I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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* One exception: short stories.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Story - part 1

DIMINISHED (Divided to please Google)
3057 words.

HE’D PASSED a lousy night but what else was new? Wearied, he sat on the rim of the garden lounger but the tubular frame rode hard against his bum. Loungers were for lounging on, weren’t they? But had he enough time?

Just a couple of minutes’ shuteye wouldn’t come amiss. He bestrode the lounger, sat down, lay back. The sun was intense, he reckoned he could see its nature  – a ball of heat - through his closed eyelids. With his forearm over his eyes he told himself: five minutes, no more. Wooo, it was almost too hot to...

“Mr T! Mr T!”

Spit had oozed from his mouth-corner.

“Wah,” he quacked, with the lounger gripping like a corset.

“Sorry to wake you, Mr T. But...”

“Wah. Guh – etting up.” Still he struggled. At least she was blotting out the sun and he could open his eyes.

Her long chestnut hair hung like a monk’s cowl; sharp corners outlined her thin lips, squared-off jaw and knife-edge nose. A face shaped for suffering. Haloed by the sun she burned like a medieval martyr.

“The train’s in...”

But the lounger held him and he sighed.

“London?” he said.

She nodded.

He heaved convulsively and the lounger, never entirely stable, flipped over. Arms flailing he half-rolled across the lawn towards her sensible court shoes, forcing her to step backwards.

“Mr T!”

A word flagged up: ignoble! Quick reactions were called for. Uncertainly balanced, he simultaneously stood up while toppling forward. Mustn’t fall again, mustn’t fall. Fighting gravity and momentum he lurched towards the gooseberry bushes, scuttling on bending legs. Then fell anyway and lay, moist grass staining his trouser knees.

Speed had failed him so how about slowness? He rose like a revivifying corpse, avoiding her face. “The car’s in the driveway,” he coughed.

There was time enough. He drove briskly but not excessively: Look! Panic’s left behind like the overturned lounger. Neither said anything. What was there to say?

Taking a right turn he looked to the left for oncoming traffic. Saw her erect, taut and expressionless, staring straight ahead, knees pale as leeks, twisted away from him.

As an HGV droned past he considered the pattern of his discomfort. Accepted that he – the bumbler - was fixed in her memory as he had been taunted by the lounger. That the lawn episode was a part of the misery which had broken out like a degenerating disease a year ago. That there would be yet another solicitor’s meeting in two days’ time.

Still she remained, statue-like, inches away but quite apart. An English panorama passed by - oaks, hedges, immobilised sheep – as the human condition played out: adults capable of speech but unspeaking.  Say something then. “We’ve plenty of time, June,” he said. “London’s fun. Going anywhere pleasant?” His aim was to be clear but the words spilled out noisily.

Silence hadn’t pleased her either. Her shoulders dropped slightly, she picked lint off her skirt and let the prow of her jaw subside. “Friend I knew at uni. Problems with her partner.” She shook her head and her voice rose in mild outrage. “And she’s asking me!”

A surprise. Because of her hawkish face he imagined she got her own way with men.

She said, “Why else would I move to the back of beyond?”

Meg had asked him something similar. Made it her excuse for being unfaithful.  Now she’d acquired a more rapacious solicitor she used their married isolation to pry loose more of his assets “...to compensate for the boredom and social deprivation you’ve caused me.”

June would have known all this, of course. Must have concluded it went with his gymnastics on the lounger. As a non-driver she saw his car as her convenience, reasoning that the forty-minute trip would no longer be his favour if she paid “for the petrol”. That fuel burned on the return was not her responsibility. Having further insisted that an extra half-hour be built in for emergencies and that he should linger at the station until the train arrived.

Depression and possible bankruptcy had allowed him to ignore his neighbours.  Anyone else he would have refused but June was different. She might have protested loudly enough to be heard at the village shop, recently held up at gun-point by a couple of masked men, thought to be Poles. Now armed, the shop owners waited impatiently to work off their feelings on anyone they deemed brutish.

Would June dispense comfort? Her face hardly suggested sympathy. Mind you there were those who went for that kind of detachment. Men mostly, he supposed. But not he. At the start Meg had been – how to describe her? – very physical. That he’d enjoyed. But then came shrewishness...

Anyway, no more conversation. Better he showed off his driving skills – the reassurance of a slightly older man, at ease with technology.

She sighed. Sunlight, from a different direction, dappled her face. Softening the hardness which, when all was said and done, was only a default state. There were other options.

“And she’s asking me!” she had said as if it were June who needed help. June who’d endured failures and disappointments.

Looking elsewhere, he noticed the green stains on his trousers. Out of the past  he heard his mother say, “That’ll never come off.” and smiled. In those days stains didn’t “come off”, you lived with them. The trousers were made-to-measure online and had cost £60; he’d throw them away. “Never!” his mother would have said, less shocked at the waste than at the product’s morality. Bought items had a foreseen life and were expected to endure.

June sighed again, more copiously. Looking for a response. Perhaps begging for one.

“London doesn’t appeal?” he asked neutrally.

“What on earth can I say to her?”

“Email her; say you’ve eaten one of those meat pies and are feeling woozy.”

“Meat pies!”

“Story in the newspapers. Horse may have been sneaked in at the factory.”

“I mean, but meat pies.”

“You a veggie?”

“It’s a question of style.”

He laughed, politely at first then growing in volume, finally close to hysteria. When had he last laughed out aloud? Days ago? Months? He wiped away tears with his shirt sleeve as she looked on, puzzled. Perhaps she’d not known about Meg.

He said, “Wit’s been in short supply recently.”

“I understand your wife...”

“Quite so. Maximum trauma.”

Silence resumed but it was no longer sullen. A pinch of understanding, a courteous decision not to pry. Both relaxed in their car seats.

He must have driven quickly because they waited a full half-hour at the station. Talk was desultory and unforced as if they were long-standing friends. Quiet humour when a pheasant walked spasmodically, stupidly, across the car park. A jolt, shared between them, as a military plane flying at house height, roared into and out of their world.

Within the closeness of the car he observed her covertly. A meaningless glance at the dashboard which inched towards her legs. And more. In repose the boniness of her face lost its meanness and became simply architectural – a planned arrangement of lines, peaks and planes which added up to a face like any other, together with a personality which might take off in any direction. More surprising was a plebeian accent – estuarine Essex at a guess – which she spoke unselfconsciously. Modified by the passage of time but not actively suppressed. So she wasn’t a snob.

With five minutes to go they loitered near the station platform. Now he had another concern. Picking her up on her return had never been discussed. He wasn’t obliged to raise the subject nor attracted by all that extra driving. But an etiquette that hadn’t existed had since developed. Finally he murmured, “When you get back...”

She smiled briefly. “Kind of you. But the whole thing’s up in the air. I may turn out to be helpful or she and I may fall out within five minutes. I don’t want to wreck the rest of your day. It’s a much longer drive than I thought.” She scrabbled in her shoulder bag. “You deserve more than the petrol...”

Knowing he would no longer be involved left him disappointed. Strange how little he drove these days. “When you get home will do,” he said abruptly.

And she, sensing something awry, didn’t look back as she got into the carriage.

In the garden the lounger still lay on its side and his earlier sense of wellbeing drifted away. For a time he stared at areas of the lawn – where he’d rolled, where he’d fallen a second time – realising these would have been June’s perspectives, a wider view of gyrations he had blundered through without appreciating their visual force. They were not scenes he wanted to revisit.

Papers on the coffee table demanded his attention. “Our client,” said the solicitor anonymously yet ominously, “feels that the value of the house should be part of any eleemosynary considerations.” The long adjective had been incorrectly applied but, at £50 a letter, it no doubt served to bulk out the sentence. He started to transcribe scribbled quotes he’d received from estate agents, worrying about how much Scotch was left for the forthcoming evening. Meg had cleaned out the drinks cabinet when she left, leaving only a half-bottle of Creme de Cacao. Which would linger on as an aide memoire, as no doubt Meg intended.

A Scandi-noir episode on TV helped him eke out the Scotch and postponed bedtime until eleven. Sleep was denied him. As usual Meg dominated his thoughts. What sort of man had she invited into what had been his bed? He knew nothing other than that the adulterer lived in Bristol. So where might he and Meg have met? Meg’s friends were limited to the shire and this crimped her style. There had, of course, been the class reunion in London but that was ages ago, dating back to the tolerant period. Surely Meg couldn’t have invented all those reunion reminiscences,  all that talk about Jackie, Frances and Glenda.

But hey – seriously - what kind of man? The opposite of what Meg had been dealt? A man who didn’t run an insurance brokerage, obviously; Meg had often sneered at that. Who didn’t go bird-watching – another stereotype. Who would readily have bought a “decent car” Who knew what K√∂chel numbers were. Prepared to buy books in hardback. Failings so frequently listed.

“Better off without her,” said two of his clients and he partially agreed. Present-day Meg had been hard to bear.  But there’d been an earlier Meg who had given up managing a spiffy West End design studio to marry him, had suggested their first fornications should occur in Hotel de Fleapit in The Marais (The wait agonising, the consummation definitive.), and who’d bought him Armani when they’d lived above a curry-house in Dalston. A Meg who had educated him and who, for a decade, had seemed to love him.

These amorous runes were restful; the twitches departed; his body took on the luxurious weight of imminent sleep.

The phone rang shrilly, like a voice in the midst of an emergency.

There was no one on the earth’s surface who cared that much and at that time.

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