All afternoon the music extended like an awning from the side rooms of the house next door, casting a shadow. The children suspected the Maxwells kept a full-fledged orchestra expressly for Sunday’s infernal purpose. Their house was large and no one but the Maxwells had ever been inside and there were just the two of them… The hidden orchestra didn’t seem entirely unreal. Every Sunday after lunch they were forced into communion with it, ordered to stay out of the house and their mother’s hair for the duration. They slunk down to the bottom yard and batted an old tennis ball under the house, then trampled the gully of nasturtiums that ran alongside the neighbour’s high shutters. Dirges pummelled the air.
‘Crazy Maxwell! Crazy Maxwell!’ they called into the din, her name adding a smear of masculinity to the madness.
When their mother came down at five to water the plants, she said, ‘It’s just Mrs Maxwell playing her records. Now leave her be.’ She never allowed that sort of thing anyhow, but occasionally tolerated the older boys hurtling mild, humorous insults at the neighbours on the other side of the house. So long as no one heard and there was a shred of truth to what was said, it was all good fun.
But Mrs Maxwell’s madness was never to be made fun of because there was more than a shred of truth to it, which the children gleaned not from what was said but ...
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