Sunday, 25 November 2012

Chapter 4, part 2

Pilbara Thunderstorm ( Stephen Williams )

“Yes,” he replied, not noticing her discomfort, “I inherited it from my grandfather.”
“It was empty for so many years,” she said, “Talk in the town was that it had been tied up in some dispute over the Will.”
“No,” he explained, “What happened was that it was left to his grandchildren.  He didn’t trust his children.  He said they were useless and lazy and didn’t want to work.  But the problem was—well one of them—was that none of us were living in Australia.  My mother is French and we lived for a while in the French countryside.  But I’d heard stories about this house and about Australia from my father and when— “ he paused suddenly and looked away out across the tawny grasslands and the vibrant shadows of the gum trees.  “Anyway,” he continued—and Lucy was sure he’d been about to say something else— “Here I am.”  He pushed the salad around in his bowl and once again she racked her brains for something to say that didn’t seem forward or silly or boring.  In the end it was he who spoke.
“I expect you know who I am,” he said in a low voice.  He lifted his head and their eyes met.  His look was bruised, somehow, almost defiant.  She was taken aback.  She noticed a faint streak of silver in the soft black of his hair as it fell forward over his forehead.  For a mad moment, she almost reached out to smooth it away.  Abruptly, she came to her senses.
“Well,” she replied, a little breathlessly, “You told me your name when you introduced yourself.”
“Yes,” he said slowly, “That’s true.”  And again there was a silence.  He drank his beer and rubbed his fingers up and down in the condensation left from the bottle on the wooden table, “You see,” he said, “I – ” and at that moment the phone rang.  Lucy cursed the phone.  But she felt she had to answer it.  That was the way she’d been brought up.  Her mother had always said, you never know, it might be important.  But it hardly ever was. 
“Excuse me,” she said.  It was Jennifer.  How typical, thought Lucy, frustrated.  Just when we were getting somewhere.
“Luce, old thing,” said Jenny in a cheerful tone, “Would you like to come round to dinner tonight?  I’ve asked the Bletchleys and Susan and a few others over.  Nothing grand.  Just homemade pasta.  Bring a bottle of wine if you like.”  For a moment Lucy hesitated.  But then the thought of Sunday night alone in the cottage with Adam up in the big house, lying in his sleeping bag in some huge, empty room, the moonlight casting its cold beams across him as he lay there, awake or asleep, and the memory of the unfortunate encounter with Shane the night before decided her.  She would go.
“I’d love to come,” she told Jenny, “Seven o’clock?  See you then.”  She went back outside.  Adam had finished his beer.
“Sorry about that,” she said, “It was a friend inviting me to dinner.”
“Well,” he said, “I shall think of you as I sit on the verandah looking at the view.  I hope you have a pleasant evening.  Thank you so much for the delicious lunch.” And almost bowing to her, like a character from Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, she thought amusedly, he left swiftly and she saw his tall, dark form walking with long, deliberate stride through the midday heat back up the hill to the great house. 
The threatened thunderstorm did come.  As always, before the first rain fell, Lucy got a headache and her depression and downheartedness, combined with the headache, encouraged her to take a painkiller and have an afternoon nap.  When the rain came it was a relief.  She could hear it drumming on the tin roof of her little cottage and could feel the immediate freshness as the heat and dust were washed out of the air.  As she lay on the bed in the half dark of the summer thunderstorm, she thought back to the first day.  She thought about the first time he had come to visit and she had brought out the best tea-set and how he had looked at the picture of her mother and left so abruptly.  What was it, she wondered, that had made him leave? 
She had felt, while they were sitting there so companionably, in the shade of the wisteria, that he was about to tell her about his life, about why his name was Adam Greyfallow, but he played under the stage name Montpellier, about who the woman was who had accompanied him out the night before, about what had happened to his beautiful bride.  It was so typical of Jennifer to ring at the wrong moment.  It was just the sort of thing she always did.  She was very kind and she was very fond of her, and Lucy supposed that she was one of her best friends.  All the same, she rather wished that Jennifer had postponed calling for another half hour.  But then she reminded herself of all the occasions over the last few days when she had told herself to be sensible and not to assume that handsome, gorgeous, ridiculously wealthy and gifted Adam Greyfallow would be the least interested in a plain and rather ordinary school teacher from a country town where nothing ever happened.
She didn’t dress for dinner.  The air was cool again after the thunderstorm and the dust was laid on the roads.  She loved the way in summer how these hot days would end like this, with a quiet coolness after the rain and the sound of the cockatoos shrieking at each other as they found their night time roosts in the trees.  She wasn’t especially looking forward to dinner, but it was better than doing nothing, and she didn’t think after all that had happened and all the emotions that had turmoiled within her, that an evening alone was a good idea.  As she made small talk, ate Jennifer’s indifferent lasagne while complimenting her on it, and listened to all the minor dramas that the people around the table discussed with such enthusiasm and passion, the thought that went through her head was always ‘what is he doing now?’ —to be immediately followed by ‘don’t be such a goose, Lucinda Grady, he’s not interested in you and never will be’.

Next >>>>

Monday, 5 November 2012

Chapter 4, part 1

Despite the fact that Lucy had often thought that her life had been a disappointment to her, she was normally a cheerful person.  But the encounter with Shane had depressed her a great deal and she struggled for the rest of the week to be upbeat.  It seemed to her that one of her favourite activities on weekends—which were so precious to her—namely, going to the Chinese restaurant, had been ruined.  Worse, it seemed to her that she had not yet really got over her love for Shane, even as he had seemed, standing next to her table, bloated, older and less attractive.  She still felt in her heart some sort of sorrow and affection for him.  She knew full well that he had treated her badly and she was quite sure that if she got involved with him again he would do it all over again; he was just one of those people.  So her feelings of regret and sadness were absurd.  But no matter how many times she told herself this, she didn’t believe it.
Adam had not returned to Greyfallows by the end of the week.  Lucy decided that the only way to keep herself sane was to do something.  She decided to sort out the cupboards in her house, mop the kitchen floor and perform other mindless tasks that would keep her busy and help her to sleep from sheer tiredness.  But while she was making her Saturday morning cup of tea and scrambled eggs on toast she made the mistake of opening her laptop to see what had happened in the world, and she saw, on the society pages of The Age that Adam Montpellier had squired the latest perfectly beautiful, perfectly groomed model representing Galombiks, the Melbourne department store, to a ballet at The Arts Centre.  There were photos of him and the model, whose name was Jayne Beckwith; and the look he gave her as the camera caught the moment was one of great affection and love.
She closed the laptop and pushed it to one side.  She stared out of the back window into her little garden.  Up at the top of the hill the Greyfallows mansion stood as it had done for eighty or ninety years and she thought to herself how stupid she’d been to hope that there would be parties and that all the glamour of the 1920s and 30s would return.  No doubt Adam Greyfallow would come back to Beauville, but with his wife, the perfectly beautiful Jayne Beckwith.  And there might even been parties to which the glamorous and the beautiful were invited.  But she wouldn’t be invited.  He certainly would not spare one look for Lucinda Grady.
She forced herself to eat the rest of her breakfast and finish her tea.  Her mother had brought her up to be careful with the cents.  She used to say as if it were her own original notion, ‘look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’, and smile triumphantly at Lucy as if she had produced a profound new idea all by herself.  Lucy felt a sudden stab of sadness at the thought of her mother and thought again how much she would like to just leave this town and everyone in it, to never see Shane again, nor even her friend Jennifer, nor any of the children in her class.  To cut ties with all her history, to start out afresh somewhere else where she wasn’t Lucinda Grady, the cast-off of the most handsome man in town, or a not very good school teacher, but Lucinda, someone glamorous and different from far away, someone who knew things, who had been places.
Despite her disappointment, she decided to tidy the house anyway and to do some work in the garden.  She thought she’d start on the garden first, before it got too hot.  The weather report had said the temperature would reach the high thirties and that there was a good chance of a summer thunderstorm.  Putting on her floppy hat and an old flannel shirt to stop getting burnt, she fetched the trowel and started work.  She watered some of the plants in the tubs and pots which were looking a bit droopy in the heat and then turned to digging out the obstinate dandelions from between the red bricks of the little pathways. 
As always, the peaceful certainties of gardening helped her, and at the end of an hour she was feeling somewhat better.  The garden was very pretty and she felt that by working on it she was honouring the memory of her mother who had loved the trees and flowers and had made it the beautiful place it was.  She made herself a cup of tea and sat on the bench in the pergola in the shade of the wisteria.  She was halfway through the cup when she heard the sound of a car.  Although she told herself repeatedly not to get up and not to go and look, she couldn’t stop herself.  From a corner of the house she peeped around the honeysuckle and saw Adam Greyfallow’s lethal-looking Lamborghini sweep up the road from Melbourne and turn into the entrance of Greyfallows.
With a small sigh of satisfaction—which she immediately deplored—Lucy noticed that there was no-one sitting beside him.  Proud of her self-discipline, she went back into the kitchen and started tidying the house.  She had no intention of calling on him and no intention of making a fool of herself again.  She remembered the song her mother often used to sing to her, ‘a man is a two face’ and she thought, maybe I’m better off the way I am.  It might not be thrilling but I do get some pleasure from my life, even if it is lonely.  She made herself a salad for lunch and was sitting on the bench under the wisteria eating it when she heard a knock at the front door.  She put down her bowl and went inside to open the door.  It was Adam.  He had dark lines under his eyes and a drawn face.
“Hello,” he said, “am I disturbing you?” His voice was low and husky; he sounded indescribably weary.
Cursing the blush which rose relentlessly to her cheeks, Lucinda said softly, “No, I was just having lunch.  Some salad.  Would you like some?”
“Oh,” he said, “I couldn’t put you out.  I was just going to have some bread and cheese and maybe a beer.”
“You’re not putting me out,” she said, “Come in!”  She stood back and held the door open.  With a slight, self-deprecating smile, he produced from behind his back two beers, frosted and chilled.  She was charmed by this evidence of foresight.  They sat together at each end of the bench underneath the arbour in the scent of blue wisteria, ate their salad and drank their beer.  Lucinda desperately wanted to say, “We didn’t think you were coming back,” but she knew that would reveal too much.  They sat in silence for a while, and it seemed a peaceful and companionable quiet.  The magpies yodelled softly in the heat of the midday from the tall gum trees, and insects hummed in the long grasses.  Lucy brushed her hair back from her warm face with one hand and tucked it behind her ear.
“Are you well?” she asked eventually, “You look a little tired.”
“Oh,” he replied, “I was up late last night and left Melbourne early this morning.”  Seeming to force a smile, he said, “I expect I shall sleep like a log tonight.”
“Luckily,” said Lucy, “It’s Sunday, so you’ll be able to sleep well at the Royal Hotel.  It’s Saturday night that it’s so noisy.  This is a country town and there isn’t much to do and the farmers like to come in from the surrounding areas to have a drink or two in the pub.  They can be a bit loud.”
“Well,” he said, “As a matter of fact, I’m sleeping up at the house.  It’s a bit primitive.  But at least we’ve connected the pump to the borehole and so now I have water.  We don’t have town water.  The house had never been connected because it was up on the hill and old Josiah Greyfallow who built it … this would have been around the 1860’s … didn’t want to waste money.  So they had a windmill which was replaced by a pump.  Which is long gone!  Anyway, to cut a long story short I decided to sleep at the house because at least it’s mine.”
Lucy felt absurdly glad that he was sleeping in the house.  Embarrassed at her silliness, she blurted out, “Did you inherit it?”  She immediately felt how rude this was; after all, it was none of her business, but she couldn’t unsay what had been said.