Friends

28 May 2013

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 41 CONCLUSION

With their relationship alternating between strained, grudging, and congenial, Brian helped David settle into a first floor flat, one of five in a Georgian residence that had long ago lost its architectural charm. On top of agreeing to pay the rent, a token one by current standards which Brian accepted would not cause him the hardship he had feared, he donated cutlery and china, bed linen and cooking utensils, and the old television which had been stored in the loft. It would do, he told David, until he found his feet and got a job. During the time it took to cart cupboards, a wardrobe, and a cooker from a second-hand shop, David groused unceasingly about his mother's partner. He seemed to be obsessed with a peculiar hankering to teach the guy a lesson, and this obsession prohibited discussion on anything else.
Brian was mystified as to the true reason he so hated him, but was disinclined to challenge him; it was better to say nothing than risk a potential black eye. Those who did not know David would say his attitude was cowardly, and he supposed their opinion would be right, but, basically he didn't want to be on the receiving end of David's flying fist. The prospect of securing a facial disfigurement this side of his planned outing to the pub, was wholly undesirable; he had to look his best to share his engagement with the world, and he didn't want to be marred beforehand.

At the end of the second arduous day, made more onerous by David's fluctuating mood, Brian collapsed into the armchair they had picked up for a song in Dunkley. David sat in a rocker, one leg slung over the arm. Believing him to be in a receptive humour, and with a certain amount of consternation, Brian broached the subject of his forthcoming marriage.

'You what?'

'I'm getting married.'

'Christ, who'd marry you?'

Striving to be patient, Brian said, 'Audrey Buckham, who else.'

'That bitch?'

'David!'

'You must be off your head. What about Mum?'

His patience was threadlike; nevertheless Brian persevered. 'Stop, David. Stop now, before you say something we both regret.'

But David was fired up. He could no more have stopped the swirl of malignity than single-handedly sail the seven seas. 'So you'll abandon her, just like that. Leave her to the mercies of that cretin she's taken with. That's you all over. Even now, you're so engrossed with finding a second home for your cock, you don't give a shit about her. Fine bloody husband you are.'

Brian charged out of the chair, raging like a bull and as capable of goring his son to death. 'Your insane, you know that? You need to see a damned shrink. Not that a shrink could do much, you're too far gone to be helped.' He was gratified to see his son's incredulous expression, but the fury didn’t abate. 'You're attitude is unforgivable. For all you profess to be concerned for your mother, you seem strangely reluctant to consider her feelings. Or mine.' He was too furious to attempt to rationalise, to drum into him the sad business of falling-out of love, or define what divorce and the consequent readjustments were all about. If he didn't understand by now, he never would.

'Huh! Get you!' sneered David. 'You, of course, know all about considering feelings. You and the bitch.'

'I've never known anyone as vindictive as you, David.'

'Haven't you, father? Well, I'll tell you this, so long as my mother continues her degrading gymnastics I shall continue to be, as you say, vindictive to her and Ben Jarvis. All he can think of is injecting his dick. He's a bit like you in that respect.'

Angrily, Brian stood over him. 'And who are you to censure regular guys? Eh? What about you and your anal-prodding cohorts?'

'At least I don't do it with mates who've paired off.'

Brian knew that if he didn't get the hell out, he would be hard-pressed to refrain from committing murder. He lurched to the door and dragged it open, but, before going through, he stopped and wheeled round. 'Whether you approve or not, it's most likely your mother will set up home with Ben Jarvis, and I am definitely intending to wed Audrey.'

'And I hope you'll all be very happy,' said David, sarcastically. 'But if you think bitch Audrey will slot into Mum's shoes, you've got another think coming. She's fucking infantile. You won't like living with someone like that, not after Mum. Who else would coop themselves up in a room full of bleedin' bears.'

Brian sprinted down the stairs to the road. He jumped into the Escort, rapidly winding the window to oust the smell of cast-off furniture, and took off like a bat out of hell. It wasn't until he slid to a stop at the traffic lights that the implication of David's final words hit home.

Bears!
Cooped up in a room full of bears.
Jesus!


He had known David was crazy, but to be so bitter was inconceivable. To enter Audrey's home and smash every ornament was total derangement.' He massaged his forehead, recalling the shredded underwear, the business with the bed, the urination, and the gross devastation. The lights changed and Brian pressed the accelerator to the floor, scarcely aware of what he was doing. He was thoroughly dazed by this time, the awful disclosure weighing heavy on his mind. For the rest of the journey he fretted over telling Audrey, dreading the prospect of explaining that it was his son who had wrecked her home. And after that, she would charge David with the offence, and she would choose not to marry him.

As he turned into Ardenrose Road, he considered that possibility; he knew he couldn't handle it, and by the time he'd travelled the fifty yards to his house and pulled in at the kerb, he knew that he could no more exist alone than join a monastery. Not now. He shouted, 'No!' as he hoisted the handbrake, and glowered at a startled woman passing by. 'I won't tell her,' he yelled as she scurried to the safety of her own space. It would mean that David would not be indicted, but he, Brian, would be fulfilled at last. It was a momentous decision, reached for purely selfish reasons. So be it, he thought, happier to face recriminations at a future date than spoil his new-found happiness.
*****

Very much the young lady now, Vera tried her hand at supervising the rearrangement of Audrey's home. She assigned tasks to Bess and, in order to keep the operation moving, she outlawed the idea of taking even half-an-hour's break.

Bess complained, 'You're a rotten old slave driver.'

'No, I'm not. I aim to get the place shipshape in record time, that's all.'

The bulk of the work entailed climbing into the loft to sort the belongings of Audrey's mother, ornaments which over the years had been substituted by others. After consultation about which ones to display, the girls set about washing and polishing and positioning the items at designated stations. A much happier Liz Tomlin provided refreshments, lemonade for the girls, and coffee for Audrey, and at lunch time she brought hot soup and crackers and slabs of fruit cake.

Brian rang several times, to Vera's disgust for she reckoned his calls delayed them. Once he rang when she was grouping a trio of monkeys on the plaque shelf in the hall, and she answered the call. 'Now look,' she said. 'How do you expect Audrey to be finished in time to see you tonight if you keep on calling. What do you mean, how do I know? Doesn't she see you every night after we've gone home? I'm not loony, I can read the signs, you know.'

Audrey almost choked on a mouthful of cake, in anticipation of Vera defining the signs, while Liz averted her eyes and shook her head at her daughter's audacity. Both were astounded when Vera replaced the phone without bothering to summon Audrey. 'That was Brian,' she called. 'He said to tell you he loves you and he'll be round at six sharp.'

The house was habitable again. The unwanted, more outlandish of the archaic collection had been packed and returned to the tea chests in the loft. The adornments Audrey selected were more in keeping with modern times; not for her the ugly dogs and cats that were once in vogue. Three things she kept on one side: a small powder bowl, which she believed Bess would enjoy using; a delicate trinket box for Liz; and a tiny porcelain replica of a grandfather clock for Vera. Wanting them to be tokens of appreciation from them both, she waited for Brian to arrive and presented the gifts then.

Bess was so awestruck when she saw the bowl that she could only stutter her thanks. Liz, too, was stuck for words, but Vera loudly conceded that the clock would forever remind her of Uncle Adrian. There was a suspicion of tears behind the handkerchief Liz used to blow her nose but Brian covered the moment by pouring wine into the old fashioned silver goblets that were now in use. The girls were included, and they accepted the wine with much giggling and tittering and, as they drank and nibbled cheesy biscuits, Vera referred again to Uncle Adrian.

'I should ring him,' she remarked. 'I did promise.'

'Do it now,' suggested Audrey.

Vera didn't need telling twice. 'Right on,' she said, racing from the room to the phone, and racing back again for the number. Audrey scribbled the number on the till receipt which came with the wine.

'You're drunk,' yelled Bess, as Vera sped off with the receipt in her hand.

They all gathered round while Vera spoke to the old man, who was apparently thrilled to hear her voice. Chatting at speed, she enquired after his health and checked that he was taking care of himself. She asked about the dog; she said she was at Audrey's house with her mother and Brian and her best friend Bess and said they were all listening and refusing to give her a minute's peace to talk with him alone, finishing with: 'When can I come to see you?'

There was a pause while she listened to his reply.

'Fantastic!' she cried. 'Can I bring Mum?'

'No!' mouthed Audrey, shaking her head vigorously.

Vera ignored her and carried on talking, ultimately ending the conversation with, 'See you in two weeks, then. I'll ring before we come.'

Naturally, Liz was concerned over Vera's hastiness in pushing for an invitation, but Brian declared it would do her good to get away and renew her acquaintance with her daughter.

Initially, Audrey felt a stranger's presence would disturb Adrian, until she recalled the state of him prior to meeting Vera, then she saw the sense of it. And she told herself, remembering his liver-spotted arms and wizened fingers, that it wouldn't hurt her to go. With Brian.

*****
At Brian's extraordinary insistence they went out for a drink, the first time since the funeral they had been out as a couple. Nervously, Audrey clung to him. Although confident she looked her best in the blue outfit she'd bought for the fete, she still felt like a zoo animal waiting to be gawked at. A wave of stomach cramps overwhelmed her. She felt like sprinting for cover but Brian's clasp was firm; there was no escape.

As if she had been lying in wait, Jane Fleming pounced the minute they walked in. 'You look like you've just traded a penny for a fortune,' she remarked to Brian as she escorted them to the congested bar.

Audrey stared goggle-eyed at the balloons and streamers and the banner strung across the ceiling which bore the inscription Congratulations. A giant piece of white card, with their names printed on, was pinned above the optics. Seeing that, she bumped Brian, hard. 'How did they know?'

'Search me.'

Just then, Audrey spotted Gladys and Sam in the alcove. She watched them for ages, contemplating the reason why Gladys seemed so different. Her hair, perhaps? And then understanding dawned. She was wearing yellow. 'Good Lord,' she exclaimed, laughing and pointing. 'Look, Brian. Gladys has gone contemporary.'

Gladys reddened and ducked behind Sam.

'Very nice too,' Brian said, smiling broadly. 'I bet she's the culprit. I let on this afternoon that I was bringing you here. I suppose she's blabbed it to the entire village.' Seeing Audrey's misgivings, he squeezed her hand. 'Hey you. I love you, and I don't care who knows.'

Audrey was powerless to interpret her uneasiness about people knowing, able only to associate it to her mother's oft-quoted superstition: grief treads upon the heels of pleasure. A stupid, stupid sentiment. There was, after all, absolutely nothing that could upset her future happiness, The past was sorted, the quandary was extinct; therefore, she had nothing to fear. Her heart was ready to burst and it was difficult to remember how, because of foolish pride and a wounded ego, she had denied herself the pleasure of being with Brian.

Still with Brian at her side, Audrey surveyed the room. Paddy and Eileen Finnigan were conversing with Maureen Dingle-Jones, whose hand was resting lightly on Eileen's shoulder. Bill and Ellen Mountford were propping up the bar, talking to Jane and obviously discussing Audrey if the covert glances were anything to go by. Next to them Ron Pearce and Arnold Trevors were trying to push a shrieking Diane onto one of the high stools, amidst loud guffaws from Tom Setton.

Peter was circulating with a tray of champagne.

Snatching up a glass, Norman had to roar to make himself heard about the din. 'Can I just say ....' He paused, brandishing an arm to gain attention. 'Can I just say how pleased I am about Brian and Audrey's engagement? I might add, it's not before time.' He raised his glass. 'Would you join me in wishing them a bright and blissful future?'

Cheers rang out and a voice called, 'I'll endorse that, Squire.'

Although the champagne bubbles made her cough, Audrey swallowed it like lemonade, then swiped another from Peter's tray. She scoured the room for Gladys and located her scurrying, with two glasses in her hand, towards a table in the darkest corner where two people sat. She peered through the curtain of smoke, trying to make out who they were, blinded for an instant by the lights of a car sweeping like a searchlight through the window.

It was then she saw Doris and her mother. She saw Mrs Pinches take the champagne from Gladys and witnessed the effort it took to get to her feet; and she was still watching when the old woman hollered, 'God bless Audrey Buckham and her bloke.'

Regardless of the fact that she'd drunk more than enough, Audrey was compos mentis. Consequently, she failed to understand why the folk who were sporting silly grins were moving away.

Brian, too!

Was she growing horns or something?

Someone spoke softly to Brian, who had his hand on her waist - only, when he stepped back, the hand remained.

She sucked in her breath, and slowly turned her head.

'Hi, Mum!'

She squealed: 'Matthew!' and swivelled right round to throw her arms around him. She clung tightly as if she would never let him go, immobilised from speaking by the narrowing of her throat.

'Glad you could make it, son,' Brian said as he waited, contentedly, to pump Matthew's hand.

THE END

13 comments:

Brian Miller said...

whew....what a finale eh? i had my doubts...esp with that opening gambit with david....really well done val....

Valerie said...

Thank you, Brian. And thank you for sticking with it throughout. Now should I or should I not turn it into an ebook?

Ron said...

What an OUTSTANDING ending, Valerie. WOW!

BRA-VA!

You know, as I was reading the beginning of this chapter, I had a suspicion a few chapters back, that David had something to with it. But the brilliant way in which you wrote this story, I was never 100% sure.

Honestly, you are such a wonderful writer, dear lady. I so enjoyed reading this story. And yes, I think you should turn it into an ebook!

Excellent!

X

L. D. said...

Great Reading!!!!

Valerie said...

Thank you, Ron. You did well to see it through to the end. I'm grateful. Okay, I'll start editing ready for the Kindle. It might take a while... grins.

Montanagirl said...

Such an ending! I've missed a couple chapters, I think. Nice work, Val!!

Pam Beers. said...

Why an e-book? How about sending a query letter to a publisher!

HermanTurnip said...

Excellent father/son moment there. That was some visceral reading! Thought it was going to come to blows there for a tick...

Valerie said...

Hi Pam. Been there, done that. It didn't work!

Herman. So glad you stayed to the end. Visceral reading? That was a new one on me... looked it up though.

Lisa said...

While I have not read the other chapters, this one sure makes me want to! Your writing is wonderful. Nice steady flow that keeps the reader interested.

Valerie said...

Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate your comment. I tried to reach your blog but I see your profile is hidden, which means I couldn't get in.

Banker Chick said...

What an excellent finale, you should definitely turn it into an ebook.

Valerie said...

BC. Thank you. I am in the preparation process for inclusion on Kindle.