Brian studied Audrey's picture as if he had never seen it before, yet it had garnished his bedside cabinet for years. It was like reading a diary the way their shared experiences came flooding back, torturing him with guilt and constantly beating home, as if he needed reminding, the extent of his folly. Past and present. Yet he could no more leave the picture untouched than fly. He looked at it each night and bid it good-day in the morning.
Sparkles from the camera flash were like a shower of silver dust in the curve of hair which hid the unsightly blemish and, from the moment the photograph was developed, he had thought of her as a silver spirit; his silver spirit until he lost all sense of logic.
The photograph was an old one, a particular favourite, taken on a picnic in the early days of their romance, when nothing could hurt them. Defying the rain they had giggled through a meagre fare of cold sausage sandwiches and drank white wine from the bottle. At that glorious moment he had been overcome with love. He had larked about afterwards, imprisoning her against a hillock that bristled with wet grass, refusing to let her go until he'd tracked the freckles on her brow. How she chuckled when he joked that he was drawing dot-to-dot. That was the day he accidentally grazed the strawberry-mark, the day his repugnance receded. From then on he had a ferocious desire to fight the world on her behalf. Like now, if only she'd allow it.
He probed her unmoving eyes and uttered a reluctant promise not to interfere if that was what she really wanted. It was a wretched decision but what else could he do? From within the mount Audrey radiated her agreement, and Brian pledged his undying allegiance. 'Whether you like it or not,' he muttered, rapping a knuckle on the glass. With that pronouncement he replaced the frame and went to do what he should have done last night … shave off the whiskers before they thickened into a beard.
Half an hour later, carrying a plate of toast,
Brian entered the living room. The place reeked of
liquor and cigarettes. Leaving the plate on the tall mantelpiece (a practice
which Maggie used to detest) he
strolled to the window and pushed it wide to inhale the morning air. The mute
consultation with Audrey's picture had
left him feeling sad and to some degree lonely, emotions he thought he had long
since outgrown. He flicked on the stereo to break the stillness and a
discordant blast of modern jazz clouted his eardrums, expelling from the
speakers so dynamically it was a marvel they stayed still. He quickly punched
the switch and the abrupt lull was like plunging into an ocean of cotton wool.
Breaking off a segment of crust, he popped it in his mouth. He didn't normally wander aimlessly while he ate. On a working day he graced the kitchen table with sock covered feet and a newspaper propped on the tin teapot or a milk bottle. At weekends he consumed his breakfast in bed, to the annoyance of
Gladys who repeatedly
rebuked him about the crumbs. He peered at the carpet in case some had fallen
and were waiting to be trodden in. If she could see him now she would accuse
him of dropping standards, believing
that as she was the one who wielded the duster she was entitled to lay down
laws. There were times when he wanted to tell her to hop it, to permit him to
slide peacefully into squalor, but who else would take care of the house. When Maggie left, Gladys
assumed the household management, for which he was indebted, only he hadn't
reckoned on her organising him as well.
Whilst biting into a second round of toast,
Brian polished a film of dust from the clock, using
the unbuttoned cuff of his shirt as a duster. A smell of furniture cream
lingered from Gladys's weekly
determination to maintain the shine. The timepiece, of ivory, brass and
mahogany construction, was inherited from his grandfather and produced in Brian affectionate memories of his boyhood. But the
clock had one fault. It had an uncanny aptitude for reminding him of the
countless hours he and Maggie stood, on this very spot, arguing ... she with
her head on her arms to hide her tears, him contemplating the clock's face as
if he would find there the solution to their problems.
Following the clock's wheeling second finger, he listened to the whirring clack and reflected on the difficulties they confronted when their ardour began to fade, recalling the distress he caused when finally he admitted his affair with
Audrey. Not satisfied
with declaring his devotion he’d had the brass neck to ignite her rancour by
delivering a complete curriculum vitae: from the day he met Audrey to the day they parted, from the innocent
beginning to the highly charged end.
ventured near the phone she was convinced it would roar into life. She flanked
the wall to distance herself from the device that linked her to the devil,
because this morning she was thoroughly ashamed. Never in her life had she
succumbed to personal stimulation, nor had she dreamed it could be so
enjoyable. She drew a tremulous breath at the memory and gave the phone a final
glance before hurrying through the door, audibly praying that the shop would be
busy. Torment was not so menacing in a crowd.
The first customer that morning was
humming a ditty and apparently much happier than when they last met. Audrey's enthusiasm for work still abided, so she
smiled politely while Carrie read the
items on her list: double cream, paper napkins, blackcurrant jelly, a trifle
mix, blue cake candles, and a frill.
Standing on tiptoe,
dragged a cardboard box from the third shelf. 'I forgot it was your Steven's birthday. Did you say he was eleven?'
It was a blessed relief to
that she hadn't plunged into one of her malevolent dialogues. In her present
humour, one more demonstration of disdain would have lit her fuse.
Patrons of the store were predominantly female though on occasions husbands drifted in to collect the odd ingredient for their wives. This was one of those times and
served them all with suspicion, accepting that after last night she simply must
label the man who had impinged himself upon her. Expecting to see a show of
compunction on the countenance of at least one of them, she was astonished not
to encounter even a fragment of abashment.
inverted the scrap of paper.
'Are you all right, my dear?'
Her face burned as she searched for a suitable reply. Her sleeves clung to her armpits; there would be dark patches to discredit her. 'I don't feel so good,' was her lame excuse.
'Perhaps you should go home.'
spoke rapidly, giving off an obnoxious reek of garlic.
Vigorously extracting her hand, she shied to one side.
'Good Gracious. Whatever is amiss?'
'I don't like being touched.'
'Mercy me! I do apologise.' He seemed so full of contrition that she very nearly presumed to have misjudged him.
The fanciful scene was interrupted when
who had been watching the exchange with growing concern, suddenly intervened.
She asked Carol Benjamin Michael what he wanted and
apologised for her prickly assistant. 'She's not herself, Vicar. Spent half the
night listening to my Alan telling his
'I'm thankful that's all it is.'
passed his shopping list to Carol.
'Only a few groceries. I would have enlisted Gladys's
help, but she has ample to do at the House. Shall I wait?'
'It would assist us if you left it, Vicar. I could pop it round when we close.'
'Now that is service.' Michael raised his hat once more and waved a hand at Audrey. 'You'd better get an early night, my dear. Can't have you going to pieces.'
Directly the door closed behind him,
began her interrogation. She emphasised her displeasure over Audrey's behaviour to a valued customer and demanded
to know what was wrong.
'Beats me why you came at all if you're ill, though you look healthy enough to me.'
Pressing her stomach firmly,
thought how perfectly satisfactory she was. She was merely suffering from the
solicitudes of an obscene caller and a glut of masturbation. That's all.
If that was her chief endurance
would by now be exulting. In the interests of normality she would willingly
trade the anguish transmitted by the fiend on the phone for a year's supply of
The idea of going home to an empty house and facing the ravaged mess she'd left her bed dismayed her, primarily because she didn't trust herself any more. She didn't trust the progressive sensations. Even if they lay dormant, she'd have to do something until
came, which wouldn't be until the early evening. She could, of course, visit Doris and her mother, but Carol
might find out and she was, after all, supposed to be sick. In any case, she
didn't think she could cope with 's
mother in her present uneasy state. Doris
At length, unable to face the prospect of several hours alone, she persuaded Carol she was fit enough to stay but, on account of paying greater heed to the technique of male speech than to what they actually said, she made mistakes: short-changing, wrapping the wrong weight of cheese, and weighing smoked bacon instead of plain, until Carol exasperatedly instructed her to leave.
Depressed and oblivious to her surroundings,
Audrey dawdled past the benches. She hesitated by the
library steps, wondering whether to go in, but reading was not an occupation
she fancied, not unless there was a manual of answers she could browse through.
Outside the police station, she wondered if Brian
had forgiven her, but didn't dwell on it. Hadn't she plenty to contend with, without
bothering about him?
As she moved towards the church, she shivered at the recollection of hairs and veins and Michael's insidious smile, wondering, now that she was alone and safe, why she had let him get to her and why she felt so strained in the company of men. Why the hell couldn't she destroy every faithless man-jack instead of allowing them to get to her. Like she nearly did with
Carrie. She would have had a go
at her as easy as look at her if she'd squeezed the trigger. If she was
single-minded she would treat all the males with similar contempt and rid her
mind of the whole wretched business. Period.
So engrossed was she in self-analysis she didn't hear the two tittering girls until they fell in step, one either side. In frivolous humour Bess and
Vera talked across her,
prattling mainly about boys and clothes. Their adolescent silliness prompted Audrey to snarl, 'For goodness sake, leave off!'
The girls dropped back, dumbfounded and troubled.
'I didn't mean to upset you,' whimpered Bess, nervously knotting her hair.
'Aw, sorry, Miss B. Can we do anything?'
'I'll be fine once I'm home.'
Her tone possessed a strength which unchained Audrey's despair. The awareness of young people never ceased to astonish her and
Vera's offer made her feel not quite so detached from
human sympathy. If she was nagged by some mediocre ailment she would be
grateful for assistance, but no-one could remove the nightmare or the worrying
urges. She alone had to locate the culprit and the cure. And she would.
She watched the girls head towards
Green Lane, arms linked and gossiping,
before turning into Arbor Road.
Her spirits soared to an unfamiliar high as she approached the house and she
resolved to derive as much enjoyment as possible from the unexpected respite.
Scurrying through the gate, she freely anticipated a pleasurable hour mowing
the lawn, then bathing until tea.
The police station was a three up-three down house of mammoth proportions and the dwelling of
and . The administration people did
not consider that Fieldmoor warranted the expense of erecting a proper
building. Helen Beresford Chris could have
commandeered the house Brian lived in
but he preferred to live on the spot. Consequently, while the action took place
at the front of the house, Chris and Helen lived in the extensive rear and the entire
Typing two-digit style on a machine which could have been the prototype for the earliest model, Brian consoled himself that even Audrey's flying fingers would be impeded by the stubborn keys. Expletives took wing when, for the umpteenth time, he had to daub Tippex on a typing error and take a rubber to the copies. It was high time computers were allowed in this godforsaken office.
While he fiddled with the carbons, someone pressed the bell. He glanced up and saw a dishevelled girl at the reception counter, a tender, pretty teenager. Scraping back his chair, he sauntered forth to see what she wanted and got annoyed when for some reason she ducked out of sight, presumably to adjust a shoe. But she had done no such thing ... she had fainted. When she failed to reappear, Brian leaned over to find out what she was playing at. Seeing the figure crumpled like a rag doll on the floor, he lifted the hinged flap and rushed to the other side.
Cursing the fact that he was on his own, he checked her general condition before transferring her to the adjoining room. Her head lolled towards her shoulder as he settled her on a low-slung couch under the window. There was a contusion beneath the left eye and a three-inch bloody scratch on her cheek. He leaned closer to inspect the single, determined line. Supposing it could have been caused by a ring, he checked her hands, but there was no ring and no indentation on her fingers. The blood speckles on the collar of her plain yellow blouse no doubt came from the scratch. She was a good-looking girl, slim and petite. Her left foot was bare, the right one encased in a grey canvas shoe with an aimless pattern of drying blood on the front.
At four-fifteen the traffic in Redhampton would be chaotic, and an ambulance could take an hour to appear.
broke the rule about sending people directly to hospital and snatched up the
phone to send for . It would only take two minutes
from his house in the square. Assured that Len would come at once, he
relinquished the phone and hollered through the intersecting door to Leonard
Bonser Helen, summoning blankets and cushions they reserved
for emergencies. Right away came sounds of cupboard doors squeaking open and
banging shut, followed by footsteps and curses as Helen
apparently dropped some of her load.
Bearing a consignment twice her width,
dashed in and dumped the required articles on the rug near the couch. The girl
moaned. She tried to sit up but sank back with a painful cry. Making restful
noises, Helen popped a flowery cushion
behind her head, draped her with a blanket, and squatted beside her.
At the point of describing her attacker, the magnitude of her ordeal overtook her. Tears streamed onto her blouse and her voice was so racked with sobs she could hardly speak, but she was very brave and, with
Helen's quiet encouragement, she managed to go on.
The man was youngish, circa twenty-five, and slim, with dark hair. She'd got a good look at him when he twisted her round and shoved his fist between her legs. By this time her speech was compounded by loud hiccups, but she persevered. Her assailant, she told them, had punched her chest and tummy when she struggled, then knocked her to the ground and forced her legs apart. He was scared off by the kids who'd been scrapping and scarpered over the bridge.
And all the while
After Len had taken
to the hospital and Helen had
retreated to her quarters, Brian
prepared to type the report. He inserted the relevant forms in the typewriter,
then sat gazing into space and mulling over the details of the attack.
What was it that drove one person to abuse another? What if this tranquil village was harbouring a wilful pervert? It was a notion difficult to imagine since Fieldmoor was celebrated for its close-knit community. On the other hand, there was
unexplained experience, and Doris Audrey's,
though hers being remote was entirely different. Even as he came to that
unsuspecting conclusion he developed an uneasy foreboding, for Helen's telephone had begun to ring and the thought
had come to him: What if the perpetrator of Audrey's
calls was also brutal?
To calm the onset of niggling disquiet, he helped himself to a cup of cold coffee and took it back to his desk, where he continued to brood until the office phone rang. It was
to announce that he'd been delayed in Redhampton. Brian
told him of the offence against Penny
and launched into an oration about dangerous residents.
'Got it typed yet?'
'I'll be another half an hour here. We'll discuss your theory when I get back.'
It didn't follow that the guy was local? He could be from elsewhere, Dunkley even, or Redhampton. The concept of the culprit lodging in a remote manor and therefore making him more difficult to trace made
Brian lose heart; his wretchedness was so bad
suddenly that he submitted a prayer that Audrey's
calls were being made from within their parish. That way there was every
likelihood the swine would be identified.
The lounge was tidy, the Finlandia tape provided background music, the Liebfraumilch was chilling in the fridge. Wearing her favourite sweatshirt, the one explaining that Powder Snow is Softer than Ice,
sprawled on the sofa with a notepad resting on her knees. The second page of
her letter to Matthew was almost filled
when the doorbell announced Gladys's
arrival. Her senses raced with newsy matters to write-up and she was reluctant
to break off. Sighing, she closed the pad and slapped it on the table, then
proceeded to open the door.
'What it says ... snow, dry and powdery.'
Gladys on her
heels, Audrey went to check the wine.
Testing the temperature of the bottle, her view was that it was not
sufficiently chilled. 'It'll be scarcely palatable,' she grumbled. She was
fussy about wine, believing that in order to savour the full bouquet the
temperature had to be just right. The trouble was, if she returned the bottle
to the fridge there would not be enough time to drink it. And tonight her need
for a boost was paramount.
'It'll do me,'
said, taking wine-glasses from the dresser. 'Got any crisps?'
's not going to the fete,'
she said, when she was installed in the fireside chair. 'He's whining that the
Vicar's allocated jobs to everyone except him. I think he's misinformed and
told him so. I'm sure Gerald
Tomlin Michael hasn't
named anyone yet. He would have mentioned it if he had.' Gladys
lifted her wine-glass. 'Hey ho. Takes all sorts. Quite honestly, I'd have
predicted Gerald would go just to get
away from Liz.'
'Tell him, then. He wouldn't mind getting somebody else. He'd oblige you, Aud, being soft on you the way he is.' Setting her glass on a crocheted coaster,
Gladys cleared her
throat with a small cough. 'I've got…'
The phone was ringing.
Curbing her breath,
looked at Gladys. Neither of them
stirred until the last echo tailed into insignificance. Then Audrey slowly exhaled. Supposing, just supposing it
had been Matty. But she knew, with sure-fire certainty, that it had not been
her son on the line.
'Damn it,' she cried. 'I'll go ex-directory.' Worth a try, but rather like dousing a dead fire with water.
They drank the rest of the wine and started on a fresh, unchilled bottle.
Gladys fiddled with
the corkscrew, apprehensively opening and closing the levers. 'I was going to
tell you before that thing rang.' She put the opener down and began folding an
empty crisp packet. 'I broke my word and told Brian
about the calls.'
'You don't mind?'
'Thank God,' said
The fete was the prime topic in the pub, the drinking crew foreseeing a galaxy of cute girls in low-cut, mini-skirted summer frocks. They huddled together, preoccupied with their discourse. From where he sat
Brian captured random fragments: long legs, white
thighs, boobs, and naked flesh. He kept his distance. As far as he was
concerned, crudity's appeal had long since diminished.
Their mucky sniggers made
seethe. Without warning, she seized Jane Fleming Peter's
arm and jolted him backwards. Several beer mugs hurtled to the linoleum where
they smashed into smithereens. 'You make me sick,' she yelled. ' D'you
think women are chattels for you lot to besmirch?'
Heads jerked and resentful lips pursed.
Motioning the men to wait,
propelled his wife by the shoulders to their private accommodation, while the
offended assembly remained as motionless as telegraph poles. The clock's tick
was rowdy in the ensuing hush and the cars on the main thoroughfare sounded
like rumbling thunder.
Paddy said, 'What a fuss!'
His statement fetched his colleagues out of their shocked oblivion and they started to speak in bemused confusion.
Bill resolved to
find a way to pacify.
'It's time we cultivated more mature attitudes,' said
Brian. ' Jane's
absolutely right to have a go. We're all guilty of denigrating women and it
often borders on the slanderous.' He advanced to the middle of the morose group
to dispose of his empty glass and was just walking away when Peter shambled in, carting a broom and grinning.
'Don't understand what's the matter with her. She knows men chat that way.'
Peter consigned a
couple of beer-glasses to the sink. He laughed. 'Reckon she wanted a bit of
attention. Might have got some too, if her neckline was a bit lower.'
'He's not worth it, man,' he breathed.
Low rumbles travelled round the gathering.
Riveting his eyeballs to the bar,
shredded a corner of a soggy beer mat. 'I'd no idea,' he mumbled.
Stroking his stubble,
turned his back to the bar. His hair stuck up at one side, revealing a faint
smudge on his temple. He pushed away his longing for sleep for there was one
further knife to twist. He waited until the whisperings diminished then let
loose his bombshell: that an individual in their midst was making indecent
phone calls. He didn't, of course, know that for certain. He was testing their
Paddy chewed his bottom lip.
'I can't disclose that,' said
'And I'd be obliged if you'd keep the news to yourselves. The guilty party
won't get away with it, though. I'll be watching, and listening.'
(to be continued)