The voice travelled across the field like a whirlwind of crows. Giving an exasperated sigh, Rab stopped casting his line and leaned against the gnarled tree. He wondered if he would ever escape his mother’s continuous efforts to monopolise his time.
It was just like the old days, mother nagging son, son hiding from mother. It wouldn’t be so bad but he was forty-five years of age, more a mature student than a junior. Despite himself, he couldn’t help smiling at the idea of his mother standing in the garden calling ‘Mature Student’. The name was the forfeit he paid for being the youngest son. He was now a senior executive and well respected but to his mother he would always be Junior. And he hated it.
Known by all as Rab, Richard Aloysius Benjamin Kendal decided to ignore his mother’s call. He had come here for peace and quite, to fish and to contemplate his future. Elaine had been gone a long time but this was the first time he’d found someone who fitted in with his lifestyle.
Elaine Kendal died in childbirth, taking their son with her. She was twenty-four and the most stunning woman ever to walk the earth. Everything about her was beautiful. Her looks, her body, her character. She had only to gaze at him with those sparkling blue eyes and he was putty in her hands. She had been his world; from the time they met he wanted nothing else but to be with her.
Their marriage was a secret affair, wedded bliss without the crowds. Two people in love. His mother never forgave them for denying her presence at her son’s wedding although she did rally round when Elaine died. Rab thought it was more to do with losing a grandson than a daughter-in-law. The two had never really got on. In fact, she didn’t get on with either of his brother’s wives. Jacob, the eldest, said to ignore it, whilst
Elaine and Rab had such plans for their first born. Rab had been so sure they were having a son and he was right, only he wasn’t to know that until Elaine died. He’d spent months planning to teach his son everything, things like football and fishing, even dating girls when he was older. He even started to collect miniature trains in the hope that father and son would bond together over the Flying Scott and other well known engines.
That was twenty years ago. Twenty lonely years spent working his socks off trying to cope alone, his mother doing her best to remove the desperate isolation that refused to go away. Oh, it had eased a little but the guilt remained. Rab blamed himself for Elaine’s death. If he hadn’t made her pregnant they would still be together. It was a terrible cross to bear.
When his mother discovered that the sympathetic approach didn’t work she changed her policy to one of chastisement. She began to nag, to force him to face the world and get on with life. Rab felt it was all right for her, having divorced his father she hadn’t actually lost someone she loved.
It was time he moved out. His brothers had repeatedly told him so.
A year after Elaine’s death Rab entered a new phase of existence, working through the days and months like an automaton. The guys at the office helped by inviting him to golf clubs, football games, and nights out until gradually he adopted the routine of a single man. Most of the time his heart wasn’t in it but he persevered.
Sunday mornings were taken up with swimming at the local baths. He swam like a fish and according to the ladies he was very easy on the eye. Equally fascinated were the female members of the book club that met on Wednesdays. Rab would go armed with preparation notes and it rarely registered that the group leader always got him to speak first, leaving the ladies inwardly drooling.
The decision to enrol at night classes was the best idea he’d had. It was through Brenda, the art teacher, that he started painting landscapes. After a year he fancied himself as a great artist but his mother wisely ridiculed his dream. He supposed she was trying to protect him from disappointment although a positive attitude would definitely have had a more constructive effect.
Painting was his salvation. Landscapes were what he did best. Weekends were spent touring the countryside with Brenda, hunting for paint worthy scenes. When she was otherwise engaged he would take advantage of fine days to set up his easel by a lake or a shingled beach. He was turning out some good stuff and Brenda’s praise escalated. So did his ego. He did so well he started to sell his pictures at the local market. He became well known as an artist and his life took on new meaning.
Until he and Brenda fell in love.
Rab was drawn to Brenda almost as soon as they met. How well he remembered the first time he had seen her, how taken aback he was by her uncanny likeness to Elaine.
In looks she could have passed for Elaine’s twin, the same sparkly eyes, soft, wavy auburn hair that Rob loved to run his fingers through. Their build was identical, as was the intelligent way they had of thinking things through. What’s more they had matching ideals.
As their friendship grew he discovered that she had the same temperament as Elaine, a placid disposition laced with spikiness when confronted by careless workmen. Rab was astonished that two women could be so alike.
Yet doubts existed. Yes, he loved Brenda, but he had loved Elaine the same way. Now he was confused because he couldn’t be sure if he was making her a surrogate for the wife he’d adored.
Rab gazed into the lake, seeing the ripples made by a jumping fish, but all thoughts of fishing were now abandoned. At the top of a nearby bush a yellowhammer chirped its message. It was a bird Rab easily recognised having read somewhere that the yellowhammer’s call sounded like ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. Easy for him, he thought, the world was its oyster, no worries, no nagging doubts. He rubbed his hand against his chin, feeling the forming stubble, wishing that dilemmas were as easy to remove.
What should he do? Should he break off the relationship with Brenda? He shivered, even on that warm day the thought of separation made him go cold. How could he cut himself off from Brenda’s warmth now that he’d got used to it. But wasn’t that the problem? Wasn’t her warmth bringing about the resurrection of his first love?
His mother’s voice cut through the depression. Slowly Rab pushed away from the tree and got to his feet. It was no use ignoring her summons any longer. Reluctantly he drew in the rod and creel and packed his fishing tackle away. Stepping over the thick tree roots he made his way to the field gate.
The smell of grilled pork was enough to make Rab forget his troubles for a while. Cooking was what Rhoda Kendal did best. Watching her serve roast potatoes from a willow pattern dish, five on Rab’s plate and two on her own, was making his mouth water. He couldn’t wait to start eating. That was one of the things about fishing, it gave him a tremendous appetite.
‘Brenda phoned,’ Rhoda informed him as she doled out spoonfuls of sprouts. ‘I told her you were out fishing; she said she’d ring back.’
Oh God. The nervousness came back. His hands felt clammy. What could he say when she rang? The last time they’d spoken the conversation had ended on a precarious note, his rejection of an invitation to meet her father leaving her bewildered and just a little exasperated.
Placing a jug of steaming gravy in front of him, Rhoda urged him to start eating or the Vicar would arrive before they’d finished.’
The Vicar! Rab had completely forgotten he was coming. If only he was in a better frame of mind he might enjoy seeing the man. Rev. Beresford was a great guy, a widower. He’d been a big help at Elaine’s funeral, the only one who could offer solace as well as common sense. It was perhaps fortuitous that he was calling when Rab was feeling so down. Rab began to eat the meal somewhat heartily, feeling suddenly brighter, as if a magic wand had been waved over him.
Reverend Beresford put his hat on the telephone table and swept into the room. He was full of bonhomie, greeting Rhoda like a long lost friend instead of one he’d seen only the day before. He approached Rab with equal friendliness, offering his hand and patting him on the shoulder. ‘So nice of you to invite me round, Rhoda. The church bazaar will benefit from your expertise,’ he said.
Not only did Rhoda help with the floral decorations, she also planned the layout of the stalls. The vicar swore no-one else did the job as well, a sentiment that Rab thought was slightly over the top. It pleased his mother no end; she preened like a peacock under his praise.
Rhoda gushingly invited him to sit down and proceeded to lay her plans on the table. They were to peruse them to see if there was any way they could expand the number of stalls at the bazaar.
Rab was about to join them when the telephone rang. He tried to ignore it but Rhoda was adamant that it would be Brenda and therefore he must take the call. Rab felt his confidence wane. He muttered something about ‘being out’ and gesturing to his mother to give Brenda his apologies.
Reverent Beresford looked from one to the other, obviously mystified by Rab’s reluctance to talk to his lady friend.
The afternoon wore on with Rab feeling very low spirited. When the plans were finalised the Vicar, after declining a third cup of tea, rose to leave. Rab handed him his hat, inwardly reeling from the man’s direct gaze.
‘Why don’t you come and see me sometime,’ the Vicar said. ‘I generally take a glass of something in the evening and you would be more than welcome to join me.’ Without waiting for a reply, he left the room to say goodbye to Rhoda who was waiting by the front door.
That evening Rab did call to see the Vicar. He had been intending to go to the Golden Goose but half way there he changed his mind. It wouldn’t hurt to go and see the old guy in his own establishment. The fact that he had deliberately avoided speaking to Brenda was worrying him. No matter how he felt about things avoidance was uncalled for. She, after all, had done nothing wrong. The worrying part was that she was so sweet natured she wouldn’t think anything was amiss. That was even more upsetting.
Although a fairly regular churchgoer it was the first time Rab had been inside the vicarage. He was surprised by the warmth of the decor. For a single man the Vicar had extremely good taste. The furnishings were comfortable and inviting and the soft lighting made the room quite cosy. What surprised him was seeing one of his paintings in an alcove next to the fireplace.
‘I liked the way you captured the serenity of the lake,’ explained the Vicar. ‘The picture suits this room, don’t you think?
Rab smiled as he thanked the Reverend. It felt good to know that his work was appreciated. Glancing through the window he saw a tidy garden edged by tall trees, the waning sun producing shadowy shapes on the lawn. In the centre there was an arrangement of colourful flowers in a large stone pot, its shadow stretching out to touch a wooden bench at the side. He committed the scene to memory.
Rab was invited to sit in the armchair facing the one used by his host. Reverend Beresford’s chair was beside a coffee table already laid with a tray of drinks. Holding up a glass and a bottle of scotch, he enquired of Rab’s preference. Rab declined the whisky on the grounds that it might affect his driving and asked instead for a small glass of white wine.
After a good half an hour of untailored conversation, Rab raised the subject of his relationship with Brenda. It wasn’t something he had intended to do and he wondered if the peaceful ambience of the room had influenced his thinking.
‘Ah yes,’ said the Reverend, ‘I detected something was wrong when you refused to talk to her on the phone.’
And so Rab divulged all, starting with a résumé of his life with Elaine and how, after all these years, he still missed her.
The vicar placed his glass on the table. ‘That’s understandable when you were so much in love.’
Leaning forward, Rab placed his elbows on his knees, resting his chin on his hands. ‘Vicar,’ he went. ‘I also love Brenda. The only trouble is I’m not sure whether it’s my love for Elaine showing through. Elaine and Brenda are so much alike I often think Brenda is the reincarnation of my wife. I can’t let the relationship continue while I’m so uncertain.’
The Vicar looked thoughtful. For a moment or two he remained silent, just sitting there gazing at Rab. Finally he asked ‘Remind me, how long has it been since Elaine died?’
‘How do you know they look the same? Forgive me for saying this but if Elaine was alive now she might look entirely different to Brenda. I fear you are living in the past, Rab, and it’s time to move on. Anyway, is it so terrible to have the same strong feelings for Brenda as you had for Elaine? Doesn’t that prove something?’
Rab hadn’t expected such a reply. ‘Prove what,’ he asked?
‘Why, my friend, it proves that you are capable of great love. Now, if you stop comparing the two women you might understand what I mean. I don’t want to sound too severe, Rab, but Elaine has been gone a long time. The shock of losing her was monumental but you moved forward. Naturally you will never forget her but now you need to look at Brenda in a new light. She isn’t Elaine, and you know it. You are merely tormenting yourself. For pity’s sake, man, don’t feel guilty for falling in love a second time.’
At first Rab felt wounded by these remarks, but then an element of common sense crept in. ‘So you think it’s all right to love two women in exactly the same way?’
‘It’s not ‘exactly’ the same, Rab. It’s a new love, and a new life. Have you talked to Brenda about it?’
‘Good Lord, no.’
Rab didn’t know the answer to that question. He had wanted to discuss it with Brenda but it had never seemed the right thing to do. He didn’t know how she would take the fact that he loved her as he had loved Elaine.’
Reverend Beresford reached across and picked up Rab’s glass. As he stood to pour more wine, he suggested that Rab explained his feelings to Brenda as soon as possible. ‘Trust me, dear boy, she will be grateful for your honesty.’
Rhoda quizzed her son about his evening with the Vicar. ‘I’ve been worried about you for a while now,’ she said. ‘You and I have never been able to discuss things, that’s why I invited the Reverend round here. If anyone can talk sense, he can.’
‘How did you know I’d been to see him?’
Rhoda admitted that the Vicar had reported back.
After a moment’s silence Rab started to laugh, and Rhoda laughed with him. ‘Your old Mum isn’t so bad, you know. I might be an old nag but I have your interests at heart.’
Rab gave his mother a huge hug and whispered in her ear,’ I love you, Mom. I’ve been such a mental mess lately.’
‘I know son. I know. And I hope it’s all over now.’ Just like a Mom, she pecked his cheek, then went to brew a pot of tea.
That evening Rab rang Brenda at her home. First he apologised for not taking her call and then he asked if she would like to go out for a meal the next day. ‘I’ve got so much to tell you,’ he said. Hearing her cheerful acceptance made him feel good about himself. In fact his heart felt full to bursting knowing that finally his future was sound.