Read An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding Online

Authors: Christina Jones

Tags: #Fiction, #General

An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding (3 page)

The massive spider rocked backwards and forwards on the lid of the box on long, hideously hinged legs. Her eyes still fixed on the spider and exhaling slowly, Erin swallowed.

‘Did you shout? Are you still OK in there, dear?’ Mrs Wilberforce called cheerily from the shed’s doorway.

‘I’ve-found-the-box,’ Erin muttered through clenched teeth, not taking her eyes from the spider, and wishing upon wish that she’d insisted on Dora Wilberforce – even if she was nearly ninety or whatever – doing her own dirty work.

‘Oh, good – about time too. Well, bring it out then, dear,’ Mrs Wilberforce continued gaily, ‘so’s we can take a peep inside and see what’s what, out here in the sunshine.’

Rooted to the spot, paralysed with fear, Erin swallowed again. ‘I can’t.’

‘Why not, dear? I know it’s a bit heavy, but surely …?’

The spider made a sort of jerky false move forwards across the lid of the box. Then it stopped and bounced up and down menacingly.

Instinctively, Erin wanted to drop the box, slide down the remaining steps of the ladder and run as far away from it and the spider and Mrs Wilberforce’s dark stuffy shed as possible.

But she couldn’t. Because if she dropped the box, as all arachnophobes know
only too well, the spider could go absolutely
… and a spider you can’t see is far, far worse than one that you can …

The spider, clearly enjoying the confrontation, made another stuttering forward move across the mother-of-pearl inlay.

Erin gave in and screamed again.

‘Dearie me.’ Mrs Wilberforce, elderly and emaciated, with skin like tanned leather and silver candyfloss hair, and with a grubby tea towel knotted round the waist of her ox-blood-and-mustard-splodged 1950s summer dress, finally appeared at the bottom of the ladder. ‘What on earth is happening in here? Are you sure you’re OK, dear?’

‘Spider …’ Erin muttered, still not taking her eyes off the threatening spread of eight thick brown hairy legs. ‘It’s enormous.’

‘Oh, the shed’s full of ’em,’ Mrs Wilberforce chuckled. ‘At least, at this time of year. Come the autumn they’ll all be heading indoors for a little bit of how’s yer father.’

Erin winced. She knew all about the indoor influx of autumn spiders. She spent the weeks of mists and mellow fruitfulness in a state of abject terror, scouring every corner of Uncle Doug’s cottage armed with chestnut oil sprays, two-handed, like a one-woman SWAT team.

‘You’re shaking from head to foot.’ Mrs Wilberforce frowned as she puffed on to the stepladder behind Erin making everything sway wildly. ‘Don’t tell me you’re afraid of spiders?’

‘No, no …’ Erin exhaled again, staring transfixed at the monster, because she knew the minute she looked away it’d make a dash for her fingers and if it touched her then she’d simply die on the spot. ‘I’m not afraid of them at all. Oh no – I’m far, far more than that.’

‘Goodness me.’ Mrs
Wilberforce shook her head, leaned round Erin and scooped the spider gently into her hands. ‘Bless it. It’s only a little tiddler.’

‘Tiddler?’ Erin whimpered. ‘It’s a flaming tarantula.’

Mrs Wilberforce laughed wheezily as she made it to the floor. ‘Hardly, dear. Look, he almost fits into the palm of my hand.’

‘Nooo!’ Erin turned her head away. ‘Take it away. Please.’

‘All right, no need to have hysterics, dear. But honestly, what’s to be scared of? Clever little buggers, spiders. And they can’t hurt you, you know.’

Hurt, no. Maybe not. Scare to death – oh, yes, yes, yes.

Erin tumbled inelegantly down the stepladder and watched in fascinated horror as Mrs Wilberforce cooed lovingly at the spider and headed out of the shed for the raspberry canes with it cupped in her hands. Its legs overflowed between her gnarled knuckles, waving gaily as it was liberated amongst a riotous bed of golden nasturtiums and purple nettles.

‘There. All gone.’ Mrs Wilberforce beamed at Erin and spoke kindly as if to someone of limited mental faculties. ‘Now come out here and bring the box and let’s get down to business, there’s a good girl. I haven’t got all day.’

Erin, still shivering and feeling very sick, but not waiting to see if the spider’s entire family were hovering in the musty shed waiting to pick up where their eight-legged chum had failed, scuttled out into the searing July sunshine.

Mrs Wilberforce’s country cottage garden was the pride of Nook Green. And that was saying something. The tiny Berkshire village took its gardens very seriously indeed. Dora Wilberforce had won “Best in Village” for as long as anyone could remember.

Hollyhocks and lupins, cosmos daisies and cornflowers, sweet peas and
poppies all spread themselves in fragrant rainbow beds between pathways of springy grass and beneath stunted fruit trees, before tumbling on and forming several multicoloured oases around perfectly tended vegetable patches.

Like the rest of Nook Green, it was chocolate-box perfect and always sent the townie tourists into paroxysms of ecstasy.

Keeping as far away as possible from the raspberry canes just in case the spider decided to have a second shot, Erin placed the walnut box on a sun-bleached picnic table and wiped her sweating palms down her cut-off jeans.

‘Better now?’ Mrs Wilberforce asked kindly. ‘Would you like a cold drink? I’ve got some ginger beer on the go.’

Erin, her legs still shaking but her heart rate at least starting to return to somewhere near normal, shook her head quickly. Everyone over a certain age in Nook Green always had ginger beer on the go. The Women’s Institute sold ginger beer plants every Christmas at their bazaar, and they self-perpetuated at an alarming rate. Every pensioner’s larder was awash with cloudy Kilner jars and small explosions.

‘No thanks. Honestly, I’ll be OK in a minute.’

Mrs Wilberforce blew dust from the top of the box. Most of it landed on her upper lip. She looked like John Cleese.

‘Bit of a funny business you’re in for someone who’s scared of spiders, if you ask me. You must spend half your life rooting through people’s sheds and attics and what-have-you looking at their junk. Spiders everywhere, I’d have thought.’

Erin, still trembling, nodded again. Since she’d been working for Uncle Doug, spiders had become a terrifying occupational hazard. She’d passed up on several lucrative deals because the family heirloom in question had more eight-legged protectors than the Vatican City had guards.

She really must get
round to some phobia hypnotherapy. She’d put it on her to-do list.

Just as soon as the wedding was over.

‘I only remembered these Staffs a couple of days ago,’ Mrs Wilberforce said, wrestling with the box’s dusty clasp. ‘Seemed a shame to leave them mouldering in the shed when they might bring me in a few bob. And –’ she surveyed Erin with a wry grin ‘– I wanted to deal with you rather than your Uncle Doug. You’re more likely to give me a fair price. Your Uncle Doug’s such a rogue – I know he’d just say – “Staffordshire pottery figurines? There ain’t much of a market for them. Tell you what, I’ll give you a fiver to take ’em off your hands.” Now wouldn’t he?’

Erin giggled and nodded. He probably would.

As the owner of the Old Curiosity Shop, Doug Boswell had his shelves crammed with other people’s cast-offs – all purchased for a fraction of their worth if he could get away with it.

And much as she adored him, she had to admit that Uncle Doug was well known in and around Nook Green for his ability to charm and wheedle and obtain the lowest price possible.

‘Uncle Doug never cheats anyone, though,’ Erin said stoutly. ‘But he is in business to make a profit. And there’s an awful lot of Staffordshire about. The market’s flooded with certain figures. Not even the Americans want them any more.’

‘Ah,’ Mrs Wilberforce concurred, finally snapping the box open and stepping smartly back from a further cloud of dust, ‘that’s as maybe. But they might want these, mightn’t they?’

Shielding her eyes from the sun, Erin peered cautiously into the box – just in case some other massive arachnid had taken up residence.

Dora Wilberforce clucked her tongue in frustration and shoved the straw
packaging to one side. ‘There you are – not a spider in sight.’

Erin smiled her thanks and looked into the box. Nestled amongst the grubby straw, two sneering highwaymen, with very red lips, a lot of eyeliner, and resplendent in vibrantly hued frock coats, frilly shirts, thigh boots and long curly wigs and brandishing cocked pistols, sat astride two prancing horses – one bay, the other jet black.

They looked like a pair of nineteenth-century Grayson Perrys.

Erin picked each one up carefully, shook off the straw, and turned them round, checking the marks. ‘Flatbacks. About 1840. Dick Turpin and Tom King. Oh, they’re lovely. In perfect condition. Not a mark on them.’

As always, when finding something unexpectedly ancient and lovely, Erin felt a rush of pleasure and thought she had the best job in the world. And, spiders apart, she really enjoyed working for Uncle Doug, and he’d admitted she was pretty good at the valuations.

She looked at Dora. ‘Are you sure you want to get rid of them? They’d look just right on your mantelpiece.’

‘Can’t abide ’em,’ Dora Wilberforce snorted. ‘Belonged to my damn ma-in-law. She had ’em on a shelf in her kitchen. I hated her and I hated them. No, you tell me what they’re worth, young Erin, and I’ll be glad to see ’em go.’

Erin laid the figures carefully back in the box and pushed damp strands of her hair back into the dusty ponytail. She knew Uncle Doug would offer Dora £25 for the pair at most, and Dora would probably be delighted.

‘Well, if you sent them to auction you’d possibly get a really good price. I know some American collectors are paying a lot for these.’

Mrs Wilberforce’s
pale-blue eyes twinkled with delight. ‘Really?’

Erin nodded. ‘Definitely. Shall I give you the details of the local auction houses and –?’

‘No, dear, thank you. It’s far too much faffing around.’ Mrs Wilberforce shook her head. ‘That’s why I gave you a ring. I’d rather have a few quid in me pocket right now. You give me what you think they’re worth to you and we’ll shake hands on it.’

Not sure that she wanted to shake Dora Wilberforce’s hand – not when it had been in very recent contact with that spider – Erin frowned. ‘OK, if you’re sure. Um, I’ll give you a hundred pounds.’

‘Oh, that’s a fortune to me, dear!’ Dora Wilberforce beamed as they shook on the deal. ‘Thank you so much. No doubt your Uncle Doug’ll send ’em to auction and double his money, but I’m more than happy, dear. Cash?’

‘Cash,’ Erin confirmed, flicking her briefcase open and pulling out her laptop and her business wallet. Then she counted out the twenty-pound notes on to the table and filled in the details on the computer.

Dora Wilberforce quickly tucked the money into the pocket of her ox-blood splodged frock. ‘Thank you, dear. Oh, and is that your mobile telephone ringing?’

Erin winced as the
Steptoe and Son
theme tune – Uncle Doug’s idea of a jokey ringtone, which she’d really have to do something about – again, as soon as the wedding was over – echoed from her bag.

Tucking the laptop under one arm and the walnut box under the other, Erin scrabbled for her phone and checked the caller.

Jay. Her heart gave a little skippety-skip of delight.

She looked at
Mrs Wilberforce. ‘It’s Jay. Do you mind …?’

‘Not at all, dear. You go ahead. I’m not one to stand in the way of young love.’

‘Hi.’ Erin answered the call, beaming. ‘No – I’ve just finished at Mrs Wilberforce’s. Yes, it did take a bit longer than I’d planned, but there was a spider – no, don’t laugh! Not funny! I’ve got to take the stuff back to the shop and catalogue it, then –
? When? Oh, Lordy … Yes, of course – um – it’ll be lovely … But can we get a table? Oh, have you – that’s lucky … How? Right, are you? OK, I’ll drive myself over. I’ll see you there, then. Love you, too. Bye.’

‘Problems?’ Dora Wilberforce asked cheerfully.

Erin shrugged, pushing her phone back into her bag. ‘No – well, not really. Jay’s parents have been in Reading on business and have finished early and want to meet us for lunch on their way back to Birmingham.’

‘That sounds lovely, dear.’

‘Mmmm.’ Erin nodded. ‘It is. But they want to meet us at the Swan. And as Jay’s finished surgery and is already in Maizey St Michael on a house call, he’s managed to get a table and –’

Dora beamed. ‘Ah, the Swan’s where you’re getting married, dear, isn’t it? Have Jay’s mum and dad been there before?’

‘No. And we really didn’t want them to see it before the wedding. We wanted it to come as a lovely surprise.’

‘I expect they’ll want to see it, though, dear. They’ll be so excited … and they’re bound to love it, aren’t they?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Erin said happily. ‘They’ll absolutely adore it. There’s no doubt about that.’

Chapter Four

‘Wow!’ Jay pulled
Erin into his arms and kissed her. ‘You look amazing.’

‘Thanks.’ She kissed him back, wondering dizzily if she’d ever get tired of kissing him and knowing that she wouldn’t. Never. Ever. ‘I had to make some sort of an effort for your parents.’

In a remarkably short time, she’d managed to rush home, shower off the grime from Dora’s shed, wash her hair, change into a floaty blue and lilac summer dress, and even remembered mascara, blusher, a slick of lip gloss and a carefully measured squirt of her beloved Prada Candy.

Lunch at the Swan meant being suitably dressed; lunch at the Swan in the achingly elegant company of ma-in-law-to-be, Deena Keskar, meant pulling out as many sartorial stops as possible.

Erin peered round the Swan’s car park for the Keskars’ Mercedes. The sun glimmered and shimmered from a mass of expensively gleaming paintwork, but not, as far as she could see, Tavish Keskar’s pride and joy.

‘I can’t see
the car, aren’t they here yet?’

Jay shook his head. ‘No – and you mean all this gorgeous girly stuff and make-up isn’t for my benefit?’

‘Nah, course not.’ She giggled. ‘Why would I make any effort for you? We’re getting married in six weeks – I’ve captured you – it’s all downhill from here. You won’t see me in anything except trackie bottoms and dirty T-shirts once that ring’s on my finger.’

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