Here’s the second excerpt of my new novel, Plaster Scene, which will be launched anon. The first passage was published as a blog post yesterday and you can read it here.
Today, we’re introduced to Henry and Claudia Siddington.
In the life of every man, there comes a time when one must leave the safe, quiet sanctuary of one’s own reverie and unexpectedly be required to do one’s duty. This moment had come for Henry Siddington, an hour earlier, whilst sitting in his garden holding a gin and tonic. At the point when he decided to pour himself a drink, the concoction of an unspoilt blue sky, a comfy chair and his wife busy doing something, somewhere else, was too much to pass up. He collapsed into the chair and almost instantly closed his eyes. On days like this, he thought to himself, it was hard to find any fault with the world. As he became more relaxed his attention drifted inwards, he began to feel the warmth of the sun on his eyelids, the gentle breeze that would blow over the fence every now and again, and the refreshing taste of the alcohol as it hit the back of his mouth.
That afternoon the weather had blossomed into one of those days that was so easy to remember when you were a child. The sunlight was causing the surface of the pond to glisten like a pool of gold, the bees were dancing amongst the flowers in the borders, and the delicate sound of a starling could be heard whispering sonnets to its companion. As he sat on the decking, by the new gazebo, he was able to look out over his entire kingdom. His house was one of the largest on a street of large houses and the garden was of a good size, but Henry had never really been a gardener. He would occasionally pick out a tray of perennials at the garden centre but his enjoyment would mainly come from simply sitting where he was and relaxing. The house had originally been his parents and, as soon as it was vacant, Henry’s wife had insisted that they immediately move in.
Henry had spent his whole working life as a Civil Servant and, surprisingly, it had not filled him with the passion and excitement which he had once hoped for. When he was at school he would dream of leading armies across the Amazon, or hot-air ballooning across the Atlantic, or travelling the world with a circus but instead, he had been shown the well-trodden path of the common man. Through the years he had been whittled down like a piece of wood until he had finally lost any sense of individuality. By the end, a peaceful retirement had been his sole focus and so, as he turned fifty-five, he accepted their kind offer to leave and gratefully received his public pension.
The day he left should have been one of the most momentous days of his life but instead it followed the same depressing path that the rest of it had. His train was late, his manager was on holiday, and his colleagues had bought him a gold-plated garden trowel. That night he travelled home, using the same route he had used for over thirty years but this time he was mugged, and only managed to stop them damaging his face by offering up the trowel.
He had always been a small man, in both height and build, and had given up the hope of ever changing that around the same time as he had given up the dream of tackling the Amazon. He had never had a high impression of himself but lately his features had sagged so much that he looked permanently miserable, which was handy because he was for most of the time. When he was in the prime of his life he had never been that successful with the opposite sex. Of course, he had managed to have a couple of fleeting romances, which he would fondly remember every now and again, but he would never have described himself as a catch. However, even from such uninspiring beginnings, something had happened to him between then and now that had made things altogether worse. It was possibly the great mystery they call ‘age’ or maybe the equally unfathomable mystery called Claudia. Ever since meeting this force of nature, who later became his wife, he had predictably slumped into the role which she had always prepared him for. When he had first met her she appeared to be vivacious, but now the sandpaper of marriage had revealed under the surface that it was actually just violence.
The sun, however, has the ability to make everything seem better and, for once, Henry was almost happy. He had been speculating upon the upcoming presidential elections for the Bidley Moor Golf Club. His own popularity amongst his fellow members from the said club was this particular field of speculation. He had just come to the conclusion that if a vote were cast, then it would be touch and go which way they would side.
The President of the Golf Club was the highest honour that could be awarded, and the esteemed recipient of such an honour could expect to hold this title for four years. The usual privileges went with this position; not only a special tie and priority parking space, but also the overruling vote on any decisions made in his tenure. After the four years were up, the previous President would enjoy special consideration from then on and be treated with the respect that Henry Siddington had always felt he had been cheated of. It was this benefit which was the real attraction for Henry, not the compulsory four years worth of having to turn up to every committee meeting and be expected to have an opinion about everything. Between his career and his wife he had managed to completely amputate any decision-making ability that he once had.
He began to gradually drift away into a post-lunch slumber when suddenly the phone rang.
‘Oh, bollocks,’ he muttered to himself as he jumped in his chair, spilling his drink in the process.
‘What?’ he said aggressively, after he shuffled inside the house to answer it.
‘What?’ he said with surprise.
‘When?’ he said with urgency.
‘Where?’ he said picking up a pen.
‘Wight, sorry, I mean right,’ and with that he slammed the phone back down on the receiver.
He returned to the gazebo and sighed as he mournfully gazed down at his gin and tonic. It had been the Upper Greenmount Hospital who had called to tell him that his Aunt Celia had been rushed to their Intensive Care Ward. She had been admitted following a complaint of sudden chest pains and was not expected to last through the night.
A man of Henry’s superior intellect does not dawdle on information like this for long. In the time it would take normal men to have hung up the receiver and process the shocking news, he had managed to get all the way to the greenhouses at the bottom of the garden and shout for his wife to come quick. He could never find her once she was beyond the bottom shed and this was usually an advantage. But, this time he had to flush her out, so he stood at the front, hollered her name, and then waited like a fox trying to catch a mole from one of three molehills.
Eventually, she appeared out of the middle one looking like a cross between Delia Smith and Dr Livingstone, wearing a floral dress accessorised with knee pads and a Pith helmet. Claudia would have been beautiful if she had been given a different face, but instead she looked like a retired wrestler. She was a big-boned woman with biceps that would rival any docker, and had once won a debating competition at Oxford by knocking out her opponent, the captain of the Rowing team, with one carefully aimed right hook. A move that soon saw her relegated from the Debating Society and passed on to the All Woman Arm Wrestling Team. She was just under six feet tall, weighed an impressive 120 kilos, and looked like a cross between a Samoan and Thor.
Until next time…