John was in the shower when his mobile rang, she could hear him whistling and a fresh, piney fragrance of masculine shower gel seeped under the door. Shelly felt her lower belly contract. She thought about sex and then dismissed it; Sammy was in the garden with his dog. John wasn’t the only one who missed having an active love life. They needed time; she must make some, this week, sometime, maybe.
His phone was still ringing. She thought about taking it in to him, but if he tried to drag her into the shower with him and she had to say no again, it would only cause arguments. And anyway, by the time she got there it would have stopped ringing. She leaned over to his bedside table and grabbed it before pressing the green button and saying hello.
‘Hello,’ she repeated, a little bit louder this time. There was no answer but she could hear somebody’s steady breathing on the other end of the line. She felt herself growing impatient, ‘This is Shelly, John’s wife, did you want to speak to him? Hello.’ The person on the other end hung up without saying anything.
It was Easter break, the start of the holidays. It was intense, concentrated, undiluted, wall-to-wall Sammy in high definition for the next two weeks. John was off work for four days; Shelly knew that he would rather have been at work.
They’d had ramblers the day before and had walked around Basenthwaite Lake, before dropping into Portinscale and sitting in the beer garden of a pub until sunset.
Everybody had taken great care to keep their eyes on Sammy at all times. The scare of three weeks earlier had made the local news and still played heavily on all of their minds.
There was another meet arranged for Monday and they were going to Grassmere, to take on the Lion and The Lamb, a mountain rising above the village with a rock formation that looked like a hunkered lion and a tiny lamb cuddled up beside him.
Today was Easter Sunday, but there was to be no respite, they were going to the garden centre that morning and then they were spending the afternoon tidying up the garden before having friends over for a late afternoon barbeque that would run late into the evening, straying into the house as the weather cooled. They were lucky, although early in the year it looked as though it was going to be a glorious day and the weather report was good.
She’d been up and had made Sammy breakfast before taking a tray back to bed for her and John. Again, she thought about sex, what was wrong with her today?
It had only been a few minutes since the last call when John’s mobile rang again. The scene played out exactly as it had before with the caller hanging up on her. But this time she had called out to John. He came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and a tight expression on his face, just as the phone disconnected. She looked at the screen and passed it to him.
‘Probably just a wrong number,’ he said. He turned his back on her and rubbed his body dry then slipped into boxers and his jeans.
‘How bloody rude,’ Shelly complained, ‘they could at least have had the decency to say so, if it’s a wrong number.’
He pocketed the phone and left the room. Shelly sighed and went into the bathroom to get her own shower. As she turned off the hot water and stepped onto the bathmat, she heard John’s muffled voice. He was talking to somebody on the phone.
She went into the bedroom to dress and instantly worried about Sammy. If john was on the phone he wasn’t keeping an eye on their son while she was getting showered. Anything could have happened to him. Even while they’d had their breakfast in bed, she’d had her ears peeled, listening to his dull monotone as he talked to Carthenage. She was alert for any sign of distress in his voice or worse, for his voice to cease. She went to the window and opened it. Sammy was at the end of the garden, throwing a ball for Carthenage just as he had been before she’d used the bathroom. He would throw it relentlessly, never growing bored, never getting distracted. They could play ball for over an hour and the dog was always the one to give up first.
She jumped when John burst into the bedroom. He went to his wardrobe and grabbed the first shirt that he came to, putting it on and buttoning it quickly. He sprayed himself with deodorant and squirted some aftershave at his neck.
Shelly was towelling her hair dry. ‘They got through then?’ John didn’t answer her. He was sitting on the bed now, socks on, shoes on, doing up his laces. He stood and grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair. ‘I’ve got to go out. I shouldn’t be long.’ He drew his hand through his hair, the way he did when they were on the point of arguing.
‘What? Where? What about the garden Centre? Aren’t you going to give Sammy his Eater Eggs with me?’
‘Sorry love, no can do. Emergency at work. Got to dash.’ He kissed her on the forehead and left the room. She heard him taking the stairs two at a time. The front door slammed. He hadn’t said goodbye to Sammy.
He’d looked worried. She heard his car reversing out of the drive and listened to it receding into the distance. He’d driven away in the opposite direction to his office. He worked in upper middle management, for a large electrical components manufacturer assembling parts for computer motherboards.
The money was good, enabling them a secure lifestyle, it meant that Shelly didn’t have to go out to work and for that, she was grateful. He wasn’t quite a shareholder and wasn’t welcomed into the boardroom golfing fraternity, but he was as far up the ladder as he could climb in his current position. Most of the running and day to day organisation of the plant was down to him. His name had been put forward to the board, and the next time that they floated a portion of shares, it was understood that John would be given first refusal. When that happened, it would make him a very rich man and give him real decision making power.
Shelly and John didn’t tell lies to each other. If he said that he was going to work, then she believed him. That’s where he was going. He must have detoured into town to pick something up first. She accepted it as fact and moved on with her day, a busy one with plenty to do. She was only irritated that he’d bailed out on her when the day was supposed to be a joint effort; the lawns wouldn’t get mown now. She doubted that she’d have time to do them. It wasn’t good enough when they had guests coming.
‘Sammy, come on, love. We’re going out.’
‘Can Carthenage come?’
‘Not this time, honey.’
‘Because, it’s not a good idea.’
‘Carthenage needs to go in Shelly May’s blue car to get used to being in cars and then he won’t be car sick.’
‘He can’t come this time, Sammy, because we’re going to the garden centre and he’s not allowed.’
‘Cathenage can sit in Shelly May’s blue car with the window’s down twenty centimeter’s.’
‘No Sammy, it’s too warm today to leave him in the car. Now put him in the garage and come on.’
‘It is twenty six point one degrees,’ said Sammy, looking at the temperature gauge on his watch. That’s not too hot.’
‘Well if it’s twenty six in here—’
‘Twenty six point one,’ corrected Sammy.
‘If it’s twenty six point one in our cool kitchen, just think how hot it will be in the car with the sun pouring in.’
This was logical, Sammy coped well with logic. He’d read in his books about not leaving dogs in hot cars. He’d gone on to read horror stories in the newspapers that he researched, that said that some dogs could cook in minutes. Sammy didn’t believe that they actually cooked, like sausages, but he did believe that they actually died, because he’d seen some pictures. He didn’t want Carthenage to die in Shelly May’s blue car.
At the garden centre, Shelly bought some large planters; the gardenia needed re-potting, as did two of her mini roses, which had proven to be not too mini, after all.
She made some mundane purchases of plant food and bamboo canes, while Sammy tried to get her to go to the herb and vegetable section. She told him that she’d buy him three new herbs for his own garden instead of one, if he waited until she’d finished getting the things that she needed. On a whim, she decided to treat herself.
Having guests over for a party in the garden demanded two things, it absolutely governed that a new outfit be bought, which had been done through the week while Sammy was at school, and it also required at least one new plant to make the garden pretty.
They went into a poly-tunnel that housed the tree section. Sammy was calm in here. The foliage affected him, quietened him, appealed to his senses rather than assaulted them, as so much in life seemed to do. Shelly watched him smelling deeply, and smiled. He reached out and touched, feeling the different textures of bark and leaves. Normally in shops, he wasn’t allowed to touch things, but here, it gave him so much sensory pleasure that she never told him off.
Apart from when he was in somebody’s way, she didn’t talk to him at all. She didn’t want to intrude. At one point, they had the tunnel to themselves. A water feature in the corner trickled gently from a small waterfall into the koi carp pond and Sammy touched, smelled, listened and enjoyed the noise of the falling water and the serene quiet. Shelly wished for a moment that time would stop and that this could be Sammy’s world. He could be happy here.
Shelly was decadent, she bought two Japanese maple trees, one with vibrant, generous red leaves that spread like umbrellas and would catch the sun like molten metal. The other one was completely different; it was amazing that two trees, of the same genus, could be so far removed from each other. This one was called Heart Strings with feathered fronds that were delicate and soft enough to the touch to be reminiscent of gossamer. She couldn’t choose between them. She bought them both.
Sammy, who had been eager to go to his section earlier, had lapsed into a waking trance. Shelly had to coax him gently back to the present. He was reluctant to leave this cool, quiet place where only the trees and the water talked to him.
‘Samuel May needs Beetroot seeds and curly Kale seeds and—’ Once outside the magic spell was broken and Sammy was soon reeling off the names of vegetables that, when grown, would be enough to feed a Nation.
‘Hey buster, I’ve just said I’ll buy you three new herbs. I never said anything about seeds, as well.’
‘Goodblood, or Heart Strings? Hmm, which one? Goodblood or Heart strings? I can’t afford them both, but how to choose between them. Oh to heck with it, we’ll have both.’ Using his echolalia to mimic Shelly’s voice as though she’d spoken herself, Sammy recounted, verbatim, her inner turmoil of minutes earlier.
‘Shelly May did not need either Goodblood or Heart Strings,’ Sammy admonished, ‘yet Shelly May bought both. Samuel May dose not need three packets of seeds to go with his three new herbs, but he would like to have three packets of seeds to go with his three new herbs.’
‘All right, all right, good point, you win. Three herbs, three seeds and unless he specifically asks, we don’t need to actually mention what this lot is costing to your dad, do we?’
‘Three new herbs, three packets of seeds and a MacDonald’s Double cheeseburger, hold the gherkins.’ The hold the gherkins phrase was said in the voice of an American actor who had used the same line in a film. ‘With large fries, a McApple Pie, A Crunchie McFlurry and two sour cream dips, Shelly May.’
‘Three herbs, three seeds and a, don’t push your luck, Al Capone.’
‘Not three seeds.’
‘No Sammy,’ Shelly sighed, she had to say everything concisely because every word was taken literally, ‘I meant, three packets of seeds.’
‘Just so,’ Sammy replied, pleased. ‘Three packets of seeds, three new herbs, hold the MacDonald’s double cheese burger. Hold the gherkins. Hold the large fries. Hold the McApple pie. Hold the Crunchie Mcflurry. Hold the two sour cream dips. My Name is Samuel May. Al Capone was a gangster involved in criminal activity in the Chicago area of the USA in—’ he continued to relate every fact that he’d ever read or had heard on television appertaining to Al Capone. He went in and out of various voices as he narrated.
Shelly switched off.