Michael finished drying his lunch plate and put it neatly away in the cupboard. Wiping down the already clean draining board he washed out the dishcloth and hung it over the kitchen tap to dry. He had spent the whole morning dusting and polishing the house ready for Sonny to come home to. He knew that if he kept busy it would stop him brooding. Since the trip to Barcelona all he could think about was Sonny and Carl together. The pain was gnarling away at him, waking him in the night and turning eating into an agony of indigestion.
He prayed that he was wrong. Maybe Carl was just being friendly, maybe Sonny would get off the train and explain that Carl had turned up unexpectedly with Andy and Gerry.
Maybe I’m just kidding myself, he thought. Michael jumped as the phone rang;
‘Hi Michael I’m on my way home, can you pick me up from the station, we’re due in at eight o’clock’
‘Don't I always’ said Michael
‘Don’t be late I’ve got something important to tell you’
I’m sure you have, thought Michael as he cut the connection, I’m sure you have.
Sonny looked around the carriage and not seeing anyone he knew, settled into a window seat and closed his eyes. I hope that Michael will be pleased that the boys have asked me to be a regular at their new bar. It will mean a lot less traveling back to the UK, thought Sonny. It would be so good if Michael would come with me to Barcelona when I’m gigging there. Maybe we could rent a little apartment by the beach and make a little holiday of it?
With dreams of being the headline act again, Sonny settled into a contented sleep.
Michael over here’ called Sonny as he struggled from the train laden with bags and parcels. ‘Can you give me a hand with some of these’ he asked passing Michal three carrier bags. ‘The sales were on and I’ve found some brilliant bargains, lot’s of lovely new clothes, thank God, it’s so hard getting decent clothes around here and I was beginning to look like a tramp’ Sonny laughed as he threw his overnight bag onto the back seat of Michael’s car.
‘We’ve got lots to talk about but do you mind if we wait till we are home. I’m nackered after that journey and it was a bit of a late night last night.’
Michael didn’t speak as he pulled out of the station car park. Picking up speed, he drove out of the village, his gloved hands gripping the steering wheel. Late night! and bet I know who you spent that with, he seethed to himself.
As they approached the forest Michael pulled to the side of the road and switched off the headlights. He looked across at Sonny who fallen asleep as soon as they had left the station. Sonny stirred and sitting up in his seat asked ‘are we home?’
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ asked Michael
‘I haven’t had a chance to tell you anything yet’ Sonny snapped. rubbing the sleep from his eyes ‘what’s the matter with you? where are we?’ he asked, peering through the windscreen into the darkness.
'Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to see Carl?’
‘How do you know that I have seen Carl’ snapped Sonny ‘Have you been following me?’
‘So it’s true then?’
‘What if it is? Andy and Gerry need help financing their new bar and Carl has offered to put up the money until their bank loan is finalised’ Sonny explained breathlessly ‘He is just the moneyman’
‘If he is, just the moneyman, why didn’t you tell me that you have been seeing him’ screamed Michael.
‘Because I knew you'd be like this.' he snarled You have always been jealous of Carl’
‘And can you blame me’ Michael looked at Sonny, the hate burning behind his eyes.
‘You stupid old man’ screamed Sonny,’ let me out of the car’ as he tried to get out he realised that Michael had pressed the central locking button. Struggling to unfasten his seat belt he looked in horror as Michael pulled the carving knife from its hiding place in the pocket of the door. The scream froze on his lips as Michael plunged the sharp blade into Sonny’s neck.
‘Never call me an old man’ he sreamed as the blood pumped from Sonny’s neck.
Scrambling from the car Michael stood at the side of the road pulled out his mobile phone and with trembling hands dialed 112.
‘Police, help, they’ve killed my friend!’ sobbing into the phone Michael explained that there had been a robbery and his friend had been stabbed.
While he waited for the National police to arrive he calmly open the passenger door, reached into Sonny’s pocket and removed his wallet. As he heard the wail of the police cars approaching, he carefully removed his gloves and put them and Sonny’s wallet into the pocket of his jacket. Hearing the police siren get louder Michael knelt in the pool of blood forming just outside the car. Calmly he lent forward to cradle Sonny in his arms and started to sob just as the police cars screeched around the bend.
‘Michael we’ve just heard the news, you must be devastated, I phoned as soon as I could’ cried Gloria Westbury.
‘I just can’t believe what’s happened’ sobbed Michael, ‘we were driving back from the station and we saw a bloke standing by his car at the side of the road. I thought that he had broken down so I stopped to see if we could help. The next thing I knew he yanked open Sonny’s door, he was screaming at us, he wanted our wallets. Oh Gloria, he pulled out this huge knife and Sonny went hysterical. I was screaming at him, just give him your money’
Michael’s sobbing was tearing at Gloria heart
‘Oh Gloria he stabbed him, my poor beautiful Sonny, that bastard stabbed him.’
‘Michael do you want Malcolm to bring me over?’
‘Thant's very sweet of you Gloria, thank you, but I just want to be on my own tonight’
‘Of course dear, I understand. I’ll phone again tomorrow and don’t you worry about a thing, we are all here to help’
‘Thanks again for phoning, you’re such a good friend, I don’t know what I’d do without you’ Michael put down the phone and smiled to himself, well that’s one problem solved he thought, Gloria would soon make sure that everyone knew how poor Sonny has been butchered by a stranger and that poor sweet Michael was taking it all very badly.
The police had insisted that Michael should go to hospital himself to be checked out after giving his denuncia at the local station. Playing the part of the grieving partner beautifully the doctor reluctantly sent him home with sleeping pills and advice to stay with friends and not be on his own.
The police had fallen for his story, hook line and sinker.
‘What do you expect with all these foreigners moving into the area’? They had muttered.
Michael poured himself a small scotch and thought that it had been a nice touch of his to say that the attacker had sounded Russian. He knew that all he had to do now was keep his head and everything would be fine. He wasn’t even worried about being alone, it’s better than living with a lying cheat, he thought bitterly.
If you don’t let anyone get close you don’t get hurt. ‘And I won’t let anyone hurt me like this ever again’ Martin swore as he emptied his glass.
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Thursday, 24 April 2008
Michael’s heart sank as he walked out of the underground station and saw all the crowds. How did he ever imagine that he would spot Sonny among all these people? The only way he felt he had a chance of finding him was to start at the top of Las Ramblas at Placa Catalunya Square and slowly make his way down to Port Vell. He knew the place that Gerry and Andy were looking at was around there somewhere, if he was lucky might spot a bar that was up for sale and maybe they would still be there.
Walking along surrounded by the crowds of people enjoying the chaotic atmosphere of Barcelona, Michael wished that for once he had been impetuous and suggested to Sonny that they had come to the city together. He could just imagine Sonny loving the street performers’ elaborate costumes and dragging him into the Boqueria market to look at all the wonderful foodstuffs on sale.
Watching other couples walking along hand in hand or sitting at one of the many bars along the way, he felt jealous that Sonny was happy to be here with his friends, enjoying all this without him.
By the time Michael reached the Port Vell end of Las Ramblas without finding Sonny he was feeling very hot and very foolish. Spotting a small bar at the harbour side, he dodged the traffic to cross over to the inviting terrace and found a table under the shade of a large parasol. Ordering a large cold beer and a small salad he sat looking at the tour ships moored in the harbour.
The sound of laughter from inside the bar made him glance over. His heart stopped, it was them. In the gloom of the bar he could see Gary and Andy sitting opposite two other men. With their backs to him he couldn’t be sure who they were. Glancing over again he recognised the sweater thrown casually over the younger man’s shoulders, it was the jumper he had bought for Sonny last Christmas. Michael glanced again to see if he could recognise the man with his arm stretched across the back of Sonny’s chair.
As he turned in his seat Michael could just see a reflection of the man in the long mirror above the bar. Michael felt sick, he was right all along, Carl was in Spain. So it was true, Sonny and Carl were back together again. Looking at them laughing and chatting Michael knew that he was right all along. All the months of uncertainty, not wanting to really believe that Sonny could be cheating on him, were over, the truth was now staring him in the face. Without waiting for his order Michael ran from the bar stumbling to put on his sunglasses to hide the tears streaming down his face.
Running along the seafront, oblivious to the attention he was attracting, Michael felt like his heart was breaking. All he could think was that he wanted to get out of the city and back home to the village. He needed to get away from the crowds and to try and get the image of Sonny sitting happily with Carl’s arm around him out of his mind.
At the next taxi rank Michael jumped into the first waiting cab and tried to compose himself as they made their way through the chaotic city traffic back to the train station.
‘What was that?’ asked Carl turning in time to see the back of a man running from the terrace.
‘Just some old fool who realised he couldn’t afford the prices here’ laughed Gerry
Sonny turned too late to see that it was Michal knocking over the chair in his panic to leave. ‘Don’t be mean Carl’ he said lightly punching his friend on the arm ‘maybe the poor bloke just had some bad news or something.’
‘Oh trust you’ smiled Carl ‘you’re too sensitive for your own good’
‘It’s living with Michael’ answered Sonny turning back to his friends ‘He’s a civilising influence on me’
‘Well somebody needed to be’ said Carl ‘God knows I tried hard enough’
‘Yes Carl but I was young and foolish then.’
‘And what are you know?’ asked Carl
Sonny thought for a moment and smiled ‘Happy’ he said ‘Michael’s made me happier than I ever thought possible. I know that you think that he’s a bit of an old woman but he’s good and kind and he loves me.’
‘Well in case it’s infectious’ said Andy choking on his wine ‘can we stop this conversation now and get back to the matter in hand. What did we all think of the bar we saw this morning?’
‘Bags of potential’ said Carl ‘I really liked it and the location in Carrer Del Carme is excellent, only minutes from Las Ramblas. Couldn’t be better’
‘Sonny, what do you think’ asked Andy
‘It needs a bit of work doing to it. But if you are prepared to spend some money on it I think that you’ll have a winner on your hands’
Gerry, what about you?’ asked Andy
‘With Carl’s money, Sonny’s flair and our know-how, how could it possibly fail?’
‘I’d like to propose a toast’ announced Sonny standing up from the table ‘To the future’
‘To the future’ they all chorused.
As he poured himself a large Scotch Michael looked around the empty villa. Everywhere there were reminders of Sonny. The bathroom with its usual jumble of Sonny’s lotions and colognes, the wall hangings that they had bought together from Lizzie's stall and the silver framed photographs in their bedroom.
With tears running down his flushed cheeks Michael thought, why did I have to follow him, why couldn’t I have just carried on living in ignorance?
‘I thought we were happy’ he cried to the empty room
As Michael worked his way through the whisky bottle his hurt turned slowly to anger. Everything they had together was gone. All the love they shared was now just a bitter memory. Tipping the remains of the whisky into his glass Michael threw the empty bottle crashing against the kitchen wall.
‘Nobody cheats on me’ he cried ‘nobody takes me for a fool’
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
‘Where’ve you been, I thought you were only popping out to the market for the chicken feed. You’ve been hours.’
‘Sorry we’re so long but I stopped off at Lizzie’s stall and managed to get some lovely rugs and pictures for the guest rooms’ said Cassy as she carried the parcels in from the car.
‘What are you doing buying stuff like that now, the rooms aren’t even finished yet.’ asked Liam as he lifted Abi from her car seat. ‘You’d have been better off getting the light switches and cabling for the electrician.’
‘Oh stop moaning you old grump. We’ve been having fun haven’t we Abi? Lizzie has some really nice things and these rugs will look perfect on the stone floors of the guest rooms.’
Liam ran his fingers through his short hair and sighed. He knew that now would be the perfect time to explain to Cassy about their dwindling renovations budget. With the mounting cost of all the work money was getting tight. But looking at her proudly showing off her purchases he knew that it would be cruel to upset her now. It wasn’t as if she spent much on herself and he was constantly amazed at the way she managed to make their frugal housekeeping allowance stretch. No, he decided, he would just have to have a word with the builders and explain to them how important it was that the work was finished as soon as possible.
‘Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you’ said Cassy as she packed the rugs and pictures into the wood chest in the kitchen. ‘I had a phone call from Sophie before I went out this morning. It’s the start of the school holidays in England and she and Alistair are planning on bringing the girls over to visit Fliss and Martin.’
‘That’s good, Alistair seemed a nice bloke and the girls’ loved coming over to play with Abi. I’m not so sure about Sophie though. She seems a bit of a cold fish if you ask me.’
‘Yes that’s what I thought at first but after Martin’s heart attack she really changed. She became a lot more chatty and friendly. She asked if we would like to go out with them for dinner while they’re here. Apparently Fliss has offered to baby-sit all the girls so that we can have a proper grown up evening out.’
‘Sounds good to me, what about you Abi-babi, do you fancy a sleep over with Olivia and Grace?’ Liam asked the baby as he sat her down on the kitchen floor. ‘As many Farley’s rusks as you can eat and cold Ribena on tap, just don’t broadcast it on Bebo and you’ll be fine?’
Cassy turned from her packing to kiss a startled Liam firmly on the lips.
‘What was that for?’ he asked
‘For being you’ she answered ‘for just being you’
‘When are Sophie and Alistair getting here?’ asked Martin as he helps clear away the dinner dishes.
‘Thursday, I told you yesterday Martin, don’t you ever listen when I’m talking to you?’ I answer slowly as I stack the plates into the dishwasher. ‘I’ve arranged for them to collect a hire car from the airport so they should be through to here about 5 o’clock.’
‘There’s no need to get annoyed with me, I just don’t remember you telling me that’s all.’
‘I’m sorry Darling I didn’t mean to get annoyed. I’m just tired I suppose.’ I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. I spend hours laying staring at Martin fast asleep beside me wondering if we’ll ever get back to what we had. I still can’t believe that he was prepared to leave me for that little bitch.
I saw her last week. I had to fly over to London for a couple of day to sign some papers and I saw her in Tony Lockwood’s office. I couldn’t believe how young she looked. Young slim and pretty, just Martin’s type.
She’s not the first you see. I knew about the others, oh believe me there is always a ‘friend’ who is more than happy to tell you what your husband has been up to when you thought he was working late. He swore to me that they didn’t mean anything and I suppose that I believed him because I wanted to.
But this time it was different, this time he really thought that he was in love. And that’s what hurts more than anything, even more than the sex if I’m honest. He loved her and now he says it was all a mistake and he wants me. The trouble is I don’t know if I still want him.
‘I don’t know what I’d have done without Sophie these past few weeks’ says Martin ‘she’s been great what with organising the loan and keeping the clients sweet. And you of course’ he added hurriedly ‘you’ve been great as well, organising the invoices and doing all the boring banking stuff.’
He’s incredible; the man just doesn’t have a clue. I have spent hours doing his bloody paperwork and trying to make sense of his filing. I haven’t had a minute to myself since he’s been ill, apart from that quick trip to London I’ve been at his beck and call day and night. I bet he wouldn’t have had the same service from the lovely Laura!
I need to get out of the house before I say something I’ll regret. It’s been ages since I’ve been out running, I could do with pounding the hills for a while and let’s face it, you never know who you might meet along the way.
Thursday, 17 April 2008
It was nearly mid day as Cassy put down the hoe and straightened her aching back. If she was very lucky she might just have time to clean up and get the lunch ready before Abi woke up from her nap.
Taking off her large brimmed straw hat and stripping off her sweat soaked t-shirt Cassy pulled up a bucketful of water from the well at the back of the farmhouse. Her skin tingled as she splashed herself with the cold spring water. With no running water in the farmhouse yet, this well was their only reliable supple of fresh water, at least until the renovations were finished. Though stripping off to wash outdoors was not just a necessity, thought Cassy, it was an absolute joy.
It wasn’t as if they had to worry about being overlooked, their closest neighbours were Martin and Fliss Brooks and they were at least 1km away. Back in Manchester their house had been in the middle of what was euphemistically known as an ‘Executive Development’, uniform little boxes, mused Cassy with no room to grow vegetables never mind strip wash in the garden!
‘Dear God woman what are you doing’ laughed Liam. ‘I don’t know why you bother getting dressed in the morning when you are obviously happier naked’
‘Well some of us get sweaty’ she laughed throwing her towel at him. ‘We don’t all have a cushy job sitting in front of a computer screen all day’
Liam grabbed at the towel before it hit him. ‘Cushy, you don’t know the half of it. I have only two days left to get this programme written before testing starts on Monday’ Liam smiled ‘Oh come here my little sweaty person, let me dry you off.’
‘Not likely, you randy old goat. I’ve got to start getting lunch ready before madam wakes and you've got work to do'
‘Spoilsport’ laughed Liam as he watched Cassy pull on a fresh blouse from the washing line before she walked into the kitchen.
Looking across the field behind the farmhouse, Liam was amazed to see how much Cassy had done since breakfast. It looked like she had finished planting the seed potatoes. She had even managed to prepare the patch for the salad crop. With their few chickens and the new goats they were well on their way to becoming a proper small holding.
Their biggest problem was the farmhouse itself. The renovations were costing a lot more than they had initially budgeted for. But, with any luck, they would be rid of the builders by the autumn. That would mean that they would have all winter to get the finishing touches done before their first bed and breakfast guests started arriving next spring. Well that was the plan.
Liam walked down the field to small stream running through the woodland bordering their land. He reached down into the stream and pulled out a large bottle of beer. ‘Not cold’ he said to himself, ‘but it’ll do.
Cassy looked up from preparing the salad as Liam walked into the kitchen.
‘When I was at the market yesterday I saw Fliss’
‘Everything OK with Martin?’
‘Yes, she said he’s doing fine, but I think that he’s driving here around the bend.’
‘I’m not surprised she’s not used to having him under her feet all week.’
Maybe there’s more to it than that.’
‘Oh good gossip’ laughed Liam as he picked a grumpy Abi out of her buggy. ‘We love a good gossip don’t we Abi Babi?’
‘Will you stop with the baby talk? You are going to stunt her development.’ scolded Cassy. ‘And I’m not gossiping but do you remember when I said that I saw Fliss a couple of weeks ago with that bloke’
‘What do mean with, in the biblical sense?’ asked Liam raising a now giggling baby above his head.
‘No you fool’ Cassy laughed ‘I told you, I saw her at Maria’s having a drink with Paolo’
‘You know Paolo’ said Cassy exasperatedly ‘he has the farm just down the hill from the Brooks villa.
‘Just a neighbourly drink then?’ he asked innocently.
‘Well they must be very good neighbours, when I saw them leaving the restaurant he was holding her hand’
Liam looked at Cassy in amazement ‘What little Mrs Fundraiser having hanky panky?’
Cassy threw back her head and roared laughing. ‘You really do have a way with words – I love you – you fool’ she gasped ‘Come on let’s eat, I’m starving’
‘Look at what I fished out of the river, a nearly chilled cheeky little number, just the thing to accompany the perfect lunch’
And they both laughed as Abi clapped her hands in delight.
Later that evening, with the sun beginning to set behind the mountains, Cassy carried two of the kitchen chairs out of the back door. With a sigh, she sat down to sip a glass of wine and listening to the silence.
‘She’s just dropped off’ said Liam sitting down next to her. ‘I don’t know where that baby gets her energy from’
‘From her Mother’ smiled Cassy. ‘Are the builders back tomorrow?’
‘No, they can’t come until the plumber has been and he can’t fit us in until Tuesday’
‘I thought the electrician was due on Tuesday?’
‘Not any more’ sighed Liam ‘I’ve had to put him off until Thursday’
‘At this rate’ said Cassy refilling her glass, ‘it’s going to be Christmas before they finish’
‘I’m sure’ said Liam, who didn’t look at all sure ‘that once they get going it’ll be finished in no time’
‘Well I hope so. We don’t want to spend the winter relying on that generator’
‘I know love, but as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day’
‘If the Romans had used our builders’ muttered Cassy ‘Cesar would still be waiting for them to take down the scaffolding’
Monday, 14 April 2008
Michael had enjoyed his afternoon with Fliss making preparations for the fete. She was so organised, not like Sonny. He despaired of Sonny sometimes. Take this trip of his to Barcelona. Sonny had spent all evening rushing from room to room. At first he was looking for his wallet, then he was looking for his tickets before finally rushing out to the taxi leaving them both on the hall table. If it wasn’t for me, thought Michael, he would still be sitting at the train station. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, mused Michael. This was the third time Sonny had gone off to Barcelona since Christmas and Michael was beginning to think that there might be more to these trips than Sonny was letting on.
These years with Sonny had been a revelation to Michael. When his Mother was still alive Michael would never had dreamt how his life was to turn out. With a respectable, if dull, desk job in the Civil Service and a typical suburban home life with his Mum, not even his closet friends in London had realised that he was gay. The only time that he felt totally at ease with his sexuality was on his frequent trips to the seaside resort of Brighton.
Over the years he had made many friends in the gay community there and when he was forced into taking early retirement, Michael had grabbed the opportunity to live his dream and move there. His redundancy money together with the proceeds of the sale of his late Mum’s house in South London had been plenty to buy an established bed and breakfast on the coast.
After a total makeover of the rather tired décor, the business went from strength to strength and he soon built up a regular clientele. That’s how he had met Sonny.
Sonny’s flamboyant drag act had a huge following around the country and none more so than in the clubs in Brighton. Whenever he was playing in the seaside resort he would stay at Michael’s guest house and it didn’t take long before they became lovers.
Michael remembered how thrilled he was when the glamorous and outgoing Sonny agreed to move in with him, but some of Michael’s friends were not so sure. They had tried their best to warn him that Sonny wasn’t the settling down type. They told him that Sonny liked his independence and they worried that Michael was going to get hurt. But he didn’t want to listen to them, he was in love and nothing anybody said was going to spoil that. He had wasted too much of his life worrying about what other people might think of him. This was his time and he intended living life to the full.
When they were still living in the UK Sonny was constantly on the road with his act, only coming home maybe twice a month. Since moving to Spain he only occasionally went back to the UK to perform at special functions, but that might mean that he was away at least once a month. Michael knew that Sonny needed more than just a quiet life, he need the buzz he got from performing and he didn’t want to stop him. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t worried about what else Sonny might be up to while he was away. He loved Sonny so much and couldn’t bare the thought that he might loose him to someone else. All Michael wanted was reassurance; he just wanted to know that he had nothing to worry about.
All Michael was looking for was a quiet life. He wasn’t getting any younger and all he wanted was more relaxed life style here in Spain. He knew that Sonny missed the glamour and excitement of performing regularly but he had honestly thought that they both wanted the same thing. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Sonny had told Michael that these trips to Barcelona were to meet up with Gerry and Andy who ran a very successful chain of gastro pubs in Brighton and along the south coast of England. Sonny’s act had always been a sell out at their pubs. When they told him that they were thinking of expanding into Spain it was Sonny who had convinced them to look around Barcelona. Over the past few months they had been back a number of times visiting different premises and were now in Barcelona again to look at a bar that was for sale.
The trouble was Michael had heard from friends that it wasn’t only Gerry and Andy coming over on these trips. Carl was with them. Michael knew that Sonny and Carl had been an item before they had got together. But if there was nothing to hide why hadn’t Sonny told him that Carl was in Barcelona too?
‘You silly tart’ said Michael to his reflection in the dressing table mirror. ‘If Sonny wanted to go off with Carl he had done it by now’ but the nagging doubt remained eating away at him like cancer.
Michael realised that the only way he was going to be convinced that Sonny’s trips were harmless was to go Barcelona and see for himself. It had to be this way, he thought, I have to see for myself.
The railway station was busy when Michael parked up the car. Good, he thought the train must be due soon.
‘Hello Michael, off to the big city are we’ Michael was jolted out of his thoughts by Gloria Westbury touching him on the shoulder. ‘I’m sorry Michael I didn’t mean to startle you’ twittered Gloria paying for her tickets. ‘Are you on your own dear?’
‘Oh hi Gloria, yes I need a few things from Barcelona, thought that I might make a day of it and see some friends while I’m there’
‘Lovely dear, Malcolm and I are off to see our lawyer. Just a little family business then we thought that we would treat our selves to a nice lunch in town. Did you see Malcolm in the car park? If he doesn’t get a move on we'll miss the train’ Gloria said distractedly, looking out of the station.
‘No I am sorry I didn’t see him. It’s really busy out there. Maybe he is having trouble finding a parking space.’
‘I told him we should have left earlier. Look there’s the train coming in now’
‘Don’t worry Gloria here he comes’ said Michael spotting Malcolm hurriedly crossing the station concourse.
‘Look at you, you are all hot and bothered’ Gloria continued to scold Malcolm as they settled into their seats. Michael lifted his newspaper, the last thing he needed was to get involved in the Westbury’s squabbles, he had enough on his mind as it was.
Michael’s mind was racing as he sat on the busy train. He knew that he should have thought this though. He wasn’t even sure what he was going to do when he got to Barcelona. Sonny had said that they were going to see a bar just off Las Ramblas. So he decided that he would make his way there, it was he supposed as good a place to start as anywhere.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
Michael struggled up the hill from the market with his bags of groceries getting heavier with every step. Parking in the village was never easy at the best of times but on market day it was a nightmare. The small official car park filled up very early with shoppers who had travelled down from the remote hillside farms.
Every week Michael promised himself that he would set off earlier so that he’d have more chance of finding a good parking space but every week was the same, Sonny refused to get out of bed before sunrise and always insisted on at least one pot of coffee before their shopping trip. This morning should have been different, Sonny was in Barcelona visiting his friends who were over from England, so with only himself to organise Michael should have been in plenty of time for a prime parking space. But trouble with his car meant that he was late again and the nearest place he could find to park was just opposite Mrs Hale’s house.
Loading the groceries into his car Michael glanced over the road. He thought it was strange that he hadn’t seen Mrs Hale at the market this morning and even stranger that her curtains were still tightly drawn. Closing the boot Michael looked up again and thought that he saw the curtains twitch at the bedroom window.
Crossing the road Michael walked over to her house and gently knocked on the front door. The poor thing must be poorly he thought, maybe she’s having a lie-in. Checking his watch Michael knocked again, a little louder this time, with still no response Michael made his way back to his car. Maybe I’ll ask Gloria to look in on her this afternoon he thought and tentatively starting the engine he made his way slowly down the hill towards the garage to get the mechanic to have a look at his car. Sonny would want picking up from the station tomorrow and Michael didn’t want a repeat of this morning’s fiasco with the starting motor to happen again.
Clara moved quickly back from the window and sat heavily down on her unmade bed. Her bedroom, like the rest of her house, was simply decorated. With no pictures on the walls or ornaments cluttering up the shelves it looked more like a holiday rental than a home. Her parents’ house had been full of clutter. Every ornament lovingly dusted each week, all the pots and pans in the kitchen gleaming and the small Persian rugs beaten over the washing line in the loving tendered garden.
Her Mother had kept a fine home, everybody said so, even at the end when she was old and tired she would struggle with the mop to wash the kitchen floor every morning. But Clara was more like her Father, too busy with her career to be interested in homemaking.
This was the first house since her parents died that Clara could call home. Her tiny flat in London had merely been somewhere to store her clothes when she was working for the Dept. Years of living out of hotel rooms had made her long for a place that she could call her own.
Sitting all alone looking at the bare walls Clara realised that her new life was under threat. She had spotted Michael's car when she had gone to draw back the bedroom curtains this morning. Was he keeping her under surveillance, and why did he knock at her door? He probably wants me to know that he has recognised me thought Clara. What does he want from me?
The shrill of her phone made Clara jump. ‘Clara how are you? The sun still shining out there is it? Bloody miserable her in London, typical spring day, sunshine and showers they said on the BBC but we’re still waiting for the sun’
‘Justin, lovely to hear from you, do you have any news for me about our Mr Angers?’
‘Yes Clara you were right, Michael Angers was in the service before taking early retirement in the mid nineties. I’ve done a bit of digging on your behalf and must admit that he has had a colourful life since he retired.’
‘What do you mean colourful’
‘Nothing sinister my dear, after his dear old Mum died he bought a Bed and Breakfast in Brighton. Did very well by all accounts, that’s how he met his partner, Sonny used to stay at Michael’s place when he was performing on the south coast.’
‘Performing? Was Sonny an actor?’
‘Not quite, Sonny Lansford’s stage name is Monica Tension and Miss Tension is a very successful Drag Queen’ said Justin laughingly
‘’So you see Clara unless you have upset the Gay Mafia I think that your little secret is quite safe.’
Putting down the phone Clara walked around the house opening up all the curtains to let the golden Spanish sun flood the rooms with its honey light.
What a fool, she thought, what a fool to think that Michael could possibly want to expose her. After all what is the worst he could have said, ‘Clara Hale used to work for the Security Services. ‘Big deal, for all he knew she might have worked in personnel or admin, how could he possibly now that she had been an agent? In her relief Clara realised just how foolish her worrying had been.
Like a lot of people forced into retirement, Clara now realised that her job had somehow defined her and without the job her life was somehow diminished. People looked at you differently when all they saw was an old woman. They didn’t take the time to see what it was that made the woman what she was. And the danger she thought was that she had started to become what people expected of her. Poor old dear, lives on her own, eats on her own, just sitting out the end of her days in the sunshine.
Well no more of that nonsense, thought Clara, today the day that this little worm well and truly turns. I’ve not worked all these years just to wait for death in Spain. I’ve come here to live and enjoy what ever time I’ve got left, not waste it worrying about the past. Life is for living and from now on Clara Hale is going to live life to the full.
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
‘I’m sorry we’re late Gloria. Michael wanted to get dinner organised before we came out.’
‘Don’t worry Sonny you’re not the last, we are still waiting for Mrs Hale.’ said Gloria Westbury as she shepherded Michael and Sonny into the lounge.
‘Gloria, I’m sorry, I meant to tell you earlier, I saw Mrs Hale in the village this morning and she said that she wouldn’t be able to make the meeting. I don’t think that she’s feeling too well, she looked quite pasty.’ said Malcolm as he passed out the fresh lemonade that his wife had made earlier.
‘That’s strange’ said Michael ‘we saw her yesterday and I swear that she deliberately avoided us. Do you remember Sonny, it was just after we’d left Lizzie’s new stall in the market?’
‘I wouldn’t worry about it mate, she’s always been a bit strange if you ask me’ said Ken trying to get comfortable on the Westbury’s hard kitchen chair.
‘Nobody is asking you’ muttered Lizzie ‘and stop fidgeting, you’re worse than a kid’.
‘Well let’s get started then’ said Malcolm hurriedly. ‘I’ve called this extra-ordinary meeting to see if we can rearrange the catering for the fete. I’m sure you will all agree that in the circumstance new don’t want Fliss to have anymore on her plate. I’m sure that she’s busy enough looking after Martin’
‘Has anybody heard how he is now?’ asked Lizzie
‘Yes’ replied Cassy ‘I spoke to Sophie on the phone the other day. She says that he is doing really well. Still gets very tired of course but that’s only to be expected.’
‘Those poor girls’ said Gloria ‘it must have been such a shock especially as they live so far away. It’s a good thing they were here for his party.’
‘Maybe it was the shock of the party that gave him the heart attack.’ muttered Lizzie
‘Shut up you silly fool, it would take more than a party to do it.’ snapped Ken glancing knowingly at Malcolm.
‘I’m sure that we’ll hear more in due course’ said Malcolm pompously ‘but in the meantime if we could have some volunteers for the catering’
‘Can I make a suggestion?’ asked Cassy ‘what if we all agree to make some cakes and scones at home and then we would only need to have one person on the stall to sell them and make the tea and coffee’
‘What a good idea. I don’t mind serving if everybody helps with the baking. Fliss and I have bought the tea and coffee already, so as long as nobody else wants to do it I’ll volunteer.’ said Michael, much to the relief of the rest of the committee.
‘Thank you everybody, if nobody else has any other business’ said Malcolm gathering up his notes ‘I think that we can close the meeting’
As the rest of the committee started to leave, Ken and Lizzie stayed behind to help Gloria clear away the tables. ‘Malcolm, do you fancy a pint down at the club?’ asked Ken as he carried the last of the glasses out to the kitchen. ‘I’m sure the girls will get this lot washed up a lot quicker without us getting in the way’ he joked as he put his arm around Malcolm’s shoulder.
‘Fine idea, you don’t mind if we disappear for a quick half do you my love’ he asked Gloria who was now up to her elbows in hot soapy water.
Gloria looking for approval from Lizzie turned to Malcolm and sighed ‘I’m sure that Lizzie won’t mind helping, will you dear?’
‘We’ll not be long, see you back home then Liz’ Ken called over his shoulder as he led Malcolm out through the patio doors.
‘Bloody cheek’ muttered Lizzie
‘’Never mind the washing up, I’ve got a nice bottle of Rioja Blanco cooling in the fridge. Do you fancy a glass?’ asked Gloria wiping her hands on her floral apron.
‘Don’t mind if I do, thanks very much. Shall we sit outside with them? Asked Lizzie as she started to move the garden furniture back out onto the patio.
‘That sounds lovely dear. Shall I bring out the bottle?
‘Oh Gloria you’re a woman after my own heart’ laughed Lizzie.
Lizzie was surprised that Gloria had suggested having a glass of wine; she couldn’t ever remember seeing her drink during the day. In fact glancing across the table at Gloria she wondered if there might be another reason why she was so quick to agree that the boys should go off to the club.
‘Is everything all right honey, you’re not looking yourself at the moment.’ Asked Lizzie
‘You’ll think I’m silly’
‘Oh Gloria don’t be daft, what’s the matter?
‘It’s all this business with Martin, it’s got me thinking, what if something like that happened to Malcolm. What if Malcolm had a heart attack, I don’t know how I would cope on my own.’
‘Don’t you have any family who could help?’
‘No, we never had any children and I’m an only child so I don’t even have any brothers or sisters to call on.’
‘What about Malc, does he have any family?’
‘There are some cousins in Yorkshire but he doesn’t keep in touch with them. It always seemed enough you see, just the two of us.’
‘’I know what you mean, my family might be a right royal pain sometimes but in an emergency I know that I’ve only to ask and they would catch the first flight over.’
‘You’re very lucky to have them dear.’
‘And you’re lucky to have a man who loves you and friends who care’ said Lizzie as she enveloped Gloria in a bear hug ‘don’t ever think that you’re on your own honey, me and Ken will always be there for you’
‘I thought you might like a whisky to go with that that pint’ said Ken putting the drinks on the table that Malcolm had found in the busy golf club bar. ‘You were lucky to get a table, its three deep at the bar. There seem to be a lot of faces in here I don’t recognise.’
‘They are from a club in England out here on a golfing trip. Mind you, every time I see them they are in the bar. I haven’t seen them on the green once.’
‘That takes me back’ laughed Ken ‘I used to come over on golfing trips with my mates when I was still on the taxis in London. Four whole days without the missus, we used to have a ball. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Lizzie to bits but it was good to get away with the boys every now and again.’
‘Gloria and I have never spent a night apart’ said Malcolm wistfully ‘not once in thirty five years.’
‘Bloody hell Malc, even murders get time off for good behaviour.’
Thursday, 3 April 2008
Ken groaned as he lifted the last box from the van ‘Where do you want this one putting?’
‘Just leave it on the trestle table babe, I’ll unpack it in a minute’ Lizzie called from the back of the van.
As much as it pained him, Ken had to admit that Lizzie was thriving on all this hard work. She had spent hours securing this pitch in the market, and days sorting all the stuff that Frankie had sent out from England. Though, who would want to buy this stuff god only knows. Who wants a picture of rocks on their wall? He thought for the tenth time this morning.
‘You’ve got some strange clobber here Lizzie, are you sure you’re going to be able to flog it?’’
‘What do you mean strange, this is classy stuff’ said Lizzie pushing her fringe out of her eyes, ’it’ll sell like hot cakes, have some faith’ Not now she thought, please don’t start with the negative comments not when I can see Michael and Sonny coming over. ‘Hi boys, see anything you fancy, I haven’t quite finished setting the stall out yet though, give me another five minutes and all will be revealed’ she giggled.
‘You do realise that it’s a waste of time flirting with those two’ moaned Ken as Sonny and Michael made their way over to the fruit stall. Lizzie looked to heaven ‘Oh shut up you soft sod and take this box off me’
It was nearly half an hour later before Lizzie had the stall looking exactly how she wanted it. The pictures and the wall hangings were grouped along the back while the table had the cushions neatly on display to left, ornaments in the centre and large bowls of potpourri to the right. As she finished setting out the plastic wine goblets on a tray she asked Ken to fetch the orange juice and the Cava from the cool box. At the far end of the market Ken spotted Sonny and Michael heading for their car. ‘It looks like your boyfriends have given up waiting for you’ said Ken plonking the bottle down on the stall.
‘Michael’ yelled Lizzie ‘Sonny, you can’t go home yet, come and have some Bucks Fizz?’
‘Lovely, I could just do with a drink’ called Sonny pulling Michal away from the car ‘We’ll be right over’
I’m sorry about earlier’ said Lizzie as she passed them their drinks. ‘We didn’t realise how long it would take to set this all up. We’ll need to be here by seven o’clock next week if we have a hope in hell of being ready for a nine o’clock start.
Ken looked at her from over the top of his sunglasses ‘that’ll be the royal we I suppose’
Michael laughed ‘I’m sure you’ll get quicker. You’ve got some lovely stuff Liz. I’ve been looking everywhere for new cushions and these would look perfect on our spare bed. What do you think Sonny, isn’t this the most perfect shade of blue.’
‘You’re right they’re a perfect match for the lampshades, why don’t we get two, make the bed look really plush’ said Sonny choosing two satin cushions.
Liz hurriedly wrapped up his selection. ‘This is just the start boys. I’m getting new deliveries all the time. You must promise to check out the stall again next week, see if there is anything else you fancy’
‘I love those wall hangings’ said Sonny making his way to the back of the stall. ‘Maybe we could measure up the hall for this ruby coloured one’
‘Just give me a ring if you want me to put it away for you’
‘Oh what gorgeous potpourri’ Ken turned to see Gloria Westbury pulling Malcolm over to the stall, ‘that’s just what I wanted for the big bowl on the coffee table in the lounge’ Ken and Malcolm exchanged glances, Ken opened the coolbox and pulled out two bottles of beer. ‘Malc me old son, I think that you’d better come and sit in the shade with this. I think your missus might be here a while’
‘I can’t see the fascination with potpourri myself.’ Said Malcolm, taking the welcome bottle of cold beer from Ken. ‘seems mad to me, having bits of coloured wood shavings stinking the place out. But what do I know.’
‘I’m with you on that one Malc.’ Ken said as he finished his beer. ‘Fancy another one of those?’ he said holding out the empty bottle.
‘Not for me old chap thanks all the same. Have to keep a clear head, playing a round with old Turnbridge this afternoon.’
‘’Do you see much of Martin at the club?’
‘Not since his heart attack. Apparently doctors orders, no golf for 3 months.’
‘Poor bugger, far too young for a heart attack’
‘Too much stress I imagine’ said Malcolm conspiratorially ‘Fliss was telling Gloria that he had been having some business problems. All very hush hush of course.’
‘Of course old son, my lips are sealed.’
‘If you’ve finished your beer Malcolm we’d better get going. You know that Reg Turnbull doesn’t like to be kept waiting at the first tee.’ said Gloria picking up her parcels from the stall.
‘Just coming my love.’ answered Malcolm handing his empty bottle back to Ken. ‘Thanks for that old chap.’
‘No problem Malc, see you soon.’
By one o’clock as the market traders were packing away their stalls Lizzie was thrilled to find that she had sold nearly half of her stock.
‘I can’t believe it Babe, at this rate I’ll have my shop before you know it.’
‘Don’t get too carried away Lizzie. It’s only been one day. Let’s see how things go over the next few weeks.’
‘For god sake Ken. Couldn’t you just say well done? Why do you always have to be so bloody miserable about everything I do?’ Yelled Lizzie
‘I’m not being miserable. I’m being practical. We don’t want to pay out all that money for a shop if you’re not going to sell anything.’
‘I’ll show you Ken Jessel. I’ll make a go of this business if it’s the last thing I do.’
‘That’s what I’m worried about’ muttered Ken
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
‘Thanks Ken, yes I’m feeling a lot better now. The family have been brilliant. Oh, good for her, yes of course we’ll try and get down there. Wish her luck from us. Yes, sure, thanks again’
‘Lizzie is having a stall in the market next Thursday, pictures, ornaments that sort of thing. Ken wanted to know if we would be able to go along and support her’
‘Will you be fit enough for walking around the market?’ asked Fliss, concerned as always that Martin would try and do too much too early ‘Maybe we should ask the Doctor if it’ll be OK. You’re seeing him Wednesday aren’t you?’
‘I’m sure he’ll say it’ll be fine. Gentle exercise they said when they discharged me. If you’d drive us down to the village I’m sure that I’ll be able to manage half an hour around the market’
‘As long as you’re sure’ said Fliss
Martin looked at Fliss sitting in the shade with her lap top open on the patio table. ‘Fliss, I think that we need to talk’
‘Yes darling in a minute; I just want to finish this email to Sophie. She’s managed to fix up an appointment with one of the senior partners this afternoon about the debt repayment schedule and she needs a few figures from the clients’ account’
‘Shall I get them for her’ Martin asked moving over to the table
‘No Darling, you sit down, I’ve nearly done it’
Martin watched as Fliss’ fingers flew over the keyboard. He was amazed at how quickly she had grown in confidence using the computer. It wasn’t so very long ago, he thought, that she needed his help to open up a spreadsheet never mind complete one.
‘Right’, said Fliss closing the cover on the laptop ‘what was it you wanted to talk about?’
‘Us, I want to talk about where we go from here.’
‘Are you sure Martin? You know what the doctor said about getting over anxious.’
‘Fliss I am getting more ‘over anxious’ as you call it, not talking. I think that we need to clear the air.’
‘I don’t know if I want to’ said Fliss turning away from him ‘we seem to be doing alright at the moment, why make things more complicated between us by raking up the past.’
Fliss will you just sit down and listen to me’ Martin walked over and took her hand ‘we can’t leave so much unsaid. Please, I need to explain to you what happened’
Fliss looked a Martin in total disbelief; the man who had buried his head in the sand for months now thought that one conversation was going to make all this heartache disappear. The arrogance of the man, she thought, the sheer self obsessed arrogance.
‘And just how are you going to explain that you were prepared to give up every thing for some little tart that you met in a bar’ Fliss spat ‘How are you going to explain that I very nearly lost my home because you went behind my back to cover your gambling debts?’ Fliss shook off Martin hand ‘And how are you going to explain that you were all ready to ask me for a divorce before you had the heart attack. I’m sorry Martin; nothing you can say can make all that better.’
Martin slumped back down into the chair, ‘I have been a fool, is that what you want to hear me say? I have been a stupid fool who thought that all this meant nothing. Marriage, home, family, I thought that I didn’t want the responsibility of it all any more. I thought I didn’t need any of it. I wanted my freedom. I admit it. I was flattered when Laura showed an interest in me. I couldn’t believe that a girl young enough to be my daughter would want to go out with me. But I was wrong Fliss, so very wrong. This heart attack opened my eyes in more ways than you can ever imagine. I don’t want to loose you or the girls. I want everything the way it used to be.’
‘Just like that’ said Fliss looking with contempt at the man that she had promised to love and cherish for the rest of her life’ you think that it’s as easy as that. You say you’ve been a fool and I should just forgive and forget. Is that what you want?’
‘You sound so hard Fliss, so bitter, and I don’t blame you. What I did was unforgivable but you have to understand I was unhappy. You have to admit that things weren’t great between us and spending so much time in London on my own, I don’t know, I suppose that I was lonely’
‘What about me Martin. Do you ever think that I might be lonely too?’
‘’You had your committees’
‘And that’s enough for me is it, my committees? You’re not the only one who was alone all week.’
But it’s different for you Fliss’
‘How Martin, how is it different for me? Don’t you think that I’ve been tempted to look for love somewhere else, or is it that you think nobody else could fancy poor old Fliss? Silly old, frumpy, stay at home Fliss, how could any one think that she was attractive. My God Martin, you didn’t even notice when I tried to make it up to you. I knew you were unhappy and I tried my best to change. Did you even notice the weight I lost, or when I came to meet you at the airport with a new dress and more make up that a bloody flight attendant? No you didn’t and now I know why, you’d found a younger model.’
‘It wasn’t like that’
‘Well what was it like Martin’
‘It was the biggest mistake of my life. Fliss I love you, I know you don’t believe me right now but I’ll show you, I promise. From now on no more lies, no more deceptions. We’re going to make this marriage work, I promise’