Join us in episode 1 of this story set in Pembrokeshire
“I’m telling you he’s got a porcupine living with him.”
Brian Jones shook his head and his chins wobbled in sympathy, “Don’t talk rubbish Dai man. I know your man’s a bit peculiar, but a porcupine?…..that’s just weird”.
Dai slammed his pint pot onto the table with a little too much vehemence, so that some of Megan’s finest ale slopped onto the table and lay foaming among the ratty beer mats. “Peculiar is it? Hmm! The man’s a lunatic! Out in all weathers in little more than wellies and a rain hat, muttering to himself. And I’m told that he lives off what he can catch and find. That’s not weird?”
Brian shrugged “Well….well….maybe…but a porcupine you say?” he kept his voice low, placatingly. He didn’t want to see more good beer go to waste.
“Well, that Granger woman told my Angharad.” Dai bristled, his cheeks aflame with righteousness “And do you want to know where the story originated Brian?” He paused, waiting for his old friend to nod before continuing with some emphasis. “Gwen James, that’s who, and if that’s not coming from the top I don’t know what is”.
“Oh, well! You didn’t say the Major’s wife started the rumour. I suppose then it has to be true.” Brian hoped his voice did not reveal too much of the suspicion that once again Dai had got hold of the wrong end of the stick. He hurried to avert any more beer spilling, “Strange though. What on earth would anyone want with a porcupine? Even someone as….well….. as peculiar as Monty Peir? Where is he anyway, I haven’t seen him for a couple of days?”
“No neither have I,” Dai said knowingly, “but it stands to reason he couldn’t buy one of those spiny creatures around here. He will have gone to some exotic pet shop to acquire it, I bet you.”
He sat back, drained his glass and waved it in his friend’s direction. “Come on, drink up, it’s your round.”
In actual fact Monty’s battered old van was just pulling up outside his chalet just as the men were engaged in their afternoon discussion.
At the exact moment that the two fresh pints of steaming ale arrived on the table at the Dragon he was turning to the passenger seat and smiling.
“Well this is it old girl, you’re home.”
The little round woman in the passenger seat shook herself from the exhausted sleep she had fallen in to on the long journey here and her unruly dark curls bounced about her face. Stretching, she gazed out at the view spread before her.
“Oh Monty, I don’t know what to say, it’s beautiful.”
He looked out at the glistening bay and nodded in agreement. The ocean was pewter grey with sparkles of light that seemed to his eye to be a memory of fallen stars.
He tore his eyes from it and smiled at her. “I’m glad you like it. Go on up Ruby, the doors unlocked, I’ll bring your things”.
She climbed out of the car and made her way up the steps. When he reached her, she was standing on the terrace breathing the ocean as much as the scent of the sweet peas and stocks of Monty’s garden of tubs.
He wasn’t sure what to say. She was really here, he thought to himself, with a pleasure that he thought would make his heart burst in his chest, but when she looked at him, it was all too much and the fire leapt from his chest to his throat spreading across his cheeks in a hearty blush. Then they were laughing together and it was lovely. He knew it had been a long time since Ruby had laughed so freely. Still blushing, he nodded towards the front door, and he followed her inside.
Over 30 years ago Ruby and Monty had been at school together. Their friendship had not remained close over the intervening years. Marriages, separations, work and travel had conspired to keep them apart. Then, two months ago, just by chance, their paths had crossed and it could not have come at a better time for either of them.
Now, watching her in his little sitting room, taking in the treasures he had borrowed from the sea, seemed a little miracle to Monty.
“You haven’t changed,” she laughed, “and you always were a collector.”
For a moment Monty was worried. He wanted her to feel at home. “My mother used to say I was a hoarder. Is it too much?”
“It’s lovely, really lovely.’ She ran her hand across a polished driftwood shelf and stroked the shiny round pebbles he had arranged about the stove, “All soft curves,” she sighed, “no hard angles.”
Monty wanted to say, “Just like you” but his nerve failed him. He simply placed the suitcases on the floor breathing a sigh of relief. “Make yourself at home, have a good look around. I’ll just get the rest of it.”
She watched as he walked out of the door before beginning her exploration.
The tiny bedroom contained a single bed which was covered in a dull quilt that had obviously seen better days. From the window she could see his vegetable garden and the left-hand side of the bay. Looking back she could see that the wardrobe door was half open. A man’s clothes were hanging there.
If this is the main bedroom what’s mine like she wondered? She took the few paces back into the sitting room then turned to her left and entered what must be her room.
“Oh Monty!” Ruby felt her eyes prickle with tears. This room was nothing at all like the other one, it looked huge compared to Monty’s. It had obviously been recently, very recently, decorated. The large bunches of flowers couldn’t quite obliterate the faint lingering odour of fresh paint. It was everything the other room wasn’t; it was big, light, and fresh. Through the large window she could see the whole of the bay in front of her. She knew right away that until he had asked if she would come and stay, that this had been his room.
She hadn’t heard him come back into the chalet. He stood in the doorway, with a large box in his arms.
“Is it alright?” he asked anxiously, “I know it’s not much but when you get your own things in here it’ll soon feel like home.”
Ruby shook her head, “It’s lovely Monty, but I can’t stay here.”
He was crestfallen. She didn’t like it.
“Monty you fool, I’ve told you I like it, in fact I love it. But I can’t take your room.”
“You don’t want to sleep here?”
“Well it’s yours now.” He opened the box he had put on the bed and started to unpack it.
Ruby reached out to touch his bent back with a soft square hand.
“I won’t take no for an answer,” he said gruffly before turning to face her.
Ruby sighed, “Thank you Monty, it’s the first time anyone has done anything nice for me in a long time.” And leaning forward she kissed him on the cheek.
Later, as Monty set off in his boat, he thought how good it was to have someone else in the house.
He had been on his own for nearly five years now since his wife had left him, and in that time he had very little contact with the outside world. It had been one of those chance meetings only a month ago and the sad tale of Ruby’s straightened circumstances that had brought them to this. Yes, he thought to himself as he pulled on the oars, this felt right. He just wanted to make sure that Ruby felt that way too.
A few hours later with a good catch to bring back, Monty bumped into his neighbour, the Majors wife as she made her way homeward. He happily displayed the glittering creatures and, his heart overflowing with generosity, he handed her two of the finest. She watched him smiling as he went on his way, a decided spring in his step.
Monty had barely rounded the headland when Brian Jones and Dai Evans, also making their way along the cliff path, spotted Gwen with the fish gift in her hand.
“Look man, she’s carrying fish, she must have been to Monty’s.”
Brian nodded. Perhaps for once Dai was right, “I wonder if she’s seen the porcupine?”
Both men greeted her on the narrow path and Dai asked if she had seen Monty.
She nodded, pausing for a moment. Both men seemed a little the worse for Megan’s ale and they seemed determined to talk.
Before she could speak Dai winked knowingly. “And has the new arrival turned up?”
She was taken aback. “How did you know about that?”
“Well you told Wendy Granger and she told my wife.”
Brian could barely contain himself. Could it be, for once that Dai had been right and a porcupine was now living among them, “ So it’s true then?”
Oh well the damage was already done, Gwen thought. It was so easy to forget how quickly news travelled in this little community on the cliff.
“Yes it’s true,” she said quickly. “It will be good company for Monty. He must get very lonely out there on his own, particularly during the winter.”
The two men looked a little non-plussed. “Yeeees……” Dai shook his head. “I suppose so, but I wouldn’t have one, not by choice. Nasty spiny things.”
Brian looked confused, “If you don’t mind me asking how do you know it’s a she?”
Gwen shook her head and laughed. How much of Megan’s ale had these two had she wondered. “Well, firstly I’m a woman”, she quipped, and I suppose that means it’s quite easy for me to recognise another female.”
Both men stood expectantly. Gwen added, laughing, “And secondly, she’s called Ruby. Not exactly a boy’s name is it.” And swinging her catch, she left them looking after her.
“Why on earth does he want to call a porcupine Ruby, they’re not red are they?” asked Brian.
“I told you men, he’s weird. Perhaps we’ll go around and see it tomorrow.”
Brian shuddered, “You can, I don’t want to see some giant red hedgehog.”
Later that evening as the Major and his wife cleared away their fish supper and settled down for the evening with a gin and tonic in their hands, Gwen thought back to the conversation she had had with Dai and Brian. She was puzzled.
“Iain, you were here yesterday when I was telling Wendy Granger about Monty’s new companion weren’t you?”
The Major laughed. “Yes dear, though I don’t think she really understands your sense of humour.”
“So you remember what I told her about Monty’s arrival?”
He laughed again, “Yes of course. Though that is not a word you hear much now, and rarely in this part of the world.”
The Major leaned toward his wife smiling. “You know exactly what you said Gwen and I remember thinking at the time that your choice of words might have consequences, but you said, my dear, that Monty Peir was getting a concubine. Why do you ask?”
“I think I have caused some confusion in the bay,” she said thoughtfully. “I do hope Monty and his companion will see the funny side.” And giggling, she took another sip of gin.
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