Mister Mahogany's Misguided Intentions

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A menage a trois that was doomed from the start

Submitted: July 20, 2017

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Submitted: July 20, 2017

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Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

*

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

‘Do I?’

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

‘You okay?’

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

*

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

*

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

*

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry for what?’

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

‘But you haven’t told them.’

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

There was a brief period of silence.

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

*

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

*

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

‘He told you that did he?’

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

*

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

*

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

 

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

 

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

 

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

 

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

 

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

 

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

 

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

 

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

 

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

 

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

 

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

 

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

 

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

 

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

 

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

 

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

 

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

 

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

 

‘Do I?’

 

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

 

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

 

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

 

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

 

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

 

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

 

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

 

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

 

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

 

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

 

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

 

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

 

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

 

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

 

‘You okay?’

 

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

 

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

 

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

 

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

 

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

 

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

 

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

 

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

 

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

 

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

 

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

 

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

 

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

 

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

 

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

 

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

 

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

 

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

 

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

 

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

 

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

 

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

 

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

 

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

 

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

 

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

 

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

 

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

 

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

 

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

 

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

 

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

 

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

 

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

 

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

 

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

 

‘Sorry for what?’

 

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

 

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

 

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

 

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

 

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

 

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

 

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

 

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

 

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

 

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

 

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

 

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

 

‘But you haven’t told them.’

 

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

 

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

 

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

 

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

 

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

 

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

 

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

 

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

 

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

 

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

 

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

 

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

 

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

 

There was a brief period of silence.

 

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

 

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

 

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

 

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

 

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

 

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

 

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

 

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

 

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

 

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

 

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

 

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

 

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

 

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

 

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

 

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

 

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

 

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

 

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

 

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

 

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

 

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

 

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

 

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

 

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

 

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

 

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

 

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

 

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

 

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

 

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

 

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

 

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

 

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

 

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

 

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

 

‘He told you that did he?’

 

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

 

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

 

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

 

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

 

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

 

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

 

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

 

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

 

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

 

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

 

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

 

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

 

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

 

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

 

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

 

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

 

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

 

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

 

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

 

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

 

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

 

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

 

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

 

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

 

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

 

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

 

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

 

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

 

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

 

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

 

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

 

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

 

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

 

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

 

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

 

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

 

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

 

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

 

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

 

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

 

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

 

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

 

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

 

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

 

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

 

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

 

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

 

‘Do I?’

 

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

 

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

 

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

 

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

 

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

 

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

 

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

 

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

 

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

 

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

 

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

 

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

 

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

 

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

 

‘You okay?’

 

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

 

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

 

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

 

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

 

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

 

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

 

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

 

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

 

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

 

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

 

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

 

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

 

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

 

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

 

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

 

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

 

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

 

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

 

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

 

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

 

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

 

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

 

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

 

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

 

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

 

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

 

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

 

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

 

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

 

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

 

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

 

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

 

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

 

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

 

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

 

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

 

‘Sorry for what?’

 

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

 

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

 

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

 

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

 

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

 

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

 

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

 

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

 

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

 

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

 

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

 

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

 

‘But you haven’t told them.’

 

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

 

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

 

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

 

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

 

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

 

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

 

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

 

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

 

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

 

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

 

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

 

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

 

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

 

There was a brief period of silence.

 

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

 

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

 

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

 

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

 

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

 

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

 

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

 

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

 

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

 

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

 

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

 

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

 

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

 

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

 

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

 

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

 

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

 

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

 

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

 

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

 

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

 

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

 

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

 

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

 

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

 

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

 

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

 

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

 

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

 

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

 

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

 

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

 

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

 

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

 

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

 

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

 

‘He told you that did he?’

 

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

 

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

 

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

 

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

 

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

 

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

 

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

 

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

 

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

 

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

 

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

 

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

 

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

 

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

 

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

 

 

 

 

*

 

 

 

 

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

 

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

 

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

 

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

 

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

 

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

 

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

 

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

 

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

 

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

 

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

 

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

 

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

 

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

 

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

*

 

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

‘Do I?’

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

‘You okay?’

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

 

*

 

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

 

*

 

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry for what?’

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

‘But you haven’t told them.’

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

There was a brief period of silence.

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

‘He told you that did he?’

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

 

*

 

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

 

*

 

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

*

 

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

‘Do I?’

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

‘You okay?’

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

 

*

 

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

 

*

 

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry for what?’

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

‘But you haven’t told them.’

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

There was a brief period of silence.

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

‘He told you that did he?’

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

 

*

 

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

 

*

 

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mister Mahogany’s Misguided Intentions

 

 

 

 

‘He fancies you.’

Leanne turned from the bay window and adjusted the net curtains before replying. ‘Who does?’

Pat smiled and straightened another book. It had been an inspired idea of hers to fill the empty space either side of the chimney breast with shelving. In her opinion it gave this entire end of the living room a sense of balance. She liked the concept of equilibrium, including that of relationships. She pulled out a battered copy of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.

‘You know perfectly well to whom I am referring,’ she chided. ‘Mister Mahogany at number 126.’

Leanne shook her head at the description. ‘Now, now, don’t be bitchy sweetheart. Just because he’s never helped you carry a week’s load of groceries into the house.’

Pat carefully returned the volume to its correct place on the shelf. ‘Well I just hope you aren’t leading him on that’s all. Men fall into two distinct categories when it comes to discovering that you’re a lesbian.’

Her partner threw herself onto the generous leather armchair. ‘Oh spare me the lecture,’ she scoffed, ‘you’re not teaching your English class now you know.’

Pat pulled out another book; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and grinned to herself at the irony. She spoke over her shoulder. ‘Firstly there’s the shallow type of men, the one’s whose expression changes to a huge lewd smile of expectation, assuming quite incorrectly that they might be invited to play voyeur to any impending carnal proceedings.’

Leanne pulled a face of utter disgust and massaged her right foot.

‘And of course there’s the second type. These are the one’s that feel let down, emasculated even, as if the fact that a girl might be sexually attracted to a member of the same sex is tantamount to insulting the power of their supposed manhood.’ She turned her face towards the other woman. ‘In my opinion this type of chap is a far more dangerous species than the former,’ she insisted.

Leanne was now examining her fingernails. ‘Dangerous eh? Now that sounds intriguing,’ and giggled provocatively.

Pat blew dust from an old leather book. There was nothing quite like the aroma of these leather bound volumes, and her fingertips caressed a complete set of Thomas Hardy as she contemplated those approaching winter evenings and the return of old friends.

‘I’m being serious Leanne,’ she said with a stern tone in her voice. Put this man straight before . . . well before he gets ideas.’

Her companion stopped twisting her fingers and looked up with a confused expression across her rather exquisite features. ‘What do you mean ideas?’

‘Ideas,’ the other woman tried to reiterate. Goodness me, sometimes this woman she loved could be a little slow on the uptake. In fact she often imagined that they would have made a good female Holmes and Watson; Patricia Radford the natural observer of humankind with all its frailties, and Leanne Harrison the born follower with her almost bovine dependency based solely upon a kind and trusting nature.

‘Oh I see what you mean,’ the cocaine addict heard Doctor Watson murmur in the background, just as she came across the faded and very creased spine of Honore de Balzac’s classic work Lost Illusions.

*

 

 

‘You’ve got such gorgeous hair,’ Pat whispered, before running her fingers through her girlfriend’s thick blonde waves. ‘I could lay here stroking it all day long,’ she added wistfully.

‘I could easily let you,’ Leanne sighed.

It had been a very hot day and now as early evening approached both women had decided to come indoors. For most of the afternoon they had indulged in a spot of sunbathing in their secluded back garden. But now they were laid out on the sofa watching some TV.

Leanne squeezed Pat’s free hand. ‘You spoil me,’ she purred. Wow but this spontaneous head massage felt so damn good.

‘Do I?’

‘Well you always manage to make me feel good about myself is what I mean. Like I’m special,’ she added. It was good to be indoors where it felt cooler.

Pat leaned forward and kissed the top of her partner’s head. ‘You are special to me,’ she by way of confirmation.

Suddenly Leanne changed the subject. ‘Have you always worn your hair so short?’ she casually enquired, afraid that the massage would come to a sudden end.

The other woman laughed. ‘Ever since I was at Uni,’ she replied. ‘I used to change the colour about once a month; gothic purple, lime green, shocking pink. I’ve tried them all in my time. I suppose it went with my left wing credentials; those student rallies, the CND movement, pushing the agenda on gay rights and all the other things that used to be so important to me.’

Leanne raised one arm as if in class. ‘Before you entered the real world Miss Radford?’

Her friend laughed. That’s quite right young lady. Before I grew up and realised how society actually fits together. One fine day my naivety just fell away. Like a snake shedding its skin. I mean crusades against perceived injustices are all very well in principal, but they don’t pay the mortgage or keep your car on the road.’

The TV show they were watching was one of those cheaply produced documentaries about three different families surviving on benefits. Leanne loved watching these type of programmes and today her partner decided that instead of deriding such material she would instead just go with the flow. In fact the whole weekend had been just one long period of immersing themselves in each other’s company. Pottering around the confines of their scrupulously tidy terraced cottage they had both relished this period of quality time and a whole weekend free of various commitments both private and professional.

Turning her head slightly Leanne looked up at her lover and wrinkled her pert little nose. Pat broke off playing with her hair and bent her own head to give the other a long passionate kiss on the mouth. After a moment they broke off and looked at each other with longing. A special kind of love radiated between them both.

‘I wish I’d known you when you were younger,’ Leanne said softly. ‘Back in your student days, or when you worked for Oxfam in Africa.’

‘Brazil,’ Pat quickly corrected her and suppressed a smile.

‘Wherever,’ the other replied and turned back to the fat rowdy couple who appeared to be having difficulty rising from their respective armchairs, such was the enormity of their combined body mass. The man on screen was covered in tattoos and wore a greasy greying ponytail. On closer inspection he also seemed to be missing one front tooth.

Leanne continued staring at the TV set. ‘Did you have many girlfriends back then?’ she asked.

Her lover sighed. ‘You know I did. I mean what’s the point in being young and not enjoying the experience while it lasts,’ she answered truthfully. For some inexplicable reason the image of Terri walked into her consciousness like a ghost drawn from the spirit world of her long dead past, and somewhere deep inside her a heart string snapped. She drew a long sigh as the superstructure of her present incarnation held steady. The anchorage of this stable relationship with the lovely Leanne now kept her emotions firmly grounded.

Her partner must have sensed something, some slight shift in the other woman’s unruffled disposition.

‘You okay?’

Pat locked their fingers together. ‘I think I must have had too much sun baby. I just felt a bit queasy that’s all. Nothing to worry about,’ she assured her.

A lecherous grin spread itself across Leanne’s mouth. ‘Good job we didn’t take our clothes off to sunbathe like I wanted to,’ she giggled.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat cleaned her teeth with all the fastidious application instilled in her since childhood. Count slowly to a hundred while brushing her own mum had taught her, just to ensure that her young daughter didn’t rush this important ritual before leaving for school every morning.

Wiping her mouth she gazed at herself in the large bathroom mirror. She was now half a decade older than mummy had been when she had lost her long but brave battle with breast cancer. The reflection that stared back at her was a stark reminder of her own mortality.

And then as she reached for a towel the image of Terri came back to her again, just as a wedge of early morning sunlight stretched itself across the frosted bathroom window. Now what was it this ex-partner had once said to her? Oh yes that was it. Terri had said that in her opinion Pat had a “terminally placid nature hiding behind an unfortunately sullen countenance”. Her lover always did have an expressive use of dialogue. Perhaps that’s why she became a best-selling author of academic textbooks.

Reaching for a small tub of hair gel she applied a little to the jet black spikes which adorned her head. Did she really take herself too seriously? Had she become a dour middle aged school teacher living in an old Roman city while Terri had constantly embraced the new? Technology and all those latest fads had enabled her ex to push her life forward while she in contrast had steered a different path towards the consolations of the conventional.

Pat examined her face again in the mirror. The basic shape and contours of her features were pretty much intact. Okay there were quite a few lines beginning to show but these were simply those accumulated credentials of being nearly fifty years of age. Her eyes, a subtle shade of hazel, were slightly bloodshot and very recently a pair of slight pouches had developed beneath them, an occurrence which she had put down to overwork. But why did her mouth turn downwards? It must always have done so she supposed, hence why people always used to say to her: “cheer up it might never happen”. And for years she never understood or enquired why they said this. It was funny really because from as far back as she could remember she had always been content with her lot. And if anything did on occasion get her down, well there was always the anticipation of a good book to help her forget about real life.

Moving away from the mirror she reached for some deodorant. It had been fourteen years since she had last seen or heard from Terri. Apparently she had taken up some university lecturing post in Auckland, New Zealand and was doing very well for herself. And to think that for over ten years they had been inseparable, a perfect couple whose individual destinies appeared to share the same path. But that seemed a long, long time ago now. Today their degree of separation, when measured in miles and a total of eleven time zones, would mean that they were probably hardly ever awake at the same time, an irrelevant but thought provoking aspect relating to the absurdity of their permanent estrangement.

There was a sharp knock on the bathroom door.

‘You okay Pat?’ a voice called in concern.

She replaced the deodorant on the shelf and turned to reply. ‘It’s not locked you silly thing,’ she called back.

The door opened and Leanne peered through the space. ‘You’ve been very quiet and a long time. Breakfast is almost ready,’ she told her.

‘Just attending to my ablutions dearest,’ Pat said and turned around.

Leanne wore a puzzled frown. ‘That’s what I thought. It’s why I didn’t just barge in,’ she added. ‘I’ve never forgotten the time I walked in on my step-father wiping his arse. Yuk!’

Pat winced at the thought. ‘Too much information young lady, especially before breakfast,’ she scolded her and closed the bathroom door behind them.

 

 

*

 

 

Leanne closed the front door very gently before returning to the living room. She wore a sheepish expression. ‘Fancy a coffee?’ she asked her partner.

Pat barely looked up from the TV. She was absorbed in one of her favourite detective series The Bridge. ‘That’ll be great,’ she cooed, and left it a moment until she reached what she considered was a convenient place before pressing the pause button on the remote control. She got up from the sofa and followed her partner into the kitchen.

Leanne was busy filling the kettle. She smiled over her shoulder but her features held a trace of guilt around the edges.

‘So what did he want this time?’ Pat asked her.

Her girlfriend switched the kettle on. ‘Who?’

Pat gave vent to a long exhaustive sigh and placed both hands on her hips. ‘Well there was only one Mister Mahogany standing on our front door step.’ She took one pace closer. ‘Unless of course the craze for undergoing excessive visits to our local tanning parlour has spread to your ordinary postal worker or the old fella who delivers our classified paper.’ She put her head to one side by way of demanding an honest answer.

Leanne was searching in the cupboard for a packet of chocolate digestives, talking over her shoulder all the while. ‘He wanted to borrow our lawnmower,’ she confessed.

Pat scratched the side of her nose. ‘And?’

‘And I told him we don’t own one.’ She paused. ‘I told him we have a man come in every fortnight to cut the lawn, trim our bushes and tickle the privet,’ and with great difficulty concealed a filthy grin. She found the packet and began extracting a biscuit. ‘Actually he thought our arrangement quite sensible, with us being two ladies on our own so to speak. And quite reasonable taking into account that Mister Mason is retired and lives in Fulford.’ She smiled coyly. ‘Satisfied?’

Her partner drew a large intake of breath. ‘And while you were both discussing our financial arrangements with honest tradesmen and making an inventory of our household possessions, did it cross your mind to put him straight on Pat and Leanne’s personal relationship?’

The maker of instant coffee hesitated and shrugged her shoulders. Then she filled two large mugs with boiling water and stirred vigorously by way of reply.

‘You haven’t have you?’ her interrogator shouted.

Outside the kitchen window two sparrows clung to a wooden bird feeder, their little tail feathers thrashing about as they began pecking away at their breakfast.

‘He thinks we’re sisters,’ Leanne suddenly blurted out.

‘As in scissor?’ Pat asked and reached for her mug.

The other woman shook her head. ‘No, as in siblings,’ she replied.

‘Oh hell, this just gets better and better.’ She took a sip of her hot beverage. ‘You know what Leanne Harrison? You are a twit sometimes. A first prize blue riband got to the top of the class twit.’

And with that parting shot Pat retreated into the living room and the broody sinister menace of her Scandinavian police drama.

 

 

*

 

 

‘I’m not attracted to him you know,’ Leanne whispered.

Pat didn’t have to ask of whom her partner was referring. She just carried on lying in bed while staring at the ceiling. She was tired and really needed to sleep. It was approaching exam time at school and there was a lot of extra work to mark, coupled with the fact that she had taken on extra responsibility since Agnes Moorehead had left due to ill health. The school governors were struggling to find a suitable replacement.

‘He’s about your age I should imagine,’ she found herself saying.

‘He’s thirty nine actually,’ Leanne blurted out and instantly regretted it.

‘Ha! So we’re getting to know a little bit about him are we?’ and raised herself up plumping the pillow behind her back.

Leanne, already sat up in bed reading a glossy magazine laid it on the duvet cover and turned towards her companion. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry for what?’

‘Well sorry for . . . ‘

‘Sorry for not informing Mister Mahogany that we are in a serious gay relationship and have even considered the possibility of actually tying the knot sometime next year,’ Pat told her with all the calm delivery of a refined cynic.

Leanne coughed. ‘Yeah, that as well,’ she replied somewhat hesitatingly.

There was a pause, a long awkward silence pregnant with expectation. They never hardly rowed or suffered periods of prolonged disagreements, for each of these woman’s inherent qualities always seemed to naturally complement the other. In a word; they were made for each other. Until now.

‘I for one wish that orange fool had never moved in across the road,’ Pat said and folded her arms across her breasts. ‘Mrs Lopez wasn’t perfect but at least you could pretend you couldn’t understand what she was saying. And she wasn’t a nosey so-and-so either.’ She turned to Leanne. ‘I can see his nets twitch every time one of us steps foot outside. Heaven knows what he’s up to in there. And he never lets an opportunity slip by to engage you in conversation.’

‘Well that’s probably because I walk to work, whereas you drive to school each morning.’

Pat winced. ‘Oh I see, so because you walk on his side of the road you share a certainty affinity so to speak. Perhaps you both have a meeting of minds as well. And we know where that will lead.’ Her voice was rising with each sentence. What on earth had happened to her normally endless reserves of composure?

Leanne wore an irate expression. ‘Don’t you trust me Pat? I’m not bisexual?

I’m a lesbian and proud of it. And it’s you I love, so stop being so bloody ridiculous about this whole thing.’

Pat reached for the other woman’s hand. ‘So why haven’t you told him yet?’

‘Maybe for the same reasons you haven’t told Dot and Cyril.’

‘They’re both eighty seven years of age. I don’t really know if they’d understand.’ She shrugged before explaining. ‘And what’s the point? They just see us as two very quiet, very respectable ladies who live next door, who talk to them over the garden fence occasionally and shovel snow from their pathway during the winter.’

‘But you haven’t told them.’

Pat had to admit defeat on this particular topic. ‘No you’re correct,’ she sighed, ‘I haven’t told them.’

Leanne picked up her lovers fingers and kissed their tips provocatively moving one index finger and placing in her own mouth. ‘I love you,’ she whispered.

‘I love you to the moon and back,’ Pat replied and their eyes locked.

They kissed and made love, and when their respective and mutual physical needs had been met they lay in each other’s embrace.

‘Would you ever consider living anywhere else other than York?’ Leanne suddenly enquired.

Pat scrutinised the scallop shaped patterns on the ceiling just where the street light outside cast its eerie glow. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I know,’ she uttered. There was a zagged crack in the plaster just above the wardrobe which she hadn’t noticed before. ‘And I have my career. I count myself fortunate in getting that post.’

Leanne stiffened. ‘And I have my career working the check-out in Asda’s,’ she said testily.

‘I didn’t mean it like that.’

‘I know you didn’t honey,’ she responded. ‘But why do you love me?’

Pat really wanted to sleep but felt the need to placate her partner. ‘Well you’re beautiful and have a bubbly personality for starters. Oh, and I like the way you exude a certain naivety. A naivety often based on your need to please others without thinking things through properly beforehand.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany.’

‘Like with Mister Mahogany Tango ‘tache,’ Pat responded.

Leanne spluttered. ‘Bitchy.’

There was a brief period of silence.

‘I can’t help being sixteen years younger than you Pat.’

The older woman turned her face. ‘And I can’t help being fifty next year. Although it’s a sobering thought I must say. But why are you bringing all this up about our ages?’

Leanne leaned closer. ‘I was rummaging through some stuff in the spare room last week. Found a few of your old vinyl albums. Put a couple of them on that old stereo deck you keep covered up. I didn’t have a clue how you worked the bloody thing. Funny little needle on an arm.’ She laughed to herself. ‘Tried putting that arm thing into the centre of the record, well I didn’t know did I. What a racket. Worked it out in the end though. But it brought it home to me how much more of life you have experienced than me. And all that time living in Africa as well.’

‘Brazil,’ the other cut in and gave vent to a huge yawn.

Leanne groaned. ‘Yes okay Brazil. But what I’m trying to say is that you know so much more than me.’

‘What you mean is that I have a sixteen year head start that’s all it is,’ Pat reassured her.

Her younger lover thought about this for a moment and seemed satisfied with the answer. She was getting tired too but needed to ask one last question before turning over to sleep.

‘Who are Kajagoogoo?’ she asked softly. But Pat was already sound asleep.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat opened the back door and entered the kitchen, depositing a small cardboard box onto the breakfast bar.

Leanne was half way through a bowl of muesli, a spoonful of fibre halfway towards her open mouth. ‘What’s that?’

Her partner shrugged and wore a lop-sided grin. ‘You tell me. I found them on the doorstep’ she stated. ‘And there was a little note pinned to the side,’ and she thrust the very creased piece of paper towards the other woman.

Leanne read the text. ‘Enjoy,’ she said softly to herself.

‘Correct. And the word enjoy is followed up with three very bold exclamation marks.’ She paused. ‘Well?’

The younger woman shrugged and chewed on her famous Alpine inspired cereal. ‘Well what? It’s a box of cucumbers. What do you want me to say?’

Her interrogator extracted a fine specimen of cucumis sativus and held it before her in the vertical position. ‘Is this some kind of a joke? Am I supposed to see some hidden form of satire within this humble fruit?’ she asked.

Leanne wanted to laugh but quickly thought better of it. ‘They’re from David,’ and pointed her spoon towards the box. ‘I hope there are some tomatoes in there as well.’

‘Oh I see,’ Pat said under her breath. ‘So Mister Mahogany has a name.’

It took a moment for the older woman to digest this fact, an interlude of an assumed betrayal. However, deciding to rummage further in the cardboard container she extracted a bright red and very succulent looking example of the solanum lycopersicum. She threw the object towards the other woman who managed to catch it in her free hand.

Leanne lifted her head. ‘He’s won prizes, at county fairs and such. Marrows, gourds,’ she pointed at the cucumber now laying flaccid on the worktop, ‘and of course those things.’

Pat was not impressed. ‘How interesting. How bloody fascinating. Been showing you his collection has he?’

Her girlfriend shrugged with all the culpable traits of a naughty schoolgirl. ‘I happened to mention that you and I were both into organic, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. And how we loved to use our blender to make smoothies.’ She looked at her empty bowl. ‘That’s all.’

But Pat was already closing the back door, leaving a trail of muddy footprints in her wake.

 

 

*

 

 

Pat had been enjoying a quiet couple of hours to herself. Well just her and a certain young Victorian gentleman who went under the name of Mister Nicholas Nickleby esquire.

Only a few years before she had transported over a thousand books of all sizes and types from down south where she had been brought up. Nearly forty boxes all carefully stacked in the back of her own brothers white van before being driven up the A1 and her new home in the city of York. This had been a new start, a chance to escape all the memories of her recent turbulent past. Her life was now one of serene tranquillity, marred only by an occasionally unruly pupil or the stress of a new government inspired curriculum.

She heard the lock being turned in the front door and twisting her head from her place on the sofa she peered over the rim of her glasses. Leanne stood before her, drenched in sweat and leaning against the sideboard while she tried to control her laboured breathing.

‘I am knackered,’ she panted. ‘Ten kilometres and some,’ she managed to add before taking a copious swig from her bottle of water.

Pat returned to her book and turned a page. Exercise of any kind had never really appealed to her. Granny Giles had always told her that being healthy was far better than being fit. Watch what you eat, drink in moderation and try not to worry too much about anything she would advise. In her opinion fit people had heart attacks. Fit people suffered injuries often associated with their chosen recreational pursuits. Fit people would often push themselves too far just to achieve their individual targets.

After another page or two Pat thought it only decent to show a little interest in her partner’s recent endeavours. ‘Oh, you’ve grazed your knee,’ she said in genuine concern and indicated a small plaster which adorned Leanne’s left kneecap. Red scuff marks and a slight trace of blood offered evidence of some recent injury.

The younger woman struggled as she fell into an armchair and pushed her damp hair away from her forehead. She raised her leg a fraction to examine the superficial wound. ‘Luckily David had a plaster with him,’ she stated. ‘Always be prepared is his motto,’ she added and smiled. ‘Comes of being a scout when he was younger.’

There ensued an unhealthy silence while Leanne extracted a tiny piece of tissue and blew her nose with all the dexterity of a champion trombone player. She then stood up and made for the kitchen, the sound of the fridge door being opened the only sound that broke the stillness.

Just as quickly she returned to the living room clutching a fresh bottle of water. Striding up to the decorative wall mirror she proceeded to remove the large rubber band with which she had earlier formed a crude ponytail. Shaking her golden waves free she proceeded to take a long pull at the cold plastic bottle, meanwhile staring at her partner’s reflection with a sort of glum indifference.

‘Bumped into him at the end of the road, between Jubilee Crescent and those old allotments. I didn’t know he even fancied himself as a bit of a jogger,’ she explained meekly.

Pat drummed the cover of her leather bound book with all the virtuosity of a frantically ticking explosive device.

‘He’s very fit,’ Leanne went on. ‘David I mean,’ but instantly regretted this rather clumsy and easily misconstrued description of their neighbour. ‘Obviously when I say fit I mean in the physically fit sense. You know I don’t think he even broke into a sweat.’

‘Oh really,’ Pat said through gritted teeth.

Leanne wasn’t the greatest executor of what is known as common discernment. ‘We ended up in the grounds of York Minster. My goodness it was so beautiful at this time of the morning. Pretty much had it to ourselves.’

Pat suddenly stood up and raised her hands to silence her tormentor. ‘Enough already. Leanne, isn’t it bad enough that Mister Mahogany, and I apologise if I am being too graphic, probably has ingenious designs on entering the White House, but he further ingratiates himself by choosing you as his Running Mate as well.’ She paused to allow these sentiments to sink in before adding, ‘if you get my drift sweetheart.’

Leanne turned from the mirror. ‘You’ve got him all wrong,’ she muttered. ‘He’s just a neighbour who lives across the road. He lives on his own and wants to be friendly. Nothing more.’

‘He told you that did he?’

The younger woman shrugged by way of reply. ‘Well not in so many words,’ she confessed. ‘But he did tell me that his wife left him a few years ago for a taxidermist from Stockton-On-Tees. He also has a young nephew who he sees twice a week and dotes on him from all accounts.’

Pat shook her head and realised she needed some fresh air. To clear her mind of all these dark clouds scurrying across the sky of her deep forebodings. She pulled on a pair of boots and reached for her jacket hanging in the hallway.

‘Where are you going?’ Leanne asked while bringing the bottle of water to her lips once again.

Pat reached for the latch on the front door. ‘Going to get a little exercise. Stretch my legs. Maybe indulge in half a pint of Theakston’s in the Old Grey Mare while I’m about it. Bye for now,’ and closed the door behind her with a firmer application than was strictly necessary.

 

 

*

 

 

Homemade stir-fry with noodles was one of their favourite meals. They both enjoyed cooking when they got the opportunity. However, during the week Pat was sometimes too tired to prepare anything very elaborate, content instead to just rustle up something convenient. Eating healthy mattered but so too did a chance to just put your feet up and relax before the next day’s hectic schedule began all over again. And although Leanne didn’t work as many hours as her partner the responsibilities of being employed by a busy supermarket were sometimes tiresome indeed.

Leanne forked a generous clump of green pepper, fried chicken and a string of egg noodles and brought it away from her bowl. ‘Shit I forgot about the letter,’ she exclaimed before bringing the steaming quantity of food to her mouth and chewing with noisy relish. She got up and fumbled through some of the envelopes which lay in a stack by the toaster. ‘Here it is,’ she said with a triumphant air and handed it to Pat.

Her girlfriend swallowed some white wine and reached for the proffered envelope. ‘It’s an invitation,’ she exclaimed and turned the thin piece of card over for further examination.

‘And . . . ? Leanne whispered and raised her eyebrows.

Pat looked at her quizzically. ‘And it’s an invitation to an auction,’ she read slowly to herself. ‘An auction of old books and collectable prints.’ She shrugged. ‘Thank you,’ she added.

‘Right up your alley so to speak,’ the other woman said cheerfully.

Pat looked puzzled. ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I shall be in my element,’ and putting her fork down reached for her lovers free hand. ‘But won’t you be terribly bored my love? Can you sit there for three hours while the auctioneers prattle on about first editions and the merits of landscapes and seascapes?’ There was a pause as both their eyes locked.

‘Oh I didn’t get them for you,’ Leanne blurted out and reached for the bottle of Pinot Grigio. It was Friday evening and she felt like letting herself go.

Pat was even more puzzled. ‘But the invite is for two people,’ she asked.

The woman sitting opposite waved her free arm about to indicate that she really wasn’t responsible. ‘It was David’s idea actually. I told him how you were an enthusiast about old books and the like. He asked me who your favourite authors were.’ She giggled. ‘I couldn’t bloody remember their names. Chris Dickens is it? And the one whose name sounds like my favourite actor, Tom Hardy.’

But before she could utter another word her dinner date had pushed her chair back and was making for the front door.

‘Oh dear,’ Leanne said under her breath. ‘I see trouble ahead,’ and helped herself to another glass of much needed alcohol before the storm broke.

 

 

*

 

 

Later that night Pat and Leanne laid in bed. The younger woman’s head was a swirl of partial intoxication.

‘Did you know it was me he was after?’ Pat asked.

Leanne shook her head. She felt like a frightened child and wanted to cry. But she was better than that. ‘No honestly I had no idea.’

‘Told me he thinks we have a lot in common. Books and films and . . .’ she paused to gather her thoughts, ‘. . . and architecture. He didn’t enlighten me on what type of architecture, Gothic, Norman, mid-Victorian. Just architecture.’

‘Sorry,’ Leanne found herself saying.

‘Wow, sorry doesn’t come into it. In fact I’m not really blaming you my dear. It seems he had a plan and you were the conduit of his unsuccessful plot.’

Leanne laid her head on her lover’s breast. ‘You make it sound very Guy Fawkes,’ she whispered, sleep only a heartbeat or two away.

Pat laughed. ‘That nephew of his attends my school. Mr M picks him up on a Monday and a Thursday by all accounts. That’s where he first saw me. Been making enquiries about me as well. How very strange.’

This English teacher with the dour expression and a flamboyant vocabulary had confronted her neighbour earlier this evening by hammering on his front door, and it had not been a pretty sight. The long running mis-representation regarding his two female neighbour’s sexual orientation was very firmly established as fact. It was also recommended that in future any friendship he felt entitled to enjoy would never exceed that of a polite “Good morning” or “It looks like rain again”.

Pat Radford had felt proud of her delivery. The man with the fake tan and pencil moustache had listened to her assault with a stunned look on his foxy features, but as her tirade lessened and she considered a measured withdrawal based on oratorical exhaustion he said the unbelievable.

‘I think I love you,’ he stammered and held her gaze, there on his own doorstep, surrounded by a falling cascade of wisteria and tubs of colourful geraniums. His garden was spotless she had to admit. And when she looked over his shoulder his living room looked sort of cosy, lived in but comfortable like a captain’s cabin on some old galleon.

‘Anyhow Miss Harrison do you recall me telling you that there were two types of men when it comes to being confronted with a lesbian,’ she declared.

Leanne groaned as she fell off to sleep. ‘The voyeurs and the psycho’s. Yes I remember.’

Pat lowered her voice. ‘Well there is also a third type,’ she stated almost proudly. ‘There are men out there who for some reason of their own are simply bound on a hopeless quest of conversion,’ and with that off her chest she turned to her lover and stroked the top of her head with all the boundless love and deep affection she felt for another woman.

However the very tired and slightly inebriated Leanne was snoring away to herself with all the contentment of an innocent little child.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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