The black sky around Kendal was striped with purple clouds, as though an enormous blackcurrant and liquorice had been split and unfolded out over the moors surrounding Thornpike House. Recent rain had left the sharp slopes of the roof slick, and from the middle of one of its many angled sections could be seen jutting upwards half a wheelbarrow, its mud-baked wheel dripping liquefied filth back through the hole it had made. Magnificent arch windows dominated the upper floor’s exterior walls; below these, smaller, squarer windows. One of these smaller windows at the front of the house was lit by paraffin lamplight, and from behind it could be heard two voices.
‘I thought it was a bloody fine caper!’ the man bellowed.
‘Well it wasn’t, Roger!’ the woman squealed. ‘It was a damned stupid jape and, well; it’s gone quite as awfully as all your other stupid bloody japes!’ She twisted her foot vengefully on these last words, as though trying to stub out a cigarette butt that smouldered under the floorboards.
Roger crossed the floor, picking up on his way the weighty crystal decanter from the gilt-bronze table. His free arm he swung with some bluster round Victoria’s waist, and drew her close so that their heads bumped together. He was grinning. He presented a whiskey glass and placed it amicably in her hand, then, stepping opposite her, poured in a healthy measure from the decanter.
‘Edradour single malt, finest of the Highland whiskeys,’ he purred, grabbing the glass back from her hand and emptying it into his mouth. Victoria retaliated by snatching the decanter from him and draining as much of it as she could. Its unbalanced weight made her chip her tooth as she swung it back upright, and her tongue immediately started feeling out the damage. She smiled at Roger hatefully. He held out his empty glass expectantly.
‘I told Henry,’ he began, taking the decanter back and filling his own glass, ‘I bloody told him he couldn’t throw that thing over the house.’
‘Only because you knew he’d try it!’ she exploded. ‘And thanks to you two, now we’re the couple who store their gardening equipment half in and half out of their roof.’
‘All the same, it was pretty bloody decent of him to offer to go and fetch it, in these conditions.’
‘You made him do that!’
Roger stopped, seeming to have forgotten that detail. ‘Oh… yes.’
Victoria planted her hands on her hips. ‘Well all I can say is, you’ll be next up there, getting it down and mending our roof. And God knows you don’t have the skills that Henry did. Not to mention,’ she sneered, shooting a glance between her husband’s legs, ‘your relative inexperience in using such a big ladder.’
‘She literally can’t make it through a conversation without pissing on my parade,’ Roger thought to himself, aloud.It was one of the things hehated about Victoria. But there was plenty more that he loathed about her. For example, every time she yawned she would smack her lips together brainlessly afterwards; an affectation that never failed to enrage him. And she yawned a lot these days, especially when Roger was trying to make a point.
In the sullen silence, they both looked down at the floor in front of them. Henry’s prone form had stopped twitching, the curled fingers of his left hand reflected flatly in the crimson pool that continued to seep from him. Roger studied Victoria’s eyes, then, sensing the words that were about to come, closed his own.
The rug had been brought to her from Sierra Leone by her father, on what transpired to be his last jaunt back from the colony. She had been instantly enamoured by its thick powder blue coat and the golden triangles that edged it. It reminded her of well-travelled, successful men, of unconditional love, and she never missed an opportunity to articulate to Roger the consequences if he should ever again fall in a drunken heap on it and piss himself.
‘Pig ugly beast that it is’, roared Roger, ‘it’s only good for spilling blood on and nothing more! In fact, it’s a higher honour than it would ever have received in its homeland, for it to bear the lifeblood of such a fine gentleman as Henry was.’
‘Is that your idea of an apology, you oaf? You desecrate the last link I have to my father, and while your fine gentleman friend’s blood is blackening the fabric, you of all people have the cheek to refer to it as a pig ugly beast?’
‘Look, Victoria, I’m sorry about your father,’ offered Roger, his hands up in front of him.
‘No. No! You don’t get to talk about him,’ she wailed.
‘Even if all I ever do is apologise? I told you, there was no way of knowing those horses were going to stampede like that.’
‘Just to think, of all the lovely things he brought me back from Sierra Leone, and all I really needed was for him to bring me an obedient, healthy new husband,’ she hissed, again punctuating her thoughts with a theatrical glance at his crotch.
‘Just let’s shut up and help me carry him to the kiln.’
‘Oh, Roger! Not the kiln! You know I was planning to make a new set of matchstick holders for Annie Carruthers!’
‘Well what do you suggest, Victoria? This isn’t like our holiday with the Macklebys; I don’t think we’re going to be so fortunate as to find another disused quarry, certainly not tonight in our back garden at any rate.’
Victoria remembered their trip to Oban with a grimace, and took up her end of the rug. Blood ran between her fingers as they gripped the saturated fabric. ‘Rain’s on again,’ she grunted, jerking her head at the fresh stream of mud that was trickling down from the handles of the wheelbarrow. They struggled through the kitchen towards the kiln, trying to be as efficient as possible in movement without making eye contact. Roger stopped and half turned, balancing his end of the rug on one forearm as he opened the kiln door. He had always been convinced it was the kind supposed to be used for drying tobacco leaves, although disuse and bad luck had rendered it Victoria’s plaything now.
‘It’s a shame,’ he remarked to himself as he heaved the body in, ‘Henry was so fond of his pipe.’
Victoria ignored this as she was desperately trying to decide on the rug’s fate. She decided it was unsalvageable. Blinking away a tear at its passing, her mind soon began to wander elsewhere as Roger bent over and reached far into the kiln, conveying Henry’s body fully inside. The longer his flabby arse wiggled at her, the wider her smile got, as in her head she kicked him inside and slammed the door shut, listening to his melting screams as she washed her Sierra Leone rug.
Roger straightened up, reverently closed the gate over and turned round. He saw Victoria’s dreamy grin.
‘I know what you were thinking,’ he said.
‘I know you do.’
‘I love you, dear.’
‘I love you too darling,’
And they both did.