Why read Breaking Faith? Try the reviews under the 'My Books' tab, they might explain.
Still along for 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. I’m an author; I want people to read my writing, simple as that.
Saturday 21st August
Saturday brought blazing sunshine yet again and I found myself at odds with everything; sunshine wasn’t what I needed. If the sky would only weep, perhaps I might find my own tears and begin to wash away my grief.
Netta had done with what sympathy she felt for my loss after a couple of days. She sauntered through the kitchen on her way to the back garden where she would lie exposed for as long as the sunshine kept her warm. Already she was a deep honey colour with no sign of the tell tale white patches I displayed when showering.
I couldn’t fault her, but nor could I accept her ready resumption of normality. My life had altered irrevocably and a man who had become a part of my life had gone without hope of return. I felt his loss and mine.
‘You need some fresh air, lass. Get yourself outside with your book and let the sunshine cure you. You’ll feel better for it.’
I didn’t want to feel better but I had neither energy nor inclination to argue with Ma. I picked up my unread book and went to sit in the bower under climbing roses redolent of life and beginnings.
Netta was clearly in my sight, lying on her front with legs and arms spread for maximum exposure.
I sat on the carved wooden bench and opened my book. The words of Howard Spring I had recently come to enjoy couldn’t reach me now; My Son, My Son lay in my lap, open but unread. My mind endlessly cycled questions I had asked since Dad’s death.
What, until a few months previously, had been a steadfast and unquestioning faith in a personal God and everlasting life after death, had now become a total lack of belief in either. And that vacuum, which had been developing since my separation from Heacham and his indoctrination, had been encouraged by Dad’s own passionate atheism and my recent superficial acceptance of it for his sake. But, if Dad was right, what had become of him? I couldn’t countenance his oblivion. He must be somewhere. That his body had vanished in fire and smoke, I could accept, but his spirit, his essence must remain somewhere. I could feel him still with me, though part of me quarrelled that that was no more than my wish that it be so.
I was left without support. Leigh was obsessed with his willing nymph and had little time for me in spite of his superficial questions about my feelings. To my surprise, Mum was so stricken by grief herself that she was as much in need of my support as I was of hers. But, for reasons neither of us understood, we seemed incapable of coming together for mutual comfort, finding each other unbearable in grief. Netta was so dismissive of my loss that she caused further pain each time she spoke.
‘You only knew him a few weeks. You can’t expect me to sympathize after that short time. If he’d been around all your life, I might feel different.’
As if love was bound up with time. As if love were a measurable quality dependent on weeks and months and years.
Eric was devastated and desolate.
There was no one with whom I could find solace. Ma and Old Hodge tried their best but their practical suggestions weren’t what I needed. I needed…I needed an ear that would listen without judging, a heart that would feel and understand, a soul that would absorb my despair and open the door to light again. But there was no one.
I had learned that those who belonged to the various sects of religious organisations would turn to the leaders, priests, mullahs, rabbis, for solace, though they wouldn’t always find it. My only religious experience was as an unwanted outsider on the edge of a spectacularly hypocritical group of extremists whose main interest in me would be a repressed sexual duplicity. I’d consigned them to the same amoral cesspit as Heacham as soon as I’d discovered their real motives. I was left alone in my grief.
My dark musings were interrupted by voices as Old Hodge, on his way back into the house for tea, greeted Leigh on his way out to see Netta. I looked down at my book and saw it was in shade. I was in deep shadow, matching my emotions. It was cool beneath the shelter of foliage and the scent of the blooms was mildly soothing.
Leigh stripped to join Netta on her rug. Not watching but without moving my eyes from him, I understood he wasn’t sunbathing but engaged in sex with her. I was witnessing this private act without their knowledge. I couldn’t move without revealing my presence, to Netta at least. But my stillness would conceal me until they were done.
The harmony of their movement and their joint passion was at such odds with my feelings of inner grief and turmoil that I found myself incapable of looking away. Their rhythm quickened for the climax of the act and they cried their pleasure. The sound released me and I rose to leave them their privacy.
Netta looked directly into my eyes over Leigh’s shoulder as I left the bower. Her look of challenge and complacency made me certain she’d known I was there all the time. This had been a demonstration for my benefit but I was too deep in other emotions to respond and went back into the house. I was amazed to discover it was time to eat again.
‘Do me a favour, Faith, and tell Leigh and Netta it’ll be on the table in five minutes, will you?’
Another of Ma’s attempts to get me to swap desolation for the mundane. I nodded and returned to the scene of their act. They were still linked, Netta’s hands clasping Leigh’s buttocks as if she wished to prevent him leaving her. Leigh, supported on his elbows, was gentling her head on each side with his hands as he looked down into her face.
‘If you’ve stopped frightening the birds, you might want to eat.’
Leigh at least had the grace to look discomfited.
Netta, however, seemed intent on driving home what she saw as her advantage. ‘Get us some tissues, Fay. There aren’t any handy and I don’t want to have to go in soggy, you know? Oh, forgot, you wouldn’t know, would you?’
‘All acts have their consequences. Get your own fucking tissues.’
The expletive came so naturally that it was seconds before I understood I’d uttered it. I wasn’t in a fit state to analyse the nature of the outburst or my reaction to it. But I allowed my mind to dwell on the fact that my recent reading of Shirley’s book had at least given me a greater insight into the practicalities of sexual activity so that I understood at least something of the reason for Netta’s request. And, for all my protest, I took a box from the kitchen and dropped it on the rug beside them.
Still coupled, Netta smiled up at me as she pulled a small handful free. Clearly against his wishes, she urged Leigh up from her and stuffed a wad against the space he’d left. There was no embarrassment about her at all but Leigh couldn’t look at me as he dried himself. I became aware of a slightly sweet scent that seemed familiar but I couldn’t place why I recognized it.
Over dinner, as so often with memory, the answer to my unvoiced question came to me unbidden. ‘Of course! That’s how Hope smelled when I wiped her clear of the discharge...’ And suddenly I understood why Leigh had doubted my ignorance of her rapes. ‘I never knew until now.’
Leigh looked up from his plate and his expression changed as he caught my eye. He said nothing but I hoped he would properly reconsider his judgement.
All through the following week, I worked in the office or the darkroom as need dictated. Netta, as usual, divided her time alone between bed and sunshine.
Leigh was busy and away for much of the week and Netta loudly expressed her annoyance at his absences each day on his return. He found ways to compensate her imagined deprivation.
‘Take me for a drink. And not to the Bored Bed.’
That was our name for the local Boar’s Head.
‘I want to go to the Red Lion.’
‘I have to drive there.’
‘Drive, then. You can drive with a couple of beers in you, Leigh. For God’s sake, who’s going to catch you out here anyway?’
And they would go and I knew that Leigh had had his beer and driven in spite of his vow never to drive after drinking. Other times Netta would demand a night out in one of the larger towns so she could dance and show off in front of other people. She was a party person, a lover of the nightlife and a good time girl. Leigh began to neglect his business because of her and my anger at her behaviour grew stronger with each passing day.
The weather was no help to my pent up rage. The unrelenting sun shone in cloudless skies and baked the earth hard, as if the climate had forgotten this was temperate England and had mistaken us for some semi-tropical dessert. To Netta it was bliss and she abandoned all pretence of modesty, wandering naked all the time. Leigh was hardly less considerate and my rage threatened to overwhelm me, as their sexual behaviour grew increasingly overt and public.
On Friday evening I entered the kitchen after a spell of quiet contemplation in the garden to find them fucking on the cool stone-flagged floor. Leigh was on his back with Netta astride him and they were oblivious of me. Their self-obsession and hedonistic carelessness twisted and tightened the bands of anger inside me. My control snapped.
A wooden block, holding kitchen knives, rested on the bench. I snatched up a long-bladed carving knife. Shrieking my rage and despair, I plunged it downwards.
Leigh cried out in alarm.
The blade embedded deep into the kitchen table inches from Netta’s naked shoulder and remained there, quivering.
For a moment, we were a pageant made immobile by my violence. I breathed again, and sought the solitude of my bedroom.
Sleep evaded me again that night. My violent act had done nothing to alleviate my pent up frustration and anger. It had simply added to my problems. Now there was potential murder on my mind. I spent much of that night leaning on the windowsill with the casement wide open to allow the night air to drift over my skin and cool me.
They were subdued over breakfast, glancing at me furtively, nervous of my every move. In turn, I was tense to the point of screaming out loud but could find no release.
Lunch was no better, though they’d come up with some plan to appease my anger, an anger they failed to understand.
‘Netta and I were thinking, if the weather holds, perhaps we might go for a picnic tomorrow. Would you like to come with us?’
‘And mingle with the tourists?’
‘Most of them have gone; school holidays end tomorrow. Anyway, I know a place we can be entirely alone; a place no tourist would know.’
‘So you’ll be able to take pictures of Netta with no clothes on and fuck her under the sun. I don’t think so.’
My language got to him. ‘Okay, Faith, we’ll be chaste and I won’t take my camera.’
That had me listening. I doubted his ability to curb Netta’s sexual activity but Leigh sacrificing his camera was like a runner giving up a leg.
‘Ma’ll make us some food and we can take some wine. Make a day of it. There’s a lovely pool under a small waterfall surrounded by meadow and trees. You’ll love it. Come with us and give yourself a bit of a holiday, Faith.’
Leigh must have made some sort of deal with Netta because she piped up with something that sounded close to enthusiasm. ‘Come on, Fay. I promise I’ll be good. Let’s have some fun together for a change. You need to get out and enjoy yourself.’
I had no wish to enjoy myself but misery had failed to release whatever blocked my ability to mourn and start the process of healing. They’d made the effort because they were concerned. Even if Netta’s anxieties were entirely personal, I could believe Leigh was at least slightly worried about me.
‘Why not? I’ll come along.’
They brightened at once. In agreeing, I’d gone some way to reducing their anxiety after my attack in the kitchen. I actually slept that night in spite of the continued hot weather.
The morning found my anger reduced to a background smouldering that I knew might burst into incandescence at the slightest provocation. But I was at least willing to face the day with some hope of relief from despair and pain.
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