Authors: Janie Bolitho
For Isobel Amy Bolitho,
For three weeks the sun had shone relentlessly. June could be wet and windy, but not that year. Still, Rose Trevelyan thought, we had our share of rain in May; torrential rain, day after day of heavy showers and strong winds which had flung the sea shorewards, up over the Promenade in Penzance, over the pebbles in Newlyn and up as far as the Green. Even now the grass was verdant with no sign of yellowing. And no sign of cutting either, Rose admonished herself, staring at the lumpy lawn at the side of the house, a pencil held to her lips.
Her paintings were ready for her first solo exhibition. She had spent the day in her studio, working on the job she so disliked, and had framed them herself. Geoff Carter, who owned a gallery in Penzance and had offered her the exhibition, had suggested several excellent framers in the area but Rose had insisted the work should be all her own. ‘“Vanity, like murder, will out,”’ she quoted, aware that she wanted all the credit to be hers. She frowned. A single line bisected her high forehead. Where was the quotation from and why had she remembered it? ‘Damn. I’ll have to look it up.’
Before she could do so the telephone rang. It was Etta Chynoweth, a widow like herself, asking if she fancied a walk.
‘There’s nothing I’d like more. I’ve been cooped up inside all day. Shall I meet you by the Newlyn Art Gallery in, say, twenty minutes?’ Rose hung up, glanced at the cloudless sky and decided she did not need a jacket. For once, her clothes were not splattered with paint. The tight-fitting jeans, plain lemon T-shirt and rope-soled sneakers were smart enough should they decide to stop for a drink. And she had the feeling that they might do so, that Etta needed someone in whom to confide.
Having locked the kitchen door which led to the steeply sloping garden at the side of the house, Rose walked down the
path to the road which wound downhill all the way to her destination.
Outside the Star Inn two fishermen she knew were talking. They waved and smiled and, once she had passed, one of them whistled. Rose blushed appreciatively but did not turn around. Although she was nearing fifty, from behind she might have been twenty. Her wavy auburn hair was held in a velvet clip at the nape of her neck and the few strands of grey were barely visible. Even full face she looked nowhere near her age.
The gallery was on the edge of Newlyn, right on the sea-front, and was backed by a long stretch of grass where children were playing, shouting to one another as they kicked a ball about or rode their bikes. Rose could hear their cries before she saw them.
She rounded the corner where the high wall protected the cottages in Tolcarne Terrace from the winter onslaught of the sea and paused. Dog walkers were on the only part of the beach where their pets were allowed in the summer. Most areas were prohibited between Easter and October. Each day the view of the wide sweep of the bay differed depending on the tide and the weather. The tide was in now, the water as smooth as a sheet of cellophane. It lapped imperceptibly at the rocks beneath the sea wall and gave off a clean salty scent. On its surface a noisy flock of black-headed gulls squabbled, the chocolate brown hood of their summer plumage in stark contrast to their white feathers and red bills. Rose watched them, smiling at their spitefulness. They were far noisier and more vicious than the larger herring-gull. To her artist’s eye they formed a good picture, their colouring enhanced by the limpid milky-green water. She turned and saw Etta approaching. She wore a smart cotton dress but looked tired and drawn.
The women were the same age and had both lost their husbands yet they had little else in common, other than friendship.
‘Thanks for coming, Rose.’ Etta smiled.
‘I needed some air, I’ve spent the day in the attic.’ The attic, which she grandly called her studio on occasions, had once been where Rose developed and printed the photographs she
took professionally and where she put the final touches to the watercolours she painted. Now she was working in oils, painting as she had always wanted to paint, but she had not relinquished her other work totally – she wasn’t quite confident enough to do that yet.
They walked in silence in the direction of Penzance. Words would come later. For now Rose and Etta were content to be out of doors, breathing in the clean air and feeling the sun on their faces.
Rose knew Etta’s history. At seventeen she had met a French fisherman whose boat had come into Newlyn harbour. He had left after three days without ever knowing he was later to become a father. ‘I was young and naïve,’ Etta had once told Rose, ‘but I don’t regret it for one moment. Joe was everything to me until I met Ed.’ Later, when Joe was five, she had met and married a steady, reliable electrician called Ed. He had taken the boy on as his own son and he and Etta had then produced Sarah. Ed had died of a coronary thrombosis when he was only forty-three but had left his wife in a comfortable position and in possession of a four-bedroomed house facing the bay on the side of a hill. For the past few years she had been doing bed and breakfast.
‘You look tired, Etta,’ Rose said, glancing sideways at her strong-boned face.
‘I am. I haven’t been sleeping well and it’s been really busy for so early in the season.’ She sighed. ‘And there’s Sarah.’
‘Sarah? Is she ill?’
Etta shook her head. ‘Not that I know of. She refuses to talk to me. I’m terrified she’s on drugs and I don’t know what to do about it. And please don’t suggest I go and see a counsellor or something. Whatever it is, I want to sort it out myself if I can.’
‘Why don’t you just ask her outright? You know her well enough to tell if she’s lying.’
They had stopped to watch a cormorant skimming the water as it crossed the bay. Occasionally a seal would appear, quite close to the shore, but not that night. ‘Now you’ve said it, it sounds like such a simple solution. But I don’t want to alienate her further. It’s more than just her age, I’m sure of it.’
‘Etta, she’s seventeen, the same age as you were when you had Joe. Perhaps she’s in love.’ Rose laughed. ‘Do you remember what it was like at that age? All that anguish, all that posturing and game playing. I’d hate to go through that again.’
‘Yes.’ Etta looked away and hesitated before saying, ‘So would I. Anyway, Joe’ll be back tomorrow. I’m always okay when he’s around. He’s so – well, he’s so normal.’ Etta laughed. ‘You know what I mean. He’s a man now, whereas Sarah is a teenage monster. It’ll pass, but I wish it would do so quickly.’
‘Would you like me to speak to her just in case there is something troubling her? We’ve always got on well.’ Rose bit her lip. Why did I say that? she thought. Why can’t I keep my big mouth shut? Interfering had got her into trouble before. At least, so her friends told her. Rose thought of it as curiosity, as a natural desire to help people she cared for.
‘Would you? You’ve no idea how grateful I’d be. She’s more likely to confide in someone outside the family.’ Rose Trevelyan was sensible and wise and had the ability to laugh at herself. If only Sarah, who took herself so seriously, could be more like Rose, Etta thought, she might be able to get through to her daughter.
‘Leave it to me.’ What have I let myself in for now? Rose wondered as they continued in the direction of Penzance. But it must have been hard for Etta, bringing up two children without their respective fathers. Sarah had only been five when Ed died.
‘She used to be such a happy little girl. I can’t understand the change in her. Sorry, Rose, you don’t want to listen to me moaning.’
‘That’s what friends are for. Now, where shall we have that drink?’
They walked as far as the Yacht, a large 1930s pub set back from the sea-front behind St Anthony’s Gardens. It was warm enough to sit on one of the slatted wooden seats in front from where they could watch the activity in the bay.
Over the murmur of traffic they discussed Rose’s exhibition. Etta said how much she was looking forward to it.
‘Bring Sarah, if she’ll come,’ Rose said. ‘You never know, she
might enjoy it.’ Never having had children of her own Rose was still aware that if Sarah did enjoy it she would show no sign of having done so. Throughout the generations teenagers behaved in that manner; adults accused them of being sullen, their contemporaries thought they were cool. Do they still use that word? Rose wondered.
As they talked Rose thought about Joe. He had the swarthy complexion of a fisherman and the dark, rugged looks of a Cornishman, yet his mother was fair. He obviously took after his father. Rose liked him without reservation. Joe Chynoweth was open and honest and hard-working and treated his mother with respect because he loved and admired her.
‘Rose,’ he had said in answer to her question over a glass of beer one Sunday lunchtime when she had invited the family to eat with her, ‘they told me at school I could have gone on to further education but I always knew I’d be a fisherman. Maybe it’s in the blood. You couldn’t work with better people than Jan and Billy and Trevor and I love those lone watches.
‘It’s hard to describe the summer nights when the sea whispers to you and nudges the boat, when the moonlight ripples on the water and the stars appear far closer than they ever do on land. It gives a man a chance to think.
‘I know the outlook isn’t great for us, but how could any man sit behind a desk all day without breathing fresh air and feeling the wind on his face? Now that is what I call a hard life.’
Rose had never heard him make such a long speech. ‘Yes, but how’s the cooking these days?’ she had asked with a smile, aware that aboard the trawler all chores were shared and that Joe’s efforts in the galley, despite the quantity and quality of the raw ingredients provided, were a cause of mirth to the rest of the crew.
‘I’m getting there. I usually manage not to burn one item. This beer’s good,’ he had added. Rose knew then the cause of his loquacity. Trevor Penfold, one of the crew and the husband of Rose’s best friend, had brewed it himself. He had warned her it had a kick.
But despite what Joe had said there was a down side to
fishing. There were days when the boat would be tossed on a seemingly empty sea when no other vessel was in sight, when it pitched and rolled in a high swell, when waves crashed over the bows soaking the crew even beneath their oilskins, when nothing was more welcome than St Clement’s Island as they entered the bay knowing that the safety of Newlyn harbour was within reach …
‘Is Joe still seeing Sue Veal?’ Rose asked Etta.
‘Yes. It’s almost a year now. I think they’re thinking about getting married.’
‘Has he asked her?’ Rose placed her empty glass on the wrought-iron table and reached for her cigarettes.
‘I don’t know. Do people still do that?’
‘Probably – at least, people like Joe.’
When Etta laughed her features altered. She was a neat, plain woman but her face had character. Her smile added interest, made her become the sort of person you wanted to get to know. ‘Yes. They’re both a bit old-fashioned. Him and Sue still living at home. You’re right, it wouldn’t surprise me if he asks her father’s permission. Shall we have another?’
Rose nodded and watched a tourist trying to reverse his car into too small a space. Through the side window she saw his mouth working and guessed what sort of language was issuing from it. Red-faced he changed gear, stepped on the accelerator and shot out into the road with a screech of tyres.
‘Look at that,’ Rose said when Etta returned carrying two glasses.
To their right the sun was setting. Only half of it was visible as it sank behind the houses of Newlyn casting a pink glow over everything. The turquoise sea had darkened; it was almost purple as the plain bulbs strung between the lamp-posts along the Promenade came on in fits and starts.
Behind them the bright lights of the pub spilled out over tables and turned the foliage of the flowers in the tubs along the low wall navy blue. Laughter and cigar smoke were carried towards them in the gentle breeze which heralded the end of the day.
They finished their drinks and walked home slowly, Etta
turning off once they’d passed the boating lake on the opposite side of the road from the Promenade. ‘I won’t forget to speak to Sarah,’ Rose called out. Etta turned to wave. Her face and hair mingled into a white blur in the darkness. ‘Thanks, Rose.’
Two more days, Rose thought with excitement as she continued on her way. And my parents will be here to see my exhibition. She did not think she could be happier, unless she could have David back. How proud he would have been. But David had died of cancer. Mostly now her memories were of the good times and she could think of him with deep regret but without the agonising pain she had endured initially.
Her legs began to ache as she took the hill in long strides. She reached the bottom of her drive and saw the faint light shining through the front window. The one in the hall had been set on a time-switch. It was a welcome sight.
Inside, surrounded by things so familiar, things she had never taken for granted, she thought how lucky she was. The two-bedroomed house was the one she had lived in throughout the twenty years of her happy marriage and one, she suspected, she would never leave. Stone built, the rooms were small but it was cosy and warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The chintz of the armchairs might be wearing thin but this was of little importance compared with the view. The whole of Mount’s Bay was visible, right around to the Lizard Point on a clear day. To Rose it was home and always would be.
It was late, but Rose wasn’t tired. She went to the fridge and took out a bottle of Frascati she had opened the previous night and poured herself a glass. She carried it through to the sitting-room and sat by the window, which she had opened, and breathed in the smell of lavender which grew outside. There was the summer to look forward to. Rose smiled. ‘And autumn and the winter,’ she said, unsure which of the seasons she liked best. ‘And tomorrow my parents will be here.’ How good it would be to see them again.
She finished the wine, closed the window and went up the creaking wooden staircase to bed.
She was physically tired now but excitement kept her awake for some time. Trying not to think that her exhibition might be
a flop, she turned her mind to Etta. How awful if Sarah was on drugs. It happened, and too frequently, amongst teenagers. At least Joe would be landing tomorrow; he would take Etta’s mind off her problems and he might even be able to talk some sense into his sister. But something other than Sarah was bothering her friend. Etta had seemed – not quite shifty, but as if her mind was elsewhere. In fact, she had been distracted for some time now. I’ll speak to Sarah at the first opportunity, Rose decided as her eyelids fluttered and tiredness overcame her.