The Softer Side
Parking in the 60's
By B.K. Bilicki
By G. Gregory
Free Falling at ...
Queen of Temptress Moon
By J.T. Benjamin
Wilberforce The Cunning
7 PM At Mickey...
By Lynne den Hartog
By Richard V Raiment
Richmond, Dear Park
By Robert Buckley
The Night the Stars..
The Long Ride Home
Leah And The Eagle
The Shades of Gray
The Nice Guy
The Love Song of...
Its Been Going Around
Dancing with the Banshee
The Last Thing You ...
Richmond, Dear Park
by Richard V Raiment © 2009
We begin every day in ignorance. Oh, we have plans, it's true, but they are only schemes written in air, lines drafted on the invisible parchment of future. We can never really know what will happen; whether we will make it to work by 8.30, whether the girls will turn up for lunch at 12, whether we'll make it home for 7.
We act as if we know. We take it on faith. "Yes, hon," we tell our partner, lover, spouse; "see you around 8.30'", as if we are somehow immune from the vicissitudes of life which, in all reason, we should expect to lie in wait for us around every corner.
Inwardly, even unconsciously, we tick the boxes. The car starts first time, or the train arrives within its usual margin of error. The timetable has begun to be kept. We make it to work for 8.30. 10.15 and it's a normal day already as we take coffee with the girls who share our hub. But at any time it can go wrong.
Nothing spectacular, then, in the ignorance of that morning. The summer had been as normal as summers ever are, thus far. Work had been as normal as that strange, bartered imprisonment can ever be, in the days that preceded the day things went wrong. My mother had called me, as usual, to remind me of the errand she wanted me to pursue for her, as usual, and I'd bitten back protests, as usual, and done, as usual, what she had asked.
The weekend was proceeding as normal, the schedule, the plan, running to order.
It was going to be different anyway, though that did not make it immune to 'the plan'. I'd baked the sweet cakes I had been asked to, according to the plan, and I'd breakfasted and got dressed for the day on schedule, caught the bus and the train on schedule, reached the border of the park on schedule.
"A picnic in the park, Lois. All of us. Purchasing and Accounts. And David from reprographics. You know; the guy you said you fancied?"
"And all you want me to bring is buns and cakes?"
"Yes. Everyone's going to bring something different. Helen's got the chips and dips. Marie and Joan and some others are going to bring sandwiches—ham, salmon, things like that. And everyone's going to bring a bottle too, or a six pack, so you'll want to pick something up.
"You weren't here when we did it last year, I know, but I can tell you it was a great success.'
"It's a big park," I objected.
"But such a beautiful place. You should have seen the deer last year, and the gardens'll be glorious."
So I'd Googled a route, printed the map, and there I was, at the start of my walk, with a big bag of vanilla and chocolate muffins, a Victoria sandwich cake and a bottle of modest red. It was hot, though, overly warm for a long walk even in the shade of the trees , and the stuff I was carrying seemed to put on weight as I travelled.
Almost an hour it took me—but I had planned that—to reach the point where we were due to meet. It seemed pretty much the middle of nowhere, but it can be like that in the royal parks. There was a bench there, and a drinking fountain. Nothing else, though.
No problem. I'd planned ahead; I'd made it in good time. The others would not have planned so well. I should expect that they'd be late.
Then my heart sank. What the fuck?
I was not alone. There was one other waiting, emerging, now, from the shade of a tree.
"Mark!" I exclaimed, my face alight with pretended pleasure. This was not to plan. I mean; he was in Accounts, so I'd kind of known he would be here, but I hadn't planned to wait alone with him, even for five minutes. Hell no. Not with Mark.
"Why d'you dislike him so much?" Marie had asked me.
"Damned if I know. I only know I have disliked him since the first day I started, and I trust my instincts. Usually I find that taking an instant dislike to someone merely saves time, that one would have got there pretty soon anyway."
"He's not so bad, Lois. He's really a very nice guy."
"Not so bad? He's good-looking enough, I'll give you that, but you know he knows it the minute you set eyes on him. I've no time for men who fancy themselves."
"You think that's how he is?"
"I'm damn sure of it."
So of all the people I would not want to be alone with on a sunny, summer afternoon, Mark Clayton was pretty much top of the list, yet here he was. And no matter how much I disliked the guy I was going to have to see him again at work on Monday, so I could hardly give him the cold shoulder.
"Glad to see someone else is on time," he said, smiling.
"I believe in being punctual. Pity not everyone else does."
"True, but it's only a picnic. Even the best organised people seem to grow a bit lax on a summer's day. And it's a fine day, isn't it?"
"Too hot for me, but not so bad here in the shade."
"You should put that bag down. It looks heavy."
Okay, so I was still holding onto the thing like it was a parachute and I'd be able to bail out at any moment, but I wasn't grateful for the reminder. I answered "yeah" and dumped the bag as heavily as I dared onto the bench. He smiled, a little quizzically. That pissed me off, too. He was always smiling. And that's not natural:
"You look to have brought a lot of stuff."
"Buns and cakes," I answered, "for about twenty people. That's right, isn't it? And you?"
Clayton nodded. "A large bowl of Constipation Chicken and a salad."
"Just a family joke. Coronation Chicken."
Didn't sound funny to me. I wasn't even entirely sure I knew what Coronation Chicken was, anyway.
"Oh," he added, "I brought some bread rolls too, and some of those individual pats of butter, the wrapped ones. Two things we always seem to run out of."
"You've done this before, then?"
"Three times. Second time was funny enough, because it poured down with rain as soon as we set the picnic out. All good clean fun, though, and everyone always enjoys themselves."
"Glad to hear it."
"A bit unusual this time, though."
"I thought it had been agreed that we'd aim for a different venue every time. The idea was to move us around, so that no-one ended up with a particular advantage in terms of transport and, I guess, just to encourage us to see different parts of London."
"You don't always come here?"
"No. Last year was our first time. First year we went on Wimbledon Common, then Regent's Park."
"You had a picnic at the zoo?"
"No, in the park."
"You mean there's a Regent's Park Zoo and a Regent's Park ?"
He smiled again; "You haven't been there?"
"Well, the zoo is at one end of the park. It's a very big park."
"First time I've been here. There's a lot of park here too, it seems to me."
"Richmond's a big park, but most of them are. You probably know there's a chain of parks that were once pretty much all one enormous single entity, the place where the royals took their family and guests out hunting."
I didn't know, but he would know, of course. In conversation he always seemed to think he knew a lot.
"Where the hell is everybody?" I sounded petulant, even to myself.
"I don't know, Lois. Usually most people are here in good time."
So they just had to fuck up my first visit, huh?
"Maybe," the thought occurred to me; "there's been a traffic problem of some sort?"
"You never know, these days, but it seems to me we might as well make ourselves comfortable and wait a while."
I could have been more comfortable. It's odd. I had dressed for the heat of the day and for mixed company, and in mixed company I like to tease and flirt a bit, 'cause that's the way I am and I've got the body to do it with. Don't think that means I have a high opinion of myself. It means I know I've got the kind of curves men like enough that it compensates for anything else I lack in the looks department. It also means, though, that everything I was wearing that day beneath my lightweight skirt and blouse was pretty flimsy. Around Mark that somehow made me feel uncomfortable, and I didn't know why. It's not as if he came across as a lecher, or anything like that, but still I found myself wishing my neckline wasn't quite so deep, that my skirt was longer.
Where the bloody hell was everybody?
"It really is very odd, this. People are usually early," he said, as if he read my mind.
"Yes. You get a few stragglers, of course, but most folks are usually here a good twenty minutes or half an hour early. I think I'll give Sandie a call."
"Sandra Bullman, from Human Resources. She does the main part of the organising."
I watched him take out his mobile, place the call and wait with his ear to the earpiece. I saw him frown. He began to say "Caller's not answering", but in the middle of "answering" he broke off to leave a recorded message. "Hey, Sandie? Mark Clayton. Can you give me a call ASAP?"
"Sandie's the main organiser and she usually has her finger on the pulse of things. She's the one who is always first to arrive, the one everyone calls if there is any kind of problem. It's odd enough that she's not here, more than odd that she's not picking up her phone."
"I'll call Marie. She told me she was coming, that Hell and high water wouldn't stop her." I pulled out my phone, a snazzy little gizmo that made him smile when I flipped it open. His phone was plain, smart, black and chrome, just as you'd expect. I punched in Marie's number, listened, waited. Eventually some robot told me that the phone I was calling was switched off, asked me to try again later, as if I needed that kind of suggestion from a machine.
Mark was already dialling again, listened for a while, gave up and dialled afresh. He talked to me across the mouthpiece.
"Voicemail again, on Sandie's. I'm just trying Bill Sawyer. Nope. Nothing. Very odd."
A ridiculous thought hit me, and it hit me so hard I didn't give any thought to it before I opened my mouth. "Did you set this up? Is this some sort of exaggerated practical joke to get back at me?"
"A practical joke? Not on my part, Lois. And why would I want to get back at you? I'm not aware that you've done anything I might want revenge for."
He was still smiling, but the smile was different. He seemed genuinely puzzled.
"That came out all wrong," I blustered.
"Did it?" He looked thoughtful. "I know you didn't seem overly happy to see me, though I'm grateful that you tried to hide it. Have I offended you in some way?"
What do you say to that? How do you deal with that? You can shove it under the carpet—though, there being no carpet in the park I guess I'd have to dig a hole and bury it—or you can run with it. Or then, again, you can fluff it as I did.
"I'm sorry; I'm just peeved, is all."
"I can see that." Again that smile.
"I don't see much to smile at."
"You don't? I'm sorry. I know I smile a lot. Perhaps it's a bad habit."
"Makes other people wonder what it is you are smiling at."
"It does?" That genuinely seemed to surprise him. "I guess they could always ask."
"I guess they could always ask. If it puzzles them, I mean."
"So what are you smiling at?"
What the fuck?
"Yes. It's a bit of a bugger, isn't it, life? Seems to make more sense to me—and I find it kind of relaxing—to smile at it. That way I find it less depressing."
So what have you got to get depressed about, I wondered?
"You find other people funny?" I don't think I could help myself. I was pissed at the confusion of my plans, pissed at the flagrant disorganisation that had led to two people, two all-but strangers, being placed together like this, miles away from anywhere.
"Funny? In what way?"
"You laugh at the way they dress, the way they talk, things like that?"
"I hope I do not, no. I just find a lot to smile at."
"Everywhere. Isn't the place you work a good place to smile?"
"I don't see how it is."
He shook his head. "No, that's fair enough. Not everyone's like me."
"So what is it you find so funny?"
"Why do you assume I smile because I think things are funny?" He smiled again, goddamn him.
"What else would you smile at?"
"Perhaps I smile because I'm happy?"
I laughed a short, sharp laugh. "Happy? What is there to be happy about at Woolkingstones'?"
His expression changed very slightly. His eyes still smiled at me, but I could see some measure of concern in his face.
"We can talk about that, if you like, but it's clear to me that you'd rather not be here—and that's okay—but if it is the case we ought to think about what to do next. I don't suppose you came by car?"
"Bus, train and foot."
"I left my car behind too. So we've a fair walk ahead of us to get out of the park. Perhaps you'd like to set off. We could always talk along the way."
My phone jangled in my purse and I cursed the day I'd chosen such a trivial tune for my call tone. He waited silently as I dug out the phone and opened it. Fuck!
"@ HMPSTD HTH. U 2 GTTNG ALNG ALL RITE? LOL."
"Something wrong, Lois?"
"A text ." I spelled out the first part.
"From Marie. Seems that's where they have gone to."
"A good ten miles from here by car. By the time we could get there it would be all over."
He raised his eyebrows. I took some pleasure in explaining, sarcastically:
"Second part of the message reads 'You two getting along all right?' followed by 'Lots of Laughter'. The so-and-sos set us up. Unless you had something to do with it?"
Mark shook his head. "Nothing to do with me, Lois."
"So what the hell are they playing at?"
"I don't know. And why were we the targets? I don't know that I've offended anyone."
"And you think I may have?"
He almost laughed. "Hey; touchy, aren't we? No. I was just trying to see some kind of reason behind it."
I was pretty mad, I guess. I let loose. "Marie's the main one behind it. She knows you rub me up the wrong way and she doesn't approve. I guess this is her idea of payback!"
"Funny," he said, whilst I didn't find it funny at all; "I wasn't aware that I had 'rubbed you up' at all, let alone that I had 'rubbed you up the wrong way'. Not that I'd mind 'rubbing you up', of course, but that aside, it seems my smiling really bugs you."
My mind was too busy with the ramifications of all this to pick up quickly on the 'rubbing up' reference. The girls had set this up. And they couldn't have set this up without letting quite a few people in on the secret. So what the fuck for? And how did I deal with it?
I was ready to storm off, but what then? What would happen on Monday morning? He interrupted me:
"Let me guess, Lois?"
"Well, my guess is that you really don't like me and that, until now, I've been one of the few people who wasn't aware of it." His voice was calm, level, even quite friendly. "So it's the girls who have set this up, decided to stick us together in the middle of nowhere?"
I was less friendly. "Something like that."
"So what would you like to do?"
"To do? What the fuck is there to do?"
"Well, we can say goodbye and head off home. We can both walk in on Monday morning and smile a lot, suggest it was a good gag."
It occurred to me that this was not ungenerous. I had no doubt it was me the girls were getting at.
"Or we can try to get to Hampstead Heath. No doubt we could pick up a cab or something, once we'd located a landmark in the park, and get ourselves delivered. And we can arrive and pretend to be good friends, laugh a lot and all the rest. Or."
"We could take a look at what's in our bags, have something to eat, something to drink, and maybe try to find out just what it is about me that rubs you up the wrong way, maybe see if I can find a way to mend whatever it is that bugs you."
"You must be pretty mad at me." I was beginning to realise that this was my fault, me and my sarcastic mouth.
"Why should I be mad at you?" Fuck! He was still smiling.
"Well it looks as if I got you into this."
"Into this? What? Being pretty much alone with a very pretty girl in a very beautiful park? Two bottles of decent red wine to go at, if I'm not much mistaken, coronation chicken, salad and rolls with endless muffins for afterwards? How could anyone be so cruel?"
For at least a moment he had me smiling too. He reached into his pack and pulled out three sealed plastic containers of bread, salad and his 'constipation chicken'. He'd a couple of plastic plates in the bag, too, and plastic cutlery, and he put a taster-sized portion of the chicken dish on one of the plates for me, filling his own. He spread two bread rolls, then, with butter, and offered one to me. Finally he pulled a couple of plastic tumblers from his bag, de-corked a bottle of Shiraz and poured us a glassful each. Since we weren't going anywhere, I saw no harm in accepting them. I asked him, hoping to catch him off guard as he laboured:
"You think I'm pretty?"
He shook his head. "In fairness I think that the question as to whether I do or do not think you are pretty should wait until I know just why it is, to use your words, I 'rub you up the wrong way'."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"Isn't it better that you did? Isn't it better to have some idea where we stand? Time to be brave, Lois; just what is it about me that you dislike so?"
He had sat down on the bench, lifting his own pack down onto the ground. I did the same, keeping at least enough space between us for chubby Sue, of Purchasing, to sit in, had she been there. And I must admit that there was something about his continuing quiet smile that provoked me.
"Your accent," I said, "for one thing. It's what people like me call 'posh'."
"It is?" He didn't seem too surprised at that and continued: "Not the first time that's been said, but it's a misunderstanding. It begins with the fact that my dad was an army NCO with ideas above his station. So my accent started off something between the NCO accent and that of an officer, reinforced by his particularity about the English language. He'd give anyone hell if he thought they did not talk 'proper'. On top of..."
"Your father was in the army?" I interrupted. Mine had been too.
"Yes. An engineer. A bridge-builder. His dad was a factory hand."
"Oh." What else could I say?
"And being an army child I got moved around quite a lot, so there wasn't much chance for a regional accent to catch. Made it a kind of mongrel accent to begin with, I guess."
His soft self-deprecation, and its matching smile, kind of got to me.
"I'm sorry. It's a silly prejudice."
"I wouldn't say so. I'm not fond of toffs—the Hooray Henry, Chinless Wonder types—myself. Everyone but them knows, in their gut, that they've had it far too easy for far too long." He stopped, smiled encouragingly and added; "So what else?"
"The smiling thing. I guess it always feels as if you are laughing at us 'lesser mortals'."
He laughed quietly. "Okay. I smile a lot because, like I say, I see a lot to smile at."
"You said so, but you don't say what."
"Affectionately, I smile at Sue, for instance. I smile at the endless diet fads and the way everyone has to be told every detail of them."
"Isn't that a bit cruel?"
"It might be if I didn't like her so much. She's such a very sweet kid, and I am very fond of her. She'll never lose any amount of weight for any length of time and, of course, she doesn't need to. Trolley George, the mail delivery man, is madly in love with her, and even if it's not him, someone will come along and sweep her off her feet.
"She smiles a lot, too, and she's bright and bubbly and really quite sexy. She won't miss out on love for the sake of a few pounds."
"And what else do you smile at?"
"At Harry Gormley, for instance. At the way Harry has to know everything, has to have been everywhere, done everything that anyone else has done."
"It's pathetic," I rather snapped back. "He's pathetic."
"Really? His behaviour has to appear that way, for sure, but Harry? He's actually one of the nicest guys you could meet."
I laughed a little. "A nice guy? Harry?"
Mark hesitated a little, then said, gently, "His wife is an invalid. You know that?"
I shook my head ever so slightly. I had not known.
"Yes. Harry fell madly in love with a girl he worked with. Emily, I think her name is. Before our time, of course. He told me once how they made a lot of plans, about things they'd do, places they'd go, and then they discovered that she had MS—Multiple Sclerosis. Within a couple of years of their marriage she looked like a Belsen inmate before the Allies arrived, paralysed from the neck down and blind.
"He's never left her side, except in fantasies. So I smile because he's a dear man, because I like him."
"So you do smile at others' misfortunes, then?" I wasn't going to let him escape if I could help it.
"At their misfortunes, no; at their eccentricities, yes, but most of all at their humanity."
"Oh." I wasn't sure I understood.
"The world's a dark place. We are human. What matters more to us than humanity - our humanity, shared humanity? We inhabit the same bodies, give or take the odd accident of plumbing or colour, and we share the same hopes, the same feelings and emotions. Is a sad Chinese different to a sad Frenchman? Is a happy Berliner different to a happy Londoner?
"We are all much more the same than we are different, and I love that. That makes me smile. And in a world that is focused, a lot of the time, on ugliness, there is a tremendous amount of beauty to be found, and I love that and smile at that too."
"Isn't beauty rare?" I was genuinely puzzled. "Isn't that why so many women spend fortunes on trying to improve their looks? In the hope of becoming beautiful?"
"Beauty isn't rare at all. Superficial sexual attractiveness is something many people have without realising it, torturing themselves for the want of it, but beauty is something else. Beauty is something all of us are born with. The body is a beautiful thing, a beautiful machine, a beautiful instrument, and the brain is something else altogether. The ability to feel, to share, to love, to smile—all of these are beautiful."
"You mean to say that to you I am not just pretty, but beautiful?" I intended to put him on the spot. It didn't work out. There was something different in his expression.
"We need to move," he said.
"What?" I was in the middle of discovering what coronation chicken is; chopped chicken in a mild curry mayonnaise, with sultanas, pineapple, celery and who knows what else. I rather liked it and had helped myself to more.
He nodded, not in affirmation but as a gesture of direction, and I glanced up at the sky. It was still blue above us, but beyond us, over the trees of the self same forest, it was densely grey and clouded over. Even as I watched I saw the first flash of a summer lightning and something jolted inside me. I don't like lightning. I never have; not since I was a kid.
"Tell me we're not going to get caught in that!" I rather pleaded.
"I can tell you that if you want, but I'd be a liar. We'll be lucky if we can escape it."
"It's coming our way?"
"Looks like it's coming every way, Lois. Going to be quite spectacular, I think."
"Oh fuck! Don't say that! Doesn't this scare you?"
All he did was shake his head. Fuck me, I was scared. I was really scared. All I could see was that cloud and the ridiculously sharp, clear blades of forked lightning that stabbed from sky to ground, only now becoming audible. I didn't like that, either. Not that tearing, hissing sound, the crack of Heaven's artillery.
"Don't let it frighten you," he said, much too late and with much too little impact. I was past not being frightened. I hid it as best I could but I was terrified.
In open country, where there is little metal, lightning strikes trees. We were surrounded by fucking trees. Big, old, fucking trees, the kind that could have faces in them like the evil forests of Disney, and long, slender young trees, all of them planted by fucking conservationists in a deliberate attempt to get my fucking brain fried by the lightning.
How did I communicate to him how frightened I was without seeming like a total fucking wimp? I swear, by the way, when I am mad or scared to death.
Damn but that seemed close. A sound like a fucking express train roared across the sky above us. The heat evaporated, though it was not yet cold, and spots of rain dripped down upon us as if a thousand cherubs were giving their dicks a post-piss shake.
It was pre-piss, though, if there is such a thing. In an instant there were millions of the little bastards, not thousands, pissing out of those rolling grey clouds, and I discovered something I had not known before.
I hadn't known that you could be surrounded by trees, covered by a vast mantle of leaves, and that it would make damn-all difference to the rain, that the rain would find its way through, in a really heavy storm, as if the leaves were not there.
In the seconds it took Mark to close the lids on the plastic containers and stow everything in his bag the two of us were soaked to the skin. He didn't look too bad, to be fair. He'd been wearing a blue, cotton, short-sleeved shirt and long black cargo pants, the British army style with big square pockets. The shirt clung to his torso, and that was fine, but the pants just seemed to grow baggier with the rain.
I say that only to contrast his situation with my own. Soft cotton blouse, soft cotton skirt. Soaked through. Right? Expensive bra, more style than substance, thong designed to show no panty-line? So I became in few moments a surrealist work of art; 'Female Nude With Seams and Buttons'. Jesus. The front of my thong had a pair of black embroidered flowers on that looked, now, as if they were growing out of my muff.
Nobody plans to get that wet, do they?
So I was wet to the bone, pretty nearly, and getting wetter by the second. I'd never known rain quite like it, coming down so full and fast and hard that we were constantly wiping it from our stinging eyes, just to be able to see. At least the goddamn lightning seemed to have ended, just rolls of thunder arguing everywhere, so loud you'd think God was testing his new stereo.
Embarrassed? I should say so.
"I've got to get out of here!" I yelled at him across the noise. "Thunder and lightning terrify me! I am soaked through! Is there a short cut somewhere?"
"A shorter cut, but not so short. Over to the left and down. Into the valley, down towards Richmond."
"Can we get going?"
"We'd better." But the bloody man didn't get going. Instead he went foraging in his rucksack, came out with a battered old baseball cap and what appeared to be a transparent package of blue plastic. It's a raincoat, a thing some here call a pac-a-mac, made of light, translucent nylon and pretty well waterproof. I should've known Mr. Know -it -All would be equipped.
"Sorry; I only just remembered these were in the bottom of my bag. You'd better have them, Lois. There's no protection in the stuff you're wearing."
Okay. So I hadn't expected him to give them to me. I was embarrassed again.
"You sure, Mark? I mean; they're yours. You provided for yourself, I didn't. My bad."
"I don't want to watch you shiver, Lois, and I'm okay, really. Put them on, and let's go."
That was some journey. Mark led me through seemingly endless trees, pausing every now and then when one of the denser of the big trees seemed to offer a little cover. It never lasted, somehow, and I was eager to get away, still, from the grumbling thunder. Sounded like it was mad at not finding me.
"Not too far now, Lois!" Mark called out. We were moving, suddenly, downhill, must have reached the edge of the valley.
The rain continued. Cherubs are male, of course, and therefore have massive bladders, and they voided them on us with a vengeance. Maybe they took it in shifts, I don't know, but I know they never took a break. I do know that the royal parks are not all trimmed grass and neat hedgerows, that Richmond is pretty wild in places, so while the rain still pissed into my face, blurring my vision, I tripped and stumbled over roots, fallen logs and branches, rabbit holes and god-knows-what.
Mark was in no better state, even more blinded by the rain than I was since I, at least, had the baseball cap on. I pulled it lower over my eyes to get some respite from the sting of water and blinded myself behind the cap peak long enough in the process to run slap bang into a big fucking tree.
That hurt. But it didn't hurt as much as the recoil, when I bounced off the tree, went over on one ankle and began to bump and roll down the hill. I cried out loud. Something caught my ankle and I felt flesh tear.
The Atlantic Ocean was drier than I was and I lay battered, bruised, muddy, bleeding and fucking hurting in what felt like a nest of brambles.
"Lois, Lois. You okay kid?"
"Okay? I've just gone a round with the Whomping Willow, I feel like I'm bruised from head to foot, I think my ankle may be broken and it hurts like Hell. On top of that, I seem to be sitting on a dragon's tooth and my ass hurts."
He was still fucking smiling, but not unsympathetically.
"Let me have a look at that ankle."
That felt kind of nice, the way that big hand slipped under and lifted my foot so gently, till I realised that in my fall my skirt and the mac were rucked up almost to my tits so that there was only a soaking triangle of silk between his eyes and my cunt. I did the best I could to cover myself, hurriedly, but he seemed not to notice, too busy inspecting my ankle, moving it just a very little.
"A sprain, by the looks of it. I don't think it's broken. The gash in your calf's not too bad, either. It'll clean up okay. Do you want to see if you can stand?"
Fuck. I'd have tried to fly if it would have got me out of that rain.
So he leaned in towards me, slipped an arm around and under me, hefted me up. Jesus. That hurt. But I could stand, so long as I didn't put too much weight on it.
We began to limp downhill. Water flowed around and over our feet, the ground too saturated to absorb it at the speed that it was falling, and I was feeling sick and faint. It seemed to take forever.
Then the ground flattened out. That was good. We were in the valley bottom. More bloody trees and more bloody rain, but at least the thunder and lightning was gone.
We found a kids' play park. Bright, primary coloured roundabouts and swings and a slide, all wet and deserted, small lakes forming on the level ground so that, at times, we were wading up to our ankles. Neither of us would be able to wear our shoes again.
There was an open fronted shelter, its floor half sunk in a lake, and we would have rested there but there was a small crowd of people inside it.
"Not there!" I hissed, when I realised where he was taking me.
"No? At least its cover."
"Yeah, and it's full of mums and kids and teenagers, and in what I'm wearing I might as well be naked!"
"I see your point. Actually, I see both your points," he joked, then became serious again. "Okay; let's see if we can do better."
A tarmac road! A pub, the Dysart Arms, on the other side. Damn it, we'd returned to civilisation. Cars whizzed past in clouds of spray that didn't matter because we couldn't get wetter, and Mark pulled us into a bus shelter and took his phone out. I was feeling too past it to care.
A fucking cab! Mark, bless him, had got his bearings from the pub and here was transport. The driver didn't look too impressed at how wet we were, but Mark pressed banknotes into his hand and said "This will cover it" and we were under way.
"Where are we going?"
"My place, so long as you don't mind. I don't live very far from here."
"You could have said that when we met."
"You didn't look like you wanted an invite to my home, kid. And, besides, I didn't really want things to be over too quickly."
What did that mean? He read the question in my face, I think.
"Not so often that I get to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon alone in the park with a pretty girl, you know?"
"You think I'm 'superficially sexually attractive' then?" I remembered his words. So did he. He laughed.
"I don't think you are superficially anything, Lois, unless it's bad tempered. I think you are genuinely rather beautiful."
Beautiful? Me? I caught a glimpse of the cab driver looking at us through his driver's mirror and scowled at him, knowing what he could see.
The nylon mac had kept some of the rain off, but only after the damage had been done. Beneath the scruffy baseball cap my hair was plastered to my face, and no make-up has been invented that will survive the kind of Red Sea inundation we had experienced. My blouse and skirt clung to me like a second skin, with not so much as a crease to hide behind, and the translucent nylon, wet within and without, was completely transparent where it touched me, except that it gave my nipples something of a bluish tinge.
The car pulled up, Mark paid the driver, helped me out, and next thing I knew he was half-carrying me towards this semi-timbered building that must have been standing when Queen Bess was a girl.
That was some house.
I couldn't fault him. Soaked to the skin himself, he rushed to the bathroom, ran me a bath, found me a thick towelling robe and some towels to match, sat me down by the big fire in his lounge, cleaned my cut and bandaged it.
"Mrs Clayton not at home?"
"Not for a long time, Lois."
"You broke up?" How did a guy break up with his wife and get to keep a house like this?
"Not exactly." He smiled a little ruefully, hesitant, like the bearer of bad news. 'She died.'
Oh shit. What had I said? And then I saw the picture on the mantel.
He nodded. "That's Tracy, and that's Nicola with her, my little girl.
They were both in the car."
Christ. "They were both in the car?" Why does it come out sounding so stupid?
"They were both killed, yes."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"Why would you? That was nearly fifteen years ago. I did my sighing and crying, but you kind of get used to it in time."
"I think you have to. Otherwise it would kill you."
"Drunk driver?" It seemed the right sort of clich, somehow. One knew that if a guy like this had such a tragedy in his life it would have to be something awful like that.
"Did the driver get what was coming to him?" You always hope that there will be some kind of justice to sweeten the case.
"Some people say she did. I wouldn't."
"Tracy was the drunk driver, Lois. She'd taken Nicky to some pre-Christmas thing at a friend's house, had one too many and picked a fight with a tree on her way home. Wet roads and slow reflexes, basically."
"I'm really sorry. I feel awful for having brought it up."
"There is no need. Like I said; time passes, things change. We bend to the storm or we break."
He wouldn't break. Not this guy. How could I have been so wrong? When he dashed off to check the bath wasn't overflowing I took a chance to get a glimpse of some of his other pictures. They told a story too, especially one of four good-looking guys in battledress. Mark returned.
"It's pretty much ready, Lois. I've left some room in case you want to run some cold into it."
I nodded. "You were in the army?"
He glanced at the tell-tale photograph and smiled. "I was, yes."
"Following in your father's footsteps? Were you a bridge-builder too?"
"No. I started to tell you before but it got lost somehow. Sandhurst polished off this accent you don't like so much."
"You were an officer?"
"Captain, yes. Intelligence."
Shit. Small wonder he knew a lot.
"And, yes, I was overseas when the accident happened. That's why I wasn't with them, and perhaps that's why it happened; her loneliness, the fact that I would normally drive and never drink when I do."
"But you must've got pretty mad at her."
"You do at first, in the throes of it all, but then anger ceases to make sense. Shit happens."
Muddy rainwater, mostly mine, was puddling on his carpet. "I'd better get that bath."
He smiled warmly; "Good idea."
Okay. Don't ask me why. It wasn't sympathy. It wasn't pity. Not anything like that. He'd spent half the afternoon seeing me pretty much naked, and except for his 'two points' joke he'd not said or done a single thing I could fault him for. I felt warm inside, somehow at home, and I felt safe. And I felt . well. provocative.
He stared. "You can change in the bathroom, Lois, or in the bedroom if you prefer."
"This ankle still hurts like fuck," I answered, not entirely honestly. "I could use a hand, if you don't mind?"
His face answered for him. He came towards me, helped me finish peeling the mac from my shoulders, helped tease the wet blouse, the wet skirt off.
"You've seen pretty much everything as it is," I said, quietly, when he hesitated. He didn't hesitate much longer.
It was nice to feel his hands on the bra catch behind my back, nicer to feel them coaxing my thong down my legs, because it was still wet and clingy and didn't want to leave.
He stood back, breathing rather heavily. Standing naked before him in the warm, classy living room, felt good. It turned me on, too. The heat in me flushed my chest pink, my nipples so hard and peaked I could've hung a heavy coat from each of them.
'Will you help me to the bath?'
It was like being a kid again. Those big strong arms. That 'safe' face of his which was not altogether unlike the way a father's face should be, kind of shining with the sort of warm pride and pleasure you get from looking at someone who matters to you and enjoying their trust, their faith in you.
The water was just right. Okay, maybe a little hot. Made me feel a little dizzy, a little faint.
"Can I give you some help?" He knew what the answer would be.
Mark began to soap and sponge me. Whoa, girl; that's nice.
"Don't stop, unless you feel you have to." I gave him the get-out and he didn't take it. I knew he wouldn't.
It was pretty clear he liked my breasts. I'm not sure they've seen that much soap or tender sponging since they first appeared on my chest. And it was pretty clear my breasts liked him, too. They blushed prettily for him, perked and peaked all the more warmly for him. It felt good.
It felt good, too, when he washed my belly, curving his hand around, slippery with soap and so very warm and firm and strong and gentle, too. It must have hurt like hell that he stopped being a dad. Little Nicky had lost an awful lot.
Not that he'd have washed little Nicky there, though. Not at the age she was in the photo, anyway. Now that is a place for soapy fingers. Yes, we liked that, my little lady and I.
"Why don't you join me?" I wasn't sure what I was doing, exactly, or why I was doing it, but it really didn't seem to matter, it really seemed all right, even more than all right, just "right". It was a big bath and he had been as cold and wet as I had.
That was something. A shared bath was something I hadn't tried before, though I'd seen it on TV and in the movies.
I watched him strip, watched him climb in. He hadn't needed a second invitation, and it was pretty clear why. I felt a kind of pity, except that pity's too patronising a word, for that lovely, big, red instrument, so hungry to be played. I didn't feel like disappointing, but at the same time I was really enjoying being where we were, as we were.
It makes sense, I guess. His feet had to go somewhere and mine were resting on his hips. It was nice when he just rested one on my mound, made me smile. And then, when you remember what can go in and come out of there, it makes sense that a long, big toe, so very gently pressing, will fit there too. Very nice. That cock, as well, lifting its head above the water in some accident of movement like a hot, flushed periscope looking for me. And I was already determined that he would find me, eventually.
"You really think I'm beautiful?" I asked him lazily, already knowing the answer. I had read it in his eyes, felt it in his arms, in his hands and fingers. Even in his toe.
"Unbelievably beautiful, Lois."
"You mean that?"
"And you don't think I'm a slut? For climbing into a stranger's bath? For thinking of climbing into a stranger's bed?"
"I never thought we were strangers, Lois. You have never felt so to me. I saw this girl arrive at work one day and the one, magical word came straight into my mind. 'Incandescent'. Like a beautiful living flame, full of sparkle and vitality. And that comes from the soul.
"I hoped that something would happen one day. I hoped that I would get to hold your hand, to walk with you, to tell you of the feelings you woke inside of me. This is marvelous to me, or will be, if you can tell me one thing honestly."
"That this is not fleeting. That we'll go on from here, after today I mean. That I'll get the chance to be with you, to dine with you, to drink with you, to watch you sleep, watch you smile."
"I think that's more than one thing, isn't it?"
"The answer's the same, anyway."
So we bathed together, languidly, soaking in the warmth of the water and each other, and we climbed out together, dried each other, and my ankle scarcely bothered me.
Towelling him, towelling it, I could hardly have left matters there anyway. And when he towelled her, so very gently, so very, yes, lovingly, well that would have to have settled the matter.
No fumbling with this man. No anxious dithering. No trivial distractions. He picked me up, bodily, and I relaxed into him, safe as a rescued victim in the arms of a fireman, allowed him to carry me to the bedroom, lower me easily onto the bed, lower himself onto me.
He killed the last anxiety stone dead. He kissed me. That's the hardest thing, in some ways, the one thing that so often doesn't go to plan. He kissed me good. He kissed me in such a way that my lips became hungry, my tongue even ravenous, for more of him.
He closed his mouth around my own, inhaled my breath as I breathed his, and his hands caressed me, everywhere, endlessly, and my chest flushed, my breasts blushed, my nipples soared, throbbing with pleasure.
Feeling the press of their twin studs he slowly drew his mouth from mine, lowered his to my breasts, suckled on me, nibbled, teased. My mouth starved for him. Deep beneath me another stud was peaking, tiny hairs bristling electric, slow warm waves rippling upward and through me.
He kissed my belly, sucked and licked my navel, teasing my belly button as my nipples, tongue and clit now yearned to be teased, all hungry and wanting and all together.
His lips touched on mine again, something lovely, warm and firm bunting at my other lips, finding me, sliding easily into me even as his tongue did, met mine, and danced with me.
So slowly, so steadily, so gently and firmly, and we were breathing each other's breath again, neither of us ready to part, even if we should suffocate. There was a dizziness in me, echoed no doubt in him, from the long shared air and from all the remarkable sensations that combined together, of our warm wet kiss, of skin on skin, of kneading, stroking , petting hands, of hardness against softness, of subtle, sussurating heat foaming and rolling, of the slap of belly on belly as his neat ass lifted and fell in that sweet rhythm.
Honey. That's what it is. That's what it feels like. That warm, liquid sensation when cock and cunt are at one with each other, consume each other; honey spreading warm between our hips, and then, still kissing, the great warm opened and I fell into it, laughing, crying, and felt him surging in response, coming wetly, sweetly.
* * *
The train was on time on Monday morning, I got to work at 8.30, walked into an office full of expectant gazes.
'What happened to you guys?' My voice was level, mildly curious.
'We went to Hampstead Heath as planned. What happened to you?'
'Went to Richmond Park. I guess I must have misunderstood.'
'Yeah.' They were puzzled. Marie, disappointed, frowned. "Didn't you get my text?"
"I sent you one."
"Ah. No. Well, at least, I kind of got it. But I'm not used to my new phone, you see. I think I deleted it when I tried to read it."
"Me?" You should have heard the innocence in my voice. "No. Like I said; it's a new phone. I boo-booed; always assuming it was your text I deleted and that yours didn't just get lost."
"You didn't see anyone else there?"
"No." I paused for a moment, then; "Oh, yes. Well, I caught a glimpse of that prick, Mark Clayton, but you can guess how I felt about being alone with him so I stayed out of the way until it became clear that nobody else was coming and then I left. Damn good thing I did, too. The heavens opened shortly afterwards and I just missed getting soaked."
I enjoyed their disappointment. We both did. Mark played it exactly the way that I had, but made the others feel guilty for getting him a drenching. We've gone on being barely polite at work, too. You know what office romances can be like, and it's been six months or so, now, and I'm moving to a better job on Monday.
I'm looking forward to Monday. They'll have had a collection. They always do. There'll be drinks and cakes and speeches. And then both Mark and I will hand out our invitations to our colleagues for a dinner we're giving next week.
It will be interesting to see their faces when they read that Mark and Lois invite them to their home in Richmond.
© 2009 Richard V Raiment. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.
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