AMPLE MAKE THIS BED- Chapter 3, December 1st, 2019.

by admin on December 1, 2019

3d (7)Here’s the pre-publication version of Chapter 3 – see previous posts for Chapters 1&2.

CHAPTER THREE

Ama had demanded that her daughter have nothing more to do with him, when she discovered Ocean and Clay had been dealing drugs with the local high school kids, until someone reported them. Clay had left Arcadia to disappear out of province. Ocean presumably followed him when she and Ama had had their latest altercation. Ama had told Spike very little about her daughter, Ocean, except to hint that she was often in difficulty, financially, physically and emotionally. Sometimes to the point of nervous breakdown. Looking back now, Ama had to confess she had been over-protective of her only child, often to her detriment. Ocean had become too dependent on her mother and her attempts to break free and become independent often ended in disaster. She had an uncanny knack for choosing boyfriends with even more hang-ups than herself. This latest one was leading her into serious trouble.  Ocean and her mother had argued so bitterly, that she left home and refused to say where she and Clay were going.

 

As she always did when she had problems of any kind, Ama drove to her friend, confidante and mentor, Kitty Langford. She parked her red Toyota outside the huge Georgian style wooden mansion  and rang the bell. It was an ancient contraption of wires and tiny pulleys, that jangled a tinny bell on a spring in the kitchen at the rear of the house. Kitty’s live-in housekeeper, Mrs. Spengler, a local fisherman’s widow, eventually answered the door.

‘Hello lovely,’ she said, wiping her floury hands on her apron. ‘I been bottlin’ peaches and makin’ peach pies. You’re just in time to try one.’ She gave Ama a hug and led the way through the dark old hall to the steamy kitchen. ‘Trust me to pick one of the warmest days in August to do it. But Kitty come home with a carload of fresh peaches from the farmer’s market, so I didn’t have much choice.’

‘Where is she, Sarah? I must talk to her, I’m in an awful mess.’

‘I’m right here, dear, what is it?’ Kitty sat at the far end of a long oak harvest table, looking more like a child in the heavy armchair than an eighty-four-year-old. She had a full-size long-sleeve smock covering her from the neck to her wrists, so that only her head of silvery blue hair and manicured hands with be-ringed fingers were visible.

‘She insisted on helpin’ me blanch these peaches,’ said Mrs. Spengler apologetically, ‘so I put her to work. I blanch and she peels and I bottle. We’re a team effort but we could use some help slicing and stoning. Will I get you an apron so you don’t splash on your clothes?’

Kitty smiled a near perfect set of pearl white teeth. ‘If it’s not urgent, dear, we could finish this batch and then take a break. I could use a nice cup of that gunpowder tea you brought me from Halifax.’

‘It’s not that urgent, Kitty. Bottling peaches takes priority.’ She held out her arms for Mrs. Spengler to slip on a smock she was holding like a surgical gown, tying it behind her neck.

The three women focused on peaches for the next half hour, in the moist humid air of the old period kitchen.

‘I tell Kitty this is too hot for her to be workin’ here, Ama, but she don’t pay me no mind,’ said Mrs. Spengler. ‘I said, what happens if you was her son, Gerald, at the door an’ he finds her up to her elbows, doin’ my work. He probably have me sacked an’ then where would we be. Me out on the street an’ her with no house-keeper, that’s where. But she’s a selfish old woman, don’t care for anyone but herself, Ama. Isn’t that right, Kitty? Am’nt I always telling you that?’

‘You wouldn’t be out of work long, Sarah. People in this town would be lining up to hire you,’ said Ama.

‘In the first place, Gerald doesn’t pay her wages, I do. And in the second place, bottling peaches is one of the few things, I’m still good at – besides, they taste better when you’ve done them yourself,’ Kitty said. ‘Sarah complains if I help her, she can’t ask for a pay rise. It’s my sneaky way of being mean.’

‘She lets other folk bleed her white, an’ if I try to stop them, she accuses me of wantin’ all her money, Ama. There’s a constant stream of beggin’ letters an’ phone calls – or there was till I persuaded her to go unlisted.’

‘I guess I’m one of those people, Sarah. Always knocking at her door.’

‘No you’re not, Ama. Kitty knows you’re a real friend, just likes to have a good yarn with her.’

‘Pay no attention to her, dear. If Sarah had her way, she’d have me wrapped in cotton wool so’s no-one could get near me,’ said Kitty. ‘The plain truth is, she’s right. I am selfish. I only like helping the people in my own community, it makes me feel useful.’ She pushed herself up out of the big armchair. ‘Help me out of this cocoon, Sarah and let’s have some of Ama’s tea. We’ll sit out on the veranda, there might be a breeze off the harbour. It’s stifling in here.’

Ama followed Kitty out to the shaded front veranda that wrapped around three sides of the house. Kitty sat on the old-fashioned wooden swing and patted the seat beside her. ‘Sit down and tell me what’s wrong, while Sarah’s making the tea. If I ask her nicely, she may even bring us a slice of peach pie. We deserve it, don’t you think, dear?’ She sat back, gently pushing the swing with her foot, waiting for Ama to speak.

‘God, Kitty, I don’t know where to start. Ocean’s chasing after that criminal she’s been living with, who had to leave Yarmouth for god knows where, because they were reported for selling drugs to the high school kids. I’m way behind on the play rehearsals for the opening of the theatre; the theatre isn’t ready for the fire department inspection and to top it all off, I’ve got involved with an old boyfriend from Victoria, who was at Simon’s wake.’

‘Is that good news or bad, Ama? I could never tell with old flames. Sometimes I got burned.’

‘All I know is, we’re besotted with each other, like a pair of teenagers. I can’t keep my hands off him, Kitty.’

‘But you’re back here and he’s gone back to Victoria. Is that the bad news?’

‘What bad news?’ demanded Mrs. Spengler, appearing with a tray of tea things to set down at the nearby table.

‘That’s what I’m trying to find out. Ama’s found an old lover and now she doesn’t know what to do with him, Sarah.’

‘Only one thing to do with old lovers,’ said Mrs. Spengler, ‘you don’t need an old lady to tell you that.’

‘She’s already done that,’ said Kitty. ‘Apparently the problem’s not that simple.’

‘It never is at your age, Ama, they always come with baggage.’ Sarah set out two plates. ‘Here, I brought you some peach pie for helpin’ me. It’s still warm. Kitty can pour out this gunpowder stuff. I’m havin’ mine in the kitchen. I prefer proper fisherman’s tea. You have any more problems with your old lover, you just bring him here to me. I never met one yet I couldn’t satisfy. Ask Kitty,’ she said grinning, as she retreated to the kitchen.

Ama and Kitty shifted to the porch table. The old lady poured out the green tea into the delicate bone china teacups she insisted Mrs. Spengler use for everyday, despite her protests.

‘Sarah would have us using fishermen’s mugs, if I let her,’ she said, handing a cup to Ama. ‘I told her I’m leaving all my good Spode to her when I die. She can put it in her china cupboard and never touch it, but while I’m alive I want to enjoy it. She says by the time she gets it, there won’t be anything left. Now don’t say anything more till I’ve finished this peach pie. I’ve been waiting all day for it.’

‘What did Sarah mean, ask you?’ said Ama, when she and Kitty had savoured the last crumb of the pie on their plates. ‘She made it sound mysterious.’

‘Oh, she was just being foolish. Nothing important.’

‘You don’t want to tell me? Or it’s none of my business.’

‘Sarah and I go back a long way, Ama. She’s been with me since before Gerald was born. I was rather delicate during my pregnancy and needed some help with this big house. I sometimes feel Gerald thinks he has two mothers. We were two young widows together. She lost her husband when his fishing boat went down in a winter gale off Yarmouth, and left her childless. My husband Stephen never came back from the war. He’s buried in Normandy in one of those endless war graves. Gerald was our only child. I still have all Stephen’s letters. We planned to have a big family when he returned.’

‘And neither of you remarried?’ asked Ama, surprised at this revelation from Kitty.

‘Oh, we both had our suitors over the years and sometimes…’

‘Was that what Sarah meant, Kitty?’

‘Not exactly, no.’

‘You don’t have to tell me if it’s too personal. I understand – but I’m dying to hear.’ Ama smiled at the old lady, waiting.

‘I feel as if I were betraying confidences, in a way. Although Sarah mentioned it first, didn’t she?’

‘Let me guess,’ said Ama. ‘Two healthy women, living alone in this big house. You both took lovers?’

‘From time to time,’ admitted Kitty. ‘Not for a long time now,’ she added.

‘Not so surprising,’ said Ama. ‘I did the same, three times. Only I made the mistake of marrying them.’

‘Was this old flame at the wake one of them?’

Ama shook her head. ‘I lost him – like you and Sarah. The other three were sort of replacements that never quite worked out. I should have followed your examples. Too bad I didn’t know you back then, would have saved me a lot of heartache.’

‘Following our example might not have been a good idea, Ama. That wasn’t what Sarah was referring to earlier.’

‘I guessed wrong? But you said you did take lovers…’

‘We did but…sometimes we made the wrong choice,
so –’

‘– You changed beds.’

‘In a manner of speaking, yes.’ Kitty eyed her for a moment before continuing. ‘It was a foolish prank the first time. We’d all been drinking too much alcohol, but after awhile it happened more frequently. Of course, we had to be very discreet. Choose very carefully. Some men would take advantage of such a situation. We were lucky. We learned that married men had a vested interest in keeping their mouths shut. This is a small town and we needed a pretext for our visitors. So, we both became involved in local charities. I gravitated to fund-raising and treasurers’ positions, and Sarah preferred hosting kitchen parties here. She found musicians’ outlooks on life more to her liking. But we both developed catholic tastes in lovers.’ Kitty looked at her, smiling. ‘I’m afraid I’ve shocked you.’

Ama laughed. ‘You have shocked me. Surprised shock – not scandalised. I knew there was a reason we became friends.’ She rose and hugged Kitty warmly.

‘Birds of a feather…’ said Kitty. ‘Of course, you realise this is ancient history. Sarah and I are respectable old ladies now. Pillars of the community.’

‘I should have put two and two together, with your background in New York Off-Broadway shows. Is that where you met your husband?’

‘Stephen was a stage door Johnnie – wouldn’t take no for an answer. So here I am,’ said Kitty. ‘More tea?’

‘You are an old fraud, Kitty.’ The two of them laughed and chinked teacups.

‘Careful of my tea service, you two,’ said Mrs. Spengler, coming back in to clear the table. ‘Soon be nothin’ left for me to inherit. What’re you cacklin’ about.’

‘Old times, Sarah, old times,’ said Kitty.

‘You haven’t been tellin’ tales out of school, Kitty?’

‘You put her up to it, Sarah, remember?’ said Ama.

‘Maybe I did,’ said Mrs. Spengler. ‘Thought maybe a little history lesson might be in order.’

‘The thing I don’t understand is, where was Gerald during all this?’ said Ama.

‘Stephen’s family is a very old one in this town,’ said Kitty. ‘His great-grandfather was a ship chandler and his grandfather became a wealthy merchant, owned several sailing ships. My husband’s father inherited the family business, married a local heiress at the outbreak of the First War, and went off with his Nova Scotia regiment as a young officer. He died in the senseless slaughter at Ypres, along with practically half his company. I found his gravestone when I went to visit Stephen’s grave, after the war. Every young person should have to experience those silent acres of crosses. It would save a lot of future grief.’

‘The men died young and left a whole generation of women with blighted lives, with no men to marry, no children to bear,’ said Mrs. Spengler. ‘It’s them I feel sorry for, robbed of having kids.’

‘You could say Stephen’s mother was one of the lucky ones, although I know she didn’t think so,’ said Kitty. ‘She was pregnant when he left for France.’

‘And Gerald is a bachelor,’ said Ama, ‘so the family name ends with him?’

‘Not for want of tryin’,’ said Sarah. ‘God knows we filled his bed with eligible girls over the years, but none of them took, so to speak.’

‘None that we know of anyway,’ said Kitty.

‘Kitty still dreams that someday a lost grandson will turn up on our doorstep to claim his inheritance.’

‘I don’t,’ protested Kitty, ‘not anymore. Anyway, I have only myself to blame, giving in to family pressure and sending him off to private school.’

Sarah looked grim but said nothing for a moment. ‘I’m just as guilty, Ama. I could have backed Kitty up – but I secretly fancied him bein’ in that posh academy, up in Antigonish. It had a great reputation for gettin’ its graduates into university.’

‘We were too ambitious for him and didn’t realise we were losing him till too late,’ said Kitty. ‘If only I’d let him go to the local high school like he wanted to…’

‘An’ if we’d paid more attention to the men who passed through our beds,’ said Sarah.

‘Why? What did they say?’ asked Ama.

‘That boys lose interest in the opposite sex, in private schools,’ Kitty said.

‘I always said them places should be closed down,’ said Sarah. ‘Deprivin’ old women of grandchildren. A big man like Gerald could have filled this house with kids, ‘stead of leavin’ two old women to rattle around in it.’

‘That’s a bit harsh on private schools – and yourselves, isn’t it?’ said Ama. ‘I know lots of gay people in theatre, who never set foot in a private school.’

‘So do I, Ama. When I lived in New York before I was married to Stephen, most of my friends in the theatre world then were gay. They always seemed to be the cleverest and the most talented ones. And loyal friends, too,’ said Kitty. ‘When you get your theatre off the ground, I’ll invite some of my oldest ones to come to the opening.’

Mrs. Spengler cleared all the tea things and returned to the kitchen.

‘Oh god, I hope I haven’t offended Sarah,’ said Ama. ‘She sounded awfully bitter.’

‘Don’t mind Sarah, she can be rather blunt at times. But she has a right to be bitter, don’t you think?’ asked Kitty. ‘She’s seen too many blighted lives and it’s made her a fierce feminist. She would have been a powerful suffragette in an earlier era. One of her favourite charities is the local women’s refuge. She brings the new ones and their kids back here to feed and cosset them. Some days the kitchen is half full of children playing and making cookies. Sarah is a great believer in the healing powers of food.’

‘So, one way or another you both have adopted grandchildren, Kitty,’ said Ama. ‘Do you ever stay in touch with any of them as they pass through the refuge?’

‘Not as many as Sarah does,’ said Kitty. ‘She gets more cards at Christmas than Santa Claus. But I make sure any of them who want to go on to college or training can afford to. I had my lawyer setup a fund to provide bursaries for the hospice children.’

‘God, you make me feel selfish, pestering you with all my problems,’ said Ama. ‘I’m sorry to take up so much of your time.’

‘Nonsense, I’m not Mother Teresa. I enjoy your company and I’m flattered to be your confidante,’ said Kitty. ‘Now tell me the latest in your theatre saga – you know how interested I am in it. If I wasn’t so old and decrepit, I’d be down there painting sets with you.’

‘That’s just it, we’re a long way from painting sets yet, Kitty. We’re still refurbishing the interior. Restoring that old Edwardian theatre is taking much longer than we reckoned. And now with Ocean disappearing again, I’m so distracted trying to track her down I can’t concentrate on rehearsals or anything else. I’m hopelessly behind.’

Kitty patted her hand. ‘Just tell me how I can help, dear. You’d be surprised at the resources I can call on – and not just in Arcadia either. You sound like you could use an assistant director, for a start.’

‘That’s the one bright light on the horizon. My old flame I told you about has agreed to come down and co-direct with me. He’s reluctant to come out of retirement, but I persuaded him I would sink without trace unless he helped me.’

‘From what you’ve told me, I imagine you could easily inveigle him to come to your rescue.’

‘If you mean did I tell him he could have his evil way with me, you’re right. Although who was seducing who is debatable. As I mentioned earlier, we fell on each other’s necks.’

‘You still haven’t told me his name. Would I ever have heard of him?’

‘Doubtful. He was never keen on mainstream theatre. Preferred political and avant-garde productions. His name’s Spike.’

‘Unusual name for an actor. Is it a stage name?’ asked Kitty.

‘No, it’s a nickname. His stage name is Porter Drummond, which happens to also be his real name. His agent thinks like you. Told him no one would take him seriously with a name like Spike.’

‘And did he want to be taken seriously?’

‘God, yes. He was constantly after me to do plays with all his left-wing mates in the UK. They used to tour political cabarets up and down the country. Scotland, Wales, the north and the midlands.’

‘I suppose the university student unions loved that kind of thing in those days,’ said Kitty.

‘Never went near them. They focused on the miner’s clubs, working-men’s clubs, union halls. We’re talking about the whole Thatcher era. She epitomised everything the extreme left loathed. They demonised her. Spike really believed the revolution was going to happen. At least at first, he did. Later with all the factional in-fighting between the Communists, Maoists and Trotskyites and the Labour unions, he became disillusioned. Thatcher used the old divide and rule method to crush the miners and defeat the unions in Britain. She had to use the riot police and army tanks to do it, but she won. Spike wasn’t the only one to be disillusioned; the British left was in disarray for a generation.’

‘I wish I had been a participant in those days, instead of a spectator down here in Arcadia,’ said Kitty. ‘I expect you must have been in the thick of it, Ama, with Spike for a boyfriend.’

‘Yes and no. I went on a few marches and demonstrations and signed petitions but I was focused on my acting career. I was one of the ones Spike called armchair socialists at the time. We lived in two different worlds and eventually went our separate ways after I had a brief affair with another well-known actor. I tried to find Spike later but he had left the country, with a touring theatre company to the far east.’

‘Sorry, dear, I’m not sure what I can help you with. Is it your daughter that’s worrying you most? Ocean’s run off with disreputable characters before – is this one any different.? Once she sees through him, won’t she come home again like she usually does?’

‘That’s it, I don’t know, Kitty. He’s got some sort of hold over her, she won’t leave him and now the police are after him. She could be charged as an accomplice.’

‘She’s not a child anymore, Ama. You can’t shelter her from the world indefinitely. I think this diagnosis she had has made you even more over-protective. From what I’ve heard, ALS can take years to develop. Maybe she just wants to live her own life in her own way… sorry, I’m preaching again,’ said Kitty.

‘You’re probably right. Maybe the problem’s mine, not hers. Only I can’t stop worrying about her, especially when I have no idea where she is.’

‘Would it help if you did?’

‘I don’t know. I think so.’

‘At the risk of meddling even more, can I make a suggestion, Ama?’

‘If you think it will help me out of this mess.’

‘Why not speak to her father? Let him shoulder some of the responsibility. Is he still living in Halifax?’

‘Ronnie has his hands full with his new family and I imagine his young wife isn’t keen on having Ocean disrupt their lives with her escapades.’

‘Why, have you asked him for help with her in the past?’

‘Not very often, but sometimes when I’m at the end of my tether I call him.’

‘Sounds like this may be one of those times, Ama. Does he have any influence with Ocean?’

‘He used to when he was on his own and she would go to stay with him. But since he remarried, they’ve drifted apart, I think. She never says much about him to me anymore.’

‘Well, she is his daughter, that should still count for something,’ said Kitty. ‘My father could always be depended on to be on my side, when I was in any scrape in New York. Fathers and daughters are like mothers and sons, I’ve learned. It’s a powerful bond, irrational but strong. I could never refuse Gerald anything.’

‘It’s worth a try, I suppose,’ said Ama. ‘Ronnie was always self-centred, like most good actors. Ocean was the only person he ever put before himself. Certainly not me.’

‘What happened between you two, Ama?’

‘Like I said, he was totally self-absorbed. His acting career always came first. He walked out on me once too often, and I wasn’t there when he came back. I’d followed him out to Stratford, Ontario, from England and we both worked at the Shakespeare festival until I got pregnant. That put an end to my acting for a long time and when we split, I moved to Toronto and slowly began working again.’

‘Didn’t he follow you – try to get you and his daughter back?’ asked Kitty.

‘He was so wrapped up in his own life, he barely noticed I was gone. Occasionally he’d remember Ocean’s birthday and send her a present. We’d see him on TV now and then in some drama series and I’d contact his agent to demand some support money. But he was never reliable as a source of income – too hit and miss.’

‘All the same, it’s worth a phone call, don’t you think, dear?’

END OF CHAPTER 3

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