Read Blind Date Online

Authors: Frances Fyfield

Blind Date

Dedication

To Audrey Murray. A smasher.

Nothing in fiction could do her justice.

Acknowledgements

Thanks go to David Ralston, surgeon, Roger and Susan Hawkes, of Hawkes of Lymington Limited, and to Steven Lee for introducing me. Also to Geoffrey Hawkes (no relation) and Charles Saunders, both of CPS, for their help and their contacts and their enormous patience. And, at the other end of the process, last but never least, Ursula Mackenzie and Alison Tulett, inspirational editors
par excellence
, who made me think as well as revise.

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

About Frances Fyfield

Also by Frances Fyfield

Copyright

About the Publisher

Epigraph

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

S
HAKESPEARE's
The Tempest

PROLOGUE

“T
en to
four? I didn't realize the time! Do come in.” That was what she would say, hoping to sound sincere, ready to watch whoever it was carry muddy autumn rain into her house.

A small boy was at her heels, a duster clutched in his fist. He did this whenever she was cleaning: following her, being useful and anxious to please. He was too old for such copycat behaviour: acting like a baby. This morning and this afternoon they were doing windows from the inside, paintwork and the kitchen. Wherever she drifted, and dusted, he did it again: then touched it, smeared it and often ruined the effect. She did not mind and he did not care. He was content, biddable as long as he had her to himself and she listened to him.

What a trap she had made for herself, with all this domestic coviviality. The business of keeping open house was sometimes arduous. She remembered some stupid invitation to tea, saw the face through the window. Tea, for God's sake; as if she was her mother. Instead of a bored housewife, decades younger. Then she felt an odd squirming in her stomach, panic, because nothing was going well today, nothing had gone well for quite some time. She was suddenly afraid to let anyone in, no matter who they were, and muttered her resentment to the boy. In the same breath she yelled, “HANG ON A MINUTE,” through the door. “Be with you in a SECOND: I can't find the key.” As if she would ever lose it. She wanted time before she answered her door. Never mind the house, she could do with a lick of paint herself, but politeness and reputation dictated that she open the door. They were never strangers after all: they were always the groups and the invited singles of her wonderful friends; the antidote to a dutiful, frugal husband and a predictable life.

All the same,
as soon as she recognized the face through the blur of the glass set eye level in their panelled door, she felt fear. Nonsense, she did not know what fear was and this could not be fear in the primal state: it was merely fear of boredom and embarrassment, surely. She checked her watch. Time for the boy's dose of rubbishy TV. She was tearing off the last of the rings she wore and placing them into his pyjama pocket. Eight years old and he still loved fiddling with her rings. He should not have been wearing pyjamas at this time of day and she was ashamed of that, too. As much ashamed of dismissing him as she was of his willingness to go. You must not bribe the boy with television, her mother said, but he was already bribed into obedience. He was on his safe and resigned way upstairs, but that was not why, as soon as she opened the door, she knew the same fear. It had nothing to do with him.

Eight. The boy was
out of sight, out of mind, and she was smiling. “Sorry about the mess,” she said, whizzing round, plumping up cushions, looking at her own bare arms, red hands, messy hair. She smiled a lot. It was second nature. She knew it enhanced a natural beauty.

“Tea? I'll make tea. That's what I was doing.”

But there was no tea and only stale biscuits to eat. It could not have been more obvious that she had forgotten the invitation, and, in the crossness which infected her movements, it was equally apparent that she had, at that moment and the hour to follow, far better, more important things to do. She dropped a cup, wishing she had thrown it, furious with herself for being
nice.

“Where are your lovely rings today, sweetheart?”

The playthings of her underdeveloped son. He buried them in sand to tease her; threaded them on wool as if he was a baby. The voice from the kitchen entrance managed to sound both wheedling and masculine. The volume from the radio in the lounge seemed to be louder.

“Rings? Ha, ha! No, they don't go with housework. I've sold them. I'm fed up with possessions. Moving house makes me want to live in a tent, with nothing.”

Where was the damned tea, and how could she make the biscuits appear edible? To hell with it; offer wine instead, make it easier all round.

“Here, open that, could you? Thanks.”

“Where's your lovely little boy, then?”

“Out.”

And she knew, as soon as she said that, how the fear was entirely real, because there was absolutely no need for such a lie.

“You haven't given me a hug.” A hand touched her shoulder. She could not help flinching and she turned, her long blond hair flicking a face, and her whole body a gesture of apology. It was too late.

“You hate
me, don't you?” The voice was heavy with resignation.

“What! No, no, of course not, I love you to bits!”

“No, you don't.”

“Let me get past. Don't be silly. Please.” She ducked under an outstretched arm.

The first blow to the back of her neck hit the hand she had raised to smooth her hair, stunned her, sending her crashing forward. She scarcely felt the second blow at all. Then she was scratching, clawing, rolling away. She pulled and pushed and moaned and howled and fought; biting, trying to evade, getting weaker, gritting her teeth to stop herself from screaming the boy's name as the blows broke her fingers.
I must not yell his name:
he is not here.

She shrieked instead for her mother and for Lizzie and her own husband, in that order, but she did not yell for her son and she did not scream for long. The black plastic bag came down round her throat; good, thick plastic, designed for the thorns of garden rubbish, hiding her face and her neck. And that was the point when she lost the will, as well as the means, to resist. She struggled for breath and could not find it.

Then the kicking: judging the distance, kick; changing the angle, kick; kick, kick and then stamp: deliberate, ritualistic. A pause for breath; listening to the unusual sound of solid, walking shoes on bone, sinew and flesh, until all twitching, all responses ceased.

It took some time, this relatively quiet death. There was the sound of the radio downstairs, a television upstairs. She always liked to be surrounded by sound, even though television was severely rationed. No boy of mine will be brought up that way.

E
ven with this, and the images on the screen, zapping each other in cartoon death, he knew something terrible was happening. Why didn't she call for him? The walls seemed to tremble and close in on him, paralysing him. It was too hot in his room. He squeezed his eyes tight shut, pressed the rings into the palm of his hand and turned his face into the pillow.

Someone
came upstairs, opened the door, looked in and closed it again, softly. After that, he could not move at all. It was out of the question. So he held onto the rings, squeezing them so tight it almost hurt, and waited.

Chapter
ONE

“…
the
weather forecast for today is sunny in the southwest. Maybe showers later …”

“Turn that off!” Elisabeth Kennedy shouted.

People die in summer, although this family prefers other seasons. But I am not dead like my sister, merely disabled. If only he had used a knife. Then, Mummy, I could have died and gone to heaven. And you could have had a lovely funeral. Mary would have worn a mournful hat to hide her lack of tears; you would be dressed in deep blue, crying all the time. And afterwards, you would have made of me a plaster saint, painted in beautiful colours, told the world I was the soul of virtue, a child of talent, sweetness and light. Well, I am not. Nor was I stabbed through the heart in a romantic crime of passion. He used caustic fluid, which is what you use for cleaning out ovens. And that says it all.

I can safely say
that no-one has ever loved me with quite such intensity.

There is a view of the sea from this window, calm and clear today, the route towards the sea through Mummy's garden. Mrs. Diana Kennedy is out there, barbering a flowerbed. A gate goes from the other end of the garden onto the cliff path, and from there, I can hear the sound of a child squealing at the water: I hope the little wretch gets wet. There are cut flowers by my bed, heavy, green curtains round the window and a pleasant breeze. Last year, the street on the other side won the prize for the best kept seaside village in the south. They dead-head the roses as soon as one petal turns brown. The place stinks, and the church bell strikes, every hour, on the hour, one, two, three, four … nine.

The door to the bedroom opened a crack, revealing a head before a body and then Matthew, Elisabeth's nephew, preceded by the cat.

“Get that bloody creature out of here!”

Matt scooped the cat into his arms, dumped it outside and slammed the door without ceremony. Then he thumped down on the end of the bed and looked at her critically. He never could avoid staring; and she was always faintly relieved by his consistent failure to disguise his curiosity.

“Someone phoned for you,” he said. “I told them it was too early for me to go and dig you up out of the garden.”

“Who was it?”

He rolled his eyes. “I dunno. Just someone. What's the matter? I can't help it if you look like you've been buried.”

“Who was
it, Matt?”

“Nobody. I made it up. Gran sent me to play with you, so,” he shrugged his shoulders, “here I am. It's a beautiful day,” he added, longingly, “in case you noticed.”

“And you want to be out?”

“Yup. But I mustn't. I have to sit with you.”

“Tell her I'm still asleep. I'll pretend.”

He leapt to his feet, punched the air, “Yeah!,” and then he had the grace to blush.

“Wait a mo'. Are you going up to see Audrey and Donald later?”

He shuffled. “I might.”

“All right, then.”

I love that child, Elisabeth Kennedy told herself, listening to his heavy steps taking the stairs down, three by three. Love him. Love his precocity, his way with words and his grown-up behaviour, his polite remarks about the weather. He has the manners of a bereaved child who has grown up round adults rather than other children. No other child of ten would remark upon the beauty of the day. He is the energetic dreamer who has filled his own world with imaginary companions. I love him so much, he shouldn't be in the same room as me; he deserves better. Because I am
not
loveable and I can quite see why.

She got up, padded clumsily. Unlike the cat, which had used Matt's exit as an excuse to return, there was no delicate economy of movement in her steps. She wanted to raise her arms above her head and stretch; wanted to reach down her back and scratch where the puckered pink scar itched like crazy, but the simplest pleasures defied her. She looked towards the enticing blue of the sea and heard the chuck, chuck of her mother's trowel in the flowerbed below, the genteel voice softly scolding, “Oh, really, dear, what has made you flop sideways? I wish you wouldn't …” Elisabeth's loathing of the summer sun filled her head with a growl.

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