Over the days since discovering Elly’s file my mind had been exercised, more and less explicitly, over the reference to a Godfather. It struck me as rather sinister that she should have taken this figure, real or imaginary, to heart in the way that apparently she had. His comments seemed to have had an influence upon her that you would reserve for the revered, in keeping with his alias. I looked at the open file, wanting to rifle through it and remove anything that might relate to him for closer inspection, but I also had the sense of the contents being time and place- sensitive; that their ability to share the story depended upon the retention of their structural relationships, and of their chronology. The thought carried uncomfortable resonances with the forensics of crime-scenes, but I had the benefit of associations with a more benign archeological metaphor to draw upon. I was no Freud though. So, unable to mess them up with my curiosity, I spent some time just looking at the papers, then closed the lid.
“Oh Christ, the door again”. Linda wanted to know whether I’d like to go to the pub for dinner. It was the ‘two for one’ night this week, she said – really good value.
“Listen babe, I’m telling you that you need to get out, okay? Seems like a good time to do it while the food and drink is cheap” she smiled and winked.
I said ‘yes’ to give me a breathing space before I’d need to talk to her, not so much because it was Linda as because I’d become absorbed in elusive thoughts that giving my attention to someone else might mean I’d miss. Well, this was the feeling anyhow, like holding something carefully until you can put it down safely. Now I was just going to have to shove it on the side and hope for the best, not an ideal circumstance in which to negotiate a conversation with someone I didn’t really trust.
I hung up my boho house coat and looked at myself in the mirror. Could I dress this up? My blacks were too black and my greys had seen better days, but colours! Colour choices would take more time and enthusiasm than I’d got to offer for an evening in the pub. I chose the greys. They always cheered me up in fact, always suited the occasion, hence their shabby appearance. I went for flamboyance in my shoes.
“They’re great shoes” Linda observed. “What size are you?” and she sent me another wicked expression, putting a soft slow hand on my arm. I smiled and snorted as I shut the front door and carefully descended the steps. I wondered why I’d chosen them anyway, when I would really rather have stayed at home. Overcompensation.
The chalk board with today’s dishes was positioned on the wall in the corner of the room, behind a series of occupied tables. With care over my steps I walked closer, to try to achieve a distance from which I could make the words out, but I could only read it when I was way too close to the corner table. What’s more, the board was directly behind the head of the man seated there, so to examine it I’d have to look straight at him, and through him, as he tried to eat. Rather than study the menu around his head I decided that the list must include fish and chips, their menu always did, so that’s what I’d have. Anything to spare my embarrassment. I was so busy making sure that I didn’t catch his eye that I hadn’t recognised him, and found myself going back to the table to Linda’s energetically whispered assertions that “that guy in the corner table is Ed, I’m sure it is. You know, Becky’s dad”.
I did know Ed in fact. After Becky had overdosed he came round to try and speak to Elly. I wished he had managed to because it might have smoothed things over a bit, but she refused to talk to him. Although she had wanted to, Becky’s mum couldn’t bring herself to come round to see Elly, she was so angry and upset, hence sending Ed, but I’m sure she’d have got nowhere either. I tried to get Elly to contact Ed afterwards a few times, when the accusations were getting out of hand, telling her that letting people build her up into some kind of monster was stupid, when all she probably had to do was see their side of it a bit more, apologise for the things she did do, and show them how sorry she was that Becky suffered so badly. The more I talked to her the more resistant she became. At first she wanted to know why I thought that changing their opinion of her was such a good thing. After a while she just ignored me. Jason hadn’t seen much merit in my persistence, and said it was probably better to let Elly do it her own way.
“I thought he’d moved away” Linda sipped luxuriantly from her glass and was looking into my preoccupied face. “After he and Maggie split up?” She wasn’t able to discern any awareness in me, so continued; “They’ve not kept contact apparently, and Becky refused to see him at all ever since her overdose”.
“Yes, I was vaguely aware he’d gone, but it wasn’t far was it. He still comes and goes. He seems to come mainly for fishing.” When I’d decided to walk the dogs by the river at Coalbrookdale I’d occasionally seen him, early in the morning usually, hunkered down in his shelter. We didn’t acknowledge each other; after all, the outcome of his one and only visit had been greater rather than less estrangement between our families.
I moved my head up to take a look at the room in general, using peripheral vision to get some idea of whether it was in fact Ed. I don’t have very good recall of faces, but with this man it didn’t seem to matter very much. He carried himself in such a way that his identity was unmistakable, and added to this he was always dressed in green: soft, tweedy greens. In the Crown that might have blended him in, but the Bull attracted the townies more. Once I’d satisfied myself that it was Ed it seemed that I forgot to conceal my interest because the next time I looked up he nodded acknowledgment of me. I curtly nodded back to him.
“Do you know why he and Maggie split up?” Now I was inadvertently asking questions of Linda.
“No, not specifically, other than looks like it was to do with Becky”
I was thinking about Elly’s childhood diary; how suspicious she had been of Becky’s dad there, and of how I’d briefly wondered about his involvement when Elly disappeared. If it was the custom of police and populace alike to suspect family members when something happens to a relative, it was more likely in my opinion to be someone in his position who was implicated. He was most definitely, though, away on some kind of expedition at the time, in fact an absence that extended to matters of months either side of that day. He was a scientist, I was told at the time, though it looked as though this expedition was more recreational than to do with his work. So, wherever Elly was now, it was clear that her disappearance wasn’t anything to do with him.
“Are you missing Jase Cecile?”
It was surprising: direct. I didn’t know what to say.
“Why do you ask?.” Did that sound too hostile? My first response to Linda’s query was to feel intruded upon, as though territory might be conceded or held. I still felt that sense of shared ground with Jason that you get after years of partnership; not exactly possession but privacy, something unassailable. But with separation it was breaking down, and soon I would have no rights over our bond, it would be entirely historic.
“Have you seen him lately Lyn?”
She wasn’t embarrassed by the question, but said that she had seen him a few times actually. She said she’d put him onto a friend of hers who could help sort out the damp in his house.
I’d had quite a few drinks before we left, thankful that at least I’d had some fish and chips to slow down the effects. It was a surprise to me to have a clear head in the morning, no ill-effects at all. What I was left with, though, was a vague recollection of disturbed dreams involving Ed. They weren’t clear enough for me to call to mind any content. “Would it be worth me getting in touch with him?” I mumbled dimly as I opened the curtains. It didn’t really make sense, I knew that. It was probably his alienation from his daughter that made me feel that there was some sense or purpose in the idea. He had nodded to me, assented to some kind of rapprochement that might make contact possible. And I was on my own now, so it was not as though he would be talking to the same creature, as it were, as in his previous experience. But he had recently lost Becky. That might make it extremely indelicate, inconsiderate, for me of all people to try and talk to him, especially since I didn’t know why I wanted to. Well, potentially indelicate. It would depend how I managed the approach.