Next door's dispute was waning at last. It had been more vociferous than the majority of their squabbles, progressing from drawn-out moans to resounding screeches. Most nights the wrangling lasted no longer than about ninety minutes, which
could tolerate while she read, but the current one had infiltrated her own
space and she was heartily fed up with it. She covered her face and ears with
pillows, thinking that if Gerald did
the same to Liz then maybe everyone
would have some peace.
Lying recumbent in the dark, not knowing what time it was or what day, she closed her eyes and waited for the church clock to strike. The external world was silent. No nocturnal creature sounds, no breeze crackling through the trees. She tried visualising beautiful scenes,but nothing came except a vague awareness that something odd was about to happen, a nervousness that made her fingers tingle. The presentiment was intense, the sensation similar to when
Brian made clandestine
visits, when he dropped by for
trysts without formal arrangement. She knew then, by the thrills in her
churning stomach, that an adventure was imminent. But there was no motive for
agitation at this unearthly juncture; no appointments to keep, no problems to
tackle, no pastimes to pursue. She turned onto her side and pulled her knees to
her chest, wondering if she would sleep now that the row had abated. She
relaxed her body and lowered her eyelids … but the persistent nagging hampered
her efforts to nod off. Eventually, sick of prolonged wakefulness, she reached
for her dressing gown.
She parted the curtain and peered out. The approaching dawn had transformed the black sky to a pastiche of greys and the merest suggestion of blue. Expectancy hovered on the horizon. Pushing the window wide, she sniffed the exquisitely warm air, teeming with garden fragrances. A small animal scampered across the lawn and was immediately lost in the shadow of the laburnum. She glanced sideways at
window and made a mental note to open it before he showed up.
Abruptly, she ducked in, the reason for her restlessness finally surfacing.
Matthew was due
home today. Feeling heady and singularly uplifted, she narrowed the gap between
window and sill. Matthew's homecoming
reduced the urgency of her ambition to do battle with the Tomlins, nothing
mattered but the meeting with her son, yet the sound of Gerald slamming his
front door fired her with bristling anger. As she observed him banging down the path, she
decided definitely to complain.
She took extra care with her toilette. She ran a cool bath so that steam would not blotch her skin, and washed her hair with a conditioning shampoo which left it silky to the touch. She dried and brushed it. She spent ten minutes stroking it with an old pair of tights, a procedure she employed to enhance the shine. Her efforts were rewarded when a shaft of sunlight penetrated the bathroom nets and highlighted the waves with copper streaks. Smiling, she twisted the locks into a frivolous coil and encouraged flyaway wisps to float aimlessly around her ears. After liberally spraying herself with lavender water, she slipped on a blue cotton frock, sleeveless and button-through and an excellent example of crisp respectability. Satisfied that
Matthew would approve, she sprinted
jauntily down the stairs.
Half way through the morning
berated herself for not ringing the airport and ascertaining the time of the
flight. Matthew had given her a
tentative schedule, quoting the estimated arrival time, but his plans had
changed at the last moment and he was catching a later flight. The instant she
had known the date of his vacation she arranged to take a week off work, but
what a waste this first day was proving to be, hanging around waiting, afraid
to go out in case he rang.
At one point, noticing
leave her house, she was tempted to go and thrash out the incidence of nightly
disturbances, but she resisted. It would be too awful if the telephone rang
when she was out. Furthermore, seeing that Liz Tomlin Liz
had been crying, she was less inclined to intrude. 'Later,' she muttered. 'When
Gerald comes back.'
The hours dragged on and she grew increasingly agitated, worrying that it was the wrong day, or he had missed the connection to Redhampton, or something untoward was preventing him coming at all.
Despite the fact that her stomach was bloated through an excessive intake of fluid, she poured the last of the coffee and put the filter jug to soak. One sip of the stewed liquid brought a moue of disgust and she swiftly chucked it in the sink. The coffee aimed for the plughole, leaving in its wake a trail of bitter, brown dregs.
promptly uncapped a bottle of bleach and squirted it over the developing stain.
Ten minutes later, forcing herself to sacrifice her vigil for a spot of television, she went into the lounge and idly pressed the buttons of the remote control. There was a quiz on one of the channels which she believed might take her mind off the long wait. She perched on the edge of the armchair to have a go. Which mountain had an altitude of one thousand eighty-six metres. The answer was to be precise, said the quizmaster, who also wanted the name of the national park. She racked her brains. Was it
Under normal circumstances she would have referred to reference books, but not
Finding the subsequent questions equally difficult her attention began to stray. She switched to another channel where a feature promoting the various blessings of owning a telephone diverted her thoughts to her own quandary. She started to brood. For the first time she asked herself how she would handle the calls with
at home and who she could say He was? And how would she hide her tension as drew near? In the end
she settled on ensuring that Matthew
never got the chance to answer. 'Oh dear,' she moaned, foreseeing a daunting
task, knowing that if she'd swapped the number or gone ex-directory she
wouldn't be in this predicament; neither would she have been aroused by what He
said, nor enjoyed her private engagement in sinful behaviour.
The original conviction that using the answering machine would stop the calls was laughable. If anything, it had stimulated him, spurred him to be more suggestive, challenged him to scorn detection. What's more, she also responded to the smutty messages and, without replaying the tapes, how else would she relive the fantasies. Only afterwards, when a climax was achieved, when she felt nauseated, ugly and demoralised, did she vow to get rid of the contraption. The intention was always short-lived … titillation outweighing degradation.
Remembering those indelicate propositions during the latest call, erotic tremors began coursing through her lower regions. Two minutes, she thought as, calculatingly and unhurriedly, she loosened the top of her dress and lay back.
(to be continued)