Sing like you know the w.., p.41

Sing Like You Know the Words, page 41

 

Sing Like You Know the Words
 



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  -Maybe it was just an excuse to contact you again.

  -He did have a thing for me.

  -I’m sure they all did

  -You don’t have to be quite so obvious about using the past tense Matt.

  -Sorry.

  Both of them seemed oddly discontented today. And the truth was that the restaurant had seen better days. The menu was tired. The over bright lighting exposed the sorry decline of the furnishings. Next time, he thought, they should arrange to meet somewhere else. Memories were all very well, but there were as many bad as good.

  -David won’t ever get the minister’s job, you know, Patricia told Matthew.

  -What makes you say that?

  -The moment has passed I think. He’s not such a good fit to the times any more.

  She tasted her drink and made a face.

  -I don’t know why I ordered this merlot. I hardly like the stuff at all anymore. In fact, I don’t like this place much. I don’t know why we have to meet here.

  -We don’t have to meet at all, if you’d rather not.

  -This town is all wine bars and fancy shops now, isn’t it? I wonder what is the least amount you need per year to live here these days. Must be a fortune. Do you remember when we were all first together here, how cheap everything was?

  -Ugly though. Don’t you think it’s better now?

  -Yes I suppose. I miss something though, not just my young self. I’d rather be young then than now. I couldn’t be doing with all that makeup they have to wear now for one thing, and going to noisy bars where you can’t speak, just to drink and be looked at. And I wouldn’t have looked good in the clothes they wear now. Too sexy for me.

  -You were very good looking.

  -I was pretty enough, in a plain sort of way. Do you want coffee?

  She rested her hand lightly on his:

  -Matt, you’re brooding about something.

  -I think I’m going to chuck my job

  -That’s silly, whatever else would you do?

  -I could… anyway; it’s not for me, really. It never was. I’m not worldly enough to be a journalist.

  -What a strange thing to say.

  -And I had no business giving your husband information about Mitchell Walcott. It was a breach of confidence.

  -David will make everything right.

  -Oh, I know, it will be fine. It’s just, that’s not what you do.

  -But that’s not the reason you’re thinking of leaving.

  -No, but what about you?

  Patricia fidgeted with her lighter, feeling the need for a cigarette. She’d started smoking again after twenty years, how stupid was that? And now it turned out there was practically nowhere left you were allowed to smoke.

  -I’m thinking I’ll probably leave David. Don’t panic, it has nothing to do with you, or anyone else.

  -Is it because of his affair?

  -What a curious thing to say. I’d almost forgotten about that.

  -You were hurt at the time.

  -I dare say I was, but no, not that. I’m not such a romantic. I think that in some ways Matthew, between the two of us, you are more the woman and I am more the man.

  -You work in a male dominated world I suppose

  -Do I? I’m not sure. You know, there are more women lawyers than men now. Of course the men hold all the top jobs so in that sense you are right. That was one reason I almost accepted when they asked me to be a judge, but I suppose that is one more thing I shall never do now. No regrets there though, I’d rather stay a nuisance than have the responsibility for making decisions.

  -So what is the problem?

  -Does disappointment need a reason? I don’t know. I suppose there should be more, that’s all. David still believes he loves me, but he hardly notices I’m there. I thought having Evelyn would make a difference.

  -David adores Evelyn

  -I meant a difference in the way he feels about me. If anything, she gets the attention now and I’m more surplus to requirements that ever.

  -That’s stupid, David needs you.

  -Jane needs you a lot more than David needs me.

  -I need her too.

  -Yes I think that is true

  Matthew was strangely reluctant to talk about Jane and Jason with Patricia. He could see that she felt it. He could ramble on forever about what they had been doing together, where they had been, what plans they had. Some part of him was thinking about Jane and the child now. But the tone of what he would say seemed out of place here. Perhaps he felt a little guilty about what he knew was his good fortune. Dissatisfaction and disappointment had always been what brought Patricia and him together. Somehow it was a betrayal on his part that he had escaped from them. Even the problems at work were not weighing on him like, perhaps, they should.

  Matthew thought some more.

  -You won’t leave David, he decided.

  -You may be right. But you know what’s funny? When we got married, I was worried that we were too young. We might grow in different directions and come to despise each other. But David persuaded me: he said we’d live our lives as one. We’d always be together and we’d go through the same changes together. And after, we’d have it all to look back on together.

  -I remember I raised similar concerns about the two of you.

  -He told me that. He said it was none of your business. But even though he’s been absent, one way or another, for so much of the time, you know he was right. We have always spent a little time together, and we are still friends. It’s just the sex. He’s not interested, or he’s got no time for it. It’s not that I’m getting old, even though that’s true. Looking back, I think we’ve been that way always. Apart from right at the start. It was a relief to me in a way, when he fell for that stupid girl. It showed he was, well, normal. I suppose you knew all about that?

  -Yes; he told me everything, whether I wanted to know or not, and later I found out that he confessed to you. But it seemed cruel and pointless to let you know that I knew.

  -It hardly matters now, does it? But back in the beginning, all that concern about whether we would have anything to say to each other, and the problem turned out to be not that at all, but something I never even considered.

  -Is it a big problem?

  -You know I have a practical nature. I’ve had my lovers. You’ve got your own girl now, so you’re out of the picture. That’s ancient history. The main thing is; I have to be discreet. I could never be with someone who wants to run away with me, and that makes it all a little sad and pathetic. I manage.

  -But you don’t sound content. Is it guilt?

  -Why should I feel guilty? I want to stay married to my husband, and there’s no other way to do it. It’s just as I get older, I get more frightened. I’m not so bad just now, for my age, but you know, gravity wins in the end. What happens when I can’t find a man who wants to take me to bed? I can’t imagine how I shall cope.

  -That time is years from now. David will be finished in his work by then. He’ll probably be more, you know, interested.

  -It will come sooner than you think, Matt. It’s the real curse of women to live longer, but age younger. Anyway, I wouldn’t want David to change now. The pattern of our lives is set. It would feel too weird. Maybe even five years ago: but now, I don’t want him in that way. And I can’t face being old and alone in this way. It makes me want to scream.

  Matthew had no reply for this, and they sat in silence for a while.

  -I can’t stay long. I have a conference in chambers this afternoon, Patricia said.

  -Let’s walk back together. We should get out of here anyway. The sun is shining outside. We’ll walk along the river.

  Patricia decided she did not want to finish her wine and summoned the waiter. She paid the bill with her card. My turn, she smiled.

  There was a vacant bench next to the water, where they sat. The day was cold but bright. The riverside walk was one of those carefully planned city environments: all tastefully modern stone harmonized with wha
t they called heritage features. Over the years the appearance of the place had improved beyond measure, even if the river was still dirty. Something besides money had been spent to pay for it though. Matthew imagined that you could read the cost in the eyes of the worker drones buzzing between their sanitized locations; office to wine bar, coffee shop, to flat. He was not immune himself.

  Patricia was staring at the water.

  -Something else happened to me you know. I was going to a church. I was going to meet someone and tell them something important; it doesn’t matter why. But when I got there, I couldn’t go inside. And now I feel like I’m never going back there, like I’m through with all that.

  -You’re talking to the wrong person. You need a priest to help you with loss of faith: or David maybe.

  -Some days I feel like I’ve lost everything I cared about, and I’m just carrying on for the sake of it.

  -You’ll always have Evelyn, he said.

  -Yes, I’ll always have her.

  The words were unspoken, but Patricia could have confessed that, when Evelyn was a baby, she had never experienced the emotional attachment that was said to flood through new mothers. Waiting for that feeling, that never came, had left her terrified that she was some kind of monster. Now that Evelyn was talking, reaching an age of reason, her mother had developed a more genuine affection for her. She looked forward to her daughter being a young adult and the time they might spend together. But that was how fathers were supposed to feel.

  Maybe she was a kind of monster. David had spoken to Evelyn from the first days as if she was already grown up and could understand whatever he was saying, but he seemed perfectly natural about it. There was never any doubt of the bond between them. Maybe Patricia would always be the outsider.

  She couldn’t say any of this to Matthew.

  -What about you, Matt. Does it still bother you? About Evelyn.

  -You know how I deal with things. Mostly I don’t think about it at all.

  -There are too many things you don’t think about and don’t notice.

  -These days I notice more. If you really want to know about it, the situation with Evelyn, well it broke my heart and for ages I never even knew it. But there´s no reason for it, and I don´t think of anyone as being to blame. There came a time when I finally admitted to myself that something inside me had been snapped, and that I wouldn’t be quite the same afterwards. Only now I think, maybe it was necessary for something that had to happen to me. Perhaps I have the kind of heart that has to be broken before it can be opened.

  -That sounds too sad.

  -I could be wrong. It’s a rule of life that other people know you better than you know yourself. That’s one of the reasons we need friends: to help us see ourselves.

  -You know that David’s always been your best friend. He helped you in ways you don’t even know about. He knew you’d be too proud to let him. The two of you should have each other. Even if you do give up on the job, don’t give up on the friendship.

  -I’ll bear your advice in mind. But you know I never really wanted to get on. I don’t know if you were talking about my promotion just now, but the fact is, if I hadn’t made editor, I wouldn’t be the one having to do the sackings now

  -What sackings?

  -The Examiner has new owners.

  -They still need writers, I suppose.

  -Apparently not; or not so many as you’d think anyway, and they have other titles so jobs can be consolidated. I’m going to have to manage that. I shall have to think of myself as a manager.

  -But if you weren’t the editor, it would probably be you getting the push.

  -True, but I think I could live with that more easily.

  It was time to go, but it felt like the end of something. Matthew was groping for words that would sum up the something, but he could find none.

  -When I look back, he said, I always thought that writing for the paper was only a step on my way, even though I was too timid even to think about what the next step might be. I suppose it felt right because it was writing, of a kind. It was a craft anyway, something that you could take seriously even after you admitted the limits of it. Afterwards, well the next steps never turned up, and I decided that the craft was enough for me. But then somewhere along the line I lost even that consolation and it became just a job. Now, I go to work, just like everyone else.

  -But everybody is like everyone else Matt: even David, as it turns out.

  The point I’m trying to make is; work can’t save you, even though I hoped it might. And I never looked for love to save me. Deep down I don’t know if I even believed it really existed, except as a shared delusion. But now it seems to me that there is nothing else that holds things together. Without it I’d be lost entirely.

  ***

  This is how the story ended for Mitchell Walcott. Ray Hawkins drove the taxi for a long time without speaking. He kept humming a tune to himself, which Walcott couldn´t help but find irritating even in his present situation. They left the city behind them and eventually turned off the main highway onto roads that were empty of traffic. Finally Hawkins took his gaze from the road for a moment and smiled pleasantly at Mitchell.

  -You know why I’m here, I suppose?

  -It was that man we saw, the first time I met you, the one you said was a policeman.

  -You saw him again, didn’t you?

  Mitchell nodded weakly

  -And for that you’re going to kill me now.

  -Nothing is that certain in life, but you should bear in mind that these doors are locked, so jumping out of a moving vehicle, which I would not advise anyone to try, is not an option. Also there is a weapon next to me here that is loaded and ready to fire and should you try to do anything really stupid it will put holes in you in really awkward places in a very short time. On the bright side, if that happens, the gun has a very good silencer, and the car is not mine so it won’t be me doing the cleaning up afterwards.

  Walcott did not reply.

  -So for now, we still have a drive ahead of us- If you have no objection we could pass the time with me telling you a little story. Help you understand one or two things.

  He smiled again at Walcott, who could do no more than shrug.

  -I’ll take that as a yes.

  Hawkins drove on steadily towards the mountains which seemed a far away destination. Walcott guessed that they would arrive soon enough.

  -You remember that last time we saw our friend; he was trying to persuade me to get something for him. I told you what it was but that probably meant nothing to you. Well, I’d told you before how I’d got to be friendly with some Irish lads, and that these lads had friends in other countries, who had need of some of the same kinds of stuff as them; weapons mostly, and explosives, I reckon you guessed that. They all had money, but not a ready supply of goods, which was where I could be helpful. It was all a long time ago.

  -Now the policeman, he had my name and I don’t know how, though I suppose that with his job it was not so hard for him to find me; and in any case he got word to me that he wanted a meeting. Not so easy for me to say no to that, me being an upstanding businessman and all; but worrying for all sorts of reasons; which was why it was helpful to me when you came along to act as my associate. At least he agreed to meet in England. No way was I going over to his place. I wasn’t exactly expecting trouble that night, but it wouldn’t have surprised me either.

  -As you know, it turned out that he wasn’t interested in my business, just in getting hold of some explosives. The curious part of that is that he wanted to get hold of the type of explosives that the friends of my friends, from the north of Spain, like to use. And, what’s more curious; because I can never leave well enough alone, I did some research on this person before our meeting, and I discover that his policeman’s job is supposedly to track down and catch these friends of friends of mine.

  -So now you see it’s not really strange at all, and I imagine right away that his intention is to plant the explosive on
some unfortunate person as evidence when he arrests or shoots them as a terrorist. So far so normal, but of course you know my opinion of police in general, so I had my mind made up from the off that I’ll be selling him nothing. But sometimes it’s best not to come out with these things in that blunt way, so I told him I would do my best. You know, stay polite, let him down gently.

  -Well as you will recall, this was one of those Spaniards who can’t keep his mouth shut, and he keeps on about his patriotic duty and saving the country, and his uncle who was not afraid to act to save the country and prison was his reward. And I have no idea what he’s talking about but I keep nodding and hoping he doesn’t start foaming at the mouth.

  -After the meeting; well I suppose I should have let it drop there, but I’m like the cat that died of curiosity. So I spoke to him a few times after, even met him again once, and did some digging on my own account.

  -It seems that our friend’s uncle was in a secret society back in the seventies. They called themselves the Allianza Apostolica Anticommunista if you can believe that: sounds more Italian comic opera than Spanish doesn’t it? Maybe they just wanted a name that would give three letters the same, like Klu Klux Klan. You can imagine what it was about: ultra religious, ultra Franquist and ultra reactionary. When Franco himself died in seventy five they all went a bit nuts.

  -And did what exactly?

  -One of their stunts was at 55 Atocha Street, in Madrid. In January seventy seven our friend’s uncle and some of his pals marched into the national trades union offices, and started lining up against the wall anyone who was wearing a suit or looked like they might be important. They massacred those people and walked away. They didn’t expect to be chased and they weren’t.

  -What were they trying to achieve?

  -Another civil war, I suppose: that’s how the fascists gained power in the first place. Unsettle the people and then everyone starts killing everyone else, until the army steps in for the good of all. In this case it was touch and go for a while, but I suppose the people on both sides weren’t really looking for another bloodbath just at that moment. They were still trying to get over their last civil war.

 
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