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 But those who censured children and awakened their trepidation had been replaced by a different variety, commonly known as gossip-mongers.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,
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?' Ellen Mountford
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.
growing up fast. She's fifteen now. And Colin's
in sixth form college ....' She tailed off as
trotted towards them, her hair bouncing to the rhythm of her steps. Diane Pearce
As politely as he could,
excused himself and proceeded in the direction of home.
Before he had covered twenty yards,
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, Barbara Finnigan Matthew tucked his hands deep in his trouser pockets
'Hi handsome,' drawled
her flirty eyes absorbing him. 'How many days this time?'
'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
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
'Your loss, Sunbeam,' retorted
as she swayed away.
Continuing across the Green,
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
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. Gladys Stanhope
'Put me down this minute,' she demanded.
He held her arm until she got her balance.
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.'
Giving him a playful clout,
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.
glanced at the second girl. 'And you must be the new grown-up Vera.'
'You'll have to excuse my friend,' remarked Bess. 'She gets overcome when she's confronted by a man.'
'Ouch!' Bess cried, dramatically rubbing her shin. 'That hurt!'
Stripping off her grey sweater,
tied it round her waist by its sleeves. She held out a hand to Matthew and inclined her head. ' How'dya
'Cor!' breathed Bess. Sidestepping
second kick, she glowered at her friend. 'You're getting just like your Mum.'
Hand on hip,
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.'
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.
won't want to see us. Not with Miss Buckham Matthew
that they would still be welcome, Matthew
suggested they come another time, emphasising his need to see his mother alone.
Digging an elbow in
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,
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.....'
'The way he walks.'
'You've flipped,' said
'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,
muttered, 'It's good to be home, even if I am blitzed by old women and adulated
by the young.
(to be continued)