Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter twenty-two

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chapter twenty-two

It was a fine, blowy day, like the day they first met. The kite lifted off the ground, soared above the fringe of tall buildings on the horizon, and tossed and bucked at the end of the string — an exotic, hooked gamefish lunging for freedom. Claudia applauded. Hope danced, clapping her hands with anticipation. Jake passed the spindle into her hands and made sure she had a good, tight grip before joining Claudia standing by her pushbike.

He took up where they had left off. “So, why can’t we use your place?”

“It’s Hope’s home. If you came there, you’d become part of her family. And she couldn’t bear it afterwards — when it’s over.”

“When what’s over?”

“Our relationship. Our affair. Whatever it is. When we break up. Children hate change. They always think things are supposed to go on forever.”

“Are you talking about Hope or yourself?”

Claudia smiled to herself. He’d rumbled her. Once again she’d underestimated his sensitivity. She must remember he was an actor. He had a kind of intuition about people.

She sighed. “This is a fairy tale. It can’t go on.” She raised her lips to his ear and put an arm beneath his jacket, squeezing his waist, and whispered, “But I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.”

He tried to kiss her, but she averted her cheek. Hope was looking their way. He frowned. He was so easily hurt. So, she added, “So what about your place?” That seemed to be a problem — his frown deepened. “Your flatmate doesn’t object to having women around, does he?”

“No. It’s just . . . I should give him a ring first.”

“I’ll get a couple of steaks and a bottle of wine. Give me your keys.”

He was still uneasy. “Let’s go together.”

“I’ve got to get to the shops before they close. You take Hope home.”

“I’ll wait for you at the flat.”

Hope stood a little way off, rooted to the spot, not moving her arms, nor running about like the other children who were flying kites, but gripping the spindle tightly, as she’d been told to, and staring into the sky. She was enraptured.

“She’s going to take some coaxing.” Claudia held out her hand for his keys. “By the time you get there, I’ll have dinner ready.”

She could see worry creep into his eyes. Something was clearly amiss. She realised now why she was being persistent. Yes, she wanted to make love again. But she wanted more. She wanted an affair, a Relationship. And she knew hardly anything about him. If this were going to be a proper affair, she needed to know how he lived. And why he was so guarded about his flat. And his flatmate,

“They might be in the bath.”

“They?”

“‘Hey,’ I said, ‘he might be in the bath’.”

“I only have eyes for you, pet,” beamed Claudia, keeping her palm extended. He gave her the keys. She rewarded him with a peck on the cheek and hopped onto her pushbike.

Jake watched her free-wheeling down the hill, her skirt billowing about her fine legs and her hair flowing in the breeze. He smiled to himself. She looked so carefree and young, like a schoolgirl on the first day of her summer break. He waited until she disappeared around the curve at the bottom of the hill and then, galvanized, ran to gather up Hope. She shook her head and railed and stamped her feet and when he grabbed her hand she lost the kite string. The liberated, flying beast bolted, careering the unreeling spindle across the grass, then lifting it into the air. Hope howled and tears cascaded down her face.

Jake tugged her along, scrambling down the hill, his head craned to the sky as the kite took flight towards Sussex. He gave up the chase and turned for Claudia’s house, tugging a sobbing Hope behind him, deliberately dragging her feet. And then she shouted and pointed. The shifting winds had returned the kite. Hand in hand, they followed it about, craning their necks, as it gradually lost altitude until, after some minutes it settled lazily into the top of a small tree.

Hope stood below fretting and egging him on. He risked removing one hand from a branch, stretching as far as he could reach, and dislodged the kite. It tumbled to the ground and Hope seized it, just as the whistle blew. A young policeman, younger than Jake, stood at the base of the tree, motioning him down.

When they arrived at Claudia’s house, there was no answer to the doorbell. Jake fretted and kept checking his watch, while Hope played hop-scotch on the garden path. Dusk had descended by the time Russell came up the path laden with grocery bags. Jake leapt up, thrust the kite at him and bolted for the garden gate. A whimper from Hope brought him to a halt. She held out her hand. “Thank you for a very nice day.” She gave him a big hug before going inside with Russell. As the door closed, Jake set off at a run, vaulting the garden gate.

The phone in the kiosk had been vandalised. As he picked up the receiver the black box lurched to one side. The earpiece emitted a dial tone, but the wretched A and B buttons were inert when he pressed them. He slammed down the receiver and the black box crashed off the wall. He was already running out of the kiosk as the same young policeman came up. The bleat of his whistle pursued Jake through the dusk as he ran full tilt into Primrose Hill park towards the dark border opposite. What would Hawkeye do in a case like this? Once, when fleeing from a farmer who had discharged a shotgun over his head, Jake had borrowed a trick from the hero of the Last of the Mohicans. He lowered himself beneath the surface of a pond and lay on the bottom, breathing through a hollow reed. Twenty minutes later he emerged, dripping cowshit, but with his schoolbag full of sweetcorn. Alas, there was no pond in the vicinity of Primrose Hill.

As the young policeman puffed out of the park gate the street before him lay empty. He did not continue up the rise, and after poking about in the shrubbery for a bit, retraced his steps. A minute later a taxi came around the corner. Jake dropped down from a tree, hailed it and hopped in. In the rear-view mirror the taxi-driver gave him a suspicious look. He wore a turban.

 

The darkened flat smelled of stale bedding. Claudia’s hand found the hall light switch. The narrow kitchen was straight ahead, just an extension of the hall, really. She dumped the grocery bags on the counter, and searched in a broom cupboard. She had to remove a mop and set it to one side before she found a frilly apron. She put it on and began to open and close cupboard doors, looking for cooking utensils.

“Are you the new Mrs Mop?”

“Roy!” She felt her mouth drop open. The last time she had seen Stephen’s bumboy (or ex-bumboy as rumour had it) she had been wearing a wedding gown and he had been a worried putto, a fallen angel in top hat and tails, pleading with her to step out of the Rolls-Royce. He posed in the kitchen doorway, swathed in filmy wraps and veils and extravagantly made up as a voluptuous Arabian houri. He pirouetted and peered at her over the veil.

“Do you think it’s a bit over the top?” He primped before a mirror.

“Do you always go around like that?”

“It’s for our anniversary party. We’re doing Lawrence of Arabia.”

“You broke up with Stephen.”

“So did you.” He extended his hand, palm down, to show her a large ring. An opal set in silver. “We’ve been together three months.”

“Who has?”

“My new boyfriend and me.”

Claudia felt bile rise in her stomach. And when she was impelled to be censorious she always heard herself speaking like a pedant. “With whom have you been together for three months?”

Her tone of voice, in precise received pronunciation, was a tactical mistake. Roy was sensitive about his minimal education and became petulant. “Whom do you think?”

Claudia held up the two raw steaks she had bought. “The man I was just about to make dinner for.”

“He likes his steak well done.”

“He likes it rare.”

“Well done.”

“Rare.”

“Well done, I promise you.”

Claudia hurled the steaks to the floor, tore off the frilly apron and draped it over Roy’s veiled head. “You’re right. You’ll make him a much better housewife.”

She stormed past him and out of the kitchen, knocking over the mop as she went. Roy bent down and gingerly picked the steaks off the floor. He called after her, “Mrs Mop! You haven’t done the floors”

“Happy anniversary!” she shouted back and the door slammed behind her.

As Jake’s taxi pulled up, Claudia’s pushbike disappeared around the corner. He jumped out without paying and ran shouting in pursuit, but she was soon lost in the traffic. Jake stumbled to a halt. The taxi-driver leaned on his horn.