Today’s lovers are even closer to the house than usual — their car, a grubby Peugeot, squeezed into the narrow triangle of tarmac where the layby tails off. The heat they generate passes through to Angela’s core; a febrile heat that makes her want to claw out her insides. She screws down the cap on the window cleaner. This can’t go on, she says to herself.
The following day, Angela knocks on Val’s old door at number one. In her hand is the petition she has written demanding that the Council install motion-detecting CCTV cameras on the cemetery gates overlooking ‘Lovers Layby’. As she waits for Bella, the new householder, to open the door, Angela’s attention focuses on the filthy midi-skip spewing out carpets on the drive; rolls of Axminster that were once Val’s pride and joy.
‘C’mon Ange, we were all young once!’ Bella says, when Angela shows her the petition. ‘They’re not doing any harm.’
Angela doesn’t like Bella. She doesn’t like being called Ange, which sounds like a nasty, germ-laden sneeze. She doesn’t like the fact that Bella and her ‘partner’ Mike, a hedge fund manager with an accent Angela can’t quite place, are slowly erasing all her memories of Val, so that recently, Angela finds herself questioning whether Val ever lived at number two, or whether she always lived in The Burrows nursing home, in a room so small they put her wardrobe in the bathroom.
‘Val would have felt the same as me,’ she says.
‘I’m sorry,’ Bella says. ‘But good luck.’
Martin at number three is more understanding.
‘It’s not just couples Angela,’ he says. ‘Last week I saw a man masturbate. He was in a green Ford Sierra.’
Martin’s lips have an ashy bluish tinge that suggests to Angela that he has a heart condition. She convinces herself that his language is symptomatic of his illness.
‘Masturbating in broad daylight is an act of gross indecency,’ he whispers. ‘I saw him ejaculate.’
As he says the word ejaculate, the pressure inside Martin’s mouth caused by the explosive ‘t’ forces out flecks of dense creamy spittle that trickle down Angela’s décolletage.
‘So, anyway, will you sign the petition?’ she says.
‘I don’t like CCTV,’ he says. ‘But if you ever need to talk Angela, I’m always here.’
‘Martin thinks it could be against the law,’ Angela says to Pete, when he gets home from work.
‘Then ask Martin to deal with it,’ he says. ‘He likes doing you favours.’
Last time Pete was away on business, Martin helped Angela wheel her bins up the drive. One morning, when Angela was on the phone, Martin had entered the house without knocking.
‘This came off Angela,’ he’d said, offering her the bin lid.
There were maggots clinging to the bin lid’s hinge. Angela pictured them tumbling on to the carpet like confetti. Martin had tapped her on the shoulder.
‘I’m on the phone to Talk Talk,’ she’d said. ‘I won’t be long.’
Martin let his hand drop from her shoulder. The edge of his thumb had grazed her bosom. There was a shift in air density that made it hard to breathe.
‘Oh,’ she’d said. ‘Yes, thank you, Martin. Leave it there, Martin. Yes, thank you.’
Later, she’d told Pete about the incident to make him jealous. They hadn’t made love since 1982, when an injury Pete had sustained on the bumper cars during a team-building day in Swindon had given him whiplash. Now, as she watches him reach for the neck brace the physiotherapist told him was no longer necessary from the console table at the other end of the hallway, it occurs to Angela that he only wears it to avoid intimacy.
‘Say what you like about Martin. At least he doesn’t spend all day wallowing about in his La-Z-Boy watching rubbish,’ she says.
‘He’s a peeping Tom. Probably gets his binoculars out.’
Pete fastens the brace around his neck.
‘Carry on like that and you won’t be able to hold yourself up!’ says Angela.
Angela takes the petition with her to The Burrows for her weekly visit to Val. When she gets there, the nursing home is hosting a party to celebrate the completion of a tiny patio. The table is laid with jam sandwiches, chocolate fingers, French fancies. Shafts of sunlight pour in through the bi-fold doors, lighting up Val’s cheek.
Angela hands Val the petition.
‘It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah!’ she says. ‘You wouldn’t believe.’
‘It’s a revelation,’ says Val, squinting at the petition. ‘I can see so much better without my glasses. You have to work harder but at least everything’s the right size – least everything isn’t rearing up at you.’
‘Bella won’t sign it,’ says Angela. ‘Too busy tearing all your lovely carpets out.’
Val finishes the doughnut balancing on the arm of her chair. Another resident lifts her jumper up to reveal a breast in the shape of a scythe.
‘Nobody wants to see your boobies Betty!’ says a care worker, running over.
‘They’re being over-stimulated!’ says Angela. ‘Too much sugar.’
Val shakes her head in disagreement, causing custard to zigzag down her chin. Angela swabs at Val’s chin with a wet wipe. Val flings the petition to the floor.
‘I hated those carpets anyway,’ she says. ‘Gave me migraines.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ says Angela.
‘Some days I used to think about ramming the walls down with the fucking car,’ says Val.
Before The Burrows, Val never used the word fuck. The word fuck distresses Angela. At the same time, when she pictures Val ramming the house down with her Austin Allegro, Angela has a queer loose sensation in the pit of her stomach, which is not unfamiliar.
‘I’ll bring it back next week,’ she says, picking the petition from the floor. ‘There’ll be fewer distractions.’
Angela kisses Val goodbye on the cheek. Val’s thickly applied face powder leaves a dusty residue on Angela’s lips, like animal down.
‘You used to be a werewolf,’ says Val.
‘Get some rest Val,’ says Angela. ‘I’ll be back next week.’
Pete has made chicken dinner by the time Angela arrives home.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ he says, plating up. ‘There was a notice on the community board about a book club. First Tuesday of every month in the library. You could do with another outlet.’
‘I’ve gone off books,’ says Angela.
Angela likes books, but not as much as she used to. Besides, she is angry with Pete for always assuming that he knows what she needs, when he hasn’t a clue.
‘Books don’t do it for me,’ she says.
Angela scrapes chicken leftovers into the recycling caddy under the sink, with her ass pointed at Pete like a gun. She is still angry. Anger is her default state. So it is disconcerting how the flesh of her backside feels as though it’s about to burst through her skirt with an energy that is reminiscent of desire; how her ass is as engorged as those big pink mandrill asses you see on David Attenborough nature programmes.
‘Val told me I used to be a werewolf,’ she says. ‘I think she’s got dementia.’
‘A werewolf?’ says Pete.
Angela imagines Pete hoisting up her skirt, parting her ass cheeks. She stands up. Straightens her skirt. A pea lands on the floor between her feet. Why should she pick up the pea, or do anything, when Pete doesn’t even notice when her ass is in his face? She crushes the pea into the tiles.
‘Is there something wrong?’ says Pete.
‘I’m fine thank you Peter,’ says Angela.
The rest of the evening, Angela wanders around the house doing nothing. She begins to sort through the clothes that need donating, but then throws them back into the wardrobe. She gives up cleaning the oven. At some point it occurs to her she might be coming down with something: a chill, an unidentified virus, Cancer. At nine, as she is passing the staircase window, a Ford Cortina pulls in to the layby. The driver eases his seat back, sending a creaky shiver through Angela’s solar plexus. The passenger, a young woman of sixteen or seventeen, pivots around to face the driver. A confusing shadow appears on the wall beside Angela.
‘We should never try to deny the beast – the animal within us,’ says a voice.
Pete is in the hallway by the console table. It takes Angela a moment to process the fact that he is wearing a werewolf mask that reaches his collarbone.
‘The Howling, 1981’ he says. ‘It’s a classic.’
‘What the hell are you playing at?’ she says. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’
Pete takes a step towards Angela, tugging the mask off.
‘Don’t you remember? Brian gave it to us when he shut the fancy dress stall,’ he says. ‘You wore it to that Halloween party in Caldicott. Val and David came with us.’
Pete throws the mask into the under-stairs cupboard.
‘I thought wearing it would jog your memory,’ he says.
‘God knows what you’re talking about,’ says Angela. ‘You’re as senile as Val.’
That night, Angela can’t sleep. Pete is snoring so loudly from downstairs that Angela pictures chopping off the pointless dangling thing at the back of his throat with a nail scissors. When finally she succumbs to sleep, she has a dream in which she is trapped in a layby. The layby is a sweeping semi-circle of tarmac that has no point at all as the carriageway is wide enough to not require a passing place. Pete is on top of her. Dead. She tries lifting him. She knocks off the hand brake. The car lurches like a flightless bird towards the carriageway. Some time later, she finds Pete lying on his stomach on the lounge sofa, arms wrapped around the sofa cushions.
‘You OK?’ he says, half-waking.
‘You were snoring,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’
‘That’s impossible,’ he says. ‘I’ve been awake this whole time.’
She lies down next to him, pulling a corner of duvet over her legs.
‘I remember it now,’ she says. ‘The party.’
After the layby dream, there had been a second dream, although it was not a dream but an actual memory. She and Pete were driving along a country road on their way back from the Halloween party. They had stopped in a rest area designed for tourists. Pete had lain on top of her, using the sheets he’d used for his ghost costume to cover the gap between the seats. It was the best fuck Angela had ever had, partly because wearing the werewolf mask had opened her up to the idea that she could be anybody that she wanted to be. The kind of woman who loved to fuck men in a layby.
‘It was fun,’ she says. ‘We used to have fun.’
‘We were young,’ he says. ‘I’m sixty one now.’
‘I know,’ she says. ‘It’s not really your fault.’
The next day, she retrieves the werewolf mask from the under-stairs storage area. For a moment, a childlike fear of something gripping her by the wrist takes hold, but luckily, the mask is on top of Pete’s clapped out toolbox just inside the door. In the guest room, she sprays a can of cherry-scented dry shampoo on to the mask’s pale grey under fur, using a clothes brush on the dressing table to finish off. As soon as she is accustomed to the odd tangy smell clinging to the inside of the mask, she checks her reflection in the mirrored wardrobe doors. Adjusting the angles, she studies herself in duplicate, in triplicate, and then, as a series of indestructible reflections, stretching backwards but also forwards in space. She decides that she wants to be naked with the mask on.
She likes the way the white fur falls into the dipped curves of her collarbone, framing her breasts. She likes the contrast between the white of the werewolf fur and the dark of her pubes. (No grey strands in spite of her sixty-three years.) She wishes that the outfit had come with accessories; so that she could stroke her nipples with a calloused paw pad, or feel the movement of a scraggy wolf tail against her ass. Lifting her forearm to her muzzle, she is able to taste the luscious saltiness of her flesh, to inhale her secretions.
After a while, she falls asleep on the bed, in the sun. When she wakes, having missed three calls from Pete, she is filled with an urgent need to get things done. She returns the neck brace to the GPs surgery. She recycles the council petition. She posts the ‘Welcome to Your New Home’ greeting card that has been on the mantelpiece for more than a month now through Bella’s new-fangled stainless-steel letterbox, hastily underlining her name. (Angela, not Ange). At five, she visits Val at the nursing home.
‘I hope you haven’t bought any of that Ryvita muck with you,’ says Val.
Val has a condition called late onset Type 1 diabetes. Angela usually brings her a selection of healthy snacks, such as crackers, easy-peel oranges, sugar-free jelly pots. But today, for reasons she has yet to fathom, she has brought her a Twix bar.
‘Thank christ for that!’ says Val.
Angela had expected Val to use the word ‘fuck’. She is oddly disappointed.
‘I remembered dressing up as that werewolf,’ says Angela. ‘The one you mentioned.’
Val sucks through the chocolate on the Twix stick.
‘I want to die happy,’ she says. ‘Slip into a diabetic coma.’
A resident in his nineties starts shouting.
‘Swill me head!’ he shouts. ‘My head’s on bloody fire mun!’
‘The sun’s right on him,’ says Angela. ‘They should pull the curtains.’
‘Yesterday he wanted to get out on the patio,’ says Val. ‘He doesn’t know what he wants.’
Angela soothes the resident’s brow with a bone-dry wet wipe from the bottom of her carrier bag.
‘Who are you?’ he says to Angela. ‘You’re not my girl.’
‘I’m Angela,’ she says. ‘Angela Protheroe.’
‘Angela Protheroe’s dead,’ says the resident. ‘Dead as a dodo.’
‘Well I’m not dead,’ says Angela.
Angela returns to Val, whose lips are lined theatrically, seriously, grimly, with chocolate.
‘You were terrifying’, says Val, as Angela kisses her goodbye. ‘You had a big bushy tail hanging from your pussy like a cock.’
‘Ssssh!’ says Angela. ‘You’re being rude again. And anyway the costume doesn’t have a tail.’
‘Show them who you really are,’ says Val. ‘And bring me more of that Twix.’
‘I’ll see you next week,’ says Angela. ‘Just try to behave.’
In the evening, another Cortina pulls in to the layby. Angela reaches for Pete’s greatcoat from the banister newel.
‘I’m going for a walk,’ she shouts to Pete, who is the conservatory again. ‘I need to clear my head.’
Angela walks the thirty yards it takes her to reach the cemetery gates, fondling and separating the rough hairs of the werewolf mask in her inside pocket. A light is on in Martin’s study. She imagines him peering through a chink in his curtains, palming his binoculars, waiting for someone to ejaculate. It itches like hell where he touched her; soon, she will need Pete to take her tits into his mouth again, to suck away not only all remaining traces of Martin and his maggoty bin fingers, but also all physical traces of time, and old age. Hurrying towards the gates, she pulls the werewolf mask over her head before crossing the road. The smell is comforting. It gives her confidence. Keeping to the shadow of the cemetery’s perimeter wall opposite her house, she walks purposefully towards the car, her toe pads bearing all the weight of her body. Although she is not entirely sure what she hopes to achieve by scaring away the lovers, she knows that she needs to reclaim the cul-de-sac, to create an environment in which she and Pete can resume their relationship, unburdened by relentless reminders of what was once upon a time theirs, hers. Creeping forwards on bended knees along the car’s nearside, she knocks twice on the half-open window.
‘This is our layby,’ says Angela, as the young woman in the passenger seat turns towards her. ‘Just go away.’
The woman’s mouth opens in slow motion, creating a dark oval hole. The sound that follows is like the screaming sound that all the women make in Pete’s horror films. Angela is happy that it’s not her doing the screaming or the weeping.
‘Don’t come back!’ shouts Angela, as the car careens down the cul-de-sac towards the carriageway.
Angela stuffs the werewolf mask back into her pocket. Martin is standing in the bay window of his bedroom, with his shirtless torso glowing eerily. When he beckons her over with a hand movement, she gives him the finger.
Pete is waiting for her in the hallway.
‘Where were you?’ he says. ‘I was worried.’
‘I went out’, she says. ‘You never listen.’
‘I was watching Cat People,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t hear you.’
Angela walks past her husband towards the conservatory. She finds the remote control down the side of the La-Z-Boy and switches off the television. The relief she feels is the most exhilarating feeling she has had in years.
‘Come upstairs,’ she says. ‘We need to fuck.’
Sian Hughes is a copywriter and creative practitioner with the Arts Council’s recent ‘Lead Creative Schools Scheme’. Her stories have been published in Scribble and Storgy and dramatised as short films. A recipient of a Literature Wales Writers Bursary, she is now studying for an MA in Creative Writing with the Open University.