Like Cordium but with Tighter Knots
With David in the living room and Dafid on the doorstep, Ruth’s entry into the world of juggling men went from apprentice to master in a matter of minutes. Then she spotted Neil wandering toward her cottage. Having little choice, she invited Dafid in. He did pay the mortgage after all even though they had parted.
Ruth was expecting to see David still sitting there and desperately trying to think of a reasonable explanation as to why an apparently strange Frenchman was reclining on her sofa. But he wasn’t. Not only was he not reclining, he simply wasn’t there. Nor was there any sign of him having been there. His mug of coffee had disappeared along with his physical presence.
Hiding her bafflement, she invited Dafid to sit down, asking him if he would like a cup of coffee.
“I see you already have one,” Dafid said his tone, normally brusque, was gentle, reserved and compliant. His ruddy face, boyish perhaps, looked unusually pale and serious.
“Yes, I was, er, getting ready to settle down for the evening,” she lied, with nothing better to say. “I won’t be a second; I’ll just go make that coffee.”
“I’ll come with you if that’s alright?”
“Of course it is,” she said a little too breezily, fearing that David may be hiding in the kitchen.
There was no sign of him anywhere though. The only evidence he had been there was the mug in the sink. Dafid hugged the doorway his hands thrust deep into his jean pockets.
“I’ll just pop the kettle on,” said Ruth, trying to calm her racing heart. Had that really been Neil walking over? She hoped not.
“How have you been Ruth? How are things in Fekenham?”
Again the softer voice, the slightly passive mode of speaking compensating for past violent outbursts perhaps; the willingness to be seen and heard as being reasonable. Ignoring his first question she turned instead to the second.
“Oh you know what Fekenham is like; life goes on here as it always does, as it always has.”
“I see Bert Meade has closed down the bakery. Have the Meade’s moved then?”
Ruth leant against the work surface with her hands gripping the edge. She felt, silly as it was, a little on edge. She and Dafid had been married for some years but this sudden meeting seemed a little, if not contrived then unexpected. The whole softly, softly approach felt false and rigged with unlit explosives set to ignite.
“No, Bert and Millie still live in the village but Bert now works in Winchester for Voxco as their Head Baker. Tom has shut up shop here and moved to Muckleford. Neil is thinking of doing the same, Listen Dafid, I don’t mean to be rude but why are you here?”
The kettle rattled away on the stove. The dirty mug sat in the sink. A long drawn out silence fell. His face, round and still youthful, still unlined, took on a sombre look.
“I see you have already had one mug of coffee,” said Dafid looking down at the sink.
“What? Oh, yes. I put it into wash up then made another,” The lie was easy.
“Not like you Ruth you always used to keep the one mug but rinse it out when needed.”
“Well this time I didn’t. Anyway, kettle’s starting to boil and you haven’t answered my question.”
Dafid laughed. It was a warm laugh even if it sounded a little manufactured. His blue eyes lit up grateful for the opportunity to smile.
“Direct as ever, Ruth. It was one of the things that I liked about you even though it could be irritating at times. I’ll come to the point. If we divorce then we will need to resolve the issue over this cottage. I don’t mind paying the mortgage for now but I can’t afford to do it forever. But that is not what I wanted to talk to you about. I know things didn’t work out between us but I think we should at least give it one more try. I want to move back in Ruth, I want to see if we can work things out.”
At this point Ruth hoped she had seen Neil making his way over even if he was very early but as there was no knock at the door she assumed she had been mistaken. She looked at Dafid as the kettle started to whistle.
“Are you being serious Dafid, you want us to try again?”
“Yes, very serious.”
Flora had been knitting. She had been knitting since she first arrived in Fekenham but now she was in overdrive. Sitting in the small confines of her room, surrounded by dozens of woollen effigies of the villagers, Fora knitted at speeds uncommon to witness. Not that there were any, witnesses that is, as Flora knitted alone. Her nimble fingers deftly spun the yarn through a series of complicated purls and wotnots. As she knitted she gritted her tombstone teeth into a grimace that, should anyone have been able to see it, would have been terrified.
Unaware of events occurring at Ruth’s cottage and purely coincidental, Flora was knitting a doll in the likeness of Mistress Crabtree. It was to be the last such woollen figure that Flora would create.
She had spent a good deal of time of late in the company of the circus people. Their ways were not her ways but she felt they shared a certain similitude of life style. They were nomads, they went where they will much as she did. They had no home to speak of, as neither did she, and they answered to few. Most of the meetings she had with them were either on the encampment over on Fekenham Green or within the sanctuary of the Frog and Radiator. This evening though she had decided on another venue for her assignation.
She finished her manikin which did look uncannily like Ruth Crabtree, looked at it briefly to ensure all was as she wanted, then she placed it onto the window ledge in between Arthur Bentwhistle and Vicar Linkthorpe. The effigy of Bentwhistle was quite remarkable for it had a nose that resembled almost precisely the lumpy, half chewed rotting potato look of the original. Linkthorpe was equally clearly defined with a string of lank hair and a garish costume the like of which the priest often wore.
Flora looked behind her at the room, taking in all she could, then turned the light off before leaving and locking the door as she went. Outside, her bubble car, still as pink as a young girl’s dream, waited. Opening the large front door she climbed in, started the engine which gurgled, coughed before blowing a raspberry from the clotted exhaust. The car shivered slightly as she drove away. Tonight she was going to sit with a tall dark man, but not in the Bentwhistle’s much loved public house but rather that of the competitions. She was going to The Old Trout that was now under new management, that of one Shazli Braganza Smythe.
When Olive Purnose had left Fekenham there were some that thought she had gone due to the pub’s ailing trade. This was not the case. Although the Frog and Radiator attracted far more clients at night it shared equal amounts of trade through the day. You see, The Old Trout sat by the river, right near to the lock in fact, and all the passing canal boats would stop to have their lunch inside the waterside tavern.
The Old Trout’s turnover was far less than that of the Bentwhistle’s business but still good enough for Shaz and his family to live off. In reality it was the Duck and Dragon that had failed but since Ralph Ramhard purchased it refurbished, refocused and renamed it The Duck, its success as a restaurant was celebrated far and wide.
Parking her car a little way from the entrance, Flora walked the short distance and opened the aging wooden door. A glow of yellow light threw long shadows across the water. Flora marched in, her little legs covering inches rather than yards. Behind the bar Anita sat reading a magazine. There were few customers in the public bar: one elderly chap with a face like a colostomy bag sat nursing a pint of Widows Whiskers while two mates, obviously working canal men delivering some cargo or other, had moored-up for the night and had stopped to have a drink. They too appeared to be drinking the legendary brew. In the lounge Flora could see the man she had arranged to meet.
Waddling up to the bar, her nose level with it, she called out to Anita who had risen to her feet to serve.
“Hello!” cried out Flora.
“Hello?” said Anita.
“Eh? Oh, you are there, I didn’t see you. I would like a Grim Reaper please. I will be sitting in the lounge bar with that gentleman.”
Flora made to waddle away but Anita called out slightly puzzled.
“A Grim Reaper?”
“What is that exactly?”
“A finger of Gin, a finger of Vodka, a finger of white rum, Oh, and some ice!”
Anita, not a tall woman herself, leant against the bar the better to observe Flora as she made her way into the lounge where a warm fire was glowing in the grate. Shazli, who had been changing barrels in the cellar, came up.
“Who was that? Another new customer?” he asked wiping his hands on the tea towel.
“It was that odd little woman we first saw in Molly Sharptack’s, do you remember?”
“Yes, I do. Wasn’t she in the Frog and Radiator a couple of weeks ago too?”
“She may have been. She is odd though. Have you heard of a Grim Reaper.”
“The chap with the sickle who turns up when you are about to pop your clogs?”
“No, the cocktail.”
“Hmmm, can’t say I have.”
Anita made the distasteful-sounding concoction. During the course of the evening she made four more. Anita then, as the evening wore on, and feeling (felt) drained following a busy afternoon and declared that she was off to bed leaving Shaz in charge.
“I am so tired honey, I hope you don’t mind?”
“Not a bit of it. Off you go. Before you do though, who is that chap sitting with Flora?”
“He’s one of those travellers from the circus, or at least I think he is.”
Anita went up the stairs, yawning. Shaz sat behind the bar also yawning. The old chap with the flaccid, brown face left with a wave of his hand followed soon after by the two canal men. Shaz yawned some more then, as closing time arrived, picked up the old bell that Olive had rung each night for over twenty years and rang it three times. A lean, weather beaten man, left the lounge bar nodding to Shaz as he went.
“Goodnight,” said Shaz.
Then Flora, staggering on some other short person’s legs, made her wibbly wobbly way out of the lounge door. She shut it with an extravagant display. The glass window in the door rattled.
“Sozzy,” said Flora through lips that also seemed to belong to someone else.
“No worries,” said Shaz, smiling kindly. “Are you okay to get home? Shall I call a cab for you?”
“No need as I is am purrrfectly fine, just a lizzle squiffy. Is zat zer door?”
Obviously it was as Flora fell through it in a heap. Shaz came from behind the bar but Flora had managed to get herself up onto her knees then, with tremendous effort onto her independently moving legs.
“Are you sure you are okay?” asked Shaz, taking hold of Flora’s elbow.
“Thaz vezzy kind of you’s to ask but, as I zaid previously I is fine!”
With that Flora walked of and straight into the canal. There was a loud splash, a degree of splattering and spluttering then a hollow but profound curse. A pair of hands grabbed the river bank as Flora pulled herself out of the water. Shaz assisted her by taking a firm grip of her arms.
“Some sizzy bastard pit a river there. The council should be sold. You cannot shove rivers wez you damn well pease.”
With that, and dripping water like a colander, Flora walked back to her bubble car, got in and drove off.
Dafid looked directly at Ruth. He had wanted her to take him back without a second thought. He foolishly thought she would. He had believed that their love, with all its faults, with all its ups and downs, would survive anything. He could see now, as Ruth hesitated in replying, that that was not the case, She had doubts and if she had doubts then that surely was sign enough that things had reached a critical stage, possibly a point of no return.
She looked at him now, unsure of what to say, uncertain of how to say it but he knew what it was even before she spoke.
“It’s over Dafid. I’m sorry but it isn’t going to work. It never did really did it? We always clashed; never saw eye-to-eye did we?”
He tried to smile but his face wouldn’t let him. His mouth trembled slightly as he attempted to keep his voice calm, his emotions under control.
“Eye-to-eye, no, we didn’t but we often went toe-to-toe didn’t we?”
He made the sound of a laugh but it was far too brittle. It sounded like breaking glass. Ruth could see the pain in his eye. She could hear the hurt in his voice.
“I will always feel something for you Dafid but ...”
She found she couldn’t finish the sentence. Her words sounded like platitudes and she had more respect for him than to offer insipid banalities. He looked at the floor then his watch. It was a device that many use when they have no idea what to say.
“I‘d best be going,” he said as he rose out of the armchair.
Ruth suddenly felt a wave of compassion rise within her. She wanted to run to his side to try and comfort him but she knew if she did it might be misread and that would only give cause to more pain, to more grief. She didn’t move, willing herself to have self-control, to stay still.
“Where will you go?” she asked.
For a moment she thought he was ignoring her as he didn’t answer, then she realised he was weeping.
“Back home I guess, back to Wales. My Mum will put up with me for a while longer yet.”
With that he left. He just walked to her door, their old front door, opened it and strode out into the dark night. As the door softly closed Ruth collapsed back into her armchair curled herself up into a ball and cried. A chapter in her life had closed.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.