Chapter 13 of my novel Underpainting set in the early 1990’s. To read the rest use the link above or in the Categories section on the right.
“You did a good job of that” Marianne said looking at one newly decorated kitchen wall, “we’ve not done much here for years… poor old house”
“Must have been the set, working so big makes you realise how much you can cover in an hour or so”
“Pity the performance has been put off, I was looking forward to it, excuse to buy something new”
“You’ve got your show and of course you must plan for the Inauguration…”, Peter picked up a cake tin and placed it on Marianne’s head, “…a tiara madam” and bowed.
“Oh yes”, she moved her head royally from side to side, “just my size … and the diamonds I think… I’ll outshine Di!” Marianne picked up two bananas and put them next to her ears, “Washington will be ages away, ages”.
“Drink?” Peter was at the fridge taking out a bottle of beer.
“Some of that Australian stuff if it’s still OK. Angela and I opened it the other day”
“Oh God, how is Angela, is she huge yet?”
“Oh dear didn’t you know?” Marianne took a long drink from the glass and poured another, “Well it appears she was never pregnant at all”
“But surely she’d know, she’s had enough…”
“Oh no, nothing like that, no. It was to make Lizzie jealous”
“Lizzie it seems used to have a thing about Tom, didn’t you notice?”
“Lizzie about Tom? But they never…” Peter said.
“Yes they did, Lizzie must have been what fifteen, sixteen when Tom started and she used go to meet Bill at College after school, don’t you remember? She was always in the library, you must do…”
“… well I remember she used to come in after school, but then Bill’s menagerie were always around…”
“Well it appears she got a thing about him, crying at night, all sorts of things.”
“Why pretend to be pregnant? Angela’s bloody mad, I’m sure she is…”
“No, no, no. Don’t you see? She saw it as a way to get Lizzie back home and thinking about someone else, instead of Ryan… “
“Oh God what a mess, was it as bad when Bill was around?”
“Just about, and did Lizzie tell you about Philip?” asked Marianne.
“Philip it appears has been caught breaking into houses…”
“What the devil for?”
“…he’s got into crack or something like that, whatever it’s called”
“I suppose Angela is…” Peter interjected.
“Absolutely furious, she went mad at Philip, they had a huge argument and he’s run off. He hasn’t been in touch with you has he?”
“No, why me? I didn’t know anything about all this, so what’s Angela doing?”
“Well she’s thinking of going to some place in California where you take all your clothes off, shave all your hair…. yes body and head” Peter’s face grimaced “… and you scream at the sea from the top of the cliffs”
“…and I suppose endless sex?” Peter said.
“She didn’t say so, but knowing Angela that’s probably it”
“God, what a mess, what about the rest of the royals?” Peter asked remembing the horror of the week they had all five at the house when things had gone a bit crazy before.
“Don’t worry they’re not coming here… to her mother at the farm, or what’s left of it”
They sat silently turning their glasses with their fingers, staring at the unconnected Aga which had been like that for nine years. It was piled up with washing, some books, a couple of pans Marianne meant to throw out three years ago, and a holdall full of dirty clothes from a Portuguese holiday two years previously that was locked and they’d lost the key to.
“Now I’m back I must sort that out” Peter gestured at the Aga.
“And I must get the lock sorted… what a prat that composer is, getting his files wiped, about three years you said… a couple of nice tops in there”
“That’s what they said? ‘… until there’s a window in the programme…’”
“Seems such a pity… all that work” Marianne said.
“At least I was paid… it was good to do it, such space and size, really makes you think how constricting the canvas is, working up to the edge… we were working with movement and lights, time, depth things that changed colour when shadows fell on them…”
“You still sound excited”
“Frustrated more like.”
“That blue shirt of yours is in there, must stink by now” Marianne pondered.
They were silent. The pause deepened into a space in time when no-one dare speak for fear of breaking the spell.
The phone rang and Peter answered it.
“Hello Mum, you OK?”
Peter’s mother hadn’t heard from him for two weeks and was worried. Peter assured her he was OK and was sorry not to have called. She told him about the sea, the shops closing because no-one was visiting the town and that they’d built that great big supermarket in Colwyn Bay which took all the trade away, how Mrs. Edwards had fallen over in the ambulance and broken her leg, “…and she was only going in to have her ear looked at…”
Marianne tiptoed through the hall, she knew if Pearl heard her she’d want to talk, she carried a newly opened bottle of Shiraz into the living room. As she passed Peter she mimed that she was out and spilt a bit of wine on Peter’s foot. They both tried not to laugh.
“… are you all right Peter? Sounds if your throat’s sore….”
“Oh, I’m OK, you were saying about Mrs Edwards…”
A couple of weeks after his father’s funeral, Pearl received two large cheques from insurance companies and an even larger one from a trust fund. It appeared that Peter’s father had paid every week into insurance schemes, without telling anyone. His mother was shocked at first and sat looking at the cheques saying something must be wrong. Peter had had to ring the companies to check they were correct. His estimation of his father rose and he felt a little ashamed for all he’d said and thought in the past.
When Pearl went through George’s black metal box she found a war time ID card, the original agreement with the borough council for the house, and a letter written in his slow, careful hand writing. It read:
12th May 1972
My dear Pearl,
I haven’t written a letter since North Africa, you do that sort of thing, you know how to put things.
By now you will have received the money from the two policies. I them took out two in case one went bust and they should help tie you over for a while. I didn’t want what happened to Mother after Dad died happen to you, trying to make ends meet killed her.
I don’t want anyone else to know about this, there’s plenty would want what should be a tidy sum.
With best regards, George Marten
Pearl had smiled at the ‘regards’, and knew that in his way he meant well.
A week later she caught a train to Colwyn Bay and took a taxi to Rhos-on-Sea. She inspected a small sandy coloured pebble dash bungalow with two bedrooms and sea blue paint work, a garden with pink roses and less than half a mile from the sea.
She bought it.
When she got home she rang and told Peter, who felt hurt that she hadn’t asked for his advice. She told him that the rest of the money would be invested at the bank and she’d add the interest to her pension.
She read the agreement with the council, gave proper notice of leaving and didn’t tell anyone else. A removal van turned up at her house early one morning and by the time the neighbours were awake she was gone. From then on she spent her days walking along the beach, going to tea dances, and meeting lots of other women her age, alone and eking out an existence each week on what Henry would pay for a good bottle of wine. She became part of the scene and soon no-one could remember when she hadn’t been there.
Peter sometimes went over and did odd jobs. She talked endlessly about her new friends most of which Peter had never met (or wanted to meet), she needed an outlet.
“… and it won’t be long before you come again?”
“Not too long, London’s done with for now, so I’ll try to come later this month”
“Oh that’ll be nice, I’ll look forward to that”
After a few minutes of forward planning the conversation was ended.
Peter slumped into a chair and took a long drink of the deep red wine.
“Why did I do that, now she’ll be planning, damn”
“You haven’t seen Pearl for ages… anyway it’ll be nice to go to the seaside”
“… and you haven’t seen your mother for ages either!”
“Oh yes I have! Three days ago”
“You didn’t say”
“Well with all these things going on, that sale has knocked me a bit, it slipped my mind”
“Slipped your mind! With your brother almost a convict!”
“Oh God, you don’t know about all that do you?”
“There’s not more?”
When she’d arrived Colin was at his solicitors. Her mother took Colin’s side utterly and completely, it appeared that Shirley had been successful in getting restraining orders on him and had told of many years of Colin bullying her at first by shouting, then by hitting her where it wouldn’t show. Whenever things went badly at work, Shirley got the reprisal, he treated her like this until she knew nothing else and began to think it normal. Colin began to meticulously plan different and more obscene ways of humiliating her, breaking her will, Shirley produced drawings and notebooks that Colin had made over a number of years. It came to a head when the Police came to the door to speak to Colin who had been observed kerb crawling and picking up a fourteen year old prostitute in his car.
At this Peter eyes nearly popped out, “Never! Colin?”
Colin denied it, but Shirley didn’t back up his story and when he returned from making a statement he threw her against a door and knocked her out. That was the end for her, later that night she rang a friend, took the kids and went. In the morning after Colin had gone to work she returned, got all the locks changed and barricaded the house. Colin went to stay with his mother.
“Mum said it was a case of wrong identity and that Shirley was as usual over sensitive, she needed a good shake sometimes, she’d often felt like doing it herself… anyway” Marianne continued, “…and that’s not the end of it. Mum had to go and see a psychiatrist, which shook her a bit. Colin it seems has been ordered to have his mental state observed and this psychologist needs to know more about his background. Mum was asked all sorts of things about when he was little, when he went to school, what toys he played with and of course some of this she couldn’t answer!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well I looked after him so much didn’t I?”
“So you’re to blame for this monster!”
“I think that’s what Mum hopes, I’m sure she does, Colin can’t be to blame can he? And now I’ve got to see this woman too, or she’s coming over or something”
“Better not take her to the studio!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, all those dismembered dolls and heaven knows what she’d say to that one with the squashed black dildo and the seed catalogue!”
Marianne threw a cushion at Peter and they both fell into uncontrollable fits of laughter, which they knew was juvenile.