Home > An Ordinary Life(9)

An Ordinary Life(9)
Author: Amanda Prowse

‘You may joke, M, but I’m a stickler for getting the time right. It’s important when it goes so quickly.’

‘I guess so.’ She liked his quirkiness.

‘Actually, it will now be fifty-three minutes before I need to rendezvous with the car taking me back to . . .’

‘Back to where?’ Her question was automatic and they held each other’s eyeline.

‘Back to the coast from whence I have come.’ He gave a wry smile. ‘I often wonder if after the war we will all be so used to talking in code and withholding information that we might forget altogether how to speak plainly. Can you imagine: “Would you like a cup of that dark brew made from leaves freshly plucked from Assam?” – “My dear, you can just say the word ‘tea’ these days!”’

Molly laughed, the feeling like little bubbles of air floating up inside her. ‘“The coast” is vague enough, don’t worry. Although if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably a coast somewhere in the UK as you’re driving there.’

‘A clever deduction, Miss Marple, and, yes, you’re right. I’m going down to Devon.’

‘Devon!’ she laughed teasingly. ‘Come on, Johan, what on earth could be that important to the war effort in Devon?’

His smile made his top lip and thin moustache hitch up at one side. He was to her quite beautiful and yet again there was that fold of longing in her gut. ‘Now I really should not have said that, so keep mum.’

She drew a cross over her heart.

They both chuckled at the absurdity, leaning in so that their arms and hands were as close as could be. Their hips and thighs bumped as they strolled, sending electrifying pulses of desire coursing through her body.

‘I hope Geer doesn’t think we’re frightful, not asking her along.’ She thought suddenly of her dear friend with the tiniest pulse of guilt.

‘She’ll understand. And I really don’t want to waste our’ – he again looked at his watch – ‘fifty-one minutes talking about my sister.’

‘So what do you want to talk about?’ she asked as they headed towards Horse Guards Parade.

Johan placed his free hand over the one he had captured under his arm, his tone level. ‘I want to talk about you, Marvellous Molly. I want to say that you have been in my thoughts, and I wanted nothing more than to tell you that and to see you in the flesh, just to make sure.’

‘To make sure of what?’ she asked, unable to wipe the smile from her face as his thoughts echoed her own. There was something quite incredible about the thought of her feelings being reciprocated.

‘To make sure that you really did make me feel how I remembered and to make sure your eyes actually are this big and your face just . . .’ He shook his head and looked away, as if it was all a little too much.

‘Just what?’ She swallowed, her mouth a little dry.

‘I like how smart you are, M, how direct. You’re not coy or false. You seem steady and . . . as I say, I just wanted to make sure.’

‘And was your first assessment correct?’ she teased. ‘Have you made sure?’

‘Yes, I have.’ He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. ‘We have so little time, so let’s get down to it. Questions,’ he bellowed. ‘I have so many questions!’ He spun in a circle on the pavement, as if dizzy with all the things he wanted to ask.

‘You can ask me anything!’ she breathed as they slowed their pace.

‘Right.’ Johan bit his bottom lip and seemed to consider where to start. ‘Your parents. Tell me about your parents.’

‘Well, Papa was a bank manager before enlisting and becoming Major Lindsey Arthur Collway. He died when I was very small. He was badly wounded in the war, suffered terribly, and never truly recovered. I didn’t know what he was like before, but in my mind I steal the memories told me by my big brother, David, and my sister, Joyce, and I make them my own. It helps.’

Her brother had told her often how their father would sit in a chair by the fire in his study, his face animated, eyes bright, moustache twitching to conceal laughter, foot tapping on the rug, as David and little Joycey gathered around his feet in the parlour. Their mother rapt – a plain woman ordinarily and yet on these occasions, by all accounts, quite beautiful in the candlelight. Her hands, consciously or not, would clasp over her heart as if to witness such joy and tenderness in her own home between those she loved was almost more than she could bear.

Molly’s own memories were very different, with her father a shadowy figure resting upstairs. A world away from the man who before her birth had penned poems and ditties for his older children, always far funnier in the telling than when she read them alone as an adult. One memory came to her now, of one Christmas when she was no more than five or six. With her father asleep upstairs, a tree had been decadently festooned with pom-poms, which she and her older sister Joyce had made in a variety of colours, as well as old family baubles depicting Nativity scenes. These were made of the thinnest glass that splintered almost to nothing if dropped, leaving piles of glittery Christmas dust on the wooden floors. It would fall between the cracks of the floorboards and David, her big brother, would whisper to her that it meant a little bit of Christmas magic lurked in that room for the rest of the year. She had loved this idea.

Molly also pictured herself ripping the brown wrapping paper from her present to reveal a china-faced baby doll with rosy red cheeks – and how happy and excited she had been at the sight of it. Her mum had been smiling, her sister Joyce similarly engrossed in freeing her own gift, a doll with long hair. Joyce, however, had rather frivolously tossed the wrapping paper in the air, from where it had landed over their mother’s face. Molly and her siblings had held their breath. Christmas for one beat was sucked out of the room and replaced with nervous apprehension as to how their mother might react. She had sat very still on an old embroidered nursing chair that lived in the corner of the room and pushed the paper to the top of her head before pulling a funny face that sent David into gales of laughter. Taking his cue, she and Joyce had joined in and, just like that, the festive spirit was back. It had been the very best day she could wish for. She smiled now at the memory.

Her brother’s glorious descriptions of their father were immensely precious to her and so detailed that time had helped fuse his stories with her dearest wishes and Molly had almost convinced herself that she had been present for all of them.

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