For a while I wondered what it was that I could hear. Was it people outside the house? Or something whistling in the breeze? It occurred to me that it might be worth more attention, and sat still to listen, then I realised that the radio was still playing, very quietly. I turned it up, glad that it had suggested itself since the music shifted my mood. I managed to shrug off the feeling of waiting. Waiting always raised a destructive feeling in me, usually destructive of my health through enticing me to have a biscuit or pour a drink, but sometimes deathly to my relationships too. I guess Jason had found himself on the wrong end of that. And yet, it was only when I realised that there wasn’t anything to wait for that I actually gave up with him. I wondered whether Linda felt the same or differently about him, was there something objectively wrong or was it just me?
The news intruded, louder than the previous programme, and the first story to be trailed was the body in the woods. When they got around to telling it in full they were more specific. In particular, the man had died in suspicious circumstances and someone had now been detained for questioning. I drew the laptop back towards me again to look it up. The main reason was to test my, call it premonition or suspicion, that the woods he died in were my very own, detested, abandoned bivi site: ‘No Man’s Green’. It had been simmering away in my mind ever since I first heard the story. The map on the BBC News webpage confirmed it. They repeated that anyone who knew anything was to contact them, on a number that I took down out of something like panic. I stared at the number, visualising that dismal copse and its insects from hell. He was a Caucasian man who was travelling with camping and survival equipment, and he’d made a single call on the stolen phone he was carrying, which must have been quite soon before his death.
Well how could I possibly continue now, even if I wasn’t going through the copse again? I tried to recall the details. I must have got there about say 5.00 or 6.00pm. It was nearly dark anyhow. I wasn’t sure when I’d found the glasses, maybe when I arrived there, maybe just before I left. I concluded that it was probably when I arrived, since I did know that getting out was all that I had on my mind once deciding to leave. There was that shelter there – derelict – where I found them, and it had made me nervous about people being about. And, a chilling thought occurred; the body must have been there then, and in fact since the previous year.
The only one that it would make sense to speak to about this would be Ed. He was the single person who knew I’d been there, but I still couldn’t raise him on his phone, neither land nor mobile. The other candidates to talk to were Linda and Jason, but I wasn’t sure what I’d say and how it would help me get over this. If they understood my concern at all it would be in terms of Elly, that would be the only experience that might provide illumination on why I cared so much about a murdered lad. It would frustrate me. I began to wonder why I hadn’t been more open with them, or Jason at least. But then I instantly knew why. Jason would moderate me, or try to, and Linda, well, I just didn’t want her to know too much about me. The feeling was difficult to pin down but the fact was that she could make you tell her things that you afterwards wished you hadn’t because you felt a lesser person for having said them. Again, ‘subjective?’ or ‘objective?’ I wondered. I didn’t like it that she was spending so much time with Jason.
I’d phone her I decided, just to see if she knew about this story. I only managed to get through to her, though, when I resorted to contacting Jason.
“Oh Cecy. Hello, how are you? Lyn is here too as it happens. I’ll put you on speakerphone.” He didn’t leave me enough time to pour a dampener on the idea, so before long I was in a conversation with them both, mostly about the puppies (due in a matter of weeks now) and the state of the foresters house. The elephant on the line, though, crashed through, just when I’d resigned myself to giving up on my questions.
“Must be a hell of time for you Cecy, with Ed being taken away for questioning like that.”
I was silent, anchoring myself with a fixed stare at the floor.
“I wasn’t going to mention it babe, but it isn’t a good thing to avoid things is it? You must need someone to talk to about it…don’t you?”
She sounded quite frank, and actually, I conceded, she was probably right, I did need to confide in someone. But not now.
“I didn’t know that he had been…taken for questioning.”
“It was his phone Cecy. Not the one found on the victim…I mean that the last call the boy made was to Ed. That’s what I heard. Cecy? Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here.”
“So they’ll probably want to speak to you as well.”
“Why for gods sake?” My defences came up.
“Well you know. Because you’ve spent so much time with him, and his daughter’s death and everything.”
“I’ve got absolutely nothing to do with it Lyn..and Jase…are you still there Jase?”
“Aha, yes ce..”
I spoke over him, “The poor lad was probably a student of his or something. Just a horrible coincidence that he spoke to Ed before it happened.”
“You’re probably right Cecy” thank god Jason came back with something placating. “Let’s leave it at that Lyn.”
“Well okay but you should know Cecy that there are rumours about you and Ed…and people are saying that you had a big fire where it looked like you were burning papers, and personal things. You just seem to have gone to ground. Nobody knows you anymore.”
I wondered whether the information was for me or for Jason’s benefit, and said flatly, “They didn’t before. You mean they don’t trust me. They can’t fathom, and they’re guessing as to why I’ve split from Jase and then all the stuff you’ve raised before about Elly and Becky and Ed.”
“Well what about that Cecy? What’s going on?”
“There’s nothing going on Lyn. Ed’s okay, and the only conspiracy that seems to be going on is one to implicate him and me.”
“So why don’t you come out and say so? Stand up for yourself”
Thankfully Jason came through, the Jason of old. “Lyn. You should stop now. I know you’re frustrated but it isn’t helping.” And now Linda was on the receiving end of the quelling force.
“Jesus guys” she said, and left it at that.
“Jase, I’ll have a puppy if there’s one still available” I suddenly announced.
“Well, it might only be a small litter – y’know, being her first.”
“Yes, I know.” I wasn’t as irritated with him as I might have been.
I replaced the handset and lifted it again to leave a message for Ed. Then I checked myself, wondering whether I should be in touch, particularly whether a message was wise. Was I really sure where I was in all this anyhow. What the hell was going on? I missed normality. I missed Elly. She’d have been definite about things.
I repeatedly thought about about ‘No Mans Green’: the derelict building with Elly’s glasses placed on the ledge. But she had definitely got as far as Scotland, I knew that much. And yet, who was that man I’d walked with by the canal who’d met her there? I only had his word, didn’t I. He could have been something to do with this lad. If he’d found me he might have found Elly before me, and the lad sometime in between. It was horrifying…and possible.
The acid in my stomach seared a pain right through my chest, clenching me over for a moment. Determined to do something other than consume biscuits and wine I grabbed the car keys and drove off to the gorge for a walk. It was uncomfortable hitting the potholes in the road, all the while trying to calm the movement in my torso and prevent another acid burn. I took the old, direct route and gave up the car in Jackfield. Parking was easy, being off-season and the weather being drab, which was a blessing. I wended past the gentrified factory sites and their demure plaques and boards, wanting instead the Bedlam they depicted: some equilibrium between my guts and the world. By the time I’d reached the bridge my resolve to call Ed and leave a message was made, so I headed down the steps and under the iron girders, looking up at the curving metal as I listened to several rings, waiting for the answerphone. They kept coming and the message didn’t, but eventually I was answered by Ed in person.
“Ed, it’s Cecile. I heard you’ve been questioned.” I heard a quaking in my voice which shocked me.
“Yes, that’s right. How are you.”
I immediately berated myself for my rudeness. No grace at all.
“I’m alright. Well lousy, confused, sick to the stomach.”
“That kind of alright.”
“But I’ve been worried about why you were being questioned. Must have been a coincidence that he called you. Who was he?”
“They don’t know who he was and neither do I. Wish I did. Anyhow, it seems that despite my being in Glasgow at the time of the call, which was made from the crime scene they say, I’m not in the clear because there’s evidence that he might have been sleeping rough there. There’s a patch of ground that’s been cleared and flattened, and there’s some singe marks and burned sticks nearby, oh and a sodden sock. I guess they think that I might have kept him waiting for me there till I got back.”
I wanted to ask Ed whether he told them I’d been there, in the very same woods, but there must have been a good reason why he wasn’t saying anything about that. My instinct was to mention myself as little as possible, especially over the phone. Maybe I should go and clear my name with the police. The more I spoke to Ed, though, the more implicated I felt.
“Well, I hope this all blows over quickly and they find the culprit,” I hazarded.
“Well, these things don’t tend to blow over.” He went quiet. “Cecile, I think I’m going to revisit Diabaig for a few months, authorities permitting.”
“Oh. Okay then. I’ll maybe see you when you’re back in the area then.” My guts hit the floor.
“Yes. Look after yourself Cecy.”
My phone bleeped to let me know the call had ended and my hand reflexively returned it to my pocket.
Had I lost a sock? Probably. I’d had a pair strapped on the outside of my sack, drying. Did I have them both when I left there in the dark? But what if it was mine, anyhow? They wouldn’t be able to tell that, not unless they suspected me, and that surely wasn’t likely. My visit was getting on for a year later anyhow. But what if they thought I knew the place and was going back there? If I told them anything at all it would mean explaining myself – why I was there – and bringing Elly into the picture again, then there’d be a labyrinth of questions and explanations required that’d most likely just intensify the suspicions of Ed, and possibly of me too.
All the momentum in my life that had been so hard won had crashed headlong into another roadblock. I felt defeated again. Just as I had learned to let go of Elly, and be satisfied knowing that she’d chosen her destiny, I now needed her as the only one who could give it all some kind of meaning.
The spooky thing was that just as I was sinking more and more into my grief Jason knocked the door and delivered the news that Elly had been in contact. He’d spoken to her. She wanted to meet with us. Tomorrow, midday, she’d suggested. He hoped I didn’t mind that he’d agreed to that on both of our behalf’s. I wondered whether he seriously thought that I might mind! The only thing that troubled me was that I hadn’t heard from her myself. But Jason wouldn’t mess about. I rehearsed that to myself so as not to disintegrate with the waiting.