A scene on the Gower
Words - and time to commit them to paper even more so - seem to have forsaken me in the last couple of years. I found some essays I wrote at Uni and was amazed at how erudite I was! Ah, my brain has gotten lazy so I need to find a higher gear for it and get it moving again. Whilst looking for some Family History notes today, I came across a short story I had written 30 years ago when I was a member of a writing group. The meetings were so stimulating, and I can remember being given a word and as I drove home, my brain would be writing the story and I couldn't wait to commit words to paper when I got home. So here is "Frippery", which has a touch of Thomas Hardy about it, a little peephole into someone's life:
"What foolish frippery is this?" His fingers twisted around the necklace and ripped it from her neck, the glass beads spurting from between his fingers like drops of blood. His breath stank of the raw onion he had eaten with his meal. His eyes gleamed like a hawk's, an impression echoed in the high-bridged aquiline nose and thin lips. She started back against the wall, dislodging the poker where it had leaned, forming the sign of three. The heat of the fire burned her back as sh arched away from him, dropping her eyes and muttering, "'Tis a gift from an old friend, many years back, and I had quite forgotten it. I thought as it was Christmas, I would wear it again." With a knowing look and a final shove, he lurched away across the room, as she sank to the floor and gathered up the beads with a choked sob. Why had it come to this? A partnership once so promising, so happy, now so empty and where hate and fear nested in the place of love.
The flames greedily plundered the Yule log, dashing up the chimney like demons speeding to hell. The flickering light reflected in the jugs adorning the dresser, weaving around their colourful designs, giving an animal-eye gling here and there in the gloom. She took no solace from their home, their many possessions; from the parlour with its plush velvet paddedchairs, the mahogany frames carefully matching in his and hers cosiness; the nick-nacks on the narrow Pembroke tables, the gleaming oak table in the bay window, bearing geraniums in summer and an Aspidestra the rest of the year. No solace from the well-stocked larder, the hams smoking in the chimney, the cash stuffed in an old sock beneath the mattress, and no solace, oh certainly NO solace in the marriage bed. She grimaced at the thought of his drunken fumblings in the long dark winter nights, his coarse farmer's hands pinching and mauling her. How had it come to this, from the delight of their wedding night when they had tumbled into bed with great anticipation and expectations. Was it because she was barren? That all the romping in the feather bed should have come nothing, no cease in her menses, no need, like her sister, for a penn'oth of Pennyroyal to make sure that no baby held in her womb that month. She, who had six children now, and another due, she had need of Pennyroyal indeed, and it was not beyond her to come seeking a few shillings for boots come winter . . . money which came easily to her sibling, where children did not . . .
She fingered the beads, ruby-red, like the fruit of the Black Bryony which grew in the hedgerows hereabout, and the memories returned, the slender young man with a body so graceful, toffee-brown eyes and soft curly hair, an artist who longed to travel the world and explore and take her with him. She thought of the clandestine meetings in a nearby town, where they had planned a life so different from this. His hands had been warm and soft as a dove's wing, and they lingered as they fastened the necklace, this necklace, round her throat, moving down to her shoulders as he pulled her towards him and kissed her throat, her cheek, her lips. She had half pulled away, overwhelmed by her sudden desire.
She had been an obedient daughter, and when, some years earlier, her parents suggested Robert as a suitor, she had thought she had found true love. He was wealthy, from a local farming family much respected in the community, he was their social equal, he was not a penniless itinerant artist. . . She found him handsome, and reliable, and amusing, and he made her feel beautiful and desirable and important and she was the envy of all her friends. Her lover went travelling without her. A year later she had a letter, begging her to join him in France. She burned it in the fire, watching the paper brown and blacken as the flames captured lost love and destroyed hope and underlined misery.
* * *
The old lady's head dropped suddenly, and with a snort she woke, gazing round the room with sleep-fuddled eyes. "Granny, Granneeeeeeeee!" A child's voice made her smile as her great grand-daughter ran into the room, curly hair bouncing, brown eyes merry. "I've got a KITTEN, I've got a KITTEN," the child announced importantly, holding out a ball of piebald fluff with eyes like saucers from fright.
"Come here child, and put puss on the floor." Obediently the little girl clambered onto the old lady's ample lap, covering the wrinkled face with kisses. She flung her arms round the old woman's neck, and snuggled in close. "Is it nearly Christmas yet Granny?"
"Oh yes, my dear, it's nearly Christmas. If you come with me, I have a present for you." She led the child to the dresser, bristling with blue and white plates and a lifetime of jugs, their patterns reflecting the flickering light of the fire in the big inglenook fireplace, the Yule log sending pulsing waves of flames up into the cavernous chimney. Her stiff fingers pulled out a little brown paper bag, which she pressed into the child's eager hands. She held those hands in hers, tightly, and captured the child's attention. "Promise me," she told her, "Promise me that you will hold these dear to you always. They are so precious to me, and mean so much. Your great grandfather once gave them to me - that was at Christmas-time too. But he had to go away . . . " The little girl opened the bag and pulled out a string of glass beads, red as drops of blood. "Oh granny, they are so pretty. They look like holly berries." She began to dance around the kitchen, singing, "I've got a NECKlace, I've got a NECKlace," and the kitten shot across the flagstone floor and under a chair, tail like a bottlebrush, making the child laugh out loud with delight. "Laura," her great granny's voice was suddenly sharp, "Don't tell anyone, it's our secret, remember?" A tilt of the child's head showed that she had been acknowledged. Once again the old woman sank into her chair, watching as the flames flickered in the patterns on the jugs, looking like animal eyes, blinking, winking . . .