Fiction Month 5 [the add-on]

This year’s Fiction Month is extended with a flash fiction short. Two elderly rock musicians meet on a sunny afternoon…

Drum and Bass

Two elderly men are sitting on a bench in the sunshine. One pulls his T-shirt up and over his head.
‘Christ, man! You shouldn’t be exposing yourself like that! Think of the public!’
Badger chuckles, casting a rueful glance down at his pasty, bulbous belly. ‘Ah Jez, you’re not seriously expecting anyone to recognise us, are you? They’d hardly have known us then, let alone now.’
His companion grins. ‘I wasn’t thinking of recognition-who is ever going to recognise a drummer and a base player? I’m just trying to save innocent holiday makers from unpleasant sights.’
Jez is tanned, wiry. He pulls a tobacco pouch from a pocket of his leather waistcoat and begins to roll a cigarette. ‘Want one?’
Badger shoves his sunglasses up and rubs his eyes. ‘Gave up fifteen years ago. One less vice! Still have a few though’
‘Let me guess’ ventures Jez, blowing out a plume of smoke, ‘Beer and women’.
Out on the beach a group of scantily clad teenagers is arranged on towels, listening to hip-hop, exclaiming over their phone messages, snapping selfies.
Badger tugs at his once luxuriant pony tail and grunts. ‘Probably not women so much these days. So how does it feel to be back in blighty? Like you’ve never been away?’
The base player sighs and flicks his cigarette end to the sand. ‘To be honest I’m thinking of giving up the bar, selling up and coming back, except I don’t know if we’ll get a buyer. Trade isn’t so good. Nobody’s heard of ‘Satan’s Spawn’ these days, let alone Jez Jarwood. People in Spain don’t have the money to spend boozing like they did. They’ll come in, buy one beer, nurse it for the whole of a sports fixture then go and drink at home.’ He coughs then begins pulling more tobacco from the pouch, yellowing fingers still string-hardened. ‘Then me and Paulette haven’t been getting along that well since the profits dropped. How about you? Still enjoying marital bliss?’
Badger’s face is turned up to the sun, his rounded belly glistening under it’s heat like a tight, sweating marrow. ‘We broke up. The lifestyle of a session musician doesn’t lend itself to family life. I see the kid sometimes-not as often as I should. Do you ever hear from her, from Jillie?’
Jez has his elbows on his knees, squinting, smoking like he’s facing the firing squad. ‘No. You?’
‘No. I thought she might turn up though. First gig for twenty years.’
‘We don’t know if she’s even alive, Badge; or where she lives, or if she knows about the gig or cares! She might be married, have kids-grandkids, even!’
Over on the sand two of the teenagers have returned from swimming and are chasing each other with handfuls of wet sand, screeching with laughter.
‘Did you-?’
‘No. Did you?’
‘No. I wanted to. We all wanted her, didn’t we? The other two.’
‘Yes. They did. Christ, it was messy, wasn’t it?’ He launches into a throaty coughing fit, bony shoulders shaking then he spits on to the sand between his boots.
Badger sits up and begins to struggle into his T-shirt. ‘They were good times, Jez, back then; even the fights. I’d go back and do it all again, wouldn’t you?’
Jez straightens up and flicks a few specks of ash from the faded denim covering his skinny knees. Who were they trying to fool with a ‘comeback’ gig? There was no trace, now of the taught body and blond curls he flaunted as a twenty something. Badger’s trademark white streak of hair amongst the black was lost in a mangy, grey comb-over. And Jillie, their brilliant, beautiful constant, their shared muse, she’d have aged, gathered weight, be mired in domestic life.
‘I don’t know, mate. We’ll see how tonight goes.’

Jez takes his case from the boot as Badger heaves his bulk from behind the wheel of his battered Audi and lumbers, wheezing around to make his farewells. He takes Jez’s yellowed fingers in his huge grasp and pumps. ‘It was a gas wasn’t it?’
There is only a slight nod in answer and a small smile. ‘Come over, Badge when you get a break. Bring the boy! Constant sunshine and all the paella you can eat!’
Badger grins. ‘Yeah. I might do that. Keep in touch, brother. See you at the next gig!’
He watches as Jez trundles the battered case into the gloom of the arrivals hall, where he turns one last time and raises a hand before joining the queue, then he squeezes back behind the wheel, selects Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’, turns up the volume and drives away.

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Fiction Month 4

In the last instalment of ‘Chalet Concerto’ Angela finds that being a good Samaritan is not all it’s cracked up to be…

Chalet Concerto Part 4

       I looked up. ‘That’s about all I can tell you, Officer.’
Dave gave my shoulder an encouraging squeeze. ‘Well done, love,’ he said.
The detective constable had stopped writing in her notebook. Will I…am I going to be arrested for aiding and abetting?’ I asked her.
‘I doubt that, Mrs Tanner.’
‘Angela’
‘Angela, yes. I don’t think there’s any cause to prosecute you as you couldn’t have known at the time that Anne LeParnier was wanted in connection with a crime.’
‘What will happen to her, when she is found?’
‘She’ll be taken in for questioning of course.’
‘And if she is found guilty of murder? What then?’ I was still feeling nauseous and I couldn’t stop shaking. I’d vomited the words out just as I’d vomited all morning after turning on the TV news and discovering that Guy LeParnier, the prominent French conductor had been found stabbed to death in his Bayswater apartment.
‘A lot depends on the circumstances, Angela. It may have been self-defence or she may have been driven to the act by her husband’s behaviour. Or she may be innocent. But you are certain to be called as a witness so you must be prepared for that. You are sure that you didn’t see her enter the house?’
‘I’m certain. But whose house is it, if not her sister’s?’
The policewoman shrugged. ‘We don’t know yet. But there was no one at the address earlier this morning.’ She stood up and Dave showed her out then came back to sit with me.
‘Do you want another cup of tea, Ange?’
I looked at my husband, sitting up close to me on the chalet’s tiny sofa. ‘I’m sorry Dave. I’ve ruined our holiday, haven’t I? Should we go home, do you think?’
‘Well it’s been a bit more lively this time, love-I’ll give you that. And no, I don’t see why we should go home. It’s Karaoke tonight isn’t it? And curry night? I tell you what though. Maybe we should do something a bit different next year. We could see if our Kayleigh would mind us tagging along when they go to Majorca. They’ve got some cracking golf courses. Do you fancy it?’
It would be a long time before I could think of Anne LeParnier without imagining her slender hands drenched in blood, without dreaming of her long fingers plunging the blade into her husband’s heart. But I knew if anyone could help me get over it my husband, Dave Tanner could.
I nodded. ‘Majorca with Kayleigh and Martin. Yes, I think I’d like that very much-and I’ll have that second cup of tea, too. Thanks Dave. I’m a lucky woman.’

 

     If you stumbled upon this, the final part of a long, short story and want to read from the beginning the 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts are in weekly instalments from the beginning of November. Just check into ‘Anecdotage’ November 4th to find Part 1. If you’d like to comment, critique or share anything regarding Fiction Month your input will be enthusiastically received. 

 

Fiction Month 3

In Part 3 of Chalet Concerto Angela hears Anne’s grim story and makes a momentous decision…

Chalet Concerto Part 3

     ‘Not then; I stuck it out for months. I didn’t want to leave our son’s home because he still needed it-and needed me in it during his leave from Sandhurst. And I had no income. It sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? There was money for housekeeping, but I couldn’t use it to fund a deposit and rent for a flat. And my husband was past discussing anything, let alone my departure.
Then two days ago he turned up at one am demanding a meal. I got up and made an omelette and a salad, which was all there was. I poured him some wine. He was unhappy about the food and became aggressive, throwing the wine glass at the wall. He told me I must move into the spare bedroom to sleep because he’d be bringing his new wife to live with us. I remained calm and I asked him how it was possible to have a new wife when polygamy is illegal. He stood up and shouted that he could do what he liked. He took hold of my shoulders and…’
She stopped to wipe her eyes with the shreds of tissue and I handed her the box.       ‘What did he do?’ I whispered.
‘He threw me against the door, hitting my head. I think I passed out because after a while I seemed to be on the floor and he was nowhere to be seen. I pulled myself up, went to the bedroom and packed a case. I gathered all the money I could and rang for a taxi to go to the station, then I sat on a bench until the morning trains started running. I looked at the destinations and chose one. I didn’t want to use a hotel as he’d be more likely to find me, also I don’t have much cash. I thought the holiday park would be anonymous-and cheaper. And then you found me.’
I sat back. ‘Anne, this is a terrible story. You must go to the police. He may be your husband but nowadays they have to take this kind of abuse seriously. And your head should be looked at. You need to see a doctor!’
She leaned towards me, her face pale, her eyes wide. ‘No! No Angela! I can’t do that. Please! I can’t tell them. Please say you won’t tell anyone!’
Her abrupt show of terror shocked me. ‘Alright, but there must be someone you can go to? Have you no family? What about your son?’
She shook her head. ‘No! I don’t want him to know.’
‘Have you no brothers or sisters? Friends? Someone you can call?’
‘I do have one sister.’
‘Why don’t you call her?
‘I…I don’t have a phone, Angela.’
‘No phone? Why? Didn’t he allow you one?’ She blinked and hung her head. ‘Well I have a phone. Do you know your sister’s number?’
She nodded. I went to get my phone and dialled the number, then handed the phone to Anne. I picked up the wine glasses and went indoors to spare her embarrassment, waiting until the murmur of her voice stopped before I returned.
The phone was on the table. She looked up at me. ‘My sister is at home, in Gravesend. I can go there. I just need to get to the station…’
‘Wait.’ I considered for a moment, chewing my lip. I’d had two glasses of wine but I was compos mentis enough to drive, I was sure of it. ‘Go and pack, Anne. I’ll scribble a little note for Dave and I can take you there. It’s not that far is it? Only an hour or so.’
She looked up at me, the tip of her nose still red. ‘You are kind to offer, Angela but I can’t ask you to do any more for me.’
‘You didn’t ask, did you? I offered. Go on-go and get packed. We’ll stop at the site office on the way out. The one night shouldn’t cost much. I’ve been coming here long enough to persuade Irene to let you off a week’s stay!’
Twenty minutes later we were on the road to Gravesend, with Anne’s sister’s address in the Satnav. I imagined I’d could be there and back before Dave returned from the clubhouse bar and we could go up and get a meal there because it was ‘curry and a pint’ on Thursday nights.
The drive went smoothly but she didn’t talk much, just rested her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes. I thought she must be exhausted, after all she’d been through so it didn’t surprise me. We got to the outskirts of the town and into a residential area. Blayden Lane, that’s where the house was-a small bungalow, nothing posh. When I pulled up Anne opened her eyes, sat up straight, said she could not thank me enough for all I’d done and got out. I said to wait while I gave her our phone number and address in case she needed anything but she went to the boot, got her case out and said goodbye. I said I’d wait to see she got in safe but she didn’t seem to want me to. She said to go on back and enjoy the rest of my holiday. Then she said a strange thing. She said, ‘Forget you ever met me, Angela.’ So I started the engine and drove back here, to the holiday park.

Check in to Anecdotage next week for the twisting conclusion of the story…

Fiction Month 2

       In Part 2 of ‘Chalet Concerto’, Anne finds a sympathetic ear in Angela, to whom she begins to open up. As she starts to tell her story it takes on a darker note…

Chalet Concerto Part 2

         ‘I couldn’t help noticing your hands, Anne. They are beautiful. I’d love to have nice hands. Mine look like piles of sausages compared to yours!’
She sniffed, spreading her long hands out as if she was going to do a magic trick. Her voice was small. ‘I was a concert pianist once, a long time ago.’
I leaned towards her. ‘How wonderful! I’ve never met a concert pianist! Do you still play?’ She shook her head and was silent, staring down.
‘First time here, is it? We’ve been coming here for seventeen years, Dave and me; always this time of year and always to this chalet. Dave likes the golf and I’m happy enough. We get to meet up with folks we know and there’s a bit of entertainment in the evenings. It’s Bingo tonight and Karaoke tomorrow. Do you fancy coming along, Anne?’ I realised I was prattling but I couldn’t seem to stop. I don’t mind my own company but I do like a gossip when I get the chance, although I was beginning to think Anne was not much of a one to chat.
She put her teacup on the table. ‘I’ve left my husband’ she whispered. Just like that!
I waited for her to continue but she sat silent. ‘Oh’ I said. ‘Did you want to tell me why? You don’t need to. I know what husbands can be like. I’m luckier than most, I suppose, what with Dave being out on the golf course so much and staying for drinks with his mates. He falls asleep snoring most nights before I’ve finished cleaning my teeth!’ I grinned at her. But I was blathering.
She looked away, across the table at the rows of chalets. ‘I couldn’t stand to be in the house with him a minute longer.’
I nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging way.
‘My husband is French. He is a conductor. After he met me at a recital he pursued me. This was thirty years ago. We married. We had a son. I gave up my career.’ She paused.
‘But children are such a blessing, aren’t they? Our two girls came here with us for years but it’s not exotic enough for them now they’ve grown up. They want to go abroad-Majorca or Florida. I still miss them but I’m hoping one day the grandchildren will come with us. I haven’t told Dave that though!’ I was jabbering again.
‘Our son left to go and train to be an army officer. Sandhurst. My husband wanted him to have a career in music.’ She shrugged. ‘They have to be what they want, not what we want.’
‘I never had what you’d call a career’ I told her. ‘I work in a garden centre. I’ve got no qualifications but I do know a lot about plants. I love it; that’s the main thing I reckon. You have to like what you do.
But you haven’t said why you left, Anne.’
‘My husband travelled for his work with orchestras. I stayed at home to look after our son in our Bayswater apartment. I played the piano a little when I could but without the rigour and demands of an orchestra I wasn’t able to maintain a performance standard. When my husband came home he derided me for my lack of polish. He began to sneer. My son started school. You’d think I’d have had more opportunity then but somehow I lacked the will. My fingers became stiff.’
She flexed her fingers with their long, tapered nails. They were unadorned except for a pale gold band on her wedding finger. ‘I became concerned only with domestic matters. I cooked. I looked after our son. When he was at home my husband would sometimes invite associates to dinner, soloists, composers and so on. These occasions became a cause of great anxiety for me because he would badger me for days about the menu, about the décor, about my appearance. I worried that nothing would be good enough, that I was never good enough. The dinner party conversations would concern recent tours, new compositions, the benefits of one soloist over another. I began to be marginalised-as if I’d never been part of the musical world. One evening a principal violinist turned to me to ask me what I did and before I could reply he said ‘Oh you don’t work, do you?’ as if a career was the only defining aspect of a life.’
‘Hold on a minute, Anne’ I said. ‘I think we need more tea, don’t you? Or would you prefer something stronger? How about a glass of White? I’ve got a nice Chardonnay in the fridge.’ I dashed in and returned with two full glasses and a bowl of crisps.
‘So there you were’, I prompted, ‘at home, feeling a bit left out, I suppose.’
‘I didn’t mind taking a back seat.’ She took a cautious sip of the wine. ‘but he began to find fault with my housekeeping and my appearance. He seemed to have lost respect for me, seemed to have forgotten who I was and who I’d been. He started criticizing my hosting skills, my cooking, my choices, my conversation. He undermined me, suggesting we get caterers in.’
I had a little laugh to myself about that one. I wouldn’t mind Dave suggesting we got caterers in, especially after a cold day at work. Then her story took a darker turn.
‘Some of the visitors were women, of course and many of them single. We had a small studio apartment in Paris where he stayed and I began to realise he was having affairs, using the Paris flat as a base. But I couldn’t really care too much about it because I knew by then I didn’t love him; that my feelings for him had died with his contempt of me.’
I topped up our glasses, noticing that the wine was loosening her tongue.
‘When our son was ten my husband told me of his intention to send him away to school, to a conservatoire near Paris where he would study music. I was horrified. My son had become my raison d’etre, my purpose in life. I railed against the idea until my husband became enraged, shouting, threatening me physically so that I was really afraid-for myself and for the boy.’
‘And your son, what did he think?’ I wondered why she never once called her husband or her son by name. It sounded odd.
She sighed. ‘He was a tall, confident boy, studious. His teacher said he excelled in sports activities and enjoyed organising his class-mates into games. He was always volunteering to help others. He showed no interest in singing or learning an instrument. When anyone asked him what he wanted to become he’d say he wanted to join the armed forces. When his father told him about the music school he became withdrawn, taking meals in his room. His schoolwork deteriorated, worrying his teacher, who called us in to discuss matters. It was she who convinced my husband that our son was not musically inclined and explained what his strengths were. My husband relented and he was sent to a private school as a day pupil, where he worked hard and achieved three ‘A’s at A-level, easily gaining himself a place at Sandhurst, which was all he wanted.
I was lonely when he went but I was relieved that he was out of the flat, out of the poisonous atmosphere and away from his tyrant of a father. I spent my time reading, playing a little piano, walking and visiting galleries. Then my husband’s behaviour changed. He started arriving home without warning, often late at night. It would be obvious that he’d been drinking as he’d blunder in, swearing and tripping over the furniture. He’d order me to get up if I was asleep, demanding meals and drinks. I lived in fear of his return to the apartment, never knowing when it would be.’
‘So you left?’

‘Chalet Concerto’ continues next week. Part 1 is in the previous [last week’s] post. Anne continues with her story and Angela makes the unwise decision to intervene…

 

A Month of Fiction

It’s November, a month that brings dark evenings and chilly weather; a month for curling up by the fire and indulging in a novel or a short story. Here on ‘Anecdotage’ fiction is celebrated in November with a month of stories, new and hitherto unpublished. 

Story 1 begins with a simple, uncomplicated woman whose curiosity mingled with a desire to help lead to complications…

Chalet Concerto [Part 1]

           I’ve been married to Dave for twenty five years. Sometimes it’s hard to get his attention. I often think I could swing naked from the light fitting with a beer can in my teeth and he’d still be glued to the football; so when I told him someone had arrived to the chalet next door he didn’t so much as grunt, even though it was gone eleven and the Match of the Day credits were rolling up the screen.
I was looking out of the curtains when he turned the telly off. A light was on but nothing else. He said ‘Are you coming to bed or what?’
There was no chance I’d see who it was until the morning. Once I’d cleaned my teeth and got into my nightie Dave was already asleep, lying on his back snoring as I was tossing and turning, wondering who would arrive to a chalet at eleven fifteen. A single person-and with no car.
When I was making the tea next morning I kept looking out but I had to wait until after breakfast to spot her: Anne-only I didn’t know her name then. I went outside to put the shower towels on the rail-there’s a little decking area with a rail around and she was coming out with a handbag on her arm, a small, grey haired woman, hunched over and behaving a bit suspicious, like a burglar. She looked neat enough though, in a navy jacket and a pleated skirt. Only I thought to myself ‘it’s not holiday wear’; it’s not the kind of outfit most folks here put on to go walking the dog or sunbathing, or sitting on a lounger doing a puzzle, which is my preferred activity.
I called out to her. ‘Morning!’ and she turned her head to mumble something back before scuttling away towards the park shop. ‘I’m just going down the shop, Dave’ I yelled and I dived in for my purse. I was thinking we can always do with something or other-biscuits maybe or a nice bit of cake to have at coffee time.
I got down to the shop and said ‘Hi’ to Wendy on the checkout.
‘You’re an early bird this morning’ she said. It’s not a big shop, just a mini-market with stuff campers might need and it’s bit gloomy and cluttered. There were only two or three shoppers besides me and I soon spotted the woman in the middle aisle, looking at the tea bags.
‘They only have one sort’ I told her. ‘If you don’t like those you are welcome to borrow some of ours-I always bring tea bags. We’re quite picky about our tea!’ She half turned, not looking me in the eye. Her face had a sort of pinched, haunted expression. My mum would have said ‘like someone walked on your grave’.
‘Thank you’ she said, ‘I’m alright with these’. Her voice was refined, quiet and a bit posh. She had the packet of Red Label in her hand.
‘The milk’s at the end, in the chiller cabinet.’
‘Thank you’
‘Angela’ I stuck out my free hand. ‘Nice to meet you’. I waited then she took my hand. Hers was cold and dry. She had long, thin, papery fingers which struck me as unusual for such a tiny woman.
‘Anne. My name’s Anne’. It was almost as if she was telling herself as much as me, like she needed to remind herself who she was.
‘How about coming for a cuppa at ours this afternoon, Anne? Dave, my husband, he goes out playing golf in the afternoons so I’m on my tod most days.’
‘I don’t know.’ She was frowning, turning the Red Label packet over in her hands.
‘It’s nice to have a bit of company. I’d only be sitting doing my puzzle book otherwise.’ I gave her my best smile. Then she nodded, down at the tea bags, not at me.
‘Perhaps I will’
‘Good! I might see you this afternoon then!’ I left her and went to pick up a Battenburg and some Cherry Bakewells for later.

‘There’s a single lady next door-Anne she’s called. She might come round for a cup of tea this afto’.

      I was getting a bit of lunch while Dave read the paper. Once he’d finished eating he’d change into his golfing clothes, get his clubs and be off. I knew he wouldn’t be back until this evening because he always stops at the clubhouse for a drink or two or three. That’s when they discuss the shots they missed and pick over it all which is enough to send anyone into a stupor and the reason I don’t go and join them. Golf is boring enough, but golf talk would bore the shell off a tortoise.
To be honest I like it when he’s gone out. I put my lounger in the sun and get on with my puzzle, or read a magazine or even a book. I’m fond of Mills and Boon but sometimes I do a bit of historical romance. I usually make a cup of tea and now and again I have a glass of wine, which feels a bit wicked but indulgent-like I’m spoiling myself.
I sat out with half an eye on next door until about three o’clock. There was no sign of Anne so I put my wordsearch down, went to her chalet and knocked on the door. I realise this seems a bit pushy and I didn’t want to intrude but I had the feeling she’d wanted to be persuaded-and she could only say ‘no’, couldn’t she?
After a moment she opened the door. ‘The tea’s made’ I said ‘and I’ve got a bit of cake if you fancy it’. I’d made it difficult for her to refuse, so she stepped out, closed the door and followed me up on to our decking.
‘Now Anne, sun or shade?’
She sat on the wicker armchair where a small triangle of shade appears in the afternoons. I sat down opposite her in my usual sunny spot. I’d made a pot of tea and put out cups and saucers.
‘How do you like it? I like a good strong cup. Do you take sugar?’ She shook her head.
‘Help yourself to a slice of cake-or a Bakewell?’
She took the cup and saucer from me and stared down into it then as she raised the cup to her lips her face was wet with tears. I ran indoors to fetch a tissue and dropped it into her lap. She put the cup on the table and blew her nose.
‘Thank you. I’m sorry. It’s just-you’ve been so kind, Angela.’
‘Not at all. We’re neighbours, aren’t we? Even if it’s only for a few days! Is there anything I can help you with? I don’t want to pry and there’s no reason why a single person shouldn’t take a holiday on their own but here, it’s unusual.’
She twisted the damp tissue around in her slender fingers. I ploughed on…

Chalet Concerto continues next week…

Ripple [Part 1]

While I am away and  doing internet cold turkey for a couple of weeks I’ve left you a brand new two-part story. Is Oliver delusional? Or is there really something sinister happening on his computer?

Ripple

             It is there again, rippling the surface; an outline surfacing and receding against the background. Oliver rubs his eyes and peers again at the blue screen. Now there is nothing under the desktop shortcuts. He makes a mental note to take the laptop into town.
He stretches, rises and walks to the tall wall of glass where he gazes out over the cityscape. It is an arresting view, even for one who lives such a large part of his life in front of a screen. The city stretches away, a pleasing mix of old and new dotted with ancient steepled churches and elegant, high rise skyscrapers and further away the sweep of the harbour with a variety of shipping docking and embarking day and night. Immediately below his block the silver snake of the canal winds its way around the parks and estates on its way out to port. But Oliver does not glance down, ever. He prefers to see further into the distance and away.
His phone buzzes, breaking into his thoughts.
“Are you ok?”
Melanie. She has assumed responsibility for his wellbeing despite his protests that he is fine.
“Yes. I’m alright. You don’t need to keep ringing.”
Mel laughs. “You’re such a charmer, Olly! I’m only looking out for you.”
“You don’t need to.”
“Have you been out today? You should get out. It isn’t good to sit at home brooding.”
“I’m not brooding. I’m working. And I do have to go out because my laptop’s playing up. I may need to get a new one.”
His sister sighs. “Is that the only reason to go out? You could just walk! How about meeting for lunch somewhere? Or come here to eat this evening?”
Oliver shudders. He’d have to sit around the table with noisy, prattling kids, make small talk, Mel and Charlie tiptoeing around his feelings like bomb disposal experts.
He grabs a jacket, stuffs the errant laptop and lead into its bag, grabs his keys and steps out of the apartment to summon the lift. In the lobby he grunts a peremptory reply to the doorman’s greeting before exiting through the revolving glass door and down the steps to the street. Pulling his collar together tight against the blustery wind he turns left and left again rather than continuing along to Canal Street, which would be the shortest route into town. Oliver has not walked along the towpath for eight months and has no intention of going there again, ever.
Nerina haunts his thoughts as always, day and night. As he walks he tries to picture her but succeeds only in conjuring parts of his wife- her smooth, white throat as she laughed, the black curls that fell down her back, the velvet soft touch of her and her husky voice as she spoke in her accented English. How she’d mocked him, her sly, sideways look as she posed in front of their mirror before telling him she had to go out. The way she dressed, a sensuous smile as she pulled on a sheer stocking or applied glossy, red lipstick.
At the store counter he unpacks the laptop, explaining the issue with its screen. The assistant, Paula according to her badge, turns the screen to the side for him to show her the fault. But there is nothing; no vestige of the movement he’d been witnessing. Oliver frowns, feeling a heat rise to his face. Paula smiles an open, sympathetic grin.
“Don’t be embarrassed! It’s common for devices’ faults to disappear like magic as soon as customers step through the doors with them. It’s almost as if the threat of repair is enough to make them behave!” She laughs; a deep, throaty bellow that forces Oliver to stare up into her face. It is a broad, guileless face, not pretty but honest; a face accustomed to laughter. For a moment he feels his shoulders relaxing, feels the tension draining down towards his feet. He nods at Paula, stows the errant laptop in the bag and thanks her.
“Bring it back if it starts playing up again” she advises him, before turning to another customer.
Oliver feels lighter as he exits the store and heads for home. He’ll try and eat something then get on with the figures he is supposed to be producing for a company report.
In his kitchen he can think of nothing he wants to eat and opts instead for a couple of the prescription tablets, standing at the sink, pressing the tiny, white capsules from their foil wrapping and swilling them down with a mouthful of water.
At his desk he opens the laptop lid and switches on, waiting for his password prompt and taking the deep breaths he’s been coached to employ if he feels a sense of panic. As he taps in the password his palms grow damp and he wipes them on his jeans as he waits for everything to load. The desktop shortcuts appear, nothing else. He exhales and thinks of Paula’s kind, friendly face as he clicks on his work folder and scans the files for his current spreadsheet. The white screen underneath the figures is flat and stable. Oliver breathes, closing his eyes to relish the relief.
He begins to work, clicking on each cell, highlighting, deleting and replacing. Needing to refer to some previous notes he rifles through some papers in a cardboard folder beside the laptop. Sheet in hand he turns back to the screen. It is heart-stopping. Oliver feels his pulse thumping as he takes short, shallow breaths, the blood draining from his face. He stares. The outline has reappeared, more defined now, undulating but clear. It is a face; a face he knows; the pronounced cheek bones, almond-shaped eyes and full lips. Nerina. He starts as her eyes flash open, the paper dropping to the floor. Her sensual lips part in the shape of a word as the image floats on the screen. She smiles, continues to mouth the word.
Oliver has dreamed of hearing Nerina’s husky voice; has lain awake at night bathed in perspiration, longing for her but now he dreads to turn on the volume switch, fearful of listening, although he knows what it is she is saying. He should switch off. He should shut down, power off, pull the plug. He shudders, transfixed by her rippling features, strands of her curls drifting in a rectangular pool…

      Check in to Anecdotage next week for Part 2 of ‘Ripple’.

A Neighbourly Manor-Part 4

  In the fourth and final part of the story, Lena and Richard are surprised by a late night visitor and Lena is witness to some revelations about her cynical, curmudgeonly husband of many years…

A Neighbourly Manor [Part 4]

            The May weather turned unsettled as some gusty showers blew over in the middle of the next week and it was during a heavy downpour on Wednesday evening that the bell rang. I’d been clearing up the kitchen and Richard was upstairs in the study editing his latest batch of Spanish photographs. I hadn’t heard a car pull up so I assumed it was someone from the village as I opened the door.
It was Imogen, though barely recognisable as the radiant girl of six weeks ago. With her hair plastered to her head and her thin shirt stuck to her, soaking, she looked bedraggled. She also appeared to be in some distress, from her red-rimmed eyes and stricken expression. I reached out and all but tugged her inside the hallway, where she stood dripping, her thin shoulders shuddering. I wasted no time.
‘Whatever has happened?’ I asked her. ‘Come into the lounge. I’ll put the fire on!’
Her mouth opened to speak and produced only a shivering sob as she allowed me to tow her into the living room.
‘Wait here,’ I told her, ‘I’ll get you something dry to wear.’
I went upstairs and hissed at Richard’s enquiring face as I grabbed a towelling robe then I dashed back and pulled it around her before sitting her down in an armchair like a child. ‘I’m going to put the kettle on,’ I said, and by the time I’d returned my husband had seated himself in the chair next to her. He glanced at me.
‘Let’s all have a cup of tea,’ he suggested.
As I left the room she began to mumble in halting sentences dotted with ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’ until Richard leaned forward, put his fingers together and asked her, ‘Can you tell us what is wrong?’
By the time I’d set the tray down she was into her dismal story, which was no less depressing for being predictable; a whirlwind, fairy tale romance rising from a chance meeting with a charming, wealthy, practised, older suitor who’d promised the world before exposing her fully to the circles in which he moved. Circles which included a whole host of other women; ex-wives, of which Kristina was one, ex-partners, ex-girlfriends, ‘friends’ who would like to be girlfriends, ‘friends’ who were ‘helping with the designs’ like Liliana, married women, single women and all with one purpose-to be Jackson’s wife.
Having swapped a ward shift and wangled a couple of days off Imogen had planned to turn up without warning and give her intended a surprise, but when she left the car and approached the house she looked in at the un-curtained window and saw him with Liliana; the two of them dancing in the stark emptiness of the drawing room, one of his long arms around her waist, another with a glass of wine in hand. She’d stood in the rain and watched them, watched as they laughed together at the intimacies he whispered in the woman’s ears making her throw her head back in delight. She didn’t know how long she stood in the rain watching. She’d felt panic rising, welling up, threatening to overflow into a scream and then she’d run, back along the curving drive and through the gateway up the lane to our front door. The girl’s breathless narrative ground to a halt as she sniffed; taking another tissue from the box I’d placed beside her.
Richard sat back in his chair, crossing one of his legs over the other and turning his head a little in Imogen’s direction without looking at her face. He began to speak in a quiet monotone. He told her that she may feel distraught now, but that she would recover. He reminded her that she was a strong, independent woman and had proved it by raising a child on her own and following a responsible, highly valued career. He said she must remember that she’d led a good, happy life before Jackson and would do so again; that she must never allow any man to control and manipulate her feelings or treat her as an object to be owned and cast aside like a painting or a house; that a relationship should be based on mutual love and respect and she should look at me, Lena for an example of a resilient, capable woman; that our marriage might not look glamorous but he’d never been in any doubt that he’d chosen the right person. Throughout this monologue she sat motionless, her shuddering sobs subsiding, her narrow shoulders lowering, her eyes fixed hard upon Richard as if he were dragging her from a swamp.
‘Right,’ he concluded, ‘it’s far too late for you to be driving back tonight. You can stay in our guest room, which is always ready’. He looked up at me. ‘My wife can lend you anything you need. Shall we open that bottle of brandy we brought back with us? This would seem to be a suitable occasion to try it.’ He winked. I have a feeling my mouth was hanging open.
He asked Imogen for her car keys, declaring that he would fetch her car from the Manor.
Later on I ran a hot bath for our guest, after which she was subdued enough to submit to being tucked up in bed.
I extracted a promise from Imogen as she left next morning that she would under no circumstances email, ring or visit Jackson Agnew, neither should she respond to invitations from him, all of which she agreed to with a solemn nod. Her puffy face and red eyes showed that she’d wept the night away, but as she drove off Richard assured me it would pass.
‘Let’s go out for lunch,’ he said and I knew the subject was closed.

Some unspoken agreement kept us from cutting through Chiddlehampton Manor’s grounds for a couple of weeks and we were relieved to see no sign of Jackson or any of his paramours in the pub, or anywhere else in the vicinity.
It was June when we returned from a week in Torquay and saw the sign on the gate at the end of their drive. ‘For Sale- Grade Two listed Manor House with OPP for eight apartments’, it read. It was to be sold by the agent ‘Knight and Rutter’ who are known for their upmarket properties.
Doctor Jackson Agnew and his entourage, it seemed, had moved on.