The Heart of the Country

The Heart of the Country by Fay Weldon Read Free Book Online

Book: The Heart of the Country by Fay Weldon Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fay Weldon
back. He wished he was married to the kind of wife who would fancy sex as she changed for dinner, but he wasn’t.
    ‘I’m hungry,’ Angus said, as he changed out of his auctioneer’s tweedy suit into the smooth grey suit he wore for evening occasions. ‘You don’t think she’ll cook cuisine minceur?’
    ‘Fat hope,’ she said. ‘Actually we’ll be lucky if there’s any dinner at all.’
    ‘Why’s that?’ he asked.
    Now Jean loved dropping bombshells. Sometimes he thought she kept him for the sake of dropping them and watching him jump, in the same way as some people keep dogs in order to watch them sit up and beg.
    ‘Harrix went bust,’ she told him, as if she were mentioning that the cat had been sick.
    ‘Who said so?’ His hand stilled as he fumbled for buttons. Fool and joker he might be: king of the country he was. Ordinary intelligence – the talk in pubs and offices – had failed him. He needed to know.
    ‘Mrs Barnes came in after evening surgery for some Diezepan – said her husband was out of work again. So was everyone else up at Harrix.’
    ‘But he had a million-pound order on the books.’
    ‘So he said,’ said Jean. ‘More fool you to believe him. Do you want to call and cancel dinner? I don’t imagine Harris is much use to you now.’
    But he didn’t. He was hungry. If he stayed home Jean would give him a boiled egg and some salad and lecture him on cholesterol.
    ‘Tell me more,’ he said. But she wouldn’t. She would feed him scraps of information as she fed him sight of her breasts, for the pleasure of snatching satisfaction away. ‘I don’t want to get a name for gossip,’ she said, ‘or they’ll stop telling me things. You’re putting on weight,’ she added, not failing to notice that he had to tug at his belt to get it to his normal hole.
    Only when they were in the car – a new Audi Quattro, with every modern gadget available, including a bleeper which went off if you exceeded the speed limit you set yourself, of which Angus was extremely proud – did Jean say: ‘What’s more, Mrs Hopfoot came in for Mogadon. She said her daughter had run off with Harry Harris. You know, that blonde girl with the good legs but the screwed-up face? I think perhaps a harelip, not very well fixed. Some said it gave her charm, but I never could see it.’
    ‘You’re having me on,’ he said. ‘You’re joking.’
    ‘If it isn’t true, Harry Harris will be sitting at the head of the table, and if it is true, he won’t,’ she said, staring ahead from behind glasses upswept at the corners, with her wide West Country eyes, full of innocence and savagery mixed; and he thought perhaps she wasn’t joking.
    A little later she said:
    ‘Of course, you can’t blame Harry Harris too much, considering what his wife’s like.’
    ‘What’s his wife like?’
    ‘She’s been having it off with Arthur, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, back of the shop.’
    ‘I don’t believe you!’ But he did. He went too fast round a corner and had to brake sharply. The bleeper sounded and he had to grope for the switch to turn it off.
    ‘I suppose you envy Arthur,’ his wife remarked. And then, as if by the way, ‘Idiotic car, isn’t it! Why did you buy it? All it does is make you look a fool. It’s too big and too flash; it uses too much petrol and it’s impossible to park. You’re such a baby. You think people admire you and envy you for your fancy new car, but they don’t. All they think is, there goes a man with more money than sense.’
    ‘What’s the matter with you?’ he asked. ‘Fancy Arthur yourself?’
    She yawned, artificially.
    ‘If I was going to fancy anyone,’ she said, ‘I’d fancy a twenty-year-old, not a middle-aged antique dealer.’
    ‘Fun evening this is going to be,’ was all he could think of to say.
    It wasn’t, of course. Conversation was stilted. Harry Harris was indeed missing. Natalie said he’d gone to London unexpectedly that morning, and had rung

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