Monday, 29 January 2007

Chapter 5

On a small estate on the outskirts of Telford, Shropshire, a silver grey Carlsson Mercedes C-class edged its way into Vale View, a tiny cul-de-sac of bungalows. With measured surety, the driver pulled up slowly outside one of them. “This is it, Mr Lawrence,” the driver said, “Number 28.” In the back seat, his passenger had been absorbed reading a file of papers, and had hardly even noticed the car had stopped. He glanced up at the neat little property, before folding away back into its file the foolscap note he’d been reading. The driver stopped the engine, undid his seat-belt and stepped outside the car.

Meanwhile, the elderly gentleman in the back straightened his tie, smoothed the few remaining strands flat over his pate, and clicked closed the briefcase on his lap. It was now or never. He’d waited years for this moment, and finally all his planning would pay off. He might even have licked his lips at the prospect. The driver opened the door for him, and with some difficulty Dr Dacre Lawrence heaved his portly frame from the car. He waved away his driver’s offer of assistance, with a brusque “Wait here for me.”

Lawrence surveyed the bungalow as he made his way up the path to the front door. 1950’s, only one bedroom, he expected. An aspidistra in the front window, just about visible through the dull grey of a net curtain. Well-kept, for sure, but miserably tiny. He looked at his watch: 11 am precisely – his driver knew the store Dr Lawrence set by punctuality. For a moment, he allowed himself to wonder whether the occupant of the house had even the remotest idea that, very shortly, she would be increasing the personal wealth of the already very affluent Lawrence by another £20 million. He very much doubted it. When he’d called to arrange the visit, she had at first taken some convincing, and he had been careful not to give away the real purpose of his visit. But when he had told her that he was a distant relative, and mentioned a few pertinent facts about her late husband, she had softened, and agreed that he should come to see her.

As she heard the car pull up outside her house, Lillian McFry slowly stood up from her seat by the wall-mounted electric fire that had just one bar switched on. She was dressed in her best clothes – her ‘Sunday Best’, she would have called it – and had, for the first time in years, made an effort with her make-up. She caught sight of herself in the oval mirror hung over the fire. She knew she had a good complexion for someone of her advanced age, and rarely now bothered to apply anything but a smear of lipstick. When you reach the age of 102, people had to take you as you were. She was often told that she could pass for someone twenty years younger, but since the world was harsh enough towards those in their 80’s, she didn’t think this counted for much.

Behind the huge leaves of the aspidistra, she thought she could make out the figure of a large man walking up the path from her front gate.
So this was Dr Lawrence, who had seemed so insistent on wanting to meet her. She got few visitors these days, and these were always people she knew – a nurse called to see her once a week, and a neighbour popped in now and again. As her old friends and family pre-deceased her one by one, the world she knew had slowly shrunk, leaving her to ponder sometimes why it was that she among them all was still here. It was exciting to be getting a stranger visit her, for a change. At that moment, there was a knock on the door, and she slowly made her way up the corridor from the lounge to answer it.


Theresa111 said...

Hello. Please, will you tell me what is Aspidistra? I checked with Webster's and wasn't able to find this word. Thank you. Now I am concerned about the 102 year old lady answering the door. Got to go read chapter six.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Hi Theresa

The aspidistra was immortalised by George Orwell as the symbol of the middle class in England in the 1930's.
It's a plant you don't see much nowadays, but Wikipedia has this too say:

Thanks for reading!
Kind Regards