Aga Saga

Chain Border

I often sit here, quietly, doing nothing but drinking it all in. You see, my kitchen is just perfect. I don't mean that it's a functional kitchen, or that it's a pretty kitchen, I mean that it's everything. It's perfect. And I'm as surprised as anyone.

Waltham St. Lawrence, where I live, is also perfect, but that's beyond my control. It's leafy, peaceful, strictly green-belt. Redbrick houses nestle behind elegant weeping willows, and there's hardly a car here that isn't a Jaguar or a four-wheel-drive, and all of them are dark blue or dark green. It's the kind of place where there's still a general store, and satellite dishes are widely believed to be the work of the devil. We're all very happy here, or if we're unhappy we certainly keep it to ourselves.

My kitchen looks stunning today. The April sunshine is streaming through the cathedral windows onto the maple end-grain worktops. There's a blue gingham tea-towel folded over the edge of the massive Belfast sink, and a beautiful bunch of daffodils in a pale blue jug on the table at which I'm sitting. It's like a scene from an interior design magazine.

It's warm in here. It's always warm in here, thanks to my pride and joy; the heart of the kitchen. The solid-fuel, four oven, traditional cream Aga. Jeremy wanted a royal blue one, but I stuck to my guns, and by jingo I was right to do so. It's made the kitchen complete. Like I said; perfect.

You see, normally, I'm hopeless. I really am a bit of a tit when it comes to fitting in and doing things right. Jeremy was born and raised in somewhere very much like Waltham St. Lawrence so he fitted in right away. He could lapse instinctively into talk of gymkhanas, clay-pigeon shooting and Range Rovers. I couldn't. I always felt a little gauche and out-of-place. I know that Jeremy was often a little bit embarrassed by me back then.

It's four years since we bought this house, and I can't remember how many mistakes I've made with it. The house is my area of responsibility, but perhaps I wasn't qualified to be let loose in a rambling seven-bedroom pile as my first major project. The trouble is I'm too impressionable. I start something - or rather, I get the decorators to start something - then change tack completely with the next magazine I buy, or the next showroom I visit. The result would be an utter riot of ideas. At least, that's how it used to be.

Take, for example, the corner bedroom. It's a gorgeous room overlooking the back garden on one side, and open farmland on the other. There's a huge weeping willow just outside, which slaps at the windows when the wind is really strong. When we bought the house, it was all slate blue and oppressive. Very much in need of brightening up, so I set about my task with vigour. First I decided on a fresh, dewy green for the walls, rather to tie in the splendid willow tree outside, in summer at least; in winter it would simply help to brighten the room. Gosh, I was clever. I must admit, though, that I hadn't really thought much beyond the colour. I had some vague idea about spriggy curtains and pine furniture, but it was all very nebulous, and nothing had been bought. But I'd have plenty of time to decide things like that whilst the decorator was doing the walls.

Our decorator was recommended to me by the Vicar's wife - yes, Waltham St. Lawrence is like that - I bumped into her in the post office ages ago, and she keenly spotted a great streak of white emulsion in my hair.

'Goodness Megan,' she boomed, 'Don't tell me Jeremy has you doing the buildings maintenance yourself eh?'

I'm sure I blushed. I told you I didn't really fit in back then - it had just never occurred to me to hire somebody. It's not that we couldn't afford it, it's just that I wasn't brought up like that.

'Oh,' I mumbled, 'no it's just from one of those matchpot things, I can't decide what colour to do the hall.' This was a lie. The hall, at that very moment was breathing a huge sigh of relief as I'd just painted over my experimental burnt sienna rag-rolling effect, with a rather safer white.

'Well, I can recommend a chappie if you need one, he did all of the Vicarage.' She said this as if there were no better recommendation a painter could have. I'd been in the vicarage, and it was goose-shit green throughout. Still, I hadn't noticed any flaws in the paintwork. 'I'll pop his card through your door,' she went on, 'what's his name? Drat! Can't think of it. He goes by some kind of nickname.' She clicked her meaty fingers whilst trying to remember, it sounded like somebody snapping logs in half. 'It's on the tip of my tongue...Domino, no…Dynamo, no...Dildo. DILDO. That's it, Dildo Dave. He's very good.'

Well, yes. He sounded good I had to admit. Quite adventurous even, for a decorator. Linda, behind the counter, caught my eye for one frantic instant, then looked away quickly, apparently having to urgently count the newspapers on the counter. Later that day, a note indeed came through the door. It said:

Dildo Dave
670881
Best
Agnes

Minutes after the note was delivered, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find Linda from the post office standing there in gales of laughter. I'd never spoken to her before, beyond the occasional 'hello,' so this was odd. She spluttered and hooted for a while longer. Suddenly I realise that this must be another commuter-belt custom I was unaware of…Glad of my quick thinking, I joined in before it was too late.

'Heeeeyaaaah Haaaaaah Haaaaagh.' I started, and this seemed to make Linda laugh even more, so it was obviously the right thing to do. Eventually, after we'd had a good old chortle - I'd warmed to my part so much that I was positively bow-legged with mirth - she was able to speak.

'I had to tell you,' she panted, 'in case you made a fool of yourself. It's Dado Dave, not Dildo Dave.'

'Oh I see!' I howled. 'Yes. That would have been embarrassing.' We chuckled a little more at this, eventually Linda was up to another sentence.

'What were you laughing at?' she asked, smiling.

'Eh?'

'Just now, something really tickled you.'

'Oh. That. Funny poem on Radio 4.' I hoped to God that she couldn't hear Capital FM blaring out from the kitchen.

'Oh.' She looked disappointed.

'Fancy a drink?' I asked brightly. I was sensing a non dyed-in-the-wool Waltham St. Lawrence type person in Linda, and wanted to check my theory. 'Reckon the sun's gone over the yardarm yet?' Why was I speaking as if this were one of the colonies?

'Somewhere in the world at least.' She grinned.

'Come through to the Drawing Room.' Drawing Room? What the hell was wrong with me?

We both sat down, and began to chat. After a short while I remembered that I didn't have a little cocktail-wallah cringing in the shadows, and nobody was going to get us Pink Gins, or Singapore Slings or anything like that. I fixed G&T's myself.

A couple of Gins later, we were best of friends. Our respective husbands and children had been discussed, diets trashed and two tubs of Haagen Daaz consumed. Both of us glad to have found someone who didn't quite buy into the whole Waltham St Lawrence scene. I hoped I'd see her again soon.

A couple of years later, Linda and I were still great pals, and as I waited for Dado Dave to arrive to paint the corner bedroom, I wondered which room I should tackle next. The kitchen was really a disgrace...maybe I should have a go at that.

Dave arrived, and I showed him up to the corner-bedroom. 'All the paint is there.' I said, as if a painter might be unable to spot six paint cans in an otherwise empty room. He gave me a look that might have been trepidation, and opened one of the cans. 'Christ,' he muttered, and quickly shut it again. He opened it one more time as if to confirm, then said, 'Have you actually opened these? This is...it's...', he tailed off, lost for what 'it' might be.

'It's Spring Sapling,' I helped him out. 'It's going to draw in the willow from outside.' I declared loftily.

He opened the can a third time and glanced at the willow, frowning. 'You sure? Sure this isn't going to be like your purple dining room that I had to paint magnolia straight away?'

'It was aubergine,' I said pettishly, 'and no, Spring Sapling will make this room.'

I swept out, into my car and off to a few furniture shops. When I got back, I had ordered a beautiful mahogany chiffonier, which would look lovely with a big blue and white bowl and jug combination on top. On their way too, were a mahogany sleigh bed and wardrobe. Dave had already left for the day, so I checked his progress. Spring Sapling looked a hell of a lot brighter on the wall than on the paint chart. Still, it would probably look completely different after the second coat was on.

It didn't. But that was only because there was so much wall showing. Probably when the furniture was in and the curtains were up, it would look fabulous. The furniture was due to arrive the next day, Jeremy was back from Brussels the day after. What a transformation he'd see.

The furniture helped a bit, and if you half shut your eyes, it actually looked quite nice. I decided to show it to Linda first, to gauge her reaction.

'Bloody Hell!' She said. 'You're certainly brave with your colours, aren't you? What colour is this, highlighter pen?'

'I'll grant you, it's bright. But you have to admit that it freshens the room, don't you?' Maybe I needed more paintings on the walls. Big ones, and lots of them.

'Freshens...yeeees. This is a guest room isn't it? You haven't just redecorated Felicity or Jeremy-Junior's room while they're off at boarding school have you?'

I'd rather hoped for a better reaction, but I'd wait and see what Jeremy had to say when he got home. As soon as he got in, I made him put his hands over his eyes, and marched him up there. 'Ta-daah!' I said, pulling his hand from his eyes.

He was silent for a moment, then, 'Oh my shitting fucking God. What have you done?'

Golly. Wasn't quite what I was hoping for, but he wasn't done yet.

'That colour? With classical furniture? Looks like pensioners at a Rave!' He laughed indulgently, then his brow furrowed a little and he punched me hard in the ribs. Cracked one actually. Bloody hurt too, I can tell you. Trouble with a cracked rib, you see, is that there's not a lot you can do about it, you just have to leave it to knit, and that can take ages, I should know.

'Why the hell do you make such a hash of everything Meg? Why can't you have just one idea, and stick to it? I've been travelling for four hours. Four fucking hours, and I have to come home to this...this carnage!'

Ooof! Bit of a wallop to the kidney that time and Timber! Down I went. I must have hit my head on something - probably the chiffonier - because my head seemed to be bleeding, which was jolly annoying, it was a new carpet.

I lay there for a while, long after Jeremy stalked out of the room. He was quite right, it really was a dreadful colour. I'd call Dave later.

Oh yes. That's the other thing you see. Our marriage wasn't perfect. On the surface it was, of course. Jeremy was the successful late thirty-something chap, with ever-so-slightly receding dirty-blond hair, and faded-denim blue eyes. I was the mid thirty-something stay-at-home wife with the peaches-and-cream complexion and the well-she's-had-two-children figure. Felicity and Jeremy Junior - Fliss and JJ, both approaching their teens - were the beautiful children we'd produced, and Harvey was the overweight, crotch-bucking Labrador that justified the green wellies in the back of my Range Rover. Yes - we had it all, including, in Jeremy's case, a sharp right-hook.

The funny thing was, I didn't even mind. I did love Jeremy and I know that he loved me, and when you looked at everything that I had, the odd beating didn't dent the old equation too badly. I never complained or fought back, and I never spoke of it to anyone else. As I've said, that's just the way Waltham St Lawrence is.

The corner-bedroom was duly repainted in a lovely butterscotch colour that Jeremy chose. Time marched on, the kids came back from boarding school for the summer, and I decided to embark on the kitchen, which was in serious need of an overhaul.

It seemed like a long summer. It was a mistake, in retrospect, to start on the kitchen while the children were home - it was just an added complication. Jeremy had little patience with them, especially JJ who hero-worshipped him and trailed him everywhere trying to find new ways to be like him. The house was in perpetual dusty chaos. A more substantial workforce than simply Dado Dave was required, and their work had to be done in a certain sequence, and why do they never turn up when they say they will? It was frustrating and a little depressing.

I'd decided to heed Jeremy's advice when it came to decorating the kitchen. I had one vision for it. 'Traditional country kitchen' was my goal, and by golly I was going to stick to it this time. It just took a hell of a lot longer when you were so single-minded about everything, and didn't just buy the first type of worktop or tap you liked the look of. No, I was an artist at work here, working to a plan.

It was going well though. Even Jeremy seemed to approve of everything that I had chosen.

'Tell you what, Meg-peg,' he said to me one evening, when Fliss and JJ were in bed. 'After the kids are back at school, why don't we have a holiday? You could do with a break from the kitchen - should be nearly done by then - and it'd be nice to spend some time together. What do you say?'

I missed a beat. Why did he have to exclude the children before he could get enthusiastic about anything? But, it was a nice thought, and he was thinking of me. 'Great.' I said brightly. 'Where do you fancy?'

He answered immediately, he'd obviously been thinking about this for some time. 'What about Las Vegas? You've always wanted to go. Perhaps we could hire a car and drive to the Grand Canyon. A groovy little convertible maybe, try to recapture our lost youth?' He nudged me playfully.

'I wouldn't say I've always wanted to go to Las Vegas, I just said it looked like fun when Friends was on the other day.' I'd always wanted to go to St. Lucia.

'Oh come on, it'll be fun. Maybe we could pop up to New York for a couple of days' shopping too.'

That did it. I'm a sucker for a shopping trip. 'Let's have a drink to celebrate.' said Jeremy, and wandered off to the kitchen, swearing under his breath as he manoeuvred around the eight metres of worktop and assorted cupboard carcasses that were piled up in the hall. When he returned he had two mighty brandies and an Aga catalogue that I'd left on the hall table. 'This is nice,' he said, indicating the catalogue. 'Is this what you're getting for the kitchen?'

Blimey, normally my decorating ideas got me a rabbit-punch; this period of Glasnost in our home was nice but a little unsettling.

'Lovely shade of blue,' he went on.

Ah, he was on the wrong page. 'No - I circled that one because it's the model I want - the four-oven one. I'm going to order the Traditional Cream, it's on the next page.'

He flipped over, then flipped back. 'I like the Royal Blue better.' And thus we reached an impasse. My choice was clear. Order the cream, and get a jolly good hiding; order the blue, and have a quiet life. But hang on, Meg, weren't you working to a vision here. Traditional country kitchen. That's right, and nothing was going to deviate me from my vision. That's what always happened, and that's why half our house looked, frankly, shit. Roaring with confidence from the brandy, and my belief in The Vision, I pressed on.

'I'm doing what you said. I'm sticking to an original concept. I like the blue as well,' - I didn't, I hated it. - 'But the traditional colour for the Aga is cream, and I'm going for a traditional English look. Actually, the Royal Blue was only introduced for Agas in 1997.' Crikey, I did have the facts at my fingertips didn't I?

A ghost of a smile flickered on his face. 'Traditionally English? But the Aga was a Swedish invention and was sold there first. My sweet.'

'Really? Yes, but...but...' All those years in the school debating society clearly paying off. Damn his trivia retention.

'But...but,' he mocked, good-naturedly. 'I like the blue better.'

It was a perfectly civilised exchange, but I knew now that the immense kitchen project had just sailed slap-bang into an iceberg, was critically hulled, and was listing dangerously. But the band was still playing, and life goes on.

I know what you're thinking now. You're thinking 'Oh come on Meg. Calm down old girl, it's an oven. Stop being such a drama-queen and get it in perspective.' But you're wrong, it was much more than an oven now, it was a decision about the rest of my life. I'd decided to work to a vision. I'd decided that nothing would distract me from my original idea, indeed Jeremy said that's what I ought to do. I could order a blue one, I could, but it would mean rolling over and giving in. Not to mention compromising The Vision. Or I could stand up to him, for once, and order the cream. In Waltham St Lawrence terms, this is fighting talk.

Well, talk is fine and dandy but actions are different and I'm a yellow-belly at heart. I took the path of least resistance, and ordered neither. Playing for time until I felt able to face the consequences of either decision.

Time passed. The absence of any shade of Aga wasn't an issue, as the kitchen wasn't ready for it anyway. I told Jeremy it was being handmade somewhere. 'Telford,' he informed me. Christ, had he been reading up? I'm sure he was quite certain that a Royal Blue one was on its way. Quite frankly I'd been beginning to lose my nerve, I'd found myself on several occasions staring at the picture in the catalogue, and trying really hard to like it.

Fliss and JJ went back to school. I'm always tearful for a while after they leave - I miss them dreadfully - so I was really quite glad when it was time to pack up and head for Las Vegas. I must confess to even feeling a tingle of excitement as the aircraft banked, dipping its wing theatrically to reveal the brilliant jewelled streak that is the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas is insane from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave. Maccaran airport is itself halfway to being a casino. There are slot machines everywhere, and glass-eyed punters happily throwing quarter after quarter into them. 'Jesus!' muttered Jeremy, as he took in the scene. I hoped to God things were going to improve. I couldn't face five days of him hating everything.

We picked up our hire car - a bright red Mustang - and that seemed to cheer him up a lot. We roared up the Strip to our hotel, and it was quite overwhelming. Nothing can quite prepare you for the scale of the place. It's huge, brash and gloriously tacky. At ten o'clock at night it was still incredibly hot, and very busy. I couldn't help thinking how much Fliss and JJ would have loved it. I, on the other hand, felt distinctly home-counties in the middle of it all. No Agas here, I'd bet.

Las Vegas was not a success. I was prepared to make the best of it and, as usual, I found myself having to chivvy Jeremy along. I had to be all bright and full of ideas to try and make sure he stayed out of the bad mood that he seemed inexorably drawn toward. Gosh, I organised, I chattered, I booked us a helicopter flight over Las Vegas by night, I booked a show, I was the life and soul and by day three, I was knackered. There's only so much fruitless gambling you can do, and apart from the odd excursion, there's really not that much else to do in Vegas.

On day four I stayed in bed. Couldn't face another day of forced jollity. It was beginning to seriously grate on me anyway. Who was making sure I had a good time? Who was making sure I was happy? It was all getting a bit one way. I flicked on the TV; Jeremy pulled a face. Ah yes, the person who was all for this American odyssey had since developed a healthy hatred of the place. It started a couple of nights ago, when we were standing at one of the hotel bars, talking to an American couple, who told us they'd never visited 'Yoorope' and never wanted to. It was an innocent comment, but Jeremy quickly took it on board and nursed it until it grew into a major grievance. First it was just that couple that he loathed, then everyone in the hotel and now, as far as I could tell, everyone in the country.

The TV droned on in the background '...and thass what this country is all about. Thass what made this country great. Freedom of speech. This is a Free Country. I'm'a tell you what else too. First-of-all, this is the greatest country in the world, and seckind-of-all, thass why ever-one wants to live here.' This statement by an audience member on the Sally Jessy Raphael show brought rapturous applause. Quite a different reaction from Jeremy though.

'Jesus Fucking Christ,' he exploded. 'Can't they string one sentence together?' I felt it wise not to point out that Jesus Fucking Christ was not exactly the Queens English either. 'Who the fuck do they think they are? They think they're so fucking patriotic with their flag-waving and I-pledge-allegiance shit. Christ. They haven't a clue. They really think that the rest of the world is backward don't they? Like we're all living in oppressive communist states and don't know what democracy is? Jesus. They're so arrogant. Gah!' Yes, he actually said Gah.

I just looked at him. I didn't know what he wanted me to do about it. This really wasn't something I could fix and anyway, I was pretty sure it wasn't my fault. I couldn't think of anything to say either, so I just turned the TV off for fear that it would spout more inflammatory rhetoric. I just felt tired. It was only five in the afternoon.

'Let's get out of here, Meg-peg,' he said, after a long silence. 'As JJ would say, I'm being a real shithead. I think it's this place,' he indicated Las Vegas, out of the hotel window. 'I think it brings out the worst in me, and you deserve better. How about if we just get in the car and drive. There's got to be somewhere else we can stay. Maybe we can get as far as the Grand Canyon tonight, and stay in a lovely little quiet hotel. What do you say?'

Yes, what do you say, Meg-peg? Do you say Good idea Jezzer, let's go. Let's forget the fact that it was you that wanted to come here in the first place. Let's forget that I've been trying to make it fun as if you were three years old. Let's forget that I'm knackered. Let's ignore that 'you deserve better' comment too shall we? Let's not pretend that it's anything to do with me. We're leaving because you made a mistake and you're bored. Or do you say, OK.

'OK,' I said, then added, 'let me just have a shower first.'

In the shower I seethed quietly. I was losing myself here. My identity was becoming completely swallowed up by the marriage-monster. I was becoming a human zero. I clung to the image of the traditional cream Aga that I was too scared to order, and resolved to do something about it as soon as we got back.

By the time I'd had my shower, packed, and then had something to eat it was beginning to get dark outside. Jeremy was hugely pleased with himself after he didn't tip the valet parking boy, opting instead to tell him to go fuck himself, before roaring off the hotel forecourt, the Mustang's tyres squealing in embarrassment.

Given that it was dark and given that Jeremy was in a bad mood and didn't know where the hell he was going, it was no surprise at all to me that within fifteen minutes we were comprehensively lost. Apparently, this was because of a lack of fucking roadsigns.

'Well, stop at a shop and I'll nip in and get a map.' I said, as anyone with half a brain would.

After much gear-crunching, tooth-grinding, and a last ditch attempt at finding a sign that said 'Grand Canyon with attendant tranquil oasis-type hotel, thisaway' Jeremy screeched to a halt in a parking lot by some shops. A 7-11 was open. I trudged in checking my shorts pocket for spare dollars. I bought a map. In the light of the shop, even the most cursory of glances revealed the route that we should take - Highway 93 which would take us right over the top of the Hoover Dam, and then we'd be out of Nevada, into Arizona and right on the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon. It really was quite simple.

I rounded the corner to the car, and froze. There, with a gun to Jeremy's head, was a huge black man.

'Gittin the car. Bitch,' he said.

Jeremy spoke in a small voice. 'Give him the credit cards Meg, they're in your bag, and any cash you've got.'

Oh thanks Jeremy, I thought, thanks a lot. Let our attacker know who's holding the treasure, why don't you. Then I realised something. I realised I wasn't scared. For the first time in years, I wasn't scared of something, even though this was the most dangerous situation I'd ever been in. I felt quite serene.

'Give me the money you motherfucking bitch, or I'll blow his head off.'

See, I wasn't upset at being called a bitch, even a motherfucking one, because I'd been a bitch and a cunt and a whore for years according to Jeremy. I wasn't scared of the gun, because it was pointed at Jeremy, and I didn't think it would make much sense to move it from its position against his temple. Best of all, I wasn't scared of Jeremy, because, well because someone had a gun to his head and you could see just what a ratty little coward he was.

'Actually,' I addressed our assailant, thinking on my feet, 'can we talk?' I glanced around; the parking lot was deserted. I was rather uncomfortable about not knowing exactly where we were, but...in for a penny...'What can I call you?'

'GET IN THE FUCKING CAR. GIVE ME THE MONEY.'

I read the lettering on his hat; it was pulled down close over his eyes. I couldn't really see much of his face as it was largely in shadows. All I could see was that he was very, very tall and the gun looked very, very real. 'I'll call you Tommy then. Tommy, I'm Meg.'

In his seat, Jeremy whimpered.

'Oh shut the fuck up,' I barked. It felt good. 'Tommy, it's like this. I'm rich. I can give you money-'

'I'll blow his fucking brains out.' Repeated Tommy, wisely lowering his voice.

'Yes. Good. That's what I wanted to talk about. Um, this is all a bit last minute, and I'm new to this, but I've just had a thought. Do you normally end up killing someone in these situations? Because if you do, I'd rather like it to be him.'

'What the hell are you playing at? Are you craz-' Jeremy abruptly shut up when Tommy jammed the gun tighter against his temple. Then he wet himself. It appeared that I had Tommy's attention.

'We've got to be quick, I suppose.' I said. 'Think of it like this. I could give you some money, and you could go. Or I could give you lots of money, plus this car. If you just don't hurt me, and leave me with the cell phone. Now, I know what you're going to say. Why should you do anything I say? Well, let's look at your options. Run now? We could both identify you. Shoot us both? The first gunshot will attract attention, and people will be looking out of their windows before the second is even fired. But you get him out of the car, get yourself in - sorry the seat's wet. Shoot him - and I mean stone dead - with the engine already running and be out of here in seconds. OK, so you'll have to ditch the car pretty sharpish, but I'll give you my cash and my credit cards. The blue one is nearly at its limit, so I'll report that stolen, don't use it. The others are all clear so you should get about twelve grand's-worth of spending done. I won't report them missing, I'll say I left them in England. Nobody will question the mistake. After all I'll be a confused widow by then. I'll say it was a white guy that shot asshole here,' I indicated Jeremy, lapsing quite easily into my Americanese, suspecting that it would annoy him as much as my plot to kill him. 'Two white guys with needle marks on their arms. Why should you trust me? Well, I'm in it up to my neck too now aren't I? If you go down, I go down. So it's vital that he's actually dead. What do you say, Tommy?'

I could see I'd convinced him. Crikey, I had some gumption all of a sudden, didn't I? Could it really be that Megan Tully from Waltham St Lawrence was bringing down some badass shit on the Westside of Vegas? Apparently so. Meg-peg was in the hood with her homeboy Tommy tonight.

It all happened pretty quickly after that. Jeremy and Tommy swapped places, the gun never leaving its mark. Once he was in the car, Tommy passed me the mobile phone. 'Wipe it,' he said, and I did. I had no interest in being able to trace him.

There was a moment's pause. Jeremy standing on one side of the car, me on the other, my accomplice in the drivers seat about to kill him. For an instant, Jeremy caught my eye.

'Why?' He asked.

'Because I want a traditional cream Aga, and there's no other way. Go Tommy!'

The BLAM! of the gun was insanely loud, and was followed by a screech of tyres as Tommy sped out of my life. 'Pleasure doing business with you.' I said.

Jeremy was quite dead. Much of his head was AWOL and was in fact sprayed over the wall behind him, and nobody can live like that.

I dialled 911, and then I began to sob. Huge shuddering sobs. It wasn't on purpose, I hadn't really thought that far ahead, but of course it did look good when people arrived at the scene, which seemed to happen very quickly. I was relieved that I could finally lay to rest all my fears and doubts. My children would not be beaten, as I had been. They would not grow up to be violent or to be victims of violence. I would no longer have to lie about bruises, cuts and broken bones. And all in all it had been a really topping wheeze. I couldn't feel any sorrow. I just felt the joy of being able to relax at last. If I could, I'd have bought a t-shirt that said 'I got widowed in Vegas!'

*****

You were right, earlier on, it is just an oven. Now it's just an oven, but only because it's cream. If it were blue it would be a whole lot more than that.

So that's my very own Aga saga. Life is good now. Fliss and JJ miss their father, of course, and I do too sometimes, but it's better this way. They're back here now for the holidays. When they each finish at their prep schools, I'll move them to a more local day school so they can live here, where they should be. JJ looks a little like his father, but not too much, and he's as gentle as a lamb.

I sometimes wonder how Tommy is getting on. I hope he's OK. I know that he spent nine grand on my credit cards, before the various companies contacted me questioning the change in spending habits. I hope he enjoyed every cent. It was well worth it.

I've played the grieving widow to the hilt, and it's given Waltham St. Lawrence something to talk about. I'm making a point of coming out of myself now. It's been six months and I'm allowing myself to be seen in the village wearing the occasional small, brave smile. Linda's been a brick, a really good friend. Often she comes round and we sit in my kitchen. She doesn't try to patronise me, like all the busybodies here, she just comes round and chats, and sometimes she says how nice my kitchen is.

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