Friends

18 December 2012

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 18

A pleasurable, worry-free hour later, refreshed after a second immersion in scented water and exchanging the crumpled cotton dress for the pale green silk, Audrey returned to her post at the window. Her timing was perfect for Matthew was standing by the wooden gate absorbed in a discourse with Gerald Tomlin. She ran to the door and flung it wide. Seeing her, Matthew jumped over his bags and sprinted up the path.
           
Gerald watched while Matthew wrapped his strong arms around his mother. Looking a trifle sulky, he walked away.
           
As Matthew swept her into the air, her legs swinging like pendulums, Audrey thanked God he had arrived safely. A powerful scent of Imperial Leather filled her senses. As soon as he put her down she held him at arms length to study him. He was a carbon copy of Brian and the stubble under his nose indicated the beginning of a similar moustache. There was no trace of the once troublesome acne and the adolescent fat had given way to a muscular physique. He looked the picture of health, stunningly bronze and shockingly handsome.
           
Audrey grabbed his hand to pull him indoors but, first, Matthew had to rescue his bags from the roadside. The couple of minutes it took seemed interminable as she waited to haul him in and leave the world to its own schemes on the other side of their closed front door.

*******

Believing a solid English meal would be appreciated, Audrey cooked a piece of topside and served it with enormous helpings of roast parsnips, cauliflower and minted potatoes. Matthew licked his lips and reached for the mustard pot, seeming not to notice she had forgotten to include Yorkshire pudding.
           
While they ate he described the scene in Düsseldorf, defining his new school as an old Schloss set in the middle of parkland. 'It's even got a moat,' he said, 'though I gather that's a recent addition.'
           
'What's it for?'
           
Matthew shrugged. 'It's either to stop vandals getting in or the children getting out.'
           
'What are the students like?'
           
'Most of them are the offspring of German academics. They're very enlightened. I'm not sure I'll be able to teach them anything they don't already have knowledge of.'
           
Like her, Matthew was often plagued by self-doubt, but he had no need to worry. His confidence would quickly return once he settled in. He wouldn't have been given the job if the school principal didn't think he was up to it. Seeing his worry lines, Audrey encouraged him to discuss his social life, more as a means of changing the subject than a need to know.
           
Matthew had a mate called Heinz who was the same age and had the same interests as himself. They shared their evenings and sometimes, as a release from correcting exercises, they went to a local disco. There they drank lager (an apparently rare practice) and viewed the dancers.
           
'Do you date any girls?' Audrey enquired, shovelling more potatoes on his plate.
           
'Some!'
           
'In particular?'
           
'Nein.'
           
'Don't show off,' commented Audrey as she passed the gravy boat, noticing with motherly affection the strength of his hand, the many freckles on his fingers.
           
Matthew drenched his roast beef with gravy and dribbled some over the mound of mustard to create yellowy-brown swirls.
           
Determined not to nag about the mess on his plate, Audrey enquired if the language was a problem.
           
Matthew speared a segment of cauliflower and dipped it in the gravy. 'Most Germans speak English,' he said, 'It angers me that we can't or won't use their native tongue. I can't understand why we don't study languages like the rest of the world. It ought to be mandatory. We'll get left behind if we're not careful and it'll be no use complaining ....' He broke off, listening. 'Is that the phone or the bell?'
           
It was the doorbell, but Audrey's eyes automatically flew to the clock. Five minutes to go. Excusing herself, she trotted into the hall and clicked the machine to the off position before unlocking the door.
           
Gladys walked straight in. 'I hope I haven't come at an inconvenient time.'
           
'We're having dinner. If you're lucky Matty might part with some of his.'
           
'Slim chance.' Gladys slipped off a long sleeved cardigan. 'I know him of old.' She stood on tiptoe to hang the black woolly on the coat rack. 'He was always a greedy beggar,' she proclaimed, raising her voice.
           
'Can't hear you,' called Matthew.

Gladys sat with them while they ate, though she refused to share their dinner.
           
Matthew ate the rest of his meal like a man deprived of hot dinners; even the excessive amount of mustard disappeared. At the end, he scraped his plate almost clean, placed his knife and fork side by side then screwed his napkin in his great fist. He leaned back and regarded his godmother. Pointing an accusing finger, he said, 'I saw her in the square, Mum. Threw herself at me, she did. I wouldn't object ordinarily, but the bench women'll think I've no sense of value.'
           
'I'll whack you one, Matthew Buckham, big as you are.'
           
'Come on then, titchy woman. Ssee what you get.'
           
They made eye contact. Gladys tried to stare him out, but eventually she blinked and looked away, and said, 'I'll make the coffee, shall I?' She darted from the room and could be heard clattering around in the kitchen, opening cupboards and banging them shut.
           
Audrey chided Matthew for his cheekiness.
           
'She loves it,' he said, chortling.
           
'I'm not so sure. She looked a bit glum.'
           
'Nah, she's okay. She enjoys a joke.'                       
           
Gladys returned carrying a tray of coffee things. Audrey helped herself to a cup, and Gladys waited for Matthew to take his. 'Cream?' she asked, amiably.
           
'I'm not really a cream man,' he said as he poured a small measure into his cup. 'I prefer skimmed milk.'
           
Gladys offered the sugar bowl. 'Gone off that as well?' she queried, batting an eye at Audrey.
           
'Not on your life.' Matthew heaped four spoonfuls into his cup and stirred vigorously.
           
'I'm surprised the spoon'll go round,' Gladys remarked. 'He sure loves his sugar, Aud.'
           
Audrey nodded. 'Seems so. Mind he looks well on it.' She stopped as Matthew spluttered and spat coffee into his cup. 'What's wrong?' she cried, putting a hand to his back.
           
He scowled at Gladys. 'She's put bloody salt in my coffee.'
           
Gladys sent him her sweetest smile. 'No, Matthew. You put salt in your coffee.'

*******

For two days and three nights Audrey and Matthew stayed home, neither having any desire to interrupt their reunion. During the day they argued, bantered and joked. In the evening they reminisced and, except for Audrey's guilty secret, brought each other up to date with the events in their separate lives.
           
Not once did the telephone ring and, on the third day, Audrey went shopping.

(to be continued)

7 comments:

Brian Miller said...

how interesting on the phone not ringing...that is chilling...and i wonder if she even noticed...and what happens when she does...how far has she slipped...interesting...smiles

Valerie said...

Brian, I guess someone knew she wasn't alone....

DeniseinVA said...

I always end a chapter eager for the next one, thanks Valerie!

Lea said...

Not once did the telephone ring... a clue? I hope she realized that when she went shopping and maybe had time to ponder away from home.

HermanTurnip said...

Fantastic snapshot of a moment in time!

He scowled at Gladys. 'She's put bloody salt in my coffee.'

Heh...that got me smiling! :-)

Valerie said...

Hi Herman. Yes, it was quite a light-hearted moment.

Montanagirl said...

I had the same thought....Why didn't the phone ring when Matthew was there? Very curious...