Chapter 5 The boiler man – Part 6

Dr Saltcake soon shifted the business’ focus to suit his abilities, real and imagined. As a retreat, Longbourne had much less need for staff, far fewer rules to follow and benefited from a fertile seam of wealthy women in need of respite from life. Dr Sandra Lockwith was the only member of staff he retained, figuring that her Americanness would be a value added extra of authority and a possible inducement for American clients. He was right in this at least and together they had build up a solid client base with many neurotic women, American and otherwise coming to Longbourne to heal, nurture their spirits, and generally laze about. Herbert likes women a lot and especially the wealthy ones, those happy to sit and listen to his stories and read his short fiction with uncritical and flattered eyes. He never shares his stories with Dr Sandra, nor indeed does he share much else, anxious that the moth holes in his past might inadvertently be spotted and trip him up. Thus the two of them keep a respectful distance at all times, so respectfully distant that the staff at Longbourne House are all convinced that they’ve been having a torrid affair for years.

Dr Sandra waited until Dr Saltcake finished his paragraph, unaware that he had merely been waiting for what he considered a suitably studious amount of time before noticing her. He raised his eyebrows and she smiled deferentially before being invited to give her weekly update on the upsells and other new business coming along. “… and Audrey Saxton will be leaving tomorrow and has asked for the car to take her home.” “Absolutely. Tell her yes and put a charge of £445 on her bill.” 

While Brenda and Audrey were busy navel gazing and some two days after Brenda had established herself in Audrey’s basement guestroom, at the shabby bungalow in Great Leigh a Ford Fiesta is parking wonky on the lane near the drive. It cannot be seen behind a large delivery van with Asda painted in bright and cheery green on its side. As they get out of the car social worker Renée Sagemill and district nurse Ann Apio observe a man standing almost upright. He’s leaning against the doorframe to pick up bags of groceries. As the Asda van pulls away, they as one move closer into the tall leylandii hedge to see what happens next. Luke Mordrake moved back and forth carrying many shopping bags into his house. He didn’t move with any particular nimbleness, but he was upright and moving. The wheelchair was nowhere in sight. The two women exchanged glances and continued spying on their client until all the shopping bags had been removed.

At first he hadn’t missed her but as he unpacked the many bags looking for something he could eat, Luke was beginning to wonder where Brenda was and why she didn’t answer his messages or calls. His memories of that wet night were hazy, but he knew she’d left before dark and that she wasn’t there when he woke up next morning stiff and cold on the sofa. He’d started by shouting for her, then calling out more gently in his sweetest tones. When that didn’t work he rose cautiously from the sofa, fearing some trick and after half an hour’s painful hobbling around the place had decided she was gone. He made himself a cup of tea, squeezing the tea bag with his thumb against the side of the cup, pressing as hard as he could, watching the dribbles forced reluctantly out. He pictured pressing under her eyes to force the tears and maybe blood too. He pictured pressing her cheeks to force open her mouth so that he could spit into it. He pictured her pressed and broken and he smiled a spiteful smile.

The day was his he decided, his to do as he liked, without bothering with her, without the strain of thinking up new transgressions, new excuses for her punishments. By the time Brenda was wrestling with the Asda app at Gatwick airport he was showered and had changed his clothes. He microwaved a steak and ale pie and mash and settled in front of the television with his cigarettes and a lager. She didn’t come when he called for another, or the next time. Nor did she come to empty his ashtray or bring him a cup of tea and some biscuits. She didn’t come, so he found his phone, plugged it in to charge and sent another abusive message, with many more to follow. Drunk and angry he told himself, “stupid fuckin’ cow’s gonna cop it. Bitch.” It never occured to him that Brenda might have gone for good. He told the television once again what he would do to her when she came back. The television said “he’s the man hoping to strike it, he’s having a word with his captain” and Luke spat back. “I’ll bloody strike it, no word with no captain”. And lost in the game for a few minutes he hears the television say “touch from Lampard was of an accurate nature” and says back “… be more than a fucking touch, the cunt”. Luke watches and the television draws him in and he forgets about Brenda. But when the game is over and their chatting about who did what and something about maintaining a position and through a drunken animation he saw Brenda when he first met her. She’d brought her old banger to the garage for its MOT and Luke saw straightaway that passive anxiety, her innate fear of everything and her fascination as she watched him roll out from under the car, lying there looking up at her both of them wide eyed, but only one of them thinking, this might be the one. He wanted a wife. He was bored of all the girls wanting him, wanting him different, wanting more, wanting. He wanted an old-fashioned woman, a woman who would look after him, not expect too much, not believe that there was anything real behind those oh so male shoulders, the bulging thighs and his musky scents.

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