Saturday, 24 May 2014

soaked, flowers, lunch at gee's, morris and folk, icarus, chapters 4-6







Got soaked cycling.

Took some photos of flowers in our garden, which remain bright despite the gloom.

A busy week with not much time for anything other than work - apart from Thursday afternoon, when cousins came to Oxford for lunch. A good meal at Gee's.

This weekend is the Morris dancing one in Bampton. Some student work to comment on and, on Monday, the morning and early afternoon at work in Oxford, but there will still be time to listen to the folk music and watch some dancing.

And here is the next part of Icarus. For intro and chapters 1-3, see last Saturday's post.


IV
The maroon MG follows the sweep of gravel and disappears along the drive.

Samantha waves once and closes the door.

She goes to the kitchen and makes herself a coffee. In her office, she looks through the latest faxes then phones her PA in London.

As they speak, Samantha finds herself going over parts of the meeting with Josh in her mind. When she puts the phone down, she wonders if she has done the right thing by talking to him. All she knows at this stage is that it feels right. If only the memories weren’t so painful.

She returns to the drawing-room, puts more logs on the fire, takes a tumbler from a cabinet and pours herself a large whisky. She flops heavily into her favourite armchair.

For a while the drink is a comfort. The fire quickly takes a hold and she feels warm, secure. She tells herself that the passing years have put the events of nearly thirty years ago into some sort of perspective. She should savour the good times – she is lucky to have had those.

--

Peter is driving a brand new Porsche 75 coupe – white, fixed-head.

Without double-declutching he drops to third and the 102 bhp engine takes them from 40 to 80 miles per hour down the straight past the fuming cattle wagon and on along the deserted road.

He turns to her and smiles.

She is excited by the speed. It seems to express the recklessness of what she is doing perfectly. She jams her left foot to the floor as a corner approaches but Peter only touches the brake and takes the car round effortlessly.

Later Peter slows down. It has just started to snow. It is not late in the afternoon, although it is already dark. The snowflakes flurry into dotted lines in the car’s headlights but it is warm inside and the rushing sound of the hot air blower and the muffled thud of the wipers are strangely comforting.

He tells her that it’s not far to go now. They will arrive at the cottage in a quarter of an hour or so. Then they will be safe.

When they draw up and scramble from the car for the back door the snow is almost an inch thick. Inside Peter strikes a match and lights the oil-lamp that hangs from a beam. In the centre of the flagged floor there is a square table covered with a red and white checked cloth on which stands a small churn of milk. Opposite the range is a pine dresser replete with china. Samantha is enchanted. She follows Peter up a short flight of steps into the living-room. He turns on the electric light. She blinks and looks about her. The scene reminds her of an image of old-fashioned rural domesticity she has seen in a book. Delighted, she throws her arms around his neck and pulls his face towards hers. ‘I do love you,’ she exclaims and kisses him.

--

For a few moments, Samantha wonders what use memories serve. Sometimes they can be so vivid it is like stepping back in time but the times themselves have gone – and in any case, you know what happened next. Yet she cannot help asking herself what it would be like if Peter was still alive. She has been on her own now for ten years and Peter died well over double that many years ago but if he had lived would he have sought her out? Would the restlessness have passed – that fear of being confined that took him away from her? She cannot believe that he could have forgotten her. He would have come back – not then, perhaps, but one day. Maybe now when he was on the threshold of old age he would have thought, ‘Samantha?’ and the question would grow bigger and bigger until he ached to recapture those moments when he experienced love.

--

In the inglenook a huge fire blazes, casting irregular leaps of orange light into the room. Samantha takes off her dressing gown and slips between the smooth cotton sheets. She nestles into the mattress and pulls the covers around her head. She draws up her knees and waits. She almost wants to scream but suddenly she is aware of his approach. There is an almost imperceptible shift in the mattress and then he is beside her pressing his warmth against her. His caresses are gentle. He kisses her neck.

--

The whisky tumbler falls to the floor but does not break.

--

Four days later, they are standing opposite each other in the kitchen. Samantha tries to make Peter look at her with her smile. He will respond, he must. Why is his face so expressionless? Those eyes are blank, neither kind nor angry. Not a hint of emotion, nothing. She kisses him but his lips part involuntarily. Her heart is a lump in her chest. She cannot understand - they were so happy but since the last snowfall he has become indifferent. What about their plans? What about all the love that she felt and knows he felt too?

Peter smiles at her but only politely as he steps round her. What place does formality have between two people who have been so intimate?

‘I want to clear the path so we can get milk,’ he says but before going to the outhouse for his coat and boots, he seems to relent. He kisses her forehead. ‘Little angel,’ he whispers.

--

Samantha gets out of her armchair and retrieves her glass. She fetches the decanter from the trolley, arranges the cushions from the sofa in front of the fire and lies down. After a while she will fall asleep and the pain will pass.


V
Peter glances at Samantha. She is pretty in her short tartan skirt and white Arran sweater.

She turns to him. ‘Let’s stay here forever. We could get married and farm sheep.’

He smiles across the room at her.

Her eyes are searching.

He lights a cigarette and tosses the match into the fire.

He feels sorry for her. She’s young and inexperienced – and bored in all probability. If only there’d been a gap in the weather they’d be back in town by now and everything would be in perspective.

At thirty-five he’s in his prime – he doesn’t want to think of ‘settling down’ until he’s at least fifty. No, more like seventy, if the booze doesn’t get him first. Speaking of which – he reaches for the whisky bottle.

Samantha is lying on the sofa, turning the pages of a magazine, even when she’s gazing at him. She’s been through it fifty times already. Doesn’t she ever get bored of looking at those pictures of swim suits?

Time for a walk.

‘Just going to the farm for the milk.’ He pauses briefly before adding, ‘Darling.’ He grins. She smiles back. ‘Coming?’ he asks then kicks himself for being so polite.

She sits up, looks out of the window and shakes her head. She pats the cushion next to her. ‘Why don’t you just stay indoors.’

Peter turns. ‘Won’t be long. Then we can have some tea.’

Outside the light is fading, although on the western horizon the sky remains bright. There will be a hard frost but he thinks the air feels warmer. Yes, the icicles on the eaves are dripping. He is seized by the desire to skip along the path he has cleared so painstakingly and vault the garden gate. The thaw! Spring! Who believes the weather people anyway? They weren’t much good last Friday night – warm front, mists.

Spring. Days getting longer. Girls opening like rose buds. That light in the west is announcing a new beginning. There’ll be a thaw and after that the whole world will be freed from the snow. The grass will be green and the capital will be filled with the excited hubbub and bustle of a people waking to a new generation.


VI
Peter flicks through some contact sheets. A cabinet minister, an elderly baroness, two distinguished peers and an actor. They are good portraits and certainly he is proud of his work, but today that thrill in the air he anticipated in January really is here, defying him to ignore its message of vitality and sensual pleasure. The brittle light streams into the flat through the net curtains, silvering where it falls – pale but welcome herald of blue skies and a warm summer-like day by noon.

Peter slips the photographs into a buff envelope, which he tosses onto the carpet. He picks up the tall mustard-yellow coffee pot. As he drinks he glances at the front page of his newspaper. He is determined to go through some of the civilising rituals of his Saturday before giving in to anarchy but before he can drain his cup he has folded the paper and leaped from the table. He saunters briskly to the bedroom where he selects a dark green knitted tie, puts on his sports jacket and pockets his keys.

In the street, the city is alive with traffic and happy people. This is not a day for hatred or anger but a day for love. And everybody feels it. Further down the street there is a screech of brakes. A cab skids to a halt beyond an old lady who is wheeling a trolley across the road. When the cabby moves off he gives a cheery wave.

Confirmed in his belief that all is right with the world Peter heads for the park and lights his first cigarette of the day, inhales the smoke deeply and is sure that a cigarette hasn’t tasted this good for an age.

In the park there is still dew on the grass. Peter narrows his eyes so that the bare trees become a blur. In the foreground the light is strong and bright. It could be late May or early June, although the first girl he passes is in red headscarf and black and white checked overcoat. Yet that face – it is luminous with spring. Its richness and beauty, the fullness of the lips, the sparkling chestnut eyes – these are not winter’s, but badges of spring. If he were drunk he would take her in his arms and tell her how wonderful she is and how they should escape together to some tropical island where it is always summer. He turns his head and watches her back. The overcoat is knee length. The legs are so smooth and shapely.

Later he enters a pub and orders a pint of bitter. He sits down near a window. Beyond the frosted glass he can see the shapes of the passers-by – vague forms and colours. The beer tastes delicious, his cigarette is almost as satisfying as the first but he is lonely.

On a day like today you need friends to share it with. The day is getting confused. He should have stuck to his routine, taken it easy, got himself sorted out. Should he call someone? No, people will be out by now and he couldn’t bear the Russian roulette of ringing phones. In any event, he will see some of them tonight.

He wishes he’d arranged to do something this afternoon – that he didn’t was all his own fault. He wanted to be alone. Still, he was right about the weather. He could give Samantha a ring.

There’s no reply. He returns to his table with another pint. He is glad she wasn’t there, in a way. He’d given in to a momentary whim.

Later he will buy a paper and walk on to another pub. He will spend lunch-time smoking and getting quietly drunk, and watching the world go by. Before tonight.

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