When she reaches Turzel House Brenda notes with small wistful envy lights glowing in the kitchen, amber beams reaching out a welcome through the decaying afternoon. A warm embrace instead of a clout about the head beckoned. But her visit would be the same as the last time, if she tried to tell the people there. She would once again mumble tongue-tied and embarrassed, and then as she turns away be thankful that the couple are too old to hear her and their daughter too soft in the head to remember.
Brenda felt with squeezing shame her frail courage fade, and as she passes the snazzy car in the driveway knows she will not even knock on the door this time. She will shove the post through the letterbox and make her way straight back to the bungalow. But passing the car she got a brief glimpse of someone else’s life spread out across the front passenger seat. There was a gaping handbag full of stuff, most visible an unclipped wallet with many, many credit cards. There was a key fob too, and a crumpled map, Toffee Crisp wrappers, an old fashioned Filofax open showing next week’s activities, comfy flat shoes on the passenger side floor. It was all just sitting there. “Some people have no sense” Brenda muttered, tut tutting as she offloaded the post. Turning quickly away from the door she passes the car again, but this time comes closer to check that there really was all that stuff just sitting there in an unlocked car. Tut tut.
The wind battered her, speeding her along to malevolence, vice and a shrinking self. A passive, prematurely grey haired annoyance, Brenda is a long way from the clever pretty girl who passed her Civil Service exams so long ago. It was just luck, she tells herself again as she reminds herself again that she loves him. He just has a temper, is angry, impotent. It’s not his fault. He doesn’t really mean it. She shouldn’t be so clumsy and slow when he is in so much pain. He needs her, needs her love. But a whisper says she isn’t clumsy and he isn’t really in pain. And the whisper says he’s been a bit that way inclined, even before a car fell on him. He’s been a bit that way inclined, since they came back from honeymooning in Bognor. He’s been that way inclined for over twenty years now, wheelchair or not. It’s worse now that she knows he’s a fake. This is power, but power and Brenda have never met. Brenda ignores the rain and wind, and grubby birds struggling to fly straight against the weather. She tells herself again she’ll take anything she has to take for the man she loves. She’ll lie for the man she loves. Love trumps lies and shame, she says.
And so as she walks Brenda chooses a different picture. Far away from the formless huddled shape, she is no longer in grubby jeans and leaking shoes. Her worn out parka, its zip broken and velcro fuzz filled, is not torn and damp. Instead Brenda sees their wedding day. She is 26 wearing a pale blue suit and a little hat with blue feathers. The long since sold strand of pearls her mother had given her are around her neck, matching pearls in her recently pierced ears. Her new shoes are too high and tip her forwards, so she has to turn her toes out to keep her balance. She walks clumsily and clings to his beefy arm tight in a borrowed suit that smells of mothballs. She remembers him smiling, telling her it was their new beginning and things were changing. Her smile stayed beamy bright all through the service, all through the day. She never noticed the dancing menace flickering in his watchful eyes.
Luke Mordrake is tall, brawny and strong, with big powerful hands the nails permanently blacked with engine grease, even at his wedding. His hair that day was a mass of shining waves, wet and diamond dropped and bouncing in a brisk seaside wind. Roughly parted it framed a tense oval face with large brown eyes and a star dazzled smile that flashed only occasionally. His mouth holds still to a dangerous, half cruel shape. Over the years full lips have twisted steadily nasty and thin, a narrow and ugly leer.
Brenda is fond of that wedding day picture, an embellished fantasy taylored for the wild open air of a moment’s freedom. Hidden and lost in romantic yesterdays Brenda can forget that she’s his sport, entertainment when the television’s over, when his meagre quota of local old friends has sloped off full of beer and home made pizza. They shoulder relief like a hod of bricks when the visit is over, and return less often for fear of its weight.
But Brenda’s image of Luke on their wedding day is changing. Once hard and sharp edges are smudging, getting softer, the colours are less saturated, less intense. Hurts and bruises once overwritten with those edges and colours, are showing through. As Brenda walks through the blustering rain, tears seep into the colours of this turbulent afternoon. They blur the shapes of seagulls swirling high and far from home and Brenda sees ragged black crows, wiping carelessly across the wet sky. She hears the crows caw. Mournful half-hearted notes fade into clouds, their soft pencil marks washing away away in the tired drizzle. Brenda struggles against the wind. Brenda can write her image no darker. With every blow its shapes and shades are slowly fractured, indistinct, anonymous.
In a craze of splintered romantic memories, she opened the door and he was already bellowing “where the bloody hell have you been”. “Just taking the post to Turzel House, that’s all. I haven’t been more than half an hour. It’s still early for tea, but I’ll get you another tinny from the fridge”. She came into the smokey room, snooker click click clacking and whispering across the green and as she proffered the can, he rose up from the sofa, mighty and somehow amplified. Brenda took a step back, looking up at him her hand outstretched, the beer quivering in its can and drops spilling out onto the carpet. “I …” was all she managed before the impact knocked her across the room, even though she thought she’d held herself limp enough to withstand it, at least just to land on the floor. Head ringing and eyes blurring she caught her breath as on hands and knees she waited for the next blow. He wouldn’t stop she knew until she had paid for her jolly spirits, her moments of freedom. He was leaning on the wall, bracing himself and delivering a stamp to her back as she tried to get herself up. Her face, crammed hard against the mostly empty bookshelf, is a singing red and bleeding, sympathetic slow, a tender caress along her cheek mingles ruby red with tears and pain. She coughs and cries “please, no, I didn’t mean it”, not knowing what she didn’t mean. And he steps carefully around her prone form to tread hard on an outstretched hand. “Didn’t you?” and he pushes his weight down into his heel as hard as he can, hoping for a crunch or at least some more begging and tears.