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.