Roads twisted out from Woodhouse Eaves and disappeared up into the scalloped horizons of Charnwood. In this village, large dormer windows of affluence peered like bank manager’s eyes between high columns of privit and private trees. Before these, banks of poplars were stacked up like cut-outs from a child’s theatre.
Woodhouse Eaves was had been the epicentre of a tremor in 1839. In 1893 on 4th August the same village was focal point of the first impulse in a twin earthquake.
In the village a road lay awash with sunlight.
On one side of the road was a Lyon’s Maid shop frilled with a salmon pink shutter like an old ladies underskirt.
On the other side were many solubrious residences. One of these, a cottage, had arched doors framed in ivy and two victorian lamposts standing before its country garden gate. Into this Arthur Rackham dwelling David Basnett had moved two weeks ago.
Since his arrival his mental state had vassilated between semi-clarity and confusion. When the harpies descended singing songs of Claudia and scarves he fought them from his mind, which exhausted him. After the flashback in the train and the meeting with Roger he had decided not to try to remember, or to speculate any more about it. Unfortunately there were times when he couldn’t stop treadmilling on his darkest thoughts so he took immediate recourse to the best devil-blocker he knew: since his arrival he had been drunk.
Of the village pubs, David’s choice, ‘the Bull’s head’, had turned out lucky for him. On his second night there he had met Krystle Meidner, or to be more precise, Krystle Meidner had met him.
It was as if he had known her for years, yet couldn’t quite remember how she came to be living in the house. She arranged her days in the same way that she spoke; matter-of-factly, precise, cool, no more and no less. She knew what she wanted to say, and she said it. Her voice, like the way she dressed, was scando-american, but her mane of platinum blonde, with a bulging fringe overhanging her rapacious blue eyes was – like her nationality – pure swedish. She was stunning. He recalled some pickings about her past. She’d had some mad affair with a boy called Klaus whom she’d toured Europe with on a motorbike, whom she claimed had broken her heart. She seemed uninterested in money, and he found out later that her father, the founder of a Swedish microchip company, always wired through what she wanted, so he wasn’t surprised. Krystle lacked curiosity about David’s past, which he liked: it was very tedious to tell people what you were going to do when you grew up when you were thirty nine.
He had woke in the middle of the afternoon and found she was searching him with her eyes. He reciprocated. A perfect head, adorned with swathes of sensuous hair, floated elegantly on her long neck. She was probably the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
She was ambitious is a hopeless sort of way. She often talked about how she would be revered in the future for her artistic work but from what David had seen she wasn’t even a reasonable amateur. He wouldn’t ruin her dream. She dropped her penetrating stare and continued with her drawing of his face.
It took fifteen minutes for the silence to be broken. She asked him if he felt any better for all the whisky he had been drinking. He laughed.
“I’ll make a meal,” she said, and sharpening her pencil in a rather robotic series of movements, “I’ll make a Neopolitan Spagetti. It will do you good. Its okay. I’ll shall go for the shopping. You don’t have to come. I like to spoil you.”
“I thought you had learnt not to be dominated by men? I wouldn’t say that was very Germaine Greer.”
“Why ever not. If I want to make you a meal. That’s cool.”
“Don’t you move. I’ll be finished in five minutes,” she said.
Presently – despite her protestations that she still hadn’t finished – he sat up on the bed, rubbed his cheeks into his head with his hands and groaned. She watched him and then came over and sat next to him. She showed him her drawing. He smiled and then took the sketch pad off her and gave it a more studied look. He praised it with as much sincerety as he could muster at four fifteen in the afternoon.
“Very nice drawing, shame about the model,” he said.
“You’re a very superficial person but I like you,” she said after studying her own drawing.
She turned and stroked her fingers under his chin, and they then began to unbutton his shirt. He pushed her away. He struggled up and went to look for a whisky. There wasn’t any, she told him.
She put her sketchpad in the drawer, stepped over some dirty clothes that David had left lying on the floor and went into the hall. She could see David slugging back the remains out of a sherry bottle.
“I’m going to get the grub. You will be here when I get back?”
He was laughing at her coloquialism. He looked at his watch. He was checking out opening time.
“If you’re not here I’ll eat it on my own. You need some food – you’ve not eaten anything in the past few days. You look very ill – you’re a wreck.”
“You know what its like. I feel rough. I just need to have one or two to ease up.”
“You are a real zombie, you are.” She walked into the kitchen, gripped him, and then danced her fingers around his waist. She took the bottle away from his lips.”
“Not now Krystle. Later,” he said.
“You’re too old,” she tutted.
She pirouetted round, like a may pole girl in slow motion and went to the closet to get her coat. David heard the front door close. He went to the window and watched her walk off across the road. He didn’t quite know who she was. The thought worried him him.
He had laid the table when she returned and was feeling slightly easier in his now lubricated mind. Thoughts were now joining together and ideas were coming thick and fast. Conversation was difficult when he was sober. In drink he was fluent, articulate and original; at least he thought so anyway. An hour later they sat in front of an aubergine, the air rich with garlic.
David trained his eyes on the apparition that lived with him. He remembered her coming back on his second night in the village and falling into bed with him. She almost devoured him. She had been in the house ever since. She had an English degree, she had told him, and had taught in TEFL schools, but now had no job. She had made a detour to Charnwood on her way up north, to see the English fox hunting country. She had recently returned from a hitching trip around Europe (this time alone). She’d had a bad time in Paris. He couldn’t remember why. Without meeting her what would he have done? What he had done: got drunk everynight. Probably – but it would have been different.
Maybe this girl was his life raft. She seemed to understand him so well without him having to explain. He knew he’d never met her before and yet she seemed so familiar. He said this to her and she smiled.
“Other men have said the same thing. Its my art that makes me know everyone so.”
He thought her comment laughably pretentious but he didn’t say so. People at 25, and below, have a sort of right to pretentiousness.
“You approve of me, then?” she said, rolling her eyes under her fringe.
“I’ve just been thinking about you. I’m glad you’re here.”
“You’re a – how do you say – a peculiar fish.”
“Not exactly a fish. Are you commenting on my hygiene?”
She laughed. “Listen, I worry about you. What was upsetting you in bed the other night.”
He looked blank.
“You were crying. You were crying and saying things. About someone. About Claudia. Who is she?”
David’s fork momentarily froze on the way to his mouth. He looked away from Krystle’s gaze, but he knew she had noticed. Calm down. Don’t think about it. Everything will be okay in a minute.
“You don’t like that.”
“She an ex-lover? A wife?”
“I really don’t want to talk about it. Okay.”
“You’re another spoilt man, aren’t you? Soft and afraid. I pity you but you’re very sweet. There’s something about you that’s so unhappy. Why are you so frightened of being yourself? Do you know who you are?”
“Do I know who I am?” He laughed, “Don’t get philosophical.”
“Why not? Its surely better than being a cynic. Than being boorish and drinking all the time. That’s what seems to happen to men in England after the age of thirty. Whatever happens to the dream of when they were little boys. Their ideals? Why do men then become so weak and wimpy when they are single? And why do they grow so like monsters when they’re not? In their youth its all fame and fortune and like wanting to be Jason of the Argonauts. When they become men the only Golden fleece they ever go to is the one that sells beer.”
Krystle persuaded him not to go to the pub that night but as part of the deal he was allowed a few bottles at home. Later when she made love to him he noticed that he wasn’t as fit as he used to be.
Many hours later in the early hours of the morning he stumbled to the bathroom. He returned through the intervening passage and pushed open the door into the bedroom. Krystles motionless form was touched by the light that trickled through the window.
Something caught his eye on the other side of the room.
It was a pin prick of light.
He couldn’t make out what it was. It was miniscule but very bright. It was like a circular star. It was gradually getting larger, with no lessening of its brightness. It was growing. It was growing larger and larger. It was becoming enormous and still growing.
It was enveloping him, and still increasing. It was upon him. White light everywhere. A burst of fear made him stumble, and somehow he found the light switch.
Once the light was on normality returned.
He heard a burst of angry Swedish; Krystle was sitting bolt upright in bed, now asking him in sarcastic English what he thought he was doing.
He sat on the bed.
“Tell me what are you doing?”
He would have told her, but she’d just say he’d drank too much. He had never seen a star inside a room before.
He switched the light off and pulled himself as close to her as he could get. He was shaking.
“Come on, now. Have you had a bad dream. There there. Come on now. Tomorrow everything will be alright.” She stroked and reassured him as if he were a child.
“I love you,” he said.
“You’d love anyone. You are so desperate and lonely.”
“I love you,” he said burrowing deeper into her neck. “I love you now. This minute more than anything I’ve ever loved.”
“Don’t fret so,” she said and squeezed him.
Fingers of frost groped along the edge of the window panes: David woke feeling cold and old. He forced himself up and made some breakfast.
Everyday he noticed more things about the house: the wainscotting particularly appealed to him today. He wished that he could be transformed by the house’s style, like an actor is by his scenery, but he knew that he and this environment were hopelessly mismatched: it was untenable for a twentieth century transient to fit happily into nineteenth century permanance.
When he had arrived the electricity had still been connected. The water he’d put back on himself. Since then a few bills had piled up but nothing too bad. Everything seemed to be okay, and there were no immediate wolves at the door. He also knew he should ring his father, and tell him everything was okay, but it was alot of hassle. He didn’t ring; he didn’t want to talk about the crummy executive job. He’d call him some other time. He found a cigarette in Krystle’s bag.
He’d go for a walk? He’d finish off ‘Brighton Rock?’ He’d do some drawing and show Krystle how it was really done? He had done a lot of life drawing when he was studying at the Canterbury, and he had been good. But what was the point? He didn’t need to prove that he could do it, he knew he could, so why bother.
It was almost eleven. He’d just slip over the pub and have a chat with Danny, the landord. He’d only have one.
Krystle stood in slippers; her body was draped with an old oversize shirt. David stared at this sexy young thing. He told her he was going out.
“Sit down. Drink is out for summer today. No drink.”
“Oh come on. If I’d have gone five minutes ago I’d have made it.”
She pushed him into a seat. “No. And when I say no….” She wagged her finger at him.
“But I’m going to suffer. I’ll be unbearable to be with.”
“You are always unbearable to be with.”
She wiped away all his further comments with her hand. Later she said they would go for a walk to Broomsbriggs farm, a local beauty spot. David shrugged his shoulders. She rationalised it so: she’d never seen him without a hangover, he’d never seen her when he’d been completely sober. He reluctantly conceeded the point.
But they never went. When Krystle went out to buy some milk she returned with the rain. It began as a drizzle which grew into an unending downpour and quashed all hopes of escaping out into the sober countryside. She wanted to draw him, but he would only agree if she went to get him some cans. She refused. He refused. She left him sitting on the bed and went in the kitchen and wrote to a friend in Munich.
From a crumbling book shelf David found several books that he tried to read. ‘Hereward the Wake’, which he’d read when a boy kept him occupied for twenty minutes, no longer. He told Krystle he was going to get some cigarettes.
“Look, tomorrow you can get as drunk as you like, but not today. Okay?”
“But I need some cigarettes.”
“I’ll go out and get some cigarettes. I just want to see you sober for one day, thats all.”
“You’ll get soaked.”
“It is okay. I like the rain. In my last life I was a duck,” she made a series of quacking noises. “Now you listen: there’s still some sherry left that I saved. I don’t want you to drink it while I’m out in the shops. I only ask one thing. I want you to go sober for a day. Okay?” She put on one of Aunt Anne’s raincoats from the closet under the stairs and left.
He wrestled with the idea of sherry for a while but he’d do what she asked. If he found he couldn’t cope he could always change his mind. What was it they said: One day at a time. In his case it was one hour at a time. He tried to sleep but couldn’t. His thoughts were tangled and panicky. It had been so long since he’d allowed himself the come-down of a hang-over that he’d forgotten how bad they were. They seemed to get worse everytime. He felt as if his mind was peeling off the wall.
Later, on hearing the Krystal knocking, he went out into the hall pulled back the door.
The face that was revealed to him was school tradgedy.
It wasn’t Krystle’s that waited outside in the blustering wet but a face that could only fall out of dreams. The wind had tossed up her hair and it had rain-glued itself to her cheeks. Compliance and surrender ran as always in those eyes. This Brownie snapshot occasionally blinked and became real. It was Vivien. It took him an eternity – a second – to recognise his wife.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” She asked in a low, purry voice wiping the rain from her forehead.
He grunted but remained obstructing the doorway. Suddenly, like a waxwork jerking to life he beckoned her to follow him. “Come in,” he said.
“I’m sorry about the shock,” she said.
In the kitchen he went straight to the refridgerator and poured out two full measures of sherry, emptying the bottle. He tried to remain as calm as he could but he knew she was watching, waiting to find some fault, some inadequacy – and damn it why did his hands keep shaking.
“I’m sorry to spring this on you,” she said, as he placed the sherry in front of her,”You look quite white. Do you want me to go.”
He looked up from the sherry glasses on the formica table top and shifted his gaze onto her face. He could only connect briefly into those hot confiding eyes. They hadn’t changed. He felt her pity oozing all over the room. Damn her. She had crinkled a little, but it hadn’t damaged her. The face held a new wisdom, a laughing assurance. There had been some selling out. She was rougher, and he could see much stronger, more willful. Perhaps she had abandoned her noble feelings.
“What do you want?”
“Do you mind if I dry my jacket by the stove. I’m wet.”
He took a sip of the sherry.
“What do you want?” he said. “You must want something. I haven’t seen you for years, and suddenly you turn up in a place where nobody knows I am.”
“I don’t really want anything.”
“How are you, David?” she asked a moment later.
“How do I look?”
“I’ve seen you look better.”
“Don’t fret. There’s a picture of me in the attic that looks beautiful.”
“Your father phoned me in London. He asked me to come and see you.”
“What the bloody hell for?” he said angrily, “Has he suddenly decided to completely interfere with my life?”
“He’s worried about you.”
“Its a bit late for that. He should have done a bit more worrying when I was a kid. What are you doing here? I must be seeing things again. Come on, whats all this about? It must be something important for you to come over and find me after ten years.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking down.
“Ah, you’ve come to seek forgiveness. Is that it? Okay. I forgive you – now piss off.”
“You’re father rang me. I’ve heard so much about him; it was really peculiar to hear him speaking. We spoke for a long time. He must have got my prvate phone number from work. He said that he’d offered you a job running some big company. You’d turned it down. He said he’d like me to come up to the midlands and talk to you. He seems to think you’re in some kind of trouble.”
“That’s incredible. I’ve heard of stooping low. He decided he’d get my wife to persuade me! I can’t believe it. How much did he pay you?”
“Come on, David. Give me a chance. I came here on my own free will. I have always felt bad about…about things. About what happened. I admit it. I felt this was a way of sorting things out between us. I wanted to get away from London for a while so I came to Hinckley to see you. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve been staying in your flat.”
“So he knows I’ve moved here?”
“When I arrived at your flat you weren’t there. The door wasn’t closed so I went in. Your flat was in an awful mess so I rang your father at his Birmingham hotel. I stayed at your flat for a night waiting for you to come back. In the end I realised you weren’t going to return and that your father was right – for some reason you’d come over here to Woodhouse. He said you had the key. I didn’t know whether to come or not. At last I decided I had to come and see you. I’m not sure why. Do you want me to go.”
“I need a drink. A good strong stiff one. The strongest drink I’ve ever had.”
“You don’t seem your happy old self at all.”
A moment later Krystle returned from shopping. As he let her in, David explained who had arrived. In the kitchen she strode up to Vivien and said, “I wish you hadn’t arrived today. I was trying to keep him sober. Now I’ll never do it.”
Vivien lifted her eyes to Krystle’s. They connected with each other like two north magnets, continually dancing to avoid real confrontation. At last Vivien spoke. “I’m sorry for that.”
“This is Krystle,” said David.
“I didn’t realise the cavalry had already arrived. Your father never mentioned this. I’ll go.”
No one spoke.
“Before I go,” said Vivien, “there’s some mail that has collected in your flat over the past couple of weeks. I’ve brought it over.” She unclasped her handbag and placed several white and brown envelopes on the breakfast table.
“As you have no interest in talking things over, David, its pointless for me to stick around. I’ll go,” said Vivien.
“What do you mean? Talking things over?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Are you serious?”
“Have you ever talked to anyone about it?”
“I don’t know how you can…..”
“I think you should.”
“No. I think we should.”
“I hope things work out for you, David,” Vivien said a moment later, looking down from his face. Her nimble hands closed her handbag. There was something different about David these days, she thought. Yes, he was a lot more desperate, and had more than a hint of violence in his eyes. She had seen his violence before, but this was different. He was on the verge of conflagration; ready to ignite through frustration, yet emasculated in some way. He was tired. He must hate her. The past was blocked up inside him making him ineffective.
She smiled again but met with no warmth from either face.
Once her jacket was back in place, she gently brushed Krystle aside and headed to the front door. David followed and watched her exit into the pouring rain. As she turned to say goodbye, she remembered the present she had for him. She wasn’t sure about it now. She had hoped for better but hadn’t been completely surprised by the reception. The time wasn’t right. She looked at him. David had never ever been responsible enough to look after himself. She remembered the expression that now hung on his face. She felt old, unpleasant, but was well aware of her cathartic power.
“Okay, I’ll talk,” he suddenly said.
“Okay,” she said, in an off-hand manner.
He arranged to meet her in ‘The Bull’ at six thirty. She nodded.
It was the word ethical that was on his mind as he walked in the main street two hours later that bugged him. It was almost dark. It was approaching 6.30 and he was smashed. He was going to eat his wife. His sober wife. She would be censorious – that was if she turned up. Or would she? He didn’t know. He didn’t know anything about anything and he didn’t even know where he was. Where the hell was this godforsaken village? The winter was setting in. The rain was perfect. It said everything. He hated and loved it for its cranky humour – it was just like a trip along Brighton Pier with Chancey Walters during summer vac in 1966. Chancey was a maddy. He said to David, “You’ll never be the same again after a quart of Strongbow.” He was right. He’d never touched alcohol before that summer, and from then on he was laughing. Him and Chancey used to get as high as kites and giggle their way through all the sixth form nymphs. His wife. Oh god. HIS WIFE. It was all too much bedlam. Just keep walking. You’ll see her in a minute. It wasn’t another conversational ball-game – like the ones with Krystle – of cynicism, of here today gone tomorrow absolutes, the language of the dypso, that he was going to engage in. It wasn’t Krystle, fuck it. It was his wife. His wife. After seven years of a different sort of lunacy and bullshit.
But what the fuck, he was strong now. She couldn’t hurt him, the cow. Dionysius blessed him. She was a mess. She couldn’t pull that soft sell: ‘I’ve been through it all and I want to work off my conscience’ stuff on him. She could stick that tomboy nose of hers right up the self-righteous chaff of her interfering mother. What the fuck was she doing here? The rain was in his hair, He suddenly realised it was dark. Where were his mates?. That’s what he wanted. He couldn’t remember what he had been thinking about – ah, thats right, his wife. He’d better pace himself a bit better or it would be a gutter job in twenty minutes. Bullshit. Look at this place. I’m a king.
The rain splattered on the road like acid. Black night above without recall or redemption. Starburst from the lamppost near but not a cry in the wilderness apart. The droplets were his only company and he loved them, and they loved him. They had so many stories to tell. The hedge across the road was riddled with demons, goblins and dirty jokes. He’d seen it all before but not like this. Hell, he was getting wet. How can it get so dark at six o’clock. His wife. Holy Mary why did you let her get to you like that! He musn’t tell her how he loved her. Fuck off. It was a mess, the whole thing was brilliant. He had studied too much philosophy when he was at Canterbury. Damn it he felt like crying. How did he get so drunk? He must remember this one. Can’t go round forgetting everything he does. It was that bottle of whisky he’d managed to buy. Oh sod Krystle, she’s a cow, and hasn’t a clue. What the hell! Just because I borrowed a few quid out of her coat. He would try hard to remember tonight. Not like before. No Crap. No crap.
He walked passed the schoolhall – or was it a town hall or something? He remembered ethics. Ethics. Fucking ethics. He’d drank too much. His mind was much more usually in control than this. God, how would he behave? He must look good. Try and give the right impression of oneself – as if he’d done something with his life. No. She knew. How could he preserve a little dignity? He didn’t know. Ethics – that was a safer thought. Oh hell. He tried to grasp it – he’d had a brilliant conception about twenty minutes ago but somehow he couldn’t remember it. The more he thought about what he thought about ethics the more vacuous and disconnected became his grasp of what it meant. He needed to think about it. His wife!
“I see you’re in fine spirits.”
“I’m okay,” he said trying not to slur. He pulled himself up in his chair. He still couln’t tell if he was slouching.
She looked away, towards the bar. She was angry with him for being drunk and was trying very hard not to show it.
“You’re still looking very attractive,” he said.
“Thankyou,” She looked at him again.
“I enjoy a drink, you know,” he said and instantly regretted it.
“No. Why?” she asked like a schoolmistress who knew already that she’d disapprove of the answer.
“Well…its not everyday I see my long lost wife is it?”
She showed disinterest in pursuing that line of conversation and turned away saying, “..oh..I see what you mean.”
“Would you like a cigarette,”
“David, I have never smoked.”
“I thought you might have started.”
“David, I think we should talk about what we will both find very painful..”
“If you’d rather not?”
“The subject is of course death.”
“You have to be as melodramatic as possible, don’t you? I suppose you’re just being defensive, which I can understand. Now look….”
“Now look where?”
“You don’t still blame yourself, do you, surely? What good can it do? Is this the problem with your life?”
Problem? He’d always knew he had a big problem, but he could never remember what it was.
“I’m being a bit selfish wanting your respect,” she continued, giving him one of her most engaging smiles. “Its always bothered me. I had hoped that you’d forgiven me but… I’d like us to be friends again. We really ought to talk about what happened.”
David remembered what had happened.
He’d been working on the CAL account for the high rise flats in the Brendon estate and had discovered that one of the building plans had considerable measurement errors but had nevertheless sailed through all the relevant in-trays. All hell had broken loose between the contractors and the council when the local MP wanted to know why several constituents were complaining about losing small sections of their neighbouring land. It had been a day of sweaty collars and frosty phone calls from influencial friends. The original measurements which had been draughted to him a year before were in his filing cabinet back at home. He drove home at three in the afternoon to get them to prove that it hadn’t been his department’s fault.
He got more than he bargained for when he arrived home. He could hear two voices in the bedroom as he was climbing the stairs. He recognised his wife’s immediately but it took him a moment longer to recognise that of his brother’s. The horror of expectation descended upon him like black fog. The conception of his wife’s possible infidelity had never occured to him. He was up the stairs and – without knocking – was in the bedroom.
Vivien was sitting up in the bed buttressed by two pillows, and wearing her pink nighty. Sandy was sitting near her, fully clothed but without his shoes on. Their mouths gaped at David as he entered. David started screaming and shouting and kicking the bed. Any protestations or denials they made incensed him further. At last he grabbed Sandy by the shoulder and began wrenching him to the door. Sandy, shoeless, complied, but pushed his arm off as they traversed the carpet to the landing. As Sandy was ‘sent down’ the stairs like an ignominious undergraduate David’s temper erupted again and he lunged out with his foot. It caught his brother on the shoulder and corkscrewed his balance, making him stumble.
After that David’s memory was less sharp. Sandy bumped down the stairs crashing at the bottom. Vivien was screaming and coming down to see what was happening. The telephone was ringing. The whole world seemed to be tearing apart with noise and confusion.
Even though Vivien had been trained as a doctor it took her a lifetime to find Sandy dead. When, at last, she had grown hopeless of finding a pulse she had stood up alongside David. They stared at the dead body for an eternity.
Then he remembered how Vivien’s face of wax had veered round and confronted him. Hovering before him, impassively, with a stare of terrifying accusation, of a blame much less comprehensive than his own; born over thousands of generations of women since Medusa. David felt his hand being grasped, and then his body pulled over towards a sofa in the lounge. He followed her instructions and sat down. Vivien’s eyes were no longer confiding, they were strange and inches away burning into his own. Still the expression, the face seen underwater, a change of torque in the speed of time with which images flow. She was mouthing at him, repeating words with economy, like they were precious jewels, he wished he could lip read. He could. He fell down the stairs. He fell down the stairs.
“I didn’t murder him.”
“No. He fell down the stairs.”
“I love him.”
“Did you love him?”
“I killed him.”
“He fell down the stairs. Listen David, come back here and listen. He fell down the stairs and must have hit his head. It was accident. Remember.”
He had done what she told him to do. When the ambulance came to take away the body they had got their story sorted. No inclusion of the romantic infidelity, no inclusion of the kick in the shoulder. Just that Sandy has been visiting and that he had slipped. The police received the same story too.
Even though David had been distraught with grief Vivien had persuaded him to go to work. Working would keep his mind off everything.
Two weeks after Sandy died he came home to find a letter from Vivien saying goodbye. The letter was long but not rich on reasons for the separation. She wrote a whole lot of drivel about why he was such a lovely person, but that she needed to find out who she was, and not to blame her too much.
A month later he was manipulated into handing in his notice through a series of serious mistakes which had taken place in his department. If he hadn’t have been absent with so many hangovers he could have avoided it, but he knew he had partly planned his own demise at work to escape from the pressures.
There probably hadn’t been a single day in his life that had passed when he hadn’t thought about this series of events.
He got drunk.
In four weeks he had killed his brother, lost his wife, and lost his job. Life had changed its wallpaper. His shining little YUPPY carreer looked all grubby and shot with holes. The architect designs the buildings but woe-betide him if he’s under them when they fall in.
David remembered all bloody right.
“Go ahead. Tell me all about it. I might need to drink some more to be able to stand it.”
“When I left you David it wasn’t because of Sandy. I had decided to leave you weeks before…before the accident.”
“I kicked him down the stairs and we both know it. You can stop the shit here if you’re going to begin by lying.”
“Yes. You kicked him down the stairs,” she said quietly, tilting her nose towards the gin glass. ” But I haven’t come over here to lie.”
“I left because we were both unhappy. You were razzled off in that old job. You were aiming long term for the Royal Institute of British Architecture and had to keep your nose clean, but it wasn’t really you, was it? Not like you were when you were at college. You seemed to resent the work you had to do to be this ambitious person that everybody had been telling you you were for so long. You weren’t that person at all, were you? And neither was I. I wasn’t the middle class wife who cooks wonderful meals for your council colleagues and says all the right things at cocktail parties. I wanted to work full-time, David, couldn’t you see that. I wasn’t happy with the limitations of the NHS. I wanted to fully use my skills, and that job just wasn’t enough. I had ambitions too, you know. When Sandy died it was awful because I had built up enough courage to leave and then it all seemed to evaporate. You were so hopeless and dejected. It tore me apart because you needed so much support, but I couldn’t give it to you. I had to get away. If I hadn’t I’d have broken up.”
“You’re not going to tell me that you hadn’t been having an affair with my brother.”
“Yes. Exactly that. Admittedly I had thought about it. He had made quips about it, but I don’t really think I could have won him over. He was a conscientious person, David, or have you forgotten. Surely you understand that it wouldn’t have appealed to someone like Sandy to cuckold his brother. I did fancy Sandy, and I knew that sex with another man would break your hold over me – but Sandy. No way. I realised I had to go away, so I went away.”
“I don’t know whether I’ve ever believed anything you’ve ever said to me.”
“You don’t have to believe anything if you don’t want,” she interrupted sharply. “But listen. Theres nothing in this for me. I’m not here to ask favours or to try to empower you – why should I? What would be the point of me lying to you? I just want to explain that I didn’t leave you because of the accident on the stairs – but in spite of it. I loved Sandy as a person, not as a lover. I never had a relationship with him at all.”
“You’re not just saying that because of how I felt about him.”
“You’re envy of him was pathological. And yet you loved him as well. That must have been difficult.”
David leant over for another cigarette.
“You never had sex with Sandy?”
He watched her pull at the hem of her skirt, flick her mousey fringe out of her eyes and drench him in trust. “I had a migraine. He came up to read me a story. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes the truth is crazy.”
He lit the cigarette, took a deep draw and lay back.
“I bloody hope you do.” She smiled wistfully. She was like he had never seen before, she had learnt a new language somewhere.
“Do you want another drink?”
“I’ll get these and then I’d better go.”
“You can always stay overnight.”
“David, why don’t you take up this offer of your fathers? What harm could it do. It might get you sorted out.”
“I still love you,” he said quietly.
“Thankyou. I suppose we’ll always love each other,” she said, smiling cheerfully.
He smiled. He felt like slapping her across the face too.
“You need to get someone to look after you before its too late,” she said in between sips, “Its good that Krystle’s around.”
David didn’t speak. He felt like a swan who had just eaten a lead weight.
Ploughed furrows twirled up, acre after acre, towards the high distant ridge. Along this, on the horizon, and silouhetted against the blinding sky, David Basnett walked. Krystle followed at the same pace some way behind; despite their mutual progress the distance between remained constant.
David stooped; he had both of his hands thrust dejectedly into the pockets of his jeans. His face was smitten with the blasting cold wind, snow-drifting his skin into momentary swellings. His head blenched from side to side to ward off the lascerations of the buffeting wind.
Krystle was swathed in a greatcoat. She carried a hold-all and a blanket under her arm. Her eyes filched about slowly, keeping her man tethered. Occasionly her mouth puckered up in an ugly way, as if in response to some ugly thought.
Below these two figures Broomsbriggs Farm sprawled down the steep edges of Beacon Hill in a helter skelter of ploughed fields, stone walls and opaque banks of trees, ever rolling on towards Woodhouse Eaves. The sky was white and cold and overtured winter.
David put his hands to his cheeks and felt the warmth in them. He wasn’t enjoying this at all. What time did the pubs close?
David had always believed he loved the countryside, but since his last ramble, he’d ventured nowhere near it. Today he had bludgeoned into it by Krystle. Being out here, beneath the sky, gave him a slightly quakey feeling; he was swallowing alot, his throat felt dry. He felt safer inside four walls. Without contstraining walls all your guts just slide all over the place.
Try as he might he couldn’t stop last night surfacing. And particularly his wife. She had left after an hour in the Bull. There had been no scenes. He had performed quite well, and civility had been the order of the day. He had been half-soaked in the pub, and super-soaked after she had gone. He got so stinking that Danny the landlord had had to carry him over to the house. Opening Vivien’s present was what finished him off. It still made him furious; his tolerance couldn’t cope with that! He seethed inside. Somehow Krystle had managed to calm him down, and luckily he’d fallen into sleep through drunken exhaustion.
Her visit seemed outrageous. Why on earth should his wife want to come over and tell him that she wasn’t having it off with his brother ten years ago? Why should she want to tell him that she was on the verge of leaving him irrespective of Sandy. Did it matter anymore? Yes. No. Yes. He didn’t know. All it did was to make him feel worse. And the gift – what an insult!
What the hell! Nothing really mattered. Why did my father phone her and tell her to come and see me here? What good did he think it would do?
Vivien go to hell! To walk around knowing that one committed the same act as Cain was hell on earth. What she had said was that Sandy had died for nothing; he had been blameless. No one – apart from Vivien – knew and was ever going to know that it hadn’t been an accident.
She wanted something, he didn’t know what, but her arrival made him edgy. Vivien wasn’t the type of woman to waste her time. With her had returned memories he’d like to erase. He had never loved any one else. Italian heaven on Earth. No honeymoon could have been better.
For a few uncomfortable moments he remembered Canterbury. He had been so fresh, so full of wonderful delusions. It all seemed pathetic now. He recalled the work he had done over the second year holidays with a post-grad Chemistry student on polyesters. When plastic is inflamable they’ll build houses with the stuff. Somebody was probably doing it now, and making millions.
He thought they had offered him that cracking job in Leicester because of his abilities. He knew now that wasn’t true. His active political exploits were an embarrassment to the college. He fell for it, took the advice of his tutors and took the job. He should have stayed and got those letters after his name.
In Exeter Life had been his oyster.
Or had it?
Maybe. But there had been something wrong even then. An anger, a depression somewhere. Something like that.
Yesterday, drink had softened the meeting with his wife. Today Krystle was on the war path, and booze was banned. She had pressed her point so he hadn’t protested too much. Now he regretted it. He wasn’t an alcoholic – but he was probably pretty close – he just felt ill when he didn’t drink! Everything flowed after a few drinks: ideas, stamina, memories, clarity. He could dance the time away with a drink. He could kill these anxiety goblins that kept landing on his shoulders. He needed a shot. Even this early in the day this hangover had him in psychotic aim.
Down below him, in the copse, deep in the downland, in between two trees he could see his mother dancing.
At first she didn’t frighten him. It was only when he tried to understand what he saw that a sense of real panic crept over him, but this didn’t happen for minutes. For a moment all he could do was stare.
There was something very different about his mother. It was her dress. It was the old familiar black but now it hung around her legs in swathes of material allowing a fluidity of movement that suggested….. sensuality! With three dropped halos of pearls around her neck, she was dancing with joy, as if in atonement, possibly against the way she had lived; somehow she had been unshackled of her defences; somehow she had become an iconoclast against her own Victorian self. This was why she was dancing – a vanity she had despised.
He looked away – then looked again – but still she danced between the two trees.
He turned away from the downland. He’d couldn’t look again. He called Krystle to hurry. She shouted back a string of words that were lost on the wind. He would wait. She would tell him it was okay
“Krystle, can you see someone between the trees?” he asked when she eventually came up to him.
“Whats that you say?” she asked, leaning forward.
“Can you see a figure in between the trees?”
“A figure?…..Ha, yes. I see. Yes I can.”
“You can see someone?”
Krystle was speaking to him again but again the wind blew away her words. He told her to shout.
“Its a what?
It was an old black tarpaulin, she said.
Suddenly optimistic that logic would save the day he turned to range the trees to distinguish the dancing cloth that had got tied with its ropes to the two trunks, but however much he rubbed his eyes, logic would simply not appear.
It wasn’t the reappearance of his mother that made his teeth chatter but the entrance of a different dancer.
This woman was dressed as his mother had been, but her face and figure bore no similarity. He stared at her face until no doubt remained as to her identity. Releasing a low gutteral noise, he burst into a dash across the fields towards the carpark. The corner of Krystle’s mouth puckered up again. What was wrong with him now?
Something he had tried to forget, to push out of his mind, had returned. He knew where he had seen the woman’s face. It had been in the launderette.
Krystle hadn’t hurried back to him. She knew the car was unlocked, David could get inside and wait.
She sat on her blanket drawing into her sketch book. After five minutes she closed it. Then she shrugged her shoulders and opened it again. Damn, he could wait. She sharpened her pencil and began to work some detail in around the the two trees she was drawing. What was wrong with David now? But then didn’t he act peculiarly all the time? What had he said? Had he really thought it was a figure? She was sadly beginning to see the futility of playing nursemaid any more. If he wanted to make the effort she’d stay. It somehow didn’t seem to matter anymore. She’d met so many men like him. She had shown him a mirror, but he hadn’t enough honesty to see his own reflection.
About half and later they had just pulled into the kerb outside the house when David started coming out with the same old requests and excuses. He had to have a beer because he felt a bit on edge. Krystle was painfully silent. As the silence grew, and the shrinking bar time diminished, David shuffled around in his seat, growing more and more uncomfortable. He expected retaliation and was growing irritable to deal with it. He wasn’t going to take any more nonsense. No one is going to tell me how I’m going to live my life.
“If you have one drink today I’m going away.”
“No you’re not.”
“But I don’t want that.”
“In your heart of hearts you neither want a drink of alcohol, nor me to go, but it seems you will have to have both.”
“But you don’t understand, I just saw my mother running around in the trees. Christ! My mothers dead! If I can’t have a drink after that when can I have a drink.”
“You’re fraught, your body’s tired. You need a big rest. Be careful. Look out for yourself before it kills you.”
“I will. I know that what you’re saying makes sense. Only a few weeks ago in Hinckley I was staying in not drinking, being good, and all the rest, but at the moment my star signs in a different aspect and I need a drink everyday until I figure things out.”
“Figure what out?”
“My problem. Life.”
“Oh David I’m not amused. You are such a spoilt child. Grow up.”
“Come in with me, I only want one. I promise I won’t be any later.”
“Is this how you spend your days? Drinking them away? Isn’t there a more useful way of using the day than to drink yourself to death?”
“Of course there is. You know there is. Theres lots of things I want to achieve. Don’t be so frosty Krystle. Why have you got this thing about drink all the time? I love you, you know I do. How about a ploughman’s lunch?”
“You haven’t got anything, have you?” She swallowed, winding down the window, and looking away. “I pity you. You don’t know what my Art means to me.”
“Art? Thats a funny thing to say.” He found it hard not to laugh. “I can draw too. I won an award for it in Canterbury.”
“So you say. But where are the drawings? You never do anything.”
“I’ll do it. “
“I’m concerned about you.”
“You like that, don’t you? You like it for people to make concern about you, don’t you? Its how you live, David. You eat people’s concern. Do you know what I think: Its a big shmuck way of living. You are like a parasitic insect that goes round sucking peoples blood. How easy it is for you to play the naughty child. Thats where your free-bees come from. Its your way of living.”
“Lets continue this conversation in the pub.”
“No. Its all nothing to you. You use your ears but you hear nothing. I’m going into the house. Listen David. One day you must stop looking for your reflection in a puddle of mud.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you must stop looking for your reflection in a puddle of mud. Your reflection is in much better places too. But you never listen. I’m going.”
“Alright. Suit yourself.”
Several minutes later David was in ‘the Bull’ half way down his first pint. After his second he began to feel okay. His mother was dancing in the trees. Cheers mother. He had been hullucinating or something. It didn’t mean anything, just too much religion when he was young, Forget it.
Later that afternoon, sitting alone on the settee, David poured himself another whisky from the bottle of Jack Daniels he’d bought on credit from the Bull. He was gonna freeze out these demons. They weren’t gonna get him. The whisky ramparts were up. He was okay now. He needed some more money. Krystle would give him some. He went into the kitchen to see if he could find a cigarette. He couldn’t find either Krystle’s bag or a goodbye note. She couldn’t have gone or she’d have left a goodbye note. He found the mail that Vivien had brought over. He also found the damn present she’d given him. He was compelled to pick it up.
It was a book entitled, ‘The Mysterious Life of the Beaver,’ by Michael Hopkinson. It wasn’t a big book but was very thick and full of glorious colour photographs and instructive illustrations. It affected him as it had the night before. It made him furious. He writhed with indignation at the insensitivity of such a present. He writhed with envy and horror at the publication. This should be his, not the work of some jerk he’d never heard of. It was apparent that the amount of research, knowledge and work that had gone into the book was awesome. He was to have written the ultimate book on the beaver. Perhaps he still could do it. One day…
How could his wife taunt him like this!
With a flurry of hand grips and grunts he tore at the pages, snatching and tearing them away in fistfulls from the spine until shredded concertinas of torn paper, incomprehensible text, and photolithographic remnants of ripped animals floated about and covered the floor of the kitchen. Hearing the cracking of cardboard and glue as the spine of the book snapped into two, then three, then four was particularly pleasant. This book doesn’t exist, will never exist and if it ever does it’ll be me that writes it. Where’s my bloody glass.
It must have been about an hour later when David finished the bottle of Jack Daniels. He hauled himself from the arm chair and went into the kitchen to see if he could find any more alcohol, but both the fridge and the larder were unhelpful. Not an unopened can or bottle could be found in the house. He kicked some of the beaver book pages off the floor into a whirlwind, cursing and blaming them for his frustration. It was too early to go to the pub, it was only 4.45. But he might be able to get some alc from the shop. He searched around in his coat for some money, but not finding enough, began fumbling through the pockets of all his unwashed trousers which lay in a heap in the back lounge. He eventually found 84p. That was all he could find: 84p. Krystle! Where was she? She always had had cash on her. She wasn’t around at the moment. She was sure to be back soon.
Finding his cheque book gave him an idea. Somebody would cash him a cheque as he had his bankcard. Equipped with both he left the house and began walking down the road. But he was not in luck – it was early closing day. Everywhere was shut.
He didn’t go back. He kept walking until he arrived at the junction where the village street met the main road that led to Quorn. He crossed over and took to a small bridle path which headed over fields towards Loughborough. Fine. He’d go there. He wouldn’t go back to the house; there was no drink there.
It wasn’t long before he doubted his decision. The going was hard; the subtle agrophobia of the morning was returning in strength. The effort to withstand this and to continue became more and more demanding. The wind had whipped up and was blowing hard against him. His eyes blazed as if panic-stricken: windows into a world of fear. The wind fought everystep; he was drowning in amniotic fluid. He didn’t feel good at all.
All he had to do was sleep walk to Loughborough, find a place that was open and cash a cheque and he’d be okay. It would only take him an hour to walk there and by then the pubs would be open. Don’t think. Try not to think. Just push on.
He passed a barn, with shutters flapping in the wind. Then a small holding that it belonged to. The track got stonier and steeper. He began to shiver. He should have stayed in Woodhouse Eaves, but it was too late to walk back.
He walked a furrowed path over a rolling field full of tall grasses. Ahead of him was a towering oak. Even though he trudged on, it never seemed any closer.
He realised well before he reached the oak that he was approaching an abyss: The harpies wouldn’t stay back any longer and had doubled in strength. Attack was imminent. Before, defeat had never been possible, but he was isolated out here. Pandora was close to opening up. It was too late to retreat now. He stopped, breathed deeply, touched his cheek with his splayed fingers. He had to be in company. Being alone now was the worst possible thing. He hurried on again.
Listen: you’re so angry about the way you’ve been treated.
He could hear but he didn’t have to take notice; his moulded features showed no trace of anger, a self-imposed deafness was the answer.
Listen: its a way of tearing them all apart: your wife, your mother, your father, and the damn human race. There simply is nothing left for you.
He certainly could see the logic of this, and in some ways didn’t need to be persuaded – it would be a fait accompli. He wouldn’t feel sad about it. In a strange maternal way suicide was wet, nourishing and warm. He could casually resign himself to a fate of this sort. Perhaps he shouldn’t be frightened. He didn’t consciously feel any sorrow for himself, just a relief that the nausea, the fetid smell that he carried with him – that he was finding day by day, more and more impossible to endure – would soon end. He drank and he sweated and he slept. He drank and he sweated and he slept. And his body was racked with pains and he had to drink to take away the throbbing.
He thought he had lost all these old demons but he hadn’t: they had all returned recently in one way or another: His wife who had betrayed him ten years ago, had returned to humiliate him; his mother who had put the fear of god into him as a child with all her hellfire and brimstone and also emotionally mutilated him with her adroitness at being impossible to love. His father could have loved him but had tantalisingly prefered to heap his adulation on Sandy, meeting out only rebuffs, criticisms and black eyes for David. The demons wanted him to continue living so that they could carry on getting at him. No way. He’d had enough. Pandora’s argument had a lot of plusses.
He was finding it more difficult to walk. He didn’t want this nonsence in his head. He wanted a drink. He wanted a good time, someone to talk to. I’ll make it. He’d soon be at the oak tree.
Hold on, it doesn’t matter. You’ll get there. Just get to the tree and everything will be okay.
You can’t keep on pretending you didn’t do it. You can’t keep pretending you haven’t done anything. Nor that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Listen: You have to face it. You’ve committed not one but two murders. You don’t want to remember the last one, do you? The girl. There’s no point trying to hide it. It was you. A nice little well-washed top-of-the-form Sunday-school Anglican like you. Now look at you. You feel so bad. You must face it. They are right and you know it: you are ugly. You are not worthy of living on this earth. You really are scum. You should do the right thing and slash your wrists or walk in front of a train. You make the world ugly by being in it. Think what your mother would tell you to do. She couldn’t bear such shame.
David had reached the tree. He stopped and lay against it. His head was reeling. It wouldn’t shut up. A drink. He blacked out the light with his hands by pressing his palms into his eyes. He slipped down to the ground. He was going now. His thoughts wouldn’t join together. For a moment he completely forgot where he was. Where was he? What the hell? Amnesia. He had never had it as bad as this before. He wouldn’t listen. It was all lies. He couldn’t stop them from crowding him.
Listen: you strangled that poor girl. Don’t you remember how much you enjoyed it?
No. No. Its crazy. I don’t remember anything. I can’t remember.
Do you really hate women that much?
..And you murdered a member of your own family. Your lovely brother. The nicest soul on earth and you kicked him downstairs into an early grave. What a nasty jealous piece of work you are. Your mother was right about you wasn’t she? You were spiteful and lazy and she was right when she said you were going to come to an evil end.
No. I must walk. It can’t be much further.
He was on his feet again and had been counting, saying the alphabet, reciting nursery rhymes to keep himself going, to be able to have the strength to place one foot in front of the other. Whose stupid idea was it to have walked this way. It wasn’t his. It must have been his wife’s. Or Krystle’s or anyones but not his. He couldn’t remember.
Listen: she’ll come and get you, and so will your mother, and don’t forget your father who now has a hold on you now he’s given you a key to a home. And Sandy will never let you go. He’s been after you for years for another murder: killing his cat.
Ouch! That wasn’t fair. That was an accident.
Listen, he loved that cat. You broke his heart. Can you imagine a worse way of seeing your loved pet killed – being electrocuted. You did it on purpose. You left those wires live in your bedroom on purpose, didn’t you. Did you expect Sandy to touch them? Go on, be strong, tell the truth.
No I didn’t! I swear. I didnt know I’d left them unconnected!
He thinks you did. Can’t you hear him telling you. He wants to be reconciled with you David. He wants you to stop all this pain. You don’t need it anymore. He wants you to join him. It’ll be easy David. Don’t get any stupid ideas. You can handle this with the brilliance you’ve handled everything in your life so far. You’re the king, every one moves for you, you stand firmly in the centre of the universe and everything that goes on around is laid on especially for you. You’re invincible David. Nothing can hurt you apart from not knowing. Not experiencing the greatest pleasure – the release from the rack. Sandy’s calling you, David. For the first time in your life don’t let him down. You know how much he loved you.
Yes, I know.
Its nice to talk to you David. We’ll come and talk to you later. Sandy says hello by the way.
He made it. Half an hour later the bridle path led out into a dark avenue in a housing estate. He was breathing painfully shallowly, his head was erect, stiff, and stuck. He could only look ahead; the thought of moving his eyes slightly to the left or the right terified him. They would drop out of his head if he moved them. If he needed to change his viewpoint he could flex his head a little before panic set in, but finally he was forced to move his whole body. If he tried anything slightly adventurous the tension would ride up his spine and explode in his head. He had to cash a cheque. He was going to have to drink a lot to feel normal.
It took him another agonising fifteen minutes to find a pub. On the Nanpantan Road he came to a large modernised pub called the Forest Gate. He had some difficulty getting a cheque cashed but eventually won through. Immediately he ordered a bitter and a double whisky, and within minutes reordered the same.
Christ! He had made it. It had been edgy, but he had come through. Every blow that doesn’t break strengthens. He wasn’t going to worry about tomorrow.
The wheatcoloured lampshade of a small basket work lamp allowed a feint bronze light to fall around the room. The soft light midas-touched everything, stilling it, as if movement in the room would never occur again. The old and worn wallpaper – as it appeared in sunlight – was now decrepit and blistered tan. The bookshelves leather bindings rippled obscure names in toad-textured gold. On David’s bed, a dirty pillow lay sick, phlegmatic and irritatingly helpless like an ageing parent. David stared at it, unaware that he did so – for he had no thought of it in his mind. He sat motionless on the sofa; his own face frozen ochre by the lamplight.
Suddenly this womb of shadows was breached by a flood of light. The door had opened revealing the silouhette of a young man, messianically back-lit by the kitchen strip behind him.
“Hello there,” he said, embarrassment in the tone. “I-I-I say, we seen to have lost the beano. I can’t find it. I’ve s-searched the car. You don’t think we’ve left it behind do you?”
“And I can’t find any glasses,” said a girl who now stood slightly behind his left shoulder giving his black figure the appearance of having two heads.
David began to regret inviting these two back from the pub. He slowly staggered to his feet and once in the kitchen he opened a cupboard above the man’s head. “You’ll find them in here. I put it in here when I came in. I said it was in the cupboard with the glasses.”
“H-h-how do you expect me to know where you keep the glasses? W-w-we’ve never been here before,” said the young man, looking concerned.
“Its alright, Jodey. Its only a simple mistake,” said the girl, checking his confrontational tone.
“Of course you haven’t. Pour me a stiff one,” said David wearily. He felt tired. Had he promised them a bed? Too bad. They could always drive off. He didn’t want to be unpleasant. He didn’t want to think about it.
“Why have you got bits of paper strewn around your kitchen floor?” asked the girl.
“I had a fight with a book.”
“What was wrong?” asked Jodey giggling idiotically, “the last chapter missing?” He evidently thought his joke was very witty.
“I like tearing up bits of paper,” said David walking to the kitchen table. “Here, look, I’ll show you.” He picked up the envelopes that had been lying there since his wife had arrived. He didn’t need to open any of them. He recognised the creditors who chased him because the names were written on the envelopes. To the continued giggling of Jodey he called the names of the organisations as he tore their ultimatums into tiny pieces: British Telecom, East Midland Electricity Board, Severn Trent Water Authority, A letter from the Midlands Bank, Hinckley Library, and several from finance firms. Then he came to an unusual envelope: a white envelope addressed to him in hand writing. He opened it and read it through while his guests watched him. It was only when he got near the end that his eyes darted back looking for a date when the letter had been written. There wasn’t one.
He stumbled around like a blind man until he found a chair; he sat down and read it again.
57 Factory Road,
I don’t know if you’ve rang me or not because I’ve moved. My mum’s not speaking as I predicted would happen. I’ve tried to ring you a few times but I never got an answer. Please get in touch, as I’d love to see you again.
I’ve moved out of my mum’s and am sharing a flat (at above address) which is a bit grotty but its cheap. My mum’s not too happy about it of course but she can go and stuff an ostrich.
No doubt the police have been round to see you, as they did me. Isn’t it awful about what happened. I hope you felt better the next day. You were probably too drunk to remember too much about it. It was funny taking you home.
I really enjoyed it until all that happened. Come and see me!
Lots of love
PS We’re having a phone put in soon and I’ll let you know my number as soon as I know it myself.
Jodey refused to drive him to Hinckley. “I’m too pissed to drive over there. I-I-I can’t risk losing my licence,” he squirmed. “What the hell do you want to go back there for at this time of the night anyway?”
“It would take too long to explain. Its just that I need to see someone. But it doesn’t matter. I’ll go back tomorrow.”
“I’m sure Jodey wouldn’t mind driving you over tomorrow,” said the girl.
“Maybe. I’ll take you tomorrow providing you get up early. I-I-I have got to get to my lectures.”
David looked at Jodey’s diminishing drink. “Lets have another.”
David set about entertaining his two guests like a chore to be done. It was a struggle with Claudia alive in his mind. He filled them with whisky and anecdotes – and gave them his bed as promised. The girl didn’t seem embarrassed about shedding her clothes in front of him before she slipped inside the dirty sheets; David’s eyes ran over her unblemished skin, bronzed in the lamplight.
Neither asked where David was going to sleep, which pleased him as it might have roused their suspicions – although he doubted it. Before he left them he casually checked the whereabouts of their discarded clothes and possessions; after switching off the light he made himself a strong black coffee in the kitchen and waited.
He wouldn’t move too soon. He had to avoid falling off to sleep. He couldn’t do that. He had to go and find this Claudia.
The kitchen clock killed two hours. He wanted to leave it longer, but restlessness was beginning to win the battle. What if they were still awake? He would say he was looking for something. Okay, another fifteen minutes and he would move.
He quietly returned to the room where they slept. There was no sound, and the sheets weren’t moving. He crept on all fours to the chair where Jodey had deposited his jacket. He probed its pockets. He tried the jeans. Then the girls jacket. No keys. He came across the girl’s handbag. It had a clasp. Too noisy to open in here. Once back in the kitchen he emptied its contents on the kitchen table. Sure enough, she was guardian of Jodey’s car keys – it made a sort of sense to David.
Leaving the spillage of the bag on the table, David threw on his coat, grabbed his keys and slipped out into the night. He unlocked the old Vauxhaul, and fingered about until he found the ignition. Electrics on. Lights. Windows were smeary but he could see. Now, lets get out of here. He turned the key and the car became live. Seconds later, with his hands steering wheel-tight, he drove the unfamiliar animal out of the village.
Up he climbed to the summit of Beacon Hill, then down into a valley. Then turned towards Copt Oak.
Somehow, as he drove along in the darkness, a voice came into his mind, and kept repeating. It was crystal clear – like every invasion of his mother’s voice. “The pestilence was passing,” it kept saying. “The pestilence was passing, the pestilence was passing.”
And it was. Up in the sky a black shape was slowly semi-circling his windscreen. This smudge of black in the sky was flying over prior to leaving for good. It didn’t make him shudder like the apparition of his mother, but he feared it in an awesome way; he knew it was a necessity, another missing part found.
Over the motorway bridge, up and down a hill and the road ended abruptly. He slithered the car desperately around an island and entered a dual carriageway which gave him a chance to put his foot down. Then windey roads through Ellistown to Nailstone. Occasionally the odd houselight or the blaze of an approaching garage forecourt would permeate the blanket of darkness. Soon on the last stretch. Cadeby, Earl Shilton and up the Ashby road to Hinckley.
Something concerned him. If Claudia hadn’t been strangled, who had?
David found the flat without any trouble and rang the doorbell. It was about five: the sky was lightening, the birds were beginning to tune up.
Eventually the door opened.
It was a girl with dark hair. Was this Claudia?
“Is Claudia in?”
“Oo are you? Of course I’m not. This is a sometime to call.”
“I need to see her.”
“Even if she was ‘ere, you don’t think she’d want to see you at this hour do you?”
“I need to see her.”
“Hard luck.” She yawned again, “She’s not here. She’s out. She rang me last night and said she wouldn’t be back – unless she came back and I didn’t hear.” She gave David a sideways look, as if she were seeing him for the first time. “I’ll go and see.”
She shut the door. Seconds later she opened it again. “
“She aint ‘ere. She usually comes back when she takes the car but she ‘asn’t. Must have gone somewhere. She’ll be back about 9.30. She usually is.”
“Does Claudia really live here?”
She considered his sweat covered face, then she thought better about replying and began to close the door.
“No, wait!” David pushed the door back and the girl, startled, moved away from the door. “Tell her that David rang. David Basnett. I’ll be here at 9.30. Don’t let her go out. I really must see her. Don’t – “
But the door was closed in his face.
David entered his flat. It was different. It had been tidied; everything was clean, sterile; things had been picked up and put away. Homeless Graham Green paperbacks – and many other books – that used to stray around the carpet were now confined to boxes. The kitchen had been cleaned; his face reflected back from the cooker’s shining chrome. The carpets were hoovered and the lounge curtains hung properly.
He didn’t even have to think who had done it. It was his wife. She was always making him feel – he wasn’t sure – irresponsible, ineffectual, dependent, useless, less than human. It was like the beaver book. He may be a failure but a failure by deliberation, a path of action written in his terms and through his own choices; he could hack it in the world if he wanted. To leave his place scruffy was his choice and no one elses. It was bad enough out in the outside world to have bourgeois values thrust down his neck but to have someone invade his home and preach them was intolerable. She had been right about him when they were married; he hadn’t been himself at all. A bourgeois lifestyle is a prerequisite of any YUPPY marriage but, honey, time moves on.
The telephone had been cut off. The food cupboards had been emptied, no doubt to prevent mould and smells. His wife had always ditched nasty smells.
He found a note blu-tacked on the wall. He pulled it down and read it.
I assume that you’ll be coming back for your possessions at some stage so I’ve arranged it with Mr. Bostock to leave the flat in your name until you’ve decided whether to move fully into your aunt’s house. I hope you don’t mind me having stayed here part of the time while I was in Leicestershire, and tidying up a little. (Mr. Bostock gave me a spare key)I didn’t interfere with any of your private things of course, but I took the licence of boxing a few things to save you the trouble if you do move to Woodhouse Eaves, which does seem likely. I hope you don’t mind. Since I saw you, I’ve had a conversation with your father and he’s prepared pay the rent arrears to Mr. Bostock, and to maintain the flat in your name until you let us know what you intend to do.
I hope our recent conversation has made things easier all round, and I do think you ought to consider your father’s offer. It won’t be around for much longer.
Look after yourself,
Due to lack of sleep, too much booze over the past three weeks, anxiety and lack of food, David admitted to himself he wasn’t feeling so good but he couldn’t afford to sleep. He decided to kill the remaining hour with a hot breakfast. After breakfast he’d go to Claudias.
The Corner Cafe provided coffee, beans, sausages and eggs; a good substitute for alcohol. He hadn’t had a drink for four or five hours; but he was feeling the ague in his body again, and the harpies would start descend. Maybe Krystle had been right. If he could abstain for a day, or a few days, he would start thinking in straight lines again. Maybe he could do it if this Claudia thing was real. It was dangerous to believe it too much; somehow life had a habit of tricking you.
Something had happened at that fairground. Those images that had atttacked him on the train surely meant something. He’d done some harm; he could smell it; yet he was glad he had no recollection.
A woman who sat near him in the snack bar began to speak. He recognised her. The Italian face, the dark hair. Where had he met her before?
“And so the wanderer returns,” she was saying to him. “Maxine and I have been on the look-out for you. You left your clothes behind. My! Oh Gregory, you should have seen him.” She addressed this last comment to a spikey haired youth who sat opposite her. She turned back, “You were in a state you were. You didn’t even recognise me the next day did you?”
“Oh you were so funny I’ve seen people when they’ve had a skin full but you were something. Most comedians only put an act on like that once in their lives.”
“I don’t remember….”
“What? My name! Ha. I don’t think you ever knew it. Ha! The fair. Its not surprising you don’t remember, the amount you’d had.” She held out her black-gloved hand, “Pleased to meet you, I’m Maria.”
“How do you do.”
“Listen I’m just telling Gregory that he’s got to keep painting. He is so talented, but lacks confidence. You will tell him to keep it up, won’t you. Your’re such an intelligent man -“
“Oh Maria, don’t embarrass me,” said the quietly spoken but loudly dressed youth.
“So you give him some good advice because I’ve got to go. Its nice to see you again. You must come and pick up your washing.”
Confusion was written all over David’s face.
“No! Ha. You left your washing at the laundrette. I bet you don’t remember. You were so pickled. It doesn’t matter. You were with that blond haired girl, You remember that? No? And with Maxine. Maxine helped that girl to get you home. I helped them to get you in the car, but then I left them to it. You were so funny.”
“That’s right. Isn’t it awful about that young girl – and it happening on the same night as well. “
“Oh, of course, you’ve watched the TV haven’t you?” He nodded. But she really had to go. “Go round and see Maxine at the laundrette and collect all your washing – unless she’s thrown it away – she’d tell you all about it. Don’t forget to talk to Gregory, he needs some encouragement.”
Then David remembered where he’d seen her before. It had been in a pub. She had said hello. He remembered ignoring her.
At last David was waiting for the door to open at Claudia’s flat. The same girl who had appeared before appeared again. He was surprised by her message.
“Its David Basnett, in’t it. There’s been a mix up. She rang me to say that she’s stuck near your home. She found out you’d moved and drove to see you. She’s broke down in the car.”
“Near a church. I wrote it down. Copt Oak or somefink. Here it is. Its a church called St. Peters at Copt Oak. I told her you were coming round and she said for you to go over and give her and help her.”
“She drove over to see me?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well don’t ask me. I’m not her muver.”
“She rang you up and told you she’d gone over to Woodhouse Eaves to see me.?”
“Yeh. I told her you were here and she was real surprised. She said she’d gone over to see you. She wants you to go over and help at this place here: Copt Oak. Have you got that?”
“When did she phone?”
“About twenty minutes ago. I told her when you said you were coming back so she’ll be expecting you.”
“She’s expecting me?” David wiped the tiredness out of his eyes with his sleeve. “Okay. Thanks.”