Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Best Blessings of Existence 24

In which Emma B treats of poor dead creatures - and those who survive.

She did not embrace her new role of deserted wife; that would have meant acceptance and she did not accept it.
The immediate task was survival.

After her initial visit to The Falcon, she closed the door and hunkered down as day became night became day; punctuated by a rattling letterbox at one end and the beam from a streetlight at the other.

Six days passed like this.

On the seventh, she showered; emptied ashtrays and opened windows before collecting the post from her doormat.

A world was outside.

She was not interested in it.

The items were various: a notice from The Department of Education and Science confirming the fact that she had passed her Probationary Year and was now a fully qualified teacher; a final demand gas bill (she put that to one side), and a postcard from Lynne. The latter was an especially garish depiction of a souk in Marrakesh with the comment: Wish you were here instead of me. S is unbearable, in Lynne’s elegant hand. Well, of course, if Lynne had been stupid enough to embark upon a package tour to Morocco with Sandra Milford, she must expect the consequences…

Stupid maybe --- but not as stupid as shacking up with someone who was virtually a stranger barely a month after meeting them; rejecting a highly prized PHD placement at York with foreign travel guaranteed – for the joys of a dead end job as a teacher; a gloomy part-furnished flat and marriage to a man with three children who treated her like something his cat had brought in when a mouse was unavailable………..

The telephone rang:

Hello – Paul here.

This was the first time he had called since decamping with a woman eighteen years her senior who favoured faux Jackie Kennedy sling-backed shoes and a French pleat up do.

If he assumed he could waltz back into her life and recline in the wheel-backed chair with a Jamieson’s, after disporting with someone who was nothing but a superannuated tart then he could think again….

He didn’t.

He wanted to arrange a time when she would be out to collect his books and records; he wouldn’t bother with the furniture – it was pretty tatty after all. Would Thursday at 2pm suit?

For a moment she wondered if she would ever, again, be capable of speech.
And then she remembered the gas bill.
It was a final demand and it was enormous. Could he please pay it?

Ah ha, he was coming to that!

Frances had made the very sensible suggestion that he should just contact all the utilities – and the telephone company -- and the landlord, of course, and transfer everything into her name. After all, he had moved out and wouldn’t be availing himself of anything. He’d thought he might pop round to see the landlord on Thursday …. Save her the bother! And now he really must dash -- sorry it hadn’t worked out; but then he had never wanted to remarry and better now than later, so to speak……….

There was nothing to do but cry.

Since Paul had left, she had been in a state of continual panic, neither eating nor sleeping and now she was ambushed by wracking sobs as she paced the lounge, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake.

The pleasure derived from mutilating the Cantos of Ezra Pound; Bartok’s String Quartet No 2; Art and Illusion by Gombrich and The Collected Works of Basil Bunting was ephemeral and did not answer the real question:

What was wrong with her?

Why had she been ditched after 13 months, when Philippa Truscott; Dorian Chase and even Betty Glenn had notched up a combined total of 36 years’ wedded bliss?

Well, perhaps not bliss exactly. Roy Truscott was a drunk; David was dull and the thought of a naked Chester Chase was frankly obscene – but at least they had stayed with their spouses. As had Donald, despite a wife whose raison d’être was not keeping up with the Joneses but annihilating them beneath the two inch heel of a sensible Clark’s court shoe ( double E fitting).

Frances Hunt was so old that her powder had settled into the fine furrows that ran from nose to mouth like the tracing on an iced cake. Was the pleasure of dining with Aiden Cleghorn really worth the pain of sexual relations with a grandmother?

The bell rang and she opened the door upon Percy bearing gifts.

He was holding white roses and swept a fedora hat from his head before walking into the room and sitting down in the wheel backed chair.

I think, he said, that I am going to take you to see the doctor.

The fact that she had existed for seven days in a foetid sty amidst torn books; smashed records; empty bottles and crumpled cigarette packets, without eating, sleeping or changing her clothes, rendered protest superfluous and she didn’t.

Two hours later, she returned with a small packet of tranquillisers; took two and slept for seven hours.

After that, things got better.

She was still hurt, angry and vengeful but at least those feelings were now directed outwards – at Paul and Frances Hunt – rather than inwards towards herself. The tranquillisers helped her to sleep – and after three nights she discovered that she could manage without them and threw away the packet.

Mistakes were made – such as the late night call to Nicola after a bottle of wine, when she pledged to continue visiting the children in Paul’s absence. Nicola was polite but bemused, and thirty years’ later, she still winced at the manner in which she had fawned over a woman whose marriage she had prized at the value of a discarded sweet wrapper.

Paul removed his books and she rearranged the lounge; stacking the makeshift shelves in the spare bedroom. Her father paid the gas bill, accompanying his largesse with an excoriating enunciation of all Paul’s faults and her own purblind stupidity. She inspected a few smaller rental properties – nothing suitable; but it was a start.

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

And she accepted a social invitation.

Following their marriage, the Kerridges had moved to a luxury apartment half way between Dorlich and Fernboughton.
This was a surprise; Lionel’s well appointed flat was ideally situated for his post at Dorlich University and everyone assumed that this would become the marital home.

However, Araminta insisted upon a new pad to go with my new man. It was the ideal opportunity for a display of fatherly munificence, and Major Bellwether obliged with the purchase of 39, Coverley Court; a ground floor apartment in a converted 18th century mansion. It was situated at the heart of Oakshire; ten miles from the nearest village and the decorative grounds boasted an ornamental lake and well stocked orchards.

After a month’s absence, Mr and Mrs Kerridge announced themselves to be
At Home to chosen guests via white-wove board invitations with a silver bevel edge and charcoal grey ink.

She accepted Percy’s offer of a lift in the TR7.

Deciding what to wear had been tricky. It was not a black tie invitation, but such an address merited more effort than jeans. In any case, she had lost so much weight that had the wearing of jeans been de rigueur, hers would have resembled outsize oilskin waders.

After much thought, she unearthed a duck-egg blue suede skirt with a buckle belt. It was practically vintage, but a penchant for open sandwiches, lager and lime and cheesecake in her student days had rendered it off limits since her first term as an undergraduate.

Now it looked decidedly on trend when teamed with a slim-fitting black lace shirt and patent heels - proving that the desertion diet beat Scarsdale hands down – and cost absolutely nothing except grief, misery and humiliation.
Percy arrived and surpassed expectations in a grey hounds ooth double breasted suit complete with black and white spats, boater and carnation. He had packed six bottles of Bourgogne Aligote (Best Man’s present) in the boot and they set off at top speed.

Coverley Court was an impressive address by anyone’s standards and as they purred up the gravelled drive, she felt sure that even Araminta’s social ambitions could not fail to be satisfied. The lush grounds and understated elegance of Pemberley came to mind:

I expect you feel like Elizabeth Bennet, she remarked, as Araminta ushered them, via an enormous drawing room, to a terrace leading on from the splendid oak French windows. About twenty people were already in situ, enjoying appropriate refreshment. The woodland vista; cultivated shrubs, trees and an ornamental lake with a splashing water cascade, was so charming that she initially failed to register Araminta’s surly rejoinder

Who’s she? or the fact that the hostess, now tripping back into the apartment – had seemed less than sanguine. Lionel, who joined them, seemed to be rivalling her own weight loss and had developed a sort of behavioural tic; craning his head in the direction of the drawing room and addressing the tops of his guests’ heads instead of their faces.

Percy presented the wine:

Hope you’ll accept this old chap; meant to wet the bride’s head but better late than never!

Has she seen it?

said Lionel, eyes trained towards the drawing room.

Seen what?

Percy was genuinely bemused.

The wine. Because if she hasn’t, can you please take it back to the car? I’m trying to keep her off it you see.

The difficult of keeping the hostess off the wine at her own drinks party must have struck even the commentator. Lionel elaborated.

I’m trying to contain it. I thought if we had it here, there would be some measure of control but even here ( voice breaking ) - even HERE , she is AT IT; she’s brought those vile animals from Bunters and The Falcon and they’re here ALL THE TIME and I can’t read or work or BREATHE and sometimes I think Garfield Proudie had the right idea!

A cursory glance at the guests revealed a notable absence (with the exception of Romaine Hince and Lester Frogatt), of anyone remotely connected with academia.
It was an uncomfortable assemblage of all the hardened drinkers on the margins of Dorlich respectability; the type of people who would make Philippa Truscott seem like Mother Theresa.

Its all day every day, hissed Lionel. The honeymoon was bad enough. The fact that MY WIFE appreciated the hotel wine waiter more than the mosaics at the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta should have told me SOMETHING - but since we’ve been back it’s been like living in the Inferno! I thought that we’d have a chance to GROW as a couple – its ten miles to the nearest pub – but she’s simply brought them all here – and there’s this horrible big television and they watch something called TISWAS and sing THE BUCKET OF WATER SONG……………….


It was difficult to know what to say to this; and completely impossible to request a glass of wine in the circumstances. She looked at the ornamental lake.

It’s the STYX!!!

said Lionel, appropriating the wine.

If the coast’s clear, we can take it to the car without her noticing……….

She looked at Percy and they decided that there was nothing for it but to follow their host, via the French windows, to the drawing room and thence the entrance – hoping to appropriate a drink en route. On closer inspection, the décor of the drawing room was peculiar; Lionel’s tasteful dark wood tables, chairs and draped burgundy velvet floor length curtains were offset by an enormous television encased in a vulgar Spanish-style mock–wood cabinet with a maple grain finish. Four youngish men wearing jeans with a distinctly rakish aspect were sitting in front of it as if at a shrine, flicking through the channels with a remote control. At this point, Araminta swept into view from the adjoining open plan kitchen.

Her face was puffy; her jade satin cocktail dress and sequinned stilettos had seen better days, but her eyesight was in perfectly good order. She demanded to inspect the contents of the bag.

Aligote – oh you are such a DARLING!!! (kissing Percy full on the lips). Now run off to the kitchen LILO and get the opener! We’ve got so much to catch up on!

Araminta was clearly more than a little the worse for wear – but was still in the euphoric stage of intoxication. It would have been perfectly possible to distract her with a glass of something cheap and cheerful from the kitchen, whilst secreting the Aligote in the car boot – but maybe the public airing of a ridiculous nickname was a humiliation too far for Lionel. He snatched the remote control from the television - watching party; appropriated the carrier bag and addressed his wife.

I’m sorry, Araminta – but you are quite clearly extremely drunk; Percy’s expensive present would be wasted on you and there is Methylated Spirit in the cupboard. If you want that – then you’re quite welcome. And (pointing to the television watchers) Get these louts OUT OF HERE!

If Araminta was euphoric before, she was vituperative now and only Percy’s prompt action prevented her seizing, and in all probability, dropping, the bag with a consequent breakage of glass and spillage of wine. She rounded upon Lionel with a vengeance.

He was a loser; useless in the sack; a miserable miser who had married her for her money; was keeping her prisoner in this Godforsaken DUMP; she hated all his geriatric friends; and she wished he’d go and top himself like that OLD QUEEN PROUDIE. On second thoughts, what was her life worth? Answer, NOTHING!!!

And she ran into the kitchen; emerged brandishing a Sabatier carving knife, last seen as part of a wedding present boxed set – and locked herself in the bathroom.

There was an embarrassed silence, during which time Romaine Hince and Lester Frogatt had joined them in the drawing room and the television-watching party had left it. Lionel announced that marriage to Araminta had wrecked his health, sanity and if it continued, a career ( for which he had sacrificed the normal pleasures of a healthy male), would be as toast. He would therefore be most grateful for a lift back to Dorlich (looking at Percy).

Fortuitously, he had kept his old apartment (indeed, it still contained most of his books) and could move straight back. He would arrange for everything else to be collected later – and – no time like the present why didn’t they just make a move now?

Percy cleared his throat.

Well, he was very sad to hear all this; very sad indeed – and such a lovely apartment too – quite delightful…….. And, of course, it was certainly possible to stump up with a lift – the TR7 was a tourer with four seats after all, but wasn’t Lionel forgetting something fairly crucial?

Araminta was in the bathroom with a carving knife.


Lester Frogatt, a reticent PHD student, specialising in the lais of Marie de France, volunteered to investigate.

A preliminary tap on the bathroom door elicited no response; neither did another – or subsequent bangs and kicks. There was a frosted bathroom window visible from the exterior; it was a ground floor apartment and the logical thing was for Lester to take a peek from the outside – which he did.

It was hard to see anything; very fuzzy really – but he could certainly see a kind of lump in the region of the bath. Although what it was, he really couldn’t say……….

There was nothing for it but to break the door down.

On the drive back to Dorlich – minus Lionel – she discussed the Kerridge
At Home with Percy.

Firstly there had been very little of ‘home’ about it; both Lionel and Araminta from their different perspectives, seemed to detest in equal measure, one of the most delightful residences she had ever seen.

It was completely was wasted upon this ill-matched couple and Lionel for one, had determined to vacate the premises as soon as possible.

At the third heave, Percy had conquered the bathroom lock and the door had given wa, to reveal Araminta lying on her back on the linoleum.

Her legs resembled the stiff twin compasses of John Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning; she was cradling the Sabatier knife like a nursing mother and not crooning but snoring. She had not cut herself or anything else.

Having ascertained that his wife was drunk rather than dead, Lionel repeated his request for a lift back to Dorlich – to no avail. Percy was adamant:

I say, Lionel – I’ve only just officiated at your wedding! I’ve no idea what’s gone on between you and your good lady, but I am not going to arrive as your guest with your marriage intact and then spirit away the groom leaving a damsel in distress! It was my fault – I shouldn’t have tempted her with the wine – like Eve and the apple!! Early to bed – early to rise and tomorrow’s a new day!

And that, despite Lionel’s anguished pleas, had been that.

The fact that Lionel Kerridge had married Araminta Bellwether in the first instance was the stuff of a rather poor Whitehall Farce, minus Brian Rix, with or without trousers, but the news about Mr Proudie was a tragedy indeed.

This kind, elderly scholar, who had taught palaeography to her MA group, had recently committed suicide by plunging to his death from the top of Persimann’s Folly – a medieval tower house on the edge of the university complex.

He had been a courteous, witty man who had lived for many years with his aged mother until her death after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease the previous summer. Despite Araminta’s cruel jibe, she hhad ad no idea about Garfield Proudie’s sexuality and cared less.

The important fact was that he would be remembered by generations of Dorlich students for his brilliant commentary on the Gawain poet; his lively rendition of the Robin Hood ballads and most of all, his enjoyable tours of medieval Dorlich, always concluding with a lavish repast in Lucy’s Tea Room, with extra cream for the ladies.

Do you know, said Percy, as he dropped her off at Conyham Crescent after what had been, to say the least, an eventful outing: You haven’t mentioned Paul once.

It was true; she hadn’t.

There is a world elsewhere, she decided on her return to life as a woman without a man.

Perhaps she had begun to find it.

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