Despite my overworking imagination, I finally managed to sleep later than dawn, and, aching, made for the kitchen table. On the way I hit the answerphone button. The first to come through was that one I’d left for myself after escaping No Man’s Green. The vitality in my voice struck me forcibly, especially when message number two played.
“Hello Cecy” Jason began monotonously. “I came round a few times but you weren’t in. Can you get back to me when you’re home. I’m guessing you’ve been away somewhere. Anyhow, I’ve checked out the situation with the dogs, and looks as though I’ll be able to let the young’un have puppies. We should have a talk about how we’re gonna do things.”
After that there were a few junk messages that I skipped. Then a message from Linda: could we meet up sometime this week for a chat and catch-up? I didn’t know. I’d think about it. Finally I heard my own voice again, warning myself from the bus that I would soon be back there. Once the machine confirmed that they were all deleted, I sat down.
So, a puppy. I was struck by the dilemma. The pup would make domestic life more bearable but would also make it impossible for me to continue with my walk. I might be able to delay things, and of course there was the gestation time, but the trouble was that it committed me in a way that I knew would interfere with my resolve. Anyhow, I felt a twinge of shame, and maybe at least some injured pride, to now become equivocal after being so definite when I’d suggested it. “Bollocks!” I said more sadly than anything else. I now had losses to deal with, whatever my decision. But I was puzzled nonetheless at my sadness. Why couldn’t I just do my walk and then come back home to the prospect of a puppy? Surely that would be the best of both worlds. And yet the feeling was completely wrong. I needed to be unbounded. I couldn’t entertain the thought that my walk was squeezed in, or on the other hand that it was merely filling in time. I might end up loving the pup but hating myself, since my sense of loss would have to go somewhere. My worlds had clashed over an unborn puppy.
“Jase, something’s come up that complicates things a bit.”
“That why you were away?”
“Uh, yes, kind’v.”
“Well, I’ve decided to breed from her anyhow. There’s a few people interested in having a pup from her, so as long as I can find a suitable dog I’ll be going ahead.”
He didn’t seem annoyed, just pretty pragmatic about it. I was glad she’d get the chance of a litter, since the old’un never had, and I decided not to indulge any pangs just yet. It was out of my hands, and easier for that, at least until I’d seen my mission through.
It surprised me that he never asked what it was that had come up. I’d been ready with an explanation – not completely truthful but comprehensible. It occurred to me when he’d rung off, though, that the only reason he would not ask would be from the obvious assumption – an affair. How like him not to actually bloody well ask!
After a burdened sigh I picked up the phone again and dialled Linda.
“Oh thanks for getting back babe. I was wondering what’d happened to you. Are you free tonight? The Bull perhaps?”
“Well, I’m not sure about the pub Lyn.” There was a pause in which I realised that it was so much preferable to Linda coming round here, or me to her. “Second thoughts. 7.30 at the Bull.”
“Cool. See you there.”
I wore green this time. Not acid, nor racing, but mossy and soft. In her high shoes Linda was almost as tall as me, and she looked slim today. She didn’t always, and I was never quite sure whether that was on account of her clothing style, her attitude and carriage, or her actual size. We didn’t say a word to each other on the way to the Bull, nor at the bar, except to negotiate the round. Finally we sat at the only available table, in the window.
“You’re looking well Lyn.”
“Thanks babe. You look…different.” She was regarding me with mock accusation, communicating that she knew that I had overstepped some line; heroically or morally culpably wasn’t clear. It amused her though, whatever she thought of it. But then her expression changed, and she looked straight at me:
“Cecy.” She paused. “Quite a few people have noticed you with Ed. They remember things y’know.”
I looked at her flatly.
“There’s all sorts of talk,” she tried again.
“Who Lyn, and what are they saying?” I was damned if I was going to let her put the frighteners on me with vague generalisations. If she wanted to tell me something she was going to have to include the evidence. She of all people should know that, after everything that we went through with Elly.
“Well pretty much everyone is saying something, and most of it isn’t nice in truth. But y’know how it is. Nobody comes out and says it, it’s more like, ‘Cecile seems to be with Ed alot’ and then to emphasise the relevance, ‘you know, Beccy’s dad’, and ‘he’s an odd one. Comes and goes’ and someone will add ‘I heard he used to spend time with Elly and Rose, in the pub’. The thing is, Cecy, that it doesn’t stop there. There’s a rumour that he abused Becky. You can see how it looks. Becky’s mum kicked him out for what he did to Becky, then he sets his sights on the girls who put her in hospital – forgive me Cecy, I know that’s not fair – and one of those depraved girls (that’s how they see it) destroys herself with all sorts of stuff, the other disappears, then after his own daughter finally dies, Ed takes up with you. And Elly is still missing. Christ Cecy, it makes you look really bad this.”
“You think I’ve been away having it off with Ed!”
“No but…well where did you go? You said nothing to anyone.”
So many responses vied for a voice. “Fuck it!” was all that came out. Then a riposte of sorts: “y’know that there used to be rumours about Jase? That he was some kind of pedophile because he wore shorts or, if not shorts then tights, and he had a young daughter. What do you think of that? I’m really interested coz I never really knew what to make of it at the time. Sometimes I thought he should care about it and bloody well cover himself up. And I wondered why he refused. What do you think Lyn.? I’m really interested.”
“Well I suppose it was up to him. If he truly didn’t care then I suppose, well why do what they want?” She twisted her mouth slowly, biting her lip, then said “but this is different Lyn. Do you actually know Ed anyway? You need to look out for yourself.”
I hadn’t forgotten my worries over being alone with Ed, and how strange I’d found him. And I remembered the debates I’d suffered over trusting my instincts and where that would lead me. But now I also had the counterpoint. If I’d trusted my instincts over my walk then I would have stayed at home, and yet it was the most invigorating and healing thing I’d yet done, in all those years since Becky took the overdose.
“I’m not screwing around with Ed Lyn.”
“I believe you babe.”
“But thousands wouldn’t eh?”
She looked at me from under arched eyebrows.
“Wouldn’t matter would it, normally. You’ve split from Jase, you’re a free agent.”
“D’you think anyone would in the least bit think that I might want to know what had happened to Elly, and try to find out?”
“S’pose they might see it that way. But who in their right mind would risk cosying up to a perpetrator? Surely the police should have that burden, not a single woman, on her own.”
“The police can only act on evidence, unlike the village.”
“So did you find anything out then?”
I wanted to shake all this off. The insinuations, mine and hers, were taking on more status than they should. She would go away from here with the story that I was trying to conduct some kind of covert investigation by getting close to Ed, which would be greeted with the harshest cynicism and critical judgement yet. And anyhow I didn’t want to do Ed a hateful disservice like that. There was really nothing that I could say that was going to rescue my reputation and stop the story from growing.
“Oh I’ve discovered a few things, but they weren’t on account of Ed. Anyhow, I know that she’s safe – that she got away from here okay, without foul play.”
“Has she been in contact then?”
“She left a lot of information one way and another. I found papers for instance that told me her plans.”
“Oh. So she planned the whole thing then?” Linda said gravely.
Linda had her finger on the pulse, clearly. Nobody wanted to see Elly come to harm, but on the other hand if she’d put them through this deliberately – exploited their sympathies – then she could expect commensurate hostility.
“She made plans. As for the ‘whole thing’ it depends what that means. Anyhow Lyn, I take your point about how things might look, but I’ve no answer.” I managed to settle my nerve a bit with that statement, then some more with a solid draught of my pint.
“And how’s things with you?”
“Oh well, y’know. Same as, same as. But I’ve started on the decorating at last, now the plaster’s dry. It’s taking an age though.” She looked out of the window as she spoke, then turned her gaze back to the table as she wrestled a comment out about Jason: “he seems to be getting on okay. Does he suspect anything about Ed d’you think?”, which she quickly and emphatically qualified with a denial that she implied any truth behind the suspicion.
“I think he does imagine something’s going on, but whether he’s aware of Ed’s existence I have no idea. I certainly haven’t said anything about him; why would I? But I guess if everyone else is talking about me and Ed then that’s probably what he thinks.”
“I could have a word with him if you like Cecy.”
“I’m not sure what I’d want to you to say to him” but I knew as I said this that my misgivings were pretty immaterial. I didn’t know what Linda had in mind about this word, but I suspected that it would happen with or without my agreement.
We left after last orders, neither of us feeling satisfied with the state that we’d reached. There was greater ambiguity than when we started, and considerably more disturbance for me. Again I struggled with the question over whether I was constitutionally unable to accept care, to accept a warning from someone who was looking out for me, arising from an embittered state of mind, or whether my queazy feelings about the conversation were correct.