Last of the Summer....Wine
Mrs Hargreaves had been saving this bottle for several years now. They'd given it to her when she retired – twenty years as headmistress of the village school. There'd been tears and flowers, speeches with phrases like “pillar of the community” and “most respected member of our school” - and this beautiful French wine. She had been saving it up for a special occasion ever since and though this wasn't exactly what you'd call a special occasion, tonight was definitely the night to open it. There might not be another chance.
She took it out to the patio, under the trellis, along with a selection of good French cheeses and biscuits, fat purple olives swimming in garlic oil, some grapes and blueberries, a ribbon of salmon. A last supper.
It was a beautiful evening, warm, but full of fresh, earthy scents. The roses had just come into bloom, fountaining in pink profusion over the top of the trellis, their perfume mingling with that of the lyme trees. The grass needed cutting, but it was so soft and green she hadn't had the heart to tackle it yet – and now she never would, she supposed. From next door came the sound of children playing cricket in the garden, their voices young and shrill, not unlike the twittering of the birds.Children's voices had been a big part of her life, these last thirty odd years. But she didn't think she'd be hearing many in the future. Not where she was heading.
In a way it was a relief. Keeping a secret was a bit like walking around with a thorn in one's foot - one of those fat, curving, thorns that surrounded the roses. There had been times when she thought it had disappeared, dissolved somehow, in her flesh, but apparently it had been festering all this time, poisoning her bloodstream so that this afternoon, when she had least expected it, it had come bursting out of her.
Billy Dixon had come over to help her prune the hawthorn in the front garden. Well, that's what he said, but actually, Billy just wanted willing ears into which to pour his constant stream of chatter. Mrs Hargreaves liked Billy, she liked his scruffy red hair and his smattering of freckles and his blue eyes that wanted to know everything about the world and she liked listening to his stories.
He'd been telling her about his little sister, Maisie, and the fact that she'd broken a porcelain bowl and then hidden the pieces in the garden, rather than own up to it. And then without warning, she found herself telling him about her Secret, spilling it out just like that, all over the garden hedge.
So now she was waiting. It would only be a matter of time before they came and took her away.
“We've got to do something about Billy,” Angie said, as she stood at the window, frowning out into the garden, where her children were throwing themselves around on the trampoline.
Her husband came and stood beside her. “Why? What's he been up to now?”
“It's his story telling, it's getting out of control. Sometimes I think he can't tell the difference between fact and fiction any more. There's a name for it – it's some sort of syndrome.”
Ben shrugged. “He's just a kid. What stories has he been telling this time?”
Angie sighed and gave a rueful smile. “Well, you won't believe this, but he actually told me earlier that when Mrs Hargreaves was a young woman, she murdered her husband, chopped him into little pieces and ate him in an Irish stew.”
Ben gave a shout of laughter. “Good one, Billy! Mrs Hargreaves of all people! At least it shows he's got imagination.” He put his arm around his wife and gave her a squeeze. “I wouldn't worry about it Angie. It's not like anybody would take any notice.You should tell her some day, she'd probably think it was a great laugh!”