Link to part 1: Clarissa’s Missives
I awoke. Had I heard a noise? Naked, I was snuggled up to Clarissa’s equally naked back, one arm around her, my face up against her nest of blonde hair. Then the sound of clomping boots and laughter. My heart thudded. The bedroom door crashed open and someone turned the light on. “Oh, look. Your sister’s got herself a new boyfriend!”
There stood Clarissa’s sister, Helena, and three young men, all clad in walking gear and carrying rucksacks. “No prizes for guessing what they’ve been up to!” said Helena. They all roared with laughter. “Hey, he’s no spring chicken is he!”
Bloody cheek. Had she looked in the mirror recently? I shook Clarissa’s shoulder but she didn’t move. “Clarissa, Clarissa!”
I jerked awake to find myself shaking a pillow. Light came through unfamiliar curtains. Where was I? Then memories began to filter back. Wine. Yes, I’d drunk several large glasses of wine, I remembered that.
Clarissa had shown me into a very large, comfortable lounge with a grand piano, then she’d gone to make some tea. We’d sat and chatted happily – her ex-pupils, my ex-pupils etc. Then she’d gone over to the piano. I’d listened, entranced, as her fingers, long and slender, caressed the keys, drawing out mellifluous melodies and harmonies.
“That’s lovely, Clarissa.”
She turned and smiled. “Oh, thank you, it’s not hard actually, it’s a Nocturne by Chopin.”
I’d brought a guitar as she’d suggested, a Japanese classical guitar bought from Ivor Mairants’ music centre in Soho, back in the dim and distant days of my youth.
She passed over some music. “I found some duets.” Then, “I’m so pleased you could come over, Stan, er, sorry, John.”
“That’s OK. Just call me Stan.” I laughed.
She blushed. “Should we look at the first one?”
I examined it – ‘Island Melody’. Suddenly, I felt my confidence dwindling. “I’m not sure I can sight-read this,” I said. “I think I’d need to look through it first.”
“Oh, nonsense, you’re a guitar teacher. Just have a go!”
The first page was a series of arpeggios, broken chords as they’re sometimes called. The first one looked like C. That went for a few bars. “Oh, OK, but can you go slowly please?”
She smiled. “Yes, don’t worry!”
She counted us in, not especially slow, and we began to play. Her part consisted of syncopated chords and a lilting melody. It sounded like she was no stranger to the piece.
My heart was pounding and my throat felt dry but I managed to keep the notes going, whether they were the right ones or not I wasn’t sure.
She stopped. Had we reached the end of the page? “That was lovely, John, er, Stan. It’s a C9 chord in bars one to four. I think you played C major 7.”
“Probably,” I said. It was all right for her, she already knew the damned tune!
Suddenly the phone rang. Clarissa crossed the room. “Hello … oh, Helena … Isn’t there anyone who can fix it?… Are you sure?… Well, isn’t there anywhere you can stay?”
She spoke for several minutes then turned to me, looking disappointed. Helena and her friends’ ‘support vehicle’ had broken down and they’d deemed it too risky to undertake the forty-two-mile ‘Lyke Wake Walk’ across the North Yorkshire Moors without it. Unsurprisingly.
“I’m so sorry John!”
Ha, she got my name right!
“I’m going to have to go and pick Helena and her friends up. It’s OK, you can stay. There’s plenty of wine in the fridge and you can sleep in the guest room. It’s just through there. Oh, can you take Boris and Henry out please?”
“Oh, they’re my dogs. They’re Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.”
“Oh, they’re originally from Turkey I think. They’re a bit big. They’re in the TV lounge at the minute. You’ll have a chance to practice that music anyway!”
Memories of Boris and Henry came back. “A bit big” was an understatement. They were huge. Hurriedly, Clarissa had shown me their leads and directed me to a nearby park. In fact, they’d trotted along quite obediently, drawing admiring comments from the few passersby. By the time we got to the park, I felt like an authority on Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
With embarrassment, I remembered Boris squatting to deposit a huge steaming turd on a path. What to do? Well, it was growing dark and who would know it was ‘my’ dogs? Suddenly a woman dressed in green tweed and grey leggings appeared. She was about sixty, had grey hair and waved a stick in my general direction. “Hello young man, I hope you’re not thinking of leaving that dog poo there!”
“Oh, of course not,” I replied, “it’s just I don’t have anything to pick it up with.”
“Well, you could always use your hands!” she exclaimed.
“No, I meant those little plastic bags people carry.”
Evidently a self-appointed dog poo warden, she reached into a pocket and pulled out a bundle. Under her stern gaze, I was forced to put my hand in a bag, and put it over the hot, squishy stinking ‘poo’. It felt like it was in direct contact with my hand.
“Now pick it up!” she exclaimed.
I did so, noticing a little left on the pavement. I hoped her eyesight wasn’t too keen. Turning the bag inside out, I tied it with the special tie, feeling quite proud of my ‘capture’.
“Now put it in the bin!” She waved her stick in my face and then pointed with it to a red bin about ten metres away. Obediently, I went over and deposited Boris’s ‘doings’. I smelt my hand. Hmm. It didn’t seem to smell. Even so, I couldn’t wait to get back to Clarissa’s to give my hands a good scrub.
Now, as I lay in bed, I could hear a loud whining sound from somewhere. No doubt Boris and/or Henry were expressing their desire to head to the park for another titanic ‘poo’. Reluctantly I got up. But surely Clarissa would be back by now? I headed for the lounge and saw a flashing light on the answerphone.
“Hello John, it’s me, Clarissa. The weather’s been awful up here. They’d managed to find a guesthouse after all, so I stayed too. I don’t think I’ll be back until midday. Can you take the dogs out again please darling? I’ll phone again later. Thank you so much!”
Darling! Well, maybe I would take those hulking great hounds out just one more time after all, although armed with some ‘dog poop bags’ this time!
Link to: Clarissa’s Missives – part 3
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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