Breaking Faith is published as a paperback and an ebook. I'm posting individual chapters here, each week, so that anyone who wishes can read the book in full and free of charge.
If you missed the start, here's the link: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January, following chapters appear each Friday and can be found via the archive.
Read, enjoy, invite your friends.
Friday 12th March
‘Can’t understand it, Old Hodge; lass ‘as been eating my dinners for a month or more and she’s not put an ounce on. If owt, she’s getting thinner.’
Old Hodge looked up from his steaming mug of tea and assessed me before he turned to her and replied. ‘Ma, for a wise old woman, you’re lacking in summat if you can’t see what’s blindingly obvious.’
She said nothing, knowing he would explain.
‘Where’s this lovely lass live?’
Ma nodded. ‘‘Course, every day she walks four mile here and four mile back across them fields and fells.’
Nothing much had changed in the weeks since that first night. My routine at home was just the same but, since starting work at Longhouse, I was happier than I had ever been, in spite of the tiredness.
I came out of my reverie to find Old Hodge and Ma looking at me as if they expected me to say something.
‘Your father has your supper ready when you get home, o’course?’ Ma’s question was phrased in such a way I could not tell whether she was being sarcastic.
‘Oh aye, bound to, a good Christian gentleman like ‘im. He’ll like as not have a nice warm bath ready and your slippers warming by the fire.’ Old Hodge, however, made it patently obvious by his tone what he thought of Father.
‘And there’ll be no question of you nursing that lump o’ dead meat that’s your sister.’
‘Leave Hope out of this, both of you.’
‘Am I daft, Old Hodge, that I never thought on it?’
‘Nay, Ma. Soft in t’ead, perhaps, but I’d not go as far as daft.’
‘You’re a comfort and no mistake.’
I took the mug of tea Ma offered me and dunked a chocolate digestive in it. ‘The way that terrible old man insults you, Ma.’
‘I know. Things you ‘ave to put up with when you’re married.’
‘Perhaps you should leave him?’
‘He’d only starve without me. That, or more likely find some pretty young wench willing to share his bed and send him on his way before his time.’
I smiled through my blush. The colour deepened when Old Hodge leant forward and whispered in my ear, loud enough for Ma to hear. ‘You’d teck care on a wise old man, Faith, wouldn’t you? You’d not let me pine away for lack of affection, I know.’
I had changed so much in those weeks that I laughed and pushed him softly away with my palm over his face. ‘You’re wicked, Old Hodge. You’ll never get to Heaven.’
‘Happen I’m not off there anyroad. T’other place sounds warmer and more interestin’. All them ‘arps an’ singing’s not for me.’
‘Old Hodge!’ I almost quoted the Bible at him but stopped myself: things that were Father’s entire life impressed no one at Longhouse.
‘You go too far! Faith’s still got beliefs, even if you haven’t. Wicked man. Finish that tea and get back outdoors to that garden where you belong.’
Old Hodge grinned at his wife and winked at me. Unable to condemn him, I responded with a rueful smile.
‘Look, that’s no good at all, Faith. How am I supposed to keep him under control if you undermine all my efforts?’
‘Him, under control?’
We turned at Abby’s remark. She had come in unnoticed and smiled at our surprise. ‘Old Hodge has only ever been controlled by Old Hodge. And always will be.’
The old man made a great play of crossing to where Abby waited. They embraced in a way that made me turn away, scandalized.
Ma laughed delightedly at them, however. ‘That’ll cost you tonight, Old Hodge. And if you think you’re getting a cuppa after that, you brazen hussy, you can think again.’
They parted and pretended shame until Ma gave in.
‘Get out to your flowers and trees, you wicked old man.’ And she poured a cup of tea for Abby.
‘Any idea when Leigh’s due back?’ Abby sat beside me at the scrubbed kitchen table and stretched long legs out of pink hot-pants onto a spare chair. Old Hodge made a great play of sneaking a look at her shapely limbs, whistled in admiration and then ducked out through the utility room before Ma could chuck her last bit of biscuit at him.
‘He expected to finish at the factory about two, so he’d be due back about half an hour ago, but he said he might drop into Jessop’s on the way back for some film.’
‘I thought it was your job to order stock? Why’s he having to go into a shop?’
‘It was something we don’t normally keep.’
‘And he has to have it in such a hurry that he thinks it’s all right to be late back for my session?’
‘As far as I know, Abby, it’s for your session.
She managed to flounce without standing. ‘He’ll be late and then we won’t have time to do everything.’
‘I shouldn’t worry, I’m sure Leigh’ll give you all the attention you want, both in front of the camera and afterwards.’
‘Not jealous, are we?’
‘Of course I’m not jealous!’ But I felt my colour rise and I wondered why.
‘He’s not going to ask you to pose for him, or screw you, till you’ve got some meat on your bones, sweetie. If you want Leigh to notice you, and you do, you’ll have to develop some curves to show you’re a woman. He’s not going to notice a bag of bones in dead women’s cast-offs.’
‘That’s enough, Abby. You know Faith’s no …’
‘It’s all right, Ma. I don’t care about the opinion of a … a tart like her.’
‘Tart, fart. Your problem, sweetie, is your fanny’s too tight.’
‘Rather that than be open to any man willing to expose his penis.’ I had recently learned the word, after asking Leigh when I was trying to describe something Mervin had done to upset me. I had to ask Leigh because Father had censored my encyclopaedia and dictionary.
Abby cringed for an instant. ‘Cow! I’m not sleeping with anyone but Leigh, and you know it.’
‘For now. But I saw you with that rep the other day. I wonder how long he’d have kept his trousers on if Leigh hadn’t been home.’
‘Bitch! At least I know what mine’s for. You want to get with it, Fay. You’re so square you’d slot into a cardboard box.’
‘Just because you’ve burnt your bra and allow your breasts their freedom, Abby, it doesn’t mean your mind’s liberated.’ I was learning more every day by reading Leigh’s newspaper and listening to the radio in the kitchen. Two new and fascinating experiences.
‘At least my bra’s worth setting on fire. Yours wouldn’t warm a saucer of milk for the cat, even if you piled them all up and set fire to the lot. I’ve got tits. See? These are tits, Fay. All you’ve got is a pair of advanced boils. Tits look like this.’
‘And very nice they are, too. But I’m not sure Faith’s impressed.’
We turned at Leigh’s words, Ma shaking her head in despair, me just grateful for somewhere to look after Abby’s display. But Abby simply untucked the rest of her blouse and whipped it off, the better to show Leigh.
‘Lovely. But you might like to ditch the hot pants if we’re having a full on shoot. You know I can’t have marks on your skin.’
Abby stripped quickly and checked for impressions left by her clothes. A faint dimpled line circled her hips, marking the place where the hot pants had made contact. She wore nothing else, so there were no other marks on her perfect skin. ‘It’ll soon go.’
Ma humphed at her and turned to Leigh. ‘Have you eaten, Lad?’
‘I’m fine, Ma. Grabbed a bite in the Directors’ canteen. They like to call it their restaurant but it’s nowt more than a glorified canteen. Food’s not a patch on yours, but not too bad for a factory.’
‘How did the job go, Leigh?’
‘Fine, thanks. Take the films up for Merv, will you, and tell him I need the proofs by tomorrow afternoon, so he’d best get them deved now.’
Being, as Leigh put it, out in the sticks, he had to show he was up to speed with everything so he tended to do jobs in less time than most of his competitors. It seemed to work; most of the businesses came back for more once Leigh had done a job for them, anyway.
I left the kitchen for the office, grateful to get away from Abby’s display but reluctant to visit Merv’s den. I opened the aluminium case on Leigh’s desk and took the films from the compartment. Poking my head round the kitchen door, I found Abby wrapped around Leigh as Ma made a fresh pot of tea. ‘Not left a part film in the ‘Blad, have you, Leigh?’
‘Do I ever? Should be five, love.’
I left for the studio, my lips tight and my body still set with anger at Abby’s words and actions. Empty and silent, the huge room continued to impress me. With no sun, soft grey skylight filtered through the windows. I wheeled a standard spot from the centre of the floor to the wall, its small rubber wheels rumbling along the wooden boards. I was determined to keep the place tidy.
In the darkroom, Merv was at the enlarger, masking a shot of a hand holding a spanner. I could now recognize such things in negatives. The shot was for the cover of a tool catalogue Leigh was doing for a manufacturer in a city to the south.
‘What you want, Stick?’
At least he no longer habitually used that other word for me. I could put up with his insulting nickname. I put the films on the dry bench. ‘Leigh wants you to dev these today and print them ready for tomorrow afternoon.’
‘An’ I want to shove this up you, but you’re scared of it, aren’t you, Stick?’
The gloom of the orange safety lamp hid my outrage. He liked to make me blush. In spite of myself, my eyes wandered to the object of his insult, its head barely peeping from the fist he had curled round it.
The first time he had shown me it, I had been shocked. Later I had seen Leigh without his clothes for the first time. I found Leigh as fascinating as Mervyn was repulsive and wondered why I should feel this difference.
‘Staring, eh? Interested? Must want it up.’
His insinuation inflamed my annoyance more because his words highlighted my guilty contemplation of Leigh than because of what he said.
‘Leigh warned you not to talk to me like…’
‘You tell ‘im an’ I’ll fuck you till you split and bleed…’
‘I tell him, Mervyn and you’re out of work. Think about that.’ And I left before either of us could say more.
Churning over the experience and frightened and disgusted by his threat to hurt me in that way, I went down the ladder to the studio floor, arriving just as Leigh entered with Abby. I could not avoid the comparison: Leigh was larger, limp, than Mervyn, erect. I looked up into Leigh’s face and raised my eyebrows in question, not really wanting to be there whilst the pair of them cavorted in their skins. I still found Leigh’s nakedness in the studio disturbing and embarrassing, even though it was Abby who demanded it.
‘Just whilst we get set up. Once you’ve helped me arrange the lighting and background, you can run off back to the safety of the office.’ He said it with a hint of condescension that had me bristling.
Tight lipped, angry because of Mervyn’s threat, Abby’s scathing display and Leigh’s implied criticism, I pulled spots, floods and reflectors away from the walls into the centre of the room. I dropped the white background paper down, pulling it along to the foot of the tripod and folding the soiled section underneath. The small mat and stool I plonked close to the edge. Abby sat on the stool and imperiously held out her hand for a towel to wipe dust from the soles of her feet before she stepped onto the pristine surface.
Leigh set up the Hasselblad and took the light meter from his case, before he, too, wiped his feet and walked up to Abby.
I watched her pose, thrusting her hips forwards in an effort to reach his as he stood before her. ‘Am I lighting you for pornography or are you going to skip the photography and go straight to the sex?’ I don’t know what made me say it.
Abby gasped and stood up straight. Leigh turned slowly to face me. I knew I had upset him, but I was angry and I felt confused by some emotion inside me that I could not identify but that made me resent Abby’s behaviour with Leigh. Her comment about jealousy still rankled and that made me angrier with her and myself.
‘The issue of sex is between Abby and I. As for pornography, you know I don’t hold with it.’
I recognized the warning in his voice but I was boiling inside with feelings repressed for too long. ‘I wonder why you engage in it so often, if you dislike it so much.’
Abby watched with her hands clutched together and her mouth agape. Leigh gripped the light meter tightly and shook it at me. ‘I don’t know what this is about, Faith, but I advise you to cut it out.’
‘Advise away. It won’t alter the fact that you take pornographic pictures and try to pass them off as something you call art. Anyone with half an eye can see it’s just an excuse to get women to take off their clothes in front of you and make promises with their bodies. Art! It’s sex. That’s all it is. Sex.’
‘There’s nowt wrong with sex. But what I do with my camera isn’t connected with sex in that way. My pictures of women celebrate their beauty.’
His measured tone should have warned me. This mood was a step away from temper. But I had to say what had been building in me for weeks as I learned more facts and more language than I had ever encountered under Father’s narrow tutelage. ‘Celebration? Women showing all they’ve got to all and sundry? It’s exploitation and you know it. No matter how you wrap it up, no matter how you describe it, Leigh, it all comes down to pornography in the end. I just wish you’d be more honest about it, that’s all.’
Leigh must have been doubly insulted, hearing his own words re-arranged and thrown back at him by the pupil he had so recently tried to teach about art and morality.
Abby was almost as cross as Leigh but remained sensibly dumb. Leigh took a step forward and stopped, his control plain in the tense muscles of his whole body. His voice dropped almost to a whisper. ‘If you feel like that, Faith, you’d better leave now. Go!’
‘With pleasure.’ I turned and strode from the studio, my footsteps echoing and hollow. At the door I turned. ‘Will you post my P45 or should I come back for it?’
‘I’ll post the bloody thing, if that’s how you feel.’
I glared at him for a long moment before I turned away. In the office, I gathered my things together, put on my coat and shoes and left at once. I did not tidy up, fearing Leigh might come in and say something else.
Even before I reached the gate, I wondered if he had really meant I was sacked. Had he just expected me to leave the studio? It was too late now. It was done.
I set off down the damp cold lane for the cottage, to face scorn, anger and the well-deserved shame and pain of punishment from Father for losing my job by voicing my own ill-informed opinions.
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