The Horse was renewed by ten in the morning and a magnificent sight it was too. The women stood back from their completed work to a round of applause from the men, and a fresh bout of music and dancing ensued. The gigantic figure seemed to shine from the hillside, horns pointing upwards, into the depths of Sterning Wood. The sun was king of the day now. It stood, a bright yellow orb, radiant in a cloudless blue sky. Below them, along the path of the busy A28 trunk road, the morning haze of pollution hung like a low cloud over the earth. On the Downs, atop the winding hazard of Vipers Hill, the air was clean, undefiled. Alison, exhausted from her efforts with the trowel, filled her lungs and felt thoroughly elated.
Bella looked at the pair of them and laughed. “What a couple of scruffs. Reckon I’ll be heading for the tub before anything else.”
“Take a shower at our place if you like. It’ll save you the walk back to the cottage.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” the girl said, then picked up both the trowels and slung them across the grass at Mitch Blamire. “There you go, Mitchy boy,” she yelled. “You can stick them up your arse for another year.”
Mitch glowered at her. “Cheeky bitch. You should mind your elders.”
“Oh I’ll mind you, Mitch,” the girl replied. “One day I’ll be dancing on your grave. Only way you’ll ever get to look up my skirt.”
He wandered off, cursing. Alison watched him retreat. “He’s a hard man to cross, Bella,” she observed. “I’d be careful.”
“Mitch? He’s a poppet. Just does as he’s told. Always. We going now?”
They walked back to the village, ahead of the rest of the pack, admiring the day. Trellis tables were already out on the Minnis. Bunting decorated the roof of the cricket pavilion and the windows of the Green Man. The pitch was a perfect plateau of grass, albeit one with a distinct southerly slope. Bella stopped outside Priory House and stared at the driveway. “You sure about this?” she asked.
“Of course. It’s crazy going all the way to the cottage just to freshen up. Take some of my things. You’re welcome.”
The girl wrinkled her nose. “Never been in the big house before. Feels funny.”
“It’s a house, Bella. That’s all,” Alison said, and led the way to the back door, walked into the kitchen, and filled the kettle. The girl followed, wide-eyed. She stopped in the kitchen, staring at everything, and said, “It’s beautiful.”
“Yes,” Alison conceded. “I guess it is. We’re lucky. Now, do you want a coffee or something first or would you like to head straight for the shower?”
“Got a Coke?”
Alison shook her head. “Will orange juice do?”
They went upstairs and entered the guest bathroom. Bella stared at the large, white whirlpool unit, with its buttons and shower fittings, and exclaimed, “Blimey. Does it come with instructions?”
“Just climb in, dear. Play with anything that comes to hand. You’ll get the idea.”
The girl put down her glass of orange juice and pulled her dress over her head. She looked skinny and so young in a tatty tee-shirt and old underwear. “What about you?”
“We have an en-suite in the bedroom.”
“Bloody hell! Another one of these?”
“’Fraid so,” Alison said, then removed some towels from the cupboard, and threw them on the floor. “See you in the bedroom. I’ve got something you can wear if you like.”
“Cor,” Bella said, then shuffled off the last of her clothes and started to fiddle with the taps.
Alison retreated to her own shower and let the stream of warm water remove the grime of the White Horse, then lull her into a dreamy, relaxed state of semi-exhaustion. She threw on a robe, lay on the bed, lit a cigarette and stared out of the window, thinking of nothing in particular except how warm and lazy the day felt after the morning’s exertion. The Minnis was busy once more. The Morris Men were taking a break, supping early pints of beer outside the pub, the musicians playing idly on the seats next to them. The wickets were up on the pitch, tiny wooden totems to the ancient religion. In the nets, the team was warming up with a lazy determination. On the far side of the green, close to the Tyler’s house, was the upright, rigid outline of the maypole, garlands of streamers wrapped around the shaft.
She remembered the first time she had stared out of this window at the odd bustle of activity on the Minnis. It was the day of Burning Man when, without thinking, she had let the late Harry Blamire see rather more of her than was sensible. Could everything stem from that single act? The thought was dismissed on the instant. There had been a bone on the ground. Yappy had found it, and now the evidence was gone, spirited away from the kitchen by hands unknown. There could be no discernible link between Harry’s greedy gaze at her nakedness and the mystery of the fire.
Nevertheless, she thought… and reached forward to pull the curtains closed. Bella walked in, a towel around her, and stared in surprise at the window. “You think that lot are interested? Nothing on their minds except cricket if you ask me.”
She threw herself on the bed and grinned. “Perhaps nothing. You won’t see any of them, least of all your Miles, this side of closing time. That’s the way it goes. Mind you, with a bath like that who needs a man? You just twiddle those buttons and… kazoom!”
Alison finished the cigarette and reached for another. “Want one?”
“Nah,” Bella said, then reached forward and took the unlit cigarette out of Alison’s hand. “And neither do you. Horrible smelly things. Why’d you bother? You don’t even look like a smoker to me.”
“Habit,” she replied.
“Well it’s a bad one.” She rubbed the towel vigorously against her body, then threw it off the bed, turned over onto her naked stomach and gave Alison a knowing look. “You kill me, you really do. You got all these things here. Mr Fenway. This big house. Them baths. A bedroom bigger than our kitchen. And it’s still not enough, is it? You’re still a bag of nerves, smoking them fags you don’t really want.”
“Thanks for the analysis. Is there a charge?”
“Nope. You get it all for free,” she said, smiling innocently. “Some fresh togs for the day could come in useful, though they’ll hang a bit on a bag of bones like me.”
Alison waved at the wardrobes. “Help yourself. And by the way, I haven’t had much of a great time recently. I get to smoke if I feel like it.”
Bella didn’t move. “You just need a spot of healing. That’s all. Turn on your side.”
“You heard,” Bella said. “Turn on your side, with your back to me. I done massage at night school.”
She did as she was told and a pair of thin, strong hands came down on her neck and started to pummel deep into the muscle.
“Sorry,” Bella apologised. “Hurts a bit to begin with, but you’re so tense, Alison. Like you got a bundle of knots in there. Just try and relax, will you?”
“OK.” She closed her eyes and wondered what Miles would make of this scene: his wife being mauled in the marital bed by a naked teenage girl. But Miles was in cricket mode; Miles was jealous of men.
“Don’t you worry,” Bella said, her fingers working ever harder, more subtly. “He won’t come disturbing us. He’s got other things on his mind.”
“What?” she said, astonished. “How did you know I was thinking that, Bella?”
“I’m a witch. Didn’t they tell you? Nah. It’s obvious, isn’t it? First thing townies do when they’re starting to have something nice happen to them. Feel guilty about it. And what’s there to feel guilty about?”
“You should be a psychiatrist,” Alison said, and closed her eyes, enjoying the rhythmic massage that had now spread to her shoulders.
“Seen enough of them. I reckon you’re right.”
The girl moved Alison’s robe gently off her shoulders, reached forward and kissed the back of her neck.
“Sorry.” The hands became still, and immediately Alison felt an ache in their absence.
Alison didn’t turn around to face her. She didn’t want that pressure yet. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. That’s all.”
“The wrong idea being what?” Bella’s voice suddenly sounded petulant, adolescent. “Me making you feel nice? About the only bloody thing I’m good at, missus. Don’t get many complaints.”
“I did like that. It’s just…”
“Just what? You don’t have to have a man to make you happy. ’Cos they always got a price, and it always comes with pain. Agreed?”
“I guess so, but…”
“But nothing,” Bella interrupted, and went back to Alison’s naked shoulders with a sweet, painful vengeance. “Women are different. We just give because it’s nice, giving. You know the trouble with you lot? You spend all your time looking for things to make you happy. You don’t ever know enough to wait and let it come to you.”
Alison closed her eyes and said nothing. Bella’s warm damp legs were against hers now. The two of them lay locked together in a half embrace. She felt the girl’s lips on her neck again and the warm, rough dampness of her tongue. A hand came from her back, reached round for the front of her robe, untied the belt and then slid, tenderly, first to her groin, then, measure by measure, up the taut, hot skin of her stomach to take a firm grip of her left breast.
“Don’t,” she whispered, without conviction.
“Say that once more and I will stop,” Bella warned. “And then you will be sorry, my love, this being Beltane when all the rules get broken and nothing ever matters afterwards. These are just little, sweet things, Alison, and I’m good at ’em. And you and me being women, know that. We know how to love one another, better than any man ever can.”
Bella took Alison’s robe in both hands and gently helped her removed it, then threw a leg over hers, leaned half upright, smiling into her face. “Here’s a pretty thing,” the girl said. “Here’s a May Day to remember.”
“Shush, my darling,” Bella said, and reached down to kiss her long and hard on the mouth, tongue probing, hands moving through her hair. After a long, sweet interval, she broke for breath. “You just shush and feel the goodness come.”
Which it did. Slowly, sweetly, with a rising crescendo of pleasure, pure, unsullied, quite different from the bitter sweet experience she got from a man. Bella’s lovemaking was so strange and adventurous that Alison knew it could be experienced once only; to return to these curious, exotic places would be to spoil such vivid, entrancing memories.
She closed her eyes and let Bella’s feverish fingers and inquisitive mouth do the rest, firing her imagination, quickening her breath, turning the world in on itself until the entire universe consisted of nothing but these two panting, damp bodies, writhing with an ecstatic languor on the softness of the bed.
A flood of heat and dampness soaked this shared world and Alison cried out, a long, rapturous moan. Bella lay in her arms, giggled like a child, then kissed her back playfully. “You wait,” she said, “and the goodness comes in the end.”
“Yes,” Alison said, eyes still closed, relishing the afterglow.
“You was so far gone there, love, so far you didn’t even notice.”
“Company,” Bella giggled.
Alison opened her eyes in sudden shock. Miles sat at the end of the bed naked, aroused. He reached forward, took her foot in his hand, Bella’s in the other.
“Miles,” she stuttered. “I didn’t hear you… How long?”
“Shush,” Bella cautioned. “Beltane comes, things happen. Not just goodness for you, my selfish little dear.”
He climbed onto the bed, kissed both of them, snuggled up behind Bella, stared over her shoulder.
“I…” Alison said.
His body moved. Bella gasped, a tiny spasm of pain on her face, then surprise, followed by pleasure. “That’s how posh likes it, eh?” she said, smiling. “Country habits catching for you too.. ow!”
Alison rolled out from beneath her. Miles stared at the back of the girl’s head, then turned her face down, held both her arms with his hands and arched his body, over and over again. Bella’s face was half hidden by the pillow. It was impossible to tell whether she was in agony or rapture.
“Miles,” Alison said, very seriously.
His hand came free and pushed her away. She lost her balance, fell slowly, awkwardly out of bed. Miles adjusted his position, raised his speed, pulled the girl back by her haunches and let out an animal roar. Alison looked at her again. Bella was transported. This was her goodness, coming out of the blue.
Trying to ignore them, trying not to hear the grunting on the sheets and the counterpoint of the bedsprings, she picked up her clothes, walked naked into the guest room and dressed. When she went downstairs, the sound of activity was undiminished but had taken on another tone. Bella was giggling. Miles seemed incapable of anything but animal grunts. And the bedsprings sang, constantly, beating, beating.
In the kitchen she glanced at the clock. It was nearly eleven. May Day seemed destined to last forever. Not that Bella and Miles would mind.
She walked to the back door, opened it and found Sara standing there in a vast floral maternity smock, beaming.
“Alison,” she said. “You look wonderful. And I feel like shit. What’s the secret?”
From upstairs came the unmistakable sound of Bella and Miles reaching a mutual climax, primal teenage scream mixed with guttural caveman grunt.
“My God,” Sara exclaimed, eyes wide open. “We are starting to assimilate fast, aren’t we?”
(c) David Hewson 2012