Pavey and Gilbert

 

Chapter One

 

“I am not worthy of being a clergyman”, he muttered before apologising and briskly departing, narrowly avoiding a wicker chair. Pavey lay slumped in the recliner, wrapped in well-worn white cotton, her eyes dark set, devoid of hope. The air was saturated with sunshine, filtered through the large white-glossed window frame. Staring at the space left by his leaving she could not find the energy or need to shift her gaze to watch him walk away. Feeling a certain hardness under her left side she laboriously lifted herself off the dead kitten upon which she had unwittingly been seated. She placed the stuffed feline delicately back upon the armoire and gazed up at it as she stroked it's neck. “Percy”, she breathed, and returned once more to the recliner. Percy the cat had been her best friend throughout childhood, until her 7th birthday garden party. He had fallen asleep under a cushion to escape the noise, only to be sat on sometime later by a visiting friend. Some years later it was that friend who introduced Pavey to Gilbert, the aspiring clergyman.

After many minutes of trying to ignore it, Pavey allowed herself to be distracted by the scratching appearing to emanate from beyond the wainscot. She stared at the mahogany, as if her curiosity would allow her to see through it. Her eyes drifted across the surface, following the sound.

Her reverie was eventually interrupted by a thumping at the door. Perspiration broke out as with furrowed brow she turned her gaze to the vestibule. She stood unsteadily and then drifted with the delicacy of a dandelion seed towards the front door, suddenly collapsing to her knees on the door-mat. Inhaling with trembling anticipation she lifted the flaking brass effect letterbox and offered her right eye to the opening.  She could see beyond a tropical arboretum a pinetum, and infront, a viticetum. The grapes were full and shone with an alizarin glow, which bled out onto the spongy mass of leaves. To one side of the vines lay a bridleway, upon which a man stood eternally with an outstretched arm that was seemingly wider than his torso. His featureless visage overlapped the shirt collar and even onto the shoulder of his jacket. To the far side of the bridleway stretched a plain of solid hookers green, interspersed with giant red dots… poppies no doubt. How tiresome these gifts were becoming. She glanced at the frame to see if that had more taste than the twee watercolour being eagerly clutched by the now slightly inebriated Gilbert. It hadn’t. Rolling her eyes she debated whether to open the door.

Pavey could remember afternoons together, running through golden fields with the light cool breeze providing a pillow of delicately perfumed air that swirled around them, picking them up of their feet and into the sky; those halcyon days, now drenched in a treacly yellow hue, like aged paper or a decaying photograph. Days of energy, free spirit, joie de vivre, a mind as open and soaring as cumulonimbus. What now? Not the energy- her limbs and soul felt shackled by heavy chains to some mysterious force from ‘below’, pulling her down, causing her back to arch. Joie de vivre was a distant increasingly abstract concept, her mind was now buzzed in with caffeine and buzzed out with gin.

 

Chapter Two

 

The barman at the Happy Medium grimly rubbed an old dishcloth across the over varnished surfaces, soaking up over-brimmed ales. Sun poured through the window showing swirls of dust against the gloom. Pavey wondered how she had come to be huddled in the corner of this common tavern. Perhaps she had meandered here whilst wistfully recounting whimsies in her head. She clutched at her knees as if they offered some comfort, like a drowning man clinging onto a life-raft. Her rocking action somehow telled of the ocean also; her head nudging at the side of the dark wooden pew. The door opened and a flow of cool air washed across the room. She could almost smell the ocean, the varnished wood that cradled her with such frigidity became as the deck of some craft. If she could move her head she would see the cool green water swelling and lapping at her side. She leaned towards it, it drew her in, it offered her cleansing- both of the body and the soul. She wanted the infinite depths to swallow her whole, to strip away her clammy skin, to wash through her stale and cobwebbed mind, to overrun and consume her heart and deliver her… to where or what she did not know nor care. She toppled sideways off the pew and, still clutching her knees, thudded to the floor.

Since the age of ten her left ear had been growing faster than the right. Now some many years on it had become quite pronounced, to the extent it flapped slightly in windy weather, or indeed when she ran. This ear, the larger of the two, was now burning and glowing deep red. She leaned forward into a walk and ambled at diagonals out of the pub, her ear glowing at her side. “Something must be done” she mused, watching blossom and dead ducks cascade to the ground. Uncle Maurice was out shooting. She had never actually spoken to Uncle Maurice, an imposing man of over 6′ 7″ who dwelled in the gate-house. He wore a riding helmet most of the time, and a Hawaiian shirt. He had married into the family before Pavey’s time, and, subsequent to the disappearance of Aunt Gladioli he remained; a bitter, dark twisted husk of man. “Something MUST be done”, she muttered. Turning to look at her home with dry tired eyes she felt the embers of determination fade and grow cold. She started heading back with a certain resentment at her predicament, and more so her lack of motivation to do anything about it. A trampled daffodil lay sprawled across the path at her feet. It’s once gay petals now muddied and crumpled, the stalk was half broken in several places and the leaf blades tattered and browned. “How like me”, she though to herself, “how like me”.

Over the years “something must be done”, had become something of an eroding mantra, a statement of un-intent. She wafted across the lacrosse court towards an erratic display of petunia. From here she had a vista of the river, a shimmering smudge of paynes grey. In the distance Pavey could make out the garish tones of a Hawaiian shirt hanging crooked on some reeds, as Uncle Maurice gesticulated in a panicked fashion from the water. Apparently he could not swim! Quite how he had come to be in the river was unclear.

Oozing a fragile sense of heroism Gilbert appeared from behind the pergola. ‘I say!’ he clamoured. ‘I say!’, he repeated at increased volume, waving wildly. Without awaiting a response he trampled hurriedly through the bull rush, casting his jacket behind him. Trembling with a certain sense of reality he clambered into a rowing boat and fumbled for the oars. He was aware Pavey could see him as he strained on the paddles, and he thought this might just be the circumstance to change her mind. He pulled harder, squeezing several beads of sweat from his brow. The bull rushes and Pavey were now distant, and she waved a pale grey handkerchief limply at him. He peered over his shoulder to check his orientation in the smoky waters. A short distance away Maurice stammered to himself as he rose forth from the pond having regained his footing, bare-chested apart from a paisley cravat and a leech. “Sunshine… so, so rare these days” he rumbled, ignorant to Gilbert’s rescue attempt. He was now waist deep, surrounded by slate grey lily pads with pond grass hanging from his shoulder, his hair dank and flatted to his scalp. Part of Pavey’s mouth was amused by this bizarre sight and broke into a smile, which spread slowly across her face. She could feel her skin crease in new places.

Gilbert slowed his rowing whilst observing the recovery of Maurice. In a way relieved he would not actually have to dive in and save the giant, he was somewhat disappointed at not being able to exhibit a masculine prowess to the on-looking Pavey. Maurice climbed out of the water and reclaimed his shirt from the reeds. Now Maurice was safe it was Gilbert that was stranded… the darting saviour, now redundant and embarrassingly surplus to events. Should he about turn about and head back to shore somewhat deflated, or perhaps just keep going?