One Across, Two Down Online - Ruth Rendell Page 0,1

did for a living, if you can call it a living. A petrol pump attendant! She said that's what her landlady's son does in his holidays from college. Eighteen he is, just a student doing it for pin money."

"Ethel Carpenter can keep her nose out of my business, the old bag."

"Don't you use language like that about my friend!"

"Oh, pack it up, do," said Vera. "I thought you were going to watch the film."

If Stanley and Maud were in accord over one thing it was their fondness for old films and now, having exchanged venomous glances, they settled down among the tea things to watch Jeanette MacDonald in The Girl of the Golden West. Vera, a little revived with two hot cups of tea, sighed thankfully and began clearing the table. Altercation would break out again, she knew, at eight o'clock when Stanley's favourite quiz programme conflicted with Maud's favourite serial. She dreaded Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Of course it was only natural that Stanley, with his passion for puzzles, should want to watch the quizzes that took place on those nights, and natural too that Maud, in common with five million other middle-aged and elderly women, should long for the next development in the complicated lives of the residents of "Augusta Alley." But why couldn't they come to an amicable arrangement like reasonable people? Because they weren't reasonable people, she thought, as she began the washing up. For her part, she couldn't care less about the television and sometimes she hoped the cathode ray tube would break or a valve go or something. Certainly the way things were, they wouldn't be able to afford to get it seen to.

Jeanette MacDonald was singing "Ave Maria" when she got back into the living room and Maud was accompanying her in a sentimental cracked soprano. Vera prayed for the song to end before Stanley did something violent like bringing Maud's stick down on the table with a thunderous crash, as he had done only the week before. But this time he contented himself with low mutterings and Vera leant her head against a cushion and closed her eyes.

Four years Mother's been here, she thought, four long years of unbroken hell. Why had she been so stupid and so impulsive as to agree to it in the first place? It wasn't as if Maud was ill or even really disabled. She'd made a marvellous recovery from that stroke. There was nothing wrong with her but for a weakness in the left leg and a little quirk to her mouth. She was as capable of looking after herself as any woman of seventy-four. But it was no good harking back now. The thing was done, Maud's house sold and all her furniture, and she and Stanley had got her till the day she died.

Maud's petulant angry wail started her out of her half-doze and made her sit up with a jerk.

"What are you turning over to I. T. V. for? I've been looking forward to my 'Augusta Alley' all day. We don't want that kids' stuff, a lot of schoolkids answering silly questions."

"Who pays the licence, I'd like to know?" said Stanley.

"I pay my share. Every week I turn my pension over to Vee. Ten shillings is the most I ever keep for my bits and pieces."

Stanley made no reply. He moved his chair closer to the set and got out pencil and paper.

"All day long I was looking forward to my serial," said Maud.

"Never mind, Mother," said Vera, trying to infuse a little cheerfulness into her tired voice. "Why don't you watch 'Oak Valley Farm' in the afternoons when we're at work? That's a nice serial, all about country people."

"I have my sleep in the afternoons, that's why not. I'm not upsetting my routine."

Maud lapsed into a moody silence, but if she wasn't to be allowed to watch her programme she had no intention of allowing Stanley uninterrupted enjoyment of his. After about five minutes, during which Stanley scribbled excitedly on his pad, she began tapping her stick rhythmically against the fender. It sounded as if she was trying to work out the timing of a hymn tune. "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," Vera thought it was, and presently Maud confirmed this by humming the melody very softly.

Stanley stood it for about thirty seconds and then he said, "Shut up, will you?"

Maud gave a lugubrious sigh. "They played that hymn at your grandfather's funeral, Vera."

"I don't care if they played it at