The funny thing is that now that he’s lost any hope of control, any chance of disabling that gun, he’s also free from fear. It’s amazingly liberating, this abdication of dominance. Once he’s ceased to fight, he can’t lose any longer.
‘Let’s have some coffee.’ Grant says it lightly, as if he doesn’t really care, it’s just a thought, it would be nice to have a cup of coffee. That’s what people do. People have a cup of bloody coffee when there’s nothing else to do, don’t they? Put the kettle on.
Dancer glances in the direction of the sitting room, looks keen to return to that haven of well established order. For as long as Grant is on his feet, the look says, he’s a threat, a source of the unexpected. ‘Haven’t you had enough liquid? You must have a monumental headache.’
He has. The sickness is persisting as well. And so is the occasional slip from reality, the times when he doesn’t quite know where he is or why. But for the moment his senses are co-operating. Everything is in sharp focus. There is still the silence. He is not mistaken about the silence. Only the night birds break it up from time to time.
He may not be able to fight, but he can scheme. Outwit while his wits are about him. Hence the coffee. It’ll get him to the kitchen. It may not be double glazed. And even if it is, there still may be more possibilities than here.
‘It’s not too bad. The headache. Coffee will do me good.’
Dancer observes him sharply, looking for cunning, weighing up the odds.
‘I promise not to throw a kettleful of hot water all over you.’ Grant laughs, weakly, then coughs a little. He only has his infirmity to offer for reassurance. It pleases him, this game that he’s directing with great precision. The precious clarity he’s got now needs to be put to good use before it all goes fuzzy again.
‘Oh, go on, then,’
Ridiculously, there are still the niceties of hospitality to be observed. If a house guest wants a cup of coffee, he’ll jolly well have a cup of coffee. Grant’s grateful for that small bonus.
Then it turns out that the beans need grinding first. That surprises him somehow. An unexpected, untypical attention to detail, indulgence of the taste buds. The fine, delicate coffee set and the dark, rich aroma of the drink in the fish and chip shop had the same effect on him on Tuesday. As if the goalposts have been moved, the rules of the game changed. As if it mattered.
‘This coffee even smells French.’ he remembers Emma flaring her nostrils comically. The chippy’s tiny windows had red chequered curtains that tinted the edges of her skin faint pink. She was enchanting, so lively and wilful until he ruined it all. He should have explained. Why couldn’t he say look here, old girl, it all goes way, way back, to before I was born. Back to when I was five and Cleo got married and left me to it. Back to when I was seven and Eve, ably aided and abetted by Adam and Rudi, offered me to the altar of humankind and the greater glory of Hamilton Grants. Or back to when I was eighteen and Rudi told me what was what in his flat above the laundrette. To when I dropped Hamilton, even though I could have equally well dropped Grant as well and lived my life happily as Smith or Jones. I rather fancied Potter. The life of Simon Potter would have been quite different from the life of Simon Hamilton Grant, don’t you think.
He could have laughed, turned it all quickly into a joke. And she would have laughed back, and everything would have been restored to what they both knew as normal. She wouldn’t have been asking questions, that was the big difference, Emma never asked questions, she never needed to know. As if there’s something to know. Why can’t Pippa see that there’s nothing worth knowing and that knowing wouldn’t change anything.
But, he didn’t say any of it, didn’t know how and she changed. Darkness fell as it always had done on anything he touched.
”Well, if you’re coming tonight, it’s only going to be salad and some cold meat for dinner. I’ve got a well woman clinic after surgery. Don’t know when I’ll finish.’ On the way back to her car she was charging up the hill, hiding her disappointment, annoyance maybe. Simon walked a step behind, careful not to overtake her, not to run into whatever was driving her forth.
‘Here,’ she fished a note out of her jeans pocket, folded and finely creased, ‘if you get the time tomorrow. This is the address. The Road Aid, the outfit that took Lennie to Bosnia. I got it off Mary Bates.’
He caught the paper before her fingers released it into nothing in the I-don’t-care-if-you-take-it-or-not, it’s-not-really-important way which he found deeply hurtful.
She talked quickly, catching her breath in mid-sentence. ‘You’ll be seeing Pippa tomorrow, of course. You must talk to her, sort it all out. She loves you, you know. She’ll make you a good wife one day if you give her a chance. You must have kids. You’d like that, wouldn’t you. A child of your own. All men want children of their own, don’t they. A little boy of their own. Do you like cricket?’ She turned to face him, anxiously searching his face, then spun back, forgetting to wait for the answer. ‘They can sometimes help with fostering. The Road Aid, I mean. Lennie told me that. The Road Aid is a good place to ask if you want to foster a child or two from Bosnia. Just until it’s all over and they can go back to their families. Or, maybe, if they have no family left, then perhaps, you know …’ She was at the Rover before him. ‘Here, I brought some medicine. They leave lots of that stuff behind. The reps. Stacks and stacks of samples. You can take this to the Road Aid. For the next time. The December run. They are just across the Thames, not far. And you’ll ask, won’t you. About fostering.’ She opened the boot, lifted out a cardboard box, its flaps neatly tucked over each other and placed it at his feet. ‘Julian from Holcot may bring some more later. You can collect that tonight.’ She started the car before the door slammed shut.
Simon had no idea what he wanted to say. She was reversing, the engine revving louder than the slope required. He picked up the box. Heavier than it looked, it weighed like yet another lost battle on his hands. The clouds, thick and rain laden but still holding made it darker than four o’clock. The Rover slowed down alongside him, stopped, and she was out on the step, his height now, balancing herself with one hand on the door and the other on his shoulder.
‘I wouldn’t mind for myself. I really wouldn’t. It’s not natural, is it.’ She laughed and he would have laughed with her if he knew what she was talking about. ‘I should be the one to worry. It’s expected of a woman to fret over things like that. Do you think I’m unnatural?’
He only shook his head. She wouldn’t have forgiven him his ignorance then. She counted on him knowing. Understanding. Were they not as one at times, thinking the same thoughts, leaving everything and everyone on the outside?
‘Emma.’ Eve, the Mother Earth, was in for a treat. ‘I’ll see what I can do about that interview.’
She stopped as time sometimes stops and is replaced by eternity. Her mouth, moving in an inaudible prayer, looked swollen. As it covered his lips without pressing them, it felt moist, earnest and tasted of salt. Giving no time to be answered, it detached itself gently, leaving a tear to trickle down onto his tongue.
‘Don’t worry about that.’ She was back in her seat, looking straight ahead. ‘You’ve got problems of your own and I’m not helping. Look into the letters, Simon. Fran’s letters to her lover. Find him. It’s important. I can feel it.’