She put the list back in her bag and sat and thought glumly about her dining room. The fact that they even had a dining room in this day and age was astonishing, but the truth was that it was such an unattractive, north-facing little box of a room that nobody wanted it for anything else. She had suggested it as a study for Henry, but Henry said it was too damned cold, and then she had said that Larry could keep his toy farm there, but Larry preferred to play with his toy farm on the kitchen floor. It wasn't as if they ever used it as a dining room, because they seemed to eat all their meals in the kitchen, or on the terrace in the warm weather, or even out in the garden when the summer sun was high and they could picnic, the four of them, beneath the shade of the sycamore tree.
Her thoughts, as usual, were flying off at tangents. The dining room. It was so gloomy they had decided that nothing could make it gloomier, and had papered it in dark green to match the velvet curtains that Alison's mother had produced from her copious attic. There was a gate-leg table, and the balloon-back chairs, and a Victorian sideboard that an aunt of Henry's had bequeathed to them. As well, there were two monstrous pictures. These were Henry's contribution. He had gone to an auction sale to buy a brass fender, only to find himself the possessor, as well, of these depressing paintings. One depicted a fox consuming a dead duck; the other a Highland cow standing in a pouring rainstorm.
'They'll fill the walls,’ Henry had said, and hung them in the dining room. 'They'll do till I can afford to buy you an original Hockney, or a Renoir, or a Picasso, or whatever it is you happen to want.'
He came down from the top of the ladder and kissed his wife. He was in his shirt sleeves and there was a cobweb in his hair.
'I don't want those sort of things’, Alison told him.
'You should.' He kissed her again. 'I do’.
And he did. Not for himself, but for his wife and his children. For them he was ambitious. They had sold the flat in London, and bought this little house, because he wanted the children to live in the country and to know about cows and crops and trees and the seasons; and because of the mortgage they had vowed to do all the necessary painting and decorating themselves. This endless ploy took up all their weekends, and at first it had gone quite well because it was wintertime. But then the days lengthened, and the summer came, and they abandoned the inside of the house and moved out of doors to try to create some semblance of order in the overgrown and neglected garden.
In London, they had had time to spend together; to get a baby-sitter for the children and go out for dinner; to sit and listen to music on the stereo, while Henry read the paper and Alison did her gros point. But now Henry left home at seven-thirty every morning and did not get back until nearly twelve hours later.
'Is it really worth it?' she asked him sometimes, but Henry was never discouraged.
'It won't be like this for always,’ he promised her. 'You'll see,’
His job was with Fairhurst & Hanbury, an electrical engineering business, which, since Henry had first joined as a junior executive, had grown and modestly prospered, and now had a number of interesting irons in the fire, not the least of which was the manufacture of commercial computers. Slowly, Henry had ascended the ladder of promotion, and now was possibly in line, or being considered for, the post of Export Director, the man who at present held this job having decided
to retire early, move to Devonshire, and take up poultry farming.
In bed, which seemed to be nowadays the only place where they could find the peace and privacy to talk, Henry had assessed, for Alison, the possibilities of his getting this job. They did not seem to be very hopeful. He was, for one thing, the youngest of the candidates. His qualifications, although sound, were not brilliant, and the others were all more experienced.
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