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Friday, 7 September 2012

Read Breaking Faith, Free: Chapter 34


Not been reading Breaking Faith?  The reviews under the 'My Books' tab might persuade you to give it a try.

To those still taking the journey, ‘Enjoy the ride.’

I posted Chapter 1 on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have featured here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number. If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html

Read, enjoy, invite your friends along. As an author, I want people to read my writing; simple as that.

Chapter 34

Monday 12th July

‘What were you up to so late, Faith?’
‘She was tidying up for me after you lot abandoned your mess and went to bed.’ Ma shook her head at him and smiled at me. ‘My treasure.’
‘Aye, it’s a shame you don’t give Faith more of your attention than that young trollop you’re allus abed with. She’ll harm you, Leigh, mark my words.’
Ma and Old Hodge often warned Leigh of the dangers in his relationship with Netta. I viewed her as an obstacle, a barrier between Leigh and me; one I couldn’t surmount. That she was my sister made my attitude ambivalent. Leigh pretended to shrug off their concerns.
I’d never noted any resentment in him over anything Ma and Old Hodge suggested, but it was creeping in over their attitude to Netta. I could sense a row developing if they didn’t sit down and discuss the issue properly. I left the kitchen to escape the slowly building storm and set about catching up on the work I’d left the previous day because of the party.
It was hard to believe my youngest sister was only eighteen. She always seemed so much older, except, of course, for her capricious nature and selfish responses to Leigh’s needs and actions. I assumed the sex she gave must be far more generous than the rest of her actions.
Leigh wandered through with a cup of coffee and a slice of toast and glanced at the diary.
‘Nothing today, Leigh. Carlisle tomorrow and Bradford on Thursday. I’ll catch up on some printing this afternoon and tomorrow whilst you’re out. Thursday I must do the invoices and accounts.’
‘I don’t deserve you, Faith. You’re far too good for me.’ He left for the studio before I could respond.
Toward midday, Netta sauntered into the room. ‘Where is he?’
‘In the studio. That set of spanners and feeler gauges, you know?’
She nodded but I doubted she knew. She had no interest at all in Leigh’s real work, only in what he did with his camera when she was in front of it. She wandered aimlessly about the office, distracting me by picking up various bits and pieces and idly putting them down in the wrong place. She’d just picked up a small white slip-cast female torso that Leigh had once warned me never to damage, when he returned looking a little harassed.
‘Where’s my incident cone for the Weston, Faith? Oh, up at last?’ He noticed what she was handling. ‘Please put that down, Netta. Drop it and you’re in serious bother.’
‘It’s where it always is when it’s not on the meter. Third drawer down, snuggled in its protective foam rubber coat.’
He opened the drawer, one eye still on Netta, and retrieved the small white cone from its place. ‘Put that back where you found it, Netta, please.’
She could never take a hint, or, rather, she was sufficiently contrary to allow her sense of bravado to overcome her common sense. She looked at the small piece in her hand, turned her mouth into a wicked smile and, without warning, tossed the figure across the desk in my direction. I glimpsed a look of horror on Leigh’s face and knew I must catch it or be equally blamed for its destruction. I rose swiftly from my seat, banging my hip painfully against the desk as I lunged forward in a desperate effort to catch the fragile hollow figure. My fingers closed around the white shape and clasped its contours firmly. I placed it gently onto the desk and only then reacted to the pain in my hip, rubbing at it and wincing.
Leigh’s face was thunder. ‘You stupid little cow! If you’d broken that …. Get out of my sight!’
I’d never seen him so angry. Netta knew she’d made a serious mistake. ‘Hit me, and I’ll be out of here so quick you’ll think I’ve got wings!’ But for all her bravado, her face was full of uncertainty and anxiety.
‘Out! Shift your selfish little arse from my sight before I …’ the tone of Leigh’s voice was frightening and, as he took a step toward her, she dashed from the office for the kitchen.
Leigh struggled for control and sat heavily on the chair I normally occupied, since I was in his leather one. He leant forward and took the small headless, limbless torso in his hand and held it. His anger seemed to give way to something close to grief.
For a long time he was silent and I let him be. At last, he was back in control and he looked up at me with sadness in his eyes. ‘I expect you think I was way o.t.t., Faith. I’m sorry if I alarmed you, but Netta deserved what she got. She ought to consider herself lucky she wasn’t within reach or I might well have tanned her backside. And I have never ever struck a woman.’ He stood as if he was about to leave.
‘I think you owe me an explanation, Leigh. I don’t think your behaviour was called for. Heacham might behave the way you threatened, but it’s hard for me to think of you being in any way like him. I think you should tell me what that was all about.’
He sat again, with the small female body sheltered in his hand and looked down at it for a while before he raised his face to mine. ‘Okay. But it’s not easy for me and you mustn’t interrupt.’ I was surprised and moved to see tears in the corners of his eyes. ‘You don’t really know much about me, do you, Faith?’
‘Very little.’
He stared at me for a while and then turned his gaze to the figurine and I watched his eyes soften with memory. ‘My mother was born here, in this house, but she married a man from Kent. I was born up here but they moved south shortly afterwards and spent most of their married lives down there. She always missed her home and we used to come up to stay in what became Uncle Fred’s house, at least twice a year. Mum’s brother was a lot older than her. He liked me even as a small child, we always got on, and I enjoyed my times at Longhouse.
‘When I was fourteen, we travelled up for what we expected to be our last family holiday in Yorkshire, or anywhere else for that matter. My dad smoked all his life and developed lung cancer. He was dying a slow cruel death before our eyes. I hated him for doing this to Mum and I was frightened of what would happen when he finally died. Every time he lit a cigarette, I had to leave the room; I couldn’t stand the look of utter desolation on Mum’s face as he inhaled the poison that was killing him.
‘Mum was an artist, you know. She painted those landscapes in the sitting room, the male nude on the landing and that portrait of herself in the library. She was a great believer in the study of the human body as a creative inspiration and teacher of lighting and form. Of course, she usually worked on the male; as a woman, she was aware of the sexual element inherent in figure studies. She was never precious or hypocritical about it.
‘Dad was a businessman and had difficulty understanding her creative urges but he was sensible enough to allow her her painting and her life classes.’
He paused and studied the torso in his hand for a moment, his eyes growing distant with memory and time. I waited, unwilling to break into his contemplation of the past and he rewarded my patience by continuing his story.
‘We’d taken a trip to West Bunton, had a short walk and were returning to the car. Dad couldn’t walk far without becoming exhausted, so we’d just been up to the waterfall and were crossing the village green to the road when I pointed out a small pottery to Mum. She loved such places and we went in, much to Dad’s disgust. He could only ever see any point in the utilitarian. Mum and I used to call him The Philistine but it was all good-natured, you know.
‘I was wandering amongst the shelves, looking at the display, when I came across this. The lines and contours, the clean feel of it, the simple beauty of the creation fascinated me. I’ve always loved women and I liked this in one sense because it detached me from the personal aspect; its anonymity allowed me to study the female form at fourteen without the embarrassment I would’ve felt looking at an identifiable individual woman.
‘Mum saw me and asked if I would like it. I was surprised she was in favour and then not at all surprised when I thought about it. Dad was dead against it but he wouldn’t argue in public. I took it to the counter and Mum took the small, hand-painted, earthenware jug she’d found. She refused to let me pay for this; it was a present, a memento of our holiday. Dad lurked at the back of the shop, eager to get back to the car.
‘The man, the potter if his clothes were anything to go by, took our money and was wrapping the two pieces in tissue when a young woman, eighteen or nineteen, I suppose, came into the shop from the studio behind. She was slender and pretty with gorgeous auburn hair down across her shoulders. She wore a tight cotton tee shirt covered in splashes of clay and colour. But, bearing in mind this was sixty-one and I was fourteen, it was her unsupported breasts, nipples prodding thin cotton, that held my gaze.
‘The man was wrapping the figure as she came through with her hands, coated in clay, held out before her and a wry smile on her face. She took no notice of me as she asked her dad to tie her apron as she’d forgotten, again, before plunging her hands into the clay.
‘Mum saw my fascination and wanted me to witness this beauty for longer. She greeted the girl and asked her, outright, if she’d modelled for the torso. She nodded, smiling and then looked at me for the first time. I was still captivated by those gorgeous breasts but I managed to raise my eyes and look into her pools of topaz. I saw humour, pleasure and understanding there, none of the condemnation, scorn or disdain I feared.
‘She grinned wickedly at me and turned so she was semi profile. Raising her near arm, pretending to pat her hair with the flat of her wrist, she displayed her shape to best advantage. I think it was that gesture and her obvious pride in her body that taught me it was okay to look at women, provided the look was open and admiring. I managed a smile of gratitude. She bent and whispered something in her father’s ear and he laughed and shook his head, gently tapping her denim clad bottom before prompting her back out of view. As she slipped through the doorway, she turned on the spot, just for me, and then disappeared into the depths of the studio. I’d been given an introduction to the exhibitionist that resides in many beautiful women, an introduction and a conviction that genuine admiration was welcome.
‘Mum made me a present of that figure and I sat holding it in the back of the car whilst Dad, hacking at almost every breath, drove us to Longhouse even though he was no longer fit to drive.
‘That evening, I ate with Uncle Fred as they went for a meal at a restaurant in Hawes. It was as they made their way back, along a single-track road with passing places, that they met a stupid murderous bastard, drunk and driving too fast the other way. They never stood a chance. They died in the car. He escaped without a scratch and was fined for dangerous driving and banned for a year. Justice. Of course, Dad should never have been driving anyway.’
He held the small figure for my inspection. ‘Mum’s last present to me, the day she died. Does that answer your question?’
All I could do was go round the desk and hug him awkwardly as he sat there. So many questions answered, so much more understood about him, so much easier to love him. ‘Thank you, Leigh. I’m so sorry.’
He carefully extricated himself from my embrace and stood, placed the figure back on the windowsill where it always stood, in full view of his desk. ‘Hip all right?’
I touched myself tentatively and winced.
‘Let’s have a gander.’
With no thought of the impropriety, I lifted my skirt to reveal the bruise already forming over my hip bone. Leigh very gently eased my knickers from the area and examined my skin for damage. He carefully released the fabric back into place.
‘Skin’s not broken but you’ll have a nasty bruise. You might be more comfortable with a different pair of pants so the elastic doesn’t press on the flesh, or none for the moment, if you can bear to be so exposed.’
I dropped my skirt and only then realized what I’d done. But there was nothing sexual in the exchange; I felt neither exploited nor exposed and I gave him a small smile of wry realization that made him grin and shake his head at me. I felt cherished and flattered that he’d recalled my injury after having recounted what must have been a very moving story for him; it certainly was for me. I kissed him in thanks and affection.
From the door, he blew me a kiss as he returned to the studio.
Alone, I followed his advice then continued with my morning’s work, glancing occasionally at the torso, and wondering whether I should explain his reaction to Netta.
I never did, though.


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