‘Okay Bev, if you think I’m so good-looking, and attractive, and nice and all the rest of it, how come you’re trying to get me off with Sharon?’
They stared at each other – Vince in challenge, Beverley in shock.
The trouble was, she had done such a good job of convincing herself that a relationship with Vince was impossible, that it had become an established part of her world view. And now that he was calling it into question, he was shaking her whole sense of what was real and what wasn’t, as if the ground beneath her feet was cracking open.
Oh my God, she told herself, can this be true? Can he really be interested in me? Oh my goodness, this can’t be happening.
And just to compound matters the most tremendous hot flush came surging up her body, causing a flood of perspiration to run down her face and trunk. A surge of panic came with it, her heart pounding so hard she could barely hear herself think.
Oh my God, he’s looking at me. Oh my goodness, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. I can’t deal with this. It’s all too much.
And although Bev no longer had anywhere to run to, she could easily have bolted straight out of the back door, if Synchronicity hadn’t struck again. But it did. The door bell sounded, and an elderly female voice called out, ‘Hello?’
The sound of shuffling feet and sticks on the wooden floor announced the approach of Alice. She appeared in the doorway and stood looking from one to the other.
‘I do apologise for barging in,’ she said. ‘Only the door was on the latch, so I thought it would be alright. But I seem to have arrived at an awkward moment. So I’ll go. Please excuse me.’
And she began executing a four-point turn.
‘No, Alice, please don’t go,’ said Vince. ‘Join us for tea and brownies. I’ll put the kettle on.’
‘Yes, do Alice. Please!’ agreed Beverley, desperately in need of a chaperone to allow her time to recover from her shock.
‘Very well. How could I possibly say “no” to tea and brownies?’
So Vince pulled an upright chair out from the kitchen table, and Alice lowered herself into it. Then he handed round homemade chocolate brownies while they waited for the kettle to boil yet again.
‘Vince, these are fantastic,’ said Beverley, relieved to be on safe conversational ground again.
‘Yes, our Vince is an excellent cook,’ agreed Alice. ‘He could have been a chef, couldn’t you, Vince?’
‘I was never fast enough, Alice,’ said Vince, pouring water into the teapot. ‘And anyway, all the pleasure would have gone out of it. Better to be an amateur.’
‘I take your point,’ said Alice. ‘I felt exactly the same about singing.’
‘You sing?’ asked Beverley, her heart beat slowing as everyday life wrapped soothingly around her.
‘Used to. I don’t have the strength to support it any more.’
‘Yes, with my tummy muscles. You’ve got to support a voice or it wobbles and goes all over the place.’
‘Alice used to sing opera, Bev,’ said Vince.
‘Really? Wow, I wish I’d heard you.’
‘It’s a very long time ago,’ said Alice, ‘and I have other interests now. Anyway, I mustn’t get sidetracked and go maundering on about the past. I came to tell you something, Vince, so I’d better get on with it.’
‘Really? I’m all ears,’ said Vince, handing round mugs of tea.
‘I had a dream last night,’ she began, as soon as he was settled.
‘Oh yes?’ said Vince, without enthusiasm.
‘Your friend Derek came to see me. I must say, he did look very well. Younger than when I saw him last. And he said, “Thank Vince for everything he’s done, and ask him to start making the machines. People in the village need them.” That’s what he said. So I thought I’d better pass it on.’
Vince took a gulp of tea, choked, spilled it down his front, and jumped up for a cloth.
‘What machines?’ he asked, mopping himself down.
‘The free energy machines, I should think,’ replied Alice. ‘Like the one on the table over there. That’s Derek’s Prototype, isn’t it?’
There was silence. Vince and Beverley stared at her, open-mouthed.
Finally Vince said, ‘You know about the Prototype?’
‘Yes, he told me all about it. In confidence, of course. This is the first time I’ve mentioned it to a soul. After what happened to him, I wasn’t even tempted.’
‘You knew he was murdered?’
‘Yes, I knew. So it’s a dangerous thing to have. You do realise that, don’t you?’
‘Not quite so dangerous now. We’ve open-sourced it.’
‘You’ve done what?’
‘Open-sourced it,’ said Vince, sitting down. ‘We sent the instructions of how to make it to fifty websites, and fifteen of them have posted it already. So anyone can make one, now. It’s out there in the world, and they can’t suppress it any more.’
‘Oh, bravo!’ said Alice, clapping her hands. ‘Well done, you two! What wonderful news.’
‘And it’ll spread further and further every day,’ added Beverley.
‘What a marvellous idea! That must have been what Derek was thanking you for, don’t you think? So in that case, there’s really nothing to stop you setting up in business and making the machines, is there, Vince? You can say you got the instructions from the Internet, and no one will be any the wiser. And as Derek said, there are people in the village who could do with one right now. Like Joe and Sharon.
‘In fact,’ she went on, ‘I wonder if I could commission you to make some straight away? I have a little nest-egg, and I can’t think of a better way of using it. Then some of the people who are struggling can finally come up for air. Joe will be able to heat his house properly, and if Sharon doesn’t have to pay for electricity, she might be able to survive without that awful job. Of course, if you get busy enough, you might be able to employ her.’
Vince and Beverley exchanged wondering glances.
‘You know, Alice,’ said Vince ‘I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.’
‘There was something else,’ Alice continued. ‘Now what was it? Oh yes, Derek asked me to tell you that he’s just about finished over here now. And he said he’d see you later.’
Beverley burst out laughing at the alarm on Vince’s face.
‘How much later?’ he asked.
‘He didn’t say… Oh, and he approves of your choice.’
‘He didn’t say. Well, I’ll leave you to it. Thanks for the tea and brownie. I wish you both an absolutely wonderful day.’
Once she’d gone, Vince pulled his armchair round and planted himself opposite Beverley, looking directly into her eyes. She braced herself to return his gaze.
‘You still haven’t answered my question, Bev.’
‘Vince, I had no idea that you… It was a bit of a shock, to be honest.’
‘Nice shock or nasty shock?’
‘Nice shock. Very nice shock.’
‘Well, thank God for that.’
‘But Vince, I’m old.’
‘So am I.’
‘I’m infertile and post-menopausal. I can’t have babies.’
‘I don’t want babies.’
‘I’m a rubbish cook.’
‘And I can’t add up.’
‘And I’m really clumsy. I break things all the time.’
‘That doesn’t surprise me.’
‘I’m a liability, really.’
‘How good are you at sorting out and tidying up and cleaning?’
‘I’m ace at sorting out and tidying up and cleaning.’
‘I love gardening.’
‘Well, there you go, then. We’re complimentary.’
‘Do you think so?’
‘But look Vince, if you and I were together, and you were making the Blasters and doing all the cooking, you’d be getting the raw end of the deal, don’t you think?’
‘Not if you were doing all the shopping and cleaning and sorting out and tidying up and gardening.’
‘I didn’t think those things were important to you.’
‘Look Bev, just because I live in a mess doesn’t mean I like it. I just don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. Maybe you could.
I certainly could, thought Beverley, who’d been itching to get to grips with the kitchen for weeks, and had only been restrained by good manners.
‘And anyway,’ he continued, ‘we’re still in the early stages here. I mean, I haven’t even kissed you yet, and if we’re incompatible at kissing, the whole deal’s off.’
‘Very true,’ agreed Bev. ‘In which case, the sooner we get started, the better. So we know where we are, I mean.’
And without any more ado he stood up and pulled her to her feet and straight into his arms. And kissed her. With care. And tenderness. And lots of bristles.
‘Well, how was that?’ he asked, not letting go.
‘It was lovely,’ replied Beverley, not wanting him to. ‘A bit bristly, though.’
‘Would you like me to shave?’
‘Shave or grow a proper beard – I don’t mind. As long as you shampoo the beard whenever you shampoo the rest of your hair.’
‘Shampoo the beard?’ he said, ‘I never heard of such a thing.’
‘Yes. Otherwise they can get very smelly, in my experience.’
‘I think I’ll shave, instead. Shall I go and do it now?’
‘Not right now. I’d like another kiss, please.’
Over the next few days more of the Porters’ land slithered away, and bit by bit the house collapsed in on itself, bricks and roof-tiles and furniture and low-grade dog food all sliding down the bank to join the heap of uprooted trees and shrubs and mud at the bottom.
The insurers came to look at the mess and take photographs, but didn’t stay long. ‘Not much point,’ said Vince. ‘It’s a write-off, isn’t it?’
Beverley took some photos of her own from the safety of Josh’s back garden.
‘Are these for your profile on the house-sitting website?’ asked Vince. ‘“My latest house-sit – Before and After?’”
‘No,’ laughed Bev. ‘This is my finest hour, and I’m quitting while I’m ahead.’
‘And home-owners all over the land will sleep more soundly in their beds,’ said Vince. ‘Apart from me, of course. But I’m getting used to living dangerously.’
Beverley attached her photographs to the email she sent to the Porters. It cost her much agonising, and took hours to write, and re-write, and write again. In addition to the bad news about the house, it reported that their neighbour Mr Shotter had offered to look after Bertie until they returned, and was that alright?
But the Porters didn’t reply to Beverley’s email. Nor did they ever return to Winthrop Grove, Langdon Bower. Which was, of course, absolutely fine with everyone at number 7.
© Sue J Davis 2016
Please see Copyright Notice on the ‘About’ page.