Part - V
  • 16 Mar - 22 Mar, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

He sat down on my bed, tucking, Bobbity, my toy rabbit, in beside me.

‘No more bad dreams now. Daddy’s here, and Mummy. Nothing can hurt you.’

‘Snuggle down,’ Mummy said, and she sang softly, ‘My curly–headed baby.’

Then I sat bolt upright.

‘Mrs Richards. It could’ve been Mrs Richards in the garden with a torch.’

‘Go back to sleep.’

The Greenidges’ house, Kirriemuir, was of red brick. The gate in the tall variegated privet hedge opened onto a paved path leading through a gravel garden of periwinkles among dark green leaves, sharp shiny shrubs and heathers and dwarf conifers. To the left of the front door stood a statue of a deer with a fawn, Bambi and his mother in grey stone, on the right–hand side was a tub of scarlet geraniums, alyssum and lobelia, and on the door itself a galleon sailing on a bubbly glass sea.

Barking and skittering claws on a polished floor answered my ring as I stood on the step with the flowers I had picked on my way, taking a short cut through the allotments. Betty was always delighted by a bunch of flowers although Ruby’s mother scorned them.

‘Ah, April, come in, come in. Liesel, basket!’

Mr Greenidge led me into a panelled hall where dull silver figures of knights in armour stood in alcoves, and the dicky ticker was there, with a motionless brass pendulum, and the sun and moon on its face beneath stopped hands. Dark brown staircases on either side of the hall met on an upper landing with closed bedroom doors visible behind the wooden railings.

‘Our minstrels’ gallery,’ said Mr Greenidge. Overawed by all the poshness and polish and panelling, I followed him through to a brown room with heavy dark furniture and a blaze of crossed swords above the fireplace, and there, in sunshine under glass, was Mrs Greenidge in the built–on conservatory, half–lying on a long green wicker chair with her head on a chintz cushion.

‘Are these for me?’

She stretched out a hand for the flowers.

Mrs Greenidge was in pale blue, like a faded flower herself, a periwinkle bleached by the summer, tall with soft grey hair and a pretty face that would have been young were it not gathered and pleated in a thousand tiny tucks.

‘Dahlias. Already. They always make me think of autumn. And poppies, I do wish they wouldn’t drop their petals so. Nicotiana and nightshade, how nice. Put them in water, Clem. Come and sit down, April, and tell me all about yourself.’

I sat on a creaking chair that scratched the back of my legs and stroked Liesel who had ignored the command to go to her basket. Mrs Greenidge picked up a piece of embroidery in a circular frame and pricked a needle threaded with pink in and out of the stretched linen.

‘Do you like school?’

‘Not much, but I’ve only been there a little while. It’s the holidays now. I don’t like Major Morton.’

‘The less said about that unfortunate gentleman the better, but one has to remember that he was wounded in the service of his country and make allowances, don’t you think?”

I didn’t know if she were telling me off or not.

‘He hit Roger Goodenough so hard that his mum came up the school. She said if he did it again, she was going to report him to Mr Cox.’ Our local constable.

‘That boy with the cotton wool in his ears?’

‘Which one do you mean?’

Mr Greenidge returned carrying a heavy white wicker tray with tea things sliding about on glass and set in down on the white table of embroidered flowers under glass. Brown buttered bread and iced cakes and chocolate biscuits glistened in the heat. Points of light danced on a pond in the garden.

‘Bless me, I’ve gone and forgotten the sugar!’ Mr Greenidge slapped his forgetful forehead playfully.
‘April, would you run along to the kitchen and get it?’ he said.

With no idea where the kitchen was, I rose obediently and crossedthe room and went into the silent hall and made hope–fully, past the knights in armour and the clock, for an open door, in a mild panic that I would fail in my quest, get lost, make a fool of myself.

It was the kitchen. I looked round dark shelves for the sugar. My flowers were in a vase on the table. There was a huge stove with a dishcloth draped on the handles of its oven doors, an enamel dog’s dish and water bowl on newspaper, a brown radio, a pulley hanging from the ceiling dangling socks and stockings and ole people’s underclothes.

‘Ah, there you are. Thought you’d got lost. Silly of me, I didn’t tell you where to find it.’

Mr Greenidge, to my relief, was smiling, making it hisfault not mine.

‘The sugar lives in here,’ he said, opening a cupboard and taking out a silver fluted bowl and tongs resting on white cubes. ‘Here you are.’

As I took it, his arms went round me pressing me hard against his shirt, squeezing me and his lips were kissing my face, and his beard tickled like a soft shaving brush. I was rigid with surprise, and fear that Mrs Greenidge would walk in.

‘You didn’t mind that?’ he whispered, out of breath, letting me go. ‘You didn’t mind, did you?’ His brown face had turned dark red, like Colonel Beetroot’s in the comic. I shook my head. I knew it was wrong because Mr Greenidge was married to Mrs Greenidge. My own face was burning from guilt and the brush of his beard as I carried the sugar back to the conservatory. I felt as though I’d been gone for hours. Mr Greenidge came bustling in behind me, and poured the tea.

‘ “April, April / laugh thy girlish laughter; then the moment after, Weep the girlish tears,” ‘ Mrs Greenidge said.

‘I suppose you know that poem, April? People must quote it at you all the time.’


‘And how are your parents? I must say the Copper Kettle’s looking greatly improved these days.’

‘Thank you. They’re very well, thank you. We’re going to have a baby.’

‘How splendid. You’ll have to call it May. “After April, when May follows…”.’

I couldn’t tell if she were teasing. My name sounded silly, and a sense of foolishness came over me making my whole body, my self, feel somehow silly and uncomfortable in my cotton dress.

‘Are you too hot? Would you like to play in the garden?’ Mrs Greenidge asked.

Scattering crumbs, I walked clumsily into the garden. It is difficult to play by oneself in a formal garden, watched by two adults. I walked over gravel to the pond. Liesel trotted after me and dropped a tennis ball at my feet. I threw it, low to avoid pink roses and a grey bird–bath. And again, and again, and desperately again, with cries of ‘good dog’ and ‘well caught’, ‘good dog, Liesel’ and attempts at girlish laughter until I thought I would cry, trapped in that garden, wondering when it would be possible to go inside but not wanting to, wishing I could go home. At last the ball bounced into the pond making goldfish disappear, floating in the centre among the water–lilies. Liesel ran inside to tell. I was mortified to see Mr Greenidge squatting down with a brush and a dustpan, sweeping up my crumbs.

‘I’m ever so sorry. The ball’s gone in the pond.’

‘Never mind,’ said Mrs Greenidge. ‘Poor Liesel’s quite exhausted. You’ve worn her out with your game. She’s not used to such violent exercise.’

‘I think I’d better go home now. Thank you for having me.’

‘Come again soon,’ Mrs Greenidge said. ‘Next Sunday.’

‘Mrs Greenidge? Could I take Liesel for a walk sometimes?’

‘Oh, we’ll have to think about that, April. We’ll see you on Sunday.’

Before he opened the front door, the two of us standing on the bristly mat, Mr Greenidge kissed me again.

‘You won’t tell?’ he whispered.

I ran along the road in the late Sunday afternoon straight to the Rising Sun, and sneaked round the side, giving the low hoot of an owl that was our secret call. The kitchen window was flung open by Mrs Richards.

‘What do you think you’re playing at, hooting like an owl in broad daylight on other people’s property? Ruby’s not coming out, she’s got work to do.’ She slammed the window.


The tea–room was unusually busy and I was helping in the kitchen, trying to ignore a gang of kids at the back door buzzing around like wasps, pestering me to hand out free ice–cream, when Ruby pushed her way through them, and the whole kitchen lit up. We had not seen each other for days and I was still in fear of Mrs Richards marching up our path dragging Ruby by the arm.

‘Get us a ginger nut,’ came from the doorway. ‘Oi, Ginger Nut, get us a lolly!’

‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes. I couldn’t come out before. They made me clean the whole pub.’

‘Your mum’s really cruel, isn’t she? Like a horrible old witch,’ I said sympathetically.

‘No, she isn’t! Ruby flared up.

‘But, you said…’

‘Anyway, your mum’s fat.’

‘No, she isn’t!’

Outraged and hurt by the insult to my mother I pulled a red pigtail hard and saw tears come into Ruby’s eyes, before she pulled my hair and I leapt on her.

‘Mrs Harlency, Ruby and April are fighting,’ came a voice from the back door as my mother came into the kitchen.

‘Stop it at once, the pair of you. I’m ashamed of you, April. And you lot can buzz off,’ she told our audience. ‘Telling tales won’t get you any favours round here.’

‘She started it,’ we both said at once.

‘I don’t care who started it. I’m finishing it right now. What’s it all about?’

Neither of us could say,

of course. My heart ached for Betty, who unaware of Ruby’s dreadful words, told her to wash her hands and gave her an apron and a knife and set her to buttering, and eating, bread. I smouldered, until Ruby whispered, ‘Your mum’s not

really fat.’

‘Well then your mum’s not really a horrible old witch.’

Although she was. When Percy heard about our fight later, he said ‘I warned you about that one’s temper, didn’t I? Proper little firecracker.’

He sounded almost admiring, making me feel a damp squib in comparison.

‘I started it.’

But the Archers music came on the radio and Percy was doing a dance round the kitchen with a tablecloth on his head.

‘Fancy going out for a drink later?’ he asked Betty.

‘Well, I do. But let’s try the George tonight. I don’t really like that crowd at the Rising Sun much, even though they have got a piano.’

‘Don’t you like Lex and Gloria?’ I said.

‘Oh, it’s not that.’ She looked uncomfortable. Good. It’s Mr and Mrs Richards to you,’ she said.

‘Supposing that person with the torch comes back?’
‘Now, you know that was only a dream. Besides, we won’t be gone long. You can stay up and listen to the wireless if you like.’

There was a story in one of my fairy–tale books, outgrown now, about a mother goat and her seven kids. The mother has to go out, leaving the kids at home, and she warns them not to open the door to anybody but her. If someone should knock, the kids must say ‘show me your hoof’, so that they can tell if it really is their mother before letting anyone in. Needless to say, the wolf comes and thrusts out a hairy foot disguised as a goat’s hoof. ‘Show me your hoof’ had become a code for Betty and me, meaning don’t open the door to a stranger. As Percy and Betty left for the pub she called out. ‘Remember, show me your hoof,’ and closed the door.

At once the quiet, familiar house on a light summer evening became a place of shadow and terror. A wolf’s foot twitched the lace curtain on the tea–room door.