|Vast: A Novel
Ch. IV: A Pussy
by Nicolas Travers ©
is already watching a soap. Colin lets himself collapse into a chair and
closes his eyes wearily. He prefers books to small screens, and building
his own very personal thrills in the fastnesses of his mind to spoon feeding.
But Sarah is already sprawled out on her chair, lost in a celebration of
Australian suburbia, and he has no choice.
So he surfs with beefy teenagers and lusts after concupiscent little girls with coyly swinging ponytails, and dozes fitfully, until Sarah snaps at him that he is snoring, and he jerks himself back into consciousness for a commercial or two, and Jane Vast brings a tray of food.
Sarah is privileged: she may watch television on schoolterm weekdays as she eats her evening meal, whilst Colin has to eat at the Vasts' kitchen table. It is a family custom fashioned by Jane, on the grounds that it fosters marital closeness - though Colin sees it wholly as division, and mistrusts his wife's motives.
Jane argues that cosy evening husband and wife tête-à-têtes help bind them together as a couple, enabling them privately to trade gossip and resolve tricky adult problems whilst eating, without having first to censor out unsuitabilities. But Colin suspects that she really wants to split the Vast household into three sets of bilateral relationships: Jane and Sarah, Jane and Colin, Sarah and Colin, with the last valued the least, and is secretly convinced that his wife is in fact steadily gouging an invisible chasm slowly ever wider between himself and his child.
He feels that he should fight back, and tries from time to time to insist on family togetherness. But Jane dislikes contradiction, and Sarah patently regards togetherness as a bore - preferring to confide in her mother after school, and tap her father's resources when she may. So family gatherings are increasingly governed by a wholly sexist apartheid, with Colin being crushed progressively by a feminist steamroller, and he knows that his life is being slowly marginalised on every front.
He follows Jane wearily into the kitchen and stares doubtfully at a little heap of cooked vegetables already set out on his plate, with a miniscule topping of what looks like melted cheese.
Jane smiles a little cruelly. She will not forgive Colin lightly for carving victory from deceit. "It's a vegetable bake, darling. Diet food, I cut it out of a glossy."
She watches him assay an experimental mouthful, and thinks triumphantly how well fate has come to her aid. She has been planning to diet for a little while now, but has always delayed a starting date, for the Vasts are all fond of food. However Colin's bloodymindedness nicely over-ruled a pork chop she had been planning to grill, directing her straight in fury to her vegetable rack, and the pain on Colin's face quite compensates for the prospect of having to dine on short commons herself.
Colin thinks of steaks, and pies - serried ranks of plates filled with good things - and curses his bad luck. But even cooked potatoes, tomatoes, and courgettes, topped with melted cheese, are better than nothing at all, so he munches the little heap steadily away, and then looks up hungrily.
Jane beams. "Was it nice, darling?"
Colin looks hopeful, trying hard to suppress meaty fantasies. "Not bad, not bad at all." He pauses. "But a bit on the small side." He scrapes at a last sliver of melted cheese with his fork to make his point.
Jane's smile hardens again, and now it is cast in steel. "I'm sorry, angel, but it's all you get. We're both dieting, remember?"
Her tone is decisive, and Colin abandons hope, for his wife only uses endearments when she is determined to have her way, and 'angel' lies at the very tip of determination. But he knows she will leave him to talk for a moment to Sarah whilst he busies himself with washing up, and so he snatches a quick slice of bread smeared with butter whilst she is gone, and smiles at her triumphantly on her return.
Jane notices at once when she returns that he has left the lid off the butterdish, and makes a mental note to switch him to a low fat spread. But she says nothing, for she knows that those who laugh last, laugh loudest.
She brews coffee whilst Colin finishes washing and drying Sarah's cutlery and plate, and then chases him out of the kitchen so that she can prepare for the Church Guild unhindered. Sarah has already retreated to bedroom, ostensibly to do her homework, more probably to read a romantic comic, and Colin thinks for a moment of composing some bright little diary pieces for RichQuick on his wordprocessor. But he knows that he risks being swept back into sexual fantasy the moment he powers up his screen, and fears that Sarah will also sandblast his mind and his hearing with a Capitol Radio disco beat.
So he decides to escape, to take himself for a stroll, and very possibly treat himself to a small shandy into the bargain.
He is tempted to have a shower first, and change into something light and clean, perhaps his blue and white check short-sleeved cotton shirt and jeans, for he is still wearing the shirt in which he worked all day. But changing means going upstairs, where Sarah may well be on guard, and may well suspect - if he looks like going out - that he still has hidden resources, and be tempted to make a fuss. So he nips quickly out through the front door, and is already closing it behind him as he hears what sounds like Jane shouting a distant challenge, and hurries away up the street towards a nice little pub in St. Leonards Road that he has often passed, but never entered.
But the air is still very close and humid, and he soon slows as he begins to sweat again. Then he stops. A small tortoiseshell cat has just crossed the road to the far side, to stop under a tree and preen itself for a moment. Colin has a passion for cats, though he is allowed no pet of his own, and he crosses the road carefully in pursuit, a little way away from the tortoiseshell, so as not to alarm it, and then advances towards it slowly, blinking his eyes to show his friendship, and at the same time holding out his hand and making gently amicable noises in his throat.
The cat inspects him doubtfully, and then stretches out on a paving stone, lithe and ready equally to be fussed over or flee. But it also blinks back at him as he blinks. Colin pauses for a moment, to show that he means well, and advances a cautious forefinger.
A small pink nose sniffs at his fingertip, and the cat essays a tentative purr. Colin starts to edge forward a little, and then tickles the cat under its chin. The purr grows, and the cat rolls over onto its back, allowing him to stroke its stomach for a moment. It is a brief encounter, not love but merely a flirtation, with man and cat locked together for a moment in time, each blissfully happy in momentary devotion to the other.
Then the cat is on its feet, attentive to something behind him. Colin turns, feeling a little guilty, to find himself looking at a girl of about sixteen, fairhaired and grey-eyed, dressed in a cream-coloured cotton frock patterned with pale blue flowers.
He smiles cautiously. The girl lives a few houses from Colin, in a part of his street not yet gentrified, but still given over to low-income residents. He knows her by sight, but has never spoken to her, and realises with something akin to shock that she is fast growing into a very tempting woman.
The girl stares at him, and reaches down to scoop up the cat protectively, nestling it into her arms.
"She's mine." Her voice is defiant.
"She's pretty." Colin nods in agreement and reaches out a finger again, then realises that the girl is holding the cat in such a way that it presses against her frock, making a small round bosom stand out towards him, and lets his hand fall away in embarrassment.
The girl's stare is unblinking. Then she relaxes. "You can hold her if you like." She holds the cat out, cupping her hands under its small body, and her hands brush against his as she entrusts the animal to his care.
Colin caresses it behind its ears, searching his mind for conversation. The girl is close to him, one hand still touching her cat as if afraid to let it go, and the back of her hand rests against his for a moment.
"I call him Prince." Her voice softens, and she looks down fondly as she speaks. "It ain't much of a name, but it makes me think he's going to turn into a prince and come and take me and my sister away." Her tone is wistful, even sad.
Colin is wary. "Why away?"
"We don't like it here." The girl looks up at him and her mouth tightens. "Our mum came to live with a man here who we don't like, and we just want to get away." She hesitates, still keeping one hand on her cat, as though she wants to say more, but does not have the confidence to continue.
"Aren't you happy?" Colin realises as he speaks that he is asking a dumb question, but it is the only thing he can think of to say.
The girl shrugs. "We ain't got no choice, have we?" Now her voice is defiant. "She walked out on our dad, and he went off, so we had to go with her. We come down here, 'cos she's taken up with this man, and now we're stuck with him."
"He's not nice?"
The girl's defiance burns into anger. "He's a right shit." She spits the word out like a bullet, staring hard at Colin. "He tries to get under our skirts when mum's not around, always playing up when she has her time of the month. He ain't so bad with me, 'cos I'm still at school, and he knows I'd turn him in. But he's a right pain with Sandy, that's my sister. He pesters her all the time, presses up against her in the kitchen, that sort of thing, wants to be like a father to her, he says, all lovey-dovey, just so he can kiss her and slobber all over her."
Colin feels a stab of alarm. The girl is pretty, and even prettier in her anger and fury, a small fair amazon clad in a shining armour of righteousness. For a moment he is tempted to put his arms around her and hold her himself, just to console her, and feed a little love back into her life. But he knows immediately that this is a dangerous foolishness, and he is lost for words.
"Don't worry." The girl's fury subsides, and she takes her cat gently back into her arms. "I just got to tell somebody from time to time, and you were talking to Prince, and so I talked to you." She strokes her cat gently for a moment, and then looks up. "You live just up the road, don't you?"
Colin nods, wary again.
"I'll bring Prince out for a walk again some time, so you can talk to him." Her smile is an enchantment. "I come out most evenings about this time, when it's fine, so as I can get away. Sometimes I take Prince round the corner for a walk, up the garden, so nobody can see me."
Her invitation is obvious, and Colin is charmed. He knows the girl's garden: she is talking of a churchyard a couple of streets away, a small secluded triangle of flowers and shrubs and trees hidden away behind redbrick Victorian houses, a private place for friends to meet. He has made a friend, two friends, and stands at the entrance of a new world of affection and innocence, all the immorality of his earlier flash of desire quite washed away, and he feels paternal. He beams. "Shall I walk up there one evening and bring some catfood?"
The girl looks down at the cat in her arms, and then nods, and beams back. "Bring him some crunchies. Dried cat food." She speaks as an expert. "That way you can put some in a little plastic bag and carry it in your pocket. He'll like that, he might even beg for you, if he's hungry enough. I'll go up there tomorrow if I can, about eight."
For a moment she hesitates, still smiling up at Colin, and he wants desperately to enfold her in his arms, to provide her with all the affection she so evidently needs. But then she turns, and suddenly she is gone, and he is standing without moving, musing on the accidents of fate and the blessings of good fortune. Then he walks on slowly.
The pub is quiet. A couple of men are playing cribbage at a table, a third stands at the bar, gazing pensively into a pint. Colin waits for his shandy, and carries his drink into a corner. His mind is in a turmoil, and he needs time to think.
The girl's friendship is a bombshell, and a wondrous new treasure, but a dark voice in his head warns him that he is sailing headlong into dangerous waters. Many, if not most, of the houses in his road have watchful windows, and he is in his forties. The girl is probably about the same age as Sarah, and certainly young enough to be his daughter. Talking to her alone must be grounds enough for suspicion, but meeting her in a hidden garden could rank as the stuff of a juicy little scandal, even if they only met once. He has judged her vulnerable, and needing help, but others might view him more as a dirty old man intent on tasting young meat. And she might want to meet him more than once. Colin feels his heart lift as he thinks the thought, but knows at the same time that it camouflages the teeth of a most perilous trap. One meeting might be foolish, and more than foolish. But it would be sheer madness to develop a friendship, for he realises, as he progresses his thinking, that he is already starting to build the girl into something very much closer than a casual acquaintance, and vesting her with all the attributes and longings of his own loneliness and despair, and feels himself being drawn inexorably into a whirlpool of insanity.
Yet the girl has touched his heart, offering the escape of adventure, and true friendship is a precious gift. Why should they not offer each other a little comfort, shared through the companionship of a kitten?
Colin is really a very sentimental man at heart, and has ever been a soft touch for tears. Two large grey eyes now dominate his mind, and he cannot gainsay them. He has a new friend, and she is a pretty young girl, and the thought takes years off his age.
He takes a grip on himself. They will be passing friends, and nobody will be able to hold anything against him, because he will do nothing wrong. There will be no reason for him not to meet the girl, even if - purely to avoid embarrassment and misunderstanding - he should keep his plan to himself, and he will meet her, and it will be an encounter to treasure.
So he sips at his pint, and for the first time that day he feels good, really good, and thinks that perhaps life is not so bad after all.
Then he walks around a bit, to stretch his legs, up towards King Edward Hospital and back again, and returns home, tired but cheerful.
The Church Guild conclave is just breaking up as he opens his front door. Colin knows the members all too well: a central core of bossy women much in Jane's mould, dedicated to competition in making cakes and arranging flowers and doing good deeds, with a smattering of hangers-on, elderly widows and female mice. He focusses on the stairs and the comparative refuge waiting in his study, hoping to get quickly past the drawingroom door.
But a small flood of femininity has already engulfed him in a wave of smiles and jolly greetings. He smiles back, keeping his back to the wall, though smiling is not really a burden, for he feels quite jovial.
"Good evening, Mr. Vast." A coloratura booms at him, and he winces, his joviality suddenly diminishing. Mrs. Scolding is a pillar of the church choir, a large, powerful and strongly scented woman, with a penchant for cultured pearls and businesswoman suits, sharp eyes all about her seeking out wrongdoing, quick to judgment and reproof.
"I passed you, talking to that Sorrow girl in the street." The coloratura is accusatory.
Colin can feel himself colour up. "Er, she had a kitten." He mashes his words together, conscience engulfing him.
"So I saw, so I saw." Mrs. Scolding is not about to be mollified. "She's a right little baggage, runs after men." She looks about her for approbation and several members of the Church Guild murmur disapprovingly. "You better be careful, she's trouble on two feet."
Colin sees Jane push her way towards them, and wilts. But Jane is in an excellent mood, for the Church Guild meeting has gone well, and she has roundly trounced Mrs. Scolding in an argument about a coming church fete. She is not prepared to have her husband trampled as a revanche.
"Colin simply adores kittens, he just can't say no to them." She ranges herself beside her husband in defence mode, her teeth bared in a challenge of pleasantry.
Mrs. Scolding makes a grumbling noise in her throat, but holds her ground. "They should put her into care."
"The pretty little fairhaired girl with the tortoiseshell cat?" Jane frowns. "But she's such a pleasant little thing, I've seen her several times playing outside. Doesn't she have an elder sister?"
A coloratura bosom swells. "They're both baggages, they've got a bad name."
"Why?" Jane senses that she has Mrs. Scolding on the run and is now all sweetness.
"Their mother brought them to live with Vice, the man in the last cottage." Mrs. Scolding mounts a counter-attack. "He's a bad 'un as well, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he didn't sell drugs. They say people go in and out of his house at all hours of the day and night."
The other members of the Church Guild stir irritably. They are now penned in behind Mrs. Scolding's ample form, desperate to get out and return to their homes. A small woman, one of the church mice, coughs gently.
"That's rather a hard thing to say, Angela, dear." The small squeaky voice is deprecatory, but the criticism is clear. "We shouldn't condemn when we possess no proof."
Mrs. Scolding scowls, and presses her lips together disapprovingly. For a moment she looks as though she is scouring her mind for something really unpleasant to say, but then she sniffs, and stands back, glowering at Colin. Jane smiles a peacemaking smile.
"Well, ladies." She puts her fingers together into a little tent, like a parson. "The fete will be in the church garden on Saturday week. That should give us all plenty of time to get ready, and I'm sure Colin will, if I ask him nicely, photocopy lots of little posters for us." She nudges Colin, and he smiles wanly, and then the Church Guild ladies are on their way, flooding out through the Vasts' front door, and a moment later their small hall is free.
"Well." Jane heaves a sigh of weary victory. "That's them out of the way." She leads Colin into their kitchen, fills a kettle, and dollops two large scoops of ground coffee into a cafetiere, a sure sign of wellbeing, for making coffee is normally Colin's job. "I got them all nicely organised, and boxed Angela Scolding neatly into a corner."
She is silent for a moment, watching the kettle, and then she looks at Colin quizzically, for boldness is not one of his known attributes. "I wonder why she huffed up so about that little girl."
But Colin is now prepared, and is pure innocence. "It was a really cute little cat." He smiles a smile of reminiscence, to put his wife at ease. "I bent down to stroke it, and this little girl was behind me."
Jane maintains her stare for a moment, and then relaxes, taking the boiling kettle and filling the cafetiere. "You should be careful, darling." She speaks with her back to him. "People like Angela Scolding pin the very worst possible motives onto everything they can." She fills two cups and smiles brightly, for her evening has really gone very well indeed. "She has men, and sex, on the brain."
This is an interesting gambit, for Jane Vast rarely mentions sex unless she has it somewhere in her mind. Colin smiles hopefully, but neutrally as well, keeping desire low in his mind lest he trigger alarm.
Jane's smile takes on a playful edge, and her eyes gleam at him. Now she feels a little sorry for Colin, for she dislikes Angela Scolding heartily, and she made good her own meagre helping of vegetable bake by scoffing a good fistful of Church Guild conclave biscuits. She notes the lust in his eyes, and thinks that there could be worse ways to celebrate a triumph.
"Ah." It is an encouraging, throaty sound, and she keeps Colin's cup close to her, so that he has to step nearer. "I hope you don't fancy her."
Colin twists up his mouth in a mock grimace, allowing hope to build in his eyes. "How could I?" He presses gently forwards, taking his cup to stand it on the kitchen table and resting his hand on Jane's wrist. The gesture reminds him for just a moment of the girl holding his hand in the street, but now his mind is set on a much more possible and much more permissible target. "She's big, and she's bossy, and she smells."
Jane pretends to be a little shocked at this sally, but her eyes are encouraging as Colin's hand starts to climb her arm. Then she collects herself and glances up at the clock on the kitchen wall.
"Wait." It is an order. "I don't want Sarah to come down and find us canoodling in here."
Colin stops uncertainly in mid advance.
"No, silly, don't look so alarmed." Now Jane is winsome. "We'll wait until she is fast asleep, and then we can have a nice little cuddle."
So Colin waits, with mounting impatience, and then finally Sarah is snoring, and he is lying beside his wife and fumbling to push her nightdress up her on her body to reach her breasts, for he knows full well that Jane expects service in marital sex, arguing that men erect on demand, whilst women must be tempted and coaxed into passion. He massages her nipples gently but steadily, until she clenches her fists and moans a little, and this is a sign that she is expectant and waiting, and he moves closer to her and penetrates her, moving his loins slowly against her, and realises that he is thinking of the fairhaired girl girl in the street, and two soft grey eyes hold his mind as Jane reaches a climax and gasps in a spasm of sudden fruition.
Then he lies still as he feels himself shrink, still panting slightly with his effort, and feels Jane's hand brush his cheek. The gesture is an unwonted tenderness, and he smiles at her, and is content. For Colin has had sex twice in one day, and has also made a new friend, and he will not quickly forget his good fortune.
To Be Continued...
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