Stirred by a cooling breeze, the shoots of the weeping willow swept gracefully over the grass, shiny now with premature dew. The perfume of night scented stock drifted in the open window. In the distance an owl hooted, an eerie sound, like the anguished cry of a human babe. Brian was oblivious to it all. He sat in his shirtsleeves watching the stars, an undiluted Famous Grouse at his side. re-examining the morning's episode when Audrey talked to him and Chris.
He pictured again her distraught face as she endeavoured to describe the agony of the atrocious calls, the moist lashes when she questioned why she was being persecuted, her sobs when she spoke of the fierce need to shower away the filth. Even in a state of desolation she radiated the kind of glow that other women spent fortunes trying to achieve, the tan coloured tracksuit in complete harmony with her hair. Furiously, he dug his nails in his palms, wanting desperately to annihilate the villain who had caused her such grief.
Matthew had looked ready to strike Chris when he proposed that Audrey contrived to meet the man, explaining that one of them would tail behind and eventually apprehend. Audrey was as aghast as if they had recommended an immoral assignation, but the reason for the vehement refusal, that the whole village would find out, was ludicrous. She seemed strangely defiant when she added that she might know him. Chris's bushy brows shot up at that and he scrutinised Brian as if to question why she was there. Brian conveyed his lack of understanding by a shrug of the shoulders.
Brian approved of Matthew's protectiveness towards his mother. He was a bit like Malcolm in that regard: mindful of obligations, warm-hearted, deeply loyal. Audrey would miss him when he left, and someone else would have to support her through the present ordeal. A mean thought introduced itself: maybe this was the break he'd been waiting for, a not-to-be-missed chance to renew their alliance.
Grabbing the whisky bottle, he replenished his drink. The remaining embers of Paddy Finnigan's bonfire crackled into the night. He sniffed the lingering, anticipatory smell of burning wood and was reminded of bonfire nights, chestnuts and baked potatoes, and the passion which escalated with every segment of food he and Audrey fed to each other.
Attracted by a shadowy movement in next door's garden, Brian leaned out. He saw Gladys gazing at the sky as if she was fascinated by astronomy. Scouring the universe for tranquillity, he wouldn't wonder. It was clear earlier in the day that she was strained, presumably having burnt herself out in an effort to comfort Audrey, whose spirits showed no sign of lifting. It occurred to him that if Gladys was powerless to help, any assistance he offered would be useless … even supposing it was accepted. A mesmerising tail of smoke wafted over the privet. It resembled the unformed genie of the lamp, that charmed spectre capable of granting wishes. How contented he would be if a sympathetic spirit sanctioned one of his.
After closing the window he turned his back on the night and pondered the interview again. Still perplexed about Audrey's indignation, he shook his head. Because the police could do nothing, Chris had ended the discussion with the suggestion that she contact the phone company though Brian had the distinct impression it was a step she did not want to take.
Yawning with fatigue, he solemnly checked the contents of his glass, emptied the bottle, then went to the cupboard for another. There was only vodka left. Since he was too far into the drinking bout to care he tossed off three full glasses.
The room reeled but he was still capable of sporadic flashes of intelligent thought, though he couldn't remember why he had craved the luxury of insensibility in the first place. Was it something to do with Audrey? Words whizzed around his brain: Dear, dear Audrey. Abruptly, he surfaced from the chair and flung the glass to the floor. It crunched beneath his feet as he crashed his way to the stairs. 'To hell with everything,' he growled, stumbling up on all fours.
He undressed, letting the clothes lie where they dropped. He sat naked on the bed, one leg sprawled over the edge, the other propped against a pillow. He seized Audrey's photo and surveyed it with bleary eyes, then began tapping the glass. 'I can't be doin' with this upset,' he said. 'You an' me gotta have li'l chat.' Hugging the cold frame against his insignificant patch of curly grey chest hair, he disappeared under the quilt and wept.
(to be continued)