A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



What surprised even Annie is that she made an effort.

The spider up there above the window frame was weaving a bit of magic of its own and she was waiting for Mr Thrush to come back from one of his regular excursions to where she assumed his nest must be. But she needed someone to discuss things with, so the spider would have to do.

Well, Mr Spider, it’s just you and me for the moment,” she whispered, and out of courtesy the spider paused in its creation of magic in order to listen.

You know what I wore?” she asked, and when the spider seemed to shake what she thought must be its head she carried on, “remember I told you about that pink dress that dear Gertrude gave me when I was fourteen? It was you listening and not one of your many arachnid ancestors? Well, if you recall I’d modified it to look reasonably fashionable and more than a quarter a century later and two pregnancies down the drain it still fitted me and, believe it or not, didn’t look out of place! So I tarted it up a bit with a brooch and a necklace, didn’t do much at all really, and wore if for the party at the big house.”

There was a small crowd there when she arrived. Besides her mother and Ralf there were two local politicians and their wives, a couple of artists with long hair and beards, and Malcolm.

She didn’t know Malcolm and had never met him before, but the two of them, being without partners, drifted together after a while.

Hello,” he said, shyly, “you don’t know me, I suppose. I’m Malcolm. But don’t tell. You’re the girl on the cover of my late sister’s book. I’ve always wanted to meet you, And can I congratulate you on that dress you’re wearing. You look beautiful in it.”

She was going to say, probably flippantly, something along the lines of why, this old thing, I’ve had it for ages and decided to just throw it on, but didn’t because she was talking, apparently, to Gertrude’s brother and it had been Gertrude who had given it to her.

That book was before the war,” she said instead, “and I was a teenager back then. How come you recognise me? I’m not a shadow of what I used to be.”

Do you fancy a walk in the garden?” he asked, “it’s a beautiful evening and I’ll tell you...”

Truthfully, It was a balmy evening, so she agreed.

I must be honest to you,” said Malcolm, “Ralf knows me, well, he would, wouldn’t he, having been married to my sister? Anyway, if you ask him he’ll tell you of my one and only obsession: the girl on the cover of She Moves Like a Ghost by my sister. I’ve met a few decent women in my time but never settled down with one because none of them measured up to the girl on the book cover.”

Annie looked shocked. “But she was, let me see, eighteen? Nineteen?” she said, “An innocent teenager, and I can use the word innocent because that’s exactly what I was. Innocent, unworldly and I was dreadfully upset when Gertrude was killed. But I’ve lived a lot since then: married, mother of two and mourner of a tragically dead daughter and now, living alone in a tiny house, the one where I was born.”

Ralf told me,” sighed Malcolm. “I asked him quite a lot about you and was especially delighted when he told me he’d married your mother!”

So now you know a lot about me, tell me about you,” asked Annie.

He shrugged in time to the Thrush’s beak cracking against the window.

There’s not much to tell,” he told her, “born soon after the first war and survived the second as a pilot, which was lucky. Surviving, I mean. Girlfriends:, well, there was one, Wendy, a lovely lass who had the good sense to marry an American GI and now lives across the pond. I really liked her for her innocence, but lost her to the land of the free. After the war there was another, Jane, but that fizzled out after one night when it turned out she really wanted to be a nun and planned to train for it as soon as she could. The last I heard of her was she had developed a fondness for physically whipping herself whenever she had an unworthy thought which she apparently claims to be almost all the time! She’d have fitted in with me, all right if she’d chosen me instead of Christ! I mean, she was truly devout and confident that her god would be pleased with self-flagellation. But what does that prove when it comes to faith if you enjoy it? It’s more a personal experience, surely? Pain masquerading as love?”

Life does that anyway,” murmured Annie, “I’ve shed more tears than enough without having a whip anywhere near me.”

But would you like to?” he asked, “I mean, replace the chastisements offered by life with a darned good thrashing at your own hands?”

She looked at him, shocked.

I don’t know what you might think of me,” she said, firmly, “but I’m neither a religious freak nor a masochist! And, thank you very much, the unhappy departure of my lovely but troubled Elizabeth is punishment enough without resorting to that kind of self-serving behaviour!”

But the girl on the book cover … she might...” he stammered, “she’s too perfect not to want to gain even more perfection through the gift of self-discovery! And surely, that can only come through mortification?”

Malcolm,” she said, firmly, “let me tell you about the girl on the book cover. She was also on a framed picture, an autumn image of this very garden, and another man thought he knew her and married her and for a few years they were happy together until he decided that, after all, he was a man and knew all things best and she, though perfect, was really only a mere woman and was mostly wrong. And I was both images, captured for eternity by Ralf’s oils, yet neither of them was the real me! Now, if you please, let’s rejoin the party. I want to have a word with Daphne.”

But I thought...” he stammered.

You thought?” she asked.

Well, the girl on the book cover, so sweet, so perfect, she must...”

She must?” asked Annie as the thrush tapped again.

Such perfection could only come through punishment,” he stammered, “through pain,” he added.

The thrush tapped again. Incessantly, breaking into her memories.

You want to know what he meant?” asked old Annie, “then I’d better tell you. He meant that he has an inhuman fondness for pain and thinks everyone benefits in some way from it. Probably even enjoys it. I think he’d have tried hitting me, but he left it too late...”

The thrush nodded, up and down, up and down, up and down…

I could see the flat of his hand preparing th slap my face,” she said, smiling, “so I stepped back from him and said so you think I need more pain, do you? And yourself?

Mr Thrush was clearly getting to be excited.

So I said, what about you, Malcolm, do you need pain?

And I saw him dribbling. Actually dribbling! So I just said, I’m off to warn Daphne about men,” and very deliberately kneed him sharply in the balls as I stormed off.

Ooops! Accident! I called back to him. Is that pain enough?”

He was bent double, and I think he was crying.

You see, he wanted his definition of pain which, taken all in, really meant pleasure. For him, that is.

© Peter Rogerson 23.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 23, 2020
Last Updated on May 23, 2020
Tags: party, self flagellation, punishment


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..