JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -2

28 Jul

This is Part 2 of a little something I’m quite enjoying creating as I go along

JOURNEY WITH A STRANGER -2

“There is,” thought Maria Bigelow having arrived in front of a rather new and imposing front door, “something about a door like this that scares me. It’s intimidating, and I don’t like it… why would anyone want such a big door?”

She reached out to the bell-pull and might have given it a gentle tug, but something inside her head got in the way and she pulled her hand away. It was that door. She instinctively hated the power it represented.

It had been a weird day so far. Ma had warned her about Luke, the Benson lad. She had suggested that real trouble might come her way if she let him close to her. And although she was naive to the point of ignorance she had heard of unwanted pregnancies. Girls like her found themselves having babies and it was something to do with what boys got up to. She had never heard of any such thing as sex education, and maybe she should have. As it was boys doing naughty things and storks carrying babies and the roots of gooseberry bushes were all mixed together in her head as no explanation at all of where babies really come from.

She didn’t know much about boys at all, and even if she did she might not have been a great deal wiser. At fourteen she was little more than a child herself and her monthly periods hadn’t even started yet. She knew they would, sooner or later, Ma had told her (though no mention had been of what they were for) but she had a vague idea that they had to do with her becoming a woman and maybe even, one day, a mother. Such was her ignorance that she wondered whether boys had periods too. Is that why they were so dangerous to get near? Is that why it was called a curse?

She reached for the bell pull for a second time, and drew back again.

She was still carrying the card the stranger in the Rolls Royce had given her. There was gold printing on it, and a name, address and telephone number. She looked at it. In expensive-looking gold it said Lambert Mason. That must be his name – unless he was a mason of some kind, and he didn’t look like one. And there was a telephone number, also in gold.

Fancy that! A telephone number! Not many people had those! Only important and rich people, those whose lives were stratospheric compared with her own. And the man who had given her this card, this really expensive looking card, had said he would give her a safe job. He had said that the big man in the big house, Mr Benson, Mr Alfred Benson, had killed her father, and improbable as it sounded, buried him in the garden. And someone else had been put in the coffin they had buried in the churchyard, someone who wasn’t her dad. It was an impossible story, after all she had been at her father’s funeral, but Marie found herself wondering about it.

And at the same time that huge wooden door was scaring her. On the other side of it there would doubtless be that same Mr Benson.

“Hey you there,” came a sudden voice, “get away from there, bitch! You need the tradesman’s entrance and if you stay there like a scare-crow I’ll have a go at your entrance good and proper, see if I don’t!”

It was the boy of the house, standing at the corner of the house. She knew what he looked like, had seen him around the village on odd occasions, and at church on Sundays. He was three or four years older than her, and growing to fat, like his obese father. Everyone said it ran in the family, but privately she thought it was probably greed because Ma had told her in detail of some of the things they had on their table, things she could only dream of seeing let alone eating.

He sniggered at her, at the expression on her face, confused, not understanding – and he understood so well!

“At your front entrance,” he added “I’ll have a go at that all right, just you see if I don’t, rag-tag knickers or none, and you’ll like it, or else!”

“Luke! That’s enough!” came a voice from just behind him, and his thin, wiry and frightening-looking mother came into view, leaning on a stick for support and holding a large dog that threatened to pull her over on its leather leash.

“Aw, I was only teasing, mummy,” he grinned. “Girls like teasing, you know. They crave for it. It’s what they were invented for!”

“Go away, girl!” almost screeched the woman, Lois Benson. “I know who you are! There’s nothing for you here! Get off our land, or I’ll call the constable – and then you’ll be sorry!”

Maria was alarmed. Mention of the constable – an affable enough man, but still a constable, made her heart lurch. She had been brought up to have a respectful fear of policemen. “I was told to come here, ma’am…” she said, as boldly as she could muster. “For a job,” she added.

“Get you going!” squawked the boy Luke’s mother. “Your sort have no place here! In five minutes you’ll be taking advantage of dear Luke with your filthy mind and filthier body, and then he’ll be infected with your horrible diseases and doubtless end up sterile with scabs where there shouldn’t be any! So get off before the constable comes! And you can tell your mother the same! We don’t want her sort here either!”

“But Ma comes here every day!” protested Maria, more boldly this time.

“She makes the fish taste like poo, mummy,” put in Luke.

“Do you hear that, wretched girl! She poisons our food, that’s what she does, makes us all sick! Now be off with you or I’ll break this stick over your back, see if I don’t!” shrieked Lois Benson, allowing her dog to snarl and leap towards Maria until its lead tightened and stopped it.

Maria could take no more. She had spent the day building up her courage for what she had believed was going to be an interview, probably the most important interview of her life. She even had references of a kind, a paper from the vicar saying how godly she was, and everyone knew that only the best people were ever godly. And her recommendation from the school teacher saying she had never needed to be caned, not once in the years she was there, unlike most children. She was a good girl, was Maria. It would have looked more convincing if the name Laura hadn’t been roughly scratched out and the name Maria untidily written above it. But what use were those papers anyway, if she wasn’t to see anyone?

“Bah!” sneered Luke, and he actually picked up a hand of pebbles from the drive and slung them casually at her. One hit her sharply on the face, and sudden tears pricked her eyes. It wasn’t pain – the pebble hadn’t hurt her, but the humiliation of being treated worse than the Bensons treated their dog bit deep.

“Go inside, Luke, or you’ll be joining your sister!” rapped Mrs Benson.

“Can I see Jenna then?” ventured Maria. Jenna was the sister the wiry little woman had alluded to. There had been a time, years earlier, when Maria and Jenna had played together when Maria’s mother had taken her to work with her. Back then the Bensons had hardly ever been at home and the kitchen cook had been a kind of unpaid baby sitter. It hadn’t been so good for Maria because Jenna had something wrong with her speech and didn’t seem to understand the games they played properly.

“She’s away!” snapped the older woman. “Luke! Go and fetch the constable! The wretched child won’t leave our land!”

Maria turned away. Holding her papers in one hand and the bold-printed card in the other she walked at first, then ran, down the drive towards the road to the village. She felt almost totally miserable. The job she had expected to be starting, maybe even today, had evaporated like mist and she had never felt so unwanted or lonely in all of her life.

“So they didn’t want you after all,” murmured a voice just behind her.

It was the man in his Rolls Royce, and just like before he had wound his window down and was smiling at her as if nothing in the world was wrong. “It’s almost certainly for the best,” he added, “come in, child, and I’ll run you home. You might even see things very differently by the end of today!”

Ma had told her about strangers and had even hinted at what they might do to girls they trapped, but she felt so utterly miserable she did as he bade her. She climbed into the door that he opened, and sat on the plush leather seat next to him, and turned her tear-stained face towards him.

© Peter Rogerson 28.07.15

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