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Hello!

Here is Part 4 of this very long short story

Part One is here

Part two is here

Part three is here

I hope you enjoy it!

Part 4 – The Concourse of Kings Cross Station

A limp Brass Band rendition of Hark the Herald Angels, an admission of the approaching festive season, played over the public address system, regularly interrupted by the echoing information detailing train departures, arrivals and security announcements.

The sense of awe she recalled as a child from the steam engines was now replaced by the heady smell of diesel and fast food. The lighting gave the atmosphere a soiled, used feel. She looked down to the floor and saw it pocked with discarded chewing gum like a grubby Dalmatian pelt.

She had studiously spent most of her life avoiding these situations, eager to avoid the pitiful stares and no doubt whispered cruelties and gibes of those who saw her gait. Those paper vendors cries of “Cripple! Cripple!” were a constant menacing whisper in her imagination when she ventured into public and convinced her that a life apart was a much more satisfying path to take and thus avoid ridicule by all and sundry. As a consequence, Eunice took consolation in her own brittle company and a highly select coterie of relatives and friends who visited her in Kensington.

Now this small number either as a result of death or her insults had been whittled to one. Francis.

Eunice looked around the milling humanity seeping out of the station’s nooks and crannies.

“Nobody wears hats anymore Francis. A lack of headwear is a sure way to spread communicable diseases. People used to doff their hats too as a mark of respect. That all stopped after Suez. Where can I sit?”

Francis directed her to a metal bench near the WH Smiths concession.

“Excuse me are these seats free?” Eunice asked a man sitting on the bench.  He shuffled along the bench.

“Thank you.” She sat, tucking her legs neatly under her in a demonstrable display of poise and ladylike gentility. Francis placed the suitcases on the floor and sat, kneading his hands in an attempt to lose the stinging sensation the luggage had foisted upon them.

The beggar who had asked her for money now approached a knot of Japanese tourists.

“The beggar is after the Japs! You can almost hear their discomfort as he approaches them. But, the defensive square they have adopted to repel his onslaught would have drawn admiring glances from Wellington. Say what you like about the Japs but they are instinctive soldiers. The beggar cannot find a way to isolate any member of the group and pounce. Text book operation.” The beggar sidled away from the tourists flailing his right arm towards them and levelling a volley of oaths and curses which thankfully they all appeared to be totally nonplussed by.

She retrieved a ten pound note from her purse and held it out for Francis to take, withdrawing it slightly as he reached forward to take it. Their eyes met. “Run along and buy me a cup of tea. Exact change.”

Francis sneaked a furtive glance at the chest of an attractive woman as he waited to be served at the Coffee Shop. His thoughts turned to the pleasures of confinement over the Christmas period. She would be out of the way with the McVities. Callipered and two weeks in the box. All by himself. He checked his watch and stared at the back of the head of the tall man who stood in front of him, studying the spiral of hair running down the nape of his neck.

“You are that weather man off the telly, Ian Kidney,” an elderly woman said to the tall man.

“That’s right,”

“You ruined my cabbages this year you did – Spring frost. Ruined. All because of you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. We all make mistakes you know.”

“Especially you,” replied the woman before walking off.

Francis racked his brain for the name of Ian Kidney. Nothing registered. He ordered two teas, pocketed thirty pence in change for himself and returned to Eunice, gazing slyly at the breasts of another attractive woman standing nearby.

“Will you stop leering Francis.”

He flushed.

From his earliest days, Francis had failed to inspire Eunice. As a child, he had seemed a quiet, withdrawn and overly preoccupied with his own thoughts. He was a listless and pale specimen and she had little hope that he was to be the one to restore the family’s fortunes, still reeling Bertie’s foray into Theatre.

Francis hated his childhood visits to aunt Eunice’s often being literally dragged to the house by his mother, Eunice’s cousin,  who had accepted the importance of sustaining family ties even when faced with the belittling onslaught that commenced as soon as they crossed the threshold and only ceased when they made their way home to Amersham.

In fact the only time the pallid boy had shown any animation was when Eunice discovered him as an eight year old marching around her bedroom in her old caliper. To him it was a marvellous toy, to her a confirmation that the boy was peculiar.

Although he had received a severe admonishment from his mother about the incident, the feeling of a tightly strapped brace made a lasting impression on Francis. Confined yet supportive and strong, a feeling that he grew to love and yearn for in his lonely, reasonably pathetic adult years.

He rediscovered the caliper four years ago in the loft of the house, where he had been rummaging for artefacts that could be sold to the antiques dealer. He cleaned, oiled and polished it and felt that same feeling of security he had all those years ago when first wearing it. Eunice would hear from Francis’ room the sound of straps being tightened, the squeak of metal joint for so long still and her great-nephew crashing into his wardrobe with a stifled moan, but she decided not to comment about these nocturnal activities. Secretly she was glad of his company and allowed him his privacy.

She took a sip from her tea, “Disgusting.”

kate_baby_beard

Hello

Here is Part 5 of this long short story.

To make sense of it you will need to read;

Part One here

Part Two here

Part Three here

Part Four here

Part 5 The Bench At Kings Cross Station

A woman and toddler sat next to them on the bench. Eunice shrank from the child as it had a coughing fit. Eunice whispered to Francis, “Get rid of the child. You know I’m susceptible to consumption and this urchin contains diseases of poverty.”  She kneaded her hands with gusto.

The child sneezed. Eunice calculated that the infection gained from the diseased infant would lead to her demise near Berwick upon Tweed. She stared at the child with such ferocity that it whimpered and drew into the protective shield of its mother.

A two note jingle filled the concourse, interrupting the opening chords of Away in A Manger. A female voice hovered over the station, “Great Northern Trains are pleased to announce that the 14.27 Great Northern Trains Bannockburn Flyer to  Aberdeen is now ready for boarding on Platform 1…..”

“That’s your train!” Francis said, a tad too enthusiastically for Eunice’s liking.

Not long to go now he thought to himself. Eunice clung to the sleeve of his jacket. He knew that she didn’t want to go. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow her to stay. Months of preparation lay at risk.

“Please Francis, I’ll stay in my room if you wish.” Her brittle confidence creaked and groaned with the thought of so many strangers in her proximity. And only Tibby to greet her. Tibby. Momentarily Eunice seethed again.

“There is nothing to worry about Aunt; the change of scenery will do you the world of good. You said so yourself.  I’ll get someone to give us a hand.”

He flagged down the driver of a trolley passing nearby, “Excuse me, could you help us please. My aunt needs to catch the train on Platform One and I was wondering if you could assist us.”

“Me?” the driver replied, “I can’t. I’m not authorised. Besides I’m full of comestibles for the 15.35 to Leeds. I have a pallet of sausage rolls and Scotch Eggs in need of refrigeration.”

Francis took the driver aside, “I will give you twenty quid if you help.”

“All right then, but you’ll have to accept the consequences for these sausage rolls.”

“Sure.”

The whispered, harsh memory of “Cripple! Cripple!” returned to Eunice. She adjusted her overcoat to hide the as far as possible her right leg and was convinced that strangers were sneering at her infirmity as she began her journey. On a pallet of Scotch Eggs.

Please don’t abandon me to these ridiculers and commoners Francis. Please.”

But he wasn’t listening.

The driver was less than impressed when his twenty pound payment was made up of small denomination coins, 73 pence short of the agreed tariff and contained a number of pfennigs.

MCQUEEN

Hello

Here is Part 6 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed egg remnants from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone. For the first time in living memory she was alone without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington house to act as a proxy friend. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!” But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London  in the failing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he had stubble on his chin. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. The old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

jolson

Hello

Here is Part 7 of this story (only a couple more to go!) – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The silence between Eunice and the black woman was brittle, sterile and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated the end to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice concluded that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. She imagined that he could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she turned to the memory of her hand nestling in her father’s leading her to a safe and secret world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.

“Mummy?”

“Yes?”

“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Hello

Here is the final part of this story – thanks for sticking with it.

To make sense of it all;

Part One is here

Part Two is here

Part Three is here

Part Four is here

Part Five is here

Part Six is here

Part Seven is here

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice had to admit that Tibby McVitie’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. For a woman of her age.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice enjoyed them and readied herself to immerse permanently in the past.

She thought 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

As Nanny used to say when calming the polio stricken Eunice’s fears of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt’s hate flecked speech more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.  It was his favourite film.

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