Extract from novel in progress ~ Treasure Reclaimed
An extract from Treasure Reclaimed
(a novel in progress)
Kathy sits next to him at the front of the buggy as if she were a farmer’s wife or a village sweetheart. The darlingness of their situation is not lost on them. There was fun in being flung together by the powers of boredom and loneliness. The county saw it as something much more significant – a prospective marriage between incompatible classes – the gentry and the clergy, indulgence and false modesty. Or two searching souls.
‘This trap is like the Wreck of the Hesperus.’
Simon spits into a smile. Kathy bobs next to him, all stoicism.
‘It won’t collapse Kathy; I helped yer man fix it a while back.’
‘When? 1941?’ She scoffs.
He turns to his buggy-mate with quiet admiration, then puts his focus to the road. It would be rocks and jitter until they got to Ballymena’s smoother streets, where everyone’s feelings were ironed out, strangely hopeful about rebuilding, improving after Armistice. Kathy never believed the war was wholly over – it was just the beginning of a different one. All the villagers from Glenravel to Martinstown, Clough and Cargan seemed to be in an even bigger battle with hunger. Such a silent, slow spreading bomb. She had sensed it in other people’s conversations. She at once feels the kind of realisation that starts in your tummy and moves heavily up, through your heart. Simon wasn’t growing vegetables as an odd sort of hobby…in collusion with a Housekeeper. He was growing vegetables to feed people. Kathy observes Simon’s blank, oval face thin into the tunnel of wind. You really are a decent sort of human being she thinks…and stashes this knowledge, along with all her Gramma’s five-pound-notes, in the back of her mind.
She spends the rest of the journey thinking about the selfishness particular to each person in her world – Adela’s hunger for admiration and fads, Jack’s covetousness of solitude and drink. Really, to what end Simon? She reflects…but everything is quiet Chess with him…except the Chinese puff, which is messy.
They roll into Ballymena, relishing the tides of dust and motor-horns. Watching new people – large women buying tins, pedants with pocket-watches – always had a charm to it. In the Glens, every face had lived there a hundred years, even if that face had been passed down for posterity. They were all part of this common web of natural burdens, from sick herds to vicious winds from the east- farmer, landowner, minister shared the same demons.
‘Where is this shop anyway?’
‘You know it. It’s Denby’s Feed and Convenience.’
Kathy is thrilled at the subterfuge.
‘Isn’t it though’ nods Simon.
‘He keeps it with the tea imports.’
Before she can respond, Simon trots the buggy near a post, opposite the confectioners. She wonders why he can’t have a sweet-tooth like her.
‘We can go in there after Miss.’
Kathy likes it when he calls her Miss because of the irony. They are completely on a level – him with his moderate good-looks and scholastic habits and her with her expensive taste and sports-energy. She is a force of hormones and heritage, and he is, well, Machievelli with a pencil. He jumps off and offers his hand. Kathy gayly jumps down, skirt catching the breeze, as he grabs her by the waist. This could be the dance-hall at the Glensway.
Simon scratches his chin –
“if you pop in, I’ll stay with the horses…just say you’ve come for some ‘Giggles.”
Kathy is not impressed by this smooth delegation, she can’t assess how inappropriate her buying ‘the giggles’ would be…to Aunt Anne or Grandma Mary…or The Belfast Telegraph for that matter. They took her picture at a ball once…she was squinting.
“Knock, knock! Kathleen, Elizabeth, Doris, is anyone in that head of yours?”
He gives her the scowl, which won’t stop until she moves. So she does. The door swings open, with the ding of the overhead bell. She has been here before. With their former Estate Manager, Mr Davis. He was from Manchester, and everyone withdrew from him and his English accent (like gravy) as soon as he opened his mouth.
“Oh, hello Miss Hassard, how can I help you?’
“Er. Um…the gentleman -“
Kathy points to Simon, smartly loitering outside.
Mr Denby puckers his non-existent lips into a smirk and licks them while climbing an unconvincing step-ladder. Of course it’s on the top shelf, thinks Kathy. She raises an eye-brow like Katherine Hepburn as he shifts a crate of carrot seeds to one side. Behind it is a small tea-tin baring the face of King George. She suddenly starts enjoying the nonsense of the situation – here is the son of a church minister, sending the daughter of the squire into a feed-shop to buy ‘giggles’ bearing the face of a King. It was something from Through the Looking Glass. Kathy giggles Simon’s tiny lump of brown paper all the way into her blazer-pocket and out of the shop with a round ‘ding!’
Simon stands elated, feet planted on the pavement and swinging on his heels.
“You’re a right little secret service agent.”
“Oh, stop it.’ Kathy flicks a clump of his hair.
She feels unimpressed with herself and irrelevant in Simon’s piece of stage-management.
“I hope we’re going to the chocolatier now.”
The boy creeps a tweedy arm over her shoulders as they skip in tandem towards Mme Douce’s Chocolates. For once, Kathy is unruffled by the thought of the poor cart-horse, tied to his post, and left to feed on straw and petrol from the street.
They arrive at the maze in People’s Park, stuffed to the gullets with chocolate. Arguing is their favourite game, and the maze is a perfect container for this particular variety of giggles…At the centre, Simon lights up an oriental cigarette and stares right through her. She sees a grey-blue twinkle in his pupils that is devilish and selfish, and almost attractive at the same time.
She says flatly. Kathy wonders if he is in a stupor and thinks he is propositioning a barmaid. His voice lowers and softens –
“I mean it. Marry me and I’ll protect you from the bastards…”
She can’t think of any reason why not. It hits her childish brain like a weight. Simon is her comforter – the blanket in her cott..like the Cinnamon in her tea at Gramma’ Mary’s, she couldn’t imagine a whole life without him…and his smug laughter, and fond slights.
“Maybe I will.”
She presses her lips against his square chin, and they are met with the tenderness of silk. He pushes his forehead against hers. Maybe that was it, she thinks – not running away but being radicals in their own homeland. No, that wasn’t quite right. But Simon, unlike the rest of life’s furniture, could be…