by Barbara Latham
he brick dislodged or was deliberately dropped. It had nothing to do with me. I was several feet away. Besides, my aim has never been accurate.
Only one, of many who rushed to the injured man below, considered foul play.
Of course, at the time, the man seemed only dazed and no one assumed it serious enough for an enquiry. Either some fool had been careless or the old railway bridge was beginning to deteriorate.
As for the man who was struck, he spoke with certainty, “just need a rest – fine soon.”
Such was his final pronouncement.
To me the brazen confidence of “fine soon” seemed typical but his family, with greater faith in him, presumably expected more.
The brick made an exact drop and his skull cracked. I could never have landed one so perfectly, even if it had occurred to me that elimination was the way ahead for my ex-lover.
Laura woke shocked. Fancy killing off Rick in her sleep!
The main thread of dream was easy to recall though several fanciful subplots proved elusive.
Where did such unlikely detail come from? A question to share with Aunt Ethel. A phone call to indulge Ethel’s delight in signs and omens was an easy gift, nevertheless Laura wouldn’t ring with this dream; it seemed too aggressive to have killed Rick by a brick.
While Laura found more of herself than there had been access to before, Rick was probably not expecting serious consequences from his seduction. Yet Laura valued her passion for him. To claim it a “passing folly” was the nonsense “good sense” expected.
Aunt Ethel, at least, never doubted Laura’s love for Rick. All she suggested, after months of Laura’s tears, was that she try the I-Ching, but wasn’t offended by Laura’s rebuff. “Quite right, there is no point if it isn’t what you can respect.”
Laura lived with her Aunt on arriving in London from New Zealand and then returned to Ethel, with baby Alec, when the marriage to his father failed.
It wasn’t clear the marriage had ever been much of a success but the abortion finished it. Odd that – Laura agreed to terminate the pregnancy because her husband was adamant he could not take responsibility for another child – only to find it was the marriage they also ended. Their relationship seemed unlikely to survive another baby, if the first had taken such a toll, so she agreed to abort, then hated him. She also hated herself. Almost for the dead baby’s sake, Laura was able to do what she hadn’t done for its life – leave her husband.
During their final weeks she didn’t know what to make of sudden violent urges towards him and felt relieved to be returned to moderation in dealings with him, her view of herself not badly shaken.
She did not consider herself a vindictive person, not until Rick left, years later. Then she began to wish herself as kind as she once believed, not quite comfortable with her own harsher thoughts.
She had been softened by loving, first her son, then Rick, while she melted into wanting to touch every inch of Rick, hard edges vanished from sight.
Her growing son was already lodged firmly in Laura but it proved easy to fit round her lover as well. Rick was busy and often travelling. Laura took whatever he offered and surrendered to longing.
Now she dreamt obliteration for him. Although, if it was wishing a grisly end for Rick, she took no responsibility for that dropped brick. There was no clear intention.
“A slippery customer,” her mother had said of Rick when she visited, “surely Laura can recognise the type, that girl is nobody’s idiot.”
Perhaps she was Rick’s fool, only able to view his faults once semi detached.
A few decent men came her way yet Laura could not reopen. And Rick was gone because, she had to acknowledge the other woman, or women. Once Rick was cornered, not by Laura, but by another, the wonders she and Rick had been sharing began to look tatty.
She had no wish to be part time mistress when she thought she’d found the love of her life.
And perhaps she had. It seemed doubtful she could yield like that again.
Instead she was hardening.
Her looks were changing too. Others assumed it was crimped lines of age, or an unfortunate hair dye, but Laura felt her increasing sharpness showed, thoughit could just be the menopause, which started as Rick went.
Laura had assumed it must “be right,” after all how many times had she and Rick driven into a rainbow when they were together?
Far more often than coincidence could possibly allow.
She could neither forget nor pretend Rick kept no hold over her.
His was the face conjured when there was anything important to share. If she felt any lust, his was the body her mind switched towards. She couldn’t force a disconnect.
She was gradually recovering only because the erotic seemed to be shrivelling. Soon it would be gone and a fine, cold, reasonable life that would be!
From about five Alec went regularly to see his father. A man she had been unable to love as she loved Rick, though at the time she assumed she loved , anyway she found herself pregnant.
Only after Rick came into her life did Laura realise how much she’d failed to find in the marriage bed.
She wondered if it was learning to give in utterly to her flesh through pregnancy and labour that prepared her for loving better.
They met one Parents’ Evening. Alec was eight and at the same school Rick had an eleven year old daughter, with a woman from whom he was estranged. Rick was intermittently eager to be a parent to his only child.
Laura, determined not to subject Alec to passing “stepfathers,” or men wooing her through uneven burst of goodwill towards the boy, didn’t want a live in partner.
Rick suited well. The sexual attraction was immediate and he was often away.
If it had not come unstuck, she and Rick would have continued constructing the rightness of having found each other, building a pleasing story.
Laura was left to try and unpick it.
He often said he and Laura fitted hand in glove. So how could he not value that?
Not that Rick wanted to choose. The other woman forced the issue; she was younger and pregnant.
Alec seemed to despise Laura for not keeping Rick, even more than for her tears. But she had so many reminders. Since Rick had wallpapered the sitting room with her, she found herself recalling his fingers sliding down the glued sheets as they’d run down her body. Rick had bought three big pots for her garden and planted two thriving fuchsias and a “Sweetheart Rose.”
Moving on might be expected, but she couldn’t afford to move and there was no getting away from Rick’s impact on her flat.
At least responsibility for her son sobered Laura. Feeling blown apart was no way to lead the life of parent to an increasingly moody adolescent.
If Laura’s dream of Rick’s death, whatever it meant, was not a dream to pass on to Aunt Ethel, a visit was overdue.
Ethel, her mother’s big sister, long ago left New Zealand and had no children and Laura had enthusiasm for her distant aunt before she arrived in England.
Years later, as Laura’s marriage unravelled, Ethel was getting old. She offered Laura a home with, “I’ve always adored you, my dear.” Grand assertions came easily to Aunt Ethel, her veiled demand less obvious.
If Ethel declared that family had been “all to her,” she also meant that family should be there as she aged. Though Ethel had not, actually, had to take much account of family, apart from loving letters and regular parcels sent back. Nad her making much of missing “the family” provided comfort for those back home, who sometimes felt too enclosed.
Once living with her, Laura came to realise it was easier to deal with her aunt by phone and post. Ethel doted on the idea of Laura’s baby, provided he was sleeping. When her parents came over to visit, it was obvious Laura’s mother, with no rhetoric, enjoyed Alec more, despite declaring that after five children she was relieved mothering was over. Now she wanted time for herself and was not tugging at her children.
Laura may have arrived with sentimentality but felt no compunction to stay with her aunt. She could not make her life beside the old lady as Alec grew and, wanting her own place, moved nearer Rick’s flat.
After Rick left, and feeling defeats of her own keenly, it became harder to take the weight of Ethel’s decline.
Not that her Aunt was simply a burden.
Laura’s grandmother read omens and Ethel was said to have “inherited the gift.” “The baloney,” Laura’s mother said with tight embarrassment.
Ethel “saw” the pregnancy a week before Laura herself sensed she’d conceived, her dreams and the tea leaves told Ethel the baby was a boy though Laura, from a scan, thought it was a girl.
“Go back to jail, do not pass go” Laura dreamt a voice and pieces sent back on a board game. She necessarily waited a further throw and better days. Expectation had gone flat and Laura woke to face more rain. Encasing dull sky did not stretch into shades of blue and no expanse soared in her. New leaf in profusion uncurled to damp, unseasonal cold.
Laura saw bleakness and wondered if she now looked at human folly, including her own, with greater accuracy? Her friends rated this as improvement; they believed she had been jelly in Rick’s hands.
But Laura would rather submit again, than stare stony eyed at past passion.
She might say it was over with Rick, nevertheless he hovered. She might struggle to shut him out but, as she did so, felt she was also closing herself.
She sat with arms folded against much of life.
When Rick had drawn her into opening, Laura, unsealed, let much else in. Whatever Rick’s faults he sparked her into reaching out.
Although Laura put one foot in front of the other, as work had to be done if she was to pay the bills, she could no longer expect to be drawn into the day, with spirits eager for Rick’s morning call.
Like her friends, Laura was becoming the “mistress of her own life,” instead of being Rick’s. “When you serve your own life well, where is the room for another?” one capable friend said a little ruefully.
But did she now “serve her life well?”
Perhaps with Rick she had made her own heartbeat of prime concern, instead of seeing him more clearly? Nevertheless, before him and since, others failed to kindle the full capacity Rick released, with feelings churned as if by Magimix, the tap of desire simply locked in the “on” position.
Now she often found herself waiting for sleep, cutting out being a relief. Ahead she saw following Aunt Ethel into old age and decline.
“Thank goodness for Alec,” she often heard herself say as, for his sake, she made some effort.
She accepted the weather’s return to cold, as she faced other impoverishments to her days, and sounded stern with any who expected anything better.
But was this shedding of illusion or bitterness? Surely to have the same supply of hopefulness as her son would be unseemly.
Alec was pulling away and Ethel, sinking into private signs which made little sense, was tugging for more of her.
Laura promised Ethel a holiday and planned the break.
Alec, on finishing his exams, began six weeks work experience with Rick, having organised it himself. He’d always liked Rick.
After that she and Alec, who liked walking, would leave Ethel to sit by the sea at Eastbourne, while they walked the South Downs then return to Ethel for dinner.
Casually, a week before they were going, Alec announced friends had organised a walk along a disused railway line at the same time. He’d prefer staying in a tent.
Laura smiled. She could respond as if not dissolving.
She knew not to collapse into hurt with Alec in the room.
For him it was in far mists of time that he ever joined her, flesh to flesh, in an interlude which did not bear attention. Yet, for her, every leaving was from skin which never forgot that first move of his beyond its confines.
When he was tiny Laura might tell herself the boy would grow and leave, saying it as if to be prepared. She said it in the hope of not dropping into a well of loss at his small departures. Though being left was for mothers to endure, could she stop weeping over it?
Her son leaving cut, but a clean wound, not as messy as Rick’s, or tangled with abortion like the short marriage.
At least with Alec she could not be eliminated from a life which mattered, to be disposed of with no outward sign of murder.
In the night a child opened a cupboard, where it had been asleep and entirely out of sight. As he appeared, with opening arms, Laura winged towards him. The small child, like a magnet, drew Laura from encircling gloom.
She woke feeling weight had lifted.
Even news from Alec that Rick, at fifty-one, was expecting a further daughter any day, was merely bruising.
She had to run to catch a train, from which she found joy in a fresh glance at an old building, and wild roses were out alongside the tracks.
She sang that night, to Alec’s relief. He’d enjoyed working with Rick and was now was ready to go walking.
He was off. He could prepare his own stuff, he said, but Laura wanted to give him her care as he left.
She was packing Alec’s favourite foods when Ethel rang, early as she often did, catching Laura before work.
This morning Laura was impatient with no time for dreams.
But Ethel was insistent. “You must warn Alec, dear. If he is going along that disused railway, tell him not to walk beneath bridges. A brick dislodged. Maybe someone dropped it but it caught Alec exactly. He said he was alright but he wasn’t. So just tell him from me to walk around all bridges. They aren’t always in good shape.”