Satan’s Rock

Part Fifteen

New Alliances

Peter watched Melanie’s retreating back as she walked quickly away.   Her last words to him:  “I don’t think we should see each other for a while,.” and the cold marble lump in his stomach prevented him calling after her. Did she hesitate, hoping that he would?  He wanted to see reluctance in her step, but in his heart he knew this was something she must resolve on her own.    For some time he remained there, on the St. Benedict road, churning over sorrowful thoughts in his head, before he too started unwillingly for home, with his emotions brimming.   He could not contemplate life without Mel.

#

In the days and weeks that followed, Peter saw little of Melanie.     She was neither waiting on the Esplanade in the morning, nor was she to be found at the Mall when he was there.  She even stayed away from college for a while: not yet strong enough, perhaps, to overcome those inevitable meetings; passing between lectures, in the library or the canteen during study time.  When she did come back she would barely return Peter’s greeting, which, in a way, saved pain for them both.   She made her desire to end their friendship so obvious that eventually Peter tired of attempts to make contact; wearied by unanswered emails and texts, he resigned himself to his loss.

The injustice, in Peter’s eyes, lay in Melanie’s reasons for their separation.   After all, he would have as gladly dropped the baton the Rock had passed to them as she, if he could believe it possible that the force which lurked there was so passive as to let him go.   But he well knew that this would not happen and he knew that Melanie, though she chose to deny it now, was no more immune than he.   He could be fearful, if he allowed himself, of the consequences for her when she faced this truth alone; but he could not change it.   He had to respect her choice.

Meanwhile, he was altering.   Others noticed this first: Lena, his mother, seeing him enter her studio one afternoon was struck, not just by how tall he had become, but by his developing physique:  “My word. Peter, how you have growed!  Are you doing weight training, or something?”

“It’s the steroids.”   Peter explained lamely.  “The little sods keep biting my legs.”

“Well, you slow down, Peter dear, or I shall have to accept you’re inheriting your father’s terrible sense of humour, and feel compelled to paint you.”

“Agh! No; not that!”

Then there was a small flame of self-confidence, which flickers inside everyone who knows that they are, for some reason, different from the crowd.   Peter had always been the quiet child, the loner, the unobtrusive intellect at the back of the class.  He had never exactly been troubled by bullying, but there were those who, back in his school days, he was content to avoid.   The redheaded Ross ‘Copper’ Copeland  had been one such.

Ross, completely and utterly ginger from his shock of untidy thatch to his toenails,   had densely-freckled skin  and  a fine, fluffy beard  which grew untamed around his features in the same angry hue.  His physique – a girth best described as ‘ample’ – arms and wrists tapered thickly down to short, stubby, carriage-bolt fingers; his walk the stamping stride of a Sumo and the  fight in every stare from his steely green eyes meant the world would step aside for Ross Copeland; it was easier that way.

At school, Copper had supplemented his income and his diet from the resources of his fellow students.  Because it pleased him to think of himself as a ‘businessman’ rather than a thief, he had a number of  ploys – ‘selling’ some trivial or useless item to his victim, or offering  protection ‘insurance’ to those with courage enough to resist.  

After school had ended Peter and Copper went their separate ways.  One a  college student, the other an apprentice highways engineer, their paths should never have crossed.   But Levenport was a small town, and Copper’s instinct for commerce flowered among the dark corners and fetid alleys where small white packets were stock in trade.

Peter was wandering through the Woolmarket, a system of narrow streets on the East Side, when Ross  caugh up with him: 

“Hello Worm.   Haven’t talked to you in a while, have I?”

Copper’s considerable form blocked Peter’s path; a little gaggle of hangers-on sniggering in his wake.

“Hello Ross.”  Peter was amazed at his own relaxed reply:  “So true.   We must catch up.  How are the guinea pigs?  Win any prizes?”

This brought a suspicious glance, because Ross did not generally let his hobby be known:  “They’re all right,” He said staunchly, looking very like a large guinea pig.  Then, with the light of ‘The Fancy’ glinting in his eyes, “Got a couple of ‘Thirds’ last week.”

Somebody behind him quickly stifled a giggle. “Look here now,”   Copper went on, hurriedly, “I’ve got something you’ll want.”   He began ferreting around in his trouser pocket, producing, at length, a tattered ‘Get Out of Gaol Free’ card from a Monopoly game.   “Useful, eh?”

Peter looked at the crumpled item: “And still warm, too.”

 “Only a score, to you Worm.   Special price.”

“Twenty pounds!   For that?”   Peter was incredulous.  “Sorry Ross, none on me.  Catch you later!”   And he walked away.

A hand fell heavily on his shoulder. “I’m sorry you don’t like my merchandise, Worm, really I am.   It’s a very good opportunity.   Maybe you needs some business education, do y’ think?”

“Seriously?”   Amazed by how rapidly his eyes could move and focus, Peter rounded upon Copper, who was totally unprepared for what came next.   “Would you like to begin teaching me now?”   Outfaced, Copper stepped back.  Somehow, Peter found he was able to detect the precise position of Copper’s feet, analyse his point of balance so as to know exactly when, where, and how hard to lunge.    In a breath, Ross Copeland was lying on his back on the pavement, with Peter standing over him, offering his hand:   “Geez, sorry Ross, must’ve tripped?  Here you go!”    And Copper, maybe slightly winded, allowed himself to be helped up.

It was a huge moment, one in which the reputations of both youths hung by a thread. 

“All right then, Cartwright….”   Copper began, his complexion boiling to a bright pink.

“Worm.”  Peter gently corrected him. In a low, confidential voice, he added:  “You used to call me ‘Worm’.  I miss that.” A gathering throng of onlookers tittered nervously.

Copper glared.   His anger rested upon Peter’s face, which was smiling, although his eyes were not. “We’re not at school anymore, Ross.  If you want to try and re-educate me, you’re going to have to do it the hard way.”    And he walked away again.   This time no heavy hand restrained him.

The importance of this re-balancing of strengths was not lost upon Melanie.   At the time of Peter’s confrontation with Ross she was elsewhere, but the buzz traveled quickly.   As is the way with rumor, the details had already changed.  Peter was accredited with having worsted Copper in battle.   She tried to fit this piece of the jigsaw into the image she kept of Peter; an image already visibly transformed.  It only added to her misery.

It was a time of trial.  The autumn of that year was punctuated by examinations, tests of many different kinds.   There were challenges for which there were simply not days enough, so that the weeks, the months, the seasons plunged into each other with unrecognised speed – autumn into winter, winter becoming spring. No summons came from the powers or the personalities that dwelt upon St. Benedict’s Rock, so Peter began to forget that visionary day in Toqus’ cave:  greater things occupied his mind.

As Peter grew strong, Melanie became beautiful, a melancholy, gentle girl with large, dark eyes and a soft smile which betrayed a wisdom beyond her years.   Neither found any relationship which matched the one they once shared: each dallied briefly with new love, then turned away.   It seemed that although they were not together anymore, they were never far apart.

Perhaps if Melanie’s home life had been happier, she might have sloughed the skin of Peter more readily:  her aversion to Howard was undying, though, and it looked unlikely he would go.  So she was left with reminiscences and might-have-beens, and a reputation with the local lads for being remote and cold.    She fell deeper into depression, and her mother Karen might have seen this, had she wished, and were she not already weary of the tightrope she walked between her lover and her daughter.   Howard tried; she could not blame Howard, but the gulf of Melanie’s mistrust was too wide for either of them to bridge.

Howard, in fact, remained something of an enigma.  A haze of mystery surrounded this large, ungainly man who, whenever questioned closely concerning his work  role at Catesby’s, the local heavy engineering Company, would be evasive, attributing his involvement ‘more to the sales side’.   And it was true he spent long periods away on business, with a predilection for suits with collars rather than suits for boilers.

There was something further that Karen might have seen:  did she not wonder why, when Melanie had declared the cessation of her friendship with Peter, Howard had seemed so concerned?  Why did Howard, normally not much exercised by Melanie’s affairs, earnestly entreat her to think again?   Then, when it was clear that the relationship had died, why did he go to such lengths to remain in contact with Peter?

To supplement his meagre finances, Peter had taken a job as car cleaner at Ensell Street Motors, a main dealer with showrooms in the town.  Howard transferred the servicing for Karen’s car from her local garage to this firm at some extra expense, apparently just in order to gain some conversation occasionally with ‘the Cartwright lad’.  Since Peter was only employed for two days in a week, around his college commitments, this was a fairly unrewarding means to keep in touch, but Howard seemed content with it.

Peter had, by now, got past his early dread of Howard, so that he was willing to engage in some discourse with him, although he never enquired after Melanie, or acceded to Howard’s persistent suggestions that they “get together over some computer stuff.”  Peter often considered that Howard might be stalking him:  the guy turned up at the oddest moments; around the corner from the café where he stopped for coffee, or on the Esplanade where, despite his commitments and the march of time, he often still walked.

Did Melanie notice these things?  Perhaps.  She noticed most that Howard was more and more a part of her life; that Karen took less care to keep them apart.  And as the seasons passed, their alienation grew.

Then, when it seemed that affairs were at their lowest point, there was Lesley.

Melanie was still socially gregarious enough to have a small, but much-treasured circle of friends.   Trisha, the eldest of three sisters and a serious student, her alter ego, Kate – who had never, to Melanie’s certain knowledge, been serious about anything – and Lesley.  ‘Trish and Kate were both local girls, they had grown up in the same town.   Lesley was an outsider who had moved to Levenport a year or so ago to stay with an aunt after a family break-up.  The four of them would communicate often through college, where they studied the same subjects, or on the Net, from time to time.  The most sacrosanct of their meetings took place each Saturday across the road from the Mall, at a café called Hennik’s.  Seated at one of the outside tables, they sipped latte and shared their news.

 “I just think it’s so the right thing,”   Kate was saying:  “I mean, this town’s, like, numb, isn’t it?”

They were discussing Trisha’s results, which made her certain of a place at St. Andrews for the coming year.

“I’m really looking forward to it.”  Trisha said:  “I couldn’t stay here for another three years, I‘d start biting my nails for a hobby.  It’s tragic already.   I‘ve only been off studies for three weeks and its s-o-o boring.”

“Get a job, girl!”  Kate urged: “A little currency might help, yeah?”  She added, to Melanie:  “Your Peter has, hasn’t he?  He looks so cool in those overalls.”

“He’d look cool in anything.”  Trisha’s voice betrayed just a hint of reverence.

There was then a drop in the conversation, because Kate had broken a taboo by mentioning Peter’s name and each of the companions knew this.  Melanie’s permanently ruptured heart was common knowledge among them, something which, though they thought it unnatural, they never broached as a subject.

“He isn’t my Peter.”   Melanie said carefully, after a moment or two.

Kate chuckled:    “Have you tried snapping your fingers?”

“It’s true, then?  You finally laid the ghost?”  Trisha touched her friend’s hand. “Does that mean you’re moving on at last?”

“I guess, I suppose    It isn’t like we were ever serious, or anything,   We were just friends.”  Melanie managed a weak smile.   “I’m a bit of a wuss, aren’t I?”

“Oh, get real!”  Kate came back:  “We know you two were joined at the hip for years.”

“And that was, like, years ago.  We aren’t ‘joined’ any more.”

“Big move!”  Kate was respectful.  “Mind you, we do all think you’re mental.”

“No, she isn’t.   He isn’t everybody’s idea of love walking, is he?”  Said Trisha.   “I mean, not long ago most of us thought he was a geek?”

“Not any more.”  Kate came back.  “You’re doing a good thing, Mel.  You really are.  It’s just that he’s, well….”

“…..He’s the silverback?  Don’t I know it?”   Melanie twisted her fingers in her hair.  And she said, with a detectable sadness:  “It’s not like we were ever married or anything…”

“Oh, bless!”  Kate sympathised.  There was a reflective pause.

“So you two are really, finally and definitely, over?”  Lesley had been listening to the conversation quietly.   Lesley, who was deep and intelligent and fun; who had an overt personality and so many qualities which boys, distracted by her long legs and melting curves, never really cared about.   Ash blonde Lesley, for whom it seemed all the most trending clothes had been specifically made, and whose weakness, undeniably, was anything to do with the male sex.

“I know that tone.”  Said Trisha.

“Well, that makes him a free agent, doesn’t it?”  Lesley said defensively.  “And he is, like, fanciable, yeah?”

“Alpha male!”  Kate agreed.

“Oh, Lesley!”  Trisha chided:   “You wouldn’t do that to Mel, would you?”

“NO!”   Lesley protested:  “No, of course not!”

“Serious, Mel?”   Trisha asked:   “There’s no way back?  Face it, he’s so hot right now?   Before we let Foxy loose on him?”

“Here!”  Protested Lesley: “As if I would!  And I’m not, like, a dog or something!”

Nevertheless, on Monday morning, when Peter took the seaside route to college, someone was clearly waiting for him, leaning with their back to the rail which warded the sea wall.  Someone tall and undeniably feminine, even while her long coat whipped about her and her blonde hair tangled in the breeze.

“See?”  Said Lesley,   “I knew you’d come this way!   Walk with me, Peter?”

            This was one of those dramatic mornings when the sky was heavy with cloud and spray fizzed off the sea; the sort of weather Peter relished, but not what he would have expected Lesley to enjoy.  In fact, she looked as if she was enjoying it hugely.

“It’s really blowing, yeah?”  She shouted above the noise of the foreshore.   “Isn’t it perfect?”

“I like it.”   Peter responded.

“Me too!”  Lesley snuggled her pretty chin into the collar of her coat.  “It’s real!”

#

Maud Reybath squinteded at the hooded figure who stood before her door, masked by darkness.  “Come in.  Were you seen?”

“I stayed in the undergrowth away from the road, then I followed the backs of the houses.  I do not think so.” 

Shepherding her visitor into her hallway, Maud peered past him, glancing anxiously up and down the village street.  Difficult though it was to tell under the cloak of night, she could discern no sign of life. She closed the door carefully, to find her visitor, whose habit was rank with the scent of damp bracken, shedding the sandals from his rugged little feet. She, motioned him to lower his hood and he did so, revealing sharp features arranged around a hairless cranium.  His stature and girth were small, his anxious grey eyes darted and switched hither and thither, as if he did not believe them to be alone.

“I  am commanded to bring you this,” he said,  “On pain of my life.”   He retrieved a sealed scroll from beneath his clothing, offering it to Maud.  She broke the seal without hesitation, “It was delivered to us by a  child.” 

“Her son?”  Maud responded, a little too quickly.

The man looked puzzled.  “Perhaps.”

She quickly scanned the neat handwriting the scroll revealed.  Its import was simple and direct;  

“My dear Maud,

 The man I encountered when last I visited with you at Bleanstead, one Arthur Herritt, Esquire, is undoubtedly The Pilgrim.   I presently enjoy his hospitality at Mountsell Park by the City of Mountchester, but I fear I may have to move ere long:  I am discovered, I think.

With Sincere Affection,

Francine

 Could she disguise the delight, or relief in her eyes?  Maud turned away so her face might not be seen.   “Very well.  You should take refreshment.  I have bread and some good fowl to restore your energy. You have many more miles to travel this night.  I will write a further message for you to deliver, which must be  for the eyes of the Brotherhood alone, do you understand?  For their eyes alone.”

© Frederick Anderson 2021.  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.

A Place that was Ours. Chapter Five – Criminal Acts

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

As I look back upon it now, I realise how my childhood ended that evening in June of’86.   A shell of my former self made its way across the bridge towards town, its mind in turmoil, its muscles bunched in helpless fury.   A man who had become a monster in my eyes had the one person I loved in his power.  I had failed Sue, let her father snatch her from me.  In my irrational head Mackenzie Crabtree was beating, torturing, humiliating the only person I loved, while I did nothing to defend her.

I could not go home.  Home would mean an empty house, because my mother was at work, and I could not face the constriction of walls around me.  So, instead, I directed my feet by way of Lower Town Road to the Old Hall, a one-time civic building that was now housed Maisie’s nightclub.  It shared a frontage with a Fish and Chip shop, and an off-licenced general store run by an enterprising little Pakistani character we all called Javid.

I was looking for a youth everyone knew as ‘Lard’.

Around this time of the evening, Lard would be found loitering, usually in the company of a brace of hangers-on, either outside the Golden Chip, one of eight fish and chip emporia in Casterley, or on the steps of the Old Hall entrance.   A lad of maybe twenty-five or twenty-six, Lard was a car salesman by profession.  Really named Richie, his nick-name referred to his thick black hair, which he was in the habit of plastering back from his face using a liberal quantity of hair gel.   He was where I expected to find him, together with a couple of other faces I knew, sitting on the steps eating chips from a plastic tray.

I ferreted through my pockets for the last of my weekly dose of small change.  “Hey Richie, man.  Gerrus a six-pack, yeah?” (I would offend him if I called him Lard to his face.)

Lard looked up at me with a negative expression on his acne-flecked features.  “Nah, can’t.  Ah’m eatin’.”

Danny, whom I knew from football training, was leaning against the wall at the top of the steps, stuffing in some chips of his own.   “Gan on, Richie.  Ah cud use a tin mesen’.  Ah’l look after yer chips, like.”

Lard grunted.  “Aye, awreet.  What’ya want, like?”

Danny said. “Tuborg,”

Lard hauled himself to his feet. “Gi’us yer pennies then.”

If Lard ever had any money for drink, he rarely needed it.  The arrangement was, you gave him money for a six-pack of beer and he visited Javid’s emporium to make the purchase on your behalf, which was how, when you were underage in Casterley, you got your alcoholic beverages.  And when the deal was completed, you got five cans from the six pack, and Lard got one.  It was simple, basic commerce that salved Javid’s conscience, kept Lard (or in this case Danny) supplied with beer, and every lad in my school year who could not pass off as eighteen years old did it.   There were some nasty rumours that girls had other ways of repaying Lard, but it was hard to imagine.  You see, Lard wasn’t exactly personable.  In fact, he was a bit dim, poor lad.

“Now then, Chas.”  Danny descended the steps towards me as Lard disappeared into Javid’s store.

“”Now, Danny.”  I returned the greeting.

“How’r’y’gannin’ like?”  Danny was a fair-haired lad, closer to Lard’s age than mine.  He had a strong face and a wide, genuine smile.  “You don’t look so good, y’na?”

“I’m all right, s’pose.”  I muttered.  “Just had a run-in with Sue Crabtree’s Da.”

“Ah.”  Danny sympathised.  “That’s Mack the plumber, right?  Mean bastard, ‘im.”

“I could bloody slit ‘im!”  I said, with appropriate venom.

“Nah, man, yer couldna’.   Tha’s already got the Chatties after yer hastn’t tha?  Don’ give ‘em reason to nick yer for more.   Take tha’ beer home, man.  Sleep it off, like.”

I spent little time wondering how Danny had learned about the bike incident.  Everybody knew by now.  No  matter how minor the crime, it was hot news in Casterley.   After ‘Lard’ had returned and Danny had split off his tin of Tuborg from my six-pack, I walked away.  I didn’t want to sit and commiserate, I wanted to be alone, to let my anger fester and grow.

Danny called after me.  “You sixteen next month, Chas?”

“Aye.  Who wants to know?”

“Jack Masters was askin’.”

Eleven-thirty that night found me propped up against the old concrete jetty beside the river, my five tins of beer consumed and a very imprecise intention whirling around in my mind.  I was not a drinker by nature; this was only the second time I had availed myself of Lard’s merchant activity, so five beers was a substantial inebriant as far as I was concerned.   My intention, as I had to keep reminding myself somewhat fuzzily, was to pay Mr. Mackenzie Crabtree’s house a nocturnal visit and liberate Sue – my Sue – from his grasp.  I had not worked out the final detail (my concentration kept fading) but it involved the use of the brick I had carefully selected from one of The Felling’s many half-demolished properties and which now lay beneath my hand.

Above and behind me sounds of activity from the town were drifting away into slumbering silence.  Right now the Fish and Chip shops and Kebab shops and Chinese Takeaways would be dispensing their last meals, the final gaggle of weekend drinkers would be meandering home.

Soon it would be my time.  I would move through the sleeping town with feline stealth in pursuit of my revenge.   My problem, though, was persuading my legs to share my sense of mission, an immediate issue which came to a head when I tried to execute a very necessary bodily function and fell over.   Thereafter, although my attempts at emulating a cat were limited, I certainly smelled like one.  Actual progress, with frequent stumbling, needed the support of the jetty and, when that ran out, any wall adjacent to the pavement, or lamp-post, or parked car that offered.

If my sense of equilibrium had faltered, my anger had not.  As it quickly became apparent I would not have the stability to reach my intended goal, I believe (although my recollection is hazy on this point) I began fulminating loudly at Mr. bloody Mack Crabtree and itemising my charges against him at the top of my voice.  Staggering along Front Street, in despair of my failing body I hurled the brick with all my force at the window of the betting shop, which gave me the satisfaction of cracking in three places whilst dealing finally with any remnants of silence, because the shop’s intruder alarm resented my assault, and said so.

Just how aware was I of the car that appeared so suddenly beside me, or of the hands grabbing my shoulders, forcing me into its back seat?  I remember lashing out, convinced the hands belonged to Sue’s father – after that, though, very little.   Vague images of a car interior, maybe, or of strong hands pulling me from the seat once the journey was complete; then nothing.

#

“Oh, you’re awake, are you?”  My mother’s voice, strident and at its falsetto finest.  “You stupid little bastard!”

Where was I?  “Where am I?”

“Where d’you think you are?  Whose bed is this?”

I managed to prop myself on an elbow.  My head hurt.  “Mine.”  I said.  I was in my own bedroom.  Insipid daylight was filtering through the unlined curtains.

“Aye, and lucky you are you’re not in a police cell after last night.  Boozing at your age!  That’s how yer father started, boy!   You won’t remember breaking William Hill’s window, I suppose?”

“I might…”  My head hurt.

“You might.  You Might!  You did, you silly little sod!  How you didn’t get nicked I don’t know.  Thank god Terry, one of the taxi drivers from work saw it were you and had the goodness to put you in his taxi and bring you home.  Otherwise…”

So it was that my attempt at rescuing Sue ended in blackly comical failure.   Nor did Terry’s rescue protect me from its consequences in the end because in selecting William Hill’s window on Front Street I had picked the only location in town where a security camera was fitted.   This time it would be criminal damage and breach of the peace and all sorts of other things they would read out to me down at our friendly local police station.  All that came to light on the Wednesday of the following week.  I was destined to appear at the Juvenile Court after all, and with a record of an official caution like a yoke across my shoulders.

In the meantime, Sue was not at school that Monday, nor was there any sign of Dave, her elder brother.  Dave was in his first ‘A’ Level examination year and one year above mine, so it was possible he was on study leave, but if I had entertained some sort of vain hope Sue would appear and everything would be normal again, of course it wasn’t.   Instead, when I returned home that night I found two people in our front room waiting for me.  One was my mother, the other was Shelley Crabtree.

Shelley?  ‘Shel’ as my Ma liked to call her – had altered greatly since my early years.  My first memories of her in the days when Sue, Dave and I played together as kids were of a tall, slender woman, clothed casually in blue jeans and t-shirt, whose clowning could be relied upon to produce childish laughter.  Her startlingly pale blue eyes were always alight with fun in those days:  I don’t remember when that light went out – perhaps it was after, in the fallow time when my family and the Crabtrees had grown apart.  Anyway, there was no obvious connection between the woman of my memory and the one standing on our worn carpet, her loose white over-blouse spotless, the red dress beneath it quite tight, as it seemed, on her much fuller, almost matronly figure.   Posed beside my Ma’s t-shirt and jeans yet hidden behind dark glasses only her height and the determined set of her jaw gave her away.

“Sit down.”  My Ma’s tone was ominous. “We’ve been talking about you.”

“Hello, Mrs Crabtree.”  It did no harm to be polite.  I decided to make an effort at innocence.  “About me?”

“Yes, you, you dirty little bugger!”  My mother’s verbal assault, I knew well, would start as a snarl, before it rose to a crescendo.  I decided to try and cut her off.

“How is she, Mrs Crabtree?  Is she alright?”

I failed.  My mother pounced upon my intervention and drowned it with a screeching:  “How is she?  How d’ you think, you  little…”  She drew breath.  “It’s a bloody crime, what you’ve done!  It’s bloody criminal!”

So they knew – chapter and verse.

“Mary, don’t upset yourself.”  Shel cut in, putting a restraining hand on my mother’s arm.  “I’m sure Chas understands there have to be consequences for his actions.”  Shelley Crabtree removed her sunglasses, treating me to those eyes which the years had made humourless, lifeless, tired and just a little sad.  “Charles, young man, my husband is very angry with you.  We know that you and my daughter were intimate – Susan has told us…”

The two women were standing, looming.   I was perched on the edge of our old armchair.  Feeling my disadvantage and with my anger rising, I got to my feet. “What did he do, beat it out of her?”

“You  insolent little bugger, sit down!”  My mother shrilled.

“No, Mother!  It looks like you’ve decided to pass sentence on me, on Sue and I, so I’ll stand, all right?”

“Now Chas!”  Shelley soothed.  “Of course we didn’t ‘beat it out’ of Susan’!  Certain things are obvious to parents, and there is simply no point in denying what has happened, you see?”

“So what?”  I was confused.  The verbal assault I had anticipated was coming from my mother, not Sue’s.  By comparison, Shelley seemed almost sympathetic.  “If she’s alright, why wasn’t she at school today?”

“Susan thought it best.  This – this unfortunate thing is something that we can’t ignore, and some action has to be taken.  She sees that, and I’m sure you do too, don’t you?”

Why?  Why did ‘some action’ have to be taken’?  “What ‘thing’?  Why should it change anything?  It’s not like I raped her, Mrs Crabtree!  We wanted to – to be together, that’s all.”

Shelley sighed.   “Chas, you’re both so very, very young, aren’t you?”  She levelled those cold eyes at me.  “Susan has other priorities before she gets into a relationship.  She wants to study, to take her exams and go to University.  I’m sorry, Chas, but you don’t play any part in that.”  She gave an elegant shrug.  “Maybe after…?”

At some point, my arms had begun to shake.  Now I could not control them.  “Why are you doing this?  What are you trying to do – stop us seeing each other, or something?  You can’t!”  I was shouting, knew it, but couldn’t control my voice or the well of fire from which it sprang.

The louder I yelled, the softer, the gentler Shelley’s voice became.  “Oh, we can, Chas.  We can.”

My mother chipped in.  “You would have been leaving school in a month anyways…”

“Three weeks.”  I snapped back.  “What’s that got to do with it?”

“I telephoned your Principal this morning.”  Shelley said, taking command.  “I didn’t tell him absolutely everything, just enough so he would agree to make an exception and release you from attendance earlier, if your Ma allows it. You aren’t taking any exams, apparently;” she smiled bleakly, “so congratulations, Chas, tomorrow will be your last day at school.”

I felt as though a boulder had settled on my chest.  “And Sue? ”  I asked, drily.

“Susan won’t be there tomorrow.  She’s on home study leave until Wednesday.  The Principal’s been very helpful and suggests she should be ready to take her ‘O’ Level exams in November.  After that, for her ‘A’ Levels, she’s going to stay with her aunt in Bedeport.  The college there has a very good examination record.”

“Bedeport!  Why?”

“To get her away from you, young man – to give you both some time to think about what you’ve done.”

“You can’t!   You can’t do this to us!  Sue won’t ever agree to that!”

“She already has,” Shelley said harshly.  “She understands that what you did to her is a criminal act, Chas.  Now, Mackenzie and I don’t want to involve the authorities, and we won’t, as long as you also agree.  We can’t stop you seeing each other, we all live in the same town, and this is 1986, not 1956; however, we can advise you not to do anything foolish.  If you do…”  She smiled; a competent, professional smile.  “So, now.  Do I have your agreement?”

“No.”  I said, mustering all the venom I could.  What could I do?  With my best glare of defiance I turned on my heel, wanting to be away from that room, out of the grasp of those two judgemental women who wielded such power over me.

Shelley caught my arm.  “Chas!   We have to do something, you see?   Susan deserves her chance at life, and you shouldn’t get in her way, should you?  If you feel so strongly about her, and she still feels the same in another five years, then you’ll both be adults, and you can make adult decisions, but now – now is just too soon, Chas.”

“No, I don’t see.”  I told her.  “I don’t see why we can’t go out together?  I can’t see what’s changed.  You, you’re acting like some Victorian woman, or something, yeah?  You’re trying to keep her prisoner, wrap her up…”

“Look around you, Chas!  Look at the girls pushing prams and living off benefits at sixteen or seventeen.  Open your eyes and look at this town.  We don’t want that for Susan, and Susan doesn’t want it, either.”

“Are you sure it was her told you that?”  I swung back to face Shelley, challenging her.  “Are you sure Sue told you she doesn’t want to see me again?  Because it’s you and Mack, isn’t it?  You’re trying to keep her away from me, aren’t you?”

“It’s Mister Crabtree to you, and if I’m honest, yes.”  Shelley’s expression was grim.  “I didn’t want to say this, but since you accuse us, our daughter deserves better than you.  You’re not exactly a prize, are you?  A prize fool, maybe, and with a record on your head, by all accounts.  We’re not going to stand by and watch her waste herself on you.”

My mother caught up at last.   “Now wait a minute, Shel!  Are you sayin’ my lad’s not good enough for your Susan?  You listen here, lass…”

Shelley cut in.  “I’ve said all I’m going to say, Mary!”  She waved a finger at me.  “Now you mind, Chas.  Be sensible, right?”  And she strode briskly out of our front door, leaving my mother to stare after her.

“Stuck-up frigging bitch!”  My mother said.  “Come on, lad, I’ll get you some supper.”

I can’t tell you with what clarity I remember those few days, the ones that altered my life, really, although I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  After a sleepless night I wandered through my school day in a red haze of helpless fury.   ‘Hairy’ Harris, the school Principal, announced my name at assembly and told me to go and see him before any lessons, so I did, of course.  He didn’t say much, just reiterated what I had already been told by Shelley Crabtree and wished me luck for my future, which made me smile, as it seemed unlikely I had much of a future at the time.   Thereafter I drifted through morning lessons; lonely, angry and with no idea what I was going to do, or where I was going.

When the lunch break came I decided to take my leave early.  I made some excuse to my closest friends about feeling ill.   As I packed my few belongings from my locker, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Dave Crabtree was standing behind me.

“She wanted me to give you this,”  He said, scarcely bothering to hide the hostility in his voice.  “I didn’t want to, but she insisted.”   He pressed a scruffy little piece of paper into my hand.  “If you harm one hair of her head, Chas, I’ll be comin’ for you meself.”  He skulked away, almost ashamed to have spoken to me.   On the paper, in Sue’s handwriting, was scrawled:

‘By the old stone jetty, six o’clock’

At six o’clock I was there.  It was by no means an easy decision.  Nothing would have made me keep the appointment if I had believed all that Shelley Crabtree had said, and I thought about that for a long time, but the note was a tiny spark of hope.   So I walked down that little winding lane through The Fellings to the place by the river which had sheltered my drunken binge two nights since; the same place we had met to play when we were children, my friends and I.  And Sue was waiting for me.

© Frederick Anderson 2017.  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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waste Disposal

amy-3“I think I asked you to put out the trash, didn’t I?”  Amie asked.  “I did, didn’t I?”

“Amie, clearing the refuse isn’t time sensitive.  I’ll do it after I’ve finished.”  Malcolm, frowning with concentration, applied a wing strut to his model of the ‘Wright Flyer’.  It was his sixth attempt.  The glue wouldn’t let the piece sit in position, but kept sliding it to one side.  “Isn’t it amazing people used to fly a thing like this?”

“I don’t care.   I don’t care about your bloody pile of sticks.  I asked you to put the rubbish out.  You haven’t.   Just like I asked you to clean up the living room, and you didn’t.  Or cook for us last night….”

“All right!”   Malcolm sighed in resignation.  “So I don’t do everything you want, the moment you want it.  Look, Amie, I’m entitled to some time of my own, you know?”

“I suppose I have to do it myself!”   Amie grunted.  And it was a tiny, porcine grunt, one of her mannerisms that Malcolm had found so attractive, once.   She stood in the corner of their living space, glaring at the model and its dedicated constructor.   “Must you keep tuning the light to orange?”   She demanded.  “You know I hate it.”

“I told you, it’s a good light for intricate work like this.  I won’t be long.”

“Work?   That isn’t work, Malcolm, that’s a hobby.  You know, like making cathedrals out of matchsticks or little handbags out of string?  I wouldn’t mind if sometimes – just sometimes – you actually did some real work!”

Malcolm treated Amie to one of his paternal, superior looks.  “I work just as hard as you, Amie.”

“Oh, you do!  You mended the cracked tile behind the cooker. Let me see, when was that?  Yesterday – or was it the day before?  That’s just it, Malcolm, you don’t!   You don’t do anything I ask, you don’t help, you don’t…”

“Okay, okay!”  Malcolm was on his feet, blazing back.  “While we’re on the subject of ‘don’ts’…”

“Yes?  While we’re on the subject..?”   Amie strode forward, facing her partner like a pugilist, legs astride, hands on hips, only the table and the model aeroplane upon it separating them from total war:   “What are you going to bring up next?   Come on, let’s have it!”

“Well’ it would help if we…I mean, if you…”

“If I still slept with you?   That’s what you mean, isn’t it?  Same old, same old!”

“Knowing there’s no affection, no love anymore.”

“Oh, right!  No lurrrv!”   Amie breathed deeply. “So the fact that you’ve developed into an overweight, bone idle bore is my fault, is it?  So the sum of your romantic accomplishments would measure up to those of a rampant bull elephant is down to me, yes?”

“Possibly!  Not that it would worry you, and mostly it doesn’t worry me anymore.  It’s just that we still keep nights and days, and right now is the time of night when I miss it most.  But no problem:  any inclinations of a pachydermatous nature have long faded; although I’m surprised you even remember them.  Do you realise we haven’t had sex in ten years?”

“And you’ve been counting, of course…”

“Absolutely I’ve been counting.   And you know that very well.   How many times have we walked through this same argument?  Every month?”

“Every week.”  Emotionally fatigued, Amie drew out a chair to sit across the table from Malcolm.  “Every week.  Look, Malc, I know my role in this relationship.  I haven’t forgotten what we promised, and I will sleep with you again, honestly, when the time feels right.  I simply need a little space, like you.  Me time, you know?”

“Ten years?   You get out of practice, Amie.  People forget.” Malcolm met Amie’s sad look, determined to hear the words he needed, yet dreading his answer, too.

“We’re a couple.  That’s never going to be in doubt, Malc.”

“But you don’t love me.”

“Why must we always confuse sex and love?”  She clasped her hands together, resting them on the table-top.  Her fingers seemed to fascinate her.   She tapped them, each onto its opposing knuckle, making a hollow sound.

“Because without it we get unhinged.  Or maybe that’s just me.”  Malcolm said gently.  “Amie.  You – don’t – love – me.”

Her mouth twisted around her words.  “You’re cornering me.  Don’t do that, Malc.  Perhaps we don’t have the passion we used to share, but…”

“Amie, it’s time to be cornered.  It’s time to be honest.  You don’t love me, do you?”

“I’m not sure I ever did.”  As she spoke them aloud, Amie ruminated upon the power of those words, and the freedom they engendered.   Not to live the lie anymore, to have said the truth she had known for all of their years together.  “Are you sure you want to do this now?”

“I want to have it out so I can look at it, think about it.”  Malcolm’s voice was dangerously quiet.  “Why on Earth…?”

“We were young…”

“Idealistic.”

“I admired you, so much!”

“But you weren’t stupid, surely?”

“Malcolm, you represented hope, for me:  you did!”

“Hope – that’s a poor substitute for love.”

“It was what brought us here.”

“Yes.  And now we’re stuck together, like this bloody model!”  Malcolm rose to his feet.  “I think this might be a good time to put out that rubbish.”   He disappeared in the direction of their kitchen.

Amie called after his retreating back:  “If we’d just met and got to know each other like any normal boy and girl?”  Malcolm did not answer.

Left to herself, Amie allowed a tide of emotion she had contained rigidly within herself for so many years to wash over her.   She wept gently, recalling the dreams she had dreamed, all the joys she had believed she would share – all come to this dark nothingness.  And her thoughts, as they slipped ever closer to the precipice of despair began to fuel a sense of bitter injustice, of inexcusable wrong.   Those linked fingers still rested upon the table; now, though, they grappled, wrestling each other, left hand against right in self-mutilating fury.

Malcolm found her thus, taut with simmering rage, when he returned ten minutes later.  “The rubbish chute’s blocked again.”  He said mechanically.  “I’ll have to clear it from outside.   I won’t be long.”

Amie’s reddened eyes followed him as he went out through the vestibule, closing the door behind him.  ‘We don’t want you to catch a chill from the draught’ – her mind repeated the stale old joke he always made when he closed that door, although this time it remained unsaid.   She watched through the window of the door as he prepared himself to face the conditions outside, then his back and the opening and closing as he finally left, trash bag in hand.

She hated that back!  She hated his smug expressions, his indefatigable humour, the very smell of him!

Inside Amie all the strings were snapping, all the contents of her emotional cauldron bubbling to a boil.   With a deliberately closed fist she smashed the model of the ‘Wright Flyer’, slammed it into the table; then with determined force she raised the table edge to throw it on its side, screaming at the pieces of wood and plastic as they scattered across the floor.   Having achieved her necessary outlet of destruction, an icy calmness overtook her.   She was apart, somewhere outside herself, watching as she walked towards the vestibule, through the door.  At the outside door she stood for a moment, quite still.   Then she reached before her and threw the lock.

“Amie?”  He was outside, no more than four feet away.   He heard the click as the tumblers interlocked.  “Amie, what are you doing?”

Her mind fixed in a grim determination of which she had never thought herself capable, Amie glared through the window in the door as Malcolm turned and headed towards it.   He tried the door handle, shook it vigorously.  “Amie?”

Amie did nothing.  She just smiled.  She smiled at Malcolm, at all the failed years.  She smiled because she could already see the first traces of vapour on his visor; the panic in his eyes.

“Amie?   For God’s sake, Amie!”

She smiled because she knew that for such a simple task he would not have attached his safety line, or bothered to check the bio-systems inside his suit.  Custom and habit had made him careless with the years.  Those systems would fail very soon, and when they did his grip would loosen.  But the last surprise was his.  She saw his eyes – saw the flame within them quieten.  He accepted. He understood.   Perhaps he even wished it.  And he let go.

Amie’s last sight of her life partner was a dwindling white dot in the sparse light of sun star Proxima Centauri. The little craft that had been constructed so carefully to make its interior feel like a warm and comfortable home had already begun to slow down.  Soon, in only a matter of months now, it would navigate itself into orbit around that fertile planet where they had been entrusted to settle, she and Malcolm, and to raise the first children of a new civilisation.  It had always been a vain and tragic hope, this last gesture of a dying race on the burning world they had left behind – two people meticulously chosen for their compatibility, for their patient, sanguine natures, for their mutual respect.

Amie listened for a little longer, until Malcolm’s gasping breaths were lost, out of the range of his communicator, then she switched it off.   She returned to the kitchen to make supper.

 

© Frederick Anderson 2016.  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.