Some Old Lover's Ghost

Some Old Lover's Ghost by Judith Lennox

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Authors: Judith Lennox
relief. I was sorry that poor Jane had flu, but delighted to escape London. The events of the previous night – the recollection of the expression in Patrick Franklin’s eyes as he had looked down at me, kneeling on the cloakroom floor, prawns in hand – made me squirm with embarrassment. I knew that he must think me mad, and I minded that he should think a madwoman was writing his illustrious grandmother’s biography.
    So I enjoyed the drive out of London and into the countryside. The sky was a clear, pale blue, and the brown earth in the fields was hazed with green where the new wheat had begun to show. I reached Jane’s house by eleven. She lives in a tiny thatched cottage, surrounded by a pretty garden where cabbages nestle beside hollyhocks, and runner beans climb the same trellis as a rambling rose. I can never help but compare her cottage with my drab little flat.
    Jane was stuffing grubby cot sheets into the washing machine when I arrived. She looked dreadful, so I sent her to bed. Both Jack and Lawrie had been ill the previous week, and were still runny-nosed and coughing. I made them lunch, most of which ended up on the table or the floor, then I wrapped them up in jackets and woolly hats and gloves and took them out for a walk. On the way home, they both began to complain of hunger, so, with a few guilty pangs about balanced diets, I bought Milky Ways from the shop.
    Then I attacked the vast heap of ironing, made up Lawrie’s cot, and began to mop up the mud left by the boys’ wellies in the hallway. While I was cleaning the floor, Jack decidedto help himself to a drink of orange juice from the fridge. I heard the crash and yell as the bottle slipped out of his hands onto the tiles. I dashed into the kitchen, grabbed Jack, who was barefoot, and sat him howling on the kitchen table while I set about picking up fragments of glass. From the doorway, Lawrie told me tearfully that he’d lost Boffy, his toy rabbit. Then the phone rang. I could feel myself breaking out into a hot sweat. I answered the phone (double glazing, of course) before it could wake Jane, carried both weeping boys into the living room, and switched on the TV. Pingu , thank God. I wanted to flake out with a stiff gin, but there was still the broken glass and the mud and Boffy to be found, and the boys’ tea-time in half an hour. And bath-time, of course. I discovered Boffy stuffed down the back of a radiator, and then I crawled all over the kitchen floor, squinting, terrified I’d overlook a splinter of glass. Then I shoved some fish fingers under the grill and suddenly remembered poor Jane, who hadn’t had as much as a cup of tea since eleven o’clock that morning. She was asleep, but by the time I came downstairs smoke was belching from the grill. That set the smoke alarm off, so I had to leap around, flapping open doors and windows. Pingu finished, and the boys stood in the doorway, thumbs in mouths, mesmerized by the sight of their aunt standing at the back door in the rain, scraping black gobbets from grill pan to dustbin.
    Much, much later, I collapsed on the living-room sofa, a mug of tea in one hand, laptop in the other. I was due to see Tilda again in a couple of days, and I hadn’t yet finished writing up my notes from my last visit. I stared at the blank screen, and saw only charred fish fingers and shards of broken glass. Then I heard crying. I dumped my laptop on the floor and ran upstairs.
    Lawrie had been sick in his cot; the Milky Way had not been a good idea. I picked him up and tried to comfort him; his howls set off Jack in the next bed, who began to yell in sympathy. I was trying one-handedly to strip the cot whilst cuddling Lawrie and calming Jack, when, to my immense relief, Jane appeared in the doorway. She patted Jack’s head and told him firmly to go back to sleep, and then she peeled off Lawrie’s sodden sleepsuit and pyjamas while Istripped the cot. Lawrie’s clothes, the bedding and, disastrously, Boffy, had

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