The sun fell brittle and chill upon Upper Leafy Lane, where a silver lick of rain coated the grass and hedgerows. The sky was washed porcelain blue and floated like a pale dream above Fekenham’s fair head. The birds were silent now, as though waiting expectantly for something momentous to arrive. Autumn was just around the corner and nature was getting out her gowns for fall.
PC Updike strode with a proud and manly purpose down the slight incline that led, via the lane, from Thorny Bush Drive into Fekenham High Road. His breath turned to a ghostly white mist before him then passed behind him, giving him the appearance of a human locomotive chuffing his way along the silent roads.
PC Updike was feeling very good about himself. He felt he had handled the business at Trimpton House well, albeit a sad end to a grim episode and for once in his life, he had commanded the situation in a manner befitting a competent policeman. Oh, he was very aware of how he fuddled his words, tripping over his own tongue, as his father used to say, but on this occasion, he had done a good job. Even his sergeant had said so. When all those about him had been losing their heads, he had remained steadfastly calm and very much in control. Yes, by all accounts he had good cause to feel proud, especially in light of the way Cybil Lovelock had looked at him.
It was a chill September morning, but everything in his world was spring-like and bright. He pulled his jacket close to him to keep the nip out and the warmth in. He hadn’t worn this jacket since that night when he had worn it to ward off the rain. He thrust his hands deep into the pockets, whereupon his fingers hit a folded piece of paper. Mildly surprised, as he didn’t recall leaving any notes in his jacket, he pulled the paper out, unfolded it, and read, with a degree of surprise the message contained within.
If I could start a fire
I would build it in your heart
And kindle loving wood sticks
For all the heat to spark.
I would let the flames rise
Like a fever in your soul
For to capture all your loving
Is my single goal.
With all my affection.
Cyril looked up into the fragile September sky and smiled the biggest of smiles.
Cybil Lovelock felt like a feather blown by gentle winds. September in England was wet and grey, the way late autumns in Albion are, but her heart was verdant and fresh, dressed in crocuses and daffodils.
He loves me.
He loves me not?
He loves me.
HE LOVES ME.
Well, he might?
She danced about the confines of her shop armed with a duster that she flicked at the counters and shelves in a loving, fleeting fashion. All thoughts of work were irrelevant, as she had only one interest in her enraptured mind, one that was dressed in blue and currently patrolling the Wendham Marshes district on foot. Her heart skipped to the rhymes and reels that played in her head. The poetry of love was a bird in flight. For her, it was the elegant flight of flamingos. For him, not that she was aware of this fact, it was the sight of pheasants (he loved a game bird).
His eyes match his uniform.
As blue as August skies.
His legs are long and lean
And lead up to his …
She giggled and blushed, although there was no one in the shop to see her colour rise. Then she thought about the poem she had sent to him, the second one, by the Royal Mail, first class.
There is nothing in this world
Nor in the stars above
That can compare to you
Or is equal to my love.
Let all the stars in heaven
Spin and brightly burn,
Knowing they can’t compete
With whom makes my world turn.
She had been pleased with that. It had an honest, romantic quality about it. He couldn’t have got it yet, but by first thing tomorrow, he would. She had been delighted with his effort, which, only moments before, had been pushed through her shop door. It was typical of him, boyish and a bit clumsy, but full of fun, with a frank, open-hearted quality she adored.
Beetroots are red
Cabbage is green
You’ve got the sexiest bum
That I’ve ever seen.
Not Shelley or Keats, but at least it was from him. Suddenly, the bell over the Post Office shop door tripped into life, sending the bluebell sound of summer tinkling through the place. Cybil Lovelock lifted her head to see who had entered her shop and was surprised to see Verity Lambush’s tall, elegant frame flowing toward her. Cybil, like virtually all of the adults in Fekenham, had attended Fekenham Comprehensive, and Cybil had been there while Verity Lambush had been deputy-head. Momentarily Cybil forgot their current situation and greeted her ex-school teacher with, ‘Morning, Miss.’ To which Verity Lambush smiled her warmest smile.
‘Morning, Cybil. How are we today? Fully recovered from our horrendous ordeal at the Manor the other week?’
Cybil blinked. She had quite forgotten all about that horrid evening, thinking only of her new love, Cyril.
‘Oh yes, fully recovered now, thanks. How are you?’
‘I’m well my dear, very well. I thought I would pop in just to see how you are. Make sure that my favourite ex-pupil is all fine and dandy.’
Those words struck Cybil. ‘My favourite pupil.’ Miss Lambush had used those words many, many years ago when Cybil was about to leave school and enter into the hurly-burly world. Why was she saying it again now and why on earth was she here to ask after Cybil’s well-being?
‘That’s very kind of you, Miss, I mean, Verity. After that horrible business, life for me has been rather good. In fact, tonight I am meant to be going on a date!’
‘A date! Well, that is splendid news. So who is the lucky fellow?’
At this point, the bell above the door sprang into life again. TRING.
In walked Cyril Updike, tall and smart and smelling of new aftershave. His policeman’s helmet was tucked under his arm, and he had a rosy complexion about his cheeks. Upon seeing Verity Lambush he turned a deeper shade of red, for Miss Lambush had been his deputy headmistress too, and he, just like Cybil, couldn’t easily shake off the memory of those days.
‘Mornin’ ladies: Miss Lambush, Cybil.’ In his fist, he held a huge bunch of red roses that he had tucked behind his back. He produced the flowers with a flourish in rather a theatrical way, much like a magician would when producing a rabbit from a hat. ‘These are for you, Cybil. I hope we are still on for tonight?’
‘I’ll be ready my love. Seven thirty sharp.’ She smiled a seductive smile that made Cyril feel rather flustered as his underwear suddenly became filled with an alien life-force that whispered lustful thoughts. So agitated was he that he ran a finger around his shirt collar as if to let out steam. He looked sideways at Verity Lambush, who was giving him the strangest look.
‘Mark my words young man. You may be this village’s policeman. You may be big and large, and perhaps you frighten all the local villains, but you don’t scare me. I still remember the day you wet your pants and blamed it on Peter Pikeshaft. You treat this remarkable young woman with all the care and courtesy you can muster, or else you will have me to answer to. Do you understand?’
Her grey eyes flashed a threat as clear as a Mafia hit man’s pistol. Poor Cyril didn’t know quite how to respond and simply stammered a puny response. ‘Yes, Miss Lambush, I understand.’
Her explosive outburst concluded, the strident teacher bade good day to Cybil, nodded sharply at Cyril, and departed the shop.
‘Well I never,’ said a bemused Cyril. ‘What did you make of that?’
‘I don’t know. I really don’t know,’ said Cybil, her grey eyes turning a watery blue as she looked upon her beloved and stunned paramour.
‘She seems in a right old funny mood!’
Thoughts of Verity Lambush soon vanished though as the two lovebirds spoke of other things, including their forthcoming date. Not even an old school mistress could halt the progress of love.
Cyril leant in close and kissed Cybil. When they parted they gazed longingly into each other eyes. A smile crossed Cybil’s face as a frown creased Cyril’s brow.
‘Your eyes are grey just like the old dragons!’ He said.
She smiled at touched his face. ‘And yours are like the ocean. You’d better be off before that sergeant of yours wonders where you are.’
Cyril turned to leave just as Ruth Crabtree walked in.
Updike stopped, took his pen out of his police notepad and wrote upon it. He couldn’t string words together in the way Cybil did but he was pleased with the result. He folded the paper in half, walked up to the counter, smiled again at Cybil, pushed the note into her hand and then strode out of the shop.
To my Darling Squiggly Buttons …
Buckets of flowers
Pockets of dust
I need your love to fix my rust.
Daydreams and moonbeams
and pastry crust
when I think of you
my pants combust.
With all my love,