Colette was searching for distraction. Down the hill in Villejoie shutters were clamped tight, fires were stoked. The only sign of life was the billowing smoke from the chimneys. Even the village dogs, usually a noisy, machismo pack who greeted passersby with bared teeth and aggressive stance were silent, snoozing in front of kitchen stoves. Earth gloomed under dirty frost, a crumpled newspaper landscape with no story to tell. She struggled with the final chapters of her dissertation, jaded even with George Sand, the ‘large-brained woman and large-hearted man’ who had been her sole companion for four weeks. Colette was not a Facebook friend to anyone and could never think of anything worth tweeting but she checked her emails five times a day, eager for any small stimulus they might afford. There was usually just a flurry of invitations from would-be Russian pen pals or from the relatives of cabinet ministers in unknown countries, eager to share newly inherited fortunes on receipt of bank details. On December 29th, for the fourth time that day she checked again and clicked open an email which looked as if it came from an academic institution in Fiji.
THERE IS A HARE IN MY KITCHEN
By Barbara Siedle
The neighbour arrived at the front door beaming. He had the hare firmly by the hind legs and held it aloft for me to admire. The hare’s eyes were glazed. I managed to mumble “Thanks very much Dimitri” before shutting the door in his face. But he ambled away good naturedly.
The old knot in my stomach tightened as I turned away. I saw the dead boy’s eyes again in my mind. Glazed like the hare. It was my Billy who had shot the boy. He had shot the boy when he meant to shoot the rabbit.
“Just SO special to be back in your ‘wonderful’ new home. The warmth and friendship, and the incredible generosity exudes from you into the very fabric of the house, its setting and the total harmony with nature – all makes it such a beautiful place to be. Thank you both so much for everything – and always being their (sic) for us. With our fondest love from Belinda x and your old pal Charles xox”
‘So kind of them’ said Val, who had just removed the book from its place in the hall table drawer. ‘It’s not Charles’s writing and it sounds more like Belinda than Charles, from the little we’ve seen of her, just a bit over the top. Fondest love has grown rather quickly, given that we’ve only been with her for two days. Talking for Charles, I suppose. Still, nothing wrong with a bit of fulsome praise. Rather sweet, don’t you think, Steve?’
My son Billy was married today to a luscious Trinidadian wrapped in cream. The organist played that flashy Widor exit march – you know the one, with triumphant trills to show that somebody has done something clever; in their case, marriage; in mine, having Billy.
He’s like his Dad, is Billy, without the bad bits – like Brian would have been if life hadn’t spoiled him. Billy’s had a lot of love and it beams back out of him. His wife’s a loving girl, too.
‘Let’s cut to the chase’ said Fred. ‘I know we’ve only spoken a couple of times and usually I’d take a bit longer to get to know you. But you sound delightful and why hang about? Not as if we’re teenagers is it? Well, they don’t hang about either. Who does, these days?’ He chuckled, a dirty little rumble.
She liked his voice. He sounded cheerful and the photograph he’d sent her was reassuring, his face at least. His suit was a bit of a drawback; off-white linen, rather Jack the Lad, she thought. She would have preferred something more sober, a good, dark, Saville Row suit. The image was cropped at the waist so she could not see if he was wearing brown suede shoes but she suspected he was. For goodness sake, she said to herself let me at least meet the man before I start revamping his wardrobe. She held the photograph at arm’s length and squinted at it as if, at this distance, it would yield more clues. His hair was grey and he looked distinguished with his chunky tortoiseshell frames. Fifty-five, she thought.Fifty-seven at the most. It was older than she would have liked but the voice was pleasantly youthful.
Melody said she would arrange the silk roses herself, for Mrs. Planchett had her work cut out for her. Like Mrs. Dalloway, on whose grace and assurance she would have modelled herself, had she read or, indeed, heard of Virginia Woolf, Melody was giving a party. And Chip, bless him, may he rest in peace, had always said that she was the perfect hostess and she had delighted in his compliment, fastening on her long, thin neck her cultured pearls, smiling a small, secretive smile at her reflection in the mirror before she stepped into the hallway to greet her guests with the natural nobility with which she had been endowed.
She could remember scene after scene in Purley where she had received Chip’s clients, people of influence, with titles even, like that dear Ted Spellings, ennobled for his efforts in putting before the public eye, through his frightfully witty hoardings, the merits of the Labour Party. And while one, heaven forbid, should never give the impression of being a Labour voter, one could not help admiring the raw energy, the creative spirit that had made the campaign so successful.