Diney Costeloe

Extract from The Runaway Family

The crash of shattering glass and the sound of shouting in the street below startled Laura awake. More shouting and banging, a piercing scream and then more breaking glass. Laura sat up bolt upright in bed, her eyes wide with fear as she listened in the darkness to the uproar outside, the shouts, bangs and crashes getting nearer. People were chanting something, Laura couldn't make out what, but their voices, combining into the throaty roar of a mob, were angry and frightening.

It was dark outside, though the faint light of a street lamp gleamed through the gap in the curtains, but there was another light to, a flickering light, dancing and leaping, casting weird shadows on the ceiling. What was happening down there? What was going on?

Laura stole out of bed and crept to the window. Cautiously she lifted the corner of the curtain and peeped out. She stared down into the street in fascinated horror. A crowd was surging along the road, their snarling faces lit by the street lamps and the flaming torches some of them carried. Many brandished stout walking sticks in the air, others carried stones, bricks and iron bars. They were led by men in uniform, guns held high, urging the crowd on. The windows of the baker's shop across the way were already smashed, and its door hanging on a broken hinge. Even as she watched, Laura saw a man throw another brick, this time at the windows of the apartment above the shop. There was a cheer as the glass shattered, its shards flying inwards.

"Jews Out! Jews Out! Jews Out!" She could hear what they were chanting now as the chant grew louder, stronger as more and more people joined the crowd.

"Laura, what's happening?" Inge, her seven-year old sister asked sleepily from the other bed.

"I don't know," Laura said, shrinking back behind the curtain, but somehow unable to turn away. "There're people outside throwing stones and shouting."

There was another sound too, the crackle of flames, and Laura realised with growing horror, that the dancing light she had seen through the curtains was fire. There was smoke now, and the red and gold tongues of the flame appeared at the windows of the synagogue further up the road. Even as Laura watched, horrified, the door burst open and Rabbi Rosner came rushing out, shouting for the fire brigade. He ran straight into the crowd that bayed with delight at his terror and brandishing their sticks and hurling stones, they chased him back into the burning building.

"I don't like it!" Inge was wailing. "Where's Mutti?"

At that moment the bedroom door opened and Ruth Friedman, the girls' mother, came quickly into the room, her face white with fear.

"Laura! Come away from the window!" she cried and rushing over, dragged her daughter away. "Out of here, quickly." She scooped Inge off the bed and clutching her in her arms, pushed Laura in front of her as she hurried them into her own bedroom at the back of the house. Her husband, Kurt, was already in the room with the twins, Peter and Hans, aged just three; both were crying at having been awoken so suddenly and their father was trying to hush them. Ruth turned the key in the lock, and placing Inge on the bed, went to the twins.

"Papa, the synagogue's on fire." Laura tugged at her father's sleeve. "It's burning down, and Rabbi Rosner is inside."

"Don't worry, darling," her father put an arm round her. “He’ll have got out safely.”

“No, Papa,” Laura insisted, her eyes wide, “when he ran out some people chased him back inside. They were hitting him!”

Before her father could answer, there came a thundering on their own front door, the splintering of wood and the sound of breaking glass as the window in the shop below became the target for the bricks. Ruth drew the twins closely into her arms, and Kurt gathered the now screaming Inge against him, his other arm still firmly round Laura.

"Ssh! Ssh!" he hushed them. "It'll be all right. Mutti and Papa are here! It'll be all right."

But it wasn't. Within moments they heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, and then a voice which bellowed, "Come out, Jews! Come out dirty Jews! Come out of your holes!"

Before they could do anything, the was a crash and the door flew open, the lock hanging sideways where a jackboot had kicked it free. A tall man in storm trooper's uniform, his cap, with it’s Death’s Head badge, dark over his fair hair, stood on the threshold, a gun in his hand, towering over the family who crouched together around the bed. Behind him two others moved along the landing, kicking open the bedroom doors, and shouting down to the mob below, "Jews up here!"

"You, Jew, you're under arrest!" The first man advanced on Kurt, who pushed his daughters behind him in an effort to shield them.

"Why? What for?" It was Ruth who asked, her voice cracking with fear. "He's done nothing wrong."

"He's a Jew. He's under arrest!"

"But...." Ruth began to protest.

"Shut up!" bellowed the man, "or I'll arrest the lot of you!"

"Don't worry, Ruth," Kurt said, trying to keep his voice steady. "I'll go with him. I'm sure there's some mistake and I'll be back in no time." For a moment their eyes met, hers wide and fearful. Kurt’s strong face was calm and determined, but fear flickered behind his eyes too and seeing it, Ruth began to shake.

"You look after the children, I'll be back soon. And if not,” there was the slightest tremor in his voice, “Go to Herbert."

"Out!" The storm trooper grasped him by the shoulder and spinning him round, shoved him roughly through the door. “Out! Out!” Immediately the two men on the landing grabbed his arms, one punching him violently in the stomach so that he doubled over, groaning with pain, before they dragged him, still bent double, down the stairs.

The storm trooper, still in the bedroom, glanced across at the trembling woman surrounded by her four children. "You'll stay up here if you know what's good for you," he said coldly, and turning on his heel, stamped his way back down the stairs.

For a moment there was silence in the bedroom and then Inge began to wail again. "Where's Papa gone? I want Papa."

Ruth suppressed the cry that rose in her throat that she wanted him too, and tried to soothe the terrified children.

“Don’t cry,” she said, rocking Peter on her knee and holding Inge to her with the other arm. “Don’t cry Peter, there's a good boy. Look Hansi isn't crying. Laura, give Hansi a cuddle, he’s being very brave. Come on now, you must be brave, all of you. That's what Papa would want. We must all be brave!"

She gathered the four children close, rocking them comfortingly, and as they huddled together on her bed, she listened to shattering glass and splintering wood as the mob downstairs ransacked the shop, their voices raised in shouts of glee. Then with the bang of a door and shout of laughter, the baying mob moved onward down the street. The stillness they left behind was, if anything, more terrifying than their animal howls. What was happening down there? Had the mob moved on somewhere else? Was it safe to come out of the bedroom? Ruth went quietly across the room and opening the door, peeped out onto the landing. The apartment was empty; there was no sound from downstairs.

"You'll stay up here if you know what's good for you," the trooper had said, but Ruth could not. She had to go down, to find out what had happened.


Extract from The Sisters of St Croix

     Richard Anson-Gravetty was not at home on the morning of the day that his daughter attained her majority;  he was away on business and wouldn’t be back until the evening.  So, when she finally made it down to the dining room, it was to breakfast alone, to open the cards from her grandparents and her cousin Andrew, in solitary state; to open the unexpected letter that waited beside her plate with no one there to see her do it.
     The envelope, type-written, was addressed to her and had a Belcaster post mark, but she had no idea from whom it came.  Leaving it till last, she finally slit open the envelope and drew out the contents.  It was from a firm of solicitors, Brewer Harben and Brewer, with an office in Cathedral Road, Belcaster. She skimmed through it, but as its significance penetrated her mind, she started to read again from the beginning.
     Dear Miss Anson-Gravetty
     Allow me to congratulate you on attaining the age of majority. I write in pursuance of the wishes expressed in the will you late grandfather, Sir George Hurst. As you know he died in 1920 and left you a substantial legacy to become yours on your twenty-first birthday. As Sir George’s  only grandchild, you were named as the residual legatee, the money to be invested and held  in trust until you came of age.
     This happy day is now upon us and I respectfully suggest that you make an appointment with me to go through the terms of the will.  I am sure your stepfather has a financial advisor who will take over from me now that I am no longer your trustee, but I should certainly like to meet with you and explain my stewardship to date.  I hope you will be satisfied with it.
     If you would write to my secretary and arrange a time convenient to yourself I shall look forward to meeting you at last.
     I remain, madam, yours very sincerely,
     Arthur Brewer.
     Adelaide stared at the letter and then  looked at the envelope again to make sure it was really addressed to her.  It was. She read it through yet again. Her grandfather, Sir George Hurst?  She hadn’t got a grandfather called George Hurst. Her grandfathers were called Gilbert Anson-Gravetty and Norman Driver. Norman Driver, Grand'mère’s husband, had been dead now for ten years or more, but her other grandfather, Father’s father, was alive and well and living in Winchester. So who was this George Hurst?  And why did the letter refer to her father as her stepfather? None of it made any sense. Had she been adopted?  Were Mummy and Daddy - she seldom called him Daddy any more but when thinking of them together it sometimes still slipped out -  were Mummy and Daddy not her real parents then?
     Adelaide left the last of her breakfast and went out into the hall to telephone Grand'mère.
     “Adelaide, my darling,” Grand'mère cried when she came onto the line,  “many happy returns of the day!”
     “Thanks, Grand'mère,” Adelaide said.  She paused and then asked, “Can I come and see you?  We need to talk.”
     “Of course.  But we shall see each other this evening at your birthday dinner.”
     “I know, but I need to speak to you before that.  Before father gets home.  I’ve had a letter.”
     “Ah, I see.” Antoinette Driver  sounded suddenly serious. “Yes, well in that case I think you’d better come round this morning and we can have a nice chat in private.  I have a luncheon engagement, but that is not until 12.30.”
     “Can I come now?” Adelaide asked.

 

Extract from The Lost Soldier

      “Sisters,” said Mother. “The convoy of wounded has reached St Croix. They will be with us at once.  Please finish your meal as quickly as possible. We will all be needed. Please go to your usual stations as soon as you are ready.”
      Sarah made a brief translation for Molly in the flurry of noise and activity as the meal was finished quickly and the nuns left the tables.  Clearly everyone knew where she should be except the two English girls, and Sarah, caught hold of Sister Marie-Paul’s arm as she prepared to leave her place.
      “Where should we go?” she asked in French. “What should Molly and I do to help.”
      “You must ask Sister St Bruno,” the novice replied. “She will tell you.”
      At that moment Sister St Bruno appeared at their side.  “It would be of most help today if you were to take the name and regiment of each man as he arrives.  We have to keep detailed records of our patients, names are not really enough, but they are a start.”  She spoke in English to be sure that Molly could understand her.  “Come with me and I will give you the notebooks.”
      She took them through the cavernous entrance hall to a small room on the side where she produced the pads and pencils they would need for their task and then gave them their instructions.
      “Rule the pages into columns,” she instructed. “Name, number, regiment.”  She looked at them seriously. “Some of these men will be in a bad way,” she said, “and you will have to rely on their friends to give you what information they can.” She led them to the great front door which now stood open, and said, “Wait outside here and as the ambulances unload, write everything down.  The drivers should have the names of those who can’t answer for themselves, but they don’t always. Each man will be assessed  by Sister Magdalene and then taken round to the wards. Note down which ward.”
      Sister St Bruno had taken them to meet Sister Magdalene before the evening meal.
      “She is the matron here,” Sister St Bruno told them. “with overall responsibility for the running of the hospital.  Of course she refers to Mother, but in practice her word is law, like any other matron.”
      Sister Magdalene had welcomed them, promised them plenty of exhausting work, and handed them back to Sister St Bruno.
      Sister St Bruno bustled off round the side of the building, leaving Sarah and Molly standing by the door, looking down the hill towards the village. It felt perfectly normal to Molly to be wearing a cap, but as Sarah waited by the door for the men to arrive she kept fiddling with hers trying to settle it comfortably on her head.
      “This cap is very uncomfortable,” she murmured to Molly who smiled and replied, “You’ll get used to it!”
      Darkness was slipping across the cold autumn sky, but in the dusk they could make out some sort of vehicle lumbering up the hill, a lantern on its front, pulled by a huge cart horse.  It bounced and jolted on its iron-rimmed wheels, jarring to further agony the injured men who were lying inside it. Behind it came several more, the sound of their wheels sharp and rattling against the stony track that led to the convent gate. 
      Someone had switched on an outside light, and several lanterns were lit and hanging from wall hooks along the outside wall, but the eerie flickering  of these made it was difficult to see anything not in an immediate pool of light. As the first vehicle pulled up in front of the door, Sarah moved forwards to speak to the driver, but he sprang down from his seat and went round to the back of the wagon. She stared in horror as door was dragged open and she saw the state of those inside it.  Two other men had jumped down from the front and run round to the back to begin heaving out the stretchers and the soldiers who lay moaning upon them. As she approached Sarah was assailed by a hideous stench that wafted in an almost tangible cloud from the ambulance. Her recoil was instinctive, and it took all her strength of will for Sarah not to cover her nose and turn away coughing, her revulsion clear to see. But this was her first day, and she was conscious of the nuns and felt they were watching her for signs of weakness, though in fact none had time for any such thing. Everyone one of them had her job to do, and no time to be checking on whether the English girls had the stomach for the work.  Gripping her notepad and pencil tightly in her hand Sarah stood by the emerging stretcher.
      “I must have his name,” Sarah said urgently to one of the men. “And his regiment.” The man shook his head, exhaustion showing in his own blood-shot eyes. “Don’t know, miss,” he said, wearily.  “There’s a list somewhere, but I can’t tell you which is which.”  He turned back to the task in hand, and he and his mate pulled the first casualty clear of the cart. The man was lying on his back, a makeshift bandage round his head, the blanket covering him, caked with blood.  A sour smell hung about him that Sarah later came to recognise as a combination of urine, faeces, blood and putrid flesh. For now it was just an almost overpowering stench and once again she had to fight the urge to turn away, retching. His hands plucked at the blanket and his whole body seemed to be shaking. As the stretcher-bearers took a better grip on the stretcher to carry it round to the waiting wards at the back, Sarah reached out and touched the twisting hands.  “Tell me your name,” she said gently. “Tell me who you are.”
      “Hodgson. Charlie  Hodgson,” came the muttered reply, and the hand broke free to continue pulling at the blood-soaked blanket. “Charlie Hodgson.  Charlie Hodgson.” The man continued to mumble his name as he was carried away.
      “Ward three.” A sharp voice called to the stretcher-bearers. After one look at Charlie Hodgson, in the light of the lantern that hung above her head, Sister Magdalene, had directed the men to the ward where few of the casualties were expected to live.
      As the stretchers were unloaded from the ambulances, Molly and Sarah wrote names and details as far as they could, always adding which ward as Sister Magdalene directed the bearers. But the ambulances were not the end of things.  A column of men toiled up the hill from the village, following the ambulances in a seemingly never-ending line. Some struggled on makeshift crutches, leaned on sticks or were supported by their less seriously injured companions.
      Sarah stared at them as they plodded wearily in through the gate towards her, to wait patiently to be dealt with in turn.
      “Where have they come from?” she whispered in French to Sister Marie-Paul who was also helping with lists.
      The novice shrugged. “From Albert.” she replied.  “The train brings them to Albert.”  She hurried forward to help another sister with man who had simply pitched forward on to the ground in front of them.
      “From Albert?” Sarah repeated incredulously, thinking of how long it had taken them that morning on the carrier’s cart. “These men have walked all the way from Albert?”
      “They have indeed,” agreed a sharp voice behind her. “And I’ve no doubt they’d be grateful if you would stop staring at them and get on with taking their names so that they can be looked after.”
      Sarah flushed with mortification as she turned to see a nun she did not yet know at her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she muttered and went forward again to speak to the men who still toiled in through the gate.
      Despite their exhaustion, many of these walking wounded were resolutely cheerful and grinned back at her tiredly as she fixed a smile on her face to greet them. They gave their names and details and then sat down on the ground to wait to be told what to do.  A novice appeared from somewhere carrying a huge tureen of soup that she set up on the step. Ladling soup into bowls, she gave them to Molly who carried them to the weary men sitting patiently on the ground.  There were no spoons, but the men tilted the bowls to their mouths, drinking the warm soup greedily, the first hot food they had received in days.
      As the last of the men were accounted for, Sarah set aside her notebook and went to help with the distribution of the food, tearing long loaves into pieces and handing each man his share.
      Sister St Bruno appeared at Molly’s side and said, “We need you in the ward now.  Sarah can stay and help Sister Jeanne-Marie with the food.”
      Surprised to be the one chosen as she had no pretence of nursing skills, Molly followed Sarah’s aunt round the building to the courtyard. She was led into one of the wards where wounded men lay, some still on stretchers, some on the floor.
      “We’re having to move some of the convalescent men out to make room,” Sister St Bruno said quickly. “There’re clean sheets on that table at the far end. Please strip and remake the beds as they empty.  You can start with that one there.”  The nun indicated a bed at the end of a row where a man, still in pyjamas, was standing, his few possessions already gathered into a bag. He had a stick beside him.
      “Where are they going to go?” asked Molly as she started to strip a bed.
      “They go to a ward in the main building,” replied Sister St Bruno.  “We call it the restoration ward.  It’s the sort of half way house before they  move on to the convalescent camp in the meadow.”  She glanced round the ward and added, “As quick as you can now, Molly.”
      This was work Molly was used to. She stood at the end of the bed, stripping the soiled sheets towards her and tossing them aside, folding the thin blankets into a tidy pile, the with practised ease she flipped the clean sheets on to the bed, letting them float upwards to billow out before they settled flat and straight on the bed ready to be tucked in neatly at the corners. The blankets followed with a shake and an arch.  It took her less than two minutes to strip and remake each bed with the sheets from the table.  The dirty linen she put in a heap at one end of the ward, and saw it being heaved away by one of the novices. 
      Sister St Bruno watched her approvingly for a moment before leaving her to it, confident that the job was being done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and thinking that at least Molly would be of use to them; she wasn’t so sure about her niece, only time would tell.

 

Extracts from Dartmouth Circle

Mary Jarvis sighed as she looked out of her sitting room window. She could see her neighbour, Sheila Colby, bearing down on her door like a galleon in full sail. Her face was glowing with indignation and she was obviously bursting with news. Knowing that the quiet hour she'd promised herself before going to St Joseph's was now doomed, Mary set aside the Telegraph crossword and went to open the door.

"Mary, you'll never believe it, it's dreadful," Sheila exploded even as she crossed the threshold. Her curled grey hair bounced round her ears and her powdered jowls quivered with consternation. "It's dreadful," she repeated.

"Come in, Sheila," Mary said mildly as Sheila hurried past her into the hall. "Come upstairs and have a coffee, I'm just having one."

She led her friend upstairs to the sitting room and waved her into a chair. "I'll just get your coffee," she said, going into the kitchen. She poured a coffee from the percolator and carried it through into the living room. Handing it to Sheila, she resumed her own seat by the window.

"Now then, tell me, what on earth has happened?"

"Ned Short's sold his house at last," Sheila announced dramatically.

"Well, I'm pleased for him," remarked Mary, sipping her own coffee. "Since Jane left him it's been a millstone round his neck-far too big for him. And I'd have thought," she continued, "that you'd be delighted. You've never liked either of them. I'd have thought you'd be thrilled he was going." "But Mary," Sheila was extracting every ounce from the dread news she'd come to impart, "It's been sold� "She put her cup and saucer down with a clatter. "�to students. What are we going to do?"

"Do?" Mary looked surprised. "What can we do? There's nothing we can do. Ned's entitled to sell his house to whomever he chooses and whoever wants to can buy it. Not that he's had much choice, he must have leapt at this chance, I should think."

"Gerald says there'll be rowdy parties and noise all the time," wailed Sheila. "It's all right for you-you don't live next door. The noise won't be coming through your walls!"

The houses in Dartmouth Circle were in three terraces of four; set at right angles to each other round a communal garden; 'sixties' town houses on three floors with an integral garage beside the front door. Mary Jarvis occupied number five, the end house in the centre block. The Colbys were her immediate neighbours, sandwiched between her and the Shorts. On the other side of the Shorts lived Shirley and David Redwood, another retired couple.

Mary could see Sheila had a point, and she said, "No, I suppose not, but having students in number seven will probably affect the whole Circle."

The residents of Dartmouth Circle always referred to their cul-de-sac as "The Circle". Somehow, having a private name for their road made for a feeling of community, of belonging.

"Gerald says�" Sheila very often prefaced her remarks with "Gerald says" and it irritated Mary, particularly as she was fairly certain that Gerald, who was mild-mannered and inoffensive, seldom made any of the remarks attributed to him, and his name was used to cloak Sheila's own less charitable thoughts and ideas. "Gerald says that the value of our properties will go down when they move in. The whole Circle will suffer."

"I don't see why it should," replied Mary, even as she wondered if, in this case Gerald, or more probably Sheila, might be right. "There's a student house on the corner of Dartmouth Avenue, and Mrs Old's house, two doors away from that, sold very well last month, I'm told. It didn't seem to affect the price she got." Mary didn't actually know what Mrs Old's house had sold for, but she felt the need to disagree with Sheila who was always so dogmatic about things.

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"Shit!" breathed Scott. "Keep going, he's using his fucking radio. Just drive." Bel did as she was told, following the two cars ahead as they wound their way round the cathedral. As they approached the one-way system, the Saturday traffic was still moving sluggishly and they heard the wail of a siren.

"Shit!" Scott's voice rose. "Right! Turn right!" and immediately Bel wrenched the wheel round, into another narrow street.

"I'm going the wrong way!" she shrieked. "It's a one-way street."

"Keep going!" yelled Scott.

There was a car coming towards them, the driver flashing his lights furiously to warn them they were in a one-way street. Bel flashed back and adrenaline took over as she accelerated towards him. Realising she wasn't going to stop, the driver, pale-faced and swearing, yanked his wheel over and mounted the pavement, giving Bel just enough space to squeak past him. She reached the end of the street and turned out into the traffic. There was no real gap and more angry horns blared as drivers hit their brakes to let her in.

"Left-hand lane," snapped Scott, and then they heard the siren again.

"Police car's coming up behind us," Bel shouted.

"Stay cool!" ordered Scott. "Change lanes.

"Bel veered across the traffic and raced across the lights, just turning amber against her. The police car was now in hot pursuit, headlights flashing, blue light flashing, siren wailing. It jumped the red light and continued close on her tail. With her hand on the horn, Bel swerved in and out of the traffic."

"Right!" shouted Scott. "Turn right!"

Bel swung round a traffic island and accelerated down a side street. There were cars parked on either side, narrowing it to one lane wide where it had a right-angled bend to the right. Bel had to slow to negotiate the bend and in the mirror she saw the police car turn in behind her.

"Sharp right into the lane," yelled Scott.

She only just saw the opening in time, another alley serving high street shops, but curving sharply, so that the moment they were into it, they were invisible from the street behind. "Slow down," said Scott, and Bel eased to a walking pace. They heard the siren note change as the police car sped past the end of the alley.

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"Nice plants," remarked her mother when she went back into the living room. Dean had cleared space on the sofa and spread the blue woollen throw over it again so that Mr and Mrs Richmond had somewhere to sit. Mad perched on the arm, nursing her coffee mug.

"Yes, well, I got them for the neighbours," she admitted. "Like, a sort of peace offering."

"Oh Maddo! I hope you weren't too noisy," cried her mother.

"A bit. Look, Mum, I think I'll just take them round, OK? I shan't be long." Madeleine put down her mug and picking up the two plants disappeared downstairs. Leaving one plant on her own front step, she went first to the Colbys with the other.

"Yes?" Gerald Colby's disembodied voice came from the entryphone.

"Mr Colby? It's Madeleine Richmond from next door."

"Is it indeed? What do you want, young lady?" His voice was crisp, but not exactly angry. Mad didn't like being addressed as young lady, but she was on a bridge-building mission so she simply pulled a face at the closed door and said, "I've come to apologise about last night."

"I see, well you'd better come up." The door catch released with a buzz, and she went in. Gerald was waiting for her in the living room, and as she topped the stairs, Sheila came down from the floor above. Before either of them could speak Mad extended the plant and said quickly, "I've brought you this from all of us, to say we're very sorry if we disturbed you last night."

"Disturbed!" Sheila Colby almost screeched, "It was a bit more than that!"

"Now, Sheila," Gerald remonstrated gently, "Madeleine's come to apologise."

"Hmm," Sheila said and then went on more calmly. "Well, you certainly made the most frightful noise. That music was head-banging!"

"I'm sorry," Mad said again, still holding out the plant. "It was a birthday party, like, a one-off, you know?"

Sheila moved nearer and took the plant, saying with as much grace as she could muster, " Well, thank you for coming to apologise, and for the azalea. I don't suppose you'll be having another party."

Mad, made no comment at the last remark, but she hadn't quite finished. She was happy enough, she supposed, to apologise for the noise, but she felt that the Colbys had been over the top, calling the police. "I'm sorry you felt you had to call the police, though," she said.

"You could have rung to ask us to turn it down."

"Rung?" exclaimed Sheila. "We did nothing but ring, but the phone must have been off the hook. It was always engaged. I was going to come round� ."

"But I wouldn't let her," Gerald interrupted, "and then the police turned up. But we didn't call them."

 

Extracts from A Dish Served Cold

Chapter 1
What finally pushed Pam Smith over the edge was the day she came home and found Roger in the marital bed with a blonde young enough to be his daughter. She had guessed that Roger had affairs, after all their sex life had degenerated into the occasional perfunctory encounter, when Roger exerted himself for just long enough for his own satisfaction with no regard to Pam, and Pam lay back waiting for it to be over so she could turn away and go to sleep.

For years her marriage had been a wasteland of verbal abuse and mental torment, with the occasional physical attack thrown in. Until now she had put up with it, resigned to how things were and too scared to escape, with no money and nowhere to go. Until now. Now when she found him in bed, her bed, heaving and grunting with a girl little older than his daughter, her step-daughter, Karen, something inside Pam snapped. For a moment she stared at them as they continued their energetic writhing, unaware that she was there, then she picked up a jar of cold cream from her dressing table and hurled it with all her might at the mirror on the wardrobe door. The mirror exploded into shards with an ear-splitting crash, and the activity on the bed ceased, as the girl screamed, and Roger jerked himself away with an explosive “What the fuck…?”

Pam fastened her eyes on the girl who returned her gaze with wide-eyed astonishment. “Get out of here,” Pam hissed. “Get out of my bed and out of my house.”

The girl turned to Roger and began to giggle. “Oh Rog,” she sniggered, “Mummy’s come home! You said she was away for the night!”

Without any apparent embarrassment, the girl extracted herself from the tangle of bedclothes and stepped out on to the floor. Stark naked, she picked her way carefully past the needles of broken mirror carpeting much of the floor, and padded serenely round the room gathering up the scattered items of her clothing before walking calmly past Pam, out on to the landing.

“I’ll dress in the bathroom,” she announced, as she disappeared.

“How dare you?” Pam directed blazing eyes at her husband who stunned by her sudden appearance still sat in the debris of the bed. There he was, a man in his fifties, with thinning, sandy-grey hair and spiteful, watery blue eyes. His naked body was pale and rather flabby and he looked more than a little ridiculous. Suddenly, wonderfully, Pam wasn’t afraid of him anymore. Fear, until now a constant in her life, evaporated and all the misery, anger and resentment that had been her marriage, crystallised into an intense and bitter hatred. She felt suddenly strong, and her strength came from this icy hatred that now consumed her.

Stunned by the way she had spoken to him, spoken as she had never done before, Roger stared at her. Pam went on, “I’m going to leave you, Roger. I shall never live with you again. You disgust me. That girl’s Karen’s age. You are contemptible.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Pamela,” Roger, gathering his dignity a little, sounded more like his usual, bullying self. “Where on earth would you go?”

“Anywhere,” retorted Pam. “Anywhere where I won’t have to see you, or your spoilt cow of a daughter ever again.”

Roger rose up in fury from the heap of bedclothes. “How dare you speak to me like that,” he bellowed, his flabbiness quivering with rage.

Pam gave a snort of laughter. “You’re pathetic,” she said, contemptuously.

“Pathetic, I am? You’ll see!” he roared. “I’ll find you, wherever you hide. I’ll find you and I’ll make you sorry!” He launched himself at her across the room, his roar turning to a bellow of pain as his bare foot slammed down on a shard of the broken mirror.

One look at the savage expression on his face reminded Pam why she had always been so careful not to anger him, adrenaline kicked in and she made a dash for the small bedroom along the landing. It had been converted into an office and there was a lock on the door to protect the computer and other equipment from casual burglary. Reaching this refuge, Pam slammed the door behind her and turned the key.

Roger’s roars of rage soon died away. He would simply wait for her to come out and deal with her then. It had happened before. As she leant against the locked door panting, all Pam’s bravado drained out of her and she began to shake, waiting for him to bang on the door, uttering the usual threats, but for the moment he did not. She heard the front door close with a bang and crossing quickly to the window, she saw the blond girl walking out into the February dusk. Pam saw her quite clearly as she passed under a street lamp; she was dressed now, of course, in skin tight jeans, high-heeled boots and a short-cropped leather jacket, and she walked with the swaying hips of a girl confident in her own sexuality. Moments later Pam heard more noises from inside the house, Roger’s feet on the stairs and a second bang of the front door. Back at the window, Pam saw him, still dragging on a jacket, setting off down the road in the direction the girl had taken.

Pam couldn’t believe her luck. He had gone. He would be back again, of course, but in the meantime she had time to get out of the house, to escape. She had little idea where she would go, but go she would, and quickly, before he came back…or she lost her nerve and changed her mind. Her overnight case was already packed. She had been going to spend a rare night of freedom with her friend, Marilyn, in London, but while she was on the train her friend had called her mobile and cried off.

“I’m so sorry, Pam,” Marilyn had cried, “but my mum has been rushed into hospital and I’ve got to go to Norwich.”

So, Pam had come home again…and caught Roger.

She wondered now how much money she had in her purse. About fifty pounds, that was all. It would have to be enough until she could get to a hole in the wall. She glanced round the little office where she did all Roger’s office paper work. How would he manage without her? He was hopeless with the computer. He’d have to find someone else…the thought flitted through her mind and she gave a bleak smile. He’d actually have to pay someone!

As she moved towards the door her eye lit upon the safe. It was bolted to the floor in the built in wardrobe. Roger usually kept some cash in there in case he needed it for something unexpected. She would take whatever was there and have her wages at last. With a quick glance out of the window to make sure he was not coming back to the house, she knelt by the cupboard door and spun the combination. Her hands were shaking so badly it took her three goes to get it right, but at last the lock clicked and she was able to swing the door open. Inside there were three shelves, stacked with bundles of papers, files and, at the back of the top shelf, a cash box. The cash box was locked and there was no sign of keys, so she took it as it was. It didn’t feel very heavy, there was no chink of coins, but something thumped when she shook it, so there might be some folding money inside. As she pulled it out another envelope, with the words ‘birth certs’ scrawled across it, fell out. She picked it up. If she were never coming back to the house she would need her birth certificate. There were three in the envelope, hers, Roger’s and Karen’s. She pulled out her own and then stuffing Roger’s and Karen’s back into the envelope, she replaced it in the safe, pushed the door closed and spun the combination. Another hasty glance out of the window showed her no irate Roger coming along the street, so grasping her new courage firmly round her, Pam unlocked the office door and ventured out.

She took a quick look into her own bedroom again. The broken mirror was still sprayed over the floor, and there were a few blood stains where Roger must have trodden with his bleeding foot. The tumbled heap of bedclothes smelled of sex and Pam turned abruptly away. Nothing would make her enter that room again, not even to collect her own possessions. Roger would have to send them on after her somewhere. If he refused, too bad, she was never coming into this house again.

Before she went down stairs she closed the office door and turned the key, slipping it into her pocket. Roger might just think she was still hiding in there when he came home, which would give her a little longer to make her escape.

Her small suitcase was standing where she’d left it in the hall. Opening it quickly, Pam stashed the cash box and the birth certificate inside, then grabbing her handbag she let herself out of the kitchen door. She had a spare key and so leaving the normal key hanging on its hook on the dresser, she locked the door again from the outside, stuffing her own key into her pocket. She could hear music blasting from next door’s kitchen, and hoped her nosy neighbour, Margaret Hillier, wouldn’t choose that moment to look out of the window. She knew Margaret had overheard Roger bellowing at her on more than one occasion, and Pam avoided her whenever possible, hating the look of pity she saw in the woman’s eyes. She certainly didn’t want Margaret to see her sneaking away into the night, carrying one small suitcase. However, neither did she want to meet Roger returning along Cardiff Road…so it had to be the garden gate.

Pam walked resolutely down the garden and opened the gate into the alleyway that ran behind the houses. There was no call from over the fence, and as soon as she’d shut the gate Pam hurried along the path between the gardens and emerged into the comparative safety of the next road. She had no idea where she was going, but she was determined it should be somewhere where Roger would not think of looking for her; somewhere large and anonymous, where no one would know her.

Her first thought was to go to Marilyn, in London, but then remembered that Marilyn had rushed off to Norwich to be with her mother. So, where else could she go?
The first thing to do was to get out of Bristol, and with this in mind she caught a bus for Temple Meads station. When she got there she found that there was no train to London for three quarters of an hour, but there was one to Birmingham in five minutes. She dared not wait. Birmingham it was. Pam didn’t care where she went, as long as she went.