When she left home Briony hadn’t meant to leave so – well, quite so permanently. She went to the shop to buy a cabbage. A medium sized drumhead was what she had in mind, although in fairness there was an option for cauliflower. Dinner was beef, already in the cooker, rich and redolent, herby and delicious. Beef, Beef in beer for Dick and to go with it mashed potatoes and cabbage. His favourite.
She dragged the door closed behind her, waved to Mr Loveridge who was pruning the roses and picked up some litter from the path. Two Coca Cola cans and a nasty fast food tray holding a glutinous and disgusting film of orange sauce, now mixed with dust and detritus from the pavement. She lifted this using her finger ends, deposited it into the dustbin; general not recycling, and then wiped her hands on an antiseptic hand wipe which came from a little plastic pouch in her handbag. She knew that her lip was curling and made a conscious effort to force her face back into its normal, neutral expression. Dick didn’t like her pulling faces. She never pulled faces. He disliked her crinkling her nose when there was a funny smell and he disliked her throwing her head back and opening her mouth loud in laughter. She didn’t do that anymore either.
She turned left at the gate and stepped determinedly forward past the Smiths, the Partridges and the Collins’. She glanced sideways at the last garden and sniffed as she noted that they still hadn’t moved the old television box. It had been there two weeks now. Lazy and messy, that was what Dick called them, the Collinses were not the right sort for this neighbourhood. They were “Chavs”.
She turned into the High Road. Mr Collins was heading towards her, his dog straining at the leash, panting and drooling. She might mention the box, it was cardboard; it was going to rain. She could point out that it would be more difficult to move once it was sodden and falling apart. She painted a smile on her face. A small smile. The sort of smile that could be taken for simple recognition if, at the end, she decided not to speak, a mediocre sort of a smile, uncommitted.
“Mornin’ darlin’. Y’alright?”
“Ah, Mr Collins. How are you? Lovely day isn’t it?”
“Aye lovely. You off to the shops?”
“Yes, the shops. A cabbage.”
“Ah Mr Collins, I wonder if I could just have a quick word.” Her heart was jumping now and she could feel her hands beginning to tremble.
“A word love?”
“Erm yes, it’s a bit delicate.”
“Oh. Now look, before we go any further, there’s no proof. I told Marie, don’t you be goin’ an’ pokin’ yer nose in – not wivvout proof.”
“Proof? I – erm.”
“She might have been anybody. Okay I know it probly looks a bit odd but you know just because she were wearin’ them “F” me boots – ‘s’cuse my French and all, an’ just because she wuss getting’ out of yer hubby’s car – it don’t mean nuthin’. I’ll give bloody Marie a talkin’ to I will. When did she tell ya?”
“Erm, I didn’t – well she didn’t. I mean I haven’t seen Marie.”
“Oh, oh bugger. Oh shit – sorry – ‘s’cuse my language. Look tek no notice. It were probably a mistake.”
“Mr Collins. What are you saying?”
“Nuthin’ none of my business, nuthin’ to do wiv me, nothin’ to do wiv us.” And he scuttled off in the direction of his house dragging the panting, drooling dog behind him.
Briony carried on walking, calmly. Her brain flipped into overload, her stomach roiled and her eyes flooded with tears. So, he had been seen, Dick with his floozy, with one of his bits of fluff, he had been seen. Well, it had to happen sometime and now it had. His great flash car, his great flash bulk in his slick suits and his silk ties.
She had known for months, had seen them herself and had held the knowledge close. She reached the greengrocers, she looked at the cabbage. In her mind she saw his wet, red lips curling around the dark juices of the beef casserole and around the dark nipples of the call girls. Briony carried on walking, away, just walking.