Encounters ‘C’ related how Corine flees to England, lands on her feet finding a job straight away. A dark side of Ian is revealed.
Freda held the door half open and looked Corine up and down.
“Oh..you must be?…leave your bag, shoes off, I’ll show you house.”
The house was a splendid Edwardian building, terraced on three floors, and a basement which had never been lived in. The middle floor had a room with an adjoining bathroom that was perfect for Amy and Freda’s daughter Magda. Their toys sat up in lines on the windowsills staring straight ahead. The main bedroom was on the top floor, done out in gaudy shades of pink, lilac frills on the tissue box matched the edging on the blinds of the tall majestic windows. More pink – the bedspread and satin cushions covering the king size bed. Corine glanced up, there was a mirror positioned directly over the bed.
Like a faithful collie Corine padded after Freda and followed her through the entrance hall that led to a high ceilinged room, and a state of the art kitchen/diner. At the far end a sumptuous lounge area darkened by unopened shutters. Down stairs to the basement which was being used as an utility room.
“You live here.” Freda stood back while Corine scanned the room. Piles and piles of clothes stacked on an ironing board, and in laundry baskets. Pushed into a corner a bed, curtained off by a rail, like the ones they have in hospitals. An old tatty damask screen was propped round the toilet and shower. The room was below garden level giving it a dank unlived in smell with one window letting in a sparse amount of light.
“Kids don’t need a garden, park is near.” Freda remarked. “Well, don’t you like it? you say nothing?”
“Yes…um…it’s fine, thank you.” Corine said forcing a smile.
“Get your things, see you in the kitchen, I’ve made lists.”
Freda flounced out of the room leaving Corine wondering what the hell she’d let herself in for.
The duties list: Taking the children to school, picking them up; getting meals; washing; shopping; cooking, doing everything, and as Corine had guessed, the cleaning was down to her too.
All day there was a blasting, blaring sound of a TV coming from Freda’s bedroom, a room she rarely left. On Corine’s first day Freda told her she was never to eat with the family. On the second she stopped Corine on the landing.
“Oh…get things out of my bedroom next time, put my clothes away.”
Now Corine was Freda’s maid, picking up half eaten food off the bed, squashed grapes clinging to dirty tissues on the floor.
The en suite was worse.
Days later Ian got a chance to chat to Corine on her own; asked how she was settling in; talked to her about her family and asked about the village where she lived in France. He bought some bifocals, which he used to peer over his laptop, to get a look at Corine’s body as she bent down to load the dishwasher. Pity she’s so young, he thought.
The children took to Corine almost at once. Now they had someone to play with, have fun with. Ian worked late, Fred only had time for herself. When the children were ready for bed they’d come downstairs in their night things clutching their soft toys, Magda with her giant bear Rocky, Amy with Jill her mouse. If Freda was at home she could be found flopped on the sofa watching TV, shouting in German, voicing her opinion on everything. In one hand a dangling cigarette dropping ash, in the other a glass of Riesling. Magda and Amy had learned that if Freda was in a good mood she’d let them sit either side of her. They’d glance at each other and make their move, but if one of them got too close to Freda and tried cuddling up, she’d push them away.
The light of a bulb picked out the damp patches and misery of Corine’s room. Corine lay on her bed thinking of her Mum and Dad. She couldn’t get the picture out of her head, of her Dad putting his hand in the teapot and finding his money gone.
Corine lies back on her bed exhausted, knowing she won’t sleep. She sits up, snatches her mobile and calls Gilles.
“Oui?”his voice is sleepy.
She hangs up.
It’s Sunday and for once Freda and Ian have got through the day without a big row. Ian’s stretched out on the sofa and Freda is slouched at the other end. Ian keeps topping up Freda’s wine glass hoping it would do the trick and she’d go to bed with him. She just might make love or at least let him have his way.
“How about an early night?” Ian raises his eyebrows.
Freda tries focusing on Ian’s face but it’s a blur, because of the joint she’d just smoked. Like a computer her brain searches… What am I doing? What’s going on? Figures move on the TV, and voices sound a hundred miles away.
Ian sits up and moves closer, takes her hand, Freda lets it stay.
When he goes to kiss her, she leans forward reaching for her wine and burps.
“You know what you do to me.” Ian mutters undoing the buttons of her silver cardi.
She stares at nothing, he’s taking forever.
Again he tries to kiss her, she turns her face away, then suddenly flings her arms round him crushing him, claws at his back with her long nails. Ian cries out, his eyes sparkling in anticipation. Freda moves her hand down Ian’s shirt and slides her fingers under the belt of his trousers. What the hell she thinks.
Just as she’s pulling his shirt out there’s a noise.
“Christ!” Freda screams.
“Oh God!” says Ian.
It’s the sound of a key in the lock, Corine coming in.
Freda throws her body back on the sofa, tries to stand. Struggles with her buttons but keeps missing the buttonholes. She manages to stand up, smooths her skirt down and pushes her hair back from her face, reaches for her glass and gulps down more wine. Staggers out of the room, swings her body round looking back at Ian, her face glowing like a beacon.
“Well, that’s that! Now you’ve done it,” she gasps, almost colliding into Corine. “Oh! it’s you.”
“Just getting a drink,” Corine says, glancing at Ian then Freda.
“Don’t worry,” Freda says prancing out of the room. “I’ll check the kids.”
Corine gets a coke and sneaks down to her room.
Ian stares at the television, picks up the remote and flicks through channels.
He flings the remote across the room, opens another bottle of wine and takes it upstairs.”
“Maybe she’ll have a drink with me? “Huh!” he laughs.
The light’s off in their bedroom, but Ian can still make out Freda in bed, most of the duvet round her, and, as Ian expected, she’s lying with her back turned away from his side.
He takes his clothes off quietly, climbs into bed, carefully pulling up what’s left of the duvet.
Touches her shoulder.
Ian lies back and tries to work out what’s happened.
Things had moved fast, too fast. Freda had refused point blank to move in with him, it was marriage or nothing. Ian wasn’t even sure how it happened, the next thing they were on a plane to Bali, slipping out of their sandals onto silver sand, getting married under palm trees using a couple of locals as witnesses.
She’d trapped him.
Was it a home for herself and Magda she wanted? Ian knew she didn’t want him. At first she couldn’t get enough of him, now she couldn’t get enough of his money.
Things changed almost the day they got back from their honeymoon.
Freda started to shut herself away or slobbed around the house, only getting dressed up when she went out. If Ian made a move in bed she’d mumble about not feeling well or she was too tired. After months of this Ian tried talking to her, but it always ended in a row, or she’d walk off. In a desperate attempt he quietly suggested she see a doctor, her answer was to throw a plate half full of Indian takeaway across the room at him. He ducked.
Ian would watch her come into the kitchen, grab food and wine from the fridge then disappear to her room.
It was like flat-sharing.
Ian closed his eyes, he’s holding Ali, her body in his arms and in no time she’s wriggling and wrapping that body round him.
The next day Ian was at work struggling to concentrate on a report he had to finish but gave up, Friday was here! He emailed Ali twice, making sure she’d be at the pub lunchtime.
The Mash Tun pub was packed, people glancing round, talking over each other, laughing, drinking. Ian and Ali found themselves pushed into a corner.
Ian takes a swig of lager.
“Got you alone at last.”
“Um, gets boring all this shop talk.”
“I’d much rather talk about you.”
“Nothing to say really…I’m just me.”
He moves closer.
“I think there’s a lot more to you.”
She smiles, breathes in his aftershave, touches his face.
“Need a shave.”
“Yes,” he gets closer and takes a deep breath.
“Sorry, erm…next Friday would you be free?..for a drink, somewhere else?”
Ali agrees to meet him at the Baliffscourt Hotel at 6pm, the venue for the firm’s last Christmas party.
Ali chats to her best friend Lucy but she already knows what she’s going to say.
“As long as you don’t get involved, you know it never works out, they always go back to their wives..he’s having his cake…….Lucy says “It’s just a drink.” Ali interrupts.
“Then why do you grin every time you talk about him?”
Clothes get tossed in the air in Ali’s bedroom as she poses in the mirror. She’s already tried on six things, nothing is right. There was still time to get a skimpy red dress she’d seen, and she had the shoes that would go perfectly.
It’s 6.10 as Ali swings her Night Blue Golf round, crunching the gravel on the driveway that leads to the Ballifscourt Hotel. Checks her make up in the car mirror then smiles at the concierge. Ian had told her they park the car for you. Pulls her dress down a little as she gets out of the car, then hands over the keys. Sprays more Joop onto her neck and the lapels of her black velour jacket. Takes a deep breath, holds her stomach in and walks towards the hotel. Through revolving doors Ali turns left into the Debtors Bar and sees Ian sitting just inside.
He gets up, a big grin on his face.
“God you look amazing,” he says as they hug.
“Not so bad yourself.”
Ali lets her dress ride up as she sits down on the sofa, pulls it down a little and crosses her legs, the diamanté on her black stilettos catch the light.
Ian reaches for the bottle of champagne making the ice rattle, he offers a glass to Ali.
“Do you like this stuff?”
“My favourite.” she smiles
Their eyes are locked as they sip drinks and chat. The bar, empty, just the barman polishing glasses, and in the far corner a man playing ‘You Are So Beautiful’ on a white baby grand piano.
Ian moves closer.
Ali leans back and gives Ian a long look.
“Another glass?” Ian says.
“ I’m driving.”
“I’ll get you a taxi, come on.”
“This is nice… thanks” she raises her glass to Ian.
“Don’t thank me.”
Ian sits back giving a nervous cough and looks down at his glass.
“Ali look, this isn’t easy, you know I like you, well… I’ve booked a room here.”
“You haven’t!” her eyes widen.
He looks up and their eyes meet.
“Only if you want? No pressure.”
Ali picks up her glass, holds it out to him, smiling.
“Better have another drink. Then maybe you can show me the way?”
The next morning Lucy gets a text from Ali. She goes straight round to her flat.
“You’ve got that look on your face,”Lucy says.
Giggling Ali takes her friend’s hand and pulls her to the sofa.
“He’s really nice you know. I mean unselfish. It was good.”
Lucy grins and listens to last night’s story.
“Oh no……what’s going to happen now?”
“Lots I hope.”
“How come you’re home?” Lucy asks
“Wifey you know, he left at 2am.”
It’s been over a week since her daughter left and it’s starting to rain.
The washing’s out.
Chantal stares out of the window watching the clothes getting soaked.
She picks up the note Corine left and reads it for the umpteenth time. Her legs feel heavy, like her heart, as she climbs the stairs. She waits outside Corine’s bedroom for a minute, takes a deep breath then turns the door handle. Stepping over things she walks across the room and pulls open the curtains, unlatches a window, clearing the stuffiness. Leans out of the window that looks across fields, breaths in the cold freshness. There’s piles of stuff on the bed. Chantal stops for a moment then starts sorting the clothes picking them up one by one. She sits on the bed, it feels hard. Why didn’t I get her a new one? Why didn’t she talk to me?
Corine looks round her daughter’s room, walls covered with posters and photos. What had gone wrong? Where was Corine? What was she doing now, at this moment? Was she ever coming back?
Maybe an hour goes by, a car draws up outside the window, disturbing her time, her time with her daughter. Chantal curls up on the bed and sobs.
That evening Chantal phones her son Claud, she knows she won’t get any sympathy and she’s right. Days later she ventures out, she can’t put it off any longer.. she takes the back street to avoid the villagers and the shop where she always bought Corine a slice of Tarte aux Abricots. Chantal sighs. What’s left? The same people in the same shops. Neighbours cunningly feigning an interest in her daughter, storing the answers like a secret code. They can hardly wait to spill out this prized information; on the corner by the church or at the next gossip morning.
That evening, as every evening Chantal puts her husband’s dinner in front of him, it’s one of his favourites, Hachis Parmentier. Still wearing her apron, she sits opposite him at the dining table.
He slurps his red wine and looks up.
“You not eating?”
“I picked at things.”
He glances at her and sees redness round her eyes..
She waits until he finishes, he pushes his plate across the table.
In a small voice she starts to say something…
He stands up, slams his fist on the table and shouts.
“I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it.”
Turning his back he goes to the fire and makes himself comfortable in the big leather chair, picks up his paper and turns to the sports pages.
Chantal clatters the dishes.
He pokes the fire and throws a log on.
“Did you do a desert?”
Turning to the sink, choking on tears Chantal finds herself unable to speak.