We just published a new book, called A Shameful Obsession (61 pages in print). It’s about the middle-aged headmaster of a village school who becomes obsessed by his new neighbour. There is plenty of voyeurism and fetish & power play in it.
Dennis Hobson is the well-respected headmaster of the village school. Already in his fifties he is happily married and enjoying a calm and peaceful life that is filled with nature, classical music and literature. One day though, out of the blue, he has a most disturbing run-in with a woman on the train from Manchester to York.
Months later the same woman walks into his classroom. She doesn’t recognize him, but he does remember her. How could he not? The long blonde hair, the shapely legs in heels and nylons and most of all those steely blue eyes that scare him all over again and tell him that his life as he knows it might be over.
The classroom door opened. Late, Dennis Hobson thought, as he looked over the rim of his glasses, curious to see who it was. The girl who came in was a c***d he had never seen before though. The new girl, it must be her. What was her name again? Amanda Stanton? No, Esmeralda Stanton, but spelled differently, in two parts, Es Meralda. Who would give their c***d a name like that? All this going through his head in the two seconds it took for the eight year old to come through the door. She was followed by an adult, a young woman with long blonde hair who took off her sunglasses and looked at him from across the room. The moment Dennis Hobson saw her steely blue eyes he knew he had seen her before. That was not all he knew though. He also knew where and when he’d seen her and why he felt scared all of a sudden.
It was three months ago on the train from Manchester to York. He had been on his way home from the teachers’ convention that he had expected so much of, but turned out to be quite tedious and disappointing. He recalled how he had run across the platform, hurrying to catch the train, even though there would be another one fifteen minutes later. It was just that he had been so eager to get out of the city and go back home to his loving wife Margaret and the school in their village where the c******n were still well-behaved. After hearing so many horror stories from colleagues at the convention he had felt like the luckiest man alive to be working in a small village where, unlike in the cities, everybody still knew each other and respect was at the core of every interaction.
So he had made the 17h17 train to York, where his car was parked. From there it was still a long drive up into the Yorkshire Dales. Main roads at first, but then winding country lanes. A pretty landscape and his car had a good sound system too, so he usually enjoyed the drive, passing through valleys and quaint villages while listening to chamber music or cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. First there was the train ride to York though, with stops in cities like Leeds and Huddersfield. He had been reading Oliver Twist again, so he had planned to focus on his book in order to keep the crowd on the train at a distance.
It had rained that day, he recalled now. Grey, miserable weather that had reminded him of November, but the trees had leaves and there were flowers in the gardens of the houses that they passed. He hadn’t looked out of the window much though and he had also hardly opened his book. No, what happened, he had walked through the aisle, looking for an empty seat and when he had found one he had got busy with his coat and bag that he had stowed above his head. It was only then that he had noticed the woman, this woman who was now in his classroom.
Back in May, on the train, she had sat opposite of him, looking at her phone like everybody else. Thirty years old perhaps, with long blonde hair. She had glanced up at him and given him a look of disapproval with those steely, blue eyes. Arrogant and easily annoyed by everything around her. He remembered thinking how he missed the old days when people still talked to one another on the train. Nowadays you couldn’t even smile at your neighbor anymore or he or she would be suspicious and offended.
As the train had left Manchester Victoria he glanced at the woman again and imagined describing her to his wife Margaret, starting out with the way she was dressed. Take the leopard print blouse, he would say to Margaret, could it be more tacky? When had those got back in fashion? And what about her nails? So long and bright red, what was that good for? Margaret would shake her head and agree with him. Thirty years of marriage and they were still on the same page about almost everything.
The young woman had a long coat draped over her knees, but he could see her shoes and ankles. She was wearing high heels so he had said to Margaret: ‘Could you imagine that? Wearing those in the Dales?’
And Margaret would say: ‘Go hiking in them and stumble into the pub afterwards. Everybody staring.’
He had smiled at the thought, but just then the woman had looked at him and raised her eyebrows. Still not friendly at all. It had given him an odd feeling, as if she had caught him looking at her shoes and had scolded him. He had felt the b***d rush to his cheeks and had looked out the window until they arrived in Huddersfield. Well, had he really though? No, he was thinking now, mostly he had continued to study the woman in the reflection of the window. The thing was, she was pretty and could even be beautiful if she would dress differently. Get rid of those nails and heels, remove the make-up, wear different clothes and most of all, smile instead of look so surly.
The man sitting next to the woman got off the train in Huddersfield. When no one took his seat the woman had put her coat there and that’s when he got a first good look at her legs. She was wearing a miniskirt, he saw now. God, so tacky too. A leopard print blouse, high heels and a black miniskirt. What would Margaret say about this? He had trouble imagining it now, because his eyes seemed somehow glued to the woman’s legs. They were long and looked beautiful, he had to admit. Shapely calves and full, long thighs. She was wearing nylons too, sheer ones and hardly visible even though her legs were on full display and just a few feet away from him. In his mind he said to Margaret, what do you think? Is it decent to show off your legs like this? And Margaret would chuckle and say that he seemed to rather like them, especially because she was wearing nylons. His wife referring to his teenage crush on aunt Betsy and her stockings. He had once told her about it, maybe twenty years ago, but she still liked to tease him with it. He had been thinking about all this when a voice had interrupted his thoughts.
‘Excuse me, sir.’ And then again, more insisting: ‘Excuse me!’
It had taken him a moment to realize that it was the woman’s voice and that she was talking to him. He had looked up then, straight into her blue eyes and that’s when she had said: ‘You’re staring at my legs. Would you mind?’
Other passengers had looked at him too, some of them sniggering. He had blushed and stammered an apology and in a matter of seconds a sweat had broken out on his forehead. It had been deeply embarrassing, the way he had gone from making fun of her in his mind to being humiliated by her in public. He had apologized and stared out the window, this time for real, and in Leeds he had got off the train. While he had waited for the next one he had a drink to calm his nerves and repeatedly told himself it was over now. To the people on the train he had been just another middle aged man in a raincoat. Perhaps some of them would tell their loved ones about the incident, probably have a good laugh about it too, but tomorrow not one of them would even recognize him. As for the people who did know him, the people in the village, they were hours away, up north in the valley. They would never find out about this.
That’s what he had thought back then, but now she was here in his classroom with a little girl by her side. She introduced herself, saying: ‘Hi, I’m Natalie Stanton and this is Es Meralda.’
She doesn’t remember, Dennis thought, and the sense of relief that washed over him was overwhelming. He cleared his throat and told her his name. The woman smiled and seemed nice enough now. Briefly he wondered if he was mistaken. Perhaps it hadn’t been her after all, but no, she began to tell him that they had moved to the village this summer. They had lived in York, she said, but she’d had to go to Manchester for work quite a lot. Then she’d had a lucky break and found a job and a house here. She explained that her uncle owned the real estate agency behind the church. Business was booming and he had asked her to become his partner. Dennis had seen the office. The other day he walked past it. The fact that business was booming was because of the new road that was changing their village so much. Before they had been isolated and among themselves, now the closest town was less than half an hour away. Outsiders were moving to their village these days, saying it was traditional and authentic and an easy drive to their office in town. This woman Natalie didn’t need to commute though. She was renting the cottage on Bakery Lane, she said, and had moved in just a couple of days ago. Dennis’s heart sank a little deeper. That used to be Mrs. Scott’s house and it was right behind theirs, which meant that Margaret would undoubtedly meet this woman too. This was going to cause trouble, he could feel it in his bones. The only good thing was that the woman didn’t remember him. He was pretty sure of that now.
They shifted their attention to Es Meralda who wasn’t shy at all. She had already been talking to little Steven Butcher and was now pulling a toy out of his hands. Steven tried to take it back but the girl pushed him away. Both of them looked at the adults then.
‘Es Meralda is new here,’ the woman said before Dennis could get a word in. ‘Why don’t you let her play with it for a while?’
Now Steven Butcher was looking at Dennis who felt lost for words. What should he do? Normally he wouldn’t hesitate to overrule the woman. This was his classroom and in here the c******n abided by his rules. There was no doubt in his mind that the little girl needed to be set straight. New or not, she couldn’t come in here and just take a toy from another c***d. So why didn’t he say something? Why did it feel as if he were paralyzed? He looked at the woman, saw that the expression in her blue eyes had hardened now. It reminded him of the look she had given him on the train. A chill went through his spine and feeling utterly disgusted with himself, he turned to little Steven Butcher and told him to go look for another toy.