Apple Juice and Other Short Stories by Raymond Hopkins - HTML preview
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‘It must be dull for you in the countryside,’ he said. ‘Especially here. There’s not a lot of entertainment for a young girl.’
I stared at him frostily, in the hope that he might recognise his error. Girl indeed!
‘As it happens, I like it. I’m not a child to be entertained. When one has resources of one’s own - mental resources, you understand, then boredom isn’t a remote possibility.’
Looking back, I recognise the pomposity, but I thought my statement very mature at the time, a thought that crumbled slightly at the edges when the smile opposite simply broadened.
He shrugged. ‘Well, you’ll need all the resources you’ve got to live here for any length of time. Perhaps you’ll manage for the summer. What brought you here anyway, if I may be curious?’
‘That’s a question that might be considered rude,’ I said.
‘So it might. Then I’ll rephrase it. What brought you here anyway, if I may be rude? You don’t need to tell me, of course. It’s only idle interest on my part.’
‘Oh, it’s no great secret,’ I said. ‘Just about the whole world knows, I shouldn’t wonder. My father died some time ago, fairly recently, in fact, and my mother wanted to get away for a while. I’m keeping her company.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he sounded as though he meant it. That was the first time he showed sensitivity.
‘If I may be curious in turn, what brought you here?’ I asked, preferring to change the subject. ‘You don’t need to tell, of course.’
‘I won’t, but I’ll allow you to guess.’
‘I’m not sure I like guessing games,’ I said.
‘Don’t you? Oh, I love them. Anyway, you won’t get to satisfy your nosiness without.’
There came a long silence as we stared at each other, while I considered whether my sense of curiosity was greater than my sophistication.
‘I’m not nosy,’ I said weakly, knowing I had lost the battle with myself already.
‘All right, natural interest in a fellow being, if you prefer,’ he said with a grin. ‘While you are making your mind up, would you like a drink?’
‘Sorry, I don’t drink,’ I replied a little more stiffly than I had intended.
‘Nonsense. Everybody drinks.’ He hesitated. ‘I didn’t mean alcohol, if that’s what you’re thinking. You’re probably a bit young for that, even if you have left school. Apple juice is what I had in mind. Apple juice with a bit of ice floating on the top. Nothing more.’
‘Oh, all right. Thank you. It is rather hot.’
It was hot, as it had been ever since arriving, a heat spell that showed no signs of disappearing. I sat on one of the two garden chairs underneath the spreading branches of a sweet smelling tree that buzzed with the sound of what I was sure were hundreds of busy bees in the branches. It felt a bit uncomfortable at first, but I soon realised that the insects were after more attractive things than myself. Not that I was considered unattractive, but a bee might well have another viewpoint, a viewpoint just as valid as any human idea of beauty. To a bee at least.
My host came back with a tray on which were several containers.
‘When I used the words nothing more, I was referring to the alcohol content of the drinks,’ he said. ‘There are strawberries as well. Cream here. Sugar there. Help yourself. And when you’ve done that, you can start guessing.’
‘I’ve done so already,’ I said. ‘You’re an artist.’
‘Artist? Ah, you’ve seen the easel. Wrong, I’m afraid. I dabble a little in water colours, but not even my best friends would call me an artist. No. Try again.’