Questions at the pond…
Late on Sunday afternoon Laura emerged from her flat. She had slept for hours, waking still wearing her ruined dress and feeling dirty, and like Joseph she’d stood under a shower, but sought the comfort of hot water despite the sultry air. She replayed the night’s events over in her head as the sweet scent of her best shower gel filled the steamy air. She was angry with Joseph of course for nearly drowning her, but with herself too for letting it happen. And it wasn’t just the swimming shambles itself she was cross about – with each tug of the comb through her tangled hair she felt more sure that something had changed between them.
Laura wasn’t going far – it had become the routine that if she was at home, Laura went downstairs for Sunday tea with Mrs Patterson. Today she didn’t feel like it at all, but knew her landlady would ask what she’d been doing if she didn’t appear, and her curiosity would be harder to face than a hot drink. She opened the door and apologised for arriving empty handed when she usually took some biscuits or other teatime treat.
“No need to apologise my dear,” smiled Mrs Patterson, “Mr Angelou has just brought me a box of koulourakia – he said they don’t keep in this heat.”
Laura sank gratefully into an armchair and was soon tucking into the delicious cookies. She hadn’t realised how hungry she was and hoped she wasn’t being too greedy, but if Mrs Patterson noticed, she didn’t say anything. Nor did she comment on how exhausted her lodger seemed, but privately she was worried – something had happened to Laura, and she didn’t like the look of it.
For now though, she contented herself with sticking to chatting to Laura about work and other neutral topics, only testing her by asking if she was going to do any more volunteering at the cemetery.
“I don’t think so,” replied Laura, not meeting her landlady’s enquiring gaze.
“It wasn’t really for me, you know how it is.”
Mrs Patterson decided not to push it any further, but she wasn’t altogether surprised when the next thing Laura did was make her excuses and leave, saying she needed to pop out to the shop for some milk.
Laura did have every intention of just going to the Broadway where the convenience stores would still be open, to buy a pint of milk and something for her supper. When she reached the bus stop at the end of the road however, and a double decker pulled up right beside her heading towards Hampstead, she couldn’t help herself and jumped on board.
A quarter of an hour later she was on the Heath, back on the path that led to the Ladies Bathing Pond. It was a hot afternoon and there were lots of people about, kites flying, dogs scampering, but at the pond no one was swimming. Instead a notice pinned to the fence beside the pool house explained that the pond was closed for the day because of a “water quality incident.” Laura leaned on the fence gazing out at the still water, feeling slightly sick at the memory of the night before, and slightly guilty in case the incident was somehow her fault. She didn’t see how it could have been though, and pushing that thought from her mind she just took in the tranquil scene. Dragonflies flitted across the surface of the pond and a couple of moorhens carefully picked their way to the edge on their impossibly long green feet before plopping into the water.
Her musings were interrupted when two elderly women came bustling out of the pool house, both brown as berries and wearing spectacular flowing kaftans. Laura stepped back into the shadow of a tree and strained to hear their conversation.
“And he tested it twice with that monitor thingy,” one was saying to the other as they pushed their leathery feet into well-worn sandals and clip clopped down the wooden steps.
“He just kept tutting and saying he couldn’t understand why the readings were-” at that moment the women turned away from Laura, but she thought she heard the word ‘salty.’ What could it mean? She thought about it for a while as she walked back home, stopping on her way to buy the milk and a tin of soup for her supper.
Laura was still half wondering when she got into work the next morning, but was soon distracted by Rani who had designated today as a Manic Monday. Never one to be constrained by convention, Rani had decided that Monday was the best night of the week to go out in London. Fewer people around meant it was easier to get a table for dinner, and there was often free, or at least cheap, entry to fashionable places. Sometimes the bar Rani chose was so quiet she even had time to flirt the barman into giving away drinks, and so every few weeks she dragged anyone who was willing – or simply too weak to resist – out for a Manic Monday.
Today, as was quite often the case, only Laura was too soft-hearted to turn her down, and by six-thirty they were seated at a prime table for two in a hip new bar. Laura turned the menu over in her hands, peering at it through the gloom that passed for atmospheric lighting.
“Don’t they do food?” she grumbled.
“What?” Rani had to lean in close to be heard over the rather less than atmospheric pumping bass of the sound system.
“Food,” yelled Laura, “isn’t there any?”
“Of course not silly, that’s a cocktail menu. No one who comes to a place like this eats, certainly not in public anyway.”
Laura sighed and Rani laughed, “We’re only staying here for one anyway, I can’t interrogate you about your new man with this music blaring, can I?”
After half an hour Rani was satisfied that they’d exhausted all the possibilities of their first venue, no free drinks were forthcoming and it was too loud, even for her. She led the way to a smart new gastropub that Laura vaguely recalled being a laundry the last time she’d walked down that street. Again there was very much a Monday night feeling and they had a wide choice of tables. They were soon sitting in the window, this time with dinner menus in hand, while the waiter went back to watching the TV that played quietly behind the bar.
Once they’d ordered some drinks, Rani opened the packet of breadsticks that sat in a glass on the table in a fashionably retro touch, bit the end off one, and then used the remainder to point at Laura with added emphasis.
“Right madam, you need to tell me what’s going on with the dolphin man. Starting with his identity.”
Laura knew that she had to stay quiet about Joseph, if she revealed anything at all she might not be able to stop herself and the whole secret would be out. She’d expected Rani to be curious and deciding that mysterious silence was the best option, helped herself to a breadstick as a distraction.
“It’s no good trying to put me off by scoffing breadsticks. It won’t work.”
“I’d really rather not say anything Rani, please can we talk about something else?”
“You’d rather not say. Hmmm…” Rani rubbed her chin in what she hoped was a Sherlock Holmes type way.
“Well that either means he doesn’t exist at all, which is unlikely as there has to be a reason for your walk of shame the other day, or you’re too embarrassed to say who it is. Or he could be so fabulous that you don’t want me to know in case I steal him from under your nose.”
Laura snorted and Rani pounced. “A-ha, must be embarrassment then. So, my guess is…” she paused for maximum dramatic effect, “Eric the porter!”
“Okay then, how about Richard from Science Periodicals, he’s always hanging around?”
“He doesn’t hang around, I’ve been helping him with some citations.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“This is ridiculous Rani.”
“Okay okay, final guess,” and she went quiet for a minute to think before a smug look came over her face. “Got it, it’s that clerk from Boston Spa isn’t it? You’ve been having secret assignations!”
Laura couldn’t help but smile at her friend’s efforts. “It’s no one from work, and I really don’t want to talk about it, please Rani.”
Rani was satisfied enough with confirming that there was someone, she could wait to find out his identity. Laura would spill in the end, she knew her too well. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes sipping their drinks until Laura’s attention was caught by the TV behind the bar. The news was on and in the absence of any other customers the bar tender had turned up the volume in time for a summary of the day’s financial news. The main story seemed to be an unexpected rise in the share price of a number of soft drinks companies, which contrasted with a fall in the wider market. The presenter signed off by quipping that anyone would think there was going to be a shortage of pop.