Many may have wondered whether, after the efforts of politeness have failed, it might be possible to search the criminal underworld for a hit-
The cat was the problem. It was always in the way. She was quite silly about it. While the children were at home this was how things had to be, but now it was becoming more and more difficult. He had imagined that the old ways would return. Maybe not immediately, but sooner or later. Now he saw that this was never going to happen and all because of that animal. Make no mistake, he liked it well enough and in many ways was kinder to it than she was, but it seemed to him that she constantly deferred to what she imagined were its sensitivities. “Not in front of the children” became an unspoken “not in front of the cat”. Romantic but not intuitive, he could not read the clues that she was leaving, either consciously or unconsciously, but this is his story, a woman would see it all in a very different way.
John and Mary; suitable, he thought; not the most exciting names. They had many friends, but three couples, their inner circle, met regularly at each others houses. Lisa and Graham were their country neighbours. David and Kate lived in the next village, but worked in town. Anne and Ian had lately moved to the centre of town and would often talk, half jokingly, about the pleasures of commuting and how they no longer missed them.
Now he had fallen under a compelling enchantment. Kate. Her eyes, unremarkable at first, became a mirror that reflected only the good. Had he thought about this a little more, he might have seen other implications, but he did not. Let us just say that those eyes, or was it the way she used them, made men feel satisfactory. He hoped the others did not notice how often he managed to find himself sitting next to her. Those evenings were a sweet torment. The long-
Then when he and Mary were hosts and there was no need to be sober enough to drive home, everything was about to happen, when urgent fingers reached out to grasp his. She pushed back her chair, stood up, still holding him, and with a cry of apparent annoyance lifted the hem of her dress with her free hand to show the marks where the cat had stroked its barely furled claws, as a long time ago it had done against the table leg. Then the apologies, Mary saying “ I’m so sorry, it always lies in the garden below the patio, I can’t think what came over it.”
The combination of fear and relief and the still-
Other forms of romance may die, but the promise of the coffee house does not. That light, the warmth and those aromas seem to reach back to its exotic origins. Although Mary would never admit as much, this became the secret goal of their shopping trips. Part of the charm of the Town, as they called it, was the way it had retained its old-
The shop seemed to be quite small. Carpets everywhere, on the walls, in piles on the floor and some hanging from the ceiling, and the first glance told even him that they had not made a mistake. This was a place worth knowing about and, of course, there was the long-
Suddenly something seemed to stop and start again, like a silent noise in his head, and he felt that strange dislocated sensation you experience when looking for today’s car in yesterday’s parking space. Forcing his way between hanging drapes with something between pleasure and panic, it was as though he had been pushed into an open space, with, in the very centre, a man of the type you could never ignore. An open face, maybe a dark skin, maybe not, it was hard to tell in the artificial light whose source he could not quite place, but the presence was both reassuring and disturbing at the same time. Fearing on the one hand that he had invaded someone’s privacy, and on the other that his obvious relief might be rather too apparent, he apologised and by way of small talk, said,
“ I did not appreciate just how big this place was.”
The voice that replied was strong and musical with a faintly exotic intonation. “Yes, people are always saying that, but we need the space because we run several businesses here.”
Then he paused, looked up and went on, “One of them might well interest you. You see we have a removal operation”. And then, “Of course, you are happy where you are. No! that is not quite the business we do. It’s like this. In some houses there may be something that one person does not want, while others find it very precious. And we are able to remove it in such a way that it is the one who values it most who appears to be responsible. I just think it is quite likely that you have such an object in your home”.
Without stopping to think, or acknowledge even that this might be true, he heard a far less substantial voice saying. “But how much would this cost?”
“We have sliding scale of charges. Those eager for our service may find the price rather high, but for others, such as yourself, whose desire is not very great, we charge little, and, I think, in your case, we can come to a very satisfactory arrangement”.
“And how do they pay?”
“It’s quite simple. We only interested in the one universal currency, and we invoice our customers by instalments, but there is just one thing you should know. Our clients never default. Most manage to clear their accounts quite quickly.” And then with a slightly lower voice, “ It is important to do it before you, shall we say, pass on, because after that things can become rather tricky”.
This seemed to cause both of them some embarrassment and again that distant voice was saying, “That’s very interesting”.
Apparently ignoring him, the owner opened a little book and said.
“You seem to me to be a man who has spent very little, considering how far you have travelled through your life.” Then almost to himself, “Some do, some don’t” and looking up with a questioning smile, “Of course, you belong to the old school, I see that now. We don’t meet many like you these days. You may be right, who’s to say, but you should ask yourself this. Credit is there to be used. The benefits of saving may not be as great as you have been led to believe. But I take it you want us to act for you.”
Again that distant reply, “I don’t know, I’ll think about it,” and in that instant he imagined what would have happened if the dinner party had not been interrupted and all of those exciting liaisons that would have followed and he found himself shaking the man’s hand and then hearing the words,
“So that’s a deal then. As for the timing, we can’t promise an exact date, but we will let you know just beforehand and at that stage expect the first payment”.
Now he was in the shop standing beside Mary. She appeared to be concluding the purchase of a large stone urn. Pulling himself together, he apologised for his absence, “talking to the manager.” Whereupon the shop assistant looked at him, then her, with a quizzical expression, but she only said, “Oh! no. Not again! You’ve been standing there day-
Arranging for the purchase to be delivered, as it was too heavy to carry, they both agreed that though there were no carpets of the right size, the shop was so attractive that it would be worth waiting for the next delivery, despite the fact that it was not expected until the autumn, when, they were assured, their size, the quickest seller, would certainly be available in many patterns.
The urn was planted with various trailing plants and looked attractive, if slightly incongruous in its rather precarious place on the terrace above the lawn that sloped down from the back of the house. Still, it was Mary’s choice and she was quite specific about where it should go, so he was tactful enough not to say anything.
Several weeks passed. By chance, apparently, he met Kate a few times and contrived to draw out the conversation in all manner of diverting ways that she seemed to enjoy and then, when he told her about the wonderful carpet shop, it seemed to bond them in a common interest. Strangely enough, she was quite unable to understand from his description exactly where it was and her eyes seemed to suggest that she might never be able to find it without him. So it was arranged. A few days later, under cover of what might have been a very transparent excuse, he drove to the meeting place. Her smile, the conversation, his feelings during the short journey, all of these things spoke of a wonderful beginning. He parked the car a few streets further from the shop than necessary and as they walked toward it, he felt that sense of completeness which comes to a man when he is with a woman who has shown him her approval.
Now they were there. Nothing had changed, but this was the time of decision. Perhaps she wanted him to make it, perhaps not, but after looking at him and hesitating for quite a long time, she suddenly said in a voice tinged with either resentment or regret, he was never to be sure which, “I will go in alone. Wait for me at The Arabica.” This was not how it should have been! He had sacrificed the initiative, but for all that he felt a certain relief. Then there was the decision, holding his cappuccino in a rather unsteady hand, where to sit, but it was too late. Ann was talking to a man he had not seen before, possibly a business acquaintance, possibly not. There was no hint of recognition, but she had seen him, he was certain of that, and soon his own secret would be out. Still, there are some bridges that have to be crossed and he was beginning to feel quite bold about the whole thing. This gave him a certain frisson and as he toyed with the foam on his coffee, he contemplated life as a transparent pyramid built up of layers. He was moving from a lower to a higher, from broader to a more confined, from darker to lighter and he savoured those words, wait for me, wait for me, their fullness, her possession of herself and how she was sharing it with him . Then she came in and her warm, resonant voice, which always seemed to him so perfectly female, sounded only brittle and demanding.
Something had happened, something secret. Oddly enough, it had never crossed his mind until then that she too would meet the owner, and with this realisation came a disturbing image; he was in a jeweller's shop under brilliant lighting, choosing some inexpensive cuff-
The pyramid had turned and they no longer occupied the same level. They drove home, not yet strangers; it had finished, but how would the end come? Then that last surge of feeling when she suggested that he stop the car where they were unlikely to be overlooked. They sat, both looking straight ahead as she made clear in just a few words that she had always known what he felt and that she had seen and anticipated every move, and had even taken advantage of the incident to hold his hand for the first time, but at the same time she revealed her disappointment with him, that other men (many other men) had shown far more initiative. Then followed the kiss, but awkward, passionless, to live on, to embarrass him.
It was still doing just that when he arrived home to hear Mary calling for him to help her on the terrace. He shouted, “Just a minute”, then with a few deep breaths to remove traces of guilt from his face, threw open the French windows to make it seem that he had rushed to her just as quickly as possible. Not accustomed to this, she stood up too quickly, knocked the urn with her elbow and they both watched helplessly as it overbalanced and fell into the garden below. Her response was quite unexpected.
“Well, I’m glad that’s gone. I never really liked it. I can’t think why you made me buy it in the first place”.
As this seemed to have provided the necessary break between him and his affairs of the morning, partly out of relief and partly for some other reason that he could not quite place, he did not make the obvious reply.
“Have you hurt your arm? Let me see it”, he said.
“Oh no, it’s nothing, not even a scratch.”.
Then they both looked down to see the urn lying on its side, apparently undamaged.
“That’s rather a pity, it’s still with us.” she said, and then, regretfully, “Perhaps Graham will help you put it back when he comes home this evening”.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the events of the morning, the sense of adventure, danger and even of a new force in his life, he anticipated a pleasant lunch and then an afternoon just like the old days. But it did not turn out as he hoped. As he was preparing the salad, she asked,
“Tell me about your morning, did you find that thing you were looking for?”
Taken by surprise he said, “What thing?”
“You know, that hinge or whatever it was you wanted to repair the old cabinet, or was that just an excuse to see your girl-
The colour was rising in his face and knew that he would not be able to hide the truth if he turned round, so instead he muttered, more to himself than to her, “Don’t be daft”. But once again he felt the cosy afternoon that he hoped for draining away.
Out in the garden, underneath the terrace, the cat was dead.