© Copyright belongs to the author S.A. Ninian. Neither this story nor any extract of it can be reproduced in anyway without the author's consent.
He sat in the car, his mind awash with conflicting thoughts: if Denise found out it would be the end; they needed the money; the university fees; the nursing home... but she would never accept or begin to understand this. But then could she understand anything anymore?
He got out of the car and lifted the black brief case. He was going!
The area was definitely classy: big stone-built Edwardian tenements set on wide clean tree-lined streets. Unquestionably middle-class. Number 27 was the address. Flat 1 F 1.
He walked briskly along the pavement, the brief case knocking against his leg. It was cold for October but he was sweating slightly in his best dark suit and his good raincoat.
A couple approached pushing a Mommas and Pappas. Momentarily he locked eyes with the young mother and noted the slight change in her expression. Good! He was looking hunky. The long months at the gym, the early morning jogging, the sessions in the sun and on the sun bed had paid off...
She answered the intercom on the second ring. Distorted by the phone her voice sounded husky and uncertain,
'Hello, this is Flat 1F1.'
He spoke slowly trying to put warmth and friendliness into his voice,
'Good afternoon, Mrs. Fenwick, this is Daniel from Health Services. I called about your order. May I come up. Can you press the buzzer?'
'Take charge', he said inwardly, ' take hold of the situation. She's nervous and apprehensive. Reassure her. Be in control'
The buzzer went and he pushed the heavy door open and entered the cool dim depths of the mosaic-tiled hall-way.
She opened the door of 1F1 just as his finger touched the bell-pusher and for a moment or two they just looked at each other.
She stood about 5' 5' and had dark brown hair cut just over her ears. There was very little make-up to be seen and the face was attractive with high cheekbones. She had lovely wide hazel-green eyes. She looked attractive despite her worried expression. She was wearing a loose fitting expensive woollen dress, reaching past her knees, making it difficult to ascertain what her figure was like. He guessed she was in her late forties, maybe early fifties but well-maintained.
Her mouth open to say something but he beat her to the words,
'Hello at last, Mrs. Fenwick. Nice to see you in person. I've come to chat about your order. May I come in ?'
Smiling just a little, he took a step forward but she stepped back, partially closing the door.
'I... I... Daniel, I... I've been... that is... I'm not... ' she was stammering and clearly extremely nervous. He had to do something or he'd be on his way home.
Then came one of those strokes of luck which change your life: the outer street door banged as someone entered the building.
Mrs. Fenwick gave a little jump. Clearly agitated, she looked over his shoulder to the stairway as high heels clicked along the passage-way towards the stairs.
He took charge: 'Why don't I come in and we can discuss it in private, Mrs. Fenwick? You can hear everything on these stairs. I won't keep you if you've things to do... I promise.' He spoke softly but firmly and, matching action to his words, stepped forward and past her into her home.
He took several steps up the hall-way, laying the bag down beside the rosewood coat-stand and shrugging off his raincoat.
He heard the door close behind him and turned to face her holding out the coat for her to take. She moved towards him but she did not take the coat. It remained there between them.
' Daniel, I'm so sorry.I... I... I don't think I can... I'll pay you of course, for wasting your time... I'm sorry... I... I... '. She floundered to a stop, her face working, eyes full.
Without haste he reached out and touched her elbow reassuringly, while still holding the coat with his other hand. She flinched at the contact but she didn't remove his hand. With just a hint of a smile softening his face, he said gently,
'Mrs Fenwick... Celia... Please don't worry. You're not under any pressure. I'll go... if that's what you want.' He hesitated for a second, then, 'Could you possibly let me have a drink before I go. I'd really appreciate that '.
Her face cleared, 'Why of course, Daniel. Here let me have your coat'.
She was evidently relieved that there was going to be no scene over her change of heart.
After hanging up his coat, she led the way into a large airy room with a bay window overlooking a walled garden. The furnishings were expensively tasteful with several lovely prints on the walls. A small piano stood against one wall with a framed photo of a young woman in her graduation robes. The room was warm and the wooden clothes horse in one corner gave it a 'home' feel
'Is this you, Celia ?' he inquired, looking at the photograph.
She gave a little rueful laugh and some of the tension eased out of her expression, 'Of course not ! That's my daughter Anne.' She looked at him, her eyes wide and her expression saddened, 'Anne is 27. What age are you, Daniel?'
He stepped a little closer to her and looked into her eyes with a quizzical look. ' Chronologically, Mrs Fenwick', he said slowly, ' I'm 24 - but some days I feel I'm 90 - and some days I know I'm just 19. And quite frequently I act as though I am 6. Don't you feel a bit like that, Celia ? Or are you always your real age... as people expect you to be?'
Mrs. Fenwick, chronologically aged 48, stood very still, the tempo of her heartbeat increasing. She looked up at Daniel as if trying to read his soul, her eyes searching his, then she turned away.
'What can I get you, Daniel? Whisky? Gin ? I'll join you in a gin. I had a couple before you came. Dutch courage and all that... but... ' her voice trailed away and she turned to face him again from where she stood next to the polished sideboard with its decanters and bottles.
Daniel moved to stand close to her and again reached out and took her elbow. This time she did not flinch but stood there looking into his face. He smiled and squeezed her arm gently. The material of her dress was soft and warm and as he took his hand away he slid his fingers down her forearm and gave her hand a little squeeze, held it for a moment then let go. He noticed how creamy her skin was. It had a light brown olive tinge to it. Her eyes darkened a trace and her lips parted.
'Could I possibly have a cup of tea? I missed lunch but a cup of tea would be just great'. Daniel stepped back as he spoke and gave her space.
Relief and reassurance lit her face, ' Tea? Why of course you can. Please have a seat, Daniel. Take your jacket off and make yourself comfortable. You must be hungry. Would you like something to eat?'
Daniel stood up and peeled off his jacket. 'Please don't go to any trouble, Mrs. Fenwick A cup of tea will be fine.'
'It's no trouble,' she fussed, ushering him to sit down. He sat on the settee. 'I have some salmon sandwiches left over from my own lunch. I'll just go and get things ready'
She turned in the doorway.' Will you be all right for a few minutes. I'll be as quick as I can. You can put on the tele if you wish'
'I'll be fine', he assured her, 'you are spoiling me, Mrs. Fenwick, Oh! May I play the piano,? It's been a long time since I saw such a lovely one. May I?'
Surprise and pleasure shone in her eyes, 'Why of course, Daniel. That will be lovely'. 'I'll leave the door open so I can hear you.'
He played Schubert. The piano was in excellent tune and he was drawn into the beauty of the music. So much so that he did not hear her return. He was on the last few bars when he became aware of her at his back. As the last note died away she put a hand on his shoulder and in a husky whisper said,
' That was quite quite beautiful, Daniel. Really quite lovely... Come over and have your tea'
They sat a couple of feet apart on the settee at the coffee table, he with a napkin on his knees, she with her feet under her, as they ate the thinly sliced salmon sandwiches and drank from the fragile china cups. And they talked.
They talked of music and art, of books and the cinema. He listened as she spoke of her travels in the States and in South Africa. She spoke knowledgeably but with no sense of superiority. He listened avidly, always giving her time, but wary of any long pauses. They laughed together as they recounted funny things in films they had seen and books they had read. And she asked him about himself.
He told her of his university studies; of the bomb blast in London when on holiday two years ago, which had killed his parents and left his wife Denise severely crippled, with both legs amputated above the knee and unable to speak because of brain damage. Of the nursing home where she now spent most of her time; of the occasional week-ends when he brought her to stay in what had been his parents' house but where now he stayed alone; of how he had taken a course in physiotherapy to be able to deal with Denise when she was home.
And of his decision to try and earn money to help with the bills. And all of this he said in a quiet matter-of fact way without any sense of self-pity or pleading.
She listened gravely and at one point reached out to cover his hand. Her touch was cool, her palm slightly roughened.
'A house-wife's hand', he thought, 'this woman is rich but she enjoys doing things for herself.'
' You're a good man'. she said, 'A very honest, good man'.
.... There is more of this story ...