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NIGHT BUS

12 Apr

NIGHT BUS

Carol Smith

Late last night I saw Reggie again or glimpsed him from the side of my eye.  After what had  gone on, I was far too nervous to stare.   I was thoroughly shocked because of what happened before.  I had been into town for the theatre and he was already on the bus when I changed to the number 9 at Hyde Park Corner at ten past eleven.   He was in the place where he always sat, in the window seat on the right hand side, two seats back from where the rear doors open.   He looked very much as he always had, florid, still handsome and formally dressed with a starched white shirt and a hat balanced rakishly at a dashing angle.    I glanced at him quickly then ran up the stairs, too shaken to know what on earth I could say.   It has been a good few years since that night I have tried so hard to block out.

Reggie and Margot lived close to me, one street away from my mansion block, and although we could not be described as friends, over the years we developed an easy acquaintance.   She was always a bit of a feminist, a journalist with a questing mind, who must have been, at the top of her game, quite a beauty.  Reggie was something to do with wine of which he’d become quite a connoisseur.   A family business, I understood.  He always gave the impression of having old money. There were two daughters, now both grown up, and Margot worked on a magazine.   It was there, I believe, that she met her second husband

Raoul was Spanish and younger than her, about ten years if I’ve got it right.   Snake-hipped and dashing with smouldering eyes like a Flamenco dancer.   He was something creative in design and painted a bit on the side as well.  Nobody thought it could possibly last but, to their surprise, it apparently did.

Reggie was fairly annihilated when Margot suddenly upped and left;  just packed her bags and away she sped without a second thought for the man with whom she had spent her formative years, the father of her children.    They had always appeared such a well-matched pair, both bon viveurs with considerable style who shared a passion for entertaining their friends. They partied a lot in their spacious duplex, all part and parcel of Reggie’s career.   Wine importers have numerous perks on the side.

Perhaps too many.   He put on weight and his rosy glow deepened into a flush.   The lovebirds decamped to a town near Seville where they opened a bijou hotel to which their arty friends soon started  to trek like ants.   Margot continued her magazine job, just added “at large” to her masthead role, while Raoul became a hotelier, knocking off bullfighting sketches on the side.  Both of them faded from my life.   She was never much more than a social friend and couples divide their Christmas card lists when marriages hit the rocks.

Reggie stayed on in the neighbourhood though I heard he moved to a smaller flat.   It was also rumoured his business was in trouble.     He drank too much;  that had long been a fact.   The bon viveur had become a lush without his vigilant wife to rein him in.    Together they’d made an impressive pair but without her restraining influence he rapidly slid downhill.

I have often wondered what the daughters thought on the rare occasions they visited him.    Perhaps they considered he was no longer their problem.   Both married, I’ve heard, and moved away leaving their father to manage alone, able to do as he wished without being nagged.    In theory he should have been gratified to regain the lost freedom of his youth.   He was still, in his middle fifties, a handsome man.  On the rare times we met he would smile and nod, searching his mind as to who I could be.  No-one of any significance he assumed.

And then I ran into Margot again, outside the dress shop beneath my flat.   She had put on weight, it had been several years, but time had treated her kindly.  She had that sheen that goes with fulfilment as well as an excellent sex-life.   We waved, air-kissed and stopped for a chat though, goodness knows, we have little enough in common.   She was back, she explained, on a flying trip to cover the London Fashion Week. On impulse, I asked her up for a drink and she checked her watch and said:  “Why not?”   She was staying in Knightsbridge at that snobby hotel.   I sensed she was lonely.

Two hours later she checked again and expressed surprise, it had grown so late.

Eleven thirty;  she had to be up at the crack for a breakfast meeting.

“I’ll come down and see you into a cab.”   They are usually frequent but you never know and I didn’t want her waiting outside alone at that time of night.

One came quickly.  I helped her in with promises that she would come back soon and that I, should I ever set foot in Spain, would certainly be in touch.

“What fun!” we cried,  air-kissing again. Then, from across the street, came a stupefied cry.

A number 9 bus had just pulled in and out of it stepped, on unsteady feet, a familiar figure dressed in a shabby tuxedo and wearing a hat.

“Margot, my darling.   I knew you’d come back.”   He stretched out his arms like a drowning man, lurched forward towards her and stumbled in front of the bus.

I have seen him several times since then, at precisely that time stepping off the bus.    Close to, his dress shirt collar is frayed and the cheap tuxedo threadbare. The hat, which he always wears, conceals thinning hair.

“Margot,” he calls but she’ll never return, has fled the city as she did before.   The shock was so great it shattered her second marriage.

Last night, when the bus arrived at my stop, I hurried downstairs in a frantic attempt to be out of there before he could recognise me.    As the doors slid back and he rose to his feet I saw the pale stare of his unseeing eyes gazing into eternity, searching for his lost love.

I managed the crossing in record time and had reached my door when I heard the cry.

“Margot, my darling…”

After which, again, that appalling blood-curdling scream.

© Carol Smith 2008

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THEM DOWNSTAIRS

24 Dec

THEM DOWNSTAIRS:  

 

It was Christmas Eve, we were just back from lunch, a depressing occasion since neither of us had been with our partners of choice.  Jeremy had been recently dumped and my married lover, as happens most years, was again not able to give his family the slip.   Though I had become resigned to that, Jeremy had most certainly not.   Christmas is certainly not an occasion for losers.   We sat in his car in front of my block but I couldn’t be bothered to ask him inside, had already expended too much fake good cheer over that tedious lunch.

“Where are you going next?” I inquired, though frankly could not have given a damn.   I’d known him slightly for quite a few years but he simply wasn’t my type.   The mutual friends who had hosted this date were clearly trying to fix us up though I could have told them right from the start that in no way could it work.   Neither of us was in the mood; we both faced a loveless Christmas.

“Just back to that tip that stinks of drains and cat pee,” Jeremy said.   He was renting a room in the Earl’s Court Road though I doubted he’d be on his own very long.    He was smooth and attractive, if you like the type.    Losing was not his style.

“Well,” I said cheerily, playing a part, displaying a nonchalance I did not feel.    “That’s where I’m headed,” and pointed up at the unlit window of my top floor flat in the massive structure I knew as home in which not a single light showed.    Even though it was still only late afternoon, it looked as grim as a prison block after curfew.    “Guess there’s nobody home,” I said.    But still he failed to react.

It had not been my fault that my lover was married.    By the time I found out I was in far too deep so had dreamed up all kind of excuses to justify it.   I pecked Jeremy’s cheek and got out of his car, wishing him all he might wish for himself.   I felt not remotely festive but it would soon be over, thank God, for another year.    Plus there were things that I still had to do.    Starting with them downstairs.

My fourth floor neighbours travel a lot.   Her sister is married in Colorado so they go there most winters to ski, leaving behind them two pampered cats who hate the upheaval of having to change their digs.   So the onus of feeding them falls upon me, the spinster upstairs without much of a life, but that, I suppose, is the point of being a neighbour.   Not that I mind, do not get me wrong.   I’d have a cat of my own like a shot if it weren’t for my lover’s tiresome allergies.    As far as pets go, his own kids make do just with tropical fish.

I took the lift up to the top floor, aware of the building’s tomblike stillness.    Usually there are signs of life, distant laughter and closing doors, the sounds of people on other floors getting on with their more interesting lives.    And cooking smells from all kinds of cuisines wafting gently down corridors and the sound of somebody’s radio slightly too loud.   That’s what you get in a mansion block, a community spirit if only at second hand.   As it is, I prefer my own company, always have.

I dumped my coat, grabbed the neighbours’ keys then ran down one flight while I still felt I could.    They were waiting for me just inside the front door, hungry yet still slightly cautious.   One, as was his habit, had crapped on the rug.     I flicked the switch to illuminate the passage that runs the full length of the flat.   The doors to each room are always kept shut, to stop them clawing the furniture, except for the kitchen – right at the end – where they live.     Halfway along the narrow hallway was the tree, decorated by the kid, with a pile of presents, still wrapped, awaiting his return.   

The previous owner was an elderly woman who had lived there most of her adult life.   Once a teacher, she was hard of hearing, which meant she had spent her retirement years in increasing isolation.   She was, in fact, a wise old bird who sometimes invited me down for tea.   She died one Christmas while all alone with nobody knowing she was there.   They found her still sitting in her chair with a half empty bottle of Chivas Regal, having swallowed a whole lot of pills.  She had always had class.  The detail that sticks most in my mind was that she had rinsed out her underwear and left it on a drying rack to air.

The cats preceded me passing the tree, tails aloft, impatient to eat.   The main bedroom door stood slightly ajar; I could swear it was closed at breakfast time and I sensed an aroma of tea rose and whisky which was when I was stopped in my tracks by a cackle of laughter.   I swung round, frozen with terror, but no-one was there.    And that’s when I noticed, beneath the tree, a miniature windup Santa Claus which had, for no reason, suddenly sprung into life.    Ho ho ho, it sang as it danced, clashing vibrating cymbals.  The spirit of Christmas Present, no doubt, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out.   I’m ashamed to admit that the pussies went hungry that night.

The porter escorted me back there next day.   I was far too frightened to go on my own.   While I, with shaking hands, fed the cats, he examined the now silent toy.

“I hate to scare you,” he said as we left.   “But the battery’s still in the box.”

 

 

 

 

©   Carol Smith 2012

BACK IN THE GAME

2 Jan

1st January, 2010

NEW BEGINNINGS…

New year, new decade, new novel, new genre.    New name! For me, at least, the times they are a-changin’.

The book I wrote for publication last July was postponed by my publishers until this coming April because I have slightly changed direction and – after twelve novels in just thirteen years – am trying my hand at something different, hence the need for a new name.

Which is not to say that there won’t be more Carol Smiths, just that my outlook has slightly   altered and I’m having a great time in a different genre with one book completed and ready to go and the next one well underway for delivery in March.

I feel lucky to have this tremendous new challenge as well as an ongoing contract with Sphere at a time when the book world is not at its most buoyant.    I shall divulge more details when my publishers say I can but please don’t forget me, dear readers.   I shall be back, I promise, very soon.

Meanwhile, in Kensington, all is happy and serene.   The flat looks lovely (I wish you could see it) and the cats have been having the time of their lives killing Christmas cards and chasing silver butterflies on the tree.   Not for very much longer, though.   The new year, for me, means a brand new chapter so that, now we are also into a new decade,  I am focusing on the Spring.

May the 2010’s bring us happiness and prosperity, with a brighter outlook as well as more fun.   I promise to keep you updated on my creative progress.

Happy New Year to all my readers and thank you for sticking around.