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Authors: Sue Moorcroft

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction

Uphill All the Way (8 page)

BOOK: Uphill All the Way
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Kieran pulled her back for a kiss, a wide-open-mouthed kiss with visibly curling tongues. The friends watched casually. Judith looked away.

Then Kieran ran back, his hair blowing above his big brown eyes, his broad top lip creasing laterally as he beamed at her. He flung himself down on the bench. 'What's up?'

Kieran was the only person from Brinham who knew all the truths, both wonderful and awful, about her affair with Giorgio. Kieran, with his English values, saw no reason why they shouldn't be together. Kieran thought Giorgio was too cool for words. Giorgio, who, until he met Judith, had always been happy to remain on the water's surface rather than underneath it, took Kieran night fishing, puttering along in a small fishing boat and shining a lamp into the water in search of squid. Then, afterwards, to drink in atmospheric little Maltese bars run by his friends.

And also on day trips when there were a couple of empty places on the bus, ensuring he got Kieran a seat close to the prettiest girls. Giorgio thought that every man deserved an attractive woman. It was the natural way of things. Judith could see his grin as he said it, feel the feather-light touches of his fingers skimming her spine, the tenderness as he called her
gojjella tieghi
. My jewel.

Kieran was going to be distressed about Giorgio.

Stroking his hands, she told him, quietly, simply, because she knew he was going to be hurt, and no amount of wrapping up of the truth would prevent that.

His light brown eyes widened with pain. 'It happened two months ago? And you've only just told me?'

'It was hard to cope - '

Kieran swore, snatching back his hands to slap the bench with the flats of them. 'And of course you
had
to cope all by yourself? That's what you've always got to do, isn't it? Keep it all in? Give up on him and come back to England, without even letting me know what happened. You weren't the only one to care about him!
I deserved to be told, if I wasn't going to see him again
!'

And then his shoulders began to shake, and Judith shared the last of her tissues with her son.

 

It was two hours before Kieran left to find Bethan.

Judith, exhausted by his anger and pain, trudged to the taxi rank and took a cab to visit her mother, in a care home on a tree-lined road out of town that looked as if it meant to go somewhere important, but had actually been superseded by the dual carriageway. Wilma had sold her own bungalow a year ago, when Molly helped her identify the tall, airy rooms of The Cottage retirement home as somewhere she thought she might be happy. And she would have twenty-four hour care.

It seemed early for lunch, when she arrived, yet it was obviously in full swing. She supposed meal times could be lengthy.

She opted to hang around in the no man's land inside the tall front doors while her mother enjoyed her meal in peace, deciding from the combination of smells that the residents were enjoying shepherd's pie, probably followed by apple crumble and custard. A few pages of an old copy of
The People's Friend
later, a cheerful carer whose tight uniform rode up in horizontal pleats above all the widest parts of her, popped her head around the corner. Her name badge, high up, near her shoulder, said Sandy. 'She's ready, lovie, if you are. Shall I just tell her who it is?'

'I'd rather be a surprise.' Judith followed the burly back up the wide corridor, past a room on her left where some residents were still eating, and into a sunny, pale green lounge with an aquarium and a television.

'As long as we don't get her too much all of a doo-dah, lovie, that's all I need to be sure of.'

Obstinately, Judith ignored the note of warning in Sandy's voice. She wanted to see her mother's face shine with astonishment and delight at seeing her so unexpectedly.

From the doorway, Judith saw Wilma sitting in a high-backed chair, peering into her handbag.

Her hair looked so white and freshly washed in the sunlight, her face as soft and gently defined as bread dough, that Judith had to swallow before she spoke. 'Hello, Mum! It's lovely to see you.' She felt a beaming smile take hold of her face, even though her eyes burned hot.

Wilma jumped violently, and tipped her handbag upside down onto the floor. '
Judith
?' Her hand flew shakily to her chest, and her chin dropped. 'Oh, Judith! Oh, darling. What on earth...?'

With a noise that might have been a gasp, a laugh or a sob, Wilma grabbed for Judith's hands, pulling on them until Judith pulled back to get her to her feet. Trembling with the effort of standing without a frame or stick, Wilma slid her stiff arms around her daughter, and leant heavily, breathing in uneven little gusts.

'Judith, oh, my girl! Come here... let me just look at you! My duck, when did you get here? Oh, what a fright! But how lovely... how lovely, how
lovely...
I can't believe I'm so lucky! I just can't, oh, I've gone as shaky as a lamb! Oh, I'd better sit down. Oh!'

Taking some of the weight, Judith helped her mother plump solidly down into her chair, then watched anxiously as she tunnelled clumsily up her sleeves for her hanky to catch some of her rolling tears. Guiltily, she began, 'Perhaps I should've rung first - ' when the carer, who'd paused to untangle a man's glasses chain from his buttons, cut across her in a loud, sing-song.

'Are we all right there, Wilma? Yes, darlin'? She was a big surprise, wasn't she? Have you got your breath all right, lovie, shall I get you a drink of water? Yes, all right, lovie, coming up.'

Wilma managed to stop laughing and sniffling and blotting her tears, and called after her, 'Thank you, just the job.' Then she swung suddenly on Judith and pinched her arm. 'You!'

'Ow!' Judith pulled her flesh out of the uncomfortable grip.

'You!' repeated Wilma, beaming, and, denied the arm, shaking Judith's shoulder. 'Why didn't you let me
know
you were coming? I could've been looking forward to it for weeks! How long are you here for? Can you pick up my bag and my bits for me, duck? Just look at all my rubbish on the floor, now, what will people think?'

They were interrupted by the carer with the promised water, chiming loud, comforting phrases as she tucked the glass into Wilma's hand. Before she turned away, she studied her intently, then nodded to herself as if satisfied that Wilma was in no imminent danger of collapse. 'All right then, Wilma, you just take your time now, lovie, and have a lovely visit with your daughter, and you just get her to ring that bell if you need another glass of water, all right, darlin'?'

Judith wished, now, that she'd done things differently, conscious that the carers had her mother to look after full-time, and didn't need her breezing and getting her in such a 'doo-dah' that it almost amounted to a funny turn.

Wilma took her large black handbag back and gripped excitedly onto Judith's sleeve, making it difficult for her to rise off her knees. 'How long are you here for? Is everything all right? Is Richard all right, and his family?'

'I've come home.' Judith smiled, gently, patting her mum's hand, and then freeing her sleeve so that she could get up and at least grab a footstool to perch on.

'Oh my
duck
,' Wilma breathed in rapture. 'Home for good? Are you back in Lavender Row? Have you seen our Molly?'

'I'm staying with her, until I've got my tenant out. In her spare room.'

Wilma's smile faded. 'She's a good girl, is Molly. What kind of a mood's her Frankie in?'

Shrugging, Judith pulled a face. 'Never changes much, does he?'

'Frankie's Frankie,' Wilma agreed, rolling her eyes.

 

The visit to her mother cheered her so much that Judith decided she might as well see Tom and get it over with, so took another taxi back through the town centre and uphill into an older sector of town. Past the grey hulk of the bus station, the market, coffee houses, print works, car parks, and, presently, past a white sign with
Thomas McAllister Building & Development
in red, arching over double gates to a yard, a cabin in the corner where a long-suffering clerk put up with Tom's eccentric work methods.

Little had changed there since the days of their marriage, she thought, gazing in at barrows, a dump truck, a skip, trestles, a scaffold tower.

But four streets away, at the house in the generously sized square called Victoria Gardens, it was a different matter. Liza had made her mark.

The extensive front garden of the gracious old house was all paved now, a big, ostentatious urn where the alpine garden used to be and the desert of drive flanked by ranked variegated box topiary balls. Judith had never cared much for variegated plants, which, after all, only made a virtue out of a virus. The low white wooden gates had been replaced by tall, spindly black wrought iron with golden spikes on top, an unhappy fit with the original ornate Victorian railings around the sunken gardens in the centre of the square.

She paused to gaze nostalgically at the sunken garden. It was kept up on an unofficial basis by residents who wanted the grass mown more often than the twice a summer the council thought necessary. Tall copper beeches glowed in the sunlight, and over a series of arches Russian Vine was a creamy riot. Mile-a-Minute, some people called it.

When she'd been married to Tom the residents had held Mile-a-Minute Sundays when they'd formed working parties to cut the vine hard back to prevent it from smothering the entire area, loud and happy occasions fuelled by glasses of wine and picnic lunches. Children, high on Mars Bars and Coca-Cola, would stuff the snaky clippings into black bags, screaming and racing and scaling stepladders no matter how often they were warned.

Judith turned away from the memory, and clanged through the fancy, golden-tipped gates.

It was an odd sensation to knock at the door of what used to be her home, especially since it was a different door now, with mock gothic hinges and an ornate black letter plate. She wondered what had happened to the gracious old one with the stained glass panel. Tom had probably sold it to a reclamation yard.

Tom, when he answered the door, looked stunned to see her. He also looked dishevelled, food spots on his shirt and hair on end. The contrast between him and Giorgio struck her like a slap. Tom looked slack and pale and all of his sixty years. A cynical person might say she'd done all right for herself, exchanging this husband showing definite signs of wear and tear, his hair leeched of colour, his face becoming pouchy, for Giorgio's dark good looks and fewer years on the clock. Giorgio's body had been more solid. Firmer beneath her hands. Tom's typically English appetites for the wrong food and too much beer had combined unhappily with the effects of gravity.

She arranged her features into a casual smile. 'Hello Tom. You look as if I woke you from a Sunday nap.'

The familiar parade of expressions flitted across Tom's lived-in face. Pleasure to see her, then anger. Lastly, resignation, because the anger had been futile, she'd left him anyway. 'Judith! What are you doing here?'

'I came to tell you that I'm living in Brinham again, just so you'd know. I'd hate Frankie to surprise you with the news.'

He blinked. Rubbed his hair back over his head. She was sure she'd woken him from a nap. Perhaps he wondered whether she was part of a dream.

'I was sorry to hear about Liza.' She congratulated herself for actually sounding sorry, rather than smug at his comeuppance.

'Yes.' He hesitated. 'It was a bad time.' Then, ungraciously, 'Well. I suppose you can come in.'

She stayed where she was. She'd never cared for a certain bluntness about Tom's manners.

After a second he sighed, and amended with overdone courtesy, 'Why, Judith, how lovely to see you. Would you care to come in, perhaps for some refreshment?'

She grinned at his exaggerated air of indulging her. 'A cup of tea would be very welcome.'

'You know where the kitchen is.' He closed the door behind her as she stepped into the big hall with the dogleg staircase.

She opened the door again and stepped back out onto the drive. 'You don't change much, Tom.'

'It was a joke!' he shouted after her as she strolled up the drive. 'Judith!'

Her hand on the large gate latch, she halted. She'd overreacted. For God's sake, couldn't she take a bit of wry humour any more? She should turn back, have a civilised cuppa with this big bluff bloke who once was her husband.

But Tom yelled on. 'You don't have to be like that... you stroppy, awkward mare! You always were flitty! Or we'd still be together!' Flitty, from Tom, was an insult usually reserved for exasperating (women) customers who changed their minds mid-job.

She stepped through the gate. 'I might be stroppy and awkward, but deciding not to be married to you doesn't make me flitty. It makes me sensible.'

 

 

Chapter Seven

For two weeks, Judith stayed in Molly's spare room and tried to get the hang of living in Brinham again.

Brinham was a perfectly pleasant market town in an OK part of the country. The town centre had grown up in the era of dark red Victorian buildings with moulded brickwork and steep roofs, and what of that had been retained intact was still worth a second look. It wasn't beautiful, it wasn't ugly; it definitely had style.

BOOK: Uphill All the Way
9.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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