried herself to a frazzle. He would have rung from the station if he'd had time, but the connection wouldn't wait. He was keen now to get on and, enjoyable as it was to be face to face with a stirring mammal, it would be more fitting to solicit her favours after seeing his mother. Hoisting his bag onto his shoulder and grabbing his case, Matthew gave her an intimate smile and invited her out for a suppertime drink.
           
'I can't. I'm seeing my steady. I could fit you in tomorrow.'
           
By the wink and gleam in her eye Matthew guessed she had more than a mere drink in mind. Disenchanted with the idea of courting grief from a jealous lover he pivoted away. 'I'll leave it, thanks,' he replied.
           
'Your loss, Sunbeam,' retorted Barbara as she swayed away.
           
Continuing across the Green, Matthew was sorry he had made the overture without first doing his homework. If he had stopped to consider it, he would have known that he couldn't just arrive home and expect to be entertained by the first girl he bumped into. Barbara was bound to have fixed herself up. She couldn't go twelve days without a chap let alone twelve months. Nevertheless, he was disappointed. An hour of decadence with her would have been interesting. He prayed the rest of his holiday would be more productive.
           
'Matty. Matty, wait.'
           
He swivelled on his heel and saw Gladys Stanhope racing towards him, skirts billowing enough to make her fly. He dropped his gear and swung her round until her tiny feet skimmed the grass.
           
'Put me down this minute,' she demanded.
           
He held her arm until she got her balance.
           
Gladys tilted her head to study him. 'Your mother told me you were due. She'll be pacing the floor I wouldn't wonder, wearing a bloody path in the carpet.'
           
He laughed, loving the way she was, a mite brash for a woman of her years. Adopting a serious tone, he asked, 'How is she, Godmother?
           
'Excellent, lad. Misses you, of course, though for the life of me I can't imagine why.'
           
Matthew whispered in her ear, 'It's because of my sensational looks and admirable personality.' He took her arm. 'Come with me, little lady, and I'll show you what I mean.'
           
Giving him a playful clout, Gladys admonished him. 'Don't misbehave. You go and see your dear Ma and save that damned carpet from ruin.' Reaching up, she pecked him on the cheek. 'It's lovely to have you home.'

*******

Turning the corner of Arbor Road, Matthew let his belongings drop to the ground once more and rested his posterior against a low wall in order to scan the length of the road.

It was more like a lane than a road. There were small houses and a narrow footpath on one side and hedgerows on the other, presumably put there to conceal gravestones from the passing public. Beyond the grassy island at the end was where he and his pals used to play, and fight, and dress up to indulge the girls in games of pretence: doctors and nurses, fathers and mothers, and, when they were ready for adventure, the game called truth, dare or promise. It had been his favourite diversion. That's how he discovered kissing and things. He laughed at the memory of how quickly he learned, being the first to explore and experience the veritable joy of the real thing.
           
He had strayed into the deepest part of his past and did not hear the approaching soft footsteps so he was taken aback when a shy voice greeted him. He glanced in its direction. Two girls lingered a stride away. One of them had the yellow and grey tie of the Doyle Girls' School hanging like a scarf round her neck. Dangling her blazer by its tag, she introduced herself as Bess Coombes.
           
In a single year, how they had changed. Matthew glanced at the second girl. 'And you must be the new grown-up Vera.'
           
Vera struck him as more pensive than she used to be, until she peeped from under her thick, fair lashes and a veiled smile creased the corner of her mouth, then he knew she was still a comedienne at heart.
           
'You'll have to excuse my friend,' remarked Bess. 'She gets overcome when she's confronted by a man.'
           
Vera kicked out with a plimsolled foot.
           
'Ouch!' Bess cried, dramatically rubbing her shin. 'That hurt!'
           
Stripping off her grey sweater, Vera tied it round her waist by its sleeves. She held out a hand to Matthew and inclined her head. 'How'dya do.'
           
Matthew bowed from the waist. 'I'm pleased to meet you.'
           
'Cor!' breathed Bess. Sidestepping Vera's second kick, she glowered at her friend. 'You're getting just like your Mum.'
           
Hand on hip, Vera affected a pained expression and said, 'Oh, my Gawd!'
           
Bess tugged off her tie. 'You shouldn't blaspheme.'
           
'If you had a mother like mine, you'd blaspheme.'
           
Matthew roared at the double act. 'Are you two always like this?'
           
Bess sniggered and her green eyes danced. 'When we're friends,' she said, rolling her tie and stuffing it in her skirt pocket. 'We go to see your Mum ever such a lot.'
           
'She makes great lemonade and cakes,' declared Vera. 'Matter of fact, that's where we're going now.'
           
Bess scowled. 'We're not going. Miss Buckham won't want to see us. Not with Matthew there.'
           
When Vera insisted that they would still be welcome, Matthew suggested they come another time, emphasising his need to see his mother alone.
           
Digging an elbow in Vera's side, Bess informed him that they quite understood and followed on with an invitation to call on her mother. 'I could cook you an omelette,' she said.
           
Tweaking her left ear, Matthew gave her a winning smile. 'I don't know yet what Mum's planned for me, but I'll come if I can.'
           
Heaving up his luggage, he strolled off and the girls broke into excited chatter. He grinned when he heard Bess say, 'Isn't he something? Did you smell his aftershave? Look, look.....'
           
'What at?'
           
'The way he walks.'
           
'You've flipped,' said Vera. 'Honest to God, you've flipped. Come on. If we're not going to Miss B's, let's go and see if my Dad's back from his mountain.'
           
As he reached the gate, Matthew muttered, 'It's good to be home, even if I am blitzed by old women and adulated by the young.

(to be continued)

9 comments:

Brian Miller said...

huh matthew makes for a very interesting character...you cover a lot of him in this chapter and set him up nicely...wondering at how he plays in....hmm...smiles.

happy midweek to you val...

Montanagirl said...

Now where will this lead Matthew to? He appears to be a cornerstone figure somehow??

faye said...

the perfect read for a dreary day at home...

HermanTurnip said...

Great entry! Such a fun read I couldn't help but smile at the end...a sure sign of a great story!

Valerie said...

Thank you, Herman. I'm glad you had a smile out of it.

Hey Brian, trouble is I know all the answers....grins.

Lea said...

Nice to hear more about Matthew. Very interesting!

Valerie said...

Lea, I actually like Matthew as a character. He has a good sense of humour.

Ron said...

What a wonderful introduction to Matthew, Valerie!

In only one chapter, you really gave us a great peek into his sense of humor!

Can wait to see where he fits into the story and where it goes from here.

Well done!

X

Valerie said...

Hi Ron, it won't be obvious yet but Matthew (being Audrey's son)actually (and unknowingly) provides the turning point for his mother.