little house, lonesome road

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  • 7/29/2019 Little House, Lonesome Road

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    L E Leyland, page 1

    Little house, lonesome road

    I used to love the duska bitter-sweet time of the day. It used to be the time when I

    could begin to relax, days work done but that wasnt so true now, now that I lived

    with Sam, when the nights often had an extra frisson of anxiety. This evening as I drovehome through the winter countryside, after a visit to my daughter, I snatched glimpsesof the sun layering the horizon of the big bleak empty fields with a band of pink and

    gold; then slowly the light went beneath a looming indigo sky. Once in a while I could

    see small squares of bright yellow as farmhouse lights came on, their curtains not yet

    closed. When I was a child in London Id walkhome at dusk through streets of terraced

    houses at that moment of the day when the dark was coming down, when lights were

    being lit but curtains hadnt been drawn; I could see inside to their front sitting rooms

    and imagine the lives that went on in those warm glows. It was a world to dream in

    until I reached my own home, where the street door was unlit and the front room wasshut up and unused and all the living went on at the back of the house away from the

    life of the street. I was too young then to understand why my family kept themselvesprivate.

    I still enjoyed stealing glimpses into strangers lives. You might say it goes with my

    territory. I passed one house right on the roadsideit had a bit of style about it, as if it

    had once been a gatehouse to an estate, but the surrounding countryside had been

    stripped of its woods and hedges so that it stood out, exposed as the only house for

    miles. It would be an easy place to do a job, isolated yet close to the road, no neighbours

    to get in the way. I hadnt long passed it when I felt the car slow down, losing power.Luckily there was a lay-by to pull into. I couldnt think what was wrong then

    remembered the dashboard lights were getting flaky and the petrol gauge wasnt

    showing. I must have run out of petrol. I got out my mobile phone thinking Id ring Samhe wouldnt be too pleased to come out, he had a jobon later. But when I found thatthe phone too had run out of juice I cursed. How hadI let this happen? I suppose I had

    been distracted by the visit to Eve. She blames me for leaving her dad and going off

    with Sam.

    When I was younger I drove old bangers that broke down all the time and in those

    days didnt have a mobile phone. But now I was used to my comforts. I didnt like the

    thought of flagging down another motoristyou cant be too careful. I didnt want to

    walk along the black road for help; I could be hit by a car. But as I sat there thinking inthe dark silence and no cars passed I knew there was nothing for it but to bite the bullet,

    as Sam would say, and go and look for a house with a phone.

    It was a dry night, not frosty, and at least I had a torch. Still no cars passed me but

    as long as I thought no one was about I could cope with the dark. I t wasnt long before I

    came to the little gatehouse Id seen earlier, a small square cottage, with a chimney

    rising from its centre. I felt a bit waryyou never know what youre going to find. Sam

    makes fun of my fears; he teases me and says, Josie, the world is not full of mad axmenor serial killers, but then Sam knows how to take care of himself. The cottage looked

    nicely kept, like an ordinary person might live in it. I know, some ordinary people havenasty habits toobut it helps when I see someone liking the same things as me. A bit of

    money had been spent on renovating the cottage; the little garden had been landscapedwith gravel and evergreens, the windows were dressed with neat roman blinds, and the

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    L E Leyland, page 2

    front door was painted in a washed-out pale blue-green; it reminded me of the house in

    the Jane Austen movie that Eve had taken me to very tasteful. A lot more of their

    money had gone into their caran Aston Martin stood to the side. It didnt look like the

    home of a serial killer, more likely to be a grasping lawyer, and I knew about them. As I

    came up to the door I heard raised voices from inside.

    I wont have it, Adele, do you hear? You mess around and were over.

    Well what did you expect? Everyone at your office knows about your affair with

    Sue. I should have known earlier; they say everyones been in her bed.

    There was a sound of a chair scraping on the floor then a howl from the woman. He

    must have hit her. This was not what I needed. I just wanted to use a phone I didnt

    want to walk into a marital rownot one with hitting going on. Id had enough of that

    with Eves dad. I hesitated for a minute, but I couldnt afford to be choosy so I rang the

    bell. Besides, my turning up out of the blue might stop things getting out of hand. Noone answered my first ring and the voices had dropped so I rang again, more

    persistently; this was no time to be polite. I just wanted to get to a phone and get out

    again. The man opened the dooryoungish, quite good-looking but with a hard set to

    his face. I could imagine him lording it in the Criminal Courts. He stared at me as if Id

    come in with the cat, which I thought was uncalled for. I could see he wouldnt want

    callers at such a time but there was no need for him to look down his nose at me. I

    looked pretty respectable. Id dressed up a bit for my visit to Eve in her Oxford college,

    sort of smart-casual, my leather jacket and a skirt.I explained my predicament. He glared at me and hesitated before he said, Youd

    better come in and use the phone then.

    If I hadnt overheard the row his tone might have frozen me out. But Id alreadydecided he belonged at the bottom of the ant heap and he didnt scare me. There was nosign of her. The front door opened straight into the sitting room; the phone table was by

    the front door and as I dialed Sams number and listened to it ringing I studied the

    room, discretely. I liked the pale lemon yellow velvet couch, the thick dark grey wool

    carpet and the shelf of Clarice Cliff plates with their sunny splashes of bright yellow. I

    wondered if they were genuine but the man didnt look like someone who would have

    fakes on his mantelpiece. Ive handled a few Cliff pieces in recent years. Id love to get

    a proper look at these. Given the bijou size of the cottage this was probably a weekend

    retreat. Maybe Sam wouldnt mind coming to fetch me a fter all, but he didnt answer

    my call. I couldnt remember his mobile number (stored on my own dead mobile) so I

    asked the lawyer-type for his landline number and left a message for Sam to call me on

    that.

    When I finished leaving the message the lawyer-type said brusquely, Youd better

    call yourbreakdown service.

    Im not in one.Then call the garage in Brackleytheyll come out.

    Sams at home hell see the message shortly.But you cant wait here. Please call the garage. He scribbled the number on the

    pad on the phone table and I could tell by his manner that he was used to getting hisway, but I didnt want to call a garage and be charged for a call-out.

    Just give me ten minutes for my ride to call back. I must have sounded pushy buthe didnt make me feel polite.

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    L E Leyland, page 3

    At that moment the woman came into the room. Her face was red and blotchy, not

    only around the eyes but also down one side of her face. She must have overheard our

    talk. For a second I thought I had seen her somewhere before but it was probably

    because she reminded me of Eve. Just like Eve she wore her long blond hair in a plait to

    the side. Its not a style you see much these days.Its alright, James. Barely looking at me she said, Have a seat.I sat down on the lemon couch, unable to resist running my hand over its luxurious

    nap as I sat, and said, Ill give Sam ten minutes then call the garage. I wanted to get

    home as much as James wanted me out. And although I could see that Sam might be

    interested in their little house, I knew it was a non-starter because our number would be

    in the phone log.

    James left the room and the woman sat down and picked up a copy of the Daily

    Telegraph from a side table. I thought she was going to bury herself in it and I began

    studying the Cliff china. I suppose I could have asked her about it but something keptme quiet. She took a couple of glances at me and I could see her mind wasnt on the

    news. Then she put the paper aside and asked how far Id walked, adding it must havebeen horrid walking along the main road in the dark. I said it hadnt been more than

    five minutes and she asked where Id come from.Oxford. Ive been to see my daughter, shes at university there. I was still chuffed

    to be able to say this, still couldnt get used to the idea that shed done it despite me and

    her dad.

    Lucky girl.She deserved it; shedidnt have an easy time the last few years.

    Oh?

    My husband and I split up. She thought it was my fault. He used to hit me, though

    never when she was around. And I never wanted her to know. I stood it for too long but

    then I left him. No one should have to put up with that.She stared at me then murmured, No, thats dreadful.Its all over now. But it was hard with me and her for a while. I surprised myself

    at all this coming out so quickly. Sometimes you can tell a stranger something youd

    never say to someone else. But it wasnt that. This woman didnt lookmuch older than

    Eve. And I h