Fred

I wrote a rather strange story for a writing course back in 2009. Any comments most welcome.

 

The rosemary was looking a bit peaky. It usually survived the frequent episodes of drought quite well, but recently the spiny leaves had turned quite brown. Delilah took the small white watering can off the round iron table, and poured a small amount of stale water into the bottom of the pot; pouring water on top of the soil risked drowning the plant if the soil was dry, at least that was what someone had told her once.

She stretched her feet out again on the chair in front of her. There was a slight breeze in the air, without it feeling at all cold. It was in her view the perfect weather for sitting on her crowded first floor balcony and reading. The mews street she lived on was otherwise quiet – not surprisingly, since it was 11 am on a weekday. Everyone who was anyone was toiling away in front of their computer screen somewhere in the City, while she enjoyed the fruits of their labours in her West London mezzanine flat of the moment.

She sipped on the white coffee she had bought herself from the Starbucks up the road. Although she had a good coffee machine just inside the door leading to the rather cramped kitchen, she preferred the social interaction, the regular banter with the staff, when she bought her first morning coffee from the station. Later on, she might make some more herself, which tasted much nicer in any case, as she could make it as strong as she liked.

She picked up her book again, which she had briefly laid down on the table while trying to provide the rosemary with sustenance. It was Anna Karenina, and seemed to be taking her an age to get through. Her latest knight in shining armour had given it to her six months previously, and she was starting to fear the consequences of not finishing it soon. The obligation to read the plethora of books he gave her every week was the only truly tiresome aspect of this particular one. Most of them just got aggressive if whatever they were into was not performed to their liking, and made their feelings known in various different ways. Matthew on the other hand showed very little interest in the physical skills she had honed so carefully these last fifteen years, and instead seemed to want to instil her with knowledge and ideas. God knows what made him think she had either the intellect or the inclination to absorb all this knowledge, but he kept telling her she had a special gift for reading. She had completed each assignment as instructed, and spent considerable time and effort putting forth her opinions over dinner in the various Michelin starred dining tables of the capital. It was hard to dislike him on the best of these evenings.

“Bet you don’t care what I think of Vronsky, do you Gavin?” She turned and looked at the miniature goat which was tethered to the drainpipe, and which had been a Christmas present, along with this latest Russian tome.  At the time she had thought it ridiculous to keep a goat that was about the same size as her forearm, but in the six months since, she had come to like the affectionate way it nibbled her hand, and it comforted her through Goethe, Flaubert, Dumas, Austen, Milton, Wordsworth (a particularly low point), Thomas Mann, George Eliot, both Trollopes, Dostoevsky, Stendhal and all that war poetry he seemed so keen on.  She had called it Gavin as it was a name that never seemed to appear in literary novels. He seemed to be chafing against his tether today, and she decided to let him wander around freely for a few minutes.

She looked out over the thicket of hydrangeas that obscured her view of the street below. He had quite deliberately planted large, dense shrubbery all around the balcony, as he had instructed her that she should at all times read naked, and preferably outside. Apparently it would put her into a more creative frame of mind. Mostly she ignored this, and slipped into jeans and a jumper as soon as he left for work early in the morning. On one or two occasions however, she had failed to take everything off again before he returned unexpectedly early, and the fallout had been particularly ugly for some time. She could still feel the scar protruding slightly from behind her right ear.

Today she had played it comparatively safe with a black and white silk print dress. It was easy to remove, and easy to hide. Once she had finished the next chapter, she promised herself she would go across the road to visit.

“Auntie!”, they would cry as soon as they caught sight of her leaning out, and they would go running out from their playroom to greet her. They seemed to have an inbuilt instinct for the sweeping glint of her long blonde hair leaning over the railings; the gleam of red nail polish on expensively manicured hands, and the glint of diamonds on any exposed surface of skin. These jewels were the reason she would do anything she was asked; all trade-offs she made in this life she made for them. The joy of looking down at them every day made all the cruelty in the world worthwhile, and it was the only way she could see them every day and never have to give them away. She would do anything for them, and indeed there was very little she had not done.

Crystal looked across the cobbled road at the balcony above. She was a small woman with fine, slim wrists and slender fingers. Her hair was cut short and into her neck, and she slicked it flat against her head every morning with the relaxing cream that her mother had admonished her to use every day since she had had her childhood braids taken out at the age of 12.

She hoped Delilah would not appear too soon today. Daniel and Joshua were too dependent on seeing their mother every day, she thought. And it was too frustrating to have to keep up the pretence of her not being their mother. What difference did it make if they called her auntie? No one who looked at the seven year old twins, with their dark skin and shiny black hair, would ever assume that the alabaster Scandinavian was their mother. They might on first glance assume that Crystal was their mother, even though she was of African rather than mixed Indian origin.

But Delilah had insisted it was better this way, and was in the children’s best interests. If Matthew found out, she would have to move once again with them, and they were quite settled here, attending the community playgroup during the day, and going back to the flat in Ealing with Crystal every evening. If Matthew ever discovered that this was the true motivation of his beloved concubine, she was quite sure he would not take a philosophical view of it, inspite of his great fondness for French existentialism.

“Go on then children, she’ll be over soon”. Crystal let them wander into the street, since it had no traffic.

Delilah finished the second last chapter of Anna Karenina’s life. She had found the story unexpectedly close to her own thoughts and perhaps even her situation, but she found herself much more contented. She had chosen a life that was easy in many ways, but she knew what she was doing, and what she lost and gained. A lot of the time she loved the writing that she was forced to read for her keep, and a lot of the time she could indeed talk about it entertainingly for hours, creating dirty little back-stories about what the authors were really thinking and doing as they wrote these serious classics of world literature, which kept Matthew endlessly amused.

She moved forwards over the clump of rosemary she had just tried to give some life to, and waved to her beloved children, giggling up at her in wide eyed innocence.

“Show us your shiny things, Auntie!”

“Yes, once I come down you can have a look at the necklace, I am wearing it just so you can see”.

The necklace was a fine lattice work of a few dozen one-carat diamonds, shaped like a branch, with the diamonds forming the leaves of a beech tree. When they had walked across the Place Vendome in Paris earlier that month, she had been chattering away next to Matthew, reminiscing on her student days, and the way she used to wander across the square, peering in at those unattainable windows of beauty. The window of Fred in particular was one that all those years ago had captured her imagination, and later that day she was elaborating on the silliness of such material beauty, when he had withdrawn a large box with the familiar silver writing from his briefcase, and presented her with exactly the necklace she had been enthusiastically describing to him in minute detail.

And now the children she had done it all for seemed more enamoured of the incidental trinkets of her particular branch of the trade than of her. She remembered how much these objects of beauty had meant to her as a child, and she softened slightly.

“No Auntie, show us from there, it sparkles more than down here”.

She positioned herself with her weight resting on the outer railings, as she had often done in the past. Matthew always said this angle caught the sun in her hair the best, so she assumed it would also catch the brilliance of the diamonds, and she leant forward to ensure the necklace was visible.  She was almost entirely supported on the railing, with only one leg trailing down. Her head was tipped to one side, using the railing to stretch her arm out in front of her, forming the beautiful line of a dancer. She did not notice Gavin trot up to her, and as he licked the sole of her foot, she gave a shriek of surprise and jumped out of her skin. There was no time, no opportunity to grasp at anything. The cobbles merged with her body, as her children screamed.

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