“Good afternoon, Mansukh. Come in, please.”
“Thank you, David. You are looking well. Very well – happy, in fact.”
“I am. I found someone who could show me how to take control of my head. I’m fine, now, and I even have a job. I told you about that.”
“You did.” The casually dressed man sat on the sofa. Although with the colouration and accent of the Indian subcontinent, his only physical distinction was the turban on his head. “I’d like you to come and talk to Doctor Hughes, though, if you will. I’m sure he’d like to hear how you’re getting on.”
There was the sound of a key in the door, which wasn’t locked, an irritated rattle until the person on the other side realised turning the key was unnecessary. A slightly built, dark-haired young woman dressed in slacks and a dark purple tunic bearing the logo of a local fast-food emporium, entered. “David!” her face lit up, but then saw the other man. “Oh! I’m sorry...”
Both men rose from their seats and David crossed to the girl and wrapped an arm round her. “Mansukh, this is my girlfriend ... um...” after a hesitation, a glance at the girl, he smiled, “my fiancée. Penelope Sanders. Penelope, this is Mansukh, from Mental Health Services.”
Looking at the visitor, they spoke together, “He/she changed my life.” Then laughed at the synchronicity.
The Sikh smiled, too. “Yes – I should say much has changed.” He took out a smart phone and fiddled for a moment. “How are you fixed next ... Thursday, David?”
“As long as it’s first thing in the morning; I’m on a late shift.”
“Penelope, if you could come too, I think Doctor Hughes would like to meet you?”
She frowned and looked at David. “I...”
“I’d like you to come too,” he said.
She took a deep breath. “I’ve only just started working at Disco’s. I’d have to ask if someone would swap with me, I think.”
“So, David; you’ve found an answer to your problem.”
“Yes. Just a mental exercise, really. Someone I knew for a while could tell I was distressed and took the trouble to teach me.”
“Is it something that could help other people? Yoga? Meditation?”
David considered that. “I don’t know, Doctor. You’re fond of saying everyone’s an individual. I found something which works for me. I don’t mind talking to other people; in fact I’ve been thinking of taking some counselling courses.”
The doctor nodded, and turned to the young woman. “You must be Penelope.”
“I’m sorry to ignore you as I greeted David. I’m delighted David has found someone with whom he is happy.”
She blushed. “He ... he helped me and ... I love him.”
“How did David help you? If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I I I, I h-h-had a st-stammer. Oh ... b-b-bother.”
“Take your time, Penelope. You spoke perfectly clearly until you got nervous, didn’t you?”
She nodded and took several deep breaths. Although very slim and with minimal curves, her breathing drew attention to her chest. The doctor fixed his eyes firmly on her face.
“Yes.” She spoke slowly and deliberately. “I had no confidence in myself until I met David. He helped me to see I am a worthwhile person.”
“You seem to be managing quite well now.”
“So, David. How about you? We have quite enough work looking after people who need it. Are you happy to be discharged? You can always get in touch if you think you need us?”
“Thank you, Doctor. Yes, I think I can manage on my own ... well, with Penelope, anyway.” He looked at his companion with such adoration the Doctor blushed with embarrassment.
“Then I wish you both every happiness, David, Penelope.”
The big man unlocked his door and entered the house. It wasn’t cold – the central heating took care of that. But there was a chill, an emptiness, that had nothing to do with ambient temperature. He stomped through into the kitchen, pulled a ready-meal and a can of beer from the fridge, slammed the package into the recently purchased microwave, and popped the top off the beer. He tried to blame his unhappiness on the young woman – his daughter – who had walked out just a few weeks earlier, but he had to admit he’d done nothing to make her want to stay. After a swig, he slammed the can down on the counter-top in irritation, and swore as a little beer slopped on the counter.
The microwave pinged and he used a cloth to extract the hot food and place it on the table. He finished the can of beer, had second thoughts about another, and filled the kettle for a pot of tea. By the time it had boiled the contents of the plastic tray were cool enough to eat without burning his tongue, a mistake he’d made only once.
The indifferent meal consumed, he carried his second mug of tea into his lounge to begin channel surfing; of course there was nothing of interest so he grabbed a DVD at random before losing the fight to fetch a glass of whisky. He was half-way through a generous tot and his head was a little blurred, when the door-bell rang.
The young man on the doorstep was somewhat familiar. Not quite as tall as himself, and very much slimmer. Of course! He was the one Penelope had gone off with.
“A few minutes of your time, Mister Sanders. My name’s David Tomlinson.”
“You’re the one my daughter went off with.”
Geoff Sanders wisely swallowed the comment he was about to make and instead, “I suppose you’d better come in, then.” In the lounge, he muted the t/v, but left the film running. “So?”
“Mister Sanders, I came to ask your permission to marry your daughter.”
“She’s over twenty-one. Doesn’t need my permission.”
“I know, sir. But she’s still your daughter. Although she felt she had to leave home, she still cares about her father. I love your daughter, sir, and I’ll marry her, but I think it best, both for you and her, if you agree.”
Geoff Sanders was silent for some time. So long, in fact, that David was considering getting up and leaving. He had deliberately not used his ability to ‘read’ the older man.
“How...” Penelope’s father began and hesitated. “How do you cope with the way she speaks?”
“She speaks very well, now, except when she’s anxious. But even before, I was able to understand her quite well.”
“I see. Does she know you’re here?”
David shook his head. “She’s working just now. But she’s expressed a desire for you to find ... peace, I suppose is the best way to put it. I thought it better to come alone this time.”
There was another very long silence. Then the older man sighed. “I haven’t treated my daughter very well, or appreciated what she did for me once she was old enough. I miss her now though.”
“Mister Sanders, I know your wife died...”
“It was when Penelope was born. I blamed her for Isobel’s death...”
“Yet you come here...”
“Because for all that, Penelope loves her father. I know someone ... someone who helped me, then helped me to help Penelope.”
“I don’t believe in that ... psycho stuff.”
“You don’t have to. Seeing – or in this case, experiencing – is believing.” David paused, then fumbled in his pocket. He handed over a piece of card. “Here’s my phone number. If you want to speak to Penelope, you can ring me, and if you want to meet, I’d suggest we do that somewhere ... neutral.”
Geoff Sanders took the card and stuffed it in his wallet. “Thank you. I’ll think about it. And ... David, if I may?” David merely smiled and nodded, “You have my permission to marry my daughter. I hope I may be there when you do.”
After David left, Penelope’s father slumped back in his chair with a fresh glass of whisky. Once the film finished (which he half-watched in a near stupor) he stumbled off to bed. There, the anger towards his daughter, which had subsided somewhat, reasserted itself.
The tension of the meeting stayed with David as he made his way home and made himself a makeshift meal of cheese, egg and beans on toast. He spent the evening meditating, or at least trying to do so. A CD given him by Kat, of nature sounds, helped. Running water, wind in trees, birdsong, were soothing.
Penelope arrived home, legs and feet sore from standing, to be greeted with a kiss, a mug of herbal tea, and a foot massage. David’s visit to her father never came up, but other things did; David’s care and attention to her needs enhanced her new-found desires. They barely made it through their night-time routines before making it to bed – barely, of course. There, they lost themselves in each other in a slow, languorous joining and drifted off to sleep, still joined. The joining didn’t endure, and they slept on in another growing wet patch.
David woke to something which was becoming familiar, though he was sure he’d never take it for granted. His morning woodie was encased in, and massaged by, slippery, velvety, snug heat. He opened his eyes to look up at, to him, the prettiest, most desirable young woman in the world. His hands stroked up the thighs each side of him, over the hips which were becoming womanly, padded now with a normal layer of flesh. Dipping into her waist then up to ribs which were now barely perceptible. Finally, palming the low, firm mounds which were her breasts, the movement of his hands on her pressed her hard, aching nipples aside, sending electric zings of ecstasy through her and producing a sound which was half groan, half sigh. He felt the rippling of her pussy on him as she climaxed and she paused briefly before continuing her movements. When a second, much harder orgasm hit, the semen was sucked out of him most powerfully and she flopped down on top of him. It took several minutes before either of them could think coherently.
“I love you so much,” he said, “so beautiful, so sexy.”
Harry Bird shut his computer down with a relieved sigh and walked across the room to his favourite armchair. He’d only been in it long enough to get comfortable when a large, ginger cat with a white bib strutted into the room, went straight to him and leapt into his lap. She curled up and purred loudly as he stroked her, then rolled onto her back and let her limbs flop, still purring. When his right hand began to rub behind her ears while his left was on her tummy, the cat ... changed. Suddenly, instead of a large ginger cat with a white bib, his lap was occupied by his nude, plump, pretty, flame-headed wife, Kat, who snuggled into his arms. At least, his right arm. His left hand was cupping, caressing and gently squeezing her breast. “You’re growing, sweetheart.”
“Uh huh.” She took his hand and placed it on the gentle swell of her abdomen and held it there. Suddenly, he realised he was feeling movement under his hand.
“Aibhilin,” (She pronounced it Aveleen. The name means ‘Longed for child’.)
He sighed and held her closely, stroking her belly.
“Harry...” Kat somehow managed to imbue his name with the sort of wistfulness characteristic of pre-teen girls trying to manipulate their fathers.
He chuckled. “Yes, my precious one?”
“Harry! Oh, well. You know you ... freed me ... to be comfortable with ... what I am.”
“I love what ... and who ... you are.”
“I know. I love you, too. But there’s something I’d like to do. In the garden.”
Harry might be forgiven for thinking that her idea involved outdoor sex in some way, and came as close to leering as he ever did. “Anything, my precious.” She guessed at his thoughts and gently thumped his chest.
“Harry! I want to make a circle.”
“Can I spend some money?”
“I don’t know, really. The best thing would be menhirs. Not enormous ones, just two or three feet high, so they’d need to be three to five feet long.”
“What are menhirs?”
“A menhir is a standing stone. I’d like seven. Actually, I’d like twenty-one, but we don’t have enough space. And we’d probably want a tall fence as I don’t want people watching what I’ll be doing in there.”
“And if we can’t afford stones?”
“Oh, the cheapest option would be a ring of some shrub, lavender, or sage, perhaps. That’s mainly to delineate the space, though the herbs have virtues too.”
“Okay. And how big will this be?”
“Ten feet or so would be enough, I think. It would occupy most of the lawn though.”
“I could live with that. Why don’t we take a run out to Rivelin, to the quarry, and see what they’ve got there?”
That ended the conversation, as Kat squirmed round and fastened her lips on her husband’s, an action that could have only one result. Unusually, they didn’t even make it out of the lounge. Kat wouldn’t let Harry up, other than to get his trousers off, and straddled him to impale herself as he slouched down in the chair. She expressed her appreciation of her husband using her whole body, and he enjoyed her completely. She did overcome the temptation to remain in position once they had both come, to avoid staining Harry’s favourite chair.
One joint shower later and it was apparent they were neither of them finished for the evening.
Visiting the quarry was easier said than done – it’s tucked away up a narrow unsurfaced track off a minor road just outside the city. A phone call confirmed that they had blocks of riven stone, and quoted a price that was not too extortionate. Harry rented a van, a twenty-four hour rental, and they drove out to Rivelin, to the quarry.
The mason was surprised that the odd couple – a plump, pretty redhead and a rather older greying man – didn’t want regularly shaped stone. He led them to a pile of discards.
“This is stuff which at some point we’d re-shape into smaller blocks, but they’re too irregular to be usable, and too thin to be easily re-shaped. Help yourself.”
Harry didn’t really understand why this piece of stone was acceptable, while that piece wasn’t, but at length there was a little heap of rock between four and five feet long, and six to ten inches at the widest. It was obvious why they presented the quarry with a problem, as the thickness varied erratically. The mason looked at the pile and raised an eyebrow.
“Something like that,” Harry replied. “How about a price?”
The mason scratched his head. “Hmm. How does ninety sound?”
Guessing they were in a negotiation, Harry replied, “Fifty.”
The man laughed. “Seventy-five, then. Sorry, but I can’t go lower than that.”
Harry glanced at Kat, who smiled and nodded. “It’s a deal,” he said.
The stone was heavy stuff, unsurprisingly, and the little van was low on its suspension when it was all loaded. Harry drove very carefully down the uneven drive back to the main road, and didn’t hurry on the way home.
Creating what Kat had in mind was far from straightforward. For a week, between her shifts at the café she spent hours sitting in the middle of the lawn in lotus, to all appearances doing nothing. Harry knew better, and didn’t disturb her. She was very quiet and almost remote, and neither of them initiated love-making but just cuddled closely each night. At length, there were seven sticks planted in a circle in the lawn, not evenly spaced, and over another week one stone was carefully planted to replace each stick. Harry watched, fascinated, as Kat chose the right stone – menhir – for each place, then he did the digging for each socket.
Once the circle was complete, he had to ask; “What is the significance of each position?”
“Two solstice sunrises and one equinox. The four give three gateways and the three a destination for the light.”
“Oh. But the fence, and the houses round about...”
“Not important. The position is what’s important. Harry, tonight ... I need to spend the night out here. I don’t like to leave you alone, but...”
“You must do as you need, my love.”
She stretched up and kissed him. “You are so good to me, Harry. I often feel I don’t deserve you.”
“Well, I usually feel I don’t deserve you, Kat. Your love is a priceless gift to me.”
“Destiny. We’re just meant to be together.”
That evening, instead of retiring to the master bedroom, Harry made up the bed in the back bedroom, and as night fell he watched from above as Kat, quite naked, walked around and sang to each stone. Having done so, she sat in lotus in front of the Equinox Stone, a pale statue in the starlight. Harry tried to stay awake, but at length lay out on top of the bed and fell asleep. Something woke him in the small hours of the morning, and he rose from the bed, opened a window and looked down. Kat was still in the same position. Even as he watched, the sky was lightening in the east, and Kat stood and raised her arms in greeting. She sang, and though he could not understand the words the flow of them made pictures in his mind. She carried on for over an hour until the sun peeped over the nearby houses, then made one more circuit of her circle, spinning counter-clockwise as she did so.
Harry watched until she left the circle, heading for the kitchen door. He, too, made his way to the kitchen where he found Kat boiling the kettle. She turned, smiling, to face him as he entered. “Thank you, Harry.”
“Aren’t you cold and stiff?”
She shook her head, smiling widely. “No indeed! But there’s just one more thing to do.”
“Could you bring yourself to join me out there tonight? To make love, sky-clad?”
“I should be glad to. I’ll make love to you ... well, perhaps not just anywhere or any time, but certainly whenever you like.”
She laughed. “That would be ‘anywhere and any time’ you know. But a certain discretion is necessary.”
It took only a couple of days for Geoff Sanders’ resentment to exceed what it had been before David’s visit. His consumption of whisky increased in proportion to his anger and might soon have caused him to become incapable of his responsibilities as a construction site foreman. As it was, his temper was uncertain and volcanic and the other men in the company soon learned to give him plenty of space, and to tread very carefully if they had to interact with him. It was fortunate that he was still in the base compound and the company nurse was within sight when he felt pain in his left shoulder and arm, then his chest, then the world greyed around him and disappeared.
The nurse assessed the problem the moment she got to him. Rather than call for an ambulance, she had several of the other men lift him into one of the company mini-buses, administered oxygen, and had them drive them to the Casualty Department. As he was unconscious, she went through his wallet and found a scrap of card with a mobile phone number on it – the only number he had.
“Hello?” a young, female voice answered.
“Hello ... I’m Clare Howells, the company nurse from Chapel Construction. Are you any relation to Mister Geoffrey Sanders?”
There was a gasp from the other end. “His daughter. Is he ... is he okay?”
“He’s had a heart attack, and he’s in hospital. We got him there pretty quickly, so I think there’s hope he’ll live, and probably recover well. What’s your name, sweetie?”
“How old are you, Penelope?”
“I’m twenty-two. Um ... Clare?”
“My father and I are, um, estranged. He never thought much of me and eventually I left him. Do you think I ought to go see him?” The nurse didn’t respond immediately, and Penelope said, “Hello?” again.
“I’m still here, Penelope. Look, I don’t think a visit would do any harm, and might do a lot of good. It’s really about how you feel. Are you angry with him?”
“No, not angry. It was he who was angry with me when I left. What could I do? He never had a good word to say for, or to, me. But he’s still my father.”
The nurse sighed. “You won’t want to visit today anyway. If he lives through the next few hours, he’ll probably be conscious tomorrow and able to respond. I’d suggest you take a friend if you do go.”
Penelope immediately thought of David, but then of Kat. “Okay. There are a couple of people who I think would be supportive.”
Penelope took the risk of losing her job and told them her father was in hospital and she needed a day or two off. Happily, they were understanding and told her to take all the time she needed. David was to work an afternoon shift, so he walked with her to the park. They found Kat at work in the café and when Penelope explained, she arranged to take the afternoon off. “They can spare me. They know I don’t really need to work and don’t want to lose me.”
Thus it was Kat who accompanied Penelope across the city to the sprawling General Hospital and helped her find the Coronary Care Unit.
The Charge Nurse, a man in his thirties, was helpful. “Your father got through the night. It was quite a serious infarction ... heart attack ... and the heart is somewhat damaged. The nurse at his employers probably saved his life, but he’s not out of the woods yet. Please don’t excite him, and if his nurse needs to do anything, get out of the way.”