The taxi driver gave a muffled reply to the female radio controller who had asked, almost pleadingly, if anyone was near the Tower. He then continued to drive in silence, and
settled against the black leather to enjoy the ride. She was surprised to see
that a new housing estate had sprung up in her absence, rows of matchbox
properties barricaded by fences, and this change served to remind her of how
seldom she visited. A dawdling tractor delayed the cab for several minutes and
the red-necked taxi driver, prevented from overtaking by oncoming cars, drummed impatient fingers on the horn. When the opportunity came to pass, he
indicated his fury with an impolite gesture. Audrey
shook her head. Was it every man's nature to want everything his way,
The travelling hadn't tired her as much as she expected. In fact, from the moment she stepped on the station platform she felt uplifted and carefree, as if none of her worries existed. She had spent the entire journey planning how best to occupy herself, dreaming of jogging on the sands, swimming, and playing tennis, but, now that she was here, a period of inactivity appealed much more: loafing around the cottage, or pottering in the garden, or lazing with a book; always supposing, of course, that Adrian would allow her to stay.
'Can I stay, Uncle?'
'Stay? Course you can stay.' He squeezed her fingers and tucked her arm in his as they walked towards the shabby front door. 'I'm mighty glad you've come. Don't get to see too many people these days.'
said, and meant it. 'I've grown really selfish lately, and dreadfully
quarrelsome.' She pushed open the door, and stood back to let the old man enter
first. 'I thought you might help get me back to normal,' she said.
'I hope you're right.'
Adrian closed the door, and immediately the hallway darkened as if an eclipse had taken place. Momentarily, Audrey hankered to snatch the door open, suddenly afraid of shadows. Unaware of her misgivings,
walked on. 'It's not a matter of me being right, lass. It's a question of
having faith in nature's energies. Better than pills and doctors any day.' Adrian
Now, whether his convictions were right or wrong, Audrey couldn't say, but there must have been some reason the fear drained away as quickly as it came, and since the hallway was still dark, and she hadn't yet been near the sea, she could only presume the recovery came from Adrian himself; she had known she could recuperate here, she just hadn’t known how. From the depths of the hall, Adrian called: 'This way for tea, lass,' an invitation which sent her scurrying towards him like an eager kid, glad to obey, and overjoyed to be in safe hands.
Over a cup of strong, virtually undrinkable tea that had Audrey grimacing behind her hand, Adrian chatted unreservedly about his few neighbours, all of whom, in his opinion, merited medals for their compassion and their helping hands; a similar description to that often expressed by Audrey when discussing Gladys. Was it a common quality of childless folk? Was having a son the reason for her intolerance? She didn't think so, though her recent behaviour set her wondering.
At the first break in
's spirited dialogue, Adrian Audrey began to talk about Matthew,
portraying him as a bronzed nubile, which thought was a highly
amusing representation. Adrian
'You'd better fix him up in films if he's that attractive. He'll earn a fortune.'
'If your dad was here he'd be strutting up the prom telling everyone he met, and your mother would've been beside herself with pretentious satisfaction. God rest their poor souls, they'd have been better pegging-out after
Matthew proved himself, not all
those years before.'
After a light meal, with the washing-up done and the table cleared,
Audrey and Adrian went into the room that was still referred to
as the parlour. They sat together on the battered horsehair couch, facing the
old black range. Audrey had changed
into a white track suit and wore a Adrian Guernsey sweater as protection from the evening chill. He
sat erect, with a cushion supporting his back, his thin brown cords swamping
his skinny thighs. The dog snored between them and Audrey
reached down to scratch his head. ' Ben
sure is an improvement on your old corgis,' she said.
'Aye, he is. I never felt at ease with them after the bite I had. They can be a bit tetchy when they want, for no reason. No, you never know where you are with corgis. Not like you, eh fella?'
The room possessed an air of agreeable calm and they fell into a comfortable hush. No sounds interrupted the stillness, not even a clacking timepiece.
Audrey looked up
at the shelf. 'Is the clock slow, or has it stopped?'
'The day that thing stops will be the day I do.'
'Don't say that, Uncle,' she chided, bouncing up to put it right. As a timepiece it was ornate, but beautiful nevertheless. Its face was embellished with tiny lilies, and the carved surround depicted a miniature garden not unlike the one here. Being something of a replica of
small but unique grounds, and since it was presented on the day he retired, Adrian Audrey surmised that the clock was handmade and
specifically decorated, and of matchless sentimental value. Running her fingers
along the smooth outline of leaves, she tilted her head to listen, certain now
that it had stopped. She peeped at her uncle, whose head was beginning to
droop, and decided it would be better if he didn't know. Making little noise,
she opened the clock's drawer and removed a tiny brass key. Inserting it into
the hole, she carefully wound the clock until the resonant tick resumed, then
she withdrew the key and closed the glass cover. 's
comment that he and the clock were inseparable must have impinged itself for,
as she leaned on the mantelpiece to concentrate on the ticks, she felt the
trepidation secede. He'll be safe now, she thought. Adrian
Alongside the clock was a studio photograph of her mother and
in figure-hugging, white ball gowns. They sat in front of a tall potted palm,
on a high-backed couch comparable to the one in Millards dress shop; behind
them, elegant in dress-suits, stood her father and Uncle Adrian. Adrian had
once joked that he wore the monkey suit to climb the palm; and a much younger Audrey
believed him. Beatrice
'Remembering the past?'
She jumped. 'I didn't know you were awake,'
'Can I get you a drink?'
'Nay, lass. I'd be wanting to wee-wee in the night if I let so much as a drop get through the old lips.'
The next morning, seeing the light streaming through the gap in the plain pink curtains,
flabbergasted that she had actually slept through an entire night. She bounded
out of bed, feeling exceedingly refreshed and filled with energy, scuttling to
the bathroom as if she hadn't a moment to lose. Studying her face in the
mirror, she chose not to wear her normal make-up, accepting that a dash of
foundation, primarily to cover the mark, would suffice. When her ablutions were
complete, she dressed in trousers and a white cotton shirt, then slipped down
the hall to the kitchen, but, instead of bothering with breakfast, she led the
dog into the garden. While he sniffed his territory, she hunted in the
potting-shed for an empty trug, intending to furnish the house with flowers the
did: every nook, she remembered, containing foliage or blooms. Beatrice
Bundling daisies and larkspur into the trug, she bypassed the shed and joined the path leading to the front garden. There, with
Ben ambling at her heels, she strolled among man-high
shrubs until she arrived at the arbour seat her father loved. She inhaled the
orangy smell of Choisya as she listened to an early song-thrush. 'I bet you
love it here, too, Ben,' she said as
she stroked his shaggy coat. Ben's
ears twitched but not in response to her fondling for he also growled and
pointed his snout towards the gate. Audrey
arched round and saw a white-whiskered postman coming in.
a couple of black biscuits, the postman said, 'Here you are, old lad,' then
addressed himself to Audrey. 'Mornin',
Withdrawing a bundle of letters from his bulging sack, he selected two and
handed them over. 'Lovely weather again.' Miss.
The postman's merry eyes sparkled as he bestowed on her a smile resembling that of a chubby gnome. 'Have a splendid day,' he said, touching two fingers to his peaked cap.
Thinking what a delightful man he was,
returned to the house and put the letters on the sideboard, and, after feeding Ben, she crammed the flowers into an enamel pitcher
with decoupage motifs. It was only when she was centring the pitcher on the
huge table that it dawned on her that it was the second flower-picking in as
many days, though the first seemed a million years away and the same amount of
's waking by his
morning cough, she set about preparing his breakfast. She soft-boiled an egg
and put it on a tray with cornflakes and toast, and carried it to his room.
Placing the tray on his knees, she pecked his cheek. 'Morning, Uncle. Can you
'I've managed ever since your
Aunt died,' he grumbled. Bea
She gave him a playful thump. 'You're incorrigible,' she said, going to swing back the curtain. Outside, in one of the neighbouring bungalows, an ageing gentleman was unfolding garden chairs. Later on, she thought, she would be out there, or her name wasn't Audrey Buckham.
The next hour was spent cleaning and straightening, putting ancient papers and magazines in racks, and scouring the grease encrusted sink. As the air of neglect gradually disappeared,
concluded that, in situations like this, the services of a housekeeper would be
indispensable, and a transient image of ,
muttering her way through housework in a manner peculiar to her, prompted a wry
grin. If anyone could cure Gladys Stanhope 's hatred of being
bossed, she could. And that observation whipped up other, less merry
reflections. Gladys! How angry she must have been when she found the note; how
hurt, bearing in mind all the good woman had done. Adrian Audrey
decided to ring before it became too difficult to heal the rift, and, before
she could change her mind, she dialled the number.
There was something afoot.
did not normally speak in such a lilting fashion.
Audrey, am I
thankful you've rung. I've got some very important news.'
A shiver travelled up
neck. For heaven's sake! She'd come here to forget things. The last thing she
wanted was news.
'I've got engaged!'
'Did you hear what I said?'
'Engaged? You and
I don't know what to say.'
'How about congratulations?'
Incapable of digesting news of such magnitude, and suspecting that
Gladys was being frivolous, Audrey's response was clumsy. 'How did that happen?'
she enquired, a shade flippantly.
could not absorb it. She'd only left Fieldmoor yesterday; less than twenty-four
hours had elapsed since the upset. Surely Sam
hadn't offered betrothal as a means of comforting an aggrieved woman?
'Haven't you got anything to say, Aud?'
'You didn't offend me. Anyway, I must tell you,
Jane gave a party for us at the pub. Oh, Audrey, I wish you could've shared it with me.'
(to be continued)