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Further Beyond the Camera Saga

19 Oct

Further Beyond the Camera Saga

Further Beyond the Camera Saga

Book 2 – Aberrations

Free to Kindle Tuesday 22nd October

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Further Beyond the Camera Saga

19 Oct

Further Beyond the Camera Saga

Book 1 – Developments

Free to Kindle for Tuesday 22nd October only

Further Beyond the Camera – Book 1 Developments – Chapter 45

7 Oct

CHAPTER 45

All the disks, video and still, for Chapman’s photographs had been processed. Only one thing was missing – Mike’s continued appearance in the planned studio settings against which they were to be represented as fantasies.
Elise telephoned the number he had given her on several occasions during the day and received no reply. Eventually an early evening call contacted a pleasant young lady who informed Elise that British Telecom had allotted her that number some four months previously and no, she was very sorry, the address Elise gave her was no longer the situation of the phone number and likewise she was very sorry but had no knowledge of the previous subscriber. On a hunch, Elise enquired of British Telecom if they could enlighten her as to a new number for Mike Lichfield. They could not but, after a little investigation, they could tell her that the line had been voluntarily disconnected in August last year and they had received no orders for re-instatement elsewhere.
She made a mental note to enquire more deeply into the backgrounds of future personnel, for she had never asked of Mike where his parents nor any other relatives might be located and, therefore, had no town, nor even county, into which she could narrow a search for the Lichfield family.
Difficult though it was going to be, Elise would have to adjust her original ideas into a new format around the photographs as they stood. After long hours bent over the computer, Elise finally achieved fifty photographs with which she was satisfied and a further twenty which were nothing short of masterpieces.
The presentation for Chapman’s Wine Importers was complete. Eighteen months overdue it maybe, but complete it was.

Elise had, as the old saying goes, worked her fingers to the bone since Maureen Askew-Smythe’s visit. Absorbed in her work, she had remained in the studio until the early hours of the morning and, on one occasion, had even slept there for a few hours on the sofa. She had had no reason to return to her home other than habit. This absorption had relieved her mind of the puzzling vestiges of trauma that would still periodically assail her sleep in the middle of the night.
She painstakingly affixed the final photograph into the last page of the presentation folder, covered it with its translucent sheet and closed the folder with a contented sigh.
The day had finally arrived when Elise had no choice but to contact Bryn.
It had been a moment she had been delaying since her return from France. The fact that she had heard not a whisper from either George Chapman or his marketing manager in all that time had given her the notion that she had been forgotten by them and written off as having deserted them. She had, therefore, been reluctant to initiate the contact herself for fear of a severe reprimand. She had concluded that the full presentation forwarded meekly through the post along with an apologetic suggestion that, should they still be interested, please do not hesitate to contact, would be the most appropriate approach.
It would wait until Monday.
Elise locked the studio and drove home, determined to have a relaxing evening albeit alone.
She lay back on the sofa, cigarette in one hand, glass of brandy in the other, and stretched legs daintily to rest her ankles on the edge of the coffee table.
She reflected how pleasant it was to wallow in the luxury of casual low manners without the knowledge of a disapproving husband or mother in the vicinity.
“Les pieds, sur la table, Mon Dieu” she heard the voice of her mother exclaim.
“Elise, if you want to sit like that would you go to your study, please,” her husband’s voice echoed around the lounge.
“Sucks to you both,” she uttered aloud and toasted their invisible presences with her brandy.
Half an hour of a boring television game show was sufficient to activate her mind into seeking some entertainment and she suddenly remembered the video-disks from the trip. She had glanced at extracts from them once or twice since her return but had not had enough time nor interest, for they were only intended as a record of events and had no relevance to the project, to study them in their entirety.
She fetched them from their storage cupboard and made the appropriate adjustments to the DVD recorder to enable it to accommodate the tiny camcorder disks.
For two hours she relived memories and events, laughing at Mike’s antics – where was he now? – and fast-forwarding over the sections which included Bryn Crawford. She did not wish to be reminded of him. She fitted the final disk into the machine as they neared the end of the visit to Masai Mara Game Reserve and felt her lids growing heavy through the scenes of the Pyramids.
She forced her eyes open, stretched and lifted her stiffened legs from the coffee table then stared in wonder at the television screen as a red Coca-Cola lorry lumbered incongruously along a track lined with beautiful almond trees in full blossom. Elise did not remember that specific event. Mike must have recorded it while he was waiting for her to return from photographing the trees. Suddenly there was a little old peasant gentleman waving gaily to the camera before wandering off into the same grove of trees.
Elise grabbed the remote control and pressed rewind. In fast reverse motion the little man ran chaotically back into her view. Continuing the rewind she recognized scenes of Limassol and its harbour, a few mountainous areas she did not recollect, the interior of a hotel room which she also could not bring to mind then the almond trees were on screen again but this time it was herself she could see prancing backwards along the track.
She halted the fast reverse and set the machine to play and watched herself performing actions and manoeuvres not dissimilar to those she had just watched the peasant gentleman make. Then she studied the images she had witnessed in fast reverse in their proper order and at their proper speed.
“Well, Mike, you’re photography has gone a bit downhill,” she uttered aloud, “Whatever were you up to? These are very strange things to shoot. Mike, that’s a really boring landscape – not a bit of human interest – where does your brain go when I’m not there at your side and I wasn’t because I don’t remember any of these places. Oh I know that, that’s the funfair on Makarios Avenue. What did you record that again for? We were there a couple of days before we found the almond trees. Hold everything,” she exclaimed, though there was no one to hear her. “Just hold all your horses a minute.”
She stopped the film and rewound to the point of her appearance amongst trees in the almond orchard.
“We found this orchard on the afternoon after I had bought tickets for Venice. Right. I don’t remember anything between saying to Mike that I would take some photos of the trees and waking up in hospital. Fair enough. Mike must have been shooting these as we went back to Limassol and got packed up to catch the plane.”
Elise grabbed the camera and slipped the little disk back into it. She checked the date – well into May. Mike must have stayed around in Cyprus for some reason. Putting it back into the player she continued watching and continued her thoughts.
“So Mike wasn’t with me in the crash, How come he went back to the almond trees and saw this chap later? Good Lord! How come all my equipment survived the air crash unscathed and why on earth hasn’t that occurred to me before?”
Baffled by this incongruity her reasoning came to an end. At that moment another landscape inscribed itself onto the television screen. This she did not recognize at all and she sat for a full ten minutes as various scenes passed before her eyes. Scenes so unprofessionally recorded that they made her cringe. Little panning, no zooming, the operator may as well have been holding a still camera. The settings chopped and changed from one locale to another without continuity or subtle examination of a detail of the whole. Intermittently she was treated to an exposure of a place she knew she had visited with Mike.
Elise rewound the tape again. This time she returned to the point she could identify as being the first recordings she had made on arrival in Cyprus and during which she had slept earlier that evening.
There in true chronological order ran the video as she remembered the events. As it once more passed into the amateurish shots, she wondered anew why Mike had revisited these venues and thought it worthwhile to rerecord them in such a dreadful fashion.
On it rolled in mundane and boring tedium, a shot of a narrow mountain track which seemed vaguely familiar. A view out towards the coast over the top of a mountain forest and this time the operator did pan down to the trees and there on a ledge below Mike’s feet (which she could plainly see in the corners of the shot) was a vile looking shack.
Elise cut the rendition with the remote.
A ghastly shudder had descended her spine. She did not want to see anymore. She broke out into a cold sweat and felt nauseous. She ran to the downstairs cloakroom and was violently sick.
When she could vomit no more she leaned against the bowl groaning and wishing the fear and dread which had attacked her mind would go away.
Eventually Elise felt strong enough to wash her face in cold water and return to the lounge.
She picked up the remote control again and activated the controls.
The video continued focussing on the shack for several more seconds then jiggled about all over the place as the camera had been left on record but the operator was not controlling it. She left it running and a few more inexplicable scenes crossed the screen.
Once or twice she thought she discerned the figure of Richard Carradine in some of the shots. She repeatedly rewound and replayed certain parts of the disk but could not be convinced.
“Don’t be so bloody silly,” she told herself.
A brightly sunlit mountain scene abruptly cut into the darkness of a gloomy interior. The microphone had picked up an indistinct rumble of male voices. There was the occasional clink of bottles and glasses and the sound of dice rolling. Shadowy figures moved about in the gloom as the video camera was panned.
“Mike, you should know better than to use the video in such low light conditions,” Elise told the television set.
A face loomed large onto the screen, wildly out of focus but a clear voice, instantly recognizable as belonging to Richard Carradine trilled from the loudspeakers:
“That scandal, it was not greatly exaggerated,’ Carradine was saying with a slight slur which betrayed an excessive consumption of alcohol.
“I made a foolish mistake,” Carradine continued as the camera operator brought his face clearly into focus. “At my age I should know better. Maybe I was trying to recapture my youth. I have paid the price. Take heed, young man, and learn by the follies of your elders. You are, I suspect, very much in love with Elise.”
Carradine paused for a reply but received none and pressed on with his diatribe.
“Take care of her for me, please. I have had a happy life, yea even a successful one. Elise Harper lighted a small part but it was the brightest. Take my advice and let her light all yours. She is a child at heart who needs but the security of everlasting love to become fully mature. Yes, my man, the ancient philosopher vino is at work, the greatest orator of all, the loosener of all tongues. Out of the mouths of babes, infants and inebriates come the words of wisdom. In the cold light of dawn they will be forgotten or nonsensical but while the great god, Bacchus, reigns the world can be righted at a stroke, wars are waged and won. The playing fields of Jerusalem are as nothing to the wisdom of the vine. Am I mixing my metaphors? And why not, I ask myself. There is no use in a metaphor if it cannot be mixed. Life is life, to be or not to be, God for Harry, England and St George that’s what I say. My glass is empty – how is that bottle?”
The camera was laid down and Carradine’s face slid out of view but the disk had recorded a couple of hands one holding a glass the other holding a bottle and Elise watched the dark wine flow from one container to the other.
“Wherefore art thou Morpheus?” the disembodied voice of Carradine prevailed, the video camera had apparently been forgotten as it lay on the floor. “No that’s not right is it? Wherefore means why. Where art thou Morpheus? Doesn’t have the same ring. Wherefore art thou Morpheus? Poetic licence, you understand. Wherefore art thou Morpheus? Come, rest your fair hand on this poor brow. Come, Mr Sandman, close these lids perchance to dream. And what dreams? Dreams of life, of what might have been, of what will never be. Is this a glass I see before me? If it is, it’s empty. Fill it, vassal, fill your own as well. Let’s drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Nay, tomorrow we will return to the land of the living and regret the indish ahem, indicresh ahem, in-dis-cre-shuns of the night before. ’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house….What had that bastard been doing to Elise? She was in a God awful state. What kind of person does a thing like that, man? I mean, would you? Of course not. Would I? Certainly not. And for a million quid. It’s pathetic. Aren’t people pathetic? I mean an animal wouldn’t treat one of its kind like that, would it? Disgusting, that’s what I call it. Disgusting, Cr…” and the recording part of the disk expired.
In a daze, Elise could only ask the questions.
What was Mike doing with Carradine? Getting drunk – that was obvious, but why were they together in the first place? Where on earth were they?
Richard Carradine cannot possibly have disappeared off the face of the earth. She could try a telephone call to his residence. Her directory was in her hand in an instant and she was pressing digits as fast as she was able, having given no heed to the hour being past midnight.
The ringing tone warbled four times then there was the long silence which indicated an answerphone. She listened to the polite recording of Pat Carradine’s apologetic speech, decided there was no message she could usefully leave and replaced the receiver before the recording had reached the beep. Perplexed, she left the room and forced herself to bed where an endless stream of nightmares, more intense than they had been for many months, invaded her rest. The cold light of day found her nervous and irritable and still unable to come to terms with the sight of that shack.

Further Beyond the Camera – Book 1 Developments – Chapter 44

7 Oct

CHAPTER 44

“The first thing I must do is get you some road tax,” Elise said to the Spider, alone in its garage. “Will you start I wonder? It’s been over eighteen months.”
The children had run eagerly into their own rooms. There were so many important things that they must do before their mother took it into her head to drive them back to school. Before long there were complaining shouts of there being no electricity.
“I can’t put my computer on,” wailed Grant.
“I can’t watch television,” Ross cursed.
The ancient electricity, gas and telephone bills had greeted her amongst the pile of correspondence that Betty had created tidily on the hall table. All the services had been suspended pending payment and she had found threatening letters and court orders amongst her mail. There had been several more letters from William Harper’s solicitors requesting her immediate attendance at their offices with regard to probate.
“Then we’ll have to get you back to school just as soon as I’ve got my car started,” she had replied.
The battery was flat as a pancake. Elise raised the bonnet and connected the appropriate leads of the charger.
“For God’s sake,” she cried, when she realized the ineffectuality of such a measure, “Is it not possible to do anything in this world without electricity!”
She closed the bonnet and patted the old car:
“You’ll just have to wait a few more days. I suppose my RAC membership is out of date as well,” she sighed.
She explained the situation to her children.
“Let’s go out for a bite to eat. We can manage to walk to the pub up the road, I assume.”
A familiar cold dread descended upon Elise when, later that evening, she returned alone into the house and unthinkingly operated an electric light switch. She had earlier packed the boys into a hire car, summoned from the telephone box at the restaurant, for their return to school.
“Somewhere,” she said aloud, for the sound of her own voice provided some comfort, “I have some candles. And possibly,” she went on after she had laid hands on the ornate wax columns which had been pushed to the far recesses of the sideboard in the dining room, “somewhere else, I have a camping stove.” But, before embarking on the quest for a stove on which to boil some water for coffee, she poured a brandy by the light of a candle which she had lit from the table cigarette lighter. “I could do with a fag.” She startled nervously as her own shadow loomed from an unexpected direction. “Calm down, Elise,” she scolded, “your mother was quite right you are a nervous wreck these days. You must buck up. You are completely on your own now. No mother, no father, no husband, no family at all – except the children who are away most of the time – you have got to get yourself together. Nobody else is going to do it for you.”
She located the stove with difficulty, for it was in the darkness of the garage loft. Were it not for her darkroom training and familiarity it would have been an impossible task. She settled to a congratulatory cup of coffee before retiring to bed.
The silence in the house was awesome when she awoke at three thirty with the grotesque visage of Mike on her mind. She dived beneath the duvet, too scared to open her eyes in the uneven darkness of the room – a darkness full of shapes and shadows and far more eerie than the comforting total blackness of the studio darkroom.
Elise’s first day at home was spent handwriting apologies and explanations and forwarding them with the relevant cheques and requests for reinstatement of services. She visited her daily cleaning lady and remunerated her with as much cash as she had available for the stalwart care she had taken of the property during its owner’s absence, for even the garden had been tended with care. She was comforted by the pleasure with which she was welcomed into the tiny terraced house and the obvious concern which Betty showed for her health. The good woman enquired deeply into Elise’s experiences since they had last met and updated her with her own misfortunes and happenings.
“I am sorry to hear of your mother’s death. She was a formidable lady but was always kind enough to me.”
Elise smiled and thanked her.
“She seemed to think you would sell the house and move away to France. I was worried I would lose my little job with you. People are not taking on cleaning ladies like they used to do. Fred and I were wondering how we would make ends meet without my money.”
Elise put that fear out of Betty’s mind.
“Your mother was very kind when she was here last September but it has been a long time….”
“Don’t worry, Betty, just as soon as I’ve laid hands on some more cash I’ll see you’re all right. But I must be off now. No point in coming up to the house until I’ve got the electricity and things back so I’ll see you next Monday if that’s OK.”
Elise caught a bus to the studio where she found a collection of mail similar to that which had been at home. She was surprised to find still no communication from Chapman’s Wine Importers complaining of her failure to complete their contract. At the very least, she had expected a severe reprimand and a demand for the costs that she had accumulated on her expenses card.
Elise found unmitigated satisfaction in walking into her favourite tobacconist and purchasing a supply of nicotine. She ignored the inner voice that harangued her for succumbing after twelve months abstinence but at this precise moment in time it was an essential drug to steady her nerves, her anxiety and her frustration.
Almost seven days passed before both the house and the studio were fully operational. Seven days consisting of eating alone in restaurants and coffee shops, seven days of inactivity without her computer or her electricity dependent photographic equipment, seven days of manual washing, and seven days of attempting to renew old acquaintance, most of whom were not available. But seven days which were spent discovering that Cambridge had not changed, that groups of elite continued to ply the punts up and down the Cam in apparent blissful ignorance of trouble and care. Elise could join their numbers if she chose. Elise could become a tourist in that carefree summer world. Behind each of those souls which languished happily along the river bank would be a story of death and tragedy, torment and pain. There would not be one person out there who had not suffered their share of confetti and dust, yet it was not apparent.
That old professor, tottering along the garden walk, must hide a catalogue of disappointments behind his bent shoulders. That old tramp, dozing with his back propped against a tree, was not so different from the professor. He may have chosen the road to ruin instead of the road to the ivory towers but behind both gentlemen would lurk a similar tale of unrequited as well as satisfied love, of success and failure in careers, of birth and death in the family and of minor and major personal disasters. Yet as a slice of time their present circumstances were so different that they could ignore each other and claim no association. The professor would be highly respected, comfortably situated and secure in a family while the down and out was lonely, despised and begging for his sustenance. Last year perhaps it had been the professor who was down on his luck after a set-back. Last year perhaps the tramp had been in senior management before he had lost home, career, wife and family to the vagaries of life.
That young couple, gaily taking snapshots of each other in the sunshine, did they hide a recent bereavement or were they unemployed and looking to a bleak future? The future is never bleak, Elise wanted to reassure them, equally it is never as comfortable as it seems.
How transient was it all. Kings College Chapel loftily and robustly gazing down through the years on lives that were always changing yet never altered, had only existed for a fraction of the time of the rock on which it stood and would fall long before that rock crumbled.
What would it take for Cambridge to fall figuratively and physically? What would happen to Cambridge and all its treasures if civil war erupted? Could such a city recover? Would the confetti and dust extend that far?
Elise located Mike’s address at the studio but visits found the house deserted on three occasions. She would not visit Crawford’s home. She must meet him face to face one day with regard to the assignment. She would wait until she had a professional portfolio to present.
Amongst the mail at the studio she discovered an interesting letter from a lady journalist. She expressed a desire to include Mrs Harper amongst her interviewees for her research behind some articles she was writing pertaining to career women who had achieved success in their chosen field. It was dated four months previously. Elise doubted her validity to be included in such company but, nevertheless, telephoned the given London number at the earliest opportunity.
“May I speak to Maureen Askew-Smythe,” she requested.
“Speaking,” came the reply.
Elise introduced herself and apologized for the tardiness of her response, excusing it with the explanation of her mother’s illness.
“If you are still interested…..”
“The photographer lady! Great! How about tomorrow afternoon, two thirty at your studio?”
“Certainly,” replied Elise, disarmed by the enthusiasm.
Elise was processing some of the vast quantity of Chapman’s disks through the computer, cropping and straightening, brightening the shadows and moderating the highlights, when Ms Askew-Smythe arrived, promptly. In an attempt at being methodical she was taking each batch of disks in strict chronological order and had reached those Mike had taken in Australia. She admired his artistry and regretted that he had vanished. She had recovered from the traumatic reminders of Bryn occasioned by the shots taken in Vegas.
Ms Askew-Smythe was an elegant, impressive red-head. Elise had a moment of vague recognition which she soon discounted when she realized there was a passing resemblance to a famous actress.
Mrs Harper and Ms Askew-Smythe made themselves comfortable on the studio sofa with tea and biscuits.
“Please call me Maureen,” Maureen began in her soft southern Irish brogue, which had suffered but little for its many years in the South of England. “These articles are about women who are independent and have been successful in setting up their own business.”
“Thanks for the compliment, I hope it is warranted. How have I come to your notice?”
“Loathe though I am to mention it, I’m afraid it was the Carradine affair.”
“Of course, silly question. It was all so long ago now.”
“I made further enquiries and your reputation as a photographer holds up. It appears to be in line with my approach. So tell me all about yourself.”
“Where do I start?” Elise enquired.
“Why photography?”
“It combines science and art. I am creative but I have no skill with a paint brush.” Elise began her explanation but Maureen stopped her with:
“That smacks of a wisdom as a result of hindsight. Don’t tell me that you started your career with a conviction like that.”
“I suppose in essence you are correct. OK I was given a camera when I was very young and found it satisfied my inability to record a scene with a paintbrush, how’s that?”
“Much better!” Maureen laughed.
“At university I met up with some guys who were into photography and learned darkroom techniques. Don’t bother.” Elise raised her hand to stall a hackneyed joke from Maureen.
“What did you read at Uni?” Maureen asked instead.
“Chemistry.”
“That’s where the love of science comes in.”
“Quite. The sciences were always favourites at school.”
“Did you always want to be a photographer?”
“Not at all. I fancied doing research but I didn’t get a good enough degree.”
“So what did you do when you left Uni?”
“Got married.”
“Immediately.”
“Pretty well. My father was keen to marry me off to one of his work colleagues and kept pushing us together. Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“You don’t strike me as the sort of woman who would marry so young.”
“I don’t think I am. In fact, I am probably the sort of woman who would not marry at all left to my own devices. However, at twenty-two years old I was the sort of girl who pleased her elders not herself and thought they knew best. I now know that not to be true.”
“Did you not work at all?”
“No. My husband did not approve. He was also wealthy and in very lucrative employment. I set up my own darkroom in the house we had at the time and moseyed around all day with a camera hung round my neck. I joined the local enthusiasts’ club which gave me some incentive and gradually began to produce photos good enough for publication. Won a few competitions, attended symposia and exhibited at conferences and did all that sort of thing.”
“Children?”
“A couple came along. The first within a year of marriage and the second eighteen months later.”
“So you were able to continue to amuse yourself with photography and look after them as well?”
“Precisely. Although the photography did rather take a back seat for five years. Another cup of tea?” Elise hurriedly diverted her thoughts from the reminiscences of Richard Carradine who had appeared on the scene in the early part of those five years.
“When did the business idea arise?” Maureen accepted the fresh cup of tea.
“After the children were settled in boarding school.”
“And you had more time on your hands?”
“Quite. It was either that or extra-marital affairs!”
“Tell me more.”
“Affairs, I had a few but then again too few to mention,” Elise paraphrased.
“Then we’ll have to make do with photography.”
“My husband suggested I make a business plan and he did some cash-flow forecasts and I used some of the money I inherited on the death of my father to set up a studio.”
“I thought your husband didn’t approve of a working wife?”
“I don’t think he ever regarded it as working. In his eyes I was just playing around with a very expensive hobby. Anyway, he was an accountant – I got the feeling he thought he was taking an interest in my life by auditing the accounts for me and turning it into a lucrative business!”
“What do you like to photograph best?”
“People. That is still my hobby. I go out and about grabbing shots of people in natural situations. Infinitely preferable to the stereotyped images I have to produce for catalogues.”
“What about those evocative advertising photographs you’ve produced in the past? I have checked out your work and some of them are almost sexy.”
“I hope so. It takes a lot of hard work to get them that way sometimes.”
“Seriously? How do you do it?”
Elise stood up.
“I’ll let you into a secret. Come over here and sit on the rostrum.”
Maureen did so.
Elise bent over the camera.
“What can you see?” she enquired.
Maureen was puzzled.
“Look at me and tell me what you see.”
“I see you bent over your camera. Ah and right down the front of your shirt.”
“So I put some seductive music on and undo another button and maybe wiggle a bit. Then maybe I inadvertently expose a shoulder thus.”
“That’s OK for the fellers but what about the girls. There’s some sexy looking girls amongst your portfolio and I can’t say as your exactly turning me on!”
“Good! I do usually have a handsome male technician to hand for that department.”
The brutal recollection of Demis Papahadjopoulos brought Elise up straight. She abruptly returned to her seat, wondering why the recollection had caused a very icy shudder down her spine. “More tea?”
“No, no more thanks. But, come on, as two girls together, doesn’t that”, Maureen wagged her head in the direction of the rostrum from which she had just descended, “doesn’t all that sort of thing turn you on a bit as well?”
“Of course!” Elise gave a wicked smile. “That sofa’s seen quite a bit of action!”
“Can I quote that?”
“Certainly not!”
The women laughed. Elise liked Maureen, for a journalist.
“Give me a run down on a typical day.”
“There is no typical day. I book one modelling session for the morning and possibly another for the afternoon. I spend about two to three hours with the model and, don’t forget, that is as likely to be an inanimate object as a scrumptious hunk of male human.”
“Is that boring?”
“No, it gives the sofa a couple of hours rest! I take a variety of commissions from private portraits to location shots. I was on a world tour last year for a wine company.”
“That is what I call the glamorous life.”
“It was rather fantastic. All expenses paid, a tasty male companion – my technician,” she added hastily as Maureen’s eyebrows rose into her fringe of red hair, “and twelve weeks to get round the world.”
Elise concluded her discourse with a detailed description of the trip but contrived to end her dialogue in Egypt. There was something about Cyprus that stuck in her throat and refused to allow its mention. “What does your husband think of your long hours and being away from home for weeks at a time? Who gets his dinner for him?”
“I am widowed now.”
Maureen apologized hurriedly and asked to see samples of the work. Elise escorted her to the gallery.
“Ah! The Carradine portrait. It is very good. I don’t suppose..” Maureen detected the shake of Elise’s head. “No, I didn’t think so, but I would like some samples to illustrate the article. Maybe you would like to make a personal selection. Good heavens, I know him!” She pointed to the portrait of Bryn Crawford.
Elise was unable to avoid blushing and stammered an unintelligible reply to the effect that he was commissioning some advertising photographs and would not be pleased to find she had sneaked the shot.
“There is no reason why you should not use this one, which was actually used in their adverts last winter. That’s my assistant Mike. Laugh! We were in hysterics during that session. Mike had us in stitches getting dressed up like that. I wish I could get in touch with him again.”
The investigative journalist automatically enquired what had occurred.
“I’m afraid I simply cannot tell you. We had gone on from Egypt to.. Cyprus,” she managed to blurt out. “I bought tickets for Venice and the next I remember is waking up in hospital. Mike, I’m afraid, I have not seen since.”
During the long pause before Maureen Askew-Smythe next spoke, she stared hard at Elise.
“That rings a faint bell. Excuse me, I will say no more until I can check.”
They sifted through Elise’s enormous selection of photographs for a further hour before they had chosen some suitable illustrations.
“Listen”, Maureen was taking her leave, “I live in Harlow, how about joining us for dinner this Saturday night?”
It sounded like a welcome change from Elise’s present friendless world and she accepted with alacrity.

Further Beyond the Camera – Book 1 Developments – Chapter 43

7 Oct

CHAPTER 43

It was the children who were instrumental in converting at least a portion of their Grandmère’s viewpoint. They arrived in France, happy to pass the summer vacation amid the mountains, vineyards and chateaux. When they learned that the intention was for them to remain and attend the local lycée they revolted.
“We are not leaving our friends,” Grant cried.
“We are in the middle of examination courses,” Ross pleaded. “Our French is too poor,” they wailed in unison.
“It is not a good idea, Maman,” interjected Elise. “They are settled at school. They went to boarding school in order not to suffer frequent upheavals. It would undo all the progress they have made.”
Madame relented:
“C’est vrai. Very well the children may return. I will take them back myself in September. I do not see sufficient improvement in your health, although you are no longer smoking, to allow you to go back as well, Elise.”
“There is really no need for you to bother, Maman, I am quite well and quite capable of taking the children back myself,” Elise protested.
“C’est impossible. Look how you reacted about Jean-Paul only a few weeks ago. You were a nervous wreck for several days. I do not know what is going on in your mind…”
“Neither do I,” muttered Elise.
“…I do not know what will happen to you alone in that big house,” Madame van der Haan continued. “What if you have to make arrangements for a service man, you know for the gas or the electricity or something? You cannot fall to pieces as you did with Jean-Paul.”
“It’s hardly the same thing, mother,” Elise rejoined in English.
“Pardon? Parle le français, s’il te plait. You cannot go through this world without having the discourse with gentlemen and you can’t go around behaving like a demented banshee afterwards, for whatever reason.”
“I am quite capable of talking civilly to any man.”
“Then why did you throw Jean-Paul Diamond out without explanation?”
Elise could give no answer to this query. It would have meant discussing such matters with Madame van der Haan as would have given her serious palpitations. Defeated, Elise once more, allowed the subject to drop and resigned herself to several more weeks at her mother’s residence.
After a long, persuasive telephone call to the headmaster to reverse the decision he had been given in June the children were en route for UK at the end of September accompanied by their grandmother.
Elise fretted and pleaded but to no avail.
“I can’t go on like this, Maman. I am bored to tears. I must return to UK. Can you imagine the state of the garden at home having been unattended throughout the summer? Can you imagine all the affairs that I will have to deal with? There were no instructions left which would give anybody any indication of what has happened to me. This is all too silly. I have played your game for long enough. You must let me go back to Cambridge.”
Madame van der Haan undertook to inspect the house, give Betty a further retainer and negotiate her continued attendance but refused to relinquish the passport.
“At least bring my book of addresses and telephone numbers back for me, please,” she requested as she bid them safe journey at the airport.
Elise gazed into the distance as an aeroplane vanished into the clouds, wondering if it was the one that contained her family, wondering why she had no recollection of the plane crash she continued to imagine she had suffered.
All the pieces of the jigsaw leading up to her last memory of dancing into the almond trees and waving at Mike in the car were now completely locked in place. What happened between then and waking up in hospital was a mystery.
Neither could she understand her tolerance to allow her mother to retain her in France at the expense of her true desire to return to England.
“You are 38 years old,” Elise told herself. “you cannot go on bowing to your mother’s every whim like this. Is it perhaps that I don’t really want to go back?” She wondered as she drove her mother’s Renault back to the chateau. “Is there something in Cambridge that I don’t know I want to avoid? They say the sub-conscious does funny things. Mine has forgotten the whole of April and May for me. I wonder if it has anything to do with Mike? Mike? Poor harmless Mike.”
The phantasm of Mike, throat slit and gaping, suddenly loomed on the windscreen. Elise inadvertently swerved and the protesting screech of a horn from the car passing in the opposite direction brought her back to her senses.
“Why do I keep thinking of Mike in that state? God, I wonder if I flew into a rage and slit his throat myself. Don’t be silly, Elise, you couldn’t do a thing like that. People do the oddest things under stress,” she told herself, and was once more brought back into the real world by the shriek of a car-horn – she had taken the British right of way at a junction.
“Could I get into that sort of rage?” She asked herself when she was back on a straight road. “Mike had been winding me up a lot about that Cr.. Cr.. that bloody man. No,” she concluded, “I do not believe even that would cause me to take a knife to Mike. It must have been an air crash. I wonder if the last thing I saw before I passed out was Mike and he’d been partially decapitated in the accident.” She shuddered at this new thought but decided it was one of the most logical she had had so far. “It still does not account for why I am not just getting up and forcing myself to go back to England. We flew out here so I have not developed a phobia. Yet I’m sure that last year this time had Maman tried this same trick, I would have told her, in the nicest possible way, of course, to get stuffed, and been on my way home before you could say Jack Robinson, whoever he may be, passport or no passport. Self-analysis is no good thing. Perhaps I should visit a psychiatrist or a hypnotist,” she considered, “I will. Just as soon as I get to England. My French is not good enough to go to an analyst here. My mind is made up. I will pack my things and be on a plane first thing in the morning. I’ll talk my way round this passport thing somehow.”
Yet, left to her own devices during Madame’s absence, Elise still procrastinated and sought the document incessantly. She left no cushion unturned, no drawer unemptied and no cupboard unevacuated. Having failed in her quest, she took an excursion to the appropriate office of authority and confirmed that she had insufficient papers to prove her identity and acquire another.
She packed her bag, stashed it in the Renault and sat herself behind the wheel. Then the image of being marched along between two burly policemen to be interrogated by a squad of immigration officers loomed before her eyes.
Elise crept out of the car and stole back into the house, glancing over her shoulder surreptitiously lest she had been observed in her intent by the same officials.
Her next resolution was to make a determined effort to contact Chapman but was unable to recall the correct telephone number despite the weeks earlier in the year when it was embedded in her memory through habitual usage. The ensuing long interval had caused various numbers to become transposed in her recollection and, after one call receiving no response, a second which threw an elderly lady into utter confusion and a third which had annoyed an irascible gentleman, she abandoned the project.
Her mother’s return brought with it a bundle of mail but no communication either from Chapman or Bryn or Mike.
“There are no utilities at your house any more. Only the water is working.” Madame van der Haan complained. “Betty can only dust and sweep.”
“Hardly surprising. The bills won’t have been paid. I don’t see them here.”
“I left behind the official looking letters.”
“Thanks,” Elise replied with sarcasm. “This really is an impossible situation. Look at this letter from William’s solicitors. It should have been attended to months ago. Did you bring my phone book?” Her mother hesitated:
“I couldn’t find it.”
“I told you exactly where to look. It is in my briefcase which I saw amongst my photographic stuff in William’s study before we came over here.”
“Non, chèrie I could not find it.”
“This really is too impossible. I must go home.”
“Very well, chèrie, after Christmas. Zute! there is no reason why you do not go now if you have a mind.”
“There is every reason. You’ve hidden my passport.”
“Passport, cherie, mais non your passport is in that drawer.”
Elise opened the indicated drawer and located the document in full view.
“You fucking old cow,” she screamed in English. “I have searched this house from top to bottom at least once a week since we arrived and it certainly has not been in that drawer all the time.”
Madame van der Haan gasped and placed a delicate hand on her forehead.
“Mon Dieu, such language,” Madame’s command of English was not so limited that she did not understand the obscenity her daughter had used. “My daughter should speak to me with such language. My salts, bring my salts, I feel quite faint.”
Madame collapsed theatrically onto her sofa.
“Get your own bloody salts. Don’t pull this one on me as well,” Elise continued still in English.
“Vraiment, chèrie, I feel very weak,” Madame’s voice had become quite feeble. “My heart”, she uttered grasping her left bosom, “my heart it flutters and jumps. My goodness,” she gasped for breath, “the pain, it is quite awful.”
Elise was forced to acknowledge that something was amiss.
“A touch of angina that is all. I will call Monsieur le docteur. Meanwhile, put your feet up. Do you wish for a cup of tea or something?”
“A cognac, ma chere, a small cognac, I think. Aaaah, it is the stabbing pain again, right here.”
Seriously concerned by this recent cry, Elise dialled frantically.
In due course the doctor arrived, and confirmed that Madame had suffered a mild heart attack but should be fully fit in a few weeks. Madame would need plenty of attention and a more sensible diet.
Madame van der Haan settled comfortably into her bed and partook of a little light refreshment.
Elise retired to her room and swore at her reflection in the mirror.
“Damn the confetti and dust.”
She sat down and felt a restriction in the back pocket of her jeans – she removed her passport and slung it across the room.
“Cow,” she thundered.
It was impossible to leave her mother now. Elise would have to remain until the old lady was fully recovered.
The old lady refused to fully recover.
She languished in her bed week after week. Christmas came and went along with New Year swiftly followed by Easter. Causing further humiliation to Elise who was forced to make arrangements for the children to go to their Aunt Winifred’s for the holidays.
She was really too weak to entertain, she told her daughter. She could not, she told her daughter, contemplate the arrangement of banquets when she was in no position to eat her choices.
“My heart”, she confided to the never-ending stream of visitors who attended her bedside in the hope of ingratiating themselves sufficiently to be remembered in the allotment of the vast estate, “My heart, you understand, is past its prime. It can no longer withstand the rigours of life. You will forgive me if I do not get up. I get so much pain. My daughter is looking after me but she does not understand. Every day she insists I take a little walk. Every day she insists I eat a little more.”
“Maman,” Elise would remonstrate, for these speeches were always uttered in her hearing. “Maman, you know Monsieur le docteur suggests you take a little exercise or you will never be strong again.”
“There, there, chèrie, I certainly will never be strong again.”
Madame van der Haan passed away peacefully during the night which celebrated the twelve month anniversary of Elise’s arrival in France.
Elise, once again, did not know whether to rejoice or be sorrowed. At long last she was free to return to UK but she had witnessed the death of the woman who had brought her into the world.
The children were summoned to return from school and the diminishing family gathered for a second funeral. Somewhat more experienced in these matters than they had been on the first similar occasion, Ross and Grant shed not a tear and dutifully attended the guests who gathered at the château in eager anticipation of the reading of the will.
Two weeks later Elise, plus her children, was happily bound for the city which held her home, her business and her life, having sought the assistance of the attorney dealing with her mother’s estate to secure identification documents and cursing her stupidity at not having discovered this line of action earlier. Her brain, she deduced, really had suffered some trauma – a blow to the head during the accident, perchance.
Madame’s funeral was behind her and the complex affairs of the estate were consigned to the capable hands of solicitors. Elise was not so convinced she would find matters under control in England.

Further Beyond the Camera – Book 1 Developments – Chapter 42

3 Oct

CHAPTER 42

Elise sat bolt upright in bed.
“I definitely do not remember the window being over there,” she said aloud to the grey dawn as it filtered through her bedroom window. The duvet slipped to the floor.
“What the hell…? A duvet?”
The light was brighter and she recognized the familiar pattern on the duvet cover of her own master bedroom.
“It’s one of my own duvets. That’s my dressing table. What am I doing in this room? I don’t usually sleep in here.”
With relief, she relaxed into the pillows. Had it all been a bad dream? Had she suffered a nightmare created by the trauma of losing her husband? It had all been very real. Was her brain capable of dreaming up such atrocities? She began to piece together scattered petals of cars, mountains, almond blossom, Demis, Mike, Bryn, bright lights and nurses but the complete flower would not gel before she drifted once more into a doze.
Waking in the full light of day, Elise instantly recollected her husband’s funeral. The bright, almost ferocious, sunlight glaring through a chink in the curtains contrasted with the gloomy, grey, cold of that day.
Madame van der Haan entered the room wearing a lightweight summer’s dress and bearing a tray of coffee and toast in the fashion of a traditional French breakfast.
“Bonjour, ma chère. Comment ça va?”
“Ça va bien, merci, Maman! I thought you had gone back to France,” Elise replied using the French language in deference to Madame van der Haan’s preference for her mother tongue. Madame had insisted on the use of her native language during Elise’s childhood at home and refused to consider learning her husband’s tongue. Van der Haan himself, being a linguist of no small ability, had been able to converse easily in both French and English as well as Dutch and his good lady, who had been forced to struggle in franglais outwith the home environment, had seen no advantage for her domestic vocabulary to be unnatural to her.
“Returned to France when? I arrived yesterday just before they brought you back.” Madame van der Haan fussed around her daughter, brushing her hair, washing her face and insisting she ate. “You are so thin and wasted. What has happened to you? Do you not remember?”
“I don’t know, I can’t remember anything in particular. What have you been told?”
“Nothing – except that you were rescued from a mountain forest in Cyprus.”
The mention of the island instantly revived many latent memories of the countries visited since the day of the funeral.
“Of course!” exclaimed Elise. “Mike and I have been working all over the world. Let’s see, we’d finished our assignment in Cyprus and were off to Venice. That’s right! I remember the blue skies and the sunshine. We were driving in the mountains and I stopped to take some photographs of blossom. What day is this?”
“Thursday,” replied Maman, fussily straightening the linen.
“Which Thursday?”
“What do you mean – which Thursday?” Madame Van der Haan looked quizzically at her daughter as she plumped the pillows.
“The exact date,” Elise muttered impatiently.
“Ah! I comprehend, June 16th.”
“June! It cannot be! Our tickets to Venice were booked for the 21st April! I don’t remember going to Spain or Austria.”
“You came straight here from Cyprus, I am quite sure of that!”
“Where is Mike?” Elise demanded.
“Who is this Mike? Two gentlemen travelled home with you but I didn’t like the look of them. I didn’t want them in the way.”
“Mike was my photographic assistant. We were on an assignment for George Chapman. I must give him a call.” Elise made an attempt to rise from her bed.
“You are not well enough, I forbid it.” Madame gently pushed her daughter back into bed. “I knew no good would come of you traipsing around the world, getting mixed up with all sorts of people. Don’t think I didn’t see all that furore in the papers at Christmas, Madame. I don’t know what you think you were up to, your husband so ill and all. I didn’t say anything at the funeral, I didn’t think it was appropriate but I will say my piece now and I am certainly not going to allow gentlemen visitors.”
“George Chapman will want to know how the assignment went. Where is all my photographic equipment? I last remember seeing it in the car with Mike. Where is Mike?”
“Two men brought all your equipment back – cameras and things. I’ve had it put in that little room off the lounge. I know nothing of this Mike.”
“I have to sort out the disks, process them and send them to Chapman or, or”, Elise could not utter Bryn’s name, “or his manager. Haven’t they even called or anything?”
“Hundreds of people have called. I can’t tell if they may be journalists so I say the same thing that you are very well but cannot come to the phone, and I am sorry I don’t speak much English, thank you very much and goodbye. You tell me where these disks things are and I will arrange for this Mr Chapman to receive them.”
“They are no good to Chapman without being processed. Either myself or Mike must deal with it. There is hundreds of pounds worth and I won’t get paid for the work unless I deliver the goods.”
“Puh,” Madame was indignant, “what do you want with getting paid for work? You have all the money you could possibly need. Hasn’t William left you wealthy? Didn’t your father leave you wealthy? You could put your feet up at leisure for the rest of your life. You could have servants running round after your every caprice. You are a French aristocrat, what do you want with getting paid for work? Elise, I do not understand you.”
“(a) I am only half French. (b) France no longer has an aristocracy. (c) I was brought up in England. (d) I enjoy my work.”
“What nonsense. You come back to France with me. Les enfants will join us at the end of this academic year and go to a Lycée in France. I have decided it.”
“For God’s sake, Maman, stop smothering me!”
“You are not safe on your own. I take you to France and make sure you do not get into any more trouble. It will improve your French – you speak it so very little these days.”
“I will not go!”
“Tut! You are feverish. I take no notice of you.”
Thus did the argument continue.
Elise’s strength and determination, inherited from her mother, was no match for the persistence of Madame van der Haan.
Elise capitulated on the third day of the dispute by deciding to comply in essence. She did not disclose that she viewed the trip as a holiday and had every intention of returning to England after two weeks.
Madame van der Haan insisted her daughter remain in bed. She allowed no visitors and no telephone calls.
“You must rest as much as possible for we go to Clerment on Friday and you need your muscles for the journey,” she told her daughter. “You are gaining weight by the day and it is very good but you must not exert yourself too soon. I have packed your clothes. I have arranged for Betty to look after the house while you are away. She is very honest, is Betty. She has told me that you have paid her wages until the end of May. It would have been so easy for her to take advantage and say that she had not been paid all the time you were away. I am quite surprised she has not done that. I have given her another six months. You will probably want to sell this house by then and live in France. It is much the best idea.”
Elise owned she was very weak. For several days, to rise from her bed and sit in a chair by the window sapped all her energy. But gradually she increased her exercise to endure the trip to the bathroom to luxuriate in the tub for an hour. After a few more days she ventured down the stairs and was so fatigued by the return journey that Madame was forced to delay their departure for France a further week and allow Elise to recoup more strength.
Finally, Elise succeeded in reaching the room wherein Madame had stored the disks and equipment, alongside all of William’s books and papers which had remained undisturbed since his death.
She found her handbag which had a few cigarettes in but no mobile phone and no wallet. Everything else seemed to be there. Carefully, Elise checked through the disks and categorized them ready to process. They would be safe enough in this room until her return from her holiday.
If the trip to Heathrow in the hired chauffeured limousine had not been sufficiently tiring in itself, the final drive from Lyons after the flight had exhausted Elise into a state which required three days recuperation on arrival at the château.
Normally averse to inactivity, Elise found that her desire toward any exertion was as delicate as her physical state. She lazed in the luxurious July sun and took no greater exercise than to attempt to piece together the scattered confetti of her memories of the spring months. At the end of two weeks she considered the return journey and abandoned the idea for a further two weeks.
“Maman, where is my passport?” Elise enquired at last.
“What are you wanting your passport for, chèrie?”
“It is time I went home. I feel quite like my old self now. The strange lack of any May memories is a little unnerving but I care less each day. I can hardly recall last May and this year would soon have suffered a similar fate. But there is a difference. Almost as if there is a hole.”
“Non, non, it is too soon.” Maman protested.
“It will be end of term for the children soon. I must, at least, go back to fetch them.”
“Surely they are old enough to travel by themselves.”
“They are but they have to remove all their belongings from school at the end of the year. They will need transport and there will be no end of washing and repacking for the stuff they should bring with them.”
“Puh! It can all come back here en masse. They will not be wanting it in England again. I will go if it makes you happy.”
When her mother was feeling so adamant, there was no point in arguing. Elise must search all possible nooks and crannies for the passport for herself. She could have acquired a temporary travel permit, but all her identification documents including her drivers’ licence, her credit cards and her cheque book had somehow been abandoned in England.
The disappearance of her passport was total. Even creeping stealthily to investigate her mother’s handbag at dead of night did not reveal that to be the hiding place. She could not enquire repeatedly as to its whereabouts without appearing over anxious.
Therefore, in France, Elise must remain until her mother relented or a sufficiently substantial excuse could be found that rendered it imperative for her to return to UK.
Madame van der Haan deemed it important to provide full recreational and entertainment facilities whenever she had guests in her house. Though this guest was her daughter, who would not expect such extravagant attentions, the circumstance provided her with adequate reason to organize weekly dinner parties and daily coffee mornings. Visits to long-suffering acquaintances, coerced into reciprocal occasions, were included in the diet of diversions designated for Elise to enjoy. Frequent visits to places of amusement, landscapes of interest and buildings of note added variety to the menu.
Only during the dense nights of her stay in France did Elise have time to meditate. The need to expunge certain ghosts by deep cogitation was denied her at all other times. Elise would retire to bed, exhausted from the day’s activities, sleep for a few short hours to be woken by nightmares of imprisonment. Memories, which completely eluded her daytime awareness, thrust aside all possibility of peaceful sleep and bombarded her with abhorrent emotions as they marched steadily across the darkened room.
An apparition of Mike would appear from time to time, waving gaily to her from the seat of the car, before rising like a phantom from his position and floating towards her wearing an expression of grimace and sporting a deep slit in his throat from which gushed blood and gore.
Consistently, it was the advent of her previous assistant, Demis Papahadjopoulos, which initiated the transformation of the dreams into nightmares. He would appear, brandishing some or other article of photographic equipment which, thenceforth, became the tool for various obscene acts for him to perform with alacrity.
Less bizarre nightmares merely portrayed Demis having sex with Elise in an assortment of unlikely attitudes and situations.
From all these and other macabre aberrations she would wake nauseated and ignorant as to their basis. Eventually she would fall into a restless sleep from which she would rise the following morning mindful of a disturbed night but unable to satisfy her confusion as to the causes.
Daylight memories were filled with the nostalgia of some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world. Mike was her incorporeal companion in these daydreams. Whilst she did dwell occasionally on pleasant hours in the company of Bryn, such thoughts left her with a hollow feeling of desertion and unrequited love. While the sun shone, all memory of more traumatic events was consigned to her sub-conscious from where it reared unbidden in the succeeding hours of darkness.
Madame van der Haan had no shortage of male companions at her disposal for the diversion of her daughter. A young widow, she was emphatic, need not be denied such associates provided she was adequately chaperoned and, indeed, should be encouraged to form a lasting male acquaintance to assist in the recovery from her bereavement. A woman, in Madame van der Haan’s opinion, was not a woman without a man.
Jean-Paul Diamond was just such an appropriate gentleman. Madame introduced her daughter to this prospective suitor at one of her first soirée in France.
Skin touched skin when Elise reached out to shake his hand and immediately she was consumed with disgust. It was only with great self-control that she remained holding his hand for a polite length of time. But, when Monsieur Diamond raised her hand to his lips, she was compelled to withdraw it hastily. Nothing but nothing could then prevent her from running as swiftly as possible to the bathroom to wash her hands over and over until she had reduced a whole bar of soap to a mere scrap.
When that same gentleman approached her after dinner to engage her in intellectual conversation as a preamble to requesting the pleasure of her solo company at a restaurant at a time to suit herself, Elise had to struggle to conceal the aversion which overwhelmed her. Nevertheless she condescended to the appointment and chided herself for being ridiculous. Privately she acknowledged that possible reasons for her sudden dislike of the male touch did exist. She conceded that, whilst it may be a natural reaction to widowhood, it was far more likely that it was a natural reaction to Bryn Crawford’s rejection of her love.
Elise prepared for her date. Her escort arrived promptly. Jean-Paul was the epitome of French charm. He regaled Elise with amusing anecdotes of past romances, previous employments, former hobbies and current passions. He had been briefed by Madame on her daughter’s current situation and received sufficient encouragement from that quarter to deem this type of entertainment to be the most suitable therapy for the lady.
Elise remained, uncharacteristically, quiet throughout the meal. Preferring to be the audience and not the principal orator, she learned that his fortunes in love had been mixed. He had chosen a mate who was faithless and had deserted him for another, depriving him of the children he adored. It was a shallow yarn exemplifying his self-esteem and hurt pride that any woman should forswear his attention.
At the close of the evening, they returned to Elise’s residence in his car. Jean-Paul made advances as Elise had been anticipating for the preceding two hours. Her internal organs formed themselves into a tight knot forthwith. She cowered in her seat protesting that it was too soon, that she did not feel well, that Maman would be watching and any other excuse that could forestall the inevitable.
Groping eagerly for the door handle she released herself from the car and bid him adieu.
But Jean-Paul was not a man to be dissuaded easily. Madame van der Haan’s daughter was exceedingly handsome and provocative and, not least, wealthy. Madame van der Haan had requested personally his assistance in her rehabilitation. It was only a matter of time before such a nubile young woman would be desirous of satiating her sexual appetite.
Jean-Paul Diamond would be around for that moment. Relentlessly he pursued Elise. He visited the chateau daily to instigate horse rides in the countryside, visits to cinemas, casual drinks at cafés and formal meals at restaurants.
Elise admitted the attention but continued to shrink from any physical contact.
Jean-Paul became frustrated. His words progressed through gentle persuasion and neat cajoling to outright anger and unconcealed resentment.
“Mon Dieu”, he exclaimed over a picnic luncheon in the picturesque mountainside overlooking the Dordogne, “you must have been without a man for more than six months yet you have not allowed me to kiss your lips. I want you, now.” He grasped her hand and pressed it to his groin. “See how hard I am for you.”
Elise snatched her hand away.
“No. I cannot.”
“Of course you can. I have been patient, cannot I at least be allowed to caress your breasts?” He stroked his left hand over her T-shirt.
Elise stood up and ran a few paces down the mountain before reminding herself that to run might agitate him further and precipitate something akin to rape. An involuntary shudder coursed her body. A blackness descended on her mind as the coalescence of a landscape of pine trees, a background of mountains and a licentious male human triggered, but did not quite transmit a dormant memory.
Jean-Paul was at her side in an instant.
“You can”, he said folding her to his body, “and you must overcome this horror. You are yet young and cannot live a celibate life just because you are a widow.” Elise struggled to free herself from his arms and the revulsion in her mind.
“Please, truly, I cannot, you do not understand.”
“I do, I do understand,” he pacified, slipping a hand under the T-shirt to fondle a naked breast. “Your husband was the world to you, I understand, but he is gone and that is no reason to deprive another of the joys of your body. This feels so good, so soft and round yet so firm and eager.”
“No, it is not like that, please leave me alone.”
“I insist, but I also insist that you are willing and not resisting. Come lay down with me let us talk a while.”
Reluctantly Elise complied but seated herself some yards from him. His words made sense to a rational mind and Elise could not account for her recent illogical reasoning.
“No, no not so distant. Here right next to me. That’s better. Now a straight answer to a straight question, please. Why don’t you want sex?”
“I don’t know, I mean I can’t explain, I mean I can’t get interested. I seem to get all knotted up inside at the thought. Please I can’t even talk about it,” Elise sobbed.
“Have you had a bad experience, perhaps?”
“No – unless you count my husband forcing himself on me one time.”
“Was that the last time?”
“No, I mean…”
“You mean it was the last time you allowed your husband to touch you before he died. So there is somebody else, n’est ce pas?”
“Yes, I mean no, I mean oh I don’t know what I mean.” Elise shook her head in confusion.
“You mean you had sex with someone else. You enjoyed the experience very much. You felt guilty but before you could assuage your guilt by making beautiful love to your husband you lost him. Now you dare not have sex with any other man.”
Elise was doubtful but thought it sounded plausible. She nodded.
“So let me make love to you here on a beautiful French mountainside in the open air and under the bright blue sky. The warm sun will be bronzing our bodies as we do it. You will enjoy every beautiful minute.”
“Somebody may come.”
“I’m hoping you will, I know I will. Now don’t say another word just lay back and enjoy.”
Jean-Paul carefully and gently placed his mouth over hers, licking her lips and teeth. He coiled his tongue inside her mouth until her muscle relaxed and responded. Elise felt him lift the T-shirt and both hands start to massage her breasts. He bent his head to lick the exposed nipples and Elise allowed a sigh to escape her lips. He had been right. Obviously, she had needed to acknowledge her feelings of guilt for she no longer felt any distaste for his touch. Yet, as one of his hands stroked over her abdomen and began to unzip her jeans, all the muscles in her body stiffened and her own hand restrained his actions.
“Relax”, he whispered, “you were doing so well.”
He began again and, this time, she did not resist the hand which gently stroked the hairs beneath her jeans. Nor did she protest as the fingers explored her internal regions. Indeed, when he asked that she stimulate his arousal with her mouth she was able to comply. The full intercourse was as gentle and as long as she could have wished.
The nightmare which disturbed her sleep that night melded the faces of Demis and Jean-Paul. She woke in the morning feeling nothing but disgust for her actions of yesterday and refused to admit Jean-Paul into the house. Madame van der Haan was unable to extract from her daughter any grounds for the sudden denial of Jean-Paul’s attentions.
“I declare, Elise, if you continue to rebuff every eligible young man you will find yourself a lonely old woman.”
“I do not understand your concern, Maman. I can look after myself. I do not wish for any paramours, I wish to be left alone.”
“You will be – completely alone. The world is full of couples it is always so difficult to invite a single woman to dine. It makes an odd number at table. You will have no friends. One couple does not mind an excursion with another couple but they do not invite a single person along.”
“Then I will join a singles club where there are no couples.”
“Stuff and nonsense. People join singles clubs to make themselves a couple. The people who join singles clubs are weak individuals who have not the personality to form relationships in a normal world. You would not enjoy such a facility.”
“Then I will enjoy life on my own. You have never remarried since Papa died.”
“Ah, chèrie, I was left a widow at a much later age. It is perfectly respectable for me to be single. My friends are all of my age and similarly situated. We no longer seek sexual gratification. It is possible for us to have platonic relationships.”
“Now who’s talking stuff and nonsense? I do not seek sexual gratification. I am quite happy without it.”
“Tell me that in thirty years’ time when you are dry and wizened because you have been repressing your natural hormone releases.”
“In thirty years’ time, if I am still of this world, I doubt if I will care and I doubt if I will be able to tell you anyway. Now, I must telephone George Chapman and make some arrangements to get his photographs to him. He must be wondering why he has not heard from me since he brought me back from Cyprus. You are destroying my business by retaining me here in France.”
“Business? What does a woman want with business? You can afford to be free as the wind yet you worry about earning a living.”
“As I keep telling you, Maman, it is not just a question of earning a living. I enjoy my work, I am bored to tears cooped up here all day. I need to get back to a darkroom and start creating.”
“Then start creating here.” Madame van der Haan cried triumphantly.
“What is the point of setting up with such expensive equipment when I have a more than adequate supply sitting uselessly in UK? You must let me go home.”
“This is your home.”
“It is not and it never will be. I want to go home.”
Madame was not to be persuaded. Neither the passport nor a little travelling money was forthcoming.
On the point of telephoning George Chapman, Elise hesitated. What could she say? How could she explain an absence of so long when she was not fully conversant with its beginnings?
Perhaps a call to Bryn would be more expedient.
But how could she speak to a man who had deceived her into making a fool of herself? She had confessed her love to him yet, consequently, he had had denied any mutual feelings for Elise by parading another woman before her.
Months had passed since their last encounter.
They had been months of heartache for Elise.
They had been months of trauma and aggravation.
They had been months which had exaggerated the truth behind their last meeting beyond recognition.

Further Beyond the Camera – Book 1 Developments – Chapter 41

2 Oct

CHAPTER 41
“What the ’ell are you doing out there?”
Elise awoke startled and recognized ‘Rosy’ rattling into the room with her tea cups.
“Goodness, I don’t know,” she answered, surprised to be sitting on the window ledge.
“My God”, she peered down, “we’re two floors up!”
“You could of broken your neck, Mrs Harper. Come on back to bed. I’ll ’ave to tell doctor. Maybe the drugs are a bit strong for you. They can make you do some funny things can them drugs. I know my doctor gave me some pills once and I saw my old granma standing at the foot of me bed clear as day she was and she’d been dead twenty year or more at the time. There now, that’s better. Now don’t you worry about it no more. Lor you’re quite frozen, however long ’ave you been out there?”
“I really don’t know.”
“What’s up, nurse?” The question came from a senior nurse whose attention had been attracted by the sound of voices.
“Mrs Harper must’ve sleep walked, sister.”
Sister held Elise wrist and counted the pulse.
“The drugs must be too strong. How about some breakfast. Ready Brek or something?” Elise turned up her nose.
“I wouldn’t recommend any more than a piece of toast.”
“And some orange juice, perhaps?”
“Very well, see to it, please, nurse.”
The doctor’s visit later in the morning brought the news that she was to be sent back to England that afternoon and he would give her a strong sedative now so that she would sleep for the entire journey.
“Here is a note for your GP. But really you need no more than rest and recuperation. I’m told your mother is at home waiting for you. Everything is prepared.”
“Who told you?”
“The two gentlemen who brought you in. I’m afraid I don’t know their names. As the matter of fact everything about you seems to have been on the secrets’ list. You have had VIP treatment under instructions from the big white chief himself and everyone has had strict instructions not to let on you are here. I hope that doesn’t worry you.” He added.
The recollection of her problems with the media thundered through her brain cells.
“No, I think I understand. One of the gentlemen wouldn’t be Richard Carradine by any chance, would he?”
“I can’t tell you, I didn’t meet them.” The doctor studied her for some moments – brain obviously whirring. Eventually he began: “
Forgive me….”
“Yes, that Mrs Harper.” Elise saved him the embarrassment.
“It all begins to make sense.”
It began to make sense to Elise also. There had been an air crash, of that much she was sure. George Chapman would have been notified when investigations by the airline had revealed no better option. Chapman, suspecting media trouble if her name was released, had contacted Carradine to beg some assistance. The two gentleman must be none other than Chapman and Carradine themselves.
“Can you tell me anymore about the accident?”
“Accident?”
“I was in an air crash, wasn’t I?”
“Not exactly. You can’t remember?”
Elise shook her head.
“Again we have been told nothing. You may need to talk about this to someone. I’ll just add a bit to this note.”
He scribbled on the paper.
“Nurse has the injection. Now have a good sleep and a good journey and when you wake up you’ll be at home with your family and feel a lot better.”

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