A Strange Attraction to Concrete Cows - Chapter 5


A Strange Attraction to Concrete Cows

by Karen Page
Edited by Angel O'Hare

Chapter 5

As I walked up the drive to the Scott's house, Mrs Scott opened the door and gave me a warm, welcoming hug. "Come on in. Anna is just finishing making sure your room is clear."

"Thank you Mrs Scott. I'm sorry for intruding at this late hour."

"Poppycock, we've known you for about ten years and if we couldn't help then who would you turn to? Go on up with your case, you've been here often enough to know where to go."

Mrs Scott moved back inside the house and let me in. I wearily climbed the stairs and entered the guest room. Inside I stood in shock. The clutter and mess that normally populated this room was gone. In its place was a clean, uncluttered room and standing in the middle was a very proud looking Anna.

"What do you think?" she asked flourishing her arms.

"Unbelievable," I responded. "If the room was anything like it used to be, then it's a miracle."

I placed the case in the corner and Anna proceeded to help me put clothes in the drawers and wardrobe. We chatted away as we emptied the case. The majority was just extra school uniforms. Anna looked at me strangely as I hung up a smart looking pair of trousers and shirt.

"These are just in case I go to church tomorrow. I know you don't go but it is only a twenty minute walk. I'd like to pray for my Dads speedy recovery."

When everything was unpacked we trouped our way down stairs where Mrs Scott was waiting in the lounge. "Here is a key to the front door," she stated passing me a key. "You know the rules of this house so I don't need to reiterate them. However since we are in charge of you please let us know if you're going somewhere and a rough time you're due back. That way we won't worry."

I just nodded my head. "I was planning to go to church tomorrow, like normal. Is that okay?"

"Of course it is. You go to St Mark's don't you? Do you want George to run you down?"

"No it is only a twenty minute walk. I should be back by half eleven, as long as the vicar doesn't get carried away with his sermon."

I saw that Anna was getting tired and feeling a bit weary myself I said, "I hope you don't find me rude but all this moving has worn me out. Do you mind if I trot of to bed?"

"I think I'll turn in as well," stated Anna rising from the settee. The two of us went up the stairs. As we got to Anna's door she paused and I stopped. She looked like she was contemplating saying something. However she just shook her head and said, "Goodnight. I'll come down to church with you. It starts at half nine, doesn't it?"

"Yes," I replied and watched as her bedroom door closed.

I continued to my temporary sleeping place. This room was larger that Anna's and had a double bed where hers only had a single. It also had an attached room with a toilet and shower which Anna's didn't. "I wonder why Anna doesn't have this room," I thought to myself as I slipped into my pyjamas. It took a while to get to sleep as my thoughts alternated between by Dad and my impending pantomime performance. However thoughts of Anna kept intruding my sleep, especially when the sound of her snoring filtered into the room.

***

It wasn't long before the alarm signalled that it was time to get up. I staggered out of bed my eyes gradually adjusting to the harsh electric light. Oh how I missed the dimmer in my bedroom.

"Good morning," said Anna as we both simultaneously exited our bedrooms. She was dressed smartly in a knee length skirt, plain blouse and a matching jacket; it was the type of clothes that my sister wore to church. After a rather quick breakfast we were on the way to church, leaving Anna's parents still asleep in their bed.

We got to church fifteen minutes before the service started. Regulars were surprised to see me with Anna and not my Mum or Beth. As we took our places on the traditional wooden pews Beth arrived and joined us.

"No Sarah?" I whispered to Beth after she'd finished saying her prayer.

"She's a catholic," responded Beth in an equally hushed voice. "It wouldn't have been fair to drag her to a Church of England service."

The sermon didn't last more than twenty minutes and after just an hour the service was over. Instead of going straight home we went to the church hall to have a coffee and biscuit. As we chatted the vicar came up to us. "Hi," he started, "Is your Mum not well?"

We were regular church attendees and for Mum not to be there was very unusual. "Dad isn't very well," stated Beth. "Mum went to Milton Keynes to look after him."

"Where are you staying? Can I offer any assistance?"

"I'm staying with one of my friends from school," explained Beth. "Bill is staying with Anna."

"Is this Anna? I don't think I've seen you in church before."

"I'm not a regular attendee," Anna confessed. "I thought it would be good to keep Bill company. My parents are moving to Milton Keynes over Christmas time so I doubt I'll become a regular."

The vicar moved away into the centre of the room and said in a loud voice, "Can I have everyone's attention." As the room became quiet he continued in a slightly quieter voice, "It has just come to my attention that Andrew Toms is very ill. Carol is tending his needs. Let us pray."

There was now complete silence and everyone bowed their heads.

The vicar then prayed, "Lord Jesus. During your time on Earth you performed many acts of healing. You helped the lame walk; brought peace to troubled minds and cured people suffering disease. Today there are many people that require your help; please bring healing to all those that are sick in body, mind and spirit. We especially pray for one of your flock, Andrew Toms. Watch over him and help guide the people who endeavour to heal him; especially his loving wife Carol. Bring comfort to his friends and relations in this difficult time, especially his two children Beth and Bill and the kind people looking after them. Amen."

After that short intercession we were inundated by regulars giving best wishes to my parents and hoping for a speedy recovery for my Dad. There were also offers of hospitality for me and Beth while my Mum was away.

Due to the unexpected attention we didn't set off till late. We said goodbye to Beth and Anna and I started the trek home. We got back at about twelve, just in time for Sunday lunch.

Erika had gone with her parents Christmas shopping so I hung around with Anna most of the day. This was just like old times before we became a trio. When Anna's parents went out during the afternoon Anna had me practice for the pantomime. Jill was back in all but dress; I couldn't risk being seen by Mr and Mrs Scott.

***

"How are you?" asked Erika as we all walked down to school. "I can't believe that somebody would beat up your Dad like that."

"WHAT!" Anna and I both simultaneously screamed with all three of us coming to a sudden halt.

"My Mum wouldn't tell me what was wrong with him; she just said he was not well and needed looking after," I explained.

"My parents said the same," injected Anna.

"Well my parents didn't tell me either. I just eavesdropped at the door when my Dad was talking to Anna's Dad. It seems it was somebody from the office that did it."

"I suppose that explains why our parents didn't want us to know," I surmised.

"But why would somebody want to beat up your Dad?" asked Anna. "He is such a gentle person."

We continued to school pondering on the motive of the culprit. As we entered the school grounds I saw Beth and we updated her on what Erika had overheard. As usual Beth was very level headed about it.

"Look Bill, "started Beth, "there is nothing we can do about it now. Mum said that she should be back tomorrow so it can't be that bad."

"I suppose so," I conceded rather doubtfully.

"Why don't you meet me at our house after school? We can ring Mum at Dad's house."

It was hard to concentrate on lessons due to my worries regarding Mum. It brought back many questions regarding Dad. Why did my parents split up? Why are they still apart when Mum says they have worked out their differences? Why aren't we allowed to visit? Why was he beaten up?

"Bill, please concentrate on the lesson!" was a standard phrase that morning and I was quite relieved when the bell rang signalling lunch. That is until I remembered that it was the dress rehearsal for the pantomime.

This week the cast of the play had been given permission to miss the afternoon lessons. The two classrooms next to the hall had been converted to changing rooms. However it was expected that I would require assistance in putting on my outfit so I was given my own changing room.

After I'd eaten I went to Mr Abbots to pickup my outfit. Beth had agreed to help me dress. She had retrieved a bag of accessories, such as bra, panties and makeup from her locker. Inside my changing room, which was Mr Small's office, I asked Beth, "Can you turn round while I change underwear."

Beth gave a slight chuckle as she obliged. As her gaze was diverted I removed my male underwear and donned the panties quickly followed by the bra. As I started to remove the dress from it protective bag Beth turned round and said, "I still can't get over how quickly you put on a bra. I know you have been practicing but I think you can do it quicker than me. Don't put on the dress yet, I want to do your makeup first."

"It's easier for me as I don't have any breasts and yes I have been practicing."

Beth deftly applied my makeup which added thirty years onto my life. I was soon wearing my regalia and after Beth had given me the once over I walked majestically onto the stage. The other cast members were already waiting. This was the first time that they had seen me in costume and they gaped at the brashness.

"Let's start the rehearsal instead of all staring at our Widow Twanky. I think we agree that Beth did a good job designing the costume. So let's have a run through and see if Bill gives it justice."

As I concentrated on my lines and not acting too feminine I didn't have time to worry about my Dad or ponder my Mum's motives. Beth, being my assistant, had also been excused from her classes and was seated where the audience would sit. Half way through the rehearsal Mrs Harries walked in with an official, but quirky, looking woman. Mr Abbots went across and talked to them for a moment before calling me across.

"Bill," said Mrs Harries, "this is Mrs Dougal. She is from the exam board to verify Beth's work. Normally the photograph with the written work and our marking is acceptable but since this is the first time we have run the course the exam board are checking that we are doing things correctly."

Mrs Dougal was smartly dressed in a modern pants suit which looked quite fashionable but it didn't match the rest of her looks. Her glasses were throwbacks from the nineteen twenties as was her hairstyle.

"May I examine how the dress fits you?" I was asked.

I attempted to shrug my shoulders with indifference but the layers of the dress hid the movement. "Go ahead," I responded after realising she was still awaiting my permission.

As I was being checked over I noticed that Beth had risen and was about to come across. Mrs Harries also noticed and shook her head. Beth must have got the message as she sat down but continued to watch the proceedings. When Mrs Dougal had finished she removed a folder from her briefcase and jotted a few remarks down.

"Thank you for your help," she said to me as she replaced the folder back into her briefcase. Then with a flourish she was gone.

After that brief interruption the rehearsal continued. Every so often Mr Abbots would stop and correct something but the items were just minor. At the end he said, "Well done everyone. That was very well done. Same time, same place tomorrow."

Wow, unbelievable, we had finished twenty minutes before the end of school. My first thoughts were that I would be able to get home early and find out about Dad. My thoughts were soon dashed when I relayed by thoughts to Beth.

"I doubt we will get home early as getting you changed is going to take twenty minutes minimum. The makeup removal is going to take at least five minutes."

As Beth and I walked towards the door Mr Abbots suddenly came up to me and said, "Bill, you did very well but be careful not to overact. Sometimes you looked just a bit too much like a girl playing the part."

"I'll try harder," I reassured him. "Trying to act like a girl is just so hard."

"Well this is why we have rehearsals," explained Mr Abbots. "Go and get changed and I'll see you tomorrow lunch."

When we got into Mr Small's office Beth just burst out laughing. "You need to be more careful," she said, "otherwise people are going to cotton on."

I was ready to leave just as the bell rang. Beth went to find her friends and I found Anna and Erika.

"How did it go?" asked Anna as we sauntered up Hill Street.

"Not too bad. A few mistakes but we should be ready by Friday. I really miss being able to practice the oboe. I've got my grade seven oboe exam next week, do you think your parents would mind if I practiced?"

"Only grade seven?" queried Erika. "You play really well. I thought you'd be at least grade ten standard."

I inwardly sighed, yet another difference. "Music exams are separate from school years. Grade one is the easiest. Grade eight is the hardest. If I get my grade eight then I will be exempt from one of the A Level music exams."

Erika just nodded her understanding. Something else appeared to be on her mind.

"I don't think so but you'll have to ask," responded Anna. "Mum will be back at about six. Dad doesn't normally materialise till about seven but he said he would make an extra effort this evening."

"Are you okay Erika?" asked Anna, "You seem to have been very quiet."

"I'm fine. I was just thinking abut our German homework. "Bill and I have to each recite a poem in German, rather like you were chosen to do one in French last month. I know I have had a week but I still haven't got anything."

"That's tomorrow?" I questioned. I'd forgotten all about it.

"'I'm afraid so."

Now I was quietly pondering wondering if Mum had any books of German poetry. Then suddenly it came to me. "Berg"

The other two just stopped and looked at me. Oh yes, now if I can only find the words. "Don't worry, just had a flash of inspiration."

Erika just shook her head in wonder.

"Anna, I missed cooking yesterday. Would your Mum be offended if I cooked the main course as my way of saying thank you for looking after me?"

Anna smiled and Erika just looked jealous. "I think Mum finds cooking a bit of a bore so I think she would be grateful. However I don't think she has many basic ingredients, we mostly have sauces from a jar."

"Don't worry; I'll bring what's needed."

I said a quick farewell as I walked down the path to my house to make the phone call to my parents. Beth wasn't home so I went into the lounge to lookup the book of composers. After going through various pages I found just what I wanted, ‘Seven Early Songs.'

Beth arrived just as I finished copying the German text. "Hi," she said. "Are you ready to ring?"

"This is going to be awkward. What do we say?"

"I've been thinking about this today. I'll ring and do most of the talking."

We both sat at the bottom of the stairs with Beth to my left. She always put the phone to her right ear so I should be able to hear what was said.

Beth rang the number and it was soon answered, "Hi Mum."

"Hi Beth," and then with concern in her voice, "Is everything okay with you and Bill?"

"Yes, why?"

"It's before six. You know it's a lot cheaper to ring after six."

"Yes but we were worried. We heard a rumour at school that Dad had been beaten up. Is it true?"

This question was only met with silence.

Beth tried again, "Mum, was Dad beaten up?"

A quiet, "Yes" was the only response.

I felt numb knowing the truth. Surprisingly, however, I didn't feel like crying. I'd been through most of the emotions earlier. Beth however didn't take it as well and I took the telephone. I used my left ear so Beth could still hear what was being said. I held the telephone with my left hand and reached across placing my right on her leg for comfort.

"Hi Mum. How bad was it?"

"It could have been a lot worse. Fortunately a group of people saw the incident and thankfully intervened. There was very little facially damage. Most of the bruising is on his chest. He also required about half a dozen stitches for a knife wound."

Beth started crying harder and I tried to nuzzle against her. I was too shocked to cry. "What the hell is Dad involved with?"

Mum must have missed the profanity as she said in between muffled weeps, "Nothing. He was just being himself." There was a trace of anger in her voice that I had never heard before. I'm glad I wasn't the person who had attacked Dad.

The conversation lasted only another few minutes as we were all too upset. Mum said that Dad was getting better and should be okay on his own by lunchtime tomorrow. I disconnected the call and my own bravado failed. Beth and I held each other for about ten minutes until our tears dried up.

Beth went upstairs to clean herself up and I went into the kitchen. I got the ingredients that I required for the main course. I still felt upset about my Dad and wanted to get my mind off the situation. Worrying would not solve anything. I grabbed another bag and started adding more ingredients and utensils.

When Beth appeared she was surprised to see me raiding the kitchen. "What are you doing?" she asked

"I asked Anna if her parents wouldn't mind me cooking the main course as a thank you for having me. However I need to take my mind off the situation with Dad so I have decided to cook desert as well."

"I wish I had thought of that but Sarah's Mum doesn't work so I think she would be offended if I offered to cook."

Beth locked up the house and she turned left heading towards Sarah's house. I turned right and staggered up the road towards the Scott's. When I got there Anna let me in and helped me take the bags into the kitchen. Erika was there which surprised me as her Mum normally complained if she wasn't home straight away.

I was dragged by the two girls to the settee and was seated between them. "What did your Mum say?" eventually asked Anna.

"That Dad was beaten up," I answered quietly. "Erika was right."

Erika was stunned but she had never met my Dad. However Anna, who had known him for ten years burst into tears. Anna and I just embraced each other in sympathy while Erika averted her eyes wondering if she had done the right thing by telling us about my Dad.

I glanced across at Erika who was being very silent. She looked a bit guilty. I took her hands into mine and said, "Thanks for telling me about my Dad being beaten up. Not knowing what was going on was a lot worse."

"Are you sure?" she asked timidly.

"Yes!" I responded emphatically giving her a reassuring hug.

When Erika had left Anna helped to unload the ingredients and utensils that I had brought. Anna had thought that I was only making the main course asked, "Isn't that an awful lot?"

"I want to take my mind off the situation with Dad and I find cooking a good technique. I find that chopping and whipping are excelling methods of tension reduction. I was going to make a dessert as well."

"Can I help?" asked Anna. "I require a distraction as well."

I nodded in surprise. Anna had never shown any inclination in cooking. "Why don't you grab a chopping knife and start on slicing the mushrooms. I'll start making the pastry for the dessert."

When Mrs Scott walked in I had finished making the basis for the lemon meringue pie; all that was left was the meringue. Anna who was not used to cooking worked slower than me but had prepared the main course. Anna was going to make the Beef Stroganoff. It was quite a simple dish to make but appeared to be quite complex. As long as she didn't curdle the cream she should be okay.

We had washed up as we prepared but there were dishes of carefully measured ingredients cluttering the sides. Mrs Scott took one look in the kitchen and said, "I wish we got treated like this every night. George just rang on his mobile; he has left work earlier than normal and should be home shortly. I'll set the table."

As I would need to do the meringue just before we ate the main course I helped Anna with the main course. She was busy frying the mushroom and onion so I tackled creaming the potatoes and cooking the vegetables.

Anna continued to cook to perfection when she was about to add the sour cream. "STOP!" I shouted stopping her just before she poured it in. "Turn down the heat first and let the pan cool or you'll curdle the cream. Wait about thirty seconds before adding the cream."

Anna did as she was instructed as I got out my whisk and gradually made the meringue. Doing it by hand took a lot more time than using an electric whisk but you got a much better finish.

I put the pie into the oven just as Anna finished putting the meal on the plates and together we carried them into the dining room. Mrs Scott had laid out the table and Mr Scott was pouring out four glasses of wine.

"I think this meal deserves wine and since you have both have been grownup enough to cook this meal then I think you are grownup enough to have half a glass each."

The main course and dessert both were well received by Mr and Mrs Scott. They lavished praise on Anna, who had never shown any desire to cook before. Then they were equally generous praising the desert. I was treated as part of the family. As the meal finished I became quite melancholic. Anna might not have any brothers or sisters but at least she has a Dad. Oh how I miss my Dad.

As Mrs Scott gathered up used crockery she said, "Thank you both for cooking such a lovely meal. Now go and finish off your homework while I clear up."

"Er…Mrs Scott, I have my grade seven oboe exam next week. Would you mind if I practice. I'll try to be as quiet as possible."

She looked at me and gave a hearty laugh, "I've no problem with you practicing and don't try to keep it quiet. I have always enjoyed your playing and at grade seven I doubt you sound much like a strangled duck."

I rushed upstairs to the guestroom and got setup. I rummaged through my bag and removed the lightweight music stand. I moistened the reed in my mouth as I put the oboe together. I sucked out the excess saliva and inserted the reed into the top of the oboe. After playing a few scales and arpeggios to warm up I started on the first of the three pieces I would have to play. The sound of Handles third oboe concerto soared through the air. I felt quite tense at first knowing that the Scott's would be able to hear everything I played. However after a few minutes I lost myself to the music and became oblivious to anything else.

I lost total track of time. I would practice areas and repeat them over until I was satisfied. At the end I would play the piece in full with all the correct emotions. If I thought I'd played it correctly I would move onto the next piece. At the end my lips were beginning to tire and I felt my embouchure wasn't correct resulting in a rather poor quality sound.

As I put the instrument away I glanced at my watch. I'd been playing for nearly two hours. No wonder my lips ached. Having your lips curled under teeth for that long was not recommended. The roof of my mouth was dry and I felt thirsty so when everything was packed away I went downstairs to get a glass of water. As I got to the bottom of the stairs Anna came out of the kitchen with a large glass of water.

"Here you are," she said offering me the glass.

"Thanks," I said gratefully. "It's just what I need."

As we walked toward the lounge she asked, "What was the last piece you played? I know the other three are for your exams but the last one was much simpler. It was so haunting that it sent shivers up my spine."

"It was the theme music to the 1983 version of Jane Eyre," I answered without thinking. Then, as we sat ourselves on the settee, the full implication of her question filtered into my brain. "You listened to me practice?"

"How could anybody not listen to your playing," she replied.

I just sat there stunned and after a few minutes contemplation decided it would be best to leave that conversation alone. We spent the rest of the evening together watching television. Eventually my mind started to wander and I thought about tomorrow. I thought about the German lesson and what I had prepared. I knew what the poem meant and I just hoped that Anna wouldn't.

***

As my Mum was going to be back today I was moving back home. Before breakfast I packed the few personal items I'd brought from home.

When I came down for breakfast Anna said, "I've packed the cooking utensils and ingredients that you brought last night. Since we pass your house on the way to school I'll help you carry them home."

Not only did Anna help me carry the bags home she helped me quickly put the items away. The kitchen would be tidy for Mums return.

The morning passed slowly while I pondered on my Dad and worried about the poem. The last lesson before lunch was German. Soon I was asked to stand at the front of the class and perform my homework.

"This is a poem by Otto Erich Hartleben who lived between 1864 and 1905."
I then looked straight into Anna's eyes as I said with as much passion as I could muster:

Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein,
Am offnen Fenster lauschte der Sommerwind,
Und unsrer Atemzá¼ge Frieden trug er
hinaus in die helle Mondnacht.
Und aus dem Garten tastete zagend sich
ein Rosenduft an unserer Liebe Bett
Und gab uns wundervolle Trá¤ume,
Trá¤ume des Rausches, so reich an Sehnsucht.

Mrs Jansen had been watching me the whole time and obviously understood what I was doing. As I sat down she gave me a knowing smile and continued with the lesson.

"Bill, a word please," uttered Mrs Jansen as everyone trouped out for lunch. Erika and Anna waited by the door. "This is private so can you please close the door," she said to the two girls.

Once the door was closed she continued, "Are you aware of what you said? I mean do you know the English translation?"

"Yes," I said confidently holding my head high.

"Do you think Anna was aware of what you said?"

"I hope not."

"No, but you put so much feeling into it she might have had a big clue. Half the class probably thought you had proposed. Your pronunciation was awful but it was more than compensated by the passion."

"Am I in trouble?"

"No," she said in a reassuring voice. "I just wanted to be sure you were aware of what you'd done. Also I wanted to thank you."

"Thank me?"

"Yes, this has made my day. Heck it probably has made my year. It is little things like this that make teaching special."

As I walked away from the classroom I decided to skip lunch as I needed time to get ready for the rehearsal. No I was just lying to myself; I skipped lunch to avoid getting grilled by Anna about the German poem. I went to the theatre to await Beth. Ten minutes later Beth arrived and I went to get changed.

As soon as the door to Mr Smalls office was closed she said, "I hear you had quite an interesting German lesson."

"WHAT?!. That lesson only finished twenty minutes ago so the rumour mill is being very quick today. What've you heard?"

"I've heard at least two different rumours," she responded as she applied my makeup. "The first is that you proposed to Anan and the other that you declared your love for her from the front of the class."

I felt my face heat up and I knew it was glowing bright red. "I only did my German homework."

"Yeah, right!" she said sarcastically. "What did you say?"

I told Beth and gave her a rough translation; she just laughed. Then I told her what Mrs Jansen had said afterwards she just laughed even harder.

After another successful rehearsal we walked home together. Our pace quickened when we saw Mums car. I was determined to find out what was going on with Dad. When we opened the front door the smell of good cooking filtered through the air and my resolve waned; perhaps I will interrogate Mum after eating.

More [A Strange Attraction to Concrete Cows]



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