After that last row, she, the music teacher, had closed the lid and gone.
She had a choice of whines, and chose the latter, though she knew it meant bombs. He heard it too, was fed up, angry with himself and the confounded bashing of grand pianos by rarity children.
‘It supplements your income too, you know!’ she’d said.
Their flat had no stair, he should go to the shelter, he knew it, but didn’t. Beneath the piano seemed as good a place as any.
He laughed as he imagined each bomb burst, the breaking of each shell, the stepping out of some little dancing girl who would pirouette and take a few steps to a tinkling tune.
It seemed wonderfully ironic that after their last talk together on the subject of ‘old men and girls’ Alice should run off with the builder - twenty years her senior. She saw it clearly from the old man’s point of view, she said.
‘Well, what dirty bugger wouldn’t?’ she said. ‘But I don’t see what’s in it for the girl…’
Ralph had quickly to dampen his ardour.
‘Well, no’ he agreed, back-pedalling. ‘After all, inter-generational relationships’ he laughed - ‘well, they might seem desirable - but ultimately they’re doomed and undignified, don’t you reckon?’
Thanks a lot, Alice, baby, he thought… Ralph couldn’t entirely understand it.
That builder was a right ugly bastard.
She pulls a face.
‘Baked potato with bacon and brie?’ she says. ‘Surely, that’s taking things too far?’
‘Well, don’t trouble yourself’ I reply. ‘You don’t have to eat it. It’s my problem - and if you must know, I fell in love with the alliteration. It seemed sexy.’ Suddenly she recalls the goat’s cheese salad and artichoke hearts I’d chosen once before.
‘What is it with you?’ she says. ‘You and your strange combinations. Surely, there’s something far more life-affirming in a solid plate of egg and chips?’
Oh my God, I think to myself. Slimy and greasy, and much too real.
But is this secretly what I want? Plain and simple fare, like ‘I love you’ written on a menu?
No - far too bland. She knows I would never choose it.
He says there’s no village like it. Held together by trees, the quiet road winding its way from Sudbury. The soft bark of the high wellingtonia sweet-talking its caress. The ginger cats blinking at the roar of an unexpected car.
In the sun-filled cavity of the walled bus shelter he feels the smooth red brick as it sucks in the heat, the cool flint which casts it away. And (the sound penetrating through the hedge) he can hear the solicitor’s daughters whooping in their swimming pool of money.
And Mrs Hargreaves’ hard-worked fingers hand him the rip to hack the grass on Harry’s grave.
Therefore, with that implement dangling from his hand, he treads the tight avenue of limes. He pushes aside the sticky heart-shaped leaves.
And this is the space he will always, now, take with him. The sleeping of the dead. Bedded into this broad expanse of pale primroses; stiff leaves that soften, somehow, the blow of each inscription.
And there, just there…
Adelaide waiting for him at the lych-gate.