NIGHT CALL 2 - DOT KING
She was nearly awake by the time she had got the receiver to her ear and clocked the caller ID on the screen. Rob.
Rob. Was he waking her to prattle some more? Since his wife’s death nearly a year ago, he had been trying to pull the strings of a new life together, making mistakes along the way, but getting there all the same. Even if he was extremely exasperating ...
Going from a full year of twenty-four-seven care to sudden freedom had gone to his head. He had become erratic, unfocused. Soon, perhaps too soon after the funeral, he had gone into a new relationship, moved in even with his new love. True romance it was not, so here he was back again in the house around the corner, keeping company with his late wife’s clothes, cosmetics, even her toothbrush had still been in the bathroom when he left. She had been trying, day by day, to help him clear things, but he got her down – not because he was sad or maudlin, but because if he was, he masked it behind endless puerile prattle. She found it wearing.
But still, she had to admit that he was trying to move forwards. He had adapted the top-floor bedroom and shower into a small, self-contained bedsit, given contact details to the local college and rented it out, six months ago, to his first student, who was on the point of leaving to be replaced by another, rather strange young woman whom she’d met two days ago.
Her luck had definitely been out as she passed by Rob’s house just as he was opening the window.
‘Hi, why don’t you come in and meet Ginny. She’s my new tenant, moving in tomorrow.’
And so, reluctantly, she had found herself sitting at Rob’s kitchen table with a mug of coffee, a plate of Speculos (which Rob insisted on calling ‘speculum biscuits’ - it had nearly been funny the first time) and feeling vaguely discomfited by the undercover visual inspection that Ginny was subjecting her to.
‘Ginny used to go to the school where you taught. I thought you might know each other. It was Rosemoor High, wasn’t it?’
‘No, in fact it was Roseleigh High.’
She hadn’t known she was going to lie and it shocked her, but something about this young woman made her feel that the less she said about herself, the better it would be. She looked at Rob to see if the lie had registered, but an unattentive man he had always been, ‘women's prattle’, such as their careers, skills, opinions, being of no consequence to him, whilst his own stream-of-consciousness prattle was, by his own definition, a mine of fascinating information.
She looked then at Ginny and attempted a smile. The girl looked back expressionless, her narrow eyes, slits in a palid, puffy face, still engaged in their scrutiny of her.
‘You went to Rosemoor then, Ginny? I have friends who worked there, when did you leave?’
‘Two years ago,’ Ginny replied, her voice as devoid of expression as her face and as atonal as her flat vowels.
So, there was something odd here, very odd. Rosemoor High had closed to merge with another school on another site a little over ten years ago. Why would anyone lie about the school they went to? She glanced at Rob, but judging from his absent, self-sufficient smile, he clearly wasn't even listening. She imagined trying to explain to him later what she was - not thinking exactly - but sensing about this girl. Stony ground. None of her business anyway. And hadn’t she lied about teaching at the school? Well, there we are. Goose and gander. Leave it alone.
‘What are you studying at the college?’
‘Hairdressing.’ Ginny reached down into her bag and brought out a neat cylinder of black cloth which she unrolled carefully on to the table. It contained scissors, combs, hairbrushes, grips. She displayed them proudly, the tools of her trade, touching them, one after another, slily, almost caressingly.
‘What’s this one?’
‘Oh, that. It’s a razor. We have to learn how to do old-fashioned shaves.’
And she extracted from its pocket in the cloth a cut-throat razor and half unfolded the blade. She touched the tip of her finger to its edge and showed her a spot of blood before licking it away. ‘Very sharp. Have to be careful,’ she murmured.
Rob roared with laughter and asked whether they got to practice on whiskery dummies or real live men. Ginny didn’t seem to think an answer was needed. She remained silent and closed.
A clumping noise from the stairs announced Angela, a cropped-haired, pretty, smiling girl of twenty, who backed into the room dragging two heavy cases in before upending them ready to be wheeled out of her studies and into her new life as an apprentice mechanic.
‘I’ll be off then, Rob. Thanks for everything.’ Looking at Ginny, she said: ‘You’ll be all right here. I’ve left everything as I’d like to find it, so you can just move in.’
She had taken the opportunity to escape and left at the same time as Angela, wanting to be away from the duty of chatting amiably with the singularly unlikeable Ginny, who fixed her with a porcine stare as she stood to leave. She stopped at the door, wondered again whether she should try to tell Rob of her misgivings, tried, but failed to catch his attention.
As she turned and stepped outside, it struck her that Rob’s usually unkempt goatee beard and stubble were unexpectedly.... well.... kempt.
She turned her head to look at the time as she spoke into the receiver.
At three twenty-four in the morning.
« Hello, Rob. »
Nothing. The line buzzed and echoed, a hollow noise.
« Rob? »
There came a rattling sigh. Then silence.