The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick Page 0,1

pies or homemade mince and onion. Sometimes he gave in and opened the door; most of the time he did not.

Last week he had found a sausage roll in his hallway, peeking out of its paper bag like a frightened animal. It had taken him ages to clear up the flakes of pastry from his welcome mat.

He had to hold his nerve. If he moved now she would know he was hiding. Then he’d have to think of an excuse; he was putting out the bins, or watering the geraniums in the garden. But he felt too weary to invent a story, especially today of all days.

“I know you’re in there, Arthur. You don’t have to do this on your own. You have friends who care about you.” The letterbox rattled. A small lilac leaflet with the title Bereavement Buddies drifted to the floor. It had a badly drawn lily on the front.

Although he hadn’t spoken to anyone for over a week, although all he had in the fridge was a small chunk of cheddar and an out-of-date bottle of milk, he still had his pride. He would not become one of Bernadette Patterson’s lost causes.

“Arthur.”

He screwed his eyes shut and pretended he was a statue in the garden of a stately home. He and Miriam used to love visiting National Trust properties, but only during the week when there were no crowds. He wished the two of them were there now, their feet crunching on gravel paths, marveling at cabbage white butterflies fluttering among the roses, looking forward to a big slice of Victoria sponge in the tearoom.

A lump rose in his throat as he thought about his wife, but he held his pose. He wished he really could be made of stone so he couldn’t hurt anymore.

Finally the letterbox snapped shut. The purple shape moved away. Arthur let his fingers relax first, then his elbows. He wriggled his shoulders to relieve the tension.

Not totally convinced that Bernadette wasn’t lurking by the garden gate, he opened his front door an inch. Pressing his eye against the gap he peered around outside. In the garden opposite, Terry, who wore his hair in dreadlocks tied with a red bandanna and who was forever mowing his lawn, was heaving his mower out of his shed. The two redheaded kids from next door were running up and down the street wearing nothing on their feet. Pigeons had pebble-dashed the windscreen of his disused Micra. Arthur began to feel calmer. Everything was back to normal. Routine was good.

He read the leaflet, then placed it carefully with the others that Bernadette had posted for him—Friends Indeed, Thornapple Residents Association, Men in Caves and Diesel Gala Day at North Yorkshire Moors Railway—then forced himself to go and make a cup of tea.

Bernadette had compromised his morning, thrown him off balance. Flustered, he didn’t allow his tea bag enough time in the pot. Sniffing the milk from the fridge, he winced at the smell and poured it down the sink. He would have to take his tea black. It tasted like iron filings. He gave a deep sigh.

Today he wasn’t going to mop the kitchen floor or vacuum the stairs carpet so hard that the threadbare bits grew balder. He wasn’t going to polish the bathroom taps and fold the towels into neat squares.

Reaching out, he touched the fat black telescope of bin liners that he’d placed on the kitchen table and reluctantly picked them up. They were heavy. Good for the job.

To make things easier he read through the cat charity leaflet one more time: Cat