Wilbur’s Ghost

I’m reviving a tale of three or four years ago, to inject a lighter note in days when my own thoughts are anything but light! Happy New Year, to one and all!

It was imperative Wilbur should discover the exact location of the ghost.   He had no doubt there was a ghost; he had witnessed its activities often enough in the years since he had removed himself with his family to Abbot’s Croft, and he had become accustomed to its presence.   Although a little short-tempered at times, it was not a malevolent ghost; Abbot’s Croft did not feel especially cold, or suffer the clamminess associated with traditional hauntings, there were no clanking chains or cries of suffering, in fact the ghost made no noise at all, generally speaking.   Sometimes he would not be aware of it for weeks on end, at other times it would visit almost daily.

Yes, daily.  Wilbur’s ghost was not averse to making daylight appearances.  A haunting, Wilbur had learned, was not entirely a night-time phenomenon, not at Abbot’s Croft.  

“Is that your gardener?”  Roberta Mordegrave enquired, one fine afternoon over drinks on the terrace.

“Possibly; where?”  Wilbur was reluctant to admit he had been unable to retain a gardener for more than a few weeks, and on that particular Tuesday, he was gardener-less.  

“Over there, behind the fountain.”

It was a small fountain – more of a large water feature really – with enough spray to almost disguise someone standing behind it:  and there, standing behind it, was a disguised somebody; an opaque and watery silhouette that was undoubtedly the ghost.   Wilbur wisely confirmed his ‘gardener’s’ identity, then fell to distracting Roberta from the moment when the ghost must dematerialise, which it did.

“Where did your gardener go?”  Roberta asked, when next her eyes were drawn to the fountain.

“Oh, he does the roses in the front drive.  He’ll be there, I expect.”  Wilbur added knowledgably:  “They’re budding, you know.”  He refrained from admitting that his last gardener had left at a canter, after catching his horticultural tools performing a square dance in the vegetable garden. 

This is not to say the ghost lacked a nocturnal aspect, which could assume many forms.  On an evening devoted to a game of Bridge Wilbur found himself guided by a mysterious influence that, using neither vision nor voice, insisted he lead with a ‘low Club’ at a crucial juncture, resulting in a small slam for himself and his partner.   On another occasion he was reading peacefully in his drawing room when he heard a resounding bang followed by a sense of overwhelming pain and anger.   Wilbur scurried into the hall, where he found his Indian rug crumpled to a heap on the polished floor, suggesting that someone had slipped over while stepping upon it.  

One early morning he awoke to find his bedclothes pulled from over him.  Chilled and irritable, he snatched at the covers and wrapped them around himself.  Within seconds he was exposed again as a powerful force snatched the covers back.  Infuriated, he turned to rebuke his wife for her selfishness, but his wife was not there.  The other side of the bed was empty.  Only then did he remember that his wife was away, visiting her mother in Chipping Sodbury.

So there was a ghost.  Wilbur’s wife refused to make it a secret; instead, if a haunting was mentioned she would simply say “Oh, the ghost!” and move on to the next subject for conversation.  His two children, who had now flown the coup, would never admit to any sort of a ‘presence’, although through the last five of their growing years (those spent at Abbot’s Croft) they had passed more hours of the night giggling than sleeping. 

Wilbur’s worries about the ghost’s actual whereabouts stemmed from a meeting with Delbert Fruit-Hughes.  Now that Wilbur’s children were gone, Abbot’s Croft’s rambling old corridors and twelve bedrooms seemed too large for just himself and his wife.   He loved the house, did not want to downsize, so he suggested to his wife that they throw open their doors to others:

“Let’s take in guests.”

“Homeless people!”  His wife ruled.  “People sleeping in cardboard boxes everywhere.  Ghastly mess.”

Wilbur, who had more of a hotel in mind, demurred, but this was the sort of argument his wife always won.   So, on the following Wednesday morning, he kept an appointment with the County Planning Officer, whose name was Delbert Fruit-Hughes.   

“An HMO,” DFH decided.   “How many rooms?”

“We can make nine available.”   Wilbur calculated.  “What’s an HMO?”

“House of Multiple Occupancy – eight rentable units and a living area with cooking facilities.  You’ll need to update the rooms, add a couple of bathrooms.  Any bats?”

“What do you mean, ‘update’?  Surely our rooms are better than cardboard boxes – colder, maybe, but a bit drier?”

“There are standards we require.  And fire doors, you’ll need fire doors.  Any bats?”

“Bats?”

“You must be sure any work you have done will not disturb your bats. They’re protected, you know.”

“We don’t have any bats!”   

Delbert Fruit-Hughes screwed up his suspicious eyes suspiciously:  “Really?  Have you looked?”

 “No bats.”

“Newts, then?  A rare newt can hold up construction for years!”

“No, no newts.  Although,”  Wilbur added, with a smile. “We do have a ghost;”  

“Ah!  Oh, dear me!   Oh, my days!  Oh goodness!  That really is trouble!”

“How do you mean?  We quite like him.”

“He’ll have to be re-homed.  If there’s any chance of disturbing him, or if he’s likely to disturb your new occupants – I’m saying ‘him’, it’s not Mary Queen of Scots, is it?”

“I don’t think so.  Why, should it be?”

“She’s rather popular, we find.  Anyway, ghosts – part of heritage you see.  Heritage Britain is very protective of its ghosts. FMM, that’s my advice.”

“FMM?”

“Oh, those dreadful three-letter acronyms!  Find him, Mollify him, Move him, m’dear sir.  Oh, and if it’s MQS, you might have to deal with the head separately.  I wish you very good luck!  That aside, the process is deliciously simple.  I shall study your plans, to be assured that your proposals are in keeping with the age and listing of your house and that you intend using appropriate materials.  Then I shall come and visit the site in a few days.  As long as I’m satisfied, planning permission should be granted.  Tickety-boo!  Shall we say Monday?”

#

“It’s quite simple.”  Wilbur explained to the empty air in his bedroom.  “We want to find you somewhere more comfortable.  More comfortable to haunt, that is.”  

No-one answered.  

Wilbur was taking breakfast with his wife in Abbot’s Croft’s voluminous kitchen.  

“I should tell you,” said the figure at the end of their table, “I’m perfectly happy where I am.”

Wilbur’s wife glanced up, taking in a pale young woman wearing a grey business suit.  “You don’t look well.”  She said brusquely.  “You’d be much healthier if you got out more.”

“Of course I don’t look well.  I’m dead!”  The figure retorted.  “And I get outside often enough, thank you.”

“She does – he does.  I thought she was a him; or do I mean a he?”  Wilbur stumbled.  “I’ve seen her, after a fashion.”

“Well, I have my work to get to.”  His wife said.  “Sort this out, please, Wilbur.”  And she left.

“The thing is…”  Wilbur began.

“The thing is,”  The ghost cut in;  “You want to tear this house apart and fill it up with vagrants.  Well, no dice, I’m afraid.  No dados, kein wurfel, saikoro.   No.”

“Only part of the house.”  Wilbur protested.  “Anyway, how did you know?”

“I’m a ghost, sweetie.  Ghosts know everything.   Now please understand this:  we all have our place here; places important to us because they correspond with our deaths.  We won’t be moved.”

Wilbur tutted.  “We?”

“Of course!  You didn’t think I was the only spirit in this joint, did you?  There’s a nine-year-old girl bricked in behind the fireplace in the old refectory, a forty-year old stonemason who fell off the roof, an unlucky monk who ate too much pigeon pie, and a murdered eldest son under the floor more or less where you’re sitting.  This house is over six hundred years old, you know.  It’s seen some action!”

Wilbur was aghast.  “I didn’t realise!  I thought…”

“Thought it was just me?  By no means.  I’m simply Abbot’s Croft’s EHR.”

“EHR?”  Wilbur enquired politely.

“Those damned three-letter acronyms!  Elected Haunting Representative.  I do the manifestations on the others’ behalf (and you don’t need to move your chair, he’s at least four feet down).”

“And whose ghost are you?  You look – well, you look very modern.”

“I can appear in any clothing I want, if that’s what you mean.  One has to keep up with the times, doesn’t one?  Although I must admit…”  The ghost squirmed uncomfortably  “…I find the current fashion for underwear very strange.   I am, let me see…”  she counted on her fingers “…four hundred and seventy years old.  I don’t suppose that will mean anything to you, though.”

“Should it not?   Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, dissolution of the monasteries?  What happened to you?  Did you get dissolved?”

“Very nearly.  I fell in a cooking pot, alright?  The cook pushed me.  Then she got scared, because all the household knew she didn’t like me, so she hid my body inside the kitchen chimney. It was very embarrassing, and I don’t really want to talk about it, but I have to because my remains are still there.”

“What, here?”  Wilbur stared at the kitchen Aga, and the great chimney breast above it.

“In the room you use for your ‘home cinema’, I think you call it.  It may not look like it anymore, but that was a kitchen once, and the chimney is part of the south wall.”

“We have to take that down.  It’s in the way of the alterations.   We’ll find you, and we’ll give you a decent burial.  Then you’ll be released, and you can rest in peace.”   Wilbur suggested helpfully.  “Although we’ll miss you.”  He added.

“Absolutely not!”  The ghost declared.  “I like it here.  I would miss you, too.  You’re a nice family, you know.  I feel we have got quite close, over the years.”

“But you’d be at rest in Heaven!” 

“Not after the life I led!  Anyway, what would I do, puffing clouds around all day?  I’m sorry, but your plans are out of the question. None of us wan t them.  Why can’t you just go on as you are?

“Because the place is too big for us now.  We do this, or we move somewhere smaller.”

“I can’t dissuade you?”

“No.” Wilbur said tersely.  “We’ve submitted the plans, they’re all ready for approval.  You can’t do anything about it.  We’ve decided.”

Wilbur was treated to the eerie sound of ghostly laughter.  “Can’t do anything about it?  Oh sweetie!  Have you heard of poltergeists?”  To reinforce her point, the ghost raised a vase of flowers gently from the sideboard and floated it across the kitchen.  Wilbur watched it nervously, half-expecting to see it fly at his head.

“You may throw a few things, but it won’t make any difference; it’s decided.”

“Hmm.”  Said the ghost.  “I see you’re determined.  I’m sorry, because I always thought I was a good ghost to you.  Things clearly need to be brought under control.”  And she vanished, leaving the flower vase to drop, shattering, to the flagstone floor.

Wilbur and his wife were waiting on the Monday when Delbert Fruit-Hughes parked his car at the end of their drive, and watched him retrieve his briefcase from the back seat.   They moved to make him welcome, flinging wide Abbot’s Croft’s  old double front doors, and if Wilbur, stepping outside, noticed the driveway beneath his feet was wet, he took no account of it at first, although it had not rained for a day and a half.  In his endeavour to greet DFH halfway down the drive, however, his ears began to pick up a strange squelching sound.  He looked down.

Delbert Fruit-Hughes cried out:  “Oh, newts!”   And newts there were; hundreds, possibly thousands of the rarest newts nature could provide – newts that floundered on the gravel, crawled over Wilbur’s shoes, climbed his trouser legs, and when he bent to brush them off, one somehow attached itself to his hand and sat upon it, regarding him with a thoughtful expression.  But if there were thousands of newts, they were comfortably outnumbered by the bats.   The bats burst from the end gables of Abbot’s Croft in an effusion of black wings like a pharaoh’s plague, descending upon the running form of DFH and flapping about his head as he struggled to regain the safety of his car.   

As for Wilbur, he turned to his wife with a gesture of despair, but it was not her incredulous expression that caught his eye, it was the presence, at each window of Abbot’s Croft, of a smiling, grey, wispy ghost.

The letter denying Wilbur and his wife planning permission came promptly, not from DFH, who had suffered a nervous breakdown, but from his successor.  So it is a story of failure; the tale of a well-meaning couple who attempted to launch Abbot’s Croft as an HMO ( a House of Multiple Occupancy) only to be thwarted by a PSI (Protected Species Infestation); yet it is not quite the end of the story.   No sooner had Delbert Fruit-Hughes departed than the newts departed too, the newts and all but two pairs of the bats.  The entire host simply melted away.   The two pairs of bats that lingered, however, required feeding; and they were bats of a certain habit.  They took their fill from Wilbur and his wife as they slept, that very night, so that by morning they had wrought great changes.

Through the centuries that are to come rumours will strengthen and fade about the shy, retiring owners of Abbot’s Croft and their odd, nocturnal ways; but hey, they seem to be nice people, and though they never seem to get any older they are not at all the sort who could be connected in any way with the strange instances of dead farm animals that occur in the area now and then.   And as for tales of ghosts that linger in the old house, well, some claim to have seen a figure of a woman drifting about the gardens, but no-one has ever felt threatened by her.  She seems quite happy, for a ghost.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Parfitt’s Island – a chronicle in four parts: Part Four.

Author’s note:  this episode contains some eroticism and political incorrectness, so it probably isn’t for everyone, but I did warn you about that, didn’t I?  All dun in fun (or done in fone).  I hope you enjoy.

In Julian Parfitt’s ‘Oval Office’, an agreement with the UK Government was finalised with almost indecent haste.  After everybody had expressed their admiration for everybody else, A.J. Poulson, on the ‘phone from the Ministry, wrapped the deal up.

“I’ll have the papers prepared.  If your legal people are happy we’ll be signed and sealed in a few days.  You keep your sovereignty, we pay your rate for the gas, and we rent the pipeline from the Republic of Aga.  Toodle-pip!”  He rang off.

“That was amazingly easy!”  Julian enthused.  “Willoughby, you’re a genius!”

Willoughby blushed.  “Now, Julian!  Come on.  Let’s get in that exercise I promised!”

Skaeflint’ae Beach was at its best that summer forenoon.  Very early in his explorations Willoughby had discovered the cove with its honeycomb of caves and tall cliffs, hidden away from the gas wells on the other side of the headland.  The little apron of sand was large enough to tempt bathers and private enough to be exclusive.  In their first days on the island – in those times Rowena remembered so wistfully – she and Julian had bathed uninhibitedly here.

Today it was Willoughby who accompanied Julian to the beach.  Rowena had to stay behind – a consultant and an Iranian cook had arrived on the early tide to help prepare for the Iranian delegation due that afternoon.  They had set up most of their equipment at the harbour, ready to transport to the house, which they began to do at around eleven am. They were nice people, and they brought with them some knowledge of a surprising nature.

“Your clocks;” said the consultant.  “You do realize they’re two hours adrift?”

“Are they?”  Rowena was at first disbelieving, then astounded.  “My watch, too.  How could that be?”

“I guess too long away from the mainland?”  the cook suggested.  “It is of no importance – we can finish our work in very little time.”

“Julian!”  Rowena exclaimed.  “He won’t know!  Can you find your own way around?  I must warn him!”

Even as she set off up the path to Ben Adderhochie, Rowena recognised the futility of her task.  The walk to Skaeflint’ae was at least forty minutes, and the Iranians would be with them within the hour.  However, as she hurried, a few dark corners began to open in her mind; a few vital tumblers began to click into place.  As the sinister import of these deliberations took shape, Rowena began to increase her pace.  She had not missed the faun-like conspiracy in her husband’s look that morning, or Willoughby’s devious smile…..

“Isn’t this truly beautiful?”  Cried Willoughby, standing at the water margin.  “Doesn’t it just fill your heart, Julian?”

Julian, staring at Willoughby’s back, admitted that it did.  As they had clambered down the steeper section of the cliff path, Willoughby had removed his shirt to expose that back and every rippling muscle in it.

“Let’s swim!”  The rest of Willoughby’s clothes seemed to magic from him, so all of a sudden Julian was plunged into his dream of the previous night:  these were not the tropics, but Willoughby’s virile nudity was all it promised to be, running towards the deeper sea.  Laughing at the ice-chill of the waves, Willoughby turned to offer a view that certainly filled Julian’s heart, and did much to stimulate other organs too:  “Come on, my little water-baby; get in here!” 

Julian tried a modest compromise, removing his shirt and trousers.  Willoughby was hysterical:  “Oh, what?  Underpants!  Get them off you, man!”

So Julian did.  The sea was so bollock-freezingly cold it precluded all innocent play.  Willoughby did not mind this – he saw it merely as the setting of a stage.   Swiftly back upon the beach both men laughed and stamped and shivered while Julian made the point that, in this wet condition, they had no hope of regaining their clothes.

“I’m going to catch pneumonia!”

“Lie down on the sand,”  commanded Willoughby.  “It’s warm in the sun.”

Side by side in the more yielding stuff above the tide-line they stretched themselves out to dry.  Gradually Julian’s shivering stopped, but he did not cease to complain of the cold.  Not, that is, until he felt Willoughby’s arm across his chest – then he began to experience a warmth which wasn’t quite rational.

“Not a bad body, you know, Julian,” said Willoughby; “for a City gent, hmm?”

Julian should have resisted, but he found himself quite liking that irrational warmth.  There was still time to step back, then; to turn away – before Willoughby slithered closer to him, so they were flank to flank, and certainly before Willoughby’s hands began to explore him in areas where even Rowena was reluctant to go, unless offered a bribe of fine vintage Bollinger.

“I’m afraid I’m not very…”  He heard himself stuttering.  “I’m not hung like a…well, not like you.”

“Like a donkey?”  Willoughby laughed.  “Don’t worry, I’ve heard it said.  But I think you’re rather sweet, dear Julian.  And size isn’t so important, is it?”

To be fair to Julian, he did tense up a little at this point:  he did recognise the Rubicon he was crossing, that this was an aspect of sexuality which had always made him feel uncomfortable in the past.  But he did not feel uncomfortable – not at all.  In fact, Willoughby’s attention was making him feel very comfortable indeed.

He would have been less relaxed if his ears had picked up the faint chug of a diesel motor, or if he had been looking out to sea at this particular moment; for a yacht was passing the open mouth of the cove with its complement of three Iranian diplomats lined up, like three wise men on a Christmas card,  upon its deck.  Unlike the three wise men, though, they each had binoculars.  Alas, he was not looking, and he did not see.  He did not see even when, five minutes later, the same yacht and the same three diplomats passed by again, travelling in the opposite direction.  This time only one diplomat was looking through binoculars – the other two had cameras.

“I know what we need.”  Willoughby murmured in Julian’s ear.  “I’ll be right back, love, Okay?”

“Oh, don’t go!”  Julian was nervously affected by the prospect of any interval in his further education, inasmuch as he feared a premature conclusion, exacerbated by the sight of Willoughby’s taut buttocks stalking away from him up the beach, to disappear into one of the caves. Fortunately, Willoughby’s return was almost immediate.  He held a packet of white powder in one hand while he twirled a drinking straw in the other.

“A little stash I set up yesterday, especially for us,”  he explained, as he plunged into the pockets of his discarded trousers to produce a small mirror.  Using that magnificent torso to shield them from any breeze, he nicked the corner of the packet, allowing a thin stream of powder to settle in a line upon the mirror.  “Here we are, darling boy.  Something else you haven’t tried.”

Now there was truly no turning back. The Rubicon was a distant memory; Julian was well into Italy and his feet had dried.  The white powder filled his world with little clicking sounds and flashing lights and unable to withstand any further delay he thrust himself awkwardly at Willoughby, who chuckled his indulgence:  “No, sweety – that works with women, not with us.”

Then he showed Julian exactly what to do, and Julian followed his instructions with alacrity, and Willoughby said a rather curious thing. 

 He said:  “All right boys – in for the close-up.  Not all at once, now!”

‘Close-up’?  Julian relished this strange terminology, knowing there would be many new words to learn.  It was a whole new world, one he had denied himself for so, so long.  As he let the waves of fulfilment roll over him he ruffled Willoughby’s hair and opened his eyes to ask its meaning.  He did not have to ask; nor did he need to ask about the clicks, or the flashing lights, because they were still happening.  They were coming from the ring of photographers standing around them.

“Julian old chap!”  Said Willoughby, disengaging himself.  “Let me introduce you to the gentlemen of the Press.”

The misery of the next ten minutes would remain with Julian all his life.  His struggle to get through the ranks of paparazzi to recover his clothes, the break into an undignified run with his trousers still down around his knees, the raucous cheer when he fell flat on his face in the sand.  Then there was the second raucous cheer when, halfway up the cliff path he met Rowena coming down – or, more correctly, ran onto her fist.

If the gentlemen of the fourth estate had lacked quotes to spice up their articles Rowena gave them plenty.  But Rowena was never a woman to be taken, or quoted, lightly – she also gave weight.  The one redeeming act of that whole mortifying afternoon was when she kicked Willoughby off the cliff.  The man who wrestled with crocodiles was no match for Rowena scorned, and Rowena was never one to leave an advantage without pressing it home.  She pursued Willoughby to where he had fallen, clutching a number of compound fractures, and jumped on him until four sturdy press men restrained her.  By that time she had ensured that Willoughby would trouble no-one of either sex for a very long time.

#

“He invited them in early that morning,” Julian explained miserably, after he and Rowena had negotiated an uneasy truce and they were browsing the websites of the national dailies in their kitchen the following day.  “They were hiding in the caves all the time we were there.  He set me up.  The coke, the whole thing.”

Dismally, they scanned pages full of pictures with little black squares all over them.  Rowena featured as much as Julian, for the camera Willoughby had set up on the grandfather clock had done its job well.

“I got a phone call from the Iranians;” She said.  “They don’t want your alliance.”

Julian nodded. “You should have heard Prince Fuisal.  Apparently what I was doing in those photographs is punishable by death in Al Flaberri.  Daddy’s told him never to speak to me again.  The tankers all sailed early this morning – there’s going to be no pipeline and no deal.  We’re just waiting for the landing craft.”

Rowena rested her chin on her hands:  “Or maybe not.”  She said. “No, maybe not.”

Julian gave her a quizzical look.  “Unless you know something I don’t…”

“Exactly.  Let me explain: last night while you were licking your wounds, so to speak, I made a few calls of my own.  Then, this morning while you were watching the tankers sail away, I called A.J.  It took me a long time to get through, and even longer before he stopped laughing.  Then I told him he had to negotiate with me now, and he did stop laughing.  The deal’s back on.”

“I don’t understand.”  Julian admitted, staring blankly at his wife.

“You don’t. Do you?  Oil is oil, my dear:  gas is gas.  That, and the opportunity to get one over on the British are incentives too great for the King of Al Flaberri to turn down.  And fortunately, the sweet old King has a more liberal attitude to dealing with women than his stuffy little squirt of a son.  We had a lovely chat – he’s going to come and visit me next summer; isn’t that nice?”

Rowena’s husband’s expression was changing rapidly from bewilderment to sheer open-mouthed admiration:  “You’ve struck a deal with the King!  You’re a genius!”

“It has been said.”

“And with reason!  But, wait, what about the Iranians?”

“I was never too keen on them.  We’re exchanging diplomats with Saudi Arabia instead.  Lots more ‘planes!”

“Diplomats!  But we haven’t got an embassy!”  Julian protested.

“I thought the woodshed, with a few alterations of course.  I did explain and the chappy’s quite prepared to rough it, as long as he has a garage for his two Ferraris and we promise to build a road for him to drive them on.  I mentioned the grouse moors, of course.”

“Oh, now why didn’t I think of that?  A sheik in the woodshed – an essential talking point for parties!  And who, pray, have you in mind as our ambassador?  I’m sure you’ve got somebody!”

“Yes!”  Rowena said brightly; “I have!  I believe a certain A.J. Poulson is going to apply for the job.  He seems to think his career at the Home Office is over.”

Julian was completely overawed.  “You bloody little miracle worker!”  He cried:  “It was a day of days when I married you, my love!”

“Ah.”  Rowena said heavily.  “There’s something I ought to tell you, Julian, my sweet.  Let me see, how does it go?….Yes.  I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee.  There!  I can say that because I’ve changed the constitution.  And we’re Moslems, remember?”

Julian’s expression changed profoundly for a second time.  “You see;” Rowena said; “the King would only agree to revive our contract if you were completely out of the picture.  His family would never accept any association with – what was the charming term they have for it in their language? – I forget exactly, but I remember telling him you didn’t wear that type of shirt.  Anyway, I’ve staged a coup!”

“He’s made you take over the Presidency.”  Said Julian, staring in mystification at his ex-wife.  He shook his head in despair:  “I’m going for a walk.”  He made to rise from his chair.

“I’m awfully afraid you can’t.”  Rowena apologised.

“Why?”

“Well that’s the other part.  You’re under house arrest.”  She gave Julian one of her gentle, consoling smiles.

“What?”  Julian growled.  

Rowena repeated her words, in response to which Julian added a few thoughts of his own, largely in words that are unprintable, inducing Rowena to tut.  “Language dear!  You know, you’re dreadfully sexy when you’re angry.”

“You’re mad!”  Julian spat the words through gritted teeth.

“No, no; I’m perfectly calm.  You, however, are getting redder and redder.  It’s all completely civilised.  You know the portacabin the drilling crew used?  I’m having it moved this morning to the top of Ben Adderhochie:  there’s an oil heater inside so you’ll be quite warm – it’s a perfectly acceptable place to live until I can arrange to have you exiled.  I might come and visit from time to time, like I used to at your flat before we were married; won’t that be fun?  Or have your tastes changed?  Would you prefer someone more masculine?”

Julian exploded.  “Exiled?  I won’t do it!  You can’t make me do it!  All I have to do is call security, and we’ll see who gets the charming hilltop bungalow, you scheming, devious, blousy bitch!”

“Thank you.  I learned from the best, my darling.  Now, if by security you mean your half-dozen alcoholic Glaswegians they’ve sworn allegiance to the New Republic, because I’m paying them now – they’re waiting for you outside.  They’ll escort you to your new home.  I should go straight away, if I were you; we’re quite finished here.”

There was a moment Rowena genuinely feared; the critical few seconds when Julian was close to putting his thumbs to her windpipe and squeezing.  But his shoulders slumped and he stood up wearily.  At the door, he turned:  “One thing I don’t understand.  I wasn’t the only one Willoughby caught.  There are just as many photos of you with your knickers off – how come His Royal Majesty is prepared to overlook those?”

“Heterosexual love isn’t illegal in Al Flaberri.”  Said Rowena with an indulgent smile.  “In fact, they positively encourage it.  The old King was very impressed with the pictures – in fact, he’s asked if I have any more.  You recall the ones you took on our honeymoon?  You wouldn’t happen to know where they are, would you?”

The End

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

Parfitt’s Island – a chronicle in four parts: Part Three.

There was little about Rowena’s island house these days to remind her of its crofting roots:  in the space of a few months she had installed central heating, a kitchen the mere contemplation of which would have made her blush not so long ago, triple glazing, and many other features of the cossetted life.  All-in-all, by the time the extensions and the indoor swimming pool were completed, about two containers’ worth of exorbitantly priced luxury goods would grace the Parfitt residence, now well on its way to mansion status.

Much of this profligacy could be attributed to boredom.  While Julian was busy with affairs of State, there was little for the First (and Only) Lady to do, apart from her toenails.  This afternoon, stretched out on a sunbed next to her life-sized reproduction of the statue of David on the south patio and taking advantage of some rare afternoon sun, Rowena was reading the same book for a third time.  Half-way between small print and sleep, she scarcely noticed the force of nature approaching from the harbour.

Then she focussed.

Striding up the steep path, his thighs tensed and thrusting against the gradient, all six foot six of Willoughby was a Greek god come to earth, an angel descended from paradise.  Now, in the warmer interior of the island where his coat was a little too protective a bloom of sweat glistened on his golden skin – and, oh, lord, that hair!

Rowena surreptitiously nipped her skirt up over her thighs a few more inches and sat up so certain features of her v-necked t-shirt would be shown to their best advantage.  She took a few very deep breaths.

“Hi.”  She wavered, in not-very-convincing First Lady style.  “Who are you?”

‘And’ she wanted to add (with a disparaging glance at David), ‘is that bulge in your jeans for real?’ 

“Hello.  You must be Rowena – they said you would be beautiful, and they were so right.  I’m Willoughby.”

Ah, and his voice was so dark, and chocolaty and warm!  Rowena knew she couldn’t get up without falling over.

“Surely, you can’t be….”

“The ‘man from the Ministry’?  Yes, sweetest Rowena, I’m afraid I am.  Now, is your husband around?”  The question was so subtly framed it might have meant anything, but the conspiratorial half-smile which adorned it left no doubt in Rowena’s mind.  Unfortunately, though, Julian was around.  He was just inside the door behind her – and emerging from it.

“Are you Lightfoot?”  He asked, with genuine doubt in his voice.

“Call me Willoughby.”  Said Willoughby.

“Come inside.  Darling, could you fix some drinks for us?  Willoughby, then – what will you have?”

Julian’s study had become his Oval Office.  They sat in deep leather chairs.

“I’m sorry about the strip search.”  Julian said, with a smirk.  “We have to be so careful.”

“Not at all,” Willoughby made a dismissive gesture.  “We had fun.”

Rowena did not stay for their discussion.  She served some drinks, then resumed her sunbathing for a little while.  With her head hidden behind her book she could dream her dreams undisturbed, and those she dreamed of Willoughby would not have been publishable.

“Truth is, Julian,”  Willoughby was saying;  “We want to calm this whole thing down, you know; find some mutual ground?  If you’re agreeable, I wouldn’t mind staying around for a few days, sort of as a buffer between you and the Ministry.  I’d really like to do that.  I mean,” He treated Julian to a mischievous half-smile.  “I – personally – would like to do that.  The thing is, you sweet man, would you like it too?”

In the early hours, the very early hours, of the following morning, Willoughby Lightfoot’s stalwart shape might have been seen leaving the Parfitt house – would have been, if Julian’s security guards were not by then in drunken slumber, a sleep deepened by the pills which Willoughby had offered them to enhance their enjoyment of the previous afternoon.  The goat in the yard watched Willoughby’s approach with suspicion, snickering anxiously.

In the time before the rest of the household awoke, Lightfoot made a comprehensive exploration of Julian’s Island; though not in a way any tourist or casual sightseer would recognise.  No, Willoughby’s needs were specific – he sought, and found, specific things.

By the time he returned, Rowena was downstairs making breakfast.

Lightfoot’s muscular body framed against the light in the back doorway.  “What a wonderful place to walk in the morning!”  He declared, unbuttoning his shirt.  “Would you like me to take off my shoes?”

Rowena nodded, aware of what was happening to her face.  “Shall I take them for you?”  

As Willoughby removed his muddy footwear, Rowena knelt before him, letting him see the long curve of her back, the dark mystery beneath the neck of her dressing gown.  As she stood, of course, the casually tied cord of her gown parted and it fell open.  Blushing deeply, she looked up at him, fingering nervously at the hem of the shortest nightshirt she possessed and hoping it was just short enough.

Willoughby looked down at her:  “You are so, so lovely.”  He said.

Rowena looked up at Willoughby:  “Oh lord – you absolutely have to roger me – now!”

Did the earth move?  Well, not immediately, even though a train of events were set in motion which would prompt it to at least consider a tremor or two.

Willoughby’s presents, once unwrapped, were every bit as generous as they promised.  Rowena unwrapped them very quickly indeed.  His jeans almost ripped from him, Willoughby found himself pinned against the back door with Rowena’s arms around his neck, legs around his waist.

“Julian….”  He managed to pant between hammer blows; “He isn’t up yet?”

It was an anxious enquiry.  Rowena shook her head.  “Oh-my-god!  Oh-my-god!  Not until ten.”

“Excellent.”  Willoughby cupped the ample cheeks of Rowena’s backside, one in each hand, in search of a better purchase; hoping to control the rampant battering which threatened to throw them both out into the back yard.  Rowena, however, took this support as an opportunity to lean away from him – her idea probably was to invite his attention to her eager breasts, but the result was quite different.  Rowena was neither as light nor as nimble as once she had been.

She lost her grip, panicked: clawed for Willoughby’s shirt and missed.  The centre of gravity shifted, drastically.  Suddenly off-balance, with jeans around his ankles, Willoughby found himself tottering for dear life just to stay upright as he and Rowena, locked in passion, careered across the kitchen.  Desperately trying to avoid a crash onto the hard flagstone floor, he steered towards the softer landing of the kitchen table.  This, at least, was successful.  They hit the top of the table together, bringing forth a cry of ecstasy from Rowena and a cry of pain from Willoughby as his masculinity hit the table edge.   In Rowena’s design for her luxury kitchen, as a sort of homage to tradition, she had retained three traditional features, two of which were the old flagstone floor and the sturdy kitchen table.  Now, the grip of wooden table legs on flagstones is adequate for most purposes, but prone to defeat if hit horizontally at speed by a combined weight of around two hundred and eighty pounds.  The table, therefore, offered little resistance:  protesting with hideous noise it scraped the rest of the way across the floor towards Rowena’s third concession to tradition –  the welsh dresser.

Arrayed upon the dresser’s shelves, dining plates, soup plates, tea plates, odd ornamental statuary, a tea pot and a very good Spode figurine waited to receive them with a conclusion as inevitable as it was loud.  The table rammed the dresser with a crash, the shelves above lurched dangerously, shedding their contents as a hound shakes off fleas.  Rowena screamed, flinging herself to the rescue of an avalanche of descending crockery.

No sound speaks more volubly of devastation than that of a china plate breaking upon stone:  no devastation is more entire than a floor covered with shards of white dinner service.  Rowena made a dive to catch the Spode figurine, only to have it slip from her grasp.  Not one piece survived.

Rowena was lying on her back on the floor in the midst of the carnage with her nightshirt around her neck:  Willoughby was still doubled over the edge of the table.  There came a sound of running feet from the stairs.

“My husband!” Cried Rowena.  “Hide!”

Willoughby groaned, well aware that the lingering evidence of his enthusiasm would incriminate him in a way that had no place in his strategy.  The only possible concealment on offer was behind the side of the dresser furthest from the door.  Hazarding injury from a carpet of shattered china he made his way there, pressing his back to the wall.   The door opened to admit an anxious Julian.

“My stars, what happened?”

“I fell against the table.”  Rowena explained lamely, trying to sound as shocked and disorientated as possible.  “I fell.”

To reinforce this impression, she took a tea-towel from the table and began waving it ineffectually at the mess, as if this would somehow magic the damage away.  She shrugged helplessly.

“I need to sit down.  Help me through to the front room.”  Casting about her for somewhere to put the cloth, she hooked it over the only projection available.

As he supported his wife through the hallway, Julian paused, trying to recreate an image in his mind.  “Just a moment;” He said.  “What did you hang the tea towel on?”

He propped Rowena against the stairs, turned back to the kitchen.

“Oh!”  Cried Rowena, fainting to the floor.

“Darling!”  Cried Julian solicitously.

As the door had closed behind Rowena and Julian, Willoughby was at last able to reach down and remove the larger splinters of porcelain from his foot.  He bandaged the wound with the tea-towel.

Much later, Willoughby and Julian were sitting in the Oval Office, sipping drinks.  The morning had been spent deep in negotiation, mainly concerning Julian’s proposal of a pipeline.  They had both spent some time on a telephone conference line to A.J., who seemed disposed to complete a deal.

“I’m impressed, Lightfoot.”  Julian complimented his guest:  “I hadn’t expected to find the wheels quite so well oiled.”

“Well,”  said Willoughby in his most mellifluous voice:  “It isn’t often I get to work with someone of your abilities, Julian.  I think what you’ve achieved here is remarkable: quite remarkable.”

“Thank you.  That’s praise indeed.  Do you think we might get this neatly parcelled by tomorrow?”

“Our proposals have to go to the Minister, and he has to get them sanctioned – but I know everyone wants this to be kept quiet:  so I don’t see why not.  Any particular reason for the urgency?”

“You may or may not know, but we have an alliance with Iran?  A delegation is due to visit us tomorrow afternoon.”  Julian smiled.  “It would be nice to have everything tied up by then.”

“Really?  Julian, you are a naughty chap, aren’t you?”  Willoughby’s eyes teased.  “What time are they arriving?”

“On the tide.  Two o’clock, as I believe.”

“Superb!”  said Willoughby.  He reached forward, stroking the back of Julian’s hand with a single forefinger.  “You’re a brilliant fellow, you know?”  He shook his head sadly.  “Such a waste – such a waste.”

There are times when you know a situation – a meeting, a look, a touch – should make you feel acutely uncomfortable:  they should, but they don’t.  Then what do you do?  Julian found himself in just this dilemma.  “What do you mean, ‘a waste’?”  He asked as Willoughby got to his feet.

Willoughby looked down at him with that peculiar half-smile of his, turning to leave the room.  He made no reply, but as he left, he allowed his hand to draw softly across Julian’s cheek and neck.  It was an unmistakable gesture.

That afternoon Willoughby, harbouring a slight limp, went for another walk.  Considering the small size of the Island Republic of Aga, walking offered few possibilities, so it was strange how little of him was seen.  He returned late.

It was a night of discoveries.  The first, and possibly the least earth-shattering of these, was Willoughby’s – he discovered there were only five clocks in the house, and (he could move very quietly when needed) Julian took his watch off at night.  Rowena didn’t.

Meanwhile Julian was discovering – although he might not acknowledge it in the morning – a new aspect of his sexuality.  His night was spent in dreams which all featured Willoughby:  Willoughby caressing his cheeks, running his hands through that long fair hair, Willoughby running, naked, along a tropical shore:  dreams in fact, very close to those of his wife, though Rowena’s dreams interfered with her sleep.

She discovered Willoughby in the front room of the house, paying unusual attention to their grandfather clock.

“I couldn’t sleep.”  He admitted.

“Oh,” She sympathised.  “Why?”

“Thinking of you.”  Willoughby took her hands, gave her one of his best embarrassed smiles.  “I was dreaming of you – you were naked, running along a tropical shore…”

She came to him.  “Darling, I couldn’t sleep either.”

“Couldn’t you?”

“Oh, Willoughby!”

“Oh, Rowena!”

This time he was careful – very careful.  Lifting her nightshirt from her, he carried her unclothed form to the settee and laid her carefully upon it.  Then he lay carefully on top of her.

“Wait!”  He said.  “The light.  Put the light on.”

“Must we, darling?”

“I want to see you, my love.  I want to see your face.”  She was moved to protest further, but he placed a warding finger to her lips.  “For me?”

Obediently, Rowena turned on the table lamp above her head.  “Now,” She whispered sweetly, taking the focus of her desires in her hand; “Shall we finish what we started?”

“Absolutely!  Just move another six inches this way.”

“Why?”

“More comfortable, my sweet.  Oh, and let’s have that watch off, yes?  It keeps getting tangled in my hair.”

Willoughby made one final check that the camera he had concealed on the top of the grandfather clock had them fully in frame, then he began, with consummate skill, to administer the rogering Rowena so desperately desired.

Finally, rather late in life, Rowena discovered sex – real sex.

And that was enough discoveries for one night.

Breakfast was late the next morning.  A  dispassionate observer, had there been one in place, as it were, might have noticed how each of the diners avoided the other’s gaze, as though there were some unacknowledged secret between them.  Julian said little through the first part of the meal, staring fixedly at the table, now restored to its rightful place.  Rowena, mindful of Mahadis’s fate, avoided Willoughby’s quite open admiration of her, even if beneath the table her knees kept parting involuntarily.

Rowena it was who broke the awkward silence.

“I’m a bit worried about the goat.”

“Yes?”  Julian grunted.  “Now you’re going to tell us why.”

“She just stands with her back end pressed against the shed.  She’s so aggressive I can’t get near enough to milk her and she won’t move.”

“I prefer the cow’s milk anyway.”  Julian said, closing the matter.

“What do you guys do for exercise?”  Willoughby asked brightly.

“Well, we walk a lot.”

“No, I mean proper exercise!”  Boomed Willoughby, drawing a look of open-mouthed admiration from Rowena, who imagined Willoughby doing proper exercise.  “Julian, you’re a fit chap.  You work out, don’t you?”

“No.”  Julian’s powers of articulation were peculiarly limited this morning.  “I should, I suppose….”

“Look,” Willoughby said.  “I’ve found the ideal place.  Let’s wrap things up early, then we’ll have a few hours before your Iranian chappies roll up.  I promise you’ll feel marvellous.  Marvellous!”

Julian demurred:  “I don’t think I’ll have time.”

Willoughby reached across the table, placing his hand over Julian’s and squeezing it.  “You will, Julian, I promise you. You’ll feel marvellous.”

Julian met Willoughby’s gaze, unable to escape the mischief in his eyes.

Rowena saw it too.

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.