|Vast: A Novel
Ch. XIX: London
by Nicolas Travers ©
Colin sets out for home at a smart pace. But his steps slow as he nears his front door, and then stop short: for it is one thing to make a promise in the heat of emotion, and the full flow of love. But it is something rather different to have to return home and explain to an offended wife and daughter that he wants to pack a case, and leave, and start a new life; and he can already hear shouts, and screams, and floods of tears, and he knows that it is going to be a very, very bitter encounter.
However he is caught now, and cannot go back - he must choose between hope, and cowardice and certain punishment, and he has no choice, because a new life beckons, and he will leave misery behind. So he squares his shoulders and tries to look formidable as he unlocks his front door.
The Vast cottage is silent. Colin explores the ground floor cautiously, but the house is quite empty. Only a small green light flickering on the telephone answering machine next to the television signals any sign of life, and he prods the machine gingerly into life.
Jane's recorded voice crackles at him. "Darling? We're staying with my parents for tea. Daddy still wants me to think about things, and Sarah is helping my mother bake a cake for tea, and then there's a real old weepie on TV, so we won't be back until about eight or so. Help yourself to something from the freezer if you feel starved, otherwise I'll make you eggs and bacon, or something like that, when we get back."
Colin glances at his watch, but it is only just after six, and he suddenly realises that he can pack, and go, and very probably dash off a brief note of explanation, without having to face any shouts, or screams, or tears at all. The realisation fills him with a kind of frenzied euphoria, and he races upstairs, to start pulling shirts, and socks, and underwear, and ties from bedroom drawers, stacking them in neat piles, before adding both his office suits, a sports jacket, and two pairs of slacks, a couple of pairs of shoes and a lightweight bomber jacket, plus a couple of pullovers, some handkerchiefs, and a white towelling dressing gown - though he leaves all his pyjamas, symbols of marital oppression.
Then he searches for a case, a container. Fortunately Jane still has a large hold-all bought for a long-forgotten Spanish summer holiday, and Colin packs almost frantically, glancing at his watch frequently as he juggles garments into neat cohesion. But everything seems to fall almost magically into place, and it is a good omen, and he slows to fold back the sleeves of his suit jackets, and finally tucks a few remaining loose ends into place, and stands back to admire his handiwork, and the whole exercise has taken just under half an hour.
The hold-all is heavy, but he swings it as though merely a briefcase as he carries it downstairs to the front door. A fresh glance at his watch, and a quick detour into the drawingroom to comb through television programme schedules, show that he is still well on the right side of time, so he hurries back upstairs to his tiny study, stuffs floppy discs into his briefcase, adds a file crammed with ideas for a novel, or even a whole shelf filled with novels, pastimes for some future winter evening, and pauses for a last look at the small world that he is leaving.
But somehow the house is now foreign, and no longer part of him. It is the house of a stranger, somewhere he has stayed for quite some time, but alien, a place belonging to another person, to other people, with whom he has no connection. He has come to the end of a life, and is about to start another, totally new, existence, and his past is wholly irrelevant.
However he must still make a formal break. He sits at the kitchen table, holding a blue ballpoint pen, and phrases - explanations and justifications - parade through his mind, but each one is mean and tawdry, and finally he scribbles rapidly: "Dear Jane and Sarah, I'm leaving, because I've found somebody else, and I want to be really happy before I'm too old to enjoy happiness. Take the house, and everything we have - I'll sign them over to you, as long as you don't hassle me. I hope I don't make you both too miserable, I know I'm running away. I hope you both have a better life without me. Colin."
His words scramble untidily across the sheet of paper and trigger a twinge of remorse in his mind. But it is an alien sentiment, just as the house is now an alien house, and Colin sets the paper neatly on the carpet by the door to the drawingroom, where it cannot be missed, takes one final look around, and carries his hold-all and briefcase out onto the pavement. Then he locks the front door carefully, and drops his front door key through the letterflap back into the house as a final gesture of separation.
The summer evening is still and warm as he walks up Peascod Street to the station facing Windsor Castle, tucked into its cavernous redbrick building behind an untidy jumble of souvenir shops and stalls.
Dorothy is already waiting, half hidden behind a display of fancy dolls, bereft of makeup and with her fair hair pinned up in two bunches. She smiles, her eyes sparkling, and holds up her face to be kissed, and Colin drops his cases to take both her hands.
"I thought you might not come." Her voice is soft with the contentment of reassurance.
Colin gently presses her fingers between his. "I had to come."
"You're not going back?"
Her eyes question his.
"I left a letter. I told them I'd found somebody else, I said I wasn't coming back."
Dorothy lowers her eyelashes demurely. "Then I really will have to learn to cook, won't I?"
Colin beams happily. "I think you'll have to learn lots of things."
They smile together, and their smiles seal a compact of understanding. But this joy is necessarily brief, for it is also time for them to travel: the evening is ticking on inexorably, and they have a journey to make, and they must eat, and find a bed for the night.
Colin picks up his cases. Dorothy carries much less, a much smaller hold-all in one hand, and a smart black document case, and he eyes the case curiously.
Her answering smile is mysterious. "You'll have to wait to find out."
"Is it treasure?"
"Perhaps." She weighs the case in her hand, and swings it temptingly. "You'll have to wait."
It is a game, and they are both like children setting out on an adventure as they wait at the station ticket window. Colin drops his luggage to locate money, and Dorothy holds out a fiver, and they both laugh, and move close to each other, and kiss again.
However their bliss is broken by a throat hawking disapprovingly behind them. A voice is muttering angrily, and Colin looks over Dorothy's shoulder to see an angry-looking woman, powerful in black, with a string of pearls at her neck, glaring at him. He knows the woman's face from somewhere: she is familiar. But she is not so familiar that he feels concern. So he scowls back, matching dislike for dislike.
The woman's eyes are accusing. "You're being disgusting." Her voice spits disapproval at him, and bile, and hatred.
Colin ignores her, and shrugs as Dorothy looks at him questioningly. Their difference in age is plain, and it is obvious that they are not father and daughter, so jealousy and envy are bound to trouble their new life. He can live with it, providing Dorothy can handle it as well.
Dorothy shrugs back at him, and they smile at each other reassuringly. Love is impervious to third party complaints.
The voice returns, now louder, thickening with menace. "You're a dirty old man, behaving like that with a young girl like her. You should go back to your wife and daughter."
Colin winces, now recognising the woman's voice, and her scowl. She is a member of the Church Guild, a Saturday fete stallholder, a woman with a harsh and unpleasant name, and he wishes her in hell.
"I followed you, all the way down Bolton Road..."
The woman's voice grows shriller, echoing the wailing of the girls at the derelict factory, and Colin's irritation now transmutes into fear.
Dorothy's hand hauls him back to his senses. She has pushed past him to the ticket window, and is now tugging at his arm. "Come on, I've got the tickets." She tugs harder. "Leave her, she's a silly old witch."
Colin hesitates, and then scoops up his baggage in a daze, and follows her blindly towards a waiting train.
Mrs. Scolding makes as though to follow them, and then changes her mind, rounding on a pair of bewildered middle-aged Japanese tourists hung about with expensive cameras.
"That man's evil, and the girl's even worse." She speaks with such force that a thin dribble of saliva courses down her chin. "She can't be more than fifteen - they ought to be locked up, both of them."
The bewildered Japanese tourists smile politely. The woman is obviously complaining that her son is running off with a maidservant, possibly ahead of some important social event, leaving her with a mountain of unresolved domestic chores, in a squabble that is plainly a product of Britain's strange class system. It seems courteous to express sympathy, even if one cannot encompass understanding.
Mrs. Scolding stares at them, and her mouth opens, and closes again, and she shakes her head in baffled fury. Once, in the days when Britain commanded an empire, and coolies bowed respectfully to the late Mr. Scolding, all these foreigners had stayed tidily at home, and the world had been a much moral place. But no matter, now she must do her duty, and bear witness to what she has seen. She ponders for a moment, as the Japanese tourists drift off, and reaches a decision. First she will consult with Felicity Savage, and then she will notify John and Moira Saintly, as moral arbiters. For a moment she even thinks of calling on poor Jane Vast. But she is not sure that Jane will either welcome or value her counsel, and she decides against the idea. Others will bear the sad news, and she is certain to hear poor Jane's reaction soon enough. It is a time to take positive action, and she would not like to be thought of as a gloating woman.
The waiting train is almost empty. Dorothy piles her luggage on a seat, and makes room for Colin beside her. She is frowning.
"Who was that?"
Colin watches the platform, alert for pursuit. He is reluctant to reply: Mrs. Scolding has pricked his conscience, and now a spate of guilt is starting to churn through his mind.
Dorothy watches him for a moment, and lifts her hand to cup it under his chin. "Oh, come on, don't be like that." She leans towards him to kiss him gently. "She was just a jealous old bag."
Colin's conscience gives him a haggard look. "You don't think she was right?"
"She was wrong." Dorothy's voice is determined, and very sure. "She was the past, and we've got a future."
Their journey to Paddington is an anti-climax. The train has few passengers, and none take any interest in a fortyish man travelling with a much younger girl. A Sunday afternoon underground is the same, a handful of scattered travelers are wrapped in their own concerns: London is unconcerned, and anonymous, and all-concealing.
They get out at Bayswater. Colin has deliberately chosen a station as close as possible to RichQuick - the area has a myriad small hotels, and nearness must become his best substitute for togetherness whilst he is working.
The first two they try are full, with receptionists of uncertain nationality who leer at them bestially. The evening is still warm, and close, and Colin wonders if they are going to be doomed to trudge wearily from door to door until forced to settle for something atrociously expensive - though he hopes that Glotech's money will, at the very worst, see them right for a couple of weeks.
But a third hotel proves more welcoming. The receptionist is a young man with shoulder-length hair, dressed in a bright red silk shirt and very tight jeans, and wearing what looks, as they reach his small counter in the hotel hallway, remarkably like eyeshadow and mascara. He smiles, with perhaps a touch of complicity, but he does not leer, and he is sympathetic.
"Single beds or double, darlings?" His manner is coy.
Colin hesitates, but Dorothy is poised, and confident, and replies with all the assurance of a seasoned traveler.
"We want a big, comfy bed."
The receptionist looks taken aback for a moment, but obviously also approves, for he smiles at her. "Quite right, ducky, quite right. I've got a nice room at the back, with a view out over the gardens." He hesitates, summing them up. "It's right at the top of the building, up the lift, and then some stairs. But I can do you a good rate if you're staying for a few days...". His voice trails away hopefully.
The good rate proves to be forty pounds a night, and the room is a kind of attic, and about as far from ground level as the hotel building allows. But it is large, and airy, with a small bathroom complete with lavatory and shower, and Dorothy bounces on the bed and crows happily.
However their bags are still on the ground floor, and money must be paid, so they trundle back down to the receptionist, and Colin pays for five nights, using his Access card, and wonders, as he signs the card slip, whether he should close off the card that Jane holds on their shared account. But this seems a little mean, and he has no doubt that Jane's father will very soon be sending him a detailed reckoning, and he dismisses the thought as he carries his belongings to the lift and they hum back up the building.
The room is one of two opening off a small landing. Dorothy stops at the door, and places her holdall and document case carefully against a wall, and stands waiting.
Colin flexes his muscles. It is a long time since he has carried a girl in his arms, and he is uncertain how well he will manage, but it is a challenge, and he sweeps one hand behind her back, and bends to place the other behind her knees, and straightens up a little unsteadily, and lurches ahead.
Dorothy twists in his arms as he reaches the bed, in a bid to kiss him, and it is a dire mistake. Her movement catches him off balance, and they sway, and collapse together in an untidy heap on the bedspread. But she is still holding him, and she stares at him very hard as they lie together.
"We've made it."
Colin kisses her, and they lock together in an embrace, and it is as if they have reached a harbour, a safe haven, at the end of a voyage. Then they part, because the room door is still halfway open, with their belongings still out on the landing, and he ferries them in, and Dorothy has unpinned her hair, so that it falls softly on her shoulders, and is already undressing, and the sight of her lifting her arms to pull her shirt up over her head and the way she bends her head forward as she frees herself is a sight that sets his whole body aflame, and he steps forward as she turns to face him, naked but for a bikini of bra and panties, and places both his hands on her bare shoulders, and it is a gesture of need, and admiration, and desire.
Dorothy's skin is soft under his fingers, and she stands still, as though waiting. Slowly, very slowly, Colin slides the straps of her bra down over her shoulders, and bends to kiss the nape of her neck, and then the skin above the curve of her shoulderblades, and then lets his lips slide down along the curve of her breast, cupping both his hands under her bosoms, and Dorothy has placed the palms of her hands against his cheeks, so that she is holding his face between her hands, and he kisses her nipples, first one, and then the other, sucking at them a little, and it is as though the burdens and worries of accumulated years are slipping from him, and in his mind he is almost a teenager again.
Dorothy shivers a little, and his hands slide to her flanks, pushing at her panties so that they fall to her ankles, and he kneels, resting his face, now flushed and burning, against the flatness of her stomach, clasping his hands behind her on her buttocks, and he could weep for the joy in him, and the longing, and he is swollen and hard in a way that he has not been swollen for a very long time.
"Love me, Colin, come and make love to me." Dorothy's voice is a growl sound of animal desire.
He undresses quickly, and she is stripping off the bedspread and duvet, and then she lies, staring up at him, and he lowers himself beside her, gazing into her eyes, and gently, very gently, he moves his body beneath her, so that she is lying with her legs twined between his, and he has one arm under her shoulders, and is caressing her breasts with his free hand, and he kisses her on her lips as he presses against her and into her, and she gasps a little at his entrance, and for a moment they are still.
Then their urgency starts them moving, and he presses into her as fully as he can, holding himself against her and moving himself gently, so that he stays as deep as he can be, until Dorothy is moving with the same regular motion, and then they are swaying together, and he can feel the insistence of his body within him, and he is praying that he can master himself sufficiently to maintain the pace of his movement, come what may, and the urge to break out and release himself is almost unbearable, and she is gasping as she moves, and she shudders, and her voice sighs in a long drawn-out whisper of ecstasy, and his own demand reaches breaking point, and climaxes in an explosion of feeling, and they are both still.
The room is silent for a long moment, and then Dorothy lifts a hand to stroke his cheek.
"Oh, Colin, that was magic." Her words are trite, even banal. But somehow they are also a tribute, and he nods in proud acknowledgment, because he is a man, and he has just successfully performed the most essential function of his masculinity. And he is also filled with a bursting joy, for inside himself he is an adolescent again, and a conqueror in a new world, and her words are an affirmation of his recreation.
They lie together, and purr at each other like two cats, and it is a combined sound of pleasure, and they are still united, and one in their unity, and after a little while they begin to move again, and their renewing pleasure is a fresh joy to both of them, and then they are - at least for the moment - sated, but they do not part.
After a little while they talk softly together. Colin builds dreams on Karim, and the Sultan, and a new look for RichQuick, and they exchange confidences: his boredom and domestic submission, and Dorothy's yearning for affection, and she folds herself against him, and now it is her turn to caress, and she strokes him with the tips of her fingers, and she is learning him, and her learning fills her with pleasure, and she needs to share her joy, and she commits herself.
"Colin, I love you."
Her words burst out almost in despite of a small inner voice that still echoes somewhere inside her, telling her to be prudent, and for a moment she is riven with fear, for she wonders whether she may have gone too far, and chanced too much on her judgement. But her desire and her need are now one.
Colin stares at her very hard, and kisses her gently. "I love you too."
"Will you stay with me?"
He smiles at her question, for he he would be wholly mad to throw rebirth away. "I'll have to, you've made me a new man."
Dorothy is silent for a moment, considering his reply, and then nods in sober agreement. But she still feels vulnerable, for the gap separating them remains wide, and she fears that love unsustained may not prove the stoutest of bridges.
Colin watches her with concern. "Why do you frown?"
"I've got to learn so much." She rests her face against his arm. "I've got to grow up, and I'm afraid."
"Fights, and arguments, and stuff like that." Dorothy has seen passion and betrayal separate her mother and father, and a small fear of abandonment shadows her joy.
"I won't shout at you." Colin is not a shouting man, in fact he cannot remember shouting once at Jane in all his years of married life, though he has sometimes clouted Sarah.
"But you know so much more than me." Dorothy's fingers are caressing again. "You need someone who knows about newspapers and magazines, and about making money, and those kinds of things..."
"I'll teach you."
"And you need someone who can sort out the complicated knots in you, and your problems."
Colin looks at her sharply. He is well used to questioning himself, and rooting around in his own dim, dark mental corners, but it is a long time since he has been called on to explain these corners to others, and he is suddenly afraid.
Dorothy disentangles herself from his arms and stands looking down at him, for now she will explore a moment of truth. She walks to her holdall, graceful in her nakedness, and busies herself for a moment with opening it, and pulls out her sister's raincoat, and drapes it around herself, holding the lapels closed with one hand just below her breasts, so that the coat encircles her shoulders and hangs down around her.
"This kind of knot."
Colin stares at her, but cannot move.
She looks down at him, and he is in her power, and for a moment she is tempted to command. But control is a hard thing, and a domination, and she has no wish to drive when she can lead. She moves closer to him, and their eyes are locked, matching fear and curiosity, and stands close to him, so that her knees are against the edge of the bed, and then slowly, very slowly, she bends forward over him so that her breasts are just above his face, and places her hands, clenched into small fists, either side of his head, so that she is resting on them, and her sister's coat makes a cave enclosing his head and shoulders, and then she straightens herself again to see the effect she has had on him.
"Did you like that?"
Colin is still staring at her.
Dorothy smiles a little, and shrugs her arms into the sleeves of the coat, and pushes at him to make room for her, kneeling at his side and kissing him, first on his chest, and then around his navel, and then at the edge of the hairs surrounding his freshly erect penis, and then along his penis itself. "Do you like that?"
Colin's eyes are wide, and for a moment he seems to be hesitating. Then he makes a small noise, a kind of strangled yelp, and he is pulling at her body to turn her round and bring against him, and they are making love again, and this time he maintains no control, and climaxes, but drives on in his need to carry her with him, until she reaches her own culmination, and they lie panting together.
Dorothy's face and body are beaded and streaked with sweat, and she shuffles her sister's coat away from her.
Colin caresses her damp body, and she is curious.
"Was it good?"
He is silent, combing his thoughts. Somehow, in some inexplicable way, the coat has failed his expectations. With Jane fetishism had always been a symbol of yearning, an icon of something wanted and refused, and had grown in his mind to assume commanding status. But now his sexual drive is facing a matching urge, and icons are unnecessary symbols of past superstition.
Dorothy probes deeper. She knows now that he wants her for herself, and that his kink has merely served as a useful steppingstone. But she is not completely sure. "Perhaps you only need it sometimes."
"I don't know." He is reluctant to let go of so old a friend.
"Would you fancy any girl who wore a coat like this?"
Colin thinks of past disappointments. "No." He takes a deep breath. "I'd have to fancy her first."
"Do you fancy me?" The question is archness again, but Dorothy's archness sets no traps.
He kisses her in reply.
"I could wear it sometimes, when you were tired, or feeling down, and needing a bit of a boost."
"It could be a special sign between us, something secret."
He nods, too full of gratitude, and acknowledgement, for words. It is as though a demon has been exorcised from his mind, and sex transmuted back from a guilty and unfulfilled longing into a force that will now support his life, with satisfaction driving him forward. But her last word has caught at his mind, and he sits up on the bed, and looks for her black document case.
"Is that still a secret as well?"
Dorothy hesitates, and then gets up to take the case and place it on the end of the bed, and rummages in her holdall and takes out a heavy screwdriver, jimmying the blade into the edge of the case.
Colin watches her in growing astonishment. "What are you doing?"
"I haven't got the key." Now she is levering the edge of the case upwards, and sliding the screwdriver towards the lock, and forcing the lid upwards. The lock holds for a moment as she struggles, and she is panting in her determination and her effort, but then it breaks with a sharp metallic sound, and she pushes the lid open.
The case is filled with brownish waxed paper packets, and some small white plastic bags, and what look like several packets of banknotes.
Dorothy catches her breath sharply, and reaches into the case, and then hesitates, as though fearing to touch the contents, and prods tentatively at one of the waxed paper packets and raises her fingertip to her nose, smelling it carefully.
"It's hash, he must have stocked up." Her voice is distant, and absentminded, as if she is speaking to herself, and it is as though she is alone in the room. She prods again at one of the plastic bags, and cautiously lifts one of the packets of banknotes.
Suddenly she turns to face Colin, and her face flushes pink with the thrill of her find. "Look, it's treasure!"
She tosses the packet onto the bed, and picks up another, and a third, and her voice is shrill in her excitement. "We've got Evil's goods - all his hash and stuff: he hid his case in Mum's room, and I found it, and dropped it out of my window on my way out of the house." Her shrillness bubbles like a cauldron, and she is a child with a new plaything. But then her voice checks, and modulates into a more calculating tone, and her eyes are bright, though still filled with excitement. "We can trug it round the pubs and make a bomb."
Colin is dumbfounded. Suddenly Dorothy has metamorphosed from an entrancing young child-woman, fresh in the discovery of her femininity, into a tough young streetwise teenager, and it is a frightening development. His face pictures his alarm and disapproval.
Dorothy stares at him for a moment, and it is a battle of wills. After a moment she sighs, and packs the small plastic bag carefully back into place. However she keeps the banknotes in her hand.
"Well, at least he can pay our bill."
Colin shakes his head again, and it is a sign of total refusal. "No."
"Why not?" Dorothy is suddenly mutinous, and snatches more banknotes from the case, spreading them in a fan that must total several hundred, possibly even a couple of thousand, pounds. "Look, he's a villain, and it's villain's cash, and I won't see him again."
"But it's stealing." Colin's visions of cosy domestic bliss start to crumble. Events are moving beyond his control, and he needs desperately to re-establish his leadership and authority. He is also fearful, for he has heard unpleasant tales of drug dealers, of violence and revenge.
Dorothy starts to pick the packets up a little sulkily. "All right. "We'll just borrow a little, and he can have the rest back - I'll pack it up and put it in a left luggage locker, and ring Mum to tell her where it is."
Colin is only partly reassured. "But don't tell her where we are."
Dorothy smiles, and suddenly she is freshness and innocence again. "'Course I won't, silly." She walks to the small bathroom, and poses provocatively for him in the doorway. "I don't want anyone coming here after us." She blows him a kiss. "But I will just take enough, so he can buy us a burger, 'cos I'm starved, and once I've had a shower you're going to take me out."
To Be Continued...
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