5. Cross-purposes

5. Cross-purposes

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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TALES FROM THE BOOKSHOP (5)

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The book shop door virtually flew open and a hurricane in the shape of Walter Archer rushed in. He gazed frantically around him as if he was in search of a fairy on her flittering fluttering tiny wings but all he could see was the shop-keeper leaning on her till.

Is she here?” he asked. Although Mrs Bookworm was quite sure that she knew precisely who the man was so frantically looking for she decided that it might be appropriate to pretend that she had no idea so she pasted a blank expression on her face.

Is who here?” she asked.

Walter Archer theatrically struck his forehead. “Of course: you have no idea who I mean,” he said, “How silly of me. I mean the angel in the flat next to mine. Miss Dewberry, though to me she will always be Jennifer...”

Oh, that lady,” smiled Mrs Bookworm, “she was in here earlier, but left to continue shopping. She’s one of my better customers, you know. She knows a good book when she sees one. She bought one today, a romantic love story involving a handsome doctor and an absurd pair of pliers...”

I like her,” he admitted, “Jennifer, that is, not your story-book doctor. But I have a problem. Whenever we talk together we seem to be at cross purposes and I’m struggling to get my head round it.”

That’s often the case in life,” she nodded.

My late wife,” he said with a confidential look, “wouldn’t mind we mentioning her, I’m sure, but she made sure we never talked at cross purposes. She was very good at being plain when she spoke. She planned our entire life together, you see, and needed no input from me, nor would she have welcomed it because, as she always said, men have very little idea about what is important in life, and although it sometimes irked me I must admit that it invariably turned out that she was mostly right.”

Mrs Bookworm looked surprised. “She wasn’t, how shall I put it, perfect then?” she asked, “I mean, not absolutely perfect every time? There were moments when… you know, things you thought might have gone better?”

Mr Archer looked shocked, then hurt. “She was as pure as the driven snow and don’t you start to think otherwise!” he exclaimed, “My dearest Peggy would tolerate nothing that wasn’t her equal in purity! It was the way she lived her life, you see. Born a virgin and died one, and that’s got to be to her credit, don’t you think?”

It might be seen by some as a wasted life,” said Mrs Bookworm, risking his wrath but a slave to her own concept of truth.

Wasted? What would you know about her? She would give no truck to meaningless hanky-panky, and as we decided, or rather, as she decided, it was inappropriate for us to consider having a family we didn’t go anywhere near risking having one. She knew how to control us both, all right. A marvellous woman with a mind of her own living a clean and uncluttered life.”

So I’ve heard,” murmured Mrs Bookworm, “word gets around, you know.”

Ah, but only good words, I’ll be bound!” he exclaimed, calming down after that brief flurry of passion. “that’s to her credit. There’s nobody who could find one fault in her. Nobody! And she went to church twice a week, even when she was dying in the hope that she would succumb to the call from her Lord whilst sitting in one of his pews! That’s credit, don’t you think?”

A perfect life perfectly lived,” smiled Mrs Bookworm. “It’s a pity she had to pass away so young, then, isn't it? I mean, shouldn’t the righteous be given longer in which to be holier than thou, so to speak?”

Mr Archer looked suddenly very grave. “We all thought that,” he murmured, not noticing the sarcasm, “that such a pure and holy lady … even the Reverend Smythe called her that when he prayed by her dear body as she breathed her last and she cast that last feeble smile at us, at least I thought it was at us though he claimed it was at him… but her God called her, and that just had to be that.”

Her God, yet not yours?” asked Mrs Bookworm, curious.

I’m not so sure about gods,” he replied, “not so sure at all. Peggy was, though, bless her. But then, she was sure about most things. She was sure that I loved her, you know. She insisted that I did! And it was more than it was worth to disagree!”

You poor man!”

He smiled at her. “But I still have life and although it may not be so pure as Peggy would have wanted it to be for me, I have it. And there’s the lovely Miss Dewberry in the flat next door where she’s been this last ten years. I believe I might be starting to win her affection after a long semester of mourning.”

I love a happy ending,” enthused the book seller, “two people meant for each other in each other’s arms. Lovely.”

It’s not an ending yet!” he exclaimed, “why, it’s barely a beginning. I’m still recovering from my ten years of grieving for Peggy. But I will admit that when I met the lady and took my trousers off for repair I really thought she might look favourably upon me.”

It’s been a long time, your period of mourning,“ she agreed, “tell me if you don’t think I’m being nosy, but what ailment stole her from you?”

Oh, I don’t mind,” he smiled, a watery kind of half-grieving, half hopeful smile, at least that’s how she saw it. “She was the purest creature on this Earth,” he murmured, “yet she died of what they call sepsis.”

Blood poisoning,” nodded Mrs Bookworm, “what on Earth brought such a nasty thing on for such a pure woman to suffer from with so much fortitude?”

She had an infection,” he whispered, “One of those mysteries that come to confuse us. I won’t say where because even in death she wouldn’t want me to mention that, not even to myself, and anyway I might have misunderstood the doctor. But in the end her own immune system did for her as it tried to demolish the poison. It destroyed all her organs, one at the time, as it tried to fight that infection off.”

How appalling,” she murmured.

To think she kept herself so pure,” he muttered, “and for a dastardly impurity like poisoned blood to be her downfall!”

And now you want to move on?” she asked, “to pastures new? That kind of thing?”

I’ve begun to think a man might need a woman,” he replied, slowly, “I mean, for taking his trousers in, that sort of thing. I’m not much use with a needle and thread and I’ve lost inches from my waistline during the lockdown and, well, I’m a bloke and as I say, of course, I’m not so good at some things...”

Is that all?” she asked, coldly for her, “I mean, what about affection? Love, even? Dark nights under the moon? Tender whispered words of adoration? Kisses on waiting lips? Sex, even?”

I loved Peggy but it didn’t really involve affection and certainly not the last thing you mentioned,” he murmured, “that’s for the teenyboppers, don’t you think, and not grown up folk?”

I’m no teenybopper,” she said, somewhat fiercely, “but I rather enjoy affection. Like a man’s strong arms around me, his mouth exploring mine, his muscles rippling...” Here she shivered, “like everything should be,” she concluded.

I suppose, at a stretch, it’s all right if you plan to have babies, but I don’t,” he told her. “That was the way Peggy put it and I had to lump it.”

Like she told you that you loved her?”

He nodded. “Could be,” he murmured, “in fact, she said I did, so it had to be.”

And you agreed?”

He grinned a little lopsidedly. “I had to,” he said quietly, “or she’d mention divorce, and I couldn’t have stood the shame of that!”

© Peter Rogerson 27.06.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on June 27, 2020
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Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
I am 76 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..

Writing