A British Summer

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Chapter Three

It’s noon, July 29th. A Wednesday. Olivia couldn’t be more bored, if she tried. Her Mother is working, the skies are a brilliant blue and the sun is shining, but she is tired of sunbathing and the only entertainment she has is Netflix. This would be absolutely fine, but she’s already five episodes into a show she has seen a million times over and she’s at the point of staring through the screen instead of at it. Children off school for another five weeks or so, are screaming on the street, water balloons are being thrown, hoses are out. A war between child, neighbour, friend, foe and H2O is raging up and down the melting tarmac. It’s been over two weeks since the last rain fall, and reports of drought are in every newspaper and online social media forum going. Arguments are being had over the impending environmental crisis and the goddess that is Greta Thunberg is hammering her iron fist at the lack of action. The world is descending into chaos, agriculture and mass farming is plunging the Earth into a fever and as the coral reefs die the bittersweet idea of a water fight seems pointless and wasteful. Olivia pops her head out of the living room window. The wooden sill burns her arm where she leans. The hose pipe ban clearly hasn’t been communicated to the unwatchful eyes of the children’s parents. Although, right now, Olivia can almost feel the spray of water, cool on her face as an invisible force spreads droplets through the air. She finds herself momentarily grateful for the cool feeling. She is considering telling them to shut it off, to be more considerate of the current issues we are facing, to make them aware that every choice we make, makes a difference, that if you’re not fighting climate change, you’re encouraging it…but Olivia feels lazy today and just the sight of puddles trickling mini streams down the paths are a visual meditation of sorts and for the first time in weeks, she isn’t melting through her skin.

She takes herself into the kitchen, where all the windows are swung wide open on their hinges and the back door is pulled back on both sides, leading out onto a dry lawn. She pours herself a glass of ice-cold water and guzzles it down. A drop dribbles down her chin, her throat, her neck and onto her red, floral vest top. She doesn’t even wipe it away. It’s fine. Olivia is carefree right now, but boredom always has its ways of encouraging overthinking. Her lack of finance has her plonked at a laptop, Googling all sorts of jobs in the area. “Waitressing? No. Office manager? No.” She can’t imagine she’s at all qualified for that. “Security guard? What’s an SIA licence anyway?” She doesn’t know, but she knows she doesn’t have one. “No. Retail assistant? No. Call centres? Hmm. Call centres…no.” The computer screen mocks her. She can hear it calling names at her, laughing at her, telling her to choose between a life with no money or a life of soul sucking corporate shelf stacking and smiling and, agreeing with idiots who are convinced they’re right because ‘customer service’ means ‘the customer is always right.’ Absolute rubbish. She sits back and slams the lid closed. She throws her hands over her eyes and bends her neck back to breaking point. She lets out an exasperated howl and releases all the negative energy, back out into the room. Olivia reaches for her phone and texts her dear friend at the dance academy in the town next door to hers.

Nicole isn’t someone she calls a close friend, but she is still dear to her and they had many a good time in high school.

They’d been partnered up for a duet in musical theatre; neither could sing but Nicole could dance, and Olivia was a fine actress, so they choreographed a delightful salacious rendition of ‘The Cell Block Tango,’ from the infamous ‘Chicago.’ Whilst their voices could have been fingernails on a chalk board, their barely-there costumes, Nicole’s high kicks and Olivia’s sultry eyes and high energy lines delivered to, and only to, an ever-reddening teacher, they had created a performance to remember. Said performance had earned them a pass in the unit but had also earned them a trip to the headteachers office. Since that moment, they had always considered each other, at the very least, close acquaintances.

Olivia is inquiring as to whether Nicole has any teaching jobs available over the summer. It’s really only a little pocket money she needs, and she makes it known that she isn’t expecting anything above minimum wage. Olivia has two left feet when it comes to any kind of dancing, but she hopes there may be a space available for a drama teacher. She can do that. Teaching little children to stand like a tree, maybe introduce them to Konstantin Stanislavski? She is certain she can make that work.

The binary code of desperation, floating out into space, leaves Olivia with a sense of accomplishment. Knowing that her friend will take care of her pockets, she is now ready to take care of her boredom.

She contemplates a nice walk out onto the field, it could easily become a hike if she was willing to hop over a few fences and risk being scolded of a few farmers. The suggestion is instantly squashed as an unexpected commotion sounds from the backside of the house. There is a shriek of a scream. Olivia races out into the back yard and stands on tiptoes to look over the thick wooden panels which separates her yard from the next. A young girl, about the age of twelve, with bright orange hair, cut into a frighteningly short bob, is pointing into the yard one further away than Olivia’s. It is one of her neighbours three daughters, Becky. Becky is bouncing up and down, screaming, “Mum! Mum! He’s there! I can see him, he’s there!” Olivia can’t see who “he” is but takes it that “he” is important to the little girl. She climbs onto a grey slab of brick that is holding the fence into place, so that her head and shoulders are leaning over into the next garden. She waves to the little girl. “Becky! Hey, what’s wrong? What’s going on?” Becky turns to Olivia, and Olivia can see that there is a clump of snot dripping from her nose and tears run helplessly down her face. She gasps a little for breath, then, “Olivia! Olivia! Charlie got out! He ran away, because I forgot to lock the cage properly!”

Olivia is a little confused. “Wait, wait. Who’s Charlie?” She asks. Becky looks at her as if she is stupid for not knowing. “Megan’s Rabbit! Charlie! We have three. We have Fluffy, she’s mine and Tilly, she’s Jessica’s and Charlie is Megan’s…he’s a boy, but we thought he was a girl…they had babies, remember, we offered you one? Remember?” She isn’t taking a breath and Olivia doesn’t want to tell the little girl that she doesn’t actually recall being offered a baby rabbit…if she had, she may have taken one. Becky continues, gasping between each word. “But. Last. Night. I fed them. Right? And. I forgot. To. Lock. His. Cage.” She sobs, then points back over the fence. “And he got out and he’s over there and I can’t get him. They thought he was gone but he’s not, he’s right there. They’re all really mad at me, Jess and Meg and Mum and Dad, they’re really mad, but he’s there but I can’t get to him!” Olivia rolls her eyes. Who else can be the hero if not her? She climbs carefully over the fence, conscious of her white shorts catching on sweating brown paint. She drops to the floor, trying to land like a Rockstar, but tumbling forward and nearly sending Becky flying into a pot of strawberry plants. She looks over into the next garden along and sees, indeed, a tiny grey rabbit, chomping away at Mrs. Mellor’s tulips. “Okay,” She says to Becky, “Stay right there, I’ll grab him and pass him back to you.” Becky nods, wiping her nose on her sleeve. Olivia jumps over the (thankfully) much lower fence, which is separated only by a few planks of wood, stacked with gaps between…Olivia can see how easy it would be for a tiny rabbit to slip through. “Mum! Mum! Come quick!” Becky yells. Mrs. and Mr. Hall come running out the house, tailed by their other two daughters. Jessica, a fifteen-year-old brunette and on her hip, a six-year-old Megan, who’s blonde hair is cut into the same unfortunate bob as her elder sister. Olivia always found their difference in hair colour peculiar, and if all children did in fact share the same father, quite cool in a “witches come in three” kind of way. Mrs Hall looks over to Olivia. “Don’t get caught!” She warns, “Mrs Mellor will have you if she catches you in her garden.” Too late. As Olivia is creeping down to crawl across the grass, to lunge on little Charlie, a window upstairs flies open and a very pissed off Mrs Mellor leans out. She has a wonderfully large crooked nose and silver hair she wears in a tight bun. She is still, despite it being midday, dressed in a pink floral nightie, and is pairing it with the coldest look Olivia has ever seen. “What do you think you’re doing in my garden?” She screeches. Olivia holds a finger to her lips to silence the woman, in the fear that she will scare the poor rabbit away. Not the right way to go. Mrs. Mellor’s eyes widen and her mouth drops. She can literally see the shaking of rage taking hold and for fear of giving the old biddy a heart attack, Olivia points to Charlie and stage whispers up, “I’m just catching this rabbit for the Hall family and then I’ll be on my way.” A thought hits her. “Unless you’d rather I let it eat the rest of your tulips?” Upon her receiving this knowledge, Mrs Mellor inhales in comical shock and outrage. “Get it out! Catch it! Grab it!” She calls…and in doing so terrifies the poor bunny. Charlie flees for his life, jumping diagonally across the garden and around the edges, its body stretches out to reveal its full length, then curls back into a ball before hopping once again, erratically around the grass. Onto the patio. Under a gnome, over a tortoise ornament. Olivia follows in pursuit. She dives to the ground. She misses. She dives again. She misses. The Halls laugh and call and shout and cheer and encourage Olivia to keep going. Mr and Mrs Hall let the children stand on the edge of the fence. Even the fifteen-year-old, Jessica is gleefully clapping and coaching her as she dives. “No, left! Left! Oh wait. My left, your right!” She shouts.

“Not helping!” Olivia replies.

A hand is tugging on her shirt as she stops to take a breath. She is expecting to find Mrs Mellor’s claw like hand going for her throat, but Mrs Mellor is now at the downstairs kitchen window, pressing her beak against the glass. Watching shrewdly for any damage to her precious flowers. Olivia looks down and sees the tiny form of Megan, looking up at her with wide green eyes. “I want to help.” She squeaks. Olivia looks up and the other two of the Hall children are clambering over the fence. Okay. Sure. Why not?

Olivia beckons them all together, they huddle in what can only be described as a rugby scrum. “Okay,” She instructs, “the plan of action. He’s likely to kick about when we catch him, so I’ll grab the little blighter. Jessica, you’re the oldest, you go to the left of the garden and mind he doesn’t slip through to next doors yard, Becky, you follow me in case he slips under my legs and Megan…Megan you stand on the other side of the garden and make sure he doesn’t attack us from behind with a carrot, okay?” Megan giggles. “Okay girls, hands in.” They put their hands in the middle of the circle, one on top of the other. “On three, one, two, three.”

The events that follow are chaos. Olivia dives forward, lunging for Charlie. Charlie jets through her straddled legs, and then through Becky’s, who yells how she can’t stop him because he’s too fast. Charlie runs a circle around the pair before he swoops around Megan, who topples to her knees in a bid to catch him and then, to finish off, he flies at Jessica who screams in fear and dives to the side, leaving the goal wide open, and Charlie shoots through a gap in the adjoining fence right into the next garden along. Olivia leading the team, jumps on over the next fence, all three girls in tow. The rabbit, now getting the idea, is already through to the next yard. Somewhere along the street a ten-year-old boy, with sandy blonde hair, dressed in a football uniform, whom Olivia doesn’t yet know, has seen the unfurling drama and joins the fray. He races out of his back door with an empty clothes basket in hand. “Hey!” He calls. “Take this!” Olivia sweeps it out of his hand as she speeds past and just as Charlie dives through to the next garden along, Olivia runs her full body into the fence, using the wood as a sling shot for her upper half to fold over. She keeps her arms outstretched and slams the basket down over the rabbit, however, she doesn’t quite catch herself in time and face plants the top of the basket. Her legs keep going and she, ungracefully, lands in a sprawled-out heap on the decking in Charlie’s current garden of residence. “Fuck.” She peers up from her highly uncomfortable landing strip and ensures that he is caught. Charlie pushes his fluffy grey nose up against a hole in the basket. His whiskers poke out as he twitches and sniffs in curiosity. Olivia sighs and sits up. Jessica, Becky and Megan are just catching up and come to an alarming halt as they look over the fence at the scene before them. Their eyes are wide, and they freeze. Olivia lifts her hand up to her face and feels something warm trickling over her lip. She pulls her hand away and sees a small puddle of blood is oozing from her nose. So, as not to scare them, she covers it back up and stands slowly. Olivia puts one foot on the basket, not doubting that the little git would buck its way free and knocks repetitively on the owner’s kitchen window. She persists until an elderly man, in beige trousers and a tucked in white shirt comes to the door. His large blue eyes, filled with the years he has lived, are a little taken aback. He opens the door and without a word hands Olivia a bunch of tissues, which she gratefully stuffs up her nostrils. The dripping blood contained she bids the elderly man goodbye and thanks him as she scoops up Charlie in his makeshift cage and climbs back over the fence, leading the children back home.

As they pass through Mrs. Mellor’s she is already out in her garden, her floral nighty swaying around her bare wrinkled feet and she is inspecting the chomped tulips. She pays no attention to the passing party while they clamber back into the Hall’s garden and only mutters a brief, “Little brats,” as they all disappear behind the conifers lined between her garden and theirs.

Mr and Mrs Hall stand at their kitchen door, which is wide open, awaiting the return of their girls and the runaway rabbit. They stare, a little stunned, as Jessica, Becky and Megan file into the house, covered in grass stains and mud, their hair awry, but pleased with their accomplishment. Olivia holds up the basket, little Charlie safe inside. She is out of breath, drenched in sweat, blood stains on her shirt, tissues stuck up her nose, dirt all over her face, clothes and knees, and a single twig sticking out of her hair. A few words of thanks are exchanged as the rabbit is passed over and Olivia scales the fence back home.

It’s half past three, when the doorbell chimes a brief ‘ding dong.’ Olivia has recently showered to wash off the stench of rabbit hunting and dried blood. Her hair is up in a bun, which, still wet, drips down the back of her neck. She is hanging about in fresh cotton shorts and a loose grey t-shirt. She opens the door to the smiling faces of three very grateful girls. Olivia smiles back, a darkening bruise under her right eye and a swollen nose, which pulls a little painfully as she grins. She can’t help but smile through the pain as Becky holds up a large cake, covered in pink frosting and scrawled across it are the words “Our Hero.” Megan itches at her head and chuckles. “Jessica made it.” Becky gushes. Jessica shyly looks down at her sister, “We all made it.”

Late in the same evening, Claudia comes home from work, just in time to see the sun set. She walks through her front door to find her daughter hosting the neighbours three daughters. They are all sat around a coffee table in the living room, playing what looks like a messy game of Monopoly. Houses and hotels are littering the floor. Not a bad thought crosses Claudia’s mind as she sees Olivia laughing at the young blonde girl, as she pretends the dog piece and the hat are married at the property, they’ve both landed on. Olivia looks up, “There’s a piece of cake for you in the kitchen.” Claudia notes, curiously, the ever-darkening bruise on her face.

“It’s vegan.” Jessica adds.

Becky is rolling the die and moans out as she realises, she’s going to jail. Claudia walks into the kitchen, sees there is indeed a cake on the side and pops her head back through into the living room. Olivia looks up and shares a secret message through eye contact with her Mother, it says, “It’s a long story. I’ll tell you later.”

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