Trunk call

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


The harsh tring of the bell made Laura jump.  Her first thought was that, after all the months and years and decades of bludgeoning her; the hints, threats, portentous drawing back of the curtain onto the barren desert that her life would be without him, Martin had finally gone.  That the doorbell of the musty, crowded antique shop had rung behind her husband, heralding the end of her life, left behind among the unwanted, the unclaimed, the broken, while he strode away gulping the clean air, free from the atmosphere of disappointment that shrouded her.

Then she heard his voice; viscous like syrup. Pouring flattery and obsequious observation into the ear of the shop lady, whose startled flutterings and chirrups belied her stolid middle age. She was younger than Laura, though, who felt every second of her years in shops like this.  Looking at her childhood, labelled as antiques and curios.  There, an exact copy of the grinning toy monkey she used to wind round her neck, here a box of the soap power her mother used, a mangle, the garish imprint of the comic she would rush to pick up every week.  All the domestic minutia of her growing up now transplanted as objects over which people smiled or exclaimed, coveted and collected, framed on spare brick walls, jumbled ironically on stylised retro kitchen shelves.

This faint but constant misery was a comfortable old cardigan now, like an old friend whose spiky comments have lost their ability to wound over the years, and who now merely irritates; a soft burr in a shoe.

There it came again, tring, tring! Laura looked over to a crowded open dresser; shelves packed with dusty ruby glass, a shell-pink dinner service, dulled with grime, piled unsteadily beside rusting eggbeaters, a flaccid pile of stained doilies.  She took a step towards the shelves, curious.

There was an ancient telephone.  Its thin elegant handle curved round into the emphatic flat perforations of the ear-piece, and at the other end, the pointed arc for speaking.   The squat body bore a sepia paper disc, listen before calling.  In faded ink, she read: Kilbride 23.  The cord was braided and worn. Laura put her index finger in the cold metal dial and listened intently.  In the background, she was aware of Martin extravagantly complementing the poor woman on her magnificent business acumen, such a rare quality in such an attractive lady.

Tring! Laura jumped, then hesitantly picked up the receiver.  The handle was dense and felt warm in her hand.  She put the receiver to her ear and breathed in the immediately familiar camphor smell of Bakelite.  Instead of the deadness she expected to hear, there was a rushing, open sort of sound on the line; a faint, far-away whistle.

Then she heard voices.  It sounded like the little children’s choir she had listened to on the radio when she was very young.  High, tinkling voices, mixed with static and hissing, a sibilant fizz that distorted the voices.  They seemed to sing, over and over again, “Run, run, run.”  The single syllable grew louder, the static cleared.  There was no mistaking the word; it was at once harmonious and commanding.  Then a sudden, shocking silence.

She replaced the receiver in the cradle with a clunk.  In four steps, she had reached the door.  With one hand, she pulled it open, with the other, she checked for the car keys in her pocket.  Two more steps and she was gone, hurrying through the weak April sunshine, where the brave lilac flags of crocuses pushed hopefully through the damp, awakening earth.

20 comments:

  1. Hello Elizabeth:

    This is utterly magical. Indeed, it reminds us of those short stories which used to be [perhaps still are] broadcast somewhere around half-past three in the afternoon on Radio 4. Always engaging, always entertaining, always thought provoking. And so is this.

    As for the line "Looking at her childhood, labelled as antiques and curios", have we not been there? Wonderful.

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    1. Thank you, you delightful pair, as ever, for your thoughtful and bolstering words.

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  2. I'm glad she got the car in the settlement. A Volvo?

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  3. I'd like to think she made her escape in Martin's sensible Volvo then, at the first opportunity, swapped it for a scarlet Alfa spider. I would.

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  4. Beautifully written, but that is no surprise! April's description is pure magic. Thank you!

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    1. You are lovely. An especially gorgeous month this year.

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  5. I am in awe of you again, or perhaps still would be more accurate.

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  6. *clapping* Brava! More! *whistle* :)

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  7. A lunchtime treat for me today, reading this. All my senses have been roused, including my sense of smell on account of the aroma from the telephone.

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    1. I had an unctuous curios trader slither very close to me last week as I stood sniffing the phone for several minutes. You can also get a massive hit for free at the Science Museum...

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  8. I had to remind myself to exhale. That's a big one, when you do what I do for a living:) Go, Laura! Your turn to gulp the clean air!
    PS: I did look under the "BOOKS" tab, and so hope we'll be able to buy your books over here?? (Congratulations!)

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    1. Breathing, so easily forgotten sometimes isn't it? Are you a very serene kindly yoga teacher? I once did a class with a teacher who was about eighty, peace seeped from her pores and she was the bendiest person I've ever met.

      The short stories will be on kindle very soon so you can download them in the US I believe. I will let you know of course. I've been editing them and imagining people reading them, or worse, not!

      Need a 'BREATHE' app for my computer!!

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  9. Like most, I think, I try for serene and kindly, but sometimes I'm bitchy and mean! Always work to be done...

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  10. Anyone who respects an Alfa Spider is high up on my book. How do you spell Spider, as in the car. I love how you grab my interest and hook me and then let me down gently as it is the end. I hate short stories as they are too short. I used to love these women's magazines my grandmother read when I was a child, 13 or so-they were quite tawdry and cheap-my family would have been horrified if they knew I read them. They were short stories but always had a moral and an ending. Have no idea why I have told you this, you wrote a great bit.

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  11. I thought it was Spyder, but when I googled for a reminder of how gorgeous they are, it seemed otherwise.

    Thanks for the comments and your memories, both are always very welcome here!

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Please leave a comment if you can be remotely bothered - anything you have to say is valuable and I absolutely love hearing from you all. Elizabeth