Wish Her Safe at Home

Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar

Book: Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar Read Free Book Online
Authors: Stephen Benatar
Tags: Fiction, Literary
original. And the fireplace. Right here he might have stood, surely did stand, arms resting on the mantel as mine now did, one polished boot upon the andiron, eyes staring dreamily into the mesmerizing, picture-making flames
.
He had been twenty-one when first he came to this house. I saw the back of his tilted head, its thick healthily gleaming hair, his broad shoulders and narrow waist, the long sturdy legs, the shining leather boots. I imagined, underneath the fitted coat, the play of muscle down that lean back.
    Or in 1781 would the fashion still have been for periwigs and shoes? I wasn’t sure. Yet details such as this could very easily be checked.
    And whilst cracking the shell on my breakfast egg, I had known the chances were good he must often have eaten a boiled egg. His bread would have been coarser, his coffee from perhaps a different bean, but the taste of a softly boiled egg (mine was free-range, very fresh) must have been the same then as it was now.
    So with practically everything I did I was preparing myself to see things and feel things—taste, smell, touch and hear them—as nearly as I could in the manner that
he
might have done. I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t just an exercise. Time travel, I decided, cried out to become a regular pastime. I should campaign for it. “Infinitely more liberating,” I would call from the rooftops, “than all this nonsense about the burning of your bras!”
    It was almost twelve when I left home—though not to scale the rooftops. I had a short list of household things I had to buy. But first I went into a stationer’s.
    There I looked at the ledgers, the account books, the minute books. How beautifully bound they were, how exquisitely tooled! None of the plain exercise books (no, again, “exercise” seemed
completely
wrong) came anywhere near the same standard. Yet there was one, the most expensive, which certainly gave off a nice feel. But was it thick enough? And weren’t the lines a shade too close? I replaced it with reluctance. It had to be just right.
    I went to Smith’s. Once more I hesitated. I made a whistle-stop tour of the city. In the restaurant of a department store I ate a ham salad with a piece of French bread, drank a glass of orange juice, and reviewed the possibilities. In the end I went back to my starting point and bought the volume I had liked originally.
    With that decision taken—no, with the book actually bought—I felt a great deal better.
    It was a less agonizing matter, marginally, to find the best writing implement. I had thought about a dip pen, being the closest thing to a quill, but memories of how the nibs had so often scratched lumps out of my books at school—and left unsightly and infuriating blobs—directed me towards the ballpoints. I already had several but for this enterprise I wanted something new. And more costly.
    I also bought a giant pad of scribbling paper—and a notebook for my handbag.
    Then I went to the library, took out a book on Bath and one on Bristol, another on eighteenth-century social history and a fourth on costume. I was glad the woman with the glasses wasn’t there.
    As I returned home, feeling thoroughly well satisfied with my purchases and borrowings, a light rain was falling. This was unimportant. The gardens would be refreshed and perhaps there’d be a rainbow. En route I popped into the grocer’s, bought quickly and extravagantly, without my usual comparison of quantities and prices, and didn’t even stop to count my change. When the assistant at the cheese counter complained about the weather I replied, “But aren’t you aware, you naughty and ungrateful man, that where you see clouds upon the hills you soon will see crowds of daffodils?” and even though we were nearer August than April I thought it seemed a jaunty, wise and almost witty thing to say, and indicative too of the springtime which had belatedly come tripping into my own heart. And the man said, “You’re spot on,

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