Blake was on early turn the next day, and after all the messing about in Merthyr I had the delight of a day off. I needed it, to be honest, but I didn’t exactly get a lie-in as my dear husband was never exactly light on his feet, nor subtly agile when climbing out of our nice, warm, snuggly bed. Just another hour… please…
Deep joy. “Yes, Rhod?”
“Mam! No paper!”
“Hang on, love!”
I wrapped myself in my dressing gown, just knowing my hair was everywhere and trotted downstairs to where I just knew the last grocery delivery would be sitting unsorted in the kitchen. Yup. I grabbed a pack of toilet rolls and made my way back upstairs to the bathroom door.
“Open up, love!”
The door cracked just a bit and I passed a roll through, after starting the paper off. At five, our son was just starting to feel the need for a little privacy and body-modesty, so I didn’t push him, but I did feel a little wrench every now and again as my baby seemed to step a little further away from me each day.
“Wash your hands! And do your teeth, and that doesn’t mean running the brush under the tap!”
I went into his room to lay out his uniform, and he was back there in a suspiciously short time. Never mind, for today. I’d get those teeth after breakfast, sneaky mam that I was steadily learning to be.
“What do you want for breakfast?”
“Can I have porridge, Mam?”
The delivery should include milk. “I think so, young man. Downstairs, get changed after”
Microwave, fluffy oats and milk would probably give a traditional Scot apoplexy, but sue me. It was quick and warm, and the weather was shitty, so all I needed was to see he got something solid and warm inside him.
“What we doing at Christmas? Are we having a party? Is Aunty Lainey and Aunty Siân coming? And Uncle Chris? And Aunty Annie? And---ˮ
“One question at a time, love! Now, what is school doing? Are they having a party?”
“When are they having it? Will you need mince pies and things to take?”
“Yes please, Mam”
“And when is it?”
“No, Mam. It’s tomorrow”
Bite your tongue, Diane, before you say something little ears shouldn’t encounter. If I walked him in and then popped back for the car I’d miss the first school rush, and it wasn’t THAT late in the month, so there should still be supplies available. Bang went my idea of a lazy day’s reading and a long soak in a scented bath and… No. No resentment, not for the wide-eyed wonder shovelling down his porridge.
This time, I cleaned my teeth alongside him to avoid cheating, and left him to get dressed before the ritual of tying his shoelaces and brushing both our hair. School bag packed, out the door and into the flow of other parents escorting their own little treasures down the road to Ysgol Bryn Du, not that far a walk, really, but after the previous night I had opted for trousers, and I was glad of them. Rhod’s face was glowing by the time we arrived, and I could feel the flush in my own cheeks. See him in the gate to the duty teacher, back to the house, a slightly more relaxed cup of coffee and then out on the supermarket run that wouldn’t have been necessary if the little so and so had mentioned his sodding class party before we ordered the delivery I still had to put away.
I made up for it by accidentally having a piece of chocolate cake in the store’s café. Back home, sort the groceries and begin the e-mail job. I had a little list, of course, in addition to Rhodri’s set of names, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Annie who replied first, almost immediately, with a suggestion we switch to Skype. I sorted a fresh coffee before making the call.
Every time I saw her she seemed more relaxed, and as her impish grin filled my computer’s screen I asked myself the same question I always did: how the hell had any of us, all of us in fact, missed what she was?
“Day off, Di?”
“Aye; a long one last night. Just done the school run, and then had to do a supermarket dash, as a certain little sod didn’t tell me that tomorrow is his class party”
“Ah. Mince pies and sausage rolls?”
“Indeed, and some of those choccy bite things. So, you up for it this year?”
“Christmas? I would love to, but we sort of get booked up sharpish over here. Got a regular gig at the church”
“Didn’t think you were getting religion, love”
“Nah. It’s a music thing, for charity, aye? One night of sensible, then the vicar gets a load of ale in and we get silly”
“The vicar. Gets ale in. The vicar. And you all pass out in the pews?”
“No, it’s camping. It’s the vicar that married us, aye? Simon? My cousin’s husband? You know Merry; you saw her when you were sneaking around that tea shop, way back when”
“Yeah, but camping?”
“Church hall is open for brews and bogs and stuff, and some folk do sleep in there, but trust me, a decent tent, warm things to snuggle into and a portable heater”
She waited just long enough for me to raise cup to lips before saying “Called Eric”
Sod. “You are a wanton wench, Sergeant Johnson”
She laughed, and once again it was open and happy, and I sent a little prayer of thanks up for her husband.
“No, Di! Just a happily married woman. Seriously, though---would you like to come over for it? There’ll be a big crowd from down West, loads of kids, and as half of my family are teetotal there’s always someone safe for the kids’ sake. Eric and me, we’ve got a spare tent that’s big enough for you. Darren does his own thing, so we don’t need the space, and then there’s the Edifice”
“You said that with a capital E, didn’t you?”
“Oh yes indeed. Biggest tent I’ve ever seen that didn’t have a concert going on inside, aye? Friend’s in-laws. They should have room. Go on. You know you want to!”
“I’ll have to ask Blake, and then there’s Rhod, and he wants to see his aunties”
“Elaine and Siân? Already coming”
I felt almost as if the jaws of a rather attractive trap were closing on me. It would be good, and if the Powells were there, with Little Tone and Sassy, Rhod would feel right at home.
“Let me talk with Him Indoors and I’ll let you know, love. Now, any decent gossip? Salacious, I mean?”
I can think of much worse ways to spend a morning. The rest of the day went in general pottering, getting some of the laundry out of the way and packaging Rhodri’s provender for the next day’s celebration. All so normal, just like Annie, and just as surprising to me.
My school days had been as conventional as Rhod’s, and often just as cold as the previous night in Merthyr, as our uniform was most definitely conventional. Lightweight dresses in summer, heavier grey pinafores for winter, and frozen knees whenever the wind got up. Once we were over fourteen, we could opt for a skirt and blouse, and that was hilarious, in hindsight. All the other girls, just like me, had complained about how cold it got in the dresses, why can’t girls wear trousers too, eh Miss, and yet as soon as they were allowed to switch from dress to skirt said skirt ended up rolled round the waistband so as to be as short as it could be without showing one’s knickers to the boys.
Well, in most cases, that is. Some of my girlfriends delighted in teasing, and a flash of their knickers was all part of the game. We didn’t take it any further, well, all except Sherry Curtis, who had to leave school when she was fifteen to have her kid, but it was all as conventional as a kid’s Christmas party.
Reminder to self: take change of clothes for him when picking him up tomorrow.
No, it had been as conventional as could be. I had gone through the usual crushes, especially on Sherry’s brother, but then I suspected that had been true for every straight girl in school, as well as some of the younger teachers. I had been the good girl, though, too scared of Dad to stay out late, hanging round the shops and bus shelters with the boys who had been so cool to me as a teenager but now simply struck me as wasters and losers. I had, in the end, been too much of a mouse to risk anything, to take a chance at looking like an idiot in lipstick and microskirt. Head down, books clutched to chest, and pray that John Curtis wouldn’t catch me looking at his bum.
It had been raining that night, and I was on my way back from Saffron’s place, French books in my bag. GCSE exams were coming, and we both liked to practise the spoken part together, even though it usually ended up with us giggling and falling about her bedroom doing atrocious Inspector Clouseau imitations. I said goodnight to Saffron and her parents, pulled my coat tighter and set off on the mile and a half walk home.
A couple of street lights were out on one of the turnings, and I was indeed head down into the wind as I walked when the car pulled up.
“Excuse me, Miss! Bit lost round by here; could you give me some directions? Want to get off to the Tesco?”
I stepped over to the car, and the passenger window went down. As I leant in, just a little closer, a hand wrapped itself in my hair and jerked me half-way through the window. I could smell his breath, beer and curry and god knew what.
“I’ve got a knife here, you little whore. Open the door and get in or I will fucking slice your face off”
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