'That bloody, bloody wind really does get on my nerves, Dick,' sighed Lizzie. She punched the aluminium cap viciously into the milk bottle with her thumb and dribbled about a tablespoon into my tea. A brisk gale boomed around the house and rattled the kitchen windows.
I turned the pages over from the "Storms Lash South" headlines to the travel section. A tree must have blown over in editor's garden, I thought, to get that sort of coverage for just a storm nowadays. 'Well, you know what they say, my love, "March comes in like a lion",' I murmured.
'Richard,' she snapped, 'Don't be such an ass! It's the middle of June now and it's still blowing like hell.' She banged the cup down in front of me. A mahogany wave of steaming tea slopped over the rim and on to the counter. Lizzie ripped off three paper towels from the roll and threw them down in front of me.
'Oh, yes, so it is,' I replied with my best "startled academic" face. It's tough having a wife smarter than you are. I carefully mopped up the spilled tea with the fluffy thick paper towels, polished the top and tossed the towels casually into the bin. 'Well, you know what they say nowadays, love, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion some time after August". I beamed brightly at her. I took a loud slurp of the scalding tea.
'Bloody idiot,' Lizzie hissed. She slammed the refrigerator door and switched on the dishwasher. It howled like a demented thing, joining the clothes washer and dryer.
* * *
Now, look, I know I promised you a story, but the temptation to comment just keeps bubbling up to the surface. I know I haven't even really started the story, Lizzie, but I just can't help butting in. It must be all those years of teaching. They say it's terribly corrupting. Oh, all right, so I didn't teach very long. So I'm a natural-born interrupter. I'm only trying to help our gentle reader to understand, dear. All right, dear, all right. I'll make it short. I promise. Honest.
Refrigerators and chlorofluorocarbons and ozone. Paper towels, milk bottles and dishwashers. Can you believe it now? Those dishwashers used more power in a quarter hour than we can generate on the worst day now. Crisp, soft paper. And think of all that lovely water sloshed down the sewers. You just turned the tap and all that gorgeous, wonderful water came spilling out, clean and cold and utterly, utterly delicious. Gallons and gallons of lovely, sparkling water. You could drink it. You could wash in it. You could just sit there and admire it. Oh God, that water was so beautiful. We must have been totally screwball to have wasted it like that, to have pumped it full of nitrates, phosphates, garbage and shit. What on earth could we have been thinking about? OK, sermon over. Get back to the story.
* * *
'Look, Lizzie lovey, you can't live near to the sea and not expect a fresh breeze every now and again,' I said reasonably. 'Certainly not in Wales, my love.'
'I don't call a howling gale a breeze and you're the one who dragged us out here to the backside of beyond, Dick Turner,' snapped Lizzie. 'I was perfectly happy where we were in Richmond, thank you very much. Wales, my arse!'
'Well, you certainly might have said that before it was too late,' I replied as calmly as I could. 'You sounded happy enough about moving at the time; delighted, I thought. You always said you wanted a big house in the country, by the sea. Look about you, my lady.' I swept my hand grandly at the window. 'One stately pile in the Welsh hills. Real live sheep all over the place. Sea, sand, fresh air for the kids and all that sort of stuff. At least your snot doesn't turn black out here. You know, they say that if you cut a Londoner open, he's full of soot and lead. It's got to be a lot healthier here than living in London.'
'Oh, I suppose so,' Lizzie admitted unhappily. 'I just didn't think it would be, well, quite so desperately rural, Dick.' She stared moodily out the window at the sheep. 'Sheep, sheep, sheep, bloody sheep!' she snapped. They nosed through the flattened dry grass with their round grey rumps turned into the wind. The wind parted their heavy fleece in furry little wavelets. 'You're working all the time. I'm alone all the time and I'm bored.'
'Well, you seem to be busy enough, lovey,' I commented vaguely. 'What with the school and all that.' I gave "all that" a dead fall.
'Half a day of art class, twice a week, isn't much to do, Richard,' she said defensively. 'It's just dabbling, really. I'm mainly busy taxiing the kids around all day long. It isn't boredom, anyway. It really is that constant, bloody wind.'
* * *
Lizzie interrupted. 'I was not defensive!'
'Yes, you were! Definitely defensive.'
'I had nothing to be defensive about!'
'Maybe not and maybe not then. Anyway, it's not important now. We're together and you can't say a lot more than that these days. It really doesn't matter any more.'
* * *
'Oh, come on, Lizzie, that's an exaggeration,' I replied. 'The wind doesn't blow all the time.'
'No, I suppose not,' she admitted, 'It just seems like it does sometimes. Like it'll never, ever stop blowing.' She shivered and stared out the window again. Black ragged clouds streaked overhead. The red setting sun peeked out for a minute and reflected off the sea, way down in the valley.
'Red sky at night, shepherds delight,' I said. I pointed to the paper. 'And just look at all the storms they've been having down South,' I reminded. 'You'd have the wind down in Richmond, too.'
She turned to me. Her eyes looked suspiciously watery. 'I didn't think you'd be away so much of the time in this job, either, Ratty,' she said sadly. 'It's awful kind of creepy out here at night sometimes, you know.' She twined her arms around my waist and pressed her head against my shoulder. 'You're working too hard, Dicky. You're never home.'
'Well, dear, you know that everything interesting happens in London or anywhere else but up here,' I said, hugging her. 'The environmental committee work I'm doing with the Government is really pretty important. And it puts a bit of extra sugar in that old sugar bowl.'
'Oh, I know, Ratty. I suppose it's all really very good for us,' she sighed. 'But it just all gets on my nerves sometimes. It really does.'
'Look, love, why don't you take a day off and come on down to town with me on Monday?' I asked brightly. 'It's just for the day, you know. You could do some shopping while I'm over at Whitehall. After that we could have dinner together, maybe a show? We could even check into a hotel for a dirty hour or two afterward.' I waggled my eyebrows at her and flashed my soapiest smile. 'Just like old times, eh, my girl?'
'Oh, you know perfectly well that I can't go to London with you, Dick,' she said crossly. 'What would I do about the kids?' She pushed herself away from me.
'I hope they're too young for that sort of thing,' I joked. I suspected they weren't. At least the older one, anyway, bless her black little teenaged heart.
'You know exactly what I mean, Dick.'
'Oh, they're old enough to look after themselves,' I replied casually. 'They can sling some sausages and chips into the microwave, then douse it with ketchup. That's all they seem to want to eat, anyway. We'd be back well before midnight to turn off the TV and tuck the little darlings in.'
'Oh, don't be so damned stupid, Dick,' snapped Lizzie. 'I'm not about to leave the kids out here in the middle of nowhere, alone by themselves at night. Anyway, I've got other things to do. Sex isn't the answer to everything.' She twisted on the tap and started scrubbing and peeling potatoes viciously in the delicious sparkling, foaming water.
'Just asking, my dear,' I mumbled defensively. There wasn't a lot you could do when Lizzie went into one of her Red Queen moods. 'Things to do' gave me a nasty little twinge in the stomach. Sometimes I wondered about those things. Best not to think, really. Who would cast the first stone?
'You said you'd take Robert out and help him fly his new kite,' she growled.
A soft cheek turneth away wrath. 'I think it's a bit windy for kites, poppet,' I replied meekly. I turned over to the business section. Stock market gloomy this week: threat of world peace. Stock market gloomy last week: world peace threatened.
'You promised Bobby this morning,' insisted Lizzie. 'You promised him yesterday, too, but you didn't take him out. You had time to go to work, Richard; plenty of time for that, but not for him. So why did you promise in the first place if you had no intention to do it?'
Dick market very gloomy right now: home peace threatened. 'Oh, all right, dear,' I sighed. I finished my tea and folded the paper over. I set my cup down on the counter. I sidled up alongside Lizzie and gently bumped her lean flank with mine. 'Come on, lovey,' I coaxed, 'Give us a little kiss.' She pursed her lips sulkily and tilted her head towards me. I pressed my forehead against her lips. She kissed it lightly. I patted her backside and stepped out into the hall. 'Bobby!' I shouted.
'Yeah, Dad?' came the faint reply from upstairs.
'Bobby!' I shouted again.
His door opened. 'Aw, what do you want, Dad?' he moaned. 'I'm playing a game.'
'You still want to go out and fly your kite?' I asked.
'Oh, I guess so, maybe,' he replied.
'Hey, look, you don't need to do me any big favours,' I said. 'It's your kite. I'd just as soon lie back on the couch and watch TV. Or I've got work to do.'
'Aw, Dad, you promised,' he whined. 'You've been promising me for weeks.'
'OK,' I said airily, 'Here's your big chance then, kid. Let's go before I change my mind or something even worse.'
Bobby bounced down the stairs, two steps at a time. He threw himself on top of me. I flipped him over my hip and pinned him to the floor. I placed my bare foot over his neck. 'Give up, dog?' I growled.
'No!' he shouted, wiggling violently. He almost managed to escape.
I pressed him back down to the floor with my foot. 'Give up, kid stuff, or you're dead meat,' I threatened dramatically in my very cruelest cruel-voice.
'Mercy, master, mercy,' sobbed Bobby pathetically.
'All right, serf, just this once. But don't you forget it,' I snarled condescendingly. I let Bobby get up. He immediately seized my leg and nearly pulled me over on to the floor. He was really getting strong. He was like a frisky little bullock. 'Come on,' I growled, 'I thought you wanted to go fly a kite. If you don't hurry up, the wind may die down.'
'Fat chance, Dad,' laughed Bobby. 'It never stops blowing in this place.' He butted his head into my belly and nearly knocked me over again.
'Look, kid, it's blowing all over the country like this,' I said, getting a bit annoyed with the tussle, 'Come on. Let's get out and get that kite up and over with. There's something on the TV I want to see this afternoon.'
'Aw, not another one of those boring old global warming things, Dad. The Greenhouse Effect,' groaned Bobby in a hollow dramatic voice, lifting his arms zombie-like. 'Wooooh!'
'People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones,' I intoned portentously.
'Doom, gloom, doom, gloom,' he moaned. 'I wanted to watch the match, Dad. Honest, I did.'
'We'll see then. Come on, let's go,' I repeated. 'Get your kite.' Bobby ran out to the utility room and brought back the kite. It was a bit special, a shiny little blue Kevlar and composites job with two hundred metres of braided nylon string. 'It's going to need a lot longer tail than that,' I warned.
'What for, Dad' asked Bobby. He scrutinised the kite.
'It's to stabilise it in this sort of wind,' I replied. 'I'll see if your Mum's got an old piece of material or something like that.' I stuck my head into the kitchen. 'Lizzie, have you got any old rags we can use?'
'Now what have you spilled?' she demanded sharply. She didn't turn around from the sink.
'Nothing, Mum,' I piped. 'We just need to make a heavier tail for the kite, please.'
'Rags on the utility shelf, where they always are. And don't make a mess of them,' Lizzie warned. 'They're organised.'
'No, your majesty,' I replied. 'See you in a few minutes, your honour. We peons will just be out in the back field, sir, picking the cotton.'
'And don't get yourselves all mucky,' she added.
'Not much chance of that, possums,' I replied. 'It hasn't rained for months.'
'You two never needed mud to get everything mucky before now,' she replied heavily. 'Don't fall in the dust, then. I have to vacuum this house every day. And I've washed clothes twice today already.'
* * *
Lizzie says she wasn't really all that cross that day. I was acting like a moron, as usual, and that bloody wind was really getting on her nerves. At least she can't hear it much down here although she still has to listen to me all the time. She also says that I'm making it sound as if women single-handedly caused the environmental holocaust with their cleanliness and household appliances. "This is the way the world ends," she sings, "Not with a bang, but a dish wash." What can I say?
* * *
The little blue kite bounced all over the darkening sky. It dove straight for the ground and crashed with a burst of red dust. 'Bobby,' I bellowed, 'If you smash that bloody kite into the ground one more time, I'm going to come over and smash you into the ground!' I always used to get wound too much up by things like that then. You should have seen me with computer games. I was absolutely diabolical and usually very sorry for it afterward.
'Aw, come on, Dad,' Bobby shouted back cheerfully, 'It wasn't my fault. It was the wind that did it!'
'I've told you a thousand times, give that blasted thing more string!' I hissed through clenched teeth. I jogged over to the kite. It thrashed frantically against the ground like a wounded bird. I held it down with my shoe.
'Put the kite up again, Dad, let it go again!' cried Bobby excitedly.
'All right, but let the string out as fast as you can this time!' I lifted the kite and held it up into the wind. It was all I could do to keep a grip on it. 'Ready! Steady! Go!' I shouted. I launched the kite into the blast. 'Fast! Fast!' I yelled. 'Faster!' The kite shot up like a rocket. The string pulled taut with a quivering ping. Bobby yelped, the string went slack and the little kite disappeared over the top of the hill in what seemed like a second, trailing two hundred metres of string.
I raced over to Bobby and glared at him. 'God damn it, Bobby!' I roared. 'What the hell did you let the kite go for? It's totally bloody lost now!'
Bobby stood with his left hand clamped over his right palm, shoulders slumped. Big tears streaked down his quivering white face. 'I didn't mean to, Dad,' he sobbed. 'The string cut me. I tried to hold it, Dad, but the wind was too strong for me. I'm sorry.'
I looked down at his hand. Bright red blood welled between his sturdy little fingers. My stomach twisted. I dropped to my knees. 'Oh, my God, Bobby, let me see,' I croaked. I gently prised his fingers loose. The string had sliced deep into his palm. I caught a glimpse of bright white fat, just before his cupped palm filled with spurts of arterial blood. I clamped my hand tightly over his and ran back to the house, clutching him desperately close. I was crying, too.