The partridges lay in the wicker basket, perfect in death, two compact bundles of soft, brown down. She picked them up, walked in through the unlocked back door and placed them on the kitchen table.
It was hard to think, hard to separate the two Alisons. One quiet, settled, ready to accept, to be subjugated, give Miles the child he wanted (and this could come now, some interior sense told her so). The other still rebelling, fighting the memories and the pain.
She walked upstairs into the big bedroom and found what she wanted. Beth Jukes’ dress lay on the hanger, perfect and pale. Alison threw off her clothes, slipped it over her head and felt the cool, clinging silk take on the form of her body, lock itself to the curves of her breasts, the taut form of her torso.
On the Minnis Miles was alone, standing by the remains of the fire, a large, powerful figure in the landscape, one that could not be ignored.
A house, she mused, was full of the instruments of death. Knives and skewers. Hammers and saws. Sharp or blunt, they could take a life, could change forever the relentless passing of the world, with all its minor tragedies. All it required was the courage.
He was walking across the grass now, looking taller, stronger than she had ever known him. Perhaps this was the true Miles all along and she had failed to see it. Perhaps it was Beulah that gave him the strength. Or there was something in the air, something in the very atoms of the place, that transformed Miles. And would now transform her in turn.
Alison watched him and felt this second, mutinous part of her detach itself, float free of her being, out of the window, out into the late summer air, with its crisp freshness and its promise of the long dark days to come. This other Alison rose high on light, feathered wings, beating, beating, beating, and hovered somewhere over Beulah, still and powerful. There was a moment when she was both it and the person standing at the window. A moment when each looked at the other and saw a mute form of recognition. Both watched Miles approach and, for the earthly Alison, the dress was like a second skin, tight and electric on her flesh. She could feel the hairs of her body standing on end. The hardness of her nipples ached through the silk.
Above, in the sky, with her doubts and her spreading wings, this other Alison gazed down on him, saw him take the silver object from his pocket. It was covered in ash. Soot and dirt blocked the mouthpiece. Miles puffed away the debris, spat on the metal and rubbed it with his hankie, clearing the channel. Then he put the silver police whistle in his mouth, tasted the smoke of the fire and something more organic, like burned meat, and blew hard.
A sound, long and piercing, filled the Minnis then rose into the glorious sky.
Startled, the pale, hovering bird flapped its wings once. Then it was gone forever, feathers dissolved in the brightness of day, sharp, dun beak turned to a memory the colour of the fading sun.
Miles Fenway looked up at his wife in the window, a slim, expectant figure in the radiant white dress, watching him, transfixed. And, with quick, anxious steps, covered the path to Priory House.
(c) David Hewson 2012