A daft bit of poetry

The case of the fight in the big top in Cullompton on Rye

 Sparkely Sue from Balwhinnnie

worked at the Circus of Light.

She mucked out the camels each morning ,

and danced on the highwire at night.

She was gorgeous in flashing suspenders,

In diamantes and sequins so gay,

At six forty five every evening,

and the pensioners, cheap matinée.

Now, Walter the big top erector,

Had a secret inside of his head,

He fancied the pants of our Suzie,

and wanted to take her to bed.

He tried to entice her with flowers.

To woo her with chocolates and cake,

but Sue was determinedly single,

and regarded our Walt as a Rake.

No, no she would cry with emotion,

whenever he leered at her bum.

I shall never allow your advances

and what’s more I’ve told your old mum.

But the truth is a little more sordid

than Suzie’s high-flying ideals.

She had lusts of her own towards Nigel

who worked in a tank with the Seals.

She admired his manly demeanor,

and his pectorals, ‘specially when wet.

She wanted to be his beloved

but hadn’t quite managed it yet.

The case reached a nasty conclusion

one night in Cullompton-on- Rye

When Walter found out about Nigel

and gave him a thump in the eye.

Nigel came back with a dropkick

that took out a couple of teeth.

One on the top in the middle,

and another one just underneath.

They rolled in the muck and the debris,

and across the sawdusted floor,

in front of the lion enclosure

where Samson let out a roar.

A constable had to be sent for

to manage the terrible scene,

and they both had to go in the morning,

to tell what the trouble had been.

And now they are both in the choky

existing on water and bread,

and Suzie is living in Stockport

where she’s married a butcher called Fred.

He provides her with brisket and bacon

and sometimes a nice bit of ham,

but whenever she thinks of the circus

she knows that her life is a sham.

She would love to go back to the high wire

to the camels and Nigel and lights,

If only mankind’s basest instincts

didn’t always lead them into fights.

So whenever you visit the circus

and it sweeps you away with delight.

Remember performers are humans

And the magic is only at night.

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Pauline – Chapter 51 – The Return

“Are you sure about this Pauline.”  The concern in Pete’s eyes made her heart contract with affection.

“I am.  It’s fine.”

The Dales were glorious in early autumn.  A great sweep of sky brushed the horizon and high in the blue was the dark pinprick of a Merlin or maybe even the precious Falcon.  It was magical and it was still home.

The agent in France had assured her that all was in order and the work on her holiday homes could begin in her absence and “Madam must not worry but must get well soon from her accident.”  It had been too complicated to explain and so a vague story of a fall had sufficed.

“Go over the top will you Pete.”

“That’ll take us past the place where the accident happened.”

“Yes, that’s the point.  I want to lay the ghost.  It’s just a road and a ditch.”

“You astound me, you really do.  You are so sensible and grounded.  You’re tough as well.  The doctors said at least ten days in hospital and it’s barely a week.”

“Well, it’s true what they say, though it’s a cliché and all.  The things that didn’t kill me – well I don’t know that they made me stronger but they certainly made me realise that I can cope with stuff.”

“Bloody hell you certainly can.  Does he know you’re coming today?”

“George.  Yes, I called him to confirm yesterday.”

“Are you still sure you don’t want me to come in with you.  If he was to hurt you after all you’ve been through…”  Pete lifted a hand from the wheel and reached to squeeze hers where it lay in her lap.

“Oh he won’t.  One thing that has never been surer is that.  He will never hurt me again.”

They drove in silence for a while.  Though she had insisted on her release from the hospital Pauline still felt fragile.  The pain of careless movement would cause her to draw in a sharp breath.

“Afterwards, will you call me?”

“I will.  Don’t worry.  I’m okay now and I have to do this.  Everything that went wrong, it all happened because I wasn’t doing this right.”

“Oh, that’s just mumbo jumbo.  It would have happened no matter what.  You did what you had to do and the rest of it was out of your hands.”

“I believe, it was because what I was doing was wrong. I shouldn’t have been sneaking away like that. ”

“I’m worried about you.” She smiled at his words.

“That’s nice Pete but you know, I think that all the bad things that could happen to me have happened now eh.”

“God, I hope so.  Listen I’ve got my phone.  Any problems, any hint of a problem, call me and I’ll be there.”

“I know, I know you will.”  She pointed now out of the window to the place just ahead of them.  He slowed the car.

“Look there’s the ditch, the corner.  See I told you, it’s just a road and a bend.”

She smiled at him but, inside her heart leaped and her stomach coiled.  Here was the start of it all.  She made a sudden decision. “Stop, stop here.  I’ll get out.  I’ll walk from here.”

“Here.  No, you can’t.  Bloody hell Pauline how much do you want to put yourself through.”

“I’ll walk from here Pete.”

“You amaze me you really do.”

“Oh go on.  You with what you do, but thank you it’s nice to hear.

“Kiss me.” He drew into the side of the country road, bare yards from the scene of the accident.  A dark stain still bore witness to the sacrificed sheep.  He turned off the engine.  He leaned and drew her into his arms and kissed her deep and long then drew back to gaze into her eyes.

“You truly do amaze me.”  The only response she could give was a smile, for her heart was full and emotion choked her throat.

“I know we can’t be together Pete.  Not really.  Not in the normal way, but we can make it work can’t we.”

“I believe that you can make anything work, if you have decided to.  Call me.”

“I will.”  She stepped from the car and blew a kiss through the window as he drove past.  She strode on in the reverse direction to that she had come only short weeks before.

The garden was already a little overgrown and the windows needed cleaning.  She sighed looking around at the early neglect.  How sad it all was, how very sad.

She would not ring the bell.  George was not going to open the door to her standing on the step like a naughty child.  She had her key and as the door swung inwards he was standing in the hall.  It amused her that he was dressed formally, his shirt roughly ironed but his silk tie knotted precisely.  The sight of him painted a smile on her lips despite all that had happened.

“Hello Pauline.”

“George.”

“Come in.  I was in the lounge.  I’ve made tea.”  As she passed through the hall she glanced into the messy kitchen.  The thought of the work that would be needed to restore it to its former pristine state lowered her mood and she sighed.

George had already thrown himself onto the settee and he turned as she stepped through the door.

“I’m glad you’re back.  I was worried and then the call from the hospital upset me.  They wouldn’t tell me much, just that you had been involved in an incident.”

“No, I asked them not to tell you too much.  I just wanted to come back myself without too much fuss.”

“Yes, of course you did.  I’m glad, glad that you’re here.  Look – I know we’ve got some issues Pauline.  Things to work out.  I’m willing to give it a go, I owe you that at least.  I’ll even go to counselling, if that’s what you want.  I can’t promise to change completely but yes, we should both make an effort.

“It’ll be good to get back to normal.  Now you’re back we can settle down again.”

She gazed at her husband.  Looked at his dark hair shining in the afternoon light, his figure still trim and his good looks barely touched by the years.  Her heart saw the young man she had married, the dashing groom standing beside the flower-decked altar.

Her eyes were drawn to his hands, resting now on his lap. When they met she had loved his hands. Manly hands, strong and sure.  Hands that had held hers and slipped the ring onto her finger.

She remembered them curled into fists flying at her in fury or slapping at her in anger and she leaned towards him and wrapped her arms around the grey cushion curled on the sofa.

She gathered up the sleepy feline and without a backward glance she walked from the room.  Pausing in the hall to stow Samson in his carrier, she strode on and out and into the sunshine.

Carefully she climbed into her car.  She’d done it.  She’d left George. Honestly and openly with her head high and back stiffened with resolve.

She’d taken the cat.

 

The End

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Chapter 50 – Awakening

Pete was calling to her in the darkness.  Pauline needed to go to him, to help him.  She had to find him and make him whole again.

The pain in head and stomach held her back.  Though her heart tried to drive her forward her body was broken.  She had to move.  Something held her down.  Strong arms restricted movement.  He was calling and if she didn’t find him he would die.

She didn’t want him to die.

She didn’t want to die.

“Pauline, Pauline lie still.  It’s okay, you’re okay.  Just try to relax.  We need to take care of you.”

Now the light came, floating before her eyes, swooping and receding.  “I hurt.”

“You’re alright Pauline.  We’re going to take care of you.  Just relax.”

The small, sharp pain in her arm became a soothing caress, sweeping through the discomfort and befuddling her mind.  Nothing mattered now.  She could drift away and it would all be over and she could find Pete.

“Pete?” She felt her lips move and the sound was close.  Had she spoken?

“It’s okay Pauline.  I’m here with you.  It’s all fine.  We’re okay.”

Against the weight of medication she forced open her eye lids and his face floated above hers.  He smiled at her.  She had found him.

Now she let the darkness sweep her away…

Even before she opened her eyes the sounds, smells and sensations told her where she was.  She had been in hospital before.

Her throat was dry.  There was a dull ache at the back of her eyes so she stayed in the dark for a while longer.  The whirl of dreams and confusion cleared slowly and nibbles of memory flicked in and out of her consciousness.  Then it was time, she knew she must open her eyes and face reality.

He was sitting in a chair beside her bed.  Though he had a magazine in his hand, his eyes flicked often towards where she was lying.  Finally they made contact and he gave her a smile.

“Hi there.”

“Pete.”  The sound was little more than a croak. He leaned towards her and took the plastic beaker from the bedside table.  He helped her to drink.

“I thought you were dead.  I thought he shot you.”

“I know, you made that clear when we were trying to help you.  You were pretty upset.”

“What happened?  Why am I here?”

“Okay second question first I think.  You hurt your stomach.  You ruptured your spleen.  It looked as though you fell on the chair leg.  They don’t think you need to have an operation but it’s going to be sore for a while.”

“I tried to knock it over, the chair.  I tried to make a noise.  Did you hear?”

“I did but I already knew that something was wrong.  That brings us to the first question I suppose.  I saw the bench and the plants.”

“Oh of course, I forgot about them.  I broke the pot.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, that’s what gave the game away.  If it hadn’t been for that I would have walked straight in and, well I guess we might not be having this conversation now.”

“Is he?…”

“He’s dead.  He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“Oh Pete, your lovely home.  I’m so sorry.”  Now the tears began and he pulled a tissue from the box on her locker.  “It’s all spoiled for you now.  Your peaceful place.  It’s all my fault.”

She was sobbing and he pressed the buzzer to call for a nurse.  They had said that he mustn’t upset her and he was helpless in the face of her distress.

“Don’t be silly.  It’s not your fault, what on earth do you mean?”

“If you hadn’t taken me there.  It’s all my fault.  Everything.”

He moved closer and reached down.  He took her hand.  “No, how can you say that, it’s ridiculous.”

“But if I hadn’t interfered, right at the start.  Back in the Dales, if I hadn’t gone into the ditch and got involved.”

“No, no.  You couldn’t help it.  What else could you have done?  Don’t be silly Pauline.”

A young nurse slid quietly into the room.  “Hi there Pauline, I’m Carol.  You need to try and keep calm.  Doctor Miller will be along later and he won’t be very happy with me if he finds you all upset.

“I’m going to give you something to help you to calm down.  Is that okay.”

She didn’t wait for an answer but added drugs to the infusion; checked the monitor readings and then offered a fleeting smile towards Pete, “You can have five more minutes and then I think Pauline should have a rest, okay?”

He nodded.  “It’s all fine Pauline.  We’ve sorted it all.  The jobs over.  It wasn’t quite as successful as we had hoped but we saved some women from hell.  We can probably put some really bad guys behind bars and – hey – I’m still here.”

She felt herself begin to drift. “Will you come back?”

“Yes, of course.  Someone will need to talk to you about what happened anyway.  Nothing to worry about but just to keep things in order.  I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep now.”  His lips brushed her forehead as she fell into a deep warm pit.

She was safe, he was safe.  All was well.

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Pauline – Chapter 49 – The Gun

She heard a car.  The low rumble grew and was joined by the spit of gravel under tyres.  Next there was the the whisper of grass as Pete drove to the hiding place among shrubs at the rear of the house.

The thug, sitting behind her tensed and chair legs scraped across the floor.  Pauline’s heart pounded, the pulse in her ears was near to pain.  She shook her head back and forth and stamped her bound feet up and down.  Anything that she could think of to make a row, to warn him.  She was rewarded for the effort by a hard blow against the side of her head that sent her senses reeling again.  The iron taste of warm blood and the liquid gathering in her throat told of more damage to the delicate lining of her mouth.  Still she rocked back and forth, the wooden chair rattling in the quiet.

Would he hear?  If he did would he understand and even then what could he do?  He mustn’t come through the door.  Now at last she had a glimpse of her attacker.  The dark figure stepped forward.  He was dressed in black with a hooded top.  The fabric was pulled forward and down so that there was no way to see his face from where she was.  Dark leather gloves covered his hands. As he moved forward he kicked out at her.  It was an aside, almost nonchalant.  “Quiet bitch.”  His voice was lowered now to a hiss.

Tears blinded her.  She couldn’t let this happen.  The monster waiting to blast Pete out of existence was calm, his hands steady as he raised the gun and aimed at the door.  Again she rattled the chair.  Now she tried to stand, shuffling forward and then pushing herself up using the strength in her thigh muscles.  As she slid from the seat and straightened her legs he turned to her, lowering his hands and giving her a glimpse of the lethal weapon held before him.  The bottom of his face was hidden behind a scarf or deep collar, all that was visible were his eyes peering at her.

He raised the gun again and pointed it directly at her face.  Her bladder failed her now as buzzing filled her ears.  She thought that she would faint and in truth would welcome the oblivion but footfalls on the flagstones held her in the moment.

Desperate squeals from deep in her throat were of no use as a warning.  She let her legs collapse dropping herself back down to the chair intent on knocking it to the floor.  Her only thought now was to make as much noise as possible in her weak and hobbled state.  Misjudging the distance between herself and the seat she toppled backwards and in the event accomplished her aim by accident.  As the chair tipped she tumbled on to it and landed hard on the upended legs which poked agonisingly into her stomach.  The pain was indescribable but the noise was satisfying.

Now the gunman swung his weapon down and she twisted her head to look into the evil of his eyes and believed that the moment of her death was upon her.

The rattle of the door handle had him swinging back, caught between the need for revenge and the execution of his plan. Pauline took the momentary diversion to roll from the broken frame of the chair, and try and tuck herself under the table. She drew up her legs intent on making herself as small as possible, and protecting the most vulnerable areas of her body. She was sobbing and choking in a world of fear and hurt.

The intruder swung his head around and glared one more time before straightening.  “I’ll save you for later bitch and you’ll regret what you just did.”

Now he turned back to the door, took a step, another and raised the gun.

Pauline screwed her eyes shut, it was over.  There was nothing she could do.  Pete would open the door of his haven and be shot before he even registered that there was a problem.  She couldn’t bear it.

The click of the door lock filled the quiet of the summer afternoon.  A pale dagger of sunlight speared across the grey flags.  Dust motes disturbed by the sudden breeze danced and twinkled merrily and then the air was riven by the shock of the gunshot echoing through the old house and sending screaming birds spiralling into the cloud freckled sky.

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Pauline – Chapter 48 – No Way to Die

The bliss of sun and birdsong was, in an instant, a nightmare.  There was pain in her cheeks and the world spun and tipped as the bench tumbled backwards. She was restricted, held, choking.  Her head shook desperately from side to side.

She had to get it off.  Whatever had her, she had to shake it loose.

In seconds the true horror hit her.  She was gripped from behind.  A hand across her face, over her mouth, squeezing the flesh and skin of her cheeks tightly, sparking water to her eyes.  She flailed with her arms, kicked out with her legs but he pulled her sideways and backwards, away from the upended seat.  She kicked over a pot of geraniums.  Still he had her.  She writhed and bucked and tried to scream.  He had her and was dragging her back into the house.

“Don’t go out.” Pete had said.  He was going to be so angry.  She was crying, snot running from her nose.

“Shit.  That’s gross.”  She was thrown to the floor.  Her chin hit the hard flagstones and stars whirled in a world of grey and when her vision cleared she saw blood, spattered across the grey paving.  She turned her head but he was sitting on her now.  The weight of him would surely break her spine.  She was trapped and terrified.  The scream that issued from her throat came from a distance, unreal.

She was hair dragged upwards and then a hand swiped across her mouth.  Panic took her to yet another level of desperation.  She couldn’t breathe now, he had taped her lips.  He leaned down close to her ear.  As he did the weight of him eased a little but still she couldn’t draw breath into her lungs.

“Quiet now.  Breathe through your nose.  Breathe through your nose.  Slowly.”  It was almost gentle, a whisper in her ear.  She could feel the disturbance of air on her neck.  “That’s better, slowly, in through your nose.  You’ll be okay if you do that.  Worst thing you can do is panic.  You panic and you’ll likely choke.”

She dragged tiny breaths in through her nostrils, little snorts.

He dragged her hands backwards and she felt the tape wrapped around her wrists.  She squealed anew, consumed by anger, frustration and fear.

“Quiet.  Lie still.  He rolled away and there was a grunt as he pushed to his feet beside her.

Grabbing her legs he taped her ankles and then pulled her upright.  A chair scraped across the floor and with a painful grip on her shoulders he pushed her onto the seat.

“Right.  We are going to wait here.  We are going to be quiet.  We are not going to have any trouble.  Do you understand me?”  Again the searing pain as her head was pulled backwards.  “I said do you understand me?”  She tried to nod but he still held her hair.

“You are going to sit still in that chair.  I am going to be right here and we are just going to wait.”  She tried now to turn her head and the blow from his fist brought back the swirl of dizziness. “Don’t, don’t even think about it.”

Long moments of silence followed and, though it was still uncomfortable, she gained control of her breathing.  It was like the cave all over again.  He was dead though, the man in the cave.  Pete had told her he was gone, tossed in the sea.  So, she had escaped that horror to find herself yet again tied and gagged and beaten.  It was all too much.

She had taken all she could.  She wanted to just drift away.  She was finished.  It seemed that there was to be no way out of this drama and it was all too hard.  The sobbing made breathing impossible again.  Tears tickled her cheeks and as phlegm gathered in her throat she felt the panic returning.  Like a dog she shook her head and was rewarded with another drag on her hair.

“Quiet.  For God’s sake, bitch, be quiet.  You’re not doing yourself any favours here and you causing us trouble is just going to make things worse.”  Now keep still.  He moved behind and his feet slapped on the kitchen flags.  Another chair dragged to where she was, just behind her and facing the door.

She remembered a poem, something from long ago.  Something about a highwayman and a woman watching and waiting with no way of warning her lover but to die.

Pete had surely been her lover but for him she couldn’t even find a way to die.

 

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Pauline – Chapter 47 – Solitude

He had gone.  “Don’t worry, you’re safe here.  Don’t go out though.  It’s best if you stay in for now.”

With the final word of warning ringing in her ears she had stood by the window and watched as he drove back down the little lane.

Before he left he had offered to pick up some essentials while he was out.  “I’ll be a couple of hours but on the way back I can go to town.”   It had been a strange conversation and the memory brought a grin to her face.  He stood before her indicating with a sweep of his hand down the length of her body.  “What erm, size are you.  You know for underwear and, well I don’t really know what you’d buy.”

“I take size twelve knickers, anything will do, not a thong though.”

“Knickers right.” He lowered his eyes to hide the laughter but she saw his shoulders quake and rescued him with a giggle.

“Don’t worry about a bra, I can manage if you don’t mind me washing it through tonight.”

“Shall I look for a T- shirt?”

“Oh would you.  Yes, please.  A T-shirt and something to sleep in would be great.  The knickers, and perhaps some conditioner.  My hair feels like straw after the beach.”

“You look fine to me.” He had grinned widely at her then and held out a hand.  She walked to him and leaned into his hug.  While her face was buried in his chest he had spoken quietly. “Are you okay with what happened?  I mean, you know, you don’t regret it?”

“No, no I don’t.  It was lovely.  I like you a lot Pete.”  She lifted her eyes and a glimpse of something in his expression had stopped her there.  She knew.  Deep down she knew that there was no future for them. He knew it too didn’t he? – Well didn’t he.

There wasn’t was there?

After he had gone she cleaned the kitchen counters and tidied the breakfast things away.  Another cup of coffee was just a way to pass the time and in the end half of it was poured down the drain.

For a while she sat and looked through the magazines she found on the coffee table in the living room.  They didn’treveal anything about him.  They were out of date news magazines and one or two that looked as though they might have been picked up in airports.  There was nothing in them to hold her interest.

The book cases were well stocked and she pulled down a novel.  She curled on the sofa and tried to lose herself in the story but even that couldn’t hold her attention.  She was on edge and fidgety.

The sun teased her through the narrow window, birds called and white puffs floated across the clean blue sky.  It was too nice a day to be inside.

She walked back into the kitchen and stood at the open door. There was no-one around.  Cows in a distant field lowed now and again.  The lazy smoke from a fire somewhere to the north smudged the horizon .  She stepped into the small patch of back garden.  Sparrows and Dunnocks hopped around the base of a hawthorn hedge.  Tufty grass covered most of the space with just one small apple tree in the corner.  A couple of pots held geraniums.  Marie from the farm had obviously kept an eye on the bright little plants which flanked a wooden bench.  It tempted her, the old wood worn to comfort.

Two steps from the house, that wasn’t out was it, surely.  She crossed the narrow flagstones and lowered herself to the seat.  The sun warmed her face and painted bright colours on the back of her closed lids as she gave herself to the peace.  There was time enough for worry and maybe even regret later.  At this moment she would just be…

Her shoulders slumped as drowsiness fell like a silk curtain and her mind began to drift.  She should pull back, get up and move around but the harmony had her, the air and the music of the earth was carrying her away and it was just too hard to come back.  Maybe just another few minutes and then she would force herself awake.

She didn’t hear the car, or the footsteps in the meadow.  She didn’t feel the shadow cool her skin and when the terror hit her it came from out of a place of gentle peace and was all the more brutal for that.

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This post will change your life

Originally posted on Rachel Marsh:

This is a copywriting tip. Well, not a tip, but something that works my nerves and I wish people would stop.

There are human interest stories floating around the internet that use the ‘More News at 10′ method of a headline. ‘More News at 10′ was the hook a lot of local news anchors would use — back when people watched local news.

For articleYou know the rhetoric: ‘Something in town could be killing your child… More at news at ten o’clock.’ It was sensationalism meant to entice viewers to watch the evening news. This style of hook has overflowed into digital journalism. Yes, journalism has always had hooks, and you’ll still find print journalism using headlines like ‘Death Toll Shocker’ on their sandwich boards, but at least ‘Death Toll Shocker’ informs the reader that the story is about death.

The insipid digital headlines found at the moment run along the…

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Pauline – Chapter 46 – The Morning

Unfamiliar greys and shadows disoriented her and the bulk of a body in the bed was strange and unsettling in her half-waking state.   Pauline lay still and quiet until dream and reality divided and she remembered it all.  Where and who and why.  Pete murmured and turning, drew her into the warmth of his sleeping body.  As she curled into him tears came to her eyes for she knew that this could not be and it broke her heart to have what she couldn’t hold.

She didn’t sleep again.  The curtains were open and dawn unveiled a new day and the rustle of leaves and patter of rain on the window spoke of dying summer. She pressed closer to the man beside her and revelled in the comfort and what she knew was to be a fleeting happiness.

Pete woke and smiled across the rumpled pillows and kissed her face and neck and they made love slowly.  His hands caressed the rounds and hollows of her body.  As they stroked and teased and nibbled she lost herself in his gentleness and generosity and finally in the urgency of their mutual need.  She had never known it could be like this…

Later she slid from the bed and dragged on Pete’s discarded T-Shirt.  She pulled it down to cover her behind and then laughed as he raised his eyebrows at the coyness after their recent familiarity.  She felt sated and soothed by their intimacy and more than that he had made her feel whole, and even more yet she felt beautiful and womanly.

She didn’t want to spoil the moment but knew life would go on and they must leave this room and this moment.

“Can I have a shower?”

“Did I do the electric thing last night?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think so.”

“Right.  Give me a minute and I’ll sort it.  God I’m starving.”

His legs swung from the bed and he leaned to retrieve his boxers from the tangle of clothes on the floor.  She watched and felt emotion flood her body.  She could love this man.

His voice came from downstairs in the hallway.  “Okay Pauline, the heat’s on.  I’m going to fish in the freezer and get breakfast underway.

“Thanks.”  The bathroom was spotless and it was obvious that, though the house had been unlived in, someone kept it clean.  The airing cupboard held a pile of towels and there was shampoo.  She paused at the sight of the bottle on the glass shelf.  Shampoo.

It wasn’t her business.  She picked up the bottle and realised with a tiny thud of disappointment that it was open and partly used.  So, someone else came here and used the bathroom and cleaned and polished.  It wasn’t her business.

The smell of bacon and coffee made her mouth water.  With a hint of distaste she pulled on yesterday’s underwear and blouse.  Her fingers hovered over the handle of a drawer but in the end it was too much of an invasion of privacy to pull it forward.  In truth she didn’t want to see.  If there was underwear in there, women’s underwear she couldn’t borrow it anyway and the bright, loving morning would be besmirched.  Shampoo, well shampoo could just be a cheap shower gel or perhaps he sometimes let his hair grow and so would need it but underwear, women’s clothes.  There would be no denying the meaning of those.

The kitchen was bright and the pine table held plates of bacon sandwiches.  Coffee dripped into a pitcher on the machine beside the sink.  It was homely and cosy.  Pauline was starving, because of course they had eaten very little yesterday.  She fell on the food with enthusiasm that brought a smile to Pete’s face.

“How come you have all this?”

“I keep bread, bacon and so on in the freezer.  I never know when I’m going to come here and so I try to keep it stocked.”

“Is this your house then?  Your own, not a police house or something.”

“Yes, this is mine.  I bought it a few years ago.  I needed to know that no matter what, I had a place that was wholly mine and was safe.  I needed a home.”

“It’s lovely.”

“Thanks.  I have someone come in to keep an eye on things.  Marie, from the farm back the way we came in.  She thinks I work abroad.  It’s safer for her that way.”

“It’s dangerous isn’t it?  Your job, what you do?”

“Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it’s boring and tedious.”

“How long have you been doing it?”

He leaned across the space between them and laid his hand on hers.  “Pauline.  I think it’s best, for now at least it you don’t know too much about what’s going on. Too much about me.”

There it was, the barrier.  His life, the things that he did.  His past and his future, she wasn’t to be a real part of any of it and now the sandwich stuck in her throat as her heart filled with sadness and reality hit her in the gut.

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Pauline – Chapter 45 – The Night

“I can’t. We shouldn’t.  Pauline, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“I know.”  She smiled at him and his lips lifted as he pulled back his head and looked down at her.

“It’s wrong in so many ways.”

“I know.”  She lifted a hand to his face and laid it across his cheek.  Her head tipped to one side and her eyes searched his, seeking the truth of what he wanted.

For a while they stood arms around each other in the slightly damp kitchen.  Outside an owl called and in the quiet house the little lantern hissed and fizzed.

“Pauline.”  His voice was hoarse and doubt flashed across his face and still she didn’t move but simply stood in the shelter of his arm, waiting.  “Are you sure.”  He read her stillness for what it was.  She nodded.

“I haven’t been here for a while.  The beds might need airing.”  The everyday tone of the comment drew a giggle from her.

“Right.”  She smiled and took his hand.

He lifted the lantern and they walked into the gloom of the hallway.  Stepping in front he drew her after him, down the narrow space and up the stairs.

The landing was a small square.  In the flickering light she saw a bathroom, the door ajar and the porcelain gleaming whitely in the gloom.  There were three other rooms, he pushed the door of the nearest.

He turned to her again. “Okay?”

She slipped in front of him and stepped inside the space.  The bed was made up.  The curtains were open and the glow of moonlight glinted on a mirror and shone on polished wood.  It was chilly with the feel of a room just wakening from the torpor of neglect and emptiness

She walked to the bed and threw back the covers running a hand over the sheet.  “It’s fine, cold but not damp.”

He was close behind her now and his arms snaked around her waist drawing her back against him.  “Are you sure about this?”

His concern threw her.  She had never experienced such consideration before.  For a moment she wondered if he was trying to draw away kindly, back off without hurting her.  She twisted around until she could look him in the eye.  There was nothing there but kindness.

“I like you Pete.  I’m happy here in this moment.”  He nodded.

His fingers found the buttons on her blouse.  As he twisted the tiny pieces of plastic she closed her eyes to savour the illicit pleasure that had come so unexpectedly.  As he pulled the fabric from her shoulders she felt a frisson of fear.  What would he think of her?  She was no longer a girl.  She had stayed slim, kept herself fit but her breasts and her stomach were those of a forty-year old.  He lowered his head and his lips played across her shoulders.  She felt the flutter of his kisses on her neck and then her breath was taken as he raised a hand to her breast, to hold and to gently tease.

She pulled at his shirt and the belt of his jeans.  When they were unfastened and in a heap at his feet he stepped out of them and with a grin he pulled of his socks.

Pauline slipped out of her trousers and climbed onto the bed dragging the chilly duvet over her.  He pulled it aside to snuggle underneath and then wrapped her to him and held her in his warm arms.  Their legs twined and their breath mingled and she found with him a kindness, a generosity and a pleasure that she had never known before.

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Pauline – Chapter 44 – The Destination

By the time they pulled off the motorway onto minor roads the day was fading.  Yellow lights from the windows of roadside houses pooled on pavements and verges and commuter vehicles mustered on overcrowded drives.  The world settled into evening.

Pauline didn’t recognise the area.  They passed through a small town.  A carbon copy of so many others.  The main road carving the centre into north to south was lined with ubiquitous retail outlets and fast food restaurants it was Everywhere and Nowhere.

Out at the other side of the built up areas gentle hills rose on either side.  The illumination from an occasional grand home or farmhouse shone out, oases in the deepening darkness.  It was peaceful and calm in the warm car with Pete beside her and Pauline felt that if they drove on forever in this half dream state she would have been happy to accept the endless journey as her fate.

After another hour when they were far out in the country he turned off the road and bumbled down a rutted track.  Trees lined either side of the narrow lane with the occasional gateway the only evidence of intermittent human activity.  He pulled into one of the openings, turned off the lights.  The engine was the only sound gently thrumming into the stillness of a late summer night.

“Is this where we’re staying?”

“No, no of course not.  I just want to make sure we’re on our own.”  The flash of his grin in the dark interior soothed her nerves.  This was what he did, he was calm, in charge and everything was under control.  Pauline settled back into the seat and closed her eyes.  She felt safe.

When Pete was happy that no-one had followed he drew back out and travelled the last mile down the country road.  He climbed from the car and pushed open a wooden gate.

“Pass me that torch will you.”  Pauline passed him the heavy flashlight from the parcel shelf and he left her in the darkness.  As he made his way down the short drive the cone of light swung back and forth through the tiny garden towards the darker shadow of a building hunkered down amongst the trees.

She could see him in the distance as he walked down a side passage.  Then for a while she was in almost total darkness as he checked around the back emerging at the other side and at last joining her back in the car.

“Okay.  It looks good.  Welcome to my place.”  He smiled at her across the narrow space and her heart flipped and she acknowledged at last what she already knew deep inside. She was attracted to him, this man about whom she knew nothing and who she had met in the most horrible of circumstances.  She was drawn to him and his nearness in the darkness excited her.

The thought of going into a strange house with him now, alone, caused a thrill that had been until now, a memory of other days.

He took the car around the back of the building and parked it hidden among overgrown bushes.  The path to the little door was gravel winding between what was probably a rough lawn.  Here and there a shrub hunched, darker grey than the ambient dimness but the scent was of wildness rather than roses.  It was wonderful.

The great key he pulled from his pocket slid smoothly into the lock and in moments they stepped onto the flagged floor of a large space.  Pauline waited quietly in the doorway as Pete moved with the ease of long familiarity into the house. The click of a lighter and flicker of a tiny flame grew into a golden glow as he lit the wick of an old hurricane lamp which sat on a heavy wooden table.

“Don’t panic,” he muttered “we have electric but I have to turn it all on and anyway I kinda like this in the kitchen.  Come in, sit down.”

She walked across the hard stone. “I like the lantern as well, I don’t need to sit down Pete.  It’s nice to stretch my legs.”  She took another step towards him.  He held his ground. She lifted a hand and placed it gently, questioningly on his upper arm.  His head bent towards her, just a little.  She lifted her face to his and as their lips met she felt as though she had reached her safe haven.  His arms wrapped around her, firm and strong and comforting and as their bodies touched chest and hips the warmth grew.

It felt right and good and honest and she knew she would be his, if he wanted it.

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