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Eviction from Quarry Cottages

Eviction from Quarry Cottages

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Eviction from Quarry Cottages

324 Seiten
4 Stunden
16. Jan. 2010


John Cox is killed. Wife Bridget hangs on in the tithe cottage. Farmer wants her out. Union offers help. Daughter Sarah watches. Adultery, betrayals, another fatal accident, a crippling, grief, care, clumsiness, canoeing, love... all follow. Oh and there's a rabbit, some hens, and a cat called Spud.

16. Jan. 2010

Über den Autor

Editor of The Journal (once 'of Contemporary Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry')and publisher of Original Plus books, I was born Blackpool 1946, have ended up living in a Welsh valley. Prior to picking up my state pension I almost made a living as a freelance writer/publisher/editor. My last day job was as an amusement arcade cashier, I have also been a psychiatric nurse, residential social worker, milkman, plumber, laboratory analyst, groundsman, sailor, computer operator, scaffolder, gardener, painter & decorator........ working at anything, in fact, which has paid the rent, enabled me to raise my three daughters and which hasn't got too much in the way of my writing. I now have several poetry collections and novels to my name.

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Eviction from Quarry Cottages - Sam Smith

Chapter One

The green vale floor is walled by sets of hills, also green. Some of these enclosing hills are the sides of plateaux, steps up to other levels. Some of the hills are long spines, like screens, dividing one section of the vale from another. While other of the hills are mere knolls.

A broad motorway snails through this section of the vale floor. On either side of the grey motorway, among a geometry of fields, streams and rivers wind towards and away from bridges. Where rivers and streams themselves cannot be seen their courses are marked by rounded alders and tall poplars, crack willows and the occasional oak.

Major and minor roads go over the river bridges; and on over those other bridges that are angled across the black stitching of paired railway tracks. The railway tracks pass through two towns. Between and beyond the brown-white speckling of the towns are ribbon-clusters of villages, with — here and there — single houses in their own gardens, and the grey roof acreage of working farms.

This section of the vale floor is not wholly level. Small dips and rises grant or obscure vistas. On one partially wooded hillock, near the southern hills, is a pair of cottages eye-magnet white. In front of the white cottages are long sloping gardens. The backs of the cottages are dark with algae and moss. Letterboxes are set into the thin back doors, cold to the touch. Directly across the much repaired road a bank of black-green ivy and flat-leafed ferns rise up to leaning over boughs of ash and spindly hazel. Just visible at the top of the bank is the barbed wire of the field beyond. This time of the year the trees over and around the two cottages still have their leaves, although yellow-edged. The fields are cropped pale.

A narrow road rises up out of the surrounding vale fields and goes up under the woods behind the cottages.

Along this road, between box-clipped hedges, comes a mud-splashed landrover. It stops in the pull-in at the sloping rear of the two cottages. The driver takes his time getting out.

He is a large man, purple face, white hair, legs seeming short under his belly. He looks over the back of both cottages. Being in under the woods, getting little direct light, the white walls of the cottages and even the windows are spotted with black mould.

In the man’s stance is indecision.

A movement in the cottage to his right has him go to the back door and tap.

A thin woman, late thirties — white blouse, straight skirt — saw him coming, has quickly answered his tap. Their low-voiced conversation is accompanied by frowns. She puts a hand to her mouth. He partly raises both hands in a gesture of helplessness. She, lips tightened, nods.

In his turning away from her, there is an unwillingness. He goes towards next door as if walking against a wind.

Mrs Bryant, the thin woman, leans out from her doorway to watch. Mr Parsons winces at the sharp clack-clack of the brass dolphin knocker on this second door.

The woman who opens this door is younger and rounder than Mrs Bryant. Her name is Bridget. Mr Parsons calls her Bridget. Behind her in the kitchen is the tinny sound of a radio talking.

Her polite smile of greeting at Mr Parsons becomes fixed in her initial glance over him.

John, her husband, has joked about this businessman farmer’s perpetually clean wellingtons and boilersuit, a working uniform which in winter is accompanied by a tweed jacket and a flat cap. Today the jacket and boilersuit are coated in mud, the thickest smears still dark wet, the thinnest drying pink.

This normally puffed up man, stands there meek today in his farmer’s reek of diesel. John manages the farm shop, comes home bearing the taint of carrots, pepper scent of dried soil. Parsons, reluctant this day in this volunteered for role of bringer-of-bad-tidings, seems to be hiding inside himself.

There's been an awful accident, he says.

Chapter Two

Bridget was helping Sarah with her homework — a project on the environment. The school has a wild garden, pond and birdtable; runs a wastepaper collection service once a month, proceeds going to the school funds. Sarah is skinny, black-haired and ten.

She is picked by a sleeve from the living room floor, is told by her mother — the words flying down about her — that she is to go next door to Mrs Bryant while she goes to the hospital with Mr Parsons to see her father.

Can't I come with you?

No. He's only got the landrover.

I'll sit in your lap.

No. Take your homework with you.

Sarah finds herself stepping over next door's threshold, Mrs Bryant closing the door behind her and looking down with a kind face. Mrs Bryant's face is usually drawn and sharp. She is either silent or she shouts at her sons. Or she laughs loudly at them. Public laughter. Laughter meant to be heard, all behaviour acceptable so long as it is in an advert somewhere. Both sons are taller than her.

Sarah stands in the gleaming kitchen. This is different from her kitchen. Here is white strip light. Next door is a yellow bulb; and pans hung from hooks, brown clay pots with dried flowers in them; strings of onions knock against the back door. In her house washing machine and fridge don't match, and the fridge has magnetic letters stuck all over it. Here everything is in the barefaced cupboards. Worktops are clean.

Come into the living room Sarah. Mrs Bryant practises saying her name.

Her own name is Maureen. She wears synthetic materials, skirts and blouses flat and pressed, hair permed and curled. Bridget ties Sarah’s frizzy hair back, wears bulky clothes in dull colours, cotton pleats and folds.

This living room has a fitted fawn carpet, matching black velour three piece suite. Next door they have shined floorboards — patterns of yellow new among brown old — and rugs like islands; an old settee covered with a blanket of knitted squares, two odd chairs and a red beanbag. Here Ben sits in an armchair, legs stuck out before him, watching a soap. Next door soaps are disapproved of.

Ben is seventeen, drives and polishes his own yellow car, takes it to pieces, revs the engine, plays the stereo loud.

Sarah’s come in with us for a minute, Mrs Bryant tells him. Till her mother gets back from the hospital.

Ben glances over to Sarah, lifts his chin. He is doing a mechanic’s course at the college, has hands ingrained with oil.

Having lifted his chin, in lowering it, Ben nods slowly, without smiling. He does that in his car — looks at people and, without expression, nods.

Embarrassed now by his silence, by his not asking what has happened, though she won't tell him in front of Sarah, Mrs Bryant asks Sarah if she has eaten.

I had some tea thank you. Sarah remembers her manners.

A clump-clump above is followed by a banging on the stairs, mirror-placed to her house. She recognises the sound from next door — but louder here — knows now that it is Simon. (Alone in the cottage it can sound like someone on her stairs.)

Simon is a year younger than Ben, has a new motorbike. He opens his eyes wide to Sarah whenever he sees her. He used to have a mountain bike, now does show-off wiggles on his motorbike.

Wheeling off the stairs he nearly bumps into her.

Clumsy git, Ben says as Simon steps around her.

Least I don't, Simon whisks his hand across the top of Ben's gelled hair, reverse into six foot walls.

Ben ducks aside and snarls, Least I don't run out of petrol.

Now you two, Mrs Bryant, as is her custom, says.

Mrs Bryant is also making eye signals over Sarah's head to Simon. He's trying to read her message, gives up. Sarah feels small and in the way in this house.

What you doing here? Simon asks her.

Sarah has never before been spoken directly to by either of the sons. Simon’s voice is softer than she can remember hearing it before.

There’s been an accident. She uses her precise school voice, My father’s in hospital.

Why don't you help Sarah with her homework? Mrs Bryant makes more faces at Simon.

I've nearly finished it. Thank you. Sarah lies. Her mother is of the opinion that their neighbours — with their motorbikes and cars, and their trips to Cash’n Carry — are not environmentally friendly. Her mother has a bicycle with a basket.

Sit you down now. Whatever Simon says he says in a different accent. Take the weight off those feet. Watch the telly. That was one of the voices Sarah has heard him use before.

Still holding her books Sarah sits on the sofa. She obediently looks at the telly. Ben hasn't moved. Simon and Mrs Bryant go whispering into the kitchen.

This side of the house has a different smell too. Sarah can't put a name to it. New?

Through the window the view of the darkening vale — single orange streetlights, clusters further off — is the same as from next door. The curtains are different. Straighter. And this window does not have a stained glass mobile turning before it, nor a rainbow sticker bottom right. Dusk condensing into night is as other evenings.

Chapter Three

Parsons is not a man Bridget is used to talking to. She has said too much about him, as employer and landlord, to be at ease in his company. Prior to this they have exchanged only pleasantries in passing. Not that she is now given a chance to talk.

On getting into the landrover she was told to do up her seat-belt.

For the first mile, feeling fat and incompetent, being bounced along in the closed space of the cab, she can't find the buckle under her.

Have you got it yet? Got it? Even when he’s not saying anything Bridget can sense the disapproval emanating, along with the damp earth and sweat smell, from the bulk of Parsons. He, although blue is still in the dark sky, is intent on dipping and flicking his lights on every dusky bend.

Time she has the seat-belt buckled Parsons is concentrating on the junction into the main road. Once through the evening queue, however, and out into the stream, up through the gears, he has to talk.

What happened? Bridget’s voice is loud in the whining cab.

Parsons stays hunched over the steering wheel and his belly.

John, he says, pauses breathless, came out to help us with the swedes.

John often leaves the yard shop to help out on the farm. Mrs Parsons or the girl in the office will answer the shop bell. In the holidays Sarah helps in the shop. Often though John simply shuts up shop and goes, says he enjoys the change.

Parsons’ profile is silhouetted turn by turn by the passing cars. Bridget notes the ‘help us’: Parsons would not have been doing anything other than watching.

A rotor arm broke. One in a million chance. Under cover of a space of dark she feels him glance towards her. He fixes his eyes back on the road. One in a million.

How is he?

They come under the first orange slipping-by shadows of the streetlights. The hospital is this side of town.

End of the rotor arm hit him. Caught him here. He takes his hand from the steering wheel to point to his chest. Puts his thick-fingered hand back on the steering wheel. One in a million chance.

He pauses for the roundabout. No traffic. Goes on.

John got knocked off, went under the cropper. Time Pete saw it, time Pete could stop, John was in a bad way. Has taken the ambulance crew — fire brigade were called out too — had to lay down planks so they could jack the cropper up... Took the ambulance crew two hours to get him out. Then I came straight up.... straight up to get you.

Parsons dithers over where he is allowed to park in the hospital grounds. The day staff having left there are many empty spaces.

Here, Bridget tells him.

Parsons is about to object — the space has a blue-on-white sign saying reserved — but the urgency of Bridget's command overcomes his respect for things official.

He is slower than her getting out of the cab, seems to be having difficulty remembering which key locks the door.

I'll go on. Bridget starts towards the double-doored entrance.

Wait! He quickly locks the door. They said they'd meet us here.

Who? They walk together.

Ambulance crew.

Nervous, Parsons takes charge going through the double doors, bends to the glass panel of the receptionist.

I've brought Mrs Cox in, he quietly tells her.

Having just looked up from a screen the receptionist takes a moment recognising the name.

I'll fetch a nurse, she says. Bridget’s mother is a casualty receptionist in a London hospital. This receptionist is younger and slimmer.

How is he? Bridget asks Parsons. The broad back is turned from her,

Ah. Here they come.

The ambulanceman and woman still have mud on their tunic trousers, smears and spots on their shirts.

The small nurse is clean in blue and white check.

This way Mrs Cox, she says.

Bridget is not led, as her feet expected, to the cubicles behind reception, but along a corridor beside them. On a ward, she thinks. They turn into another corridor. The nurse, in flat black shoes, is walking quickly. Parsons has on flapping wellingtons. Bridget is wearing trainers, catches up with the nurse.

How is he?

The nurse, small and dark-haired, frowns up at her, glances back to Parsons who, seeing the look coming, has puffing lowered his white head. In memory’s eye Bridget sees, among the last batch of signs pointing this way, one saying Morgue.

He’s dead, she says, hears herself say it.

The three professionals, steady-eyed, watch her, wait to gauge her responses. Parsons, in leaning one-armed against a corridor wall to catch his breath, avoids meeting her eye. As he had avoided looking at her on the way over, as he had avoided telling her. From the ambulanceman’s one glance his way he had been expecting Parsons to have told her.

In that bright hospital corridor, listening to her own breath coming hard and fast from the hurrying, she is angry at Parsons’ duplicity, at his cowardly fear of telling her, at his shameful pity for her now. She sees too the professional pity of the little nurse and the ambulance crew; and in that moment she decides that she doesn’t want their pity, that she will not allow them to pity her.

Chapter Four

The nurse reaches out a set of clean pink fingernails towards Bridget’s forearm. The ambulancewoman is coming up beside her. Bridget steps away from them, onward.

How long has he been dead? Facts now are what matter to her. The ambulanceman catches up,

We had a pulse right up, he skips a pace to keep step with her, right up until we got him in the ambulance.

Bridget was then helping Sarah with her homework: He was unconscious?

Bridget is setting the speed now, leading the way, watches visiting others look at the mud caked on Parsons and on the ambulance crew, watches them politely/furtively look away.

Can't say for certain, the ambulanceman is choosing his words, but I’d say he was unconscious before he hit the ground. He is being kind.

A policeman and a policewoman — a world of professional pairs, Bridget thinks — are waiting outside the door that says Morgue. (Hospitals have labels for all human conditions and body parts.) The policeman is standing. The policewoman is sitting on the edge of a plastic armchair, starts to rise on their approach. A vase of dried flowers here, on a low table.

The policeman asks Bridget her name; and it is they who accompany her, with the nurse, into the morgue.

The body — and it is already a body, breathless under a white sheet — is on a trolley to one side of the room.

Would you like to see him? the nurse asks, head to one side.

Bridget knows that they want her to see the body in order that she identify it. A dead person cannot fill in forms, answer questions. Bridget cannot say this, nods. The nurse lifts the sheet back, a bedmaker’s movements, fingers and thumbs.

She folds the sheet back only as far as the shoulders. Globs of mud have flattened the curly hair. The thin face — John’s/not John’s — is empty of life, of John’s animation. Gone the spring of John’s energy. She has seen him asleep many times — snoring, drunk, ill, in fevered dreaming — had known that he would awake. This will never awake.

It’s John, she says.

John Cox? the policeman, pedant of necessity, says. The policewoman’s expression hardens. The nurse, Bridget feels, wants something more from her. A tear? Angry outburst?

All the professionals are watching her again. She looks over the sheeted length of the body. The fatal damage must be all around the chest area. She can see cuts and rips in the check shirt, part of its collar blood-soaked.

John Cox, she says. The words provoke no response in herself, unstop no tears, spark no anger.

We'll clean him up later, the nurse says. Bridget lets herself be guided back into the corridor, other people passing incurious.

Chapter Five

Ben shouts at something on the sports news. Sarah, still sat on the edge of the black sofa, knows that the jeering is aimed at Simon. Simon however doesn’t respond to Ben; instead looks along the sofa and pulls a silly face at Sarah.

Mrs Bryant looks in from the kitchen and says to Ben, No need for all that noise.

She’s heard our fucking noise before.

Language young man.

Ben growls a sneer.

Sarah is frightened now.

Simon, waiting until his mother is busy again in the kitchen, goes crouching silently across the floor, puts his head over the back of Ben’s chair and whispers, Language young man.

Fuck off! Ben swings his fist back but Simon has returned bouncing to the sofa.

You two! Mrs Bryant shouts from the kitchen.

Sarah knows that Ben doesn’t like her being in his house: that he doesn’t like her, probably because his Mum and Dad don’t like her Mum and Dad, and she knows that if she’s seen to side with Simon he will like her even less.

To shut them both out she concentrates on a chocolate advert. On a breakfast cereal ad.

Ben stands: I'm off. He stretches, steps around the chair, looks at neither Sarah nor Simon. Taking his car keys jingling from his pocket he opens, then slams, the back door.

Ben! his mother complains.

Got no style. Simon grins at Sarah and, scuttling across the fawn carpet, he slips into the chair that Ben has just left.

Ben’s car goes screeching off up the lane. Simon grunts, changes channels, changes again, comes back to where he started.

The back door opens. (The back doors of both cottages face the dark lane. Both cottages only use their front doors for going into their gardens.) Mr Bryant looks through the kitchen to Sarah on the living room sofa. Like Ben Mr Bryant never changes his expression.

The front of his blue boilersuit has had mud over it. Must of it has been brushed off. His dark eyes look briefly into Sarah’s as he steps across the kitchen to shut the door between.

Sarah listens to Mrs Bryant’s higher note questions, Mr Bryant’s deep rumbling replies. Simon goes out to the kitchen, is told — in signals unseen to Sarah — to close the door. Simon’s voice asks a question. Mrs Bryant, whispering, replies. She has started crying. Mr Bryant rumbles. The door opens. Mrs Bryant is saying, ...keep Sarah company.

Simon smiles down on Sarah, lifts his eyebrows. He drops into Ben’s chair in front of the telly.

Your Mum should be here soon, he smiles around at her. Nods and smiles.

Yes, Sarah says.

Chapter Six

Outside the brick-fronted hospital Bridget slides onto the back seat of the police car. When the WPC slides in beside her she puts her hand over Bridget’s knuckles on the seat. An act of seeming compassion from the smaller slighter woman: but, with this evening’s clarity, Bridget knows it to be a professional used to entering the personal space of another. In a police manual somewhere it says, '....the comfort of physical contact....'

On the pretext of asking the driver if he knows the way Bridget, leaning forward, removes her hand.

Might need some help when we get closer, the driver says into his mirror. Two internal mirrors in the police car.

Did you see where it happened? Bridget turns to ask the WPC.

’Fraid not. The team there had to go on to something else. In a field wasn’t it?

The WPC has put on a bright sympathetic face: mirrors have told her that she is pretty. Bridget consciously restrains her tongue from asking where else they’d have been harvesting swedes. They are leaving the hospital by the back entrance. Less traffic now: rush hour over.

What was your husband? Tractor driver?

Bridget isn’t going to be treated like some hick.

Ran the farm shop, helped out on the farm when needed. Will there be an inquest?


Post mortem?

Didn't they say in the hospital? the driver asks into his mirror.

May have done.

The doctor was in a hurry, spoke quickly. Her husband is dead forever: that living man had no time. She signed the statement identifying John, was led out to these two police offers by the talking doctor. Bridget dips into the line of his patter: Yes....

John’s body will be cut open, a Y from the shoulders to the crotch, stomach contents examined, arteries dissected.... (Bridget had started her nurse training when she fell pregnant.) The top of John’s head will be removed, brain examined for embolisms.... That is no longer John.

Cases like this they usually do an autopsy, the WPC says. Have to be certain of the exact cause of death. Could have been a heart attack, for instance, which caused him to fall off.

This pretty WPC had known that John hadn’t been a tractor driver, had just been trying to make conversation.

And this is how they begin to wriggle out, Bridget tells herself, this is

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