by Michael E. Lloyd
|Table of Contents|
Book I: Windmills Everywhere
Chapter 2: Friend At Hand
part 2 of 2
‘OK, that’s better. So, I didn’t make a lot of friends at junior school. People avoided me — they didn’t want to be associated with the clever-clogs. Do you understand that, Shaun?’
‘Yes, I do. I saw it in my schools too. But I never suffered it myself!’
Nice guy. Trying to make me smile.
‘Hah! Lucky you! Anyhow, I learnt to live with it. Just kept my head down most of the time. But it did mean I was always rather lonely ... at home and everywhere else.
‘Later on, I got good results in my senior school exams, and I landed that place I really wanted at Uni. Mother had been working very hard and saving up to support me, long before I understood how much it would cost. She was so unselfish. And then I had to leave her at home to cope on her own, just when she was starting to get sick. But everyone has their own selfish priorities at that age, don’t they? You know that very well yourself, of course.’
There’s another one! “Absolutely.” Hah!
‘So, I got my degree. But there weren’t any careers around matching my weird qualifications! And I felt Mother was still coping OK, and the few friends I’d made were sticking in Scotland, so I decided to stay there too.
‘I did part-time jobs for a couple of years. Some of them needed my skills. Most of them didn’t. Then Mother got worse, and I came back down here to be with her. Found some more casual work. But I soon realised I couldn’t live in our little house much longer ... not enough privacy and space, after being in my own digs for so many years. Does that sound unkind, Shaun?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Good. And that meant I needed to get a proper job, so I could pay London rent prices. So I worked hard on that, and I finally got lucky and found the Institute. They urgently needed an extra pair of hands just like mine, and there I was on their doorstep! Vanessa (she’s my boss — there are only four of us altogether) ... Vanessa and I hit it off from the start, and I’ve been with them ever since — for more than three years now. I love it there, Shaun!
‘And I found a lovely big room in a nice house in Southgate, not too far from Mother’s, and I moved out. But I visited her every day after work, and did what I could to keep her comfortable and as happy as possible.’
‘Was she getting worse?’
‘Yes. She was dying. Nothing they could do. And she wouldn’t move out to a hospice or a nursing home.’
‘You’re about to give me some bad news, right?’
He’s on the ball. Smart in more ways than one. And still holding my hand so tenderly.
‘Yeah. And it’s much worse than you’ve guessed.
‘Ten months ago she went downhill fast. The doctor said she wouldn’t last more than a few weeks, especially if pneumonia set in. And it did. Then it was down to a few days. I moved some bits back into my old bedroom, and Vanessa let me stay off work. And I just sat with Mother as she slowly faded away ...
‘And then she went and did it, Shaun! She TOLD me!!’
‘Hey, easy, easy ... OK, that’s better. So, who did what, exactly?’
‘My mother suddenly opened her eyes and said she had something really important to tell me. And then, out of the blue, she said “I’m not your real mother, Donna.” God, I’ll never forget that moment ...’
‘Oh hell. Hey, come on, sit still! You must try and relax ...’
‘OK, OK. Yeah, that’s what she said. And she was really weak by then. Hardly able to talk. Especially after telling me that! I was stunned, Shaun! I just went blank, and I couldn’t say a word either. I wanted to speak, but it felt as if I didn’t have my voice any more.
‘And then she began to look very distressed, and I had to give all my attention to what was obviously happening to her. I finally got her a bit more comfortable, and I tried to say something again. But I only managed “So who ...?” before my throat locked up. She looked me straight in the eyes and whispered “Cath ...” Then she coughed and spluttered and asked for a glass of apple juice, of all things! I went off to get one from the kitchen, of course. And when I came back, she’d gone, Shaun. She’d gone.
‘So I never got to find out who my real mother was!
‘Why didn’t she tell me before, Shaun? And why did she have to tell me at all? AND WHY ...?’
‘Donna! Snap out of it! Everybody’s looking at us! And someone’s going to call an ambulance or the police if you don’t calm down very fast ...’
‘Oh, I don’t want that! Oh, no ... OK, OK, everybody, it’s all OK. I’m fine now. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK ...’
‘Here you are, Donna. The barman was willing to let you have one more single to calm your nerves. Then, frankly, I think we should leave.’
‘Yes, all right — we’ll go in a few minutes. Thank you for being so kind, Shaun. But there’s something more I have to tell you, otherwise you just won’t understand.’
‘I’m still listening ...’
‘As I said, that all happened about ten months ago. I had to get stuck into all the things you need to do when somebody dies. And go straight back to the Institute and work extra hours to catch up. I think that’s when I started doing a bit more drink and drugs than usual. Probably trying to cope with what I’d just learnt ...
‘But I purposely ignored it for a while, and that was actually quite easy, ’cos I was so busy with everything else. But once all the official stuff was under control, I spent a long time going through Mother’s papers, trying to find something that would give me the answer I needed. There was nothing. Whatever took place after I was born, she and my father must have worked hard to cover the trail.
‘But something else happened while I was doing that. I steadily lost interest in finding the answer. Does that sound stupid, Shaun?’
‘I don’t know. Keep talking ...’
‘Well, I told you I’d given up on the concept of a father, twenty years earlier. If he couldn’t be bothered to stay with my mother or show any interest in me, why should I care about him? And now I was beginning to feel exactly the same way about Mother. Mother? Hah! The one word that doesn’t properly describe her, and I’m still using it ...’
‘Easy, Donna, easy. Try to keep your voice down.’
‘OK. So, she obviously didn’t care enough to tell me the truth, right? And as soon as I woke up and realised that, I found I’d lost most of the love and respect I’d always had for her, too. I know that’s awful, but it’s what happened. And that’s not the worst of it ...’
‘It didn’t take me much longer to abandon the idea of looking for my real mother. For the same sort of reason. If she didn’t want me, and just gave me away for someone else to look after, why should I give a damn about her?’
‘I’m not sure it’s that easy, Donna ...’
‘Yeah, I know. But this isn’t about logic, Shaun. You have to see that.’
‘Sure. Of course I do.’
‘Good. So, that’s it. Three decades ago, someone called Cath — or whatever, I just don’t know — had a kid she didn’t want, dumped it, and got on with her life. Well, good riddance. I’ve now lost two mothers, and I’m simply trying to get on with my own life.
‘But that’s not all, of course. I never knew my father. And now I can’t even be sure that my father was my father ... if you see what I mean! How many of them have I lost?’
‘You know, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you smile, Donna.’
‘Yeah? Well, that must be my special irony smile. I probably have better ones hiding somewhere, but I think I’ve lost them too ...’
‘Don’t be silly. It’s a lovely smile.’
What a smoothy.
‘So is that everything?’
‘Almost. I’d been coping OK, after I made those decisions to for- ... hah, no, just to forget. But then I got a stupid birthday present last week, and something about that brought it all back. I suddenly felt completely empty — like a living nothing, with no identity. I understood instantly what all my existentialist heroes had felt. Really understood.
‘And then I started seeing these changes happening around me. Only in photos and papers and books and houses, at first ... but then in our wonderful London buildings. And after a while I thought I might be going crazy, ’cos no-one would believe me. But then you came along, and I’m not crazy after all! And now I’m happier than I have been for years ...’
‘I’m really pleased, Donna. And the barman seems to have stopped worrying about us. I think we can stay a bit longer! So, your Mother’s place is empty at the moment, is it?’
‘Oh, no. It was only a small terraced house, but it was much bigger than I needed, and I soon decided I didn’t want all the cost and hassle of looking after it — and the little garden! No time, no motivation! And it had all fallen into quite a state of disrepair! No money to fix any of that!
‘But my “parents” had bought it in Mother’s name, for some reason, and I was the only person mentioned in her will, so my “father” had no claim on it and I didn’t need to try and locate him, thank god. And my birth certificate clearly shows them as my parents — so something very strange must have been done when they registered me — but of course it’s always been “valid” and I had no problem proving my right to inherit.
‘But there was still a mortgage outstanding — the man had made regular interest-only repayments on it, but at least he’d done that! — and the life insurance policy had lost a lot of its value. So I just asked our bank to contact his and get the payments cancelled, and I put the house up for sale. Of course, that was right in the middle of the huge downturn in the market — and then the surveys showed the place really needed to have a lot of work done on it. Down went the value again! So once it was finally sold off, very cheap, and I’d covered all the legal fees and other costs, I ended up with an awful lot less than I’d been led to expect. Poor Donna.’
‘I’m very sorry.’
I’ll bet he is. That would have been a nice place for him to crash indefinitely!
‘Never mind. I’m happy living where I am, for the time being. I’ve kept a chunk of cash available — I’ve always fancied a proper holiday one of these days, and I reckon I deserve it now! — and I’ve invested the rest carefully, ready for a rainy day. Or maybe even a sunny one ...’
‘I’m very pleased to hear it.’
Don’t really think he should look quite so pleased about it. But perhaps that’s just his way of being nice. He is so nice.
‘Anyway, that’s quite enough of me for today. But I am feeling much better for telling you about it all. Thanks for listening.’
Chance my arm again .......
‘Wow, another kiss! This is my lucky day.’
‘And mine, I think, Shaun. So, let’s get back to business. What are we going to do about the conspiracy?’
‘Good question. Tell you what, I’ll go to the loo this time, and we can both have a little think about it ...’
Oh, he must have knocked his bag over when he pushed his chair back. His books are falling out ...
Architecture for Dummies? Huh? I thought he’d been observing stuff on the street for fifteen years. And it’s brand new. How did he manage to pay for that?
And a cheap little concertina book: London’s Finest Buildings — a Photographic Souvenir of Your Visit. But surely he knows all of them intimately already?
‘You’re not going to believe this ...’
‘There was a radio on in the kitchen. I just caught the end of a news item. Something about the façades of two Oxford colleges being swapped around. I didn’t catch their names ...’
‘Oh my god! Not Oxford, please, please ...’
‘No, NO ...’
‘Right, we’re leaving here and now, Donna, before they throw us out!’
* * *
‘I’m taking the Tube here, Shaun. What about you?’
‘I’m walking — in the other direction.’
‘OK. So, what are we going to do? About Oxford, I mean ...’
‘Well, I can’t do anything for the next two days at least.’
What’s he so busy with, then?
‘Oh. I thought you’d be a bit more worried than that.’
‘You die if you worry, you die if you don’t, Donna. What about you?’
Maybe he’s job-hunting. I hope so. Or something else? Why doesn’t he tell me? Maybe I should I call him “Odette” and see how he reacts!
‘I don’t know. Been off work most of the week. Supposed to go back tomorrow. Not sure if I want to ... not with Oxford hanging over us like this.’
‘Well, I’m sure you’ll think better after a good night’s sleep.’
What a cliché. But his smile says he means it.
‘Yeah. Look, I’d like to be able to contact you if ... well, if I feel I need to. But I guess you don’t have a phone ...’
‘I do, actually. My mate’s old one — pay-as-you-go. I only use it for emergencies. Not much credit left on the card now!’
‘Oh, that’s good! So, let’s swap numbers.’
* * *
Sunday 3 May
Another amazing day! Awful news about the V&A — and then to see what they’ve done to St Paul’s and the Bank! But Shaun helped me through it all, and then I confided in him about Mother and everything. He’s such a dear.
But he’s still a big mystery too. I never seem to learn much more about him, even when he tells me stuff. And I was really confused about those books in his bag. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation, though. Maybe his mate’s just shown an interest in what’s going on, and gave Shaun the money to buy them for him today. Yes, that’s probably what it is ...
’Cos something is still going on, and it’s spread to Oxford now. It’s just not fair. And I don’t know what to do.
Shaun said I should sleep on it. He’s right, of course. And I’ll need to be up bright and early if I am going to work.
He gave me his number! Yes! And then he kissed me!!
* * *
‘Vanessa? Hi, it’s Donna.’ ... ‘Yes, a lot better, thanks. But — well, I’m afraid I’ve got to hand in my resignation.’ ... ‘Yes, I know, but I have a lot on my mind right now, and there’s so much I need to sort out.’ ... ‘Yes, I’m really sorry. I know how hard it will be for you.’ ... ‘No, as of now, Vanessa. I must get on with other stuff straight away. But I’ll pay back last week’s salary, and more if you insist.’ ... ‘Yes, you’ve always been so considerate, Vanessa, but this is something I just have to do ...’
I didn’t enjoy that. Not sure if it was the right decision, either. But what’s done is done.
It’s nearly ten o’clock. Do I make a half-job of it, and rush off now? Or shall I do some proper preparation — and some washing and cleaning, dammit! — and go first thing tomorrow morning?
* * *
Monday 6 pm
Intended to do some housework today, but I had a special little cocktail for brunch and .......
Never mind! Watched a few old House episodes this afternoon. I love that man! Come with me onto the streets, Gregory, and we shall take no prisoners!!
All set for Oxford now. Nearly called Shaun at least five times today, to ask him to join me. But it would have been a waste of time and emotion. He made it clear he wasn’t free. Is he really concerned about what’s happening all around us? And is he really interested in me, dammit? He’s certainly not over-pushy!
Hah! P’raps that’s actually why I like him so much! I think I’d be rather suspicious if he were a lot more forward.
Just re-read a big chunk of Swann’s Way (very fast — ah, the benefits of “speed-reading” ... ha-ha-ha!). Yes, Shaun is a bit like Odette. Silly old Swann.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd