“But he promised.” Paul’s face fell, “he promised to come every Sunday to see me.”
“I’m sorry darling, he’s had to go to some conference, it’s important. He sends his love, he’ll see you next weekend.” Evie sighed as her nephew ran up to his room, slamming the door behind him. Edward, she felt, could have given more consideration to his son, particularly on this, his first weekend. He was missing his sister, missing his father and had been looking forward to the reassurance of a visit from the latter.
“I hate cabbage, it’s disgusting,” Paul poked at the pale green vegetable as if it was mould.
“Don’t eat it then Paul.” Evie spoke mildly, recognising the mood as an expression of disappointment.
“I don’t want it on my plate. It makes me feel sick looking at it.”
Evie calmly scraped the cabbage from his plate on to her own.
“It’s made everything else taste cabbagey,” Paul was determined to be awkward.
“Don’t be silly Paul,” Thomas glared crossly at his nephew who had whined and complained non-stop since Edward had telephoned to postpone his visit.
“I want something else. I don’t like Sunday dinner. I want a sandwich.”
“You’re not getting a sandwich,” Thomas’ reserves of patience were close to expiring, “you’ve got a perfectly good dinner there. Stop griping and eat it up.”
“I don’t want it!”
“Go to your room then, so we at least can eat in peace.”
“I don’t want to go to my room.”
Thomas deposited Paul straight on to his bed. “Don’t come downstairs until you’re in a better temper.” He closed the door firmly behind him.
Paul pulled a face at the back of the bedroom door, he was rather taken aback, he had been removed from the table without ceremony.
“I’m hungry, I want a biscuit.”
“ I thought uncle Thomas told you not to come down until you were in a better temper.” Evie kept her eyes on the complicated knitting pattern she was working on.
“But I’m hungry.”
“You’ll just have to wait until tea time Paul. You’re not snacking on biscuits when you didn’t eat your dinner.”
“I’ll have a sandwich then. I can make it myself, I do at home.”
“No. This isn’t a café run for your convenience. You’ll eat at the specified times, or not at all.”
“It’s not fair.”
Evie last count of her stitches and glared at him crossly. “Stop making a nuisance of yourself Paul.”
“Where are uncle Thomas and Martin?”
“Gone to the park for a game of cricket.”
“I’m going to call for Lollie.”
“No, young man, you are not.”
“Because I said so, that’s why.”
“You’re not my mother. You can’t stop me doing what I want to do.”
“You’re not calling for Laura today. Sunday is a family day, for her as well as us.” Evie got to the end of the row of knitting, stabbing the needles into the ball of wool. “Come on, put that sulky face away. We’ll walk to the park and join Martin and your uncle for a game. It’s a crime to stay indoors on a beautiful afternoon like this.”
“You did that on purpose!”
“I DID NOT!”
“You did, and now you’ve lost my favourite ball,” Martin scowled at Paul, who pulled a mocking face. “Cricket is a boring game anyway,” he threw the bat down on the grass.
“You can find my ball, you hit it into the bushes.”
“Find it yourself, and,” Paul picked up the bat, hurling it in the direction the ball had taken, “find your stupid bat while you’re at it.”
Thomas turned cool blue eyes on his nephew, “go and retrieve Martin’s bat immediately, then help him look for the ball.”
His voice was sharp and Paul didn’t dare refuse, uncertain as to how far he could push this man who looked so much like his own father.
“I’ll buy you a new ball Martin, stop fussing.” Evie was regretting her decision to bring Paul to the park. His petulant behaviour had spoiled the game that Martin and Thomas had been enjoying. It had spoiled her Sunday afternoon too.
Martin scowled. He didn’t want a new ball, he wanted his old one, he’d just got it nicely polished up. Walking behind his cousin, he began loosely swinging the bat in his hand.
“Ouch,” Paul yelped, “he keeps digging his bat into my leg aunt Evie.”
“Give me that!” Thomas wrested the bat from his son’s hand, “walk in front where I can keep an eye on you.” He glanced at Evie; blowing out his cheeks slightly and shaking his head, “roll on September.” She grinned and tucked her arm through his. He patted her hand affectionately as they headed home, enjoying the sunshine and trying to ignore the sly pushing and shoving going on in front of them. A particularly vigorous shove sent Martin stumbling forwards. He just managed to save himself fro sprawling headlong.
Thomas glanced down at his wife, “early night for a certain someone?”
“Definitely,” she answered, “straight after tea I think.”
Paul was outraged, “but that’s not fair.”
“You’ve been a pest all weekend, and we’re not putting up with it any longer.”
Martin poked out a gleeful tongue as his scowling cousin stomped past him to go upstairs to bed.
“And you’ll be joining him if I see any more of that.”
Martin adopted a look of purity.
“He wouldn’t come, I told him it was lunch time, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“What do you mean, he wouldn’t come?”
“I mean he wouldn’t come,” Martin glared angrily at his mother. Didn’t it speak for itself, Paul wasn’t here, he wouldn’t come home, what more could he say?
“Just look at you,” blazed Evie, flicking a hand at him, as if swatting at a fly. “Just look at the state of your clothes.”
He glanced down at himself, “it’s only a bit of dirt.” It was a mistake, he should have kept quiet. His mother erupted.
Martin let out a cry of grief as the backs of his bare legs were soundly slapped.
“A bit of dirt,” she raged, red faced with fury, “a bit of dirt! That’s three times this week you’ve come home late and looking as if you’ve been wallowing in mud.” She didn’t know how close to the truth she actually was. “Do you think I’ve got nothing better to do than make lunches that don’t get eaten and wash muddy clothes? Those shorts were brand new, you naughty boy!” Ignoring his tears, she grabbed his hand and whisked him out of the house. “Show me where Paul is,” she demanded, marching down the avenue as if she was going to war, “I’m sick and tired of this nonsense.”
Paul, ankle deep in muddy water, got a shock as his happy wallowing was cut short by a firm hand on his collar. He yelled angrily as he was hauled out of the narrow beck, then he saw who was it was, “hello auntie Evie, I was just coming, honest I was.” He gave what he hoped was a winning smile. It wasn’t.
“Get those dirty clothes off, both of you. I don’t want that filth tramped all over my clean home,” shouted Evie as soon as she got them indoors. Their feet had barely touched the ground on the return journey and both boys were slightly out of puff.
Martin hastily obeyed. She was angry, really angry. His mother seldom shouted and he wasn’t about to argue, not with the ghost of her handprints still lingering on his skinny little legs. He stripped off, dropping his mud encrusted clothing on to the scullery floor before scampering upstairs to the bathroom as instructed.
Paul opened his mouth, “you’re not my mother. You can’t tell me what to do,” he stamped a foot, his mud filled sandal squelching wetly. “You spoiled my…” he got no further. His t-shirt was whipped up over his head, his shorts and underpants were whipped down and his aunt’s hand spanked his bare backside.
“Don’t answer me back young man. Don’t you dare!”
“I’m getting washed mummy.” Martin turned panic filled eyes on her as she stormed into the bathroom, dragging a naked, howling Paul in her wake. The pink soap he was frantically trying to raise lather from, was as unyielding as a stone. The sink, that had been sparkling white that morning, was now streaked with brown rivulets, as were the tiles around the sink. Evie was a house-proud woman; the sight distressed her, adding fuel to her still burning rage. Poor Martin squealed afresh as her hand left an autograph on each of his buttocks. His tears didn’t even have time to trickle as an expert flannel whooshed over his face, hands and knees.
“Pyjamas,” snapped Evie.
Martin needed no second bidding.
The flannel administered to Paul with such vigour, that he felt as if he had sunburn all over, so brightly was his skin glowing.
“In.” Evie pulled back the sheets. Paul climbed in without further ado. He would rather wrestle with a tiger than do anything that might inflame this woman further.
Martin had already put himself to bed, curling up under the sheets, only his nose and eyes visible.
“Not a single, solitary word do I want to hear coming from this room, this afternoon.” Evie waved a finger between the two beds. “Is that perfectly clear?” The vehement nodding of one blonde and one dark head assured her that her message had been heard. She swept out.
Somewhat shell shocked, the two little boys lay quietly, snivelling and listening to the sound of the bathroom being returned to a state of pristine cleanliness. They heard her footsteps descend the stairs, her voice expressing annoyance as muddy signatures, marking their journey from scullery to bathroom, came to her notice.
Paul spoke first, or rather whispered, “will she make us stay in bed all afternoon?”
Martin shrugged, “don’t know, she’s in an awful temper, so she might.” He was more than a little frightened by her anger.
“But I’m hungry, and Laura will wonder where I am, when she goes back to the beck and finds I’ve left without finishing the damn.”
“It’s your fault that mummy is so angry. You should have come home for lunch when I told you to. You just wanted to stay cos Laura was staying.” Martin glared at Paul, he suspected him of trying to hijack his position as Laura’s best friend and confidante. “You know that she likes us to be punctual for meals.”
Paul sighed as Martin turned his back on him. He wondered if he dared get up to go to the lavatory. He had never witnessed his usually calm and softly spoken aunt in such a rage. It was the first time she had ever smacked him and he had been scared, really scared. Reaching a hand under his pillow he groped for his comforter, but it wasn’t there; then he remembered that he had taken it out with him.
Evie filled the sink in the scullery with hot soapy water, still muttering crossly to herself and refusing to give in to the urge to sit down and weep. She didn’t want to weep, not yet; she wanted to be angry, angry, angry! She would do the clothes by hand. It would help work off some of her temper, scrubbing at the mud stains on what were relatively new shorts and t-shirts. She certainly wasn’t going to get out the machine for a handful of clothing. Pointless, that’s what it was, washing, ironing the same old job week in and week out. A noise startled her, she looked up sharply. “I don’t recall giving you permission to come downstairs?”
Paul swallowed; her humour didn’t seem to have improved much. “Sorry aunt Evie, I think I’ve left something in the pocket of my shorts, a toy car.”
“I’ve just put them in the sink to soak,” she clicked her tongue with exasperation, “go back to bed. I’ll look for it in a moment.”
The sound of the doorknocker reverberating down the hall made her look crosser than ever. “I know who that will be. Why she has to thump the knocker like that is beyond me. She must assume we’re all deaf.” Her heels clicked smartly across the stone flagged scullery floor, before being muffled by the runner in the hall.
Paul took his chance, fishing for his shorts in the painfully hot suds.
“No Laura, the boys are not playing out again today…no, you may not come in. Go home, they’ll see you another day.” Evie firmly closed the door. “Well, why are you still standing there?”
Paul took the stairs two at a time, jumping back into bed. He inspected his prize.
The crystal necklace was unharmed by its dunking in hot water, in fact it sparkled more beautifully than ever. Paul touched it gently, admiring the little flashes of colour. He closed his eyes, rubbing it against his cheek, imagining his mother was stroking his face. It had become his talisman, his connection to her. It was Paul’s own secret. He had taken it on the day of the funeral. While everyone was eating and drinking and speaking in subdued tones, Paul had crept upstairs to his parent’s bedroom, searching. A shaft of spring sunshine, shining through the window made the beads flash. For a wild, hopeful moment Paul had thought his mother was sitting at the dressing table, but she wasn’t. His mummy had been laid in that awful, deep hole in the ground. They had come away and left her there all alone. The beads lay glittering on the dark wood dressing table and he had picked them up, their cool beauty a reminder of her. Deep in Paul’s mind was a hope that one day his mother would come back for her favourite beads.
To be continued....
Copyright Ester Phillips / Cat 2007 -2015