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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Julia: a story

Spring delight
The first spring flush is passing now in the Adelaide Hills. I am trying to be diligent to remove spent flowers in the hope of a new flush in a few weeks’ time. I find it a challenge to manage that, weeding, fertilising, mulching and watering all at once! I don’t have a green thumb but I start each growing season full of hope.

The fruit trees are producing mixed results. Lemon – fabulous; one of the apples – very promising; nectarine – nothing at all after a serious infestation of aphids; apricot – a decent crop. Unforeseen disasters may occur, of course – growing things is a risky hobby.

Do you enjoy dreaming? I love it; it’s like reading without the book. Not always as satisfying but often intriguing. Today’s story is a drama that started with a dream I had.

He was looking directly at me as I stood in the phone booth, about to make a difficult call. He was the archetypal gentleman, from his well-cut suit and his neatly trimmed beard to the way he held his tall body with perfect ease and grace.
I banged the receiver down awkwardly and left the booth.
‘I hate strangers staring at me, ‘ I muttered, forced to walk past him to get to my room. Once I was around the corner, I ran, holding two thoughts at once. The first was to lock myself in my room and stay out of sight until I was sure he had left the premises. The second was his odd reply to my outburst: ‘I know what you mean.’
I knew who he was, though what he was doing in an ordinary London boarding hostel, I had no idea.
The hostel was pleasant enough, and I was one of the lucky two boarders who had ground floor rooms with big windows and a little patch of grass beyond the back door. I was careful to keep those big windows covered with their heavy drapes when there were strangers around, but as I slammed the door behind me and pushed the bolt, I realised that if I was to remain out of sight I had no time to close them again. I had opened them only a short time before to allow the rare sunshine in.
I heard his voice from my hiding place under the bed on the far side of the room.
‘Madam? Are you all right? I meant no disrespect.’
I could just see him as he stood on the little lawn, his handsome face filled with concern. I knew who he was and that he meant well, but I stayed where I was until he left.

Fate kept placing George and me in the same public locations for some months after that, as if London were too small for two strangers to not connect. I pretended not to see him on each occasion and, since I would not look at him after the first recognition of his presence, I could not know if he had seen me. Finally there came a day when we communicated, and for that I will be eternally grateful.
It was not fate that caused Wade to turn up at various junctures of my life. On this day, a brisk spring day with its usual dose of wind and rain, he ran into me as I left Sloane Square station.
‘Julia,’ I heard a voice say behind me. I froze.
He came around to face me, pushing me gently to the edge of the pavement where the eaves of an apartment block gave a little protection and the stream of commuters flowed past us without interruption. I stared at my feet, unable to think straight, which was typical when Wade was around.
‘You didn’t give me an answer after last time,’ he said. Even into the low voice he used to keep our conversation private, he managed to inject poison. I felt it leaking into me from my ears steadily towards my heart. I had no antidote; I just waited for it to take familiar effect.
‘You know my answer,’ I said, forcing the words from my lips.
But he knew my weakness. ‘You say that, but you’ll do what I say. If you don’t add my name to your account by the end of the week, I’ll make sure Alexa knows exactly what you did on the night she was conceived. Every bloody detail.’
Alexa was my five year old daughter, who lived in the care of my sister in a village in Devon. I didn’t put it past Wade to have worked out where she was, nor to tell a child things no child should know.
I had practised what I should say, but now I could not remember the words or any sense of how I could resist his threat. But before I was forced to respond, a third person joined us. George.
‘Is there a problem here?’ he asked in his fine English that made Wade’s private school accent sound common.
My fuddled brain had had no chance to plan for an event unforeseen. ‘He’s trying to blackmail me,’ I blurted, looking George in the eyes for the first time since our encounter at the phone booth. Then my eyes flew to Wade’s face and I blushed. Wade always made me feel that my actions were wrong.
Only this time it was Wade who did not know how to respond.
Before he could, George spoke again. ‘If anything suspicious happens in this woman’s life, ever, you will feel the full weight of the law.’ He looked directly at Wade for a moment that carried the significance of years, and then turned to me.
Handing me a business card, he said, ‘You can contact me any time if he gives you more trouble.’ Then he touched his right hand to his head in that ageless gesture of the English gentleman, and walked in the direction of all the other morning commuters. It struck me for the first time that George used public transport like the rest of us.
Wade found his words, and his venom. ‘Oh yes, he’s going to solve the sordid dealings of a bitch on the street.’ He had regained his usual place of power between us. ‘Who does he think he is?’
‘George Pennington, QC,’ I said, reading the card.
‘Some fancy lawyer type. He’ll have forgotten you by the time he’s finished reading the Times.’ He seemed to need to convince himself.
‘He’ll remember,’ I said. ‘We have met before. And he’s renowned for his memory of detail.’
Wade’s confidence was shaken, and in like measure mine was increasing.
‘You don’t know who he is, do you, Wade?’ I pressed. ‘He’s literally a QC – counsel to the royal family.’
And then I did what I should have done years earlier. I said, ‘Goodbye, Wade,’ and turned my back on him.
I walked in the direction George had walked, simply because he had; that was all the sense of direction I needed. Of course I did not see him. In fact, we never met again. Nor did I suffer further threats from Wade Chandler.

Have a happy November!
See you next time!

Claire Belberg