GL Archives – Alistair, 1998

Edge says in Five Six Pick Up Sticks that she met her second husband through an introduction agency, and that they only had eight years together, she was always glad they never wasted any of that time. One reader said it was out of character—that Edge wasn’t the type to take a man home on a first date. It wasn’t quite like that. . . it’s a slightly soppy story, and it started in August 1998.

 computer dating

Join one of those computer dating agencies. Not to date people, if you don’t feel ready for that, just to meet other single people, with some shared interests.  I know you said you’re quite liking being independent but it sounds to me as if all you do is sit and write all day, that’s not a life. Forty two is far too young to be a widow and James would never have expected you to sit around doing a Queen Victoria for the next forty or so years!

Anyway, think about it. They do computer profiling, you list all the things you think are important, and what you want from people, and they match you up,  Gordon’s secretary is getting engaged to a man she met that way.  If you go through a proper service you pay, she paid quite a lot, but you do meet people also prepared to pay!

Edge re-read that part of Vivian’s long email, and looked back at the leaflet that had come through her door that morning, promising a select introduction service. Straws in the wind . . . taking a deep breath, she picked up the phone and made an appointment for later the same afternoon.

By the time she’d been there half an hour, she was wishing she could escape. She’d had photos taken, her interests—a short and alarmingly dull list—recorded, and just wanted to escape Jolene, the efficient and slightly scornful interviewer.

‘I don’t really want a match as such.’ She clasped her hands slightly nervously  and tried to concentrate. ‘I was widowed about a year ago, and most of my friends are married or living abroad.  My best friend’s in Africa, she suggested this might be a way of meeting other people in the same position, who just want a friend to go to films with, the occasional meal, and if I do have to go to formal events with a partner, someone reasonably presentable. I’m not looking to fall in love, being on my own for the first time in my life hasn’t been all bad, I’d like to explore it a bit more. What I’d really like is a man friend, not involved with anyone, who just wants to be friends. Do you set up friendships?’

‘So you like going to films, eating out. What kind of films?’ Jolene shifted her gum to the other side of her mouth and typed Edge’s halting answers straight into the form. She escaped finally with relief and not very high expectations. Her list had sounded boring even to her own ears, Jolene hadn’t bothered to acknowledge her request for a male friend other than with a roll of her eyes, but had marked her file as someone looking to expand her horizons rather than settle down. Very grandiose, but true enough. She let herself into the apartment and switched on her computer, making coffee while it booted up. The phone rang as she sat down to work. Jolene, from the consultancy.

‘Gunny, do you remember talking to a man in the waiting room here today?’

‘No, I didn’t talk to anyone. I did see a man I thought I knew, he looked very familiar, but I couldn’t think why.’

‘You might have seen him on TV. He’s an ex-rugby international, he’s been on a couple of talk shows.  Anyway, Gunny, he asked specifically to meet you. The woman in the waiting room, he said. He doesn’t match your profile at all, but he was really persistent, may I fax through his details, and if you really aren’t interested you can let me know? If you are, I’ll give him your details, but to be honest you don’t match his profile either.’

He’s way too young Edge emailed Vivian but that was a bit of an ego-pat, that he wanted to meet me, wasn’t it? But apart from anything else he was listed as wanting to start a family. Well, I wish. I might go for lunch as an ice-breaker, could be good to have a first date where I know nothing can come of it. If he asks, of course, after he sees my file!

2010-10-17 16.17.44

‘I really hope you aren’t called Gunny because you’re an Arsenal supporter?’ Alistair’s eyes laughed at her and she laughed back, enjoying herself.  When he’d entered the restaurant and looked around for her she had felt the same little shock of recognition she’d experienced in the waiting room, and didn’t think it was from TV; within minutes they’d been teasing and joking like old friends.

‘I’m not really called Gunny at all. My real name’s Beulah Bentwood, and my husband called me Gunny because of my initials. I had to give a computer name to the agency, so I thought it was as good as any.’

‘Bentwood?’ He looked surprised. ‘Any relation to the actress?’

‘She’s James’ daughter. Do you know her?’

‘Not really; we’ve dated a couple of times, nothing serious. No interests in common.’

‘You and I don’t have any interests in common either.’ Edge pointed out slightly reluctantly, and he laughed aloud.

‘I know, your file was disastrous. No rugby, no bridge, no desire to go flying all over Europe for spot weekends away, and you don’t want to start a family. The only good thing was that you were open to new interests and new experiences. I like to live life on the edge.’

She choked on her wine, and he had to pat her on the back. ‘What did I say?’

‘No, nothing.’ No point, this was a once-off lunch—then to her own surprise she blurted out, ‘my middle name is Edgington. Since I was a little girl everyone but James has called me Edge.’

His face lit with laughter, and he covered her hand on the table.  ‘Excellent. There you are. Can’t have more in common than that.’ The lunch had flown by and he’d left reluctantly, already late for a meeting, and promised to call her. She phoned Vivian as soon as she got home.

‘He’s so completely wrong in every way – he’s nearly eight years younger than me, he wants a family, he lives half the year in Malta, he has his own four-seater plane and likes to go away nearly every weekend, he’s a bridge fanatic and you know how useless I am at the game, but Vivian, we laughed so much. It was as though we were best friends who had lost touch and we were catching up after a long absence, it was so comfortable, so easy. I can’t imagine meeting anyone I could ever like as well. I’m sitting here wondering what to do with myself until I can see him again.’

Vivian’s voice down the phone was amused. ‘You’ve got it badly. Will you see him again?’

‘I hope so,’ Edge said fervently, then smiled into the phone. ‘I think so, though. I hope so. We were so completely in synch, we were practically ending each other’s sentences by the end of the meal. I felt quite taken aback when he had to go, as though nothing could be more important than what we were saying. Quite ridiculous, I know. Hang on, there’s someone at the main door.’  She went to the intercom and pressed the speaker. ‘Hello?’

‘Edge? Alistair. Alistair Cameron.’

‘It’s him. At the door,’ Edge said slightly breathlessly down the phone. ‘I didn’t give him my address! What do I do?’

‘Let him in, but keep me on the phone. If he’s drunk or scary I’ll phone the police for you. Go on, Edge—you said it yourself, you really like this guy.’ Edge nodded and buzzed the door release, then opened her front door and waited .

Alistair smiled slightly tentatively as he mounted the stairs and saw her waiting. ‘This is going to look a bit stalkerish. I sat in that stupid meeting wondering why I had thought it was important.  As soon as I could escape I tracked down Jamey Bentwood and made him give me your address. I just felt—we barely scratched the surface at lunch. May I come in?’

She studied him, trying to suppress the smile on her own face, then nodded. ‘Yes, of course.’ She held the door wide. ‘I’m on the phone. Vivian, I’m going to have to go. Everything’s fine. More than fine.’

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Beginnings – a prequel microstory

‘So what’s your news?’ Vivian carefully put coffee down on Edge’s sidetable, and sat with a little ‘oof’ in the opposite chair.  ‘You sounded really excited on the phone.’

‘I am, a bit, I got a fantastic offer for the flat, so that’s it, done and dusted. Selling.’

‘But the flat was beautiful! I thought you loved it!’

Edge shook her head. ‘I rattle around in it, much too big for one. I write and eat and practically sleep in one room and the rest just gathers dust. And no garden, and that hellish couple with the screaming baby as neighbours, and I could never just up and go when I felt like it. I’ve got big plans for the future.’

‘You’re not leaving Scotland?’ Vivian looked alarmed and Edge snorted.

‘No, idiot. But I do want to travel a lot more than I have been. And I’m tired of living on my own.’

‘What, you’ve reconsidered and you’ll come share with me?’

‘God, no. I love you like a sister but share a house with you? Never. I can’t think of a way of ending a friendship faster. I decided I want a nice tiny place to myself, interesting neighbours, good security so I can lock up and go whenever I feel like it, and I still want to be near you and near Kirsty and to be able to put people up when they come to visit. And I’ve found it! Just the place. Have you ever heard of the Grasshopper Lawns retirement village?’

‘You’re too young to go into an old age home. Anyway, why on earth would you want to?’

‘It’s not an old age home. They’ve got totally independent apartments, a fabulous garden, and guest accommodation facilities, and they only take people with interesting pasts, I was interviewed by the bursar, the administrator and the smallest and most perfectly groomed woman I’ve ever seen, who used to be a Cold War spy. Patrick recommended the place. And Vivian, I want you to apply too, we can be neighbours.’

Vivian was already shaking her head. ‘Oh, no, Edge. I have to keep the house so the kids can come visit. And I don’t really like meeting lots of strangers, I like the quiet life, you know that.’

‘I do know that. And I don’t approve, and you know that. The kids visit, what, every other year? Vivian, how long have we been friends?’

‘Every time someone says that, it means they want something.’ Vivian sipped gloomily at her tea. ‘You know how long. Since we were eight.’

friends for beginnings

‘And in all that time, have I led you astray?’

Vivian started to laugh. ‘When have you not! You were the most terrible influence on me!’

‘Nonsense. I got you out of your music room and away from your endless scales, and you hauled me out of reading every play ever written, and the pair of us were very good for each other, we always have been. I have a feeling about Grasshopper Lawns, I think it could be a bit of an adventure, and I have to insist;’ she suddenly faltered, shook her head and sat back. ‘Wow. Flashback. I won’t insist. But I really, really want you to think about it. Come look at the place. Help me move in. Okay? And I’ll tell you what else they have, dogs, in the main house, and they’re divine, they’re Labradors. Any of the residents can take one for a walk whenever they like. In fact the bursar, Hamish, an absolute duck, said there’s such competition sometimes that residents adopt one and then the Lawns gets another from Labrador Rescue.’

Vivian weakened, as Edge knew she would. ‘Oh, I have missed having dogs around. But I don’t have an interesting past, I’d never get in. A Cold War spy, heavens!’

‘And a few writers, and a Russian ballerina, and a mercenary and an actress. Why not an opera singer? I told them about you and they want you to apply. And I want you to apply. And you know me, I always get my way in the end. I’m more stubborn than you are.’

Vivian sipped slowly at her tea while Edge watched her with bright eyes. Finally she said, ‘you really have one of your feelings about this place? That it would suit us?’ Edge nodded and she sighed. ‘Okay. Tell me more about the dogs.’

buster

Endings (microstory)

Every cell in the human body, doctors say, is replaced within a seven year period. This story is about Vivian and Edge, but it is dated over seven years before the Grasshopper Lawns series starts, so it is also about two totally different people.

bench for endings

Gordon Oliver watched his beautiful wife walk slowly up the stairs under the bougainvillea-vivid trellis and rubbed his chest absently with his right hand before taking a gulp of his whisky. Perhaps, to others, she was no longer as beautiful as the girl he’d married nearly thirty years earlier, but her smile still lit the room. Doctors. What did they know? He rubbed his chest again and as Vivian reached the patio doors and vanished from view, switched his attention back to her best friend who still sat hunched and frozen, staring out to sea.  He quickly finished his drink and topped the glass up with orange juice, turning his head to smile as Vivian joined him.

‘Not budging, eh?’

‘I’m worried sick. If she would only cry! She cried after James died, but she hasn’t shed a tear for Alistair. She’s just a polite fading shadow. I’m convinced she’s made her mind up, that the only reason she’s going back to Scotland is so that whatever she’s planning won’t upset her friends here. She can say her mother needs her, and she wants to see more of her niece, but it’s just words to deflect me. I know her.’

‘I’ve never known two people as much in love as they were, but women have been widowed before, darling. They survive.’

‘She’s so intense, though. Usually so vital.’ Vivian sniffed the air, then looked reproachfully at her husband. ‘Oh, Gordon.’

‘Hey, you’re the one with bronchial lungs and don’t tell me you haven’t sneaked a puff or two in the last three years. A wee dram won’t kill me.’

‘I’ll never smoke again, though. And you shouldn’t drink, the doctor said it wasn’t good for you. I couldn’t bear to lose you, not after watching Edge agonizing over Alistair, that’s why I’m so sure she’d going to—well. Could you speak to her?’

 

bench for endings

 

 

Gordon sat down heavily on the bench next at Edge, who didn’t seem to notice. ‘Edge, my love. How long have you and Vivian been friends?’

She stirred, surprised, and finally looked at him sideways through the sweep of her shoulder-length hair. ‘Forever. Since we were eight. You know that.’

‘You’re like sisters, and she knows you better than anyone else on Earth. And she thinks you’re going back to Scotland to kill yourself.’  Edge was shocked into stillness for a moment, then shrugged.

‘You never did flinch at saying what was on your mind. I’m saying goodbye, yes, I doubt I’ll come back to Africa, too many memories. I loved being here, but I love Scotland too. I think it will be easier to live one day at a time there than here, and I’ve family there, real family, not happily-married friends who feel like family but also remind me every day of what I’ve;’ she paused, and finished thinly. ‘What I’ve lost.’

‘Okay, good. One day at a time is fine. You’re a pretty woman, and a strong woman, and in time you’ll realize again that life is sweet, but until then I need you to keep going for Vivian’s sake. Because she’s going to need you.’

She finally turned to look at him, her face pinched and thin with all the weight she’d lost, but a spark of curiosity in her sunken tearless eyes. ‘Why? What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying the doctor said I can smoke and drink as much as I want, now, it can’t make any difference. I’m staying off the fags, for Vivian’s sake, but we’re selling up. Vivian’s always wanted to go back home, and we’ll be following you within the year. She doesn’t know why, and you’re not to even hint at what I just told you. Her parents aren’t in the best health so she’s accepting that as the reason. The kids are staying here, their lives are here, but Vivian and I are returning to Scotland, to spend time with her parents.  When they go, and I go, I’m sorry, Edge my love, but I have to insist you be there for her.’

Vivian, watching anxiously from the window, saw Edge put her hands to her face, then lean her head on Gordon’s shoulder and weep in total abandonment, her shoulders shaking with grief. Vivian’s heart swelled with love as she watched her husband put a comforting arm around her best friend’s shoulders and turn his head to stare out at the endless, ever-changing sea.