The Hill Bachelors

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Overview

William Trevor has long been hailed as the master of the short story. His new collection, The Hill Bachelors, is an elegant, heartbreaking book about men and women and their missed opportunities. Here we meet four people in a small suburban house, whose lives are frozen in a conspiracy of silence that precludes love's consummation; a nine-year-old who harbors a dream that a movie part will end her fragmented family life; a brother and sister who must forge a new life amid the terrible beauty of Ireland after the ...
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Overview

William Trevor has long been hailed as the master of the short story. His new collection, The Hill Bachelors, is an elegant, heartbreaking book about men and women and their missed opportunities. Here we meet four people in a small suburban house, whose lives are frozen in a conspiracy of silence that precludes love's consummation; a nine-year-old who harbors a dream that a movie part will end her fragmented family life; a brother and sister who must forge a new life amid the terrible beauty of Ireland after the Rebellion; and in the title story, a young man who must choose between a life with his longtime love and a life of solitude -- wedded only to the family farm.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Irish writer William Trevor has been applauded as the greatest practitioner of the short story in the English language. In his latest collection, The Hill Bachelors, a range of characters -- from rural Irish farmers to American expatriates to stuffy English elitists -- face painstaking choices, missed opportunities, and seemingly minor events that dramatically affect the course of their lives. Each of these 12 stories is a moving and emotional exploration of the difficulties of modern life.
San Diego Union
...Trevor astounds with his spare and graceful writing, and his insight into the hearts of his varied characters...
Commonweal
...support[s]...the growing consensus that William Trevor is one of the very best writers of short stories alive.
Raleigh News & Observer
Trevor portrays his characters with dignity and without sentimentality - whatever their circumstances.
From The Critics
The twelve stories in Trevor's stunning collection explore the quiet lives of characters caught between desire and circumstance. In the title story, a son must choose between marrying his longtime love or caring for his widowed mother and the family farm, while another tale finds a man and a woman reaching for each other with small, guarded gestures, knowing if they ever touched, the relationship would dissolve. By turns haunting and humorous, these are beautifully crafted stories, written in forthright prose. The author adores his characters and imbues them with wit, strength and heart, yet he repeatedly refuses sentimentality and tidy reconciliations. Set throughout the Irish countryside, Trevor's stories contrast his characters' emotional struggles with Ireland's harsh, sprawling beauty, offering readers a collection both gorgeous and heart-rending, seamlessly paced and defiantly hopeful.
—Bret Anthony Johnston
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With the recent death of V.S. Pritchett, Trevor is arguably the best short story writer working in the English language, and these stories are up to his own highest standards. Trevor simply knows so much, moving effortlessly between Irish rural settings, like that of the title story, and the world of the sophisticated English art historians at the heart of " A Friend in the Trade." He is equally able to inhabit the worlds of priests, restless American expatriates and quarrelsome academics, always with an acute sense of their wide range of voices and habits of mind. His effects are quiet but no less telling for that, and his understated endings are achieved with mastery. One of the best of an outstanding bunch is "The Mourning," the story of a simple Irish laborer who nearly gets to plant a bomb in London for the IRA, until he thinks better of it; the subtle way he is drawn into thinking he can perform such a desperate act says more about the Troubles than many a full-length novel. "Good News" is a heartrending account of a young girl hoping a minor film role will help bring her family together. "The Telephone Game" is a psychologically astute study of an about-to-be-married young couple who come perilously close to finding out too much about each other at the last moment. "The Virgin's Gift" is an utter change of pace, an intensely poetic story of faith and redemption that reads like a myth. "Against the Odds" is a delicious study of a woman who is a confidence trickster against her own better instincts. "Of the Cloth" is a penetrating tale of the impact a small act of kindness has over the years. Work like this reveals a perfectly crafted story as one of the true gems of literature. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is the newest short story collection from prolific Irish writer Trevor. Each of the 12 stories is a carefully crafted exploration of how a single act or event can alter a life's course. In several of the stories, loss and yearning prevail, and yet the collection as a whole is not bleak, for many of Trevor's characters are redeemed by small acts of personal courage. In "Of the Cloth," a Church of Ireland priest, living in an isolated and declining rural parish, discovers "the task he'd been given" and comes to find solace in knowing that his act of kindness brought meaning to another's life. In "The Virgin's Gift," a reclusive monk questions the meaning of his faith and the quest he is given only to discover a gift that is greater then any he could previously have imagined. In "The Mourning," Liam Pat is a simple Irish laborer working in England who is taken in by a dubious mentor but finds within himself the personal strength to act on his own best instincts. While the situations that begin some of the stories seem somehow familiar, every story includes a revealing moment that captures the reader's imagination and evokes strong feelings for the characters involved. Highly recommended.--Caroline Hallsworth, Sudbury P.L., Ont. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Michiko Kakutani
Mr. Trevor manages to work masterful variations on these familiar melodies, demonstrating once again his authority and poise as a storyteller, his Chekhovian understanding of missed connections and misplaced hopes.
New York Times
William Pritchard
...beautifully and economically told...[contains] as fine a moment as any I know in Trevor's fiction...[Trevor] has grown less interested in creating victims so as to score points off them. His literary art has become exploratory, rather than clinically diagnostic or satiric, and in so doing it has become more generous toward his characters.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A solid ninth collection of 12 varied, moving stories by the AngloIrish master (most recently, the novel Death in Summer, 1998).
From the Publisher
The Hill Bachelors certainly raises no doubts about Trevor's virtuosity…. Reading Trevor is something like watching the needle of a compass pulling to north. Whatever lies that way, whether it's a comfort or not, you know you're being pointed at the truth.” – The Globe and Mail
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141002170
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: Great Irish Writers
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,435,294
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.82 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

William Trevor
William Trevor is the recipient of numerous honours for writing, including the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and the David Cohen British Literature Prize. His novel Felicia’s Journey was recently made into an acclaimed feature film, directed by Atom Egoyan. William Trevor lives in England.

Biography

"William Trevor is an extraordinarily mellifluous writer, seemingly incapable of composing an ungraceful sentence," Brooke Adams once wrote in the New York Times Book Review. Hailed by the New Yorker as "probably the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language," Trevor has also written over a dozen acclaimed novels as well as several plays. His characters are often people whose desires have been unfulfilled, and who come to rely on various forms of self-deception and fantasy to make their lives bearable.

Trevor was born in 1928 to a middle-class, Protestant family in Ireland. After graduating from Trinity College with a degree in history, he attempted to carve out a career as a sculptor. He moved to England in 1954 and exhibited his sculptures there; he also wrote his first novel, A Standard of Behavior, which was published in 1958 but met with little critical success. His second novel, The Old Boys, won the 1964 Hawthornden Prize for Literature and marked the beginning of a long and prolific career as a novelist, short-story writer and playwright.

Three of Trevor's novels have won the prestigious Whitbread Novel of the Year Award: The Children of Dynmouth, Fools of Fortune and Felicia's Journey. Felicia's Journey, about a pregnant Irish girl who goes to England to find the lover who abandoned her, was adapted for the screen in 1999 by director Atom Egoyan. Trevor, who has described himself as a short-story writer who enjoys writing novels, has also written such celebrated short stories as "Three People," in which a woman who murdered her disabled sister harbors an unspoken longing for the man who provided her with an alibi, and "The Mourning," about a young man who is pressed by political activists into planting a bomb (both from The Hill Bachelors).

Some critics have noted a change in Trevor's work over the years: his early stories tend to contain comic sketches of England, while his later ones describe Ireland with the elegiac tone of an expatriate. Trevor, who now lives in Devon, England, has suggested that he has something of an outsider's view of both countries. "I feel a sense of freshness when I come back [to Ireland]," he said in a 2000 Irish radio interview. "If I lived in, say, Dungarvan or Skibbereen, I think I wouldn't notice things."

As it stands, Trevor is clearly a writer who notices things, just as one of his characters notices "the glen and the woods and the seashore, the flat rocks where the shrimp pools were, the room she woke up in, the chatter of the hens in the yard, the gobbling of the turkeys, her footsteps the first marks on the sand when she walked to Kilauran to school" (The Story of Lucy Gault). Yet as Trevor told an interviewer for The Irish Times, "You mustn't write about what you know. You must use your imagination. Fiction is an act of the imagination." Trevor's fertile imagination captures, as Alice McDermott wrote in The Atlantic, "the terrible beauty of Ireland's fate, and the fate of us all -- at the mercy of history, circumstance, and the vicissitudes of time."

Good To Know

When Trevor was growing up, he wanted to be a clerk in the Bank of Ireland -- following in the footsteps of his father, James William Cox. Cox's career as a bank manager took the family all over Ireland, and Trevor attended over a dozen different schools before entering Trinity College in Dublin.

Trevor married his college sweetheart, Jane Ryan, in 1952. After the birth of their first son, Trevor worked for a time as an advertising copywriter in London. He also sculpted and worked as an art teacher, but gave up his sculpting after it became "too abstract."

In addition to the 1999 film Felicia's Journey, two other movies have been based on Trevor's works: Fools of Fortune (1990), directed by Pat O'Connor, and Attracta (1983), directed by Kieran Hickey. According to Trevor's agent, the plays Reading Turgenev and My House in Umbria are also being adapted for the screen.

Trevor is also the author of several plays, most of which are not in print in the U.S. Works include Scenes from an Album, Marriages, and Autumn Sunshine.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Trevor Cox (birth name)
    2. Hometown:
      Devon, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 24, 1928
    2. Place of Birth:
      Mitchelstown, County Cork, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Trinity College, Dublin, 1950

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Three People


On the steps of the Scheles' house, stained glass on either side of the brown front door, Sidney shakes the rain from his plastic mackintosh, taking it off to do so. He lets himself into the small porch, pauses for a moment to wipe the rain from his face with a handkerchief, then rings the bell of the inner door. It is how they like it, his admission with a key to the porch, then this declaration of his presence. They'll know who it is: no one else rings that inner bell.

    `Good afternoon, Sidney,' Vera greets him when the bolts are drawn back and the key turned in the deadlock. `Is still raining, Sidney?'

    `Yes. Getting heavy now.'

    `We did not look out.'

    The light is on in the hall, as it always is except in high summer.

    Sidney waits while the bolts are shot into place again, the key in the deadlock turned. Then he hangs his colourless plastic coat on the hall-stand pegs.

    `Well, there the bathroom is,' Vera says. `All ready.'

    `Your father —'

    `Oh, he's well, Sidney. Father is resting now. You know: the afternoon.'

    `I'd hoped to come this morning.'

    `He hoped you would, Sidney. At eleven maybe.'

    `The morning was difficult today.'

    `Oh, I don't mind, myself.'

    In the bathroom the paint tins and brushes and a roller have been laid out, the bath and washbasin covered with oldcurtains. There is Polyfilla and white spirit, which last week Sidney said he'd need. He should have said Polyclens, he realizes now, instead of the white spirit; better for washing out the brushes.

    `You'd like some tea now, Sidney?' Vera offers. `You'd like a cup before you begin?'

    Vera has sharp cheek-bones and hair dyed black because it's greying. The leanness in her face is everywhere else too; a navy-blue skirt is tight on bony hips, her plain red jumper is as skimpy as a child's, clinging to breasts that hardly show. Her large brown eyes and sensuous lips are what you notice, the eyes expressionless, the lips perhaps a trick of nature, for in other ways Vera does not seem sensuous in the least.

    `Tea later.' Sidney hesitates, glancing at Vera, as if fearing to offend her. `If that's all right?'

    And Vera smiles and says of course it's all right. There is a Danish pastry, she says, an apricot Danish pastry, bought yesterday so she'll heat it up.

    `Thanks, Vera.'

    `There's Father, waking now.'

    Lace Cap is the colour chosen. Sidney pours it into the roller dish and rolls it on to the ceiling, beginning at the centre, which a paint-shop man advised him once was the best way to go about it. The colour seems white but he knows it isn't. It will dry out a shade darker. A satin finish, suitable for a bathroom.

    `The tiling,' Mr Schele says in the doorway when Sidney has already begun on the walls. `Maybe the tiling.'

    Clearing away his things — his toothbrush and his razor — Mr Schele noticed the tiling around the washbasin and the bath. In places the tiling is not good, he says. In places the tiles are perhaps a little loose, and a few are cracked. You hardly notice, but they are cracked when you look slowly, taking time to look. And the rubber filler around the bath is discoloured. Grubby, Mr Schele says.

    `Yes, I'll do all that.'

    `Not the tiling before the paint, heh? Not finish the tiling first maybe?'

    Sidney knows the old man is right. The tile replacement and the rubber should be done first because of the mess. That is the usual way. Not that Sidney is an expert, not that he decorates many bathrooms, but it stands to reason.

    `It'll be all right, Mr Schele. The tiling's not much, two or three to put in.'

    While the undercoat on the woodwork is drying he'll slip the new tiles in. He'll cut away the rubber and squeeze in more of it, a tricky business, which he doesn't like. He has done it only once before, behind the sink in the kitchen. While it's settling he'll gloss the woodwork.

    `You're a good man, Sidney.'

    He works all afternoon. When Vera brings the Danish pastry and tea, and two different kinds of biscuits, she doesn't linger because he's busy. Sidney isn't paid for what he does, as he is for all his other work — the club, delivering the leaflets or handing them out on the street, depending on what's required. He manages on what he gets; he doesn't need much because there is no rent to pay. Just enough for food, and the gas he cooks it on. The electricity he doesn't have to pay for; clothes come from the charity shop.

    They let him live above the club because there's a room. At night he takes the ticket money, protected in his kiosk by Alfie and Harry at the door; in the daytime he cleans up after the night before and takes the phone messages. All the club's facilities are his to make use of, which he appreciates. Sidney is thirty-four now, thirty-four and one week and two days. He had just turned twenty when he first helped Vera.

    In Mr Schele's house they do not ever mention that. They do not talk about a time that was distressing for Vera, and for Mr Schele too. But when Sidney's not in the house, when he's private and on his own, in his room above the club, he talks to himself about it. `Shining armour,' he repeats because it said that in the paper; still says it if he wants to look. Knight in Shining Armour, all across the page. Sometimes, when he's trying to get to sleep, he lies there polishing the armour, laying all the pieces out, unfolding cloths, setting out the Duraglit and the Goddard's.

    `Sidney, you stay with us for supper tonight?' There is enough, Vera assures him. Another cup of rice will make it enough, and she recites this Saturday's menu: chicken cooked her way and her good salad, strudel and just a little cream. Then Casualty on the TV, five past eight.

    It is a plea, occasionally made when Sidney is in the house as late as this. Vera begs for company with her invitation, Sidney finds himself reflecting; for another presence besides her elderly father. Vera would have been glad when he didn't come in the morning because he'd have finished earlier, too long before supper, and staying to lunch is never the same.

    `I should be getting on.'

    `Oh, do stay with us.'

    And Sidney does. He sits with Mr Schele in the sitting-room and there's an appetizer, salty little pretzels Vera has bought. No drink accompanies these. Mr Schele talks about his childhood.

    `The big rosebush has blown down,' Sidney interrupts, standing by the window now. `This wind has taken it.'

    Mr Schele comes to look and sorrowfully shakes his head. `Maybe the roots are holding,' he suggests. `Maybe a little can be done.'

    Sidney goes through the kitchen to the garden. `No,' he says when they all three sit down to eat: the roots have snapped in the fall. The news upsets Mr Schele, who remembers the rose being planted, when Vera was a child. He'll not see another rose grown to that size in the garden, he predicts. He blames himself, but Vera says no and Sidney points out that even roses come to an end.

    A strudel enriched with sultanas follows the chicken cooked Vera's way and her good salad, and then they stand in the bathroom doorway, surveying Sidney's work. The bathroom is as new, Mr Schele says, greatly cheered by the sight of it. It is the bathroom as it was the day the house was built. Everything except the linoleum on the floor, which has been there since 1951, Mr Schele calculates.

    `A nice new vinyl,' Mr Schele suggests, and Vera adds that not much is necessary. Two metres and three-quarters, a metre wide: she measured it this morning. `You lay it down, Sidney?' Mr Schele enquires. `You lay it for us?'

    They know he will. If Vera chooses what she wants and brings the piece back to the house he'll lay it. There is adhesive left over from the time he laid the surround in Mr Schele's small bedroom. In windy weather draughts came up through the cracks between the floorboards, the bedroom being on the ground floor. There's been no trouble since Sidney cut out the vinyl surround and stuck it down, except that Mr Schele still can't get used to the colour, shades of marbled orange.

    `For a bathroom,' he states his preference now, `we keep to pale, heh?'

    To go with the Lace Cap, Vera agrees. Maybe even white, to go with the bath and washbasin and the tiles. A flush of pink has crept into Vera's hollow cheeks, and Sidney — knowing Vera well — knows it is there in anticipation of the treat that lies ahead: choosing the floor material, the right weight for bathroom use, a shade to match the paint or the porcelain.

    `You can wait another minute, Sidney?' Vera says, and briefly goes away, returning with a piece of card she has torn from a cornflakes packet. `You brush the paint on that for me, Sidney?' she requests, and Sidney does so and washes out the brush again. His Stanley knife slipped when he was cutting the orange vinyl for the bedroom; he had to have three stitches and a tetanus injection.

    `Time for the hospital programme,' Mr Schele reminds Vera, who's disappointed when Sidney shakes his head. Not this Saturday, he explains, because he's on early turn at the club.

    `You're good to come, Sidney,' Vera says in the porch, whispering as she always does when she says that. She's older than Sidney, forty-one; she was twenty-seven when he first helped her, the time of her distress.

    `It's nothing,' he says before he leaves, his unchanging valediction.


*


They took Vera in because in the end they didn't believe her story about an intruder while she was at the cinema. They had accepted it at first, when everything hung together — the kitchen window forced open, the traces of dry mud on the draining-board and again by the door, where the shoes had been taken off. Forty-eight pounds and ninepence had been taken, and medals and a silver-plated stud-box. The hall door and the porch door were both wide open when Vera returned to the house; Mr Schele, employed in those days in a radio and television shop, was still at work. They took Vera in because there was something that didn't seem right to them about the entry through the kitchen window, no sign on the path outside of the dried mud, no sign of it on the window-sill. There was something not quite right about only a stud-box and medals taken, not other small objects that were lying about; and no one could remember Vera at the cinema. Then, in the garden, a dog sniffed out part of a glove that had been burnt on the garden fire, and the wool matched the fibres found in the room upstairs. Odd, it seemed, that gloves had been burnt, even if they were old and done for.

    All that passes through Sidney's thoughts, as it usually does when he walks away from the house. He isn't late for his Saturday duties at the club; he doesn't hurry. After an afternoon inside, the air is good. The wind that blew away the rain is noisy in the empty trees, lifts off a dustbin lid and plays with plastic flowerpots in the small front gardens. He'll walk until it rains again, then take a bus.

    `Come, Angus! Angus!' a woman calls her dog, a Pomeranian. 'What a wind!' she calls out, going by, and Sidney says what wind indeed. He knows the woman from meeting her and her dog on this particular stretch. Several times a day she's out.

    Walking through the ill-lit suburban avenues and crescents, leaves scattered on the pavements or gathered into corners by the wind, Sidney remembers the photograph of Vera, her big lips a little parted, her hair — blonde then — falling almost to her shoulders, her eyes innocent and lovely. She was in custody when he saw the photograph; her solicitors, not she, were appealing for anyone who'd seen her entering or leaving the cinema to come forward.

    Sidney passes into streets with closed shops and mini-markets, dentists and chiropodists advertised, the Regina take-away, the Queen's Arms at a corner, Joe Coral's betting shop. Then there is a quiet neighbourhood, the yellow caravan still parked in the garden, the open space that's not quite a park, litter sodden on its single path. The film was French Connection 2. He went to see it as soon as he saw the photograph, so that he knew the plot.

    On the bus Sidney feels like sleep because last night, being Friday, was one of his late ones. But he doesn't sleep because he hates waking up on a bus. Once he went past his stop and had to pay the extra, but that hasn't happened since. Something wakes him, some worry about having to pay the extra again; one stop before his own he always wakes now, but even so he'd rather not sleep. He closes his eyes though, because he wants to go back in his thoughts, to run it again, to make sure it's all still there: usually after he has been to the Scheles' he does that. `The ice-cream girl was going round,' he said, and every word was written down. `The lights were up.'

    He needn't have sat next to her but he did, he explained. He wanted to; soon's he saw the hair he wanted to, soon's he looked along the row and saw her lips, moving as it happened, sucking a sweet maybe, or chocolate. `You make a practice of this, Sidney?' the sergeant asked. Well, once or twice before, he said, a woman he liked the look of.

    The bus draws in again, three people get off, two men and a girl, the men much older, as if one of them's her father. `You're certain, Sidney?' the sergeant pressed him, and he said the ice-cream girl took her time, not that anyone was buying from her, a good five minutes it was the lights were up. And there was afterwards too, of course. No way he wasn't certain, he said. `Definitely,' he said. `Oh, yes.' The other man came in then, and asked the same questions all over again. `You tell us what clothes she was wearing, Sidney? Take your time now, son.' It said in the paper about the clothes, and he remembered because he'd learnt it off.

    The club is in darkness when he reaches it, but he turns the lights on as soon as he's inside. He tidied this morning, the time he always tidies. Everything is ready. Alfie and Harry arrive, and he makes them Maxwell House the way they like it, and they sit there, drinking it and smoking. Tomorrow he'll go back, Sidney says to himself, tidy up that rose that's come down.


*


The Sunday bells of a church are sounding for an early service when Vera glances from the kitchen window and there he is, cutting up the big rosebush that the wind brought down. A warmth begins in Vera, spreading from some central part of her to her shoulders and her thighs, tingling in her arms and legs. It is the warmth of Vera's passion, heat in her blood that such an unexpected glimpse always inspires. He came to help yesterday. Why today also? The blown-down rosebush could have waited.

    `Sidney's come,' her father says, having looked out too. `Twenty-five years, that rosebush. High as a tree and now we must begin again.'

    `Oh, I'm not sorry it's gone. It darkened the garden. Sidney, you like some coffee?' Vera calls from the back door and Sidney waves and says in a minute.

    `Is Sidney wearing the garden gloves?' Mr Schele fusses. `You need the gloves with a rose.'

    `Sidney knows.'

    Once, working in the garden, sawing up old planks of wood, he got a splinter under a thumbnail and Vera saw to it: Sidney's hand laid flat on the kitchen worktop, a light brought specially in, a needle sterilized in a match flame, TCP and tweezers. In her night-time fantasies she has comforted Sidney, whispering to him, asking him to talk to her. Sometimes, when he has worked all through a weekend morning, she turns the immersion heater on early in case he'd like to have a bath before he goes. The time he cut his hand she staunched the blood flow with a tourniquet.

    `Ready, Sidney,' Vera calls from the back door. `Coffee.'

    Mr Schele senses something in the air. His thoughts reflect Vera's: unsightly though it is, the thicket of twisted branches on the grass could easily have stayed there for a week. It is Sidney's pretext, Mr Schele tells himself; it is a reason to come back so soon. He pours hot milk on to his bran flakes and stirs the mixture with his spoon, softening the flakes because he does not like them crispy. Is this, at last, the Sunday of the proposal? He watches Vera at the stove. She remembers her fluffy slippers and hurries away to change them. The glass disc rattles in the milk saucepan and Mr Schele rises to attend to that. He cannot last for ever; each day, at seventy-eight, is borrowed time. What life is it for a woman alone?

    Moving the saucepan to one side of the gas jet, Mr Schele accepts that when he is gone Vera will have no one. Going out with chaps — and there used to be quite a few — has been a thing of the past since the trouble. Vera will be alone for the rest of her days: he understands that, although the subject is never mentioned. He understands that her luck might even change for a while, before some new chap she makes friends with has second thoughts, even though at the time she walked away without a stain. That is how things happen, Mr Schele knows, and knows that Vera has worked it out too. Sidney is different because of coming forward, and in a sense he has been coming forward ever since, as good a friend to Vera as he was at the time, a saviour really: in Mr Schele's opinion that word is not too strong. It took time for the opinion to form, as naturally it would in a father, the circumstances as they were.

    `It's good of Sidney. Just because that rose blew down.'

    `Yes, it is.'

    Vera nods, saying that, lending the words a little emphasis. Her father knows what other people know, no more. He came in at his usual time, just after half past six. He saw the white police cars outside and was in a state before he passed through the porch. `You sit down now,' she said, and told him, and the policewoman brought him tea. `It can't be,' he kept saying. Later on, she had kippers to boil in the bag, but they didn't want them. She folded up the wheelchair and put it in the cupboard under the stairs, not wanting to look at it. Best to get it out of the house, she decided when everything quietened down, a month gone by, and they got a fair price for it.

    `You take your chances, Vera.'

    She knows what he means, but Sidney's not going to propose marriage, this morning or any other time, because marriage isn't on the cards and never has been. The intruder would not have guessed there was anyone in that room because when he'd watched the house he'd only ever seen two people coming and going: the policemen explained all that. An intruder always sussed a place, they explained, he didn't just come barging in. Her father out all day from eight-fifteen on, and the villain would have followed her to the cinema and seen her safely in. Cinemas, funerals, weddings: your house-thief loves all that. `Oh no, that's crazy,' her father kept muttering when they changed their minds, suddenly taking a different line. He had always thought it was crazy, their groundless probing, as he put it. He had always believed their case would fall to bits because it didn't make sense.

    `You know what I'm saying, Vera? You take your chances.'

    She nods. Changing her slippers for shoes because Sidney had come, she decided as well to change her drab Sunday skirt for her dog-tooth. She stood in front of the long wardrobe looking-glass the way she used to in the old days. She liked to be smart in the old days and she still does now. Sometimes a man looks at her in a supermarket or on the street. And Sidney does, when he thinks she isn't noticing. She heats the milk again and is ready to make fresh coffee.

    `You like an egg, Sidney?' she offers when Sidney comes in. `Poached egg? Maybe scrambled?'

    `No, honestly. Thanks, Vera.' It's too windy to risk burning the rosebush, he says, but he has clipped it up, ready for a calmer day.

    There's a leaf in his hair, and Vera draws his attention to it. `You just sit down.'

    `Only a cup of coffee, Vera.'

    That morning Sidney woke when it was half past six, the light just beginning. He thought at once about Vera, although it had been a particularly rough night in the club and usually that comes into his mind first thing. Harry and Alfie had had to separate youths who began to fight, one of them with a knife. Later, after two, a girl who was a stranger in the club collapsed. But in spite of the intervention of that excitement, this morning it was Vera he woke up to, her face as it was when her hair was blonde. Fleshy you'd have called her face then, soft was what he'd thought when he first saw the photograph, in the Evening Standard someone had left behind in the club. It doesn't matter that Vera is leaner now, it doesn't matter that her hair is different. Vera's the same, no way she isn't.

    `Dried out a lovely shade,' Mr Schele says. `The bathroom.'

    `There's half that tin left for touching up.' The coffee cup is warm in Sidney's cold hands. He likes that skirt. He'd like to see it folded on a chair and Vera standing in her slip, her jersey still on. The jersey's buttons are at the top, along one shoulder, four red buttons to match the wool. In the photograph it was a jacket, and white dots on her shirt. A loving sister, the paper said.

    `Anything on the News, Sidney?'

    He shakes his head, unable to answer the question because this morning he didn't turn the radio on. Some expedition reached a mountain top, Vera says.

    `Bad night in the club,' Sidney says, and tells them. He'd had to fish light bulbs and tins out of the toilet when he was closing up, but he doesn't mention that. The girl who'd collapsed was on Ecstasy, the ambulance men said. There is some way they can tell an Ecstasy collapse, now that they've got used to them. Sidney doesn't know what it is.

    `Out of control,' Mr Schele comments, hearing that. `The whole globe out of control.'

    `Maybe how they sweat. There's different ways a person sweats, an ambulance man told me. According to what's taken.'

    The blow left scarcely a contusion. It was to the neck, the paper said, the side of the neck, no more than a smack. The intruder had lost his head; he'd walked into a room where he wasn't expecting anyone to be, and there was a figure in a wheelchair. He'd have been seen at once, but what he didn't know was that he couldn't ever have been described. Probably he struck the blow to frighten; probably he said if a description was given he'd be back. The room is empty now, even the bed taken away; two years ago Sidney painted out the flowery wallpaper with satin emulsion — Pale Sherbet — the woodwork to match in gloss.

    `One thing I hate,' he says, `is when an ambulance has to come.'

    God did not make another man in all His world as gentle: often Vera thinks that, and she thinks it now. His voice was gentle when he said about an ambulance coming to take away the Ecstasy girl, the hands that grasp the coffee cup are gentle. `Short of a slate or two,' they said when they told her a man had come forward. `But crystal clear in his statements.'

    The first time she saw him in court his shabby jacket needed a stitch. Yes, what he said was true, she agreed when it was put to her, and was told to speak up.

    `You see the world at that club, Sidney,' her father says.

    When she walked free, when she came back to the house, her father didn't look at her at first. And when he did she could see him thinking that a man who was a stranger to her, whose face she had not even noticed, had reached out to her in the darkness of a cinema, and that she had acquiesced. With her looks, she could have had anyone: that, too, her father didn't say.

    `Yeah, a lot come into the club. Though Monday's always light. Not much doing on a Monday.'

    She knew he'd visit. She knew in court, something about him, something about the pity that was in his eyes. Nearly a year went by but still she guessed she'd open the porch door and there he'd be, and then he was. He came when he knew her father would be out at work. He stood there tongue-tied and she said come in. `I couldn't face him,' her father said when she told him, but in the end he did, so much was owing; and now he waits for a proposal. Step by step, time wore away the prejudice any father would have.

    `You try that new biscuit, Sidney.' She pushes the plate towards him and then fills up his coffee cup. Nicer than the ones with the peel in them, she says.

    `I met that woman with the dog again. Last night.'

    They don't know who the woman is. Must be she lives the other side of the green, her father has said when she was mentioned before. On his own walks he has never run into her, preferring to go the other way.

    `You think we put in another rose, Sidney?' her father asks.

    `It's empty, the way it is. You'd notice that.'

    `I thought it maybe would be.'

    Mr Schele goes to see for himself, changing his shoes in the shed by the back door. The first time he faced Sidney he kept looking at his hands, unable to keep his eyes off them. He kept thinking of Vera when she was little, when her mother was alive, Mona already confined. Vera always looked out for him, and ran down the garden path to meet him when he came home, and he lifted her up high, making her laugh, the way poor Mona never could, not all her life. The first time he faced Sidney he had to go out and get some air, had stood where he is standing now, near to where the rosebush was. It wasn't wrong that Vera had left Mona on her own that afternoon. Ever since their mother died he'd kept saying to Vera that she couldn't be a prisoner in the house. One sister should not imprison another, no matter what the circumstances were; that was not ever meant. The shopping had to be done; and no one could begrudge an hour or so in a cinema. And yet, he thought the first day he faced Sidney, why did it have to be the way it was, poor Mona's head fallen sideways as though her neck'd been cracked, while that was happening in the cinema's dark?

    `I'm sorry there was that trouble,' Vera says in the kitchen, referring to the fight in the club, and the girl for whom an ambulance had come.

    `On a Saturday you expect it.' And Sidney says he doesn't know why that is. Often on a Thursday or a Friday the club's as full. `I like a Sunday,' he says, quite suddenly, as if he has for the first time realized that. `There's church bells somewhere near the club. Well, anyway they carry. Could be a mile off.'

    On Sunday evenings Vera goes to church, a Baptist place, but anywhere would do. She says she's sorry when she kneels, and feels the better for saying it in a church, with other people there. And afterwards she wonders what they'd think if they knew, their faces still credulous following their hour of comfort. She makes herself go through it when she's on her knees, not permitting the excuses. She wants to draw attention to how awful it was for so long, ever since their mother died, how awful it would always be, the two of them left together, the washing, the dressing, the lifting from the wheelchair, the feeding, the silent gaze. All that, when praying, Vera resists in her thoughts. `You want to get turned off?' a boy said once, she heard him in the play yard when she was fourteen. `You take a look at the sister.' And later, when the wheelchair was still pushed out and about, proposals didn't come. Later still, when there were tears and protestations on the street, the wheelchair was abandoned, not even pushed into the garden, since that caused distress also: Mona was put upstairs. `Vera, take your friend up,' her father, not realizing, suggested once: an afflicted sister's due to stare at visitors to the house. On her knees — kneeling properly, not just bent forward — Vera makes herself watch the shadow that is herself, the sideways motion of her flattened hand, some kind of snap she felt, the head gone sideways too.

    `The wind's dropped down. You stay to lunch, Sidney? You could have your fire, eh?'

    In the courtroom people gazed at both of them. Asked again, she agreed again. `Yes, that is so,' she agreed because a man she didn't know wanted her to say it: that for as long as the film lasted they were lovers.

    `I'll have the fire,' he says, and when he moves from the window she sees her father, standing by the empty place where the rosebush was. His belief protects them, gives them their parts, restricts to silence all that there is. When her father goes to his grave, will his ghost come back to tell her his death's the punishment for a bargain struck?

    `A loin of lamb,' Vera says, and takes it from the fridge, a net of suet tied in place to make it succulent in the roasting. Parsnips she'll roast too, and potatoes because there's nothing Sidney likes more.

    `I left my matches at the club.'

    She takes a box from a cupboard, swinging back the door that's on a level with her head, reaching in. Cook's Matches the label says. She hands them to him, their fingers do not touch. In the garden her father has not moved, still standing where his rosebush was. He's frail, he suffers from the ailments of the elderly. More often than he used to he speaks of borrowed time.

    `I'll get it going now,' Sidney says.

    There'll be a funeral, hardly different from her mother's, not like Mona's. Their time is borrowed too, the punishment more terrible because they know it's there: no need for a ghost to spell it out.

    She smears oil on the parsnips she has sliced, and coats with flour the potatoes she has already washed and dried. Sidney likes roast potatoes crispy. There is nothing, Vera sometimes thinks, she doesn't know about his likes and dislikes. He'll stand there at the funeral and so will she, other people separating them. The truth restored, but no one else knowing it.

    `Colder now,' her father says when he comes in. The wind turned, and left a chill behind when it dropped.

    He warms himself by standing close to the gas stove, massaging his fingers. Without his presence, there would be no reason to play those parts; no reason to lose themselves in deception. The darkness of their secrets lit, the love that came for both of them through their pitying of each other: all that might fill the empty upstairs room, and every corner of the house. But Vera knows that, without her father, they would frighten one another.

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Table of Contents

William Trevor Three People

Of the Cloth

Good News

The Mourning

A Friend in the Trade

Low Sunday, 1950

Le Visiteur

The Virgin's Gift

Death of a Professor

Against the Odds

The Telephone Game

The Hill Bachelors

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2008

    A reviewer

    This book contains some of the very best short stories I have ever read. Very moving and memorable, with a great storytelling talent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

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