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After the Rain

Kate Rose

‘Cup of tea?’

           ‘No,’ I said, my thumb circling the alarm button on my car keys.  

I’d better get Jonathan home.’

           Harry looked out of the living room window. ‘Their energy really is


           Our three year olds whizzed around the garden on balance bikes,

impervious to the drizzle.

           ‘And just when you really need it, it vanishes,’ I said.


             Jonathan attended the same nursery as Harry’s son. These play dates had become a regular occurrence. When my eldest two were young they’d been called teas. Now pushchairs were buggies, dummies were pacifiers, and dads were no longer silent on the subject of children’s extracurricular activities. Harry’s wife travelled frequently as a lawyer for the European Union. Harry taught my two eldest boys English at Abserscombe Boys School. So far, play dates appeared not to faze him at all.

            ‘Jonathan looks like you,’ Harry said, moving closer, one hand resting next to a wedding-day photograph of his wife. I’d not met Laura, or Law as Harry called her, spoken straight-faced like a joke long forgotten. A family portrait above the fireplace showed her smiling, eyes made to sparkle with a dash of white paint.

            ‘My other two looked like me until they were five. Then overnight, not a trace of me left!’

            ‘Five’s an interesting age. At five a child forgets almost everything that happened before.’ Harry’s gaze appeared to settle on the garden shed, a structure half-hidden by ivy. ‘This was somewhat of a blessing in my family.’ His eyes narrowed then he turned to me brightening. ‘But you must have the patience of a saint with three boys.’

            I sighed. Patience maybe bitter but the fruit is surely sweet. ‘It’s getting easier, now that they’re older. A few years back and a dream holiday was two weeks in a hotel room, alone. I’m still a twenty four hour an on-call domestic engineer, but they now thank me, at least occasionally.’


            Harry’s finger and thumb moved in circular motions against one another, as if rolling something unwanted into a ball. I leant forwards to look for my son but as I did Harry’s hand reached for mine, encasing it as though preventing the escape of a small, vulnerable creature.

           ‘Have dinner with me, Helen.’

            His hand was smooth. I felt foolishly worried about the texture of my own skin. Then three-year-old feet clomped up the back steps, breaking the absurdity of the moment. My hand was released and the boys brought inside the decay of autumn.

           ‘Mummy?’ Jonathan said, ‘What does Daddy do all day?’

            I dropped my eyes to a small hole on the rug. ‘He’s an accountant darling. He works with numbers.’

            Harry’s son tugged at his father’s trousers. ‘What do you do, Daddy?’

           ‘I’m an English teacher, James. I work with books,’ Harry studied me, ‘Books in which I try to understand                     people’s desires.’



My son babbled all the way home, talking in a heightened state he embodies after play dates, as if incredulous we’d been reunited. Jonathan, it’s fair to say, had been a surprise, at forty an exhausting one, but I relished a baby being in the house again, especially since the boys had became independent: cycling to and from school, their play dates replaced by copious amounts of homework. For a time the void had been filled by baking: lemon meringue pies, macaroons, baked Alaskas. I baked for friends’ parties. I sold occasion cakes to the local bakery; my daytime solitude was masked by the persistent smell of cooked fat and sugar. I put on two, persistent, stone. But once Jonathan was born I had less reason to escape into the comfort of ingredients. Baking returned to family puddings, school fairs.



The next day I helped my eldest with his English homework: Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Anthony preferred facts and formulas to interpretation but he always tried hard, even if he rarely had anything good to say about Mr Harding.

               ‘Mr Harding’s put a ban on rulers,’ he said, nonetheless underlying the title.

               I imagined this was a remnant from a public boarding school, or a traumatic childhood, or simply an eversion to straight, unassailable lines.

               I asked,

              ‘What does Mr Harding do if he catches you with a banned ruler?’

               ‘Makes us write an essay on why we should not break his rules.’

               ‘And have you, broken his rule?’

               ‘Talk about some other weirdo teacher, Mum. There’s plenty to choose from.’


              I made lasagne for supper and removed all the burnt bits before serving. Simon, my husband, detests people crunching food. A modern philosopher – I forget his name – says we are all mad in individual ways. Well, Simon has excused himself from many a dinner party table when someone was, God forbid, eating pork crackling or else hunks of meringue.

               But I admired my husband for being so self-contained, admired too his ability to spend hours alone. Solitude and its familiarity with loneliness had always frightened me.  I suppose each of my children has in turn saved me from it.

               After supper, Simon went to his study to work on his latest model. The aeroplanes hang from the ceiling like a flock of extinct birds. A Mid-21 ‘Damaged’ Fighter Jet is the latest – ‘damaged’ is his description, not mine. Longer than an hour with his family and Simon becomes irritable. Holidays are hard going. A week in August is usually enough.

James and Anthony shared a pomegranate and watched the World Cup before homework. As I was loading the dishwasher my phone buzzed.


              ‘I’ll get it,’ said James, my middle son, three boys having eroded my privacy; without hesitation they will interrupt a shower to ask where they can find the remote control.

               ‘No, I’ll get it,’ I said, retrieving the phone.

               Hello Helen, Tommy is asking if Jonny is free for a play date. How about Friday? Harry x

               Hi Harry, Jon has a doc’s appoint on Fri. Another day? H

               Drop him round after docs. It’s Friday after all! X

               I looked up, certain one of my boys would detect my excitement as a buzzing, tangible cloud about my head but James just pointed at the TV and said,

             ‘I thought we made up the rules for football?’

            ‘We did,’ I said. ‘A long time ago.’

            ‘Then why don’t we bother to follow them anymore?’



When isn’t there a delay at the doctors’ surgery? Is it the relief of having someone who will listen without judgment, and for free? Perhaps doctors are aware of the hopelessness of pouring one’s woes into a fifteen-minute slot. Perhaps the NHS could save millions with talking alone. I’m frequently visiting the surgery with one or other, usually injured, son but this particular day I was dressed unusually well in a wool and silk dress with low heels. By the time we left with Jonathan’s prescription for penicillin for an infection caused by – of all things – a plaster, the dress was beginning to stick to me. I knew I would need to bring up the dinner invite. Harry was wise enough not to be fired for fornicating with an ‘unwilling’ mother. He’d not been at Aberscombe that long, was doubtless surreptitiously being judged as suitable. It fell to me to demonstrate my willingness.



I parked my 4x4 next to Harry’s battered MG. An impractical car for someone with children but then Harry seemed above such things. He dressed in a tweed jacket with elbow patches and Oxford shoes in polished tan. He was, I suppose, an English gentleman, of the kind almost extinct. But his confident voice and his pale, lively green eyes made up for his style. I wondered what he thought of the expensive houses he visited on play dates: houses belonging to those who’d opted for banking over academia. Surely he knew academic schools produced something similar: children who veered from academia toward money.

               I applied lipstick: normally the reserve of a night out – something to draw a line between gallant servant and Helen. I rubbed my lips and turned back to undo Jonathan’s seatbelt.

               ‘You play nicely with James today.’

               Jonathan frowned at me. ‘I don’t want to go.’

               ‘But you love play dates, poppet, especially with James.’

               ‘I don’t like beans.’

               ‘Harry feeds you baked beans?’


               I would have to tell Harry that Jonathan didn’t like beans.

               I pressed the doorbell. If I looked down I would catch my shirt wafting to the rhythm of my heart.

               ‘Hello Little Jonathan,’ said Harry’s Hungarian nanny, looking up through the

length of her burgundy fringe.

              ‘Hello Mrs Strand.’

I tried to smile.

               ‘Six o’clock okay?’

               ‘Six. Yes, six is good.’ She flicked her hair back, revealed a broken,

heart-shaped tattoo on the inside of her arm.

              ‘Thank you, Sophia.’

               ‘Harry’s at the school for something so I’m staying late tonight.’

               ‘I see.’ But all I saw was only my own foolishness. ‘Six o’clock then.’

I walked back to the car without saying goodbye to Jonny, forgetting too that I hadn’t mentioned the beans. I felt almost bereft with disappointment. I put on Radio 4 and tried listening to a debate about the imminent interest rate rise. Opportunity for a fast economic recovery was apparently retreating like a mirage at the end of a long, parched desert.



At home I changed into a pair of jeans, baked some baklava and sat with a mug of coffee at Anthony’s computer preparing to Google Harry. Anthony had taught me how to Google. He said that everybody did it to learn embarrassing details about one another’s lives. I’d never had the urge, not until now.

I found dozens of Harry Hardings: Harry Harding from Baltimore, from Perth. Harry Hardings who loved adrenaline sports or social media marketing. How many desperate middle-aged women were simultaneously surfing the same Harry Hardings? Then on page four, a long time later, I found him.

Apparently Harry was due to bat on this year’s masters’ cricket team. They were to meet outside the school Pavilion at 10am. Just learning this I experienced a pathetic fluttering in my chest. Then I remembered Cambridge. I typed this in. In 1993, Harry Harding had received a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge. He had attended a private school in Gloucestershire. I looked this up - delighting in how easy it was becoming. Harry was head boy of a small independent school called The Meads: a romantic Georgian building set amongst acres of fields and forests. Its motto was: Rerum cognoscere causas. I even looked this up and discovered it meant: To understand the causes of things. He received four A grades at A’ level and two AS levels. Apart from telling me Harry was clever, however, the internet was a reluctant informer.

It was time to collect Johnnie and, this time, I didn’t even bother brushing my hair.



When Harry opened the door I said, ‘But where’s Sophia?’  He took it in is stride. Perhaps Cambridge teaches people this.

               ‘How are you, Helen?’ he asked.

               ‘Sorry,’ I said,  ‘I have a headache.’

               I followed him into the living room, a room awash with the spent debris of three-year-olds. He began talking about an earlier incident with a plate of macaroni and a truck. I struggled to listen. Harry was new at the school. His wife was beautiful. I had imagined the spark. I’d go back to the doctors’ surgery, see if there was something I could take: a prescription for housewives prone to juvenile fantasies.

               ‘They’ve had fun.’

               I resolved to escape quickly.

               ‘Cup of tea?’

I couldn’t respond.

          ‘They’re upstairs, playing.’

           ‘Okay tea. Thank you. They do seem quiet.’

           ‘And we know what that means.’

I stared back blankly.

           ‘Mischief, Helen. Mischief!’

He returned with the tea in a mug that read, ‘I’m the boss’ and placed it on an occasion table next to a photograph of his wife and daughter, skiing. They beamed up at me like a winter holiday advert. I had never quite seen the point to skiing.

               ‘So,’ he said, sitting beside me. ‘Did you consider my invitation?’

Before the blush came my relief: I wasn’t loosing my mind.

               ‘It still stands.’

I looked toward the French doors where a magpie was changing colours in a brief burst of sunlight.

               ‘I’d like that,’ I said.

               ‘How about next Wednesday? Law is away in Brussels. I could meet you there.’


               ‘A favourite place of mine in town.’

               ‘Okay then.’


He took my hand and shook it as if closing a business deal, only the last minute hand-squeeze reminded me a woman of forty three could still experience a fluttering sensation between one rib and another. Of course, now I see my first assumption was closer to the truth: for Harry it was another arrangement, one made without guilt or shame.


The day arrived and it seemed my elder sons’ intuitiveness was declining in relationship to their interest in computer games. Only my youngest son noticed a difference.

          ‘Mama,’ you smell like Christmas. Is it Christmas soon?’

After the boys had eaten, I entered Simon’s office. He showed me the damaged fighter jet.

          ‘You’ve nearly finished,’ I said.

          ‘Almost,’ he said.

          ‘I’m leaving soon.’


          'I’m going out. With Marina.’ Marina was a South American mother of one of my son’s friends who plied me with tequila in order to rant about her sexless marriage.

           ‘Poor you,’ Simon said.  ‘Where are you going?’

           ‘The usual Tex Mex restaurant. You shouldn’t wait up.’

           ‘I won’t.’ He looked up frowning.

           ‘You look younger,’ he said, casting an eye over my new dress, one I’d bought in a sale.

           ‘Red, it suits you.’

Simon is not given to compliments. He once said my eyes were like a shallow, sandy-bottomed ocean and I held on tightly to this for many years.

               ‘Should redheads wear red?’ said Anthony, my eldest, appearing at the door.

               ‘At my age I’m entitled to wear whatever I like.’

Anthony pulled a face. ‘Oh, beware the scarlet woman!’

I trawled Waitrose for three-for-two offers and yet tonight indulged in a taxi into town. I smoothed down my dress dozens of time before reaching Covent Garden. The restaurant was called ‘Rules’. At the time I was impressed by the façade.



‘Helen, you look beautiful.’

               ‘Sorry I’m late.’

               ‘You’re not. I’m early. Drinks at Aberscombe were terribly dull. I’m a little ahead of you though.

               Big G, little t? Or vodka?’

               ‘Tequila please.’ I still had Tex Mex on my mind. ‘Interesting place.’

               ‘Oldest restaurant in London. Dickens used to be a regular here.’


               ‘And they do some good game.’

               I drank several tequilas before my starter arrived. When my second glass of wine was poured, accompanying braised roe deer – cooked too rare - I knocked it crashing to the floor.

               ‘What’s your name?’ Harry asked the waiter who changed the cloth with its lurid stain.

               ‘Sin,’ he said. ‘From Surinder. I was born in India, sir.’

               ‘Thank you, Sin, for rescuing my girlfriend. Not a drop on her beautiful dress.’



We left the restaurant and the skies decanted a torrential spring downpour on the London streets creating a cloying smell. It was the rain to start and end abruptly, but as neither of us had an umbrella, we sheltered in the doorway of a Cashmere shop. Harry put his arm around me. I swayed at his side. A black taxi rattled by, throwing spray against my legs. After I had brushed my tights, Harry pulled me closer and we kissed. His lips were fuller than Simon’s. I delighted in the touch of his tongue against mine, warm and inquisitive. My entire body throbbed, longing to engulf him. It wasn’t until a policeman walked by, walkie-talkie crackling into life, that the outside world burst back in again. By then, Harry had his hand on my inner thigh.

               ‘Should we?’

               But Harry shook his head. ‘I’m helpless,’ he said, ‘It’s this beautiful dress. It’s your scent. I should explain about Law. She fell pregnant when we were both in our last year at Cambridge. I did the honourable thing, but it had been a miscalculation. She wasn’t pregnant. Her old man had by then coughed up for a lavish wedding and bought us a flat in Highgate as a wedding present. I’d just started my first teaching job and it became, well, convenient. But this isn’t convenient, Helen. I hadn’t expected this. Life, it wakes you up and here I am: awake. Infatuated but awake!’

He pushed against the shop door, kissing me harder but I pulled back.

            ‘Harry,’ I said. ‘I’m a mother. I… I define my self-worth through… through my children.’

He kissed my neck. ‘You’re a wonderful mother.’

            ‘My husband... Well, we met at a school reunion. He put his coat over my shoulders and we went out for some air and I thought this better be it because I couldn’t go through this forced intimacy ever again.’

 But Harry was lifting my skirt, unzipping his flies, silencing me with his lips. And I did nothing to prevent him treating me like a prostitute, me a mother of three with a penchant for baking. I performed, you might say, what was expected of me.

               Later, I crawled in bed next to Simon and formed a small, insignificant comma at his side.



Two days later I came up with a reason for visiting. I left Jonathan in the car and knocked on Harry’s front door.

               ‘Hi,’ I said. ‘I thought James might be needing these.’ I handed over the wellington boots left at ours on a previous play date.

               Harry took them. ‘Thanks so much, Helen, but you’ll have to excuse me. I have something on the hob.’

               He closed the door. The anger in my throat burnt like an infection. In the car Jonathan babbled words I couldn’t assimilate. I pulled away at speed and had to brake sharply as a woman crossed at the junction. She tapped on my window.

               ‘Hello, Mrs Harris, it’s Sophia, Harry’s old nanny,’ she said as I wound down the window.

               ‘Hello Sophia,’ I said, keeping my gaze fixed ahead in an attempt to conceal my shame.

               ‘He hurt me very much,’ she said. ‘He played with my feelings like a cat toys with little mouse.’

               I turned to her, noticing again the broken heart tattoo on her arm. ‘What?’

               ‘Harry. Mr Harding. He’s a very wicked man.’



I next saw Harry at end of year play. My eldest son was involved in the lighting whilst my middle son was playing Doctor Faustus. James was the shiest of my sons so it was some comfort to think he’d found confidence through the medium of acting. We all find confidence in different ways. For me it was children. For Simon accountancy. Perhaps for Harry it was Cambridge. I knew from Google, Harry was younger than me, yet his presence, his erodible charm, made him seem several years older.

               I made another effort with my appearance, though not at the prospect of another fuck in a shop doorway. No new dress this time. I was struggling to forgive myself for the last. Funny that the guilt should relate to the money.

               Simon went up to change a light bulb in our bedroom before we left. Jonathan’s babysitter was already established in front of Eastenders, knitting needles duelling. I sat at the kitchen table and opened Anthony’s laptop and, hardly aware of my fingers, I typed in Harry Harding, Highgate. The third listing said:

               ‘Harry Harding, Head of English at Highgate College, resigned following the emergence of allegations of numerous affairs with the mothers of pupils at the…’

               I snapped the laptop shut. I fetched a glass of water. I could not help myself. I sat down again and reawakened the computer.

               Mr Harding (38) denied the allegations, claiming he was happily married. “I cannot help it if certain mothers have delusional thoughts concerning their child’s teacher. I am a teacher at this school, nothing more, and I am dedicated to my job.” Mr Harding resigned from his position as head of English at the exclusive, fifteen thousand pound a year school. Mrs Kendall’s husband, CEO of Zion Technologies, called Mr Harding “An opportunist.”

               I slugged for a gin bottle in the drinks’ cupboard and stood half-slumped against the coat stand, waiting for Simon to come downstairs, which he eventually did carrying the fused bulb.



‘Why this is hell, nor am I out of it…’

               My wonderful shy son proved amazing.

               ‘Wasn’t he good?’ I whispered to Simon.

               ‘Surprisingly,’ he said.

               Turning back to the stage I spotted Harry and his wife in the front row. Law wore a blonde bob and pearl necklace. She applauded extravagantly and whispered something into her husband’s ear. He brought her hand to his lips. On the final curtain call he kissed her; not the action of a husband no longer in love his wife and fucking another member of the audience, but a slow affectionate kiss.

               In the delay between the stage lights going off and the hall lights coming on the darkness momentarily suffocated. An oppressive, inescapable madness. I felt numb with terror for I knew that it contained his madness as much as my own and it was a madness worse than all of Simon’s idiosyncrasies put together: a thick, encompassing, utterly inescapable force, devoid of all conscience.



Afterwards, Simon and I stood outside, waiting for our boys.

               ‘Pity about that woman next to me crunching sweets,’ said Simon. ‘I nearly got up and left -’

               ‘But you didn’t,’ I said.

               ‘No, I didn’t.’

               ‘Helen Harris!’ cried Marina, crossing the courtyard with her impotent husband.

‘Did South America throw a party when she left?’ whispered Simon.

Marina hugged me voraciously. ‘Wasn’t your James marvellous?’

               ‘He certainly surprised us.’

               ‘Mr Harding chose the play because he met his wife at the opening of Doctor Faustus, at the Globe. She had apparently just graduated from UCL and was out celebrating with her sister who was dating the director or producer or something. Romantic eh? Better than us, Leo. We met at a carwash. Listen Helen, must do another of those Tex Mex nights. Been too long.’

               ‘Yes,’ I said watching Harry walk past, holding his wife’s hand. ‘We must.’




Kate Ewing Rose has previously published short stories in the EDWG Anthologies I and II, the Fish online anthology and the Five Stop Story App. Kate currently has an historical fiction novel, set in Georgian London, with an agent.



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