in which Emma B. feels that she is slipping from the margins of her own life...
She was woken by the unforgiving bell of the telephone.
It was 10.30 am; she took the call.
Philippa here – so he’s done a runner! POOR YOU.
We’re all ROOTING FOR YOU.
Come for a pow wow – The Falcon at 1 – much, much love and CHIN UP!
Replacing the receiver, it occurred to her that a new and rather unwelcome pattern was emerging; people talking to her and making decisions about her without requiring her involvement
Chester Chase last night; Philippa Truscott today.
Had she become a cipher in her own life?
Good question, but she could not supply the answer from her immediate position; standing in the hall in last night’s party dress.
The dress itself was ruined; burnt in three places at the hem, and marked by red wine on a sleeve. Another stain adorned the bodice and a visit to the bathroom confirmed the fact that she had been sick just about everywhere except the ceiling.
After showering, she put the dress in a bag prior to disposal and surveyed the apartment.
The former marital home.
Although the only appropriate word in that sentence was former.
The whole place seemed temporary from the furniture (largely inherited from the previous tenants), to the make - shift brick and plank bookshelves and the David and Marilyn posters from her student house.
Apart from a green corduroy floor cushion and a pottery lamp, there was not one item of furniture or décor that they had added as a married couple.
She did not count the wheel- backed chair, pine table and Welsh dresser – they were throw-backs to the Nicola marriage and about as ephemeral as Perdita the cat who came and went as she chose – much like Paul.
Who had certainly gone now – abandoning her without even the courtesy of an explanation.
She had not seen it coming; she had seen nothing coming from the moment she had met him in Bunters to the moment he had returned to her from France; to the moment he had flounced off to somewhere in Staveley Forest with Frances Hunt.
And where had she been while all this was going on?
Chester Chase and Philppa Truscott were on to something.
She was slipping from the margins of her own life.
A sudden panic arose – swiftly allayed when she realised that she had not missed work – it was the first day of the vacation.
But there were things to be done and people to tell.
Things had to be done and things would be done.
What she could not do was to think about any of it.
For the next couple of hours, she occupied herself with mechanical actions; removing upturned ashtrays and empty bottles; discarding the Blondie record that had stuck in a groove and had been playing since the previous night; scrubbing the bathroom.
The telephone; calls to be made.
First Nicola; they wouldn’t be having the children that afternoon because Paul had gone. No, not gone out. Gone.
Then her parents; Paul had left. With another woman and had gone somewhere. No she wasn’t imagining it (to her mother).
When her father came onto the line, she held the receiver away because he was saying what he had wanted to say for the past twelve months.
Paul was a scoundrel; she should have seen it coming; Paul had done the dirty on one woman and was not to be trusted; he looked down on everybody and had invited Eric, his own father, to the Christmas Carol concert in the Chudleigh Chapel, but not her parents – they weren’t good enough; she would have been paying for the upkeep of another woman’s’ children all her life; Paul couldn’t even give her a decent home, the apartment was disgusting; she had been a bloody fool and should now see sense and get a divorce.
And it was all because she had crammed her head with such damn silly ideas since going to Dorlich. She’d have done better to go to a university nearer home where they called a spade a spade.
Quite possibly… and Dorlich as the fount of all evil was to become her comfort blanket of choice over the years…
Then Gillian had called, scarcely troubling to suppress her contempt.
Yes she had heard; from Paul, as it happened – and she felt obliged to make just one point clear to avoid misunderstandings – it wasn’t a surprise.
Paul had not got over Nicola – not by a long chalk and yes, she was perfectly aware that Paul had ended that marriage – but he had been given a lot of encouragement, hadn’t he?
Of course she knew that Paul had left Nicola a couple of times before the final break – indeed, she and Donald had intervened on at least one occasion, but again, she felt compelled to be honest – they would be taking a back seat this time.
This was going to be hurtful but ---- there was no kind way to say this --- she was sure it was all for the best.
Such different backgrounds; Nicola got on so well with Eric and then there were the kiddies.
This Hunt business was a fling; it would burn itself out and then - who knew what would happen?
But she would like to say that both she and Donald had enjoyed meeting her and wished her the very best of luck for the future….. Click.
Well, fuck off to you too, Gillian…………….
She opened the curtains and looked through the window at the ornamental stone lions; the grubby lions, in Verity’s words, at the entrance to Conyham Crescent.
The day stretched ahead and had to be filled.
She walked into the kitchen.
It had emerged relatively unscathed from the events of the previous night, but she considered, as if seeing it afresh, that it was really rather nasty; nothing more than a scullery, with a rusty water geyser above the sink.
How it had functioned as the seat of operations for the gourmet dinners she had devised for Paul and his horrible friends was nothing short of miraculous.
Back in the mists of history – 24 hours ago……….
There was food in the fridge but she couldn’t eat.
She needed a drink, but there was no wine - in the kitchen; the bedroom; the living room...
Or anywhere else for that matter.
A rummage amidst Paul’s favourite hiding places – even behind the backs of the nine volume set of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time failed to uncover even a miniature brandy.
If she went to The Falcon to meet Philippa Truscott, somebody would buy her a drink.
So that is what she would do…
It was virtually empty, because everybody was at work except students, lecturers and teachers like herself who had supposedly begun their summer vacations.
She thanked God for the absence of anybody remotely connected with Chudleigh and joined the Truscotts and Percy at the settle table.
Philippa in particular, seemed animated by something other than the large glass of dry white wine that she was consuming with her customary diligence.
The woman was akin to a cat burglar; breaking and entering into the homes and wedding receptions of others and leaving havoc in her wake.
Her hand was imprisoned between Philippa’s distastefully damp palms as the latter elucidated the catalogue of the Hunt crimes, concluding with the infamous theft of the final piece of prawn quiche at her anniversary party.
She was not deceived.
Philippa’s anger and distress at the conduct of Frances Hunt was undoubtedly genuine. The heaving bosom, slightly reddened eyes and breathy delivery were testament to that.
But she did not for one moment, believe that such emotions had been roused by the fact that Paul had abandoned his young wife after scarcely a year of marriage.
Philippa Truscott, who had devoted that same year to fawning over Paul at every available opportunity, was devastated for one reason and one reason only.
He had absconded with the wrong woman. Or, to paraphrase Gladys Knight
It should have been her!
Roy moved to the bar and ordered more drinks.
Percy transferred his weight from left to right buttock.
He felt terrible about it; absolutely terrible. He had known her and her delightful friend, Lynne, for some time hadn’t he, and he did hope that they both considered him to be a trustworthy person? He would never have introduced Frances into anybody’s home if he had the slightest inkling that she would avail herself of the host as well as the quiche, so to speak…
In fact, he had been completely in the dark from start to finish!
How was he to know that when Frances phoned to say that she had been summoned to assist at the sickbed of her aged aunt in Portland Bissett that she had been romping with Paul at a love nest in Stavely Forest?
He had arrived home yesterday, expecting to escort Frances to the Vice Chancellor’s
Summer Revel, to discover a garbled note on the table, beside his panama hat.
It was a mixture of something and nothing to the effect that there had been a meating of minds (or other parts; Frances was hardly an intellectual as demonstrated by the spelling of meeting); thanks for the dinners and regards to his mother.
And mention of a chap called Hornblower who seemed to have got himself somehow mixed up in it all.
Cleghorn, she said. Aiden Cleghorn….
There was more in the same style; she drank from the consecutive glasses placed before her and said very little.
It did not seem to matter. For the second time in 24 hours, she was forced to admit that the effect she had been having upon the people whom she had encountered several times a week for the past year could be summed up in one word.
Everyone seemed more than happy to chat amongst themselves around her and about her; proffering drinks and cigarettes at decent intervals and otherwise ignoring her existence.
Fine by her. She would rest her larynx.
Scanning the room, she noticed that Robbie Nantwich, Sarah Cassidy, Lucinda Prynne and Hamish Underhill had come in and were drinking champagne at the bar.
Prynne and Underhill were two of the elite who had reigned at 14a, Wellington Parade as students, but were now pursuing glamorous advertising and publishing careers in London.
They must be visiting Nantwich and Cassidy. Robbie Nantwich had joined BBC Dorlich as a graduate trainee As far as she knew, he still lived in Palisade Gardens with his girlfriend, Sarah Cassidy, a junior production assistant at the Theatre Royal.
They were laughing and braying and Robbie’s hand was tweaking Sarah’s breast inside her maroon silk shirt.
He looked in her direction and betrayed not a flicker of recognition.
Robbie Nantwich – or rather, his decision to sleep with Sarah at the student conference, had been the sole reason for her night with Derek Kingsmill – and, (unbeknownst to them both), Sandra Milford.
She had rectified the situation, finally spending two nights with Robbie; one at the end of another conference, and the other in celebration of a successful
rent strike sit in at a neighbouring university.
Both trysts had gone relatively well, as far as she could remember, after the enormous amount of alcohol she had drunk to engineer the encounters. Robbie had been charming, and amicable – but had not needed to say that he had no intention of changing his domestic situation.
Not for her, anyway.
Sarah, with her limpid blue eyes and Penelope Tree hair, was there to stay – and stay, as it turned out, she did, whilst Robbie rose through the ranks at the BBC eventually scaling the heights as the station’s foremost political interviewer.
She bumped into him as their paths crossed in later years, and once he was even to interview her on his edgy ratings-busting show, Parliamentary People.
But, in common with his old friend and contemporary, Derek Kingsmill (who had taken the political rather than the media route), any experience at Dorlich that had been shared with her was not the elephant in the room – or even the ant in the kitchen -- it had been airbrushed out of history.
And she discovered that you could do that if you liked. Refuse to accept that you had known people – and then you hadn’t!
It was remarkably easy. More people should try it…
For now, the contrast between the simpering, anodyne Sarah Cassidy, having buckets of fun (and champagne), with one of the sexiest men in Dorlich – and herself, deserted after twelve months of marriage and reliant upon the likes of the Truscotts and Percy, was grotesque.
She finished her drink; said her farewells on the off-chance that someone might be listening, and left. Her companions would doubtless discuss her in her absence but they would not be alone in that.
She, however, would be alone in the apartment in Conyham Crescent and had better start getting used to it - one way or another.
There was a supermarket on the way home; she bought four bottles of wine, three packets of cigarettes and no food.
That could wait.