Please. Please …
“Will you open the window?”
He hesitated, then pushed the handle forward a little.
“Thank you. Can you open the curtain?”
“It makes it easier to talk to someone you can see.”
“I can talk.”
“Is Jane there?”
Max did not answer.
“Can I speak to Jane?”
“Is she all right?”
“Come on, Max, reassure me about her, please. You can see why.”
“Will you let her come to the window?”
“OK. Will you just show me your face?”
“How long do you plan on staying there, Max? We don’t even know why … if you tell me what it is you want, maybe I can help you sort it out.”
“Are you God?”
“My wife’s dead. Can you sort that out?”
“You know I can’t. I understand your distress, I know what—”
“Do you? What do you bloody know?”
There was a slight pause. Then the man said, “Because I know what it is like when someone you love dies. I’m a human being and I have had that happen to me and I know.”
“No, but that needn’t make a difference, need it?”
Max turned to look at Jane.
“No,” she said.
“What was that? I can’t hear you very well, can you come a bit nearer the window?”
“No. She says.”
“Do you want to talk to anyone?”
“I thought I was.”
“I can get a counsellor, if it’s—”
“OK, then just tell me, if you know, why you are in there and why you are keeping Jane there? Can you tell me? There has to be a reason. Intelligent people don’t do this sort of thing at random. What is it you want? Max, we will help you as much as we can but none of us can bring your wife back to life. Not Jane. Not me. No one. You know that really, don’t you?”
“Do you believe that?”
“Who does? Does Jane?”
“I don’t know … no. No. Ought she to?”
“I doubt it. Have you had any sleep?”
“No. I don’t know.”
“You can’t think clearly if you’re exhausted. Why don’t you come out and we can get you home to sleep … things are going to seem a whole lot worse the longer you stay there.”
“Nothing could be worse.”
“I think you realise that you are making them worse, don’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let me look at you.”
“Helps me to talk to you. Might help you to talk to me if we saw one another.” Max did not make any move.
“Do you have enough to eat?”
“We ate something.”
“Is there food in the house? Milk, tea … all of that?”
“I don’t know.”
“I can get anything brought down to you if you tell me why you’re there. Help me out here, Max … I can’t understand what’s going on. Just help me.”
Max closed the window.
Jane was sitting hunched up on the sofa, her eyes down. He stared at her. He had thought that she was like Lizzie but now he saw that she was not. She was younger. Smaller. Hair and eyes differently coloured, skin paler. Different. She wore clothes Lizzie would not have worn. She was not like Lizzie. Not Lizzie. He sat down beside her on the sofa and she shrank back from him.
“Lizzie,” he said.
“I want to tell you.”
“What?” She sounded tired. Her voice was flat. She didn’t want to listen to him.
“That I have no reason at all to live. That Lizzie was everything and now there is nothing. No point. No reason. Everything I had was Lizzie, everything I did. For Lizzie. About Lizzie. Me. I was about Lizzie. So what is there?”
“Everything. Everything else in the world out there … What would Lizzie want you to do?”
“I hate it when people assume things about the dead. ‘It’s what she would have wanted …’ How do they fu**ing know? Unless it’s something they talked about, they don’t know. It’s a way of them doing what they want to do with a clear conscience.”
“Sometimes. Yes. Oh yes. We don’t want to cancel the party so we say—”
“‘—It’s what she would have wanted,’” they said together. Max smiled.
“I didn’t know Lizzie. If it had been her … if you had died, would she have turned her back on life?”
“God, no. Lizzie was life. Until … life and Lizzie were interchangeable.”
“I’m not Lizzie. I never much cared for life, you know. Then there was Lizzie. I cared for her. Not much else.”
“What a waste.”
“Lizzie’s death is a waste.”
“If that is true—and I don’t know if it is or not—it doesn’t give you the right to throw the rest of life, your life, away. There is everything else … surely you owe it to her to take it with both hands.”
“It fits you, doesn’t it, that bloody collar?”
“Max, I need to go to the bathroom.”
“OK.” He got up.
“I’m very, very tired. Can’t you just stop this, can’t you just go? Please. Just go. No one’s going to do anything to you.”
“Go to the bathroom.”
Her legs were aching, her head felt light. She could no longer think in any sort of logical order. Random ideas came and went. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream.
She went into the bathroom and locked the door. She rinsed her face and held her hands under the cold tap. Prayed, though she was past doing more than committing herself to God. And Max. She remembered to pray for Max.
At least she was being held in her own home. She could eat, drink, pass water like this, wash, sleep. She was unharmed. If she still felt like this, how must it be for people held in terrible surroundings—in the dark, in the cold, under threat, without food, in their own excrement, for days, weeks, months? How must that be?
She rinsed her face again, drank some water. Ran her hands over her hair. Came out.
Max grabbed her and span her round, his arm across her throat. Outside she could hear voices. He dragged her into the sitting room and across to the window, pulled back the curtain with one arm while holding her with the other. Jane caught a glimpse of a man’s face on the other side. Then she realised that Max had one of the knives and was holding it near to her face. It caught the sunlight. She closed her eyes and prayed in desperation, sweat running down the back of her neck.
“Look,” he was shouting, “see? I told you what would happen if you tried to get in. Look.”
But there were only seconds in which the man on the other side of the window and the others some way behind him could see them both, before Max dropped the curtain again. A moment later, he took his arm from her neck and threw the knife into the hearth.
Jane’s legs buckled and she half fell on to the sofa. Max was kneeling on the floor, his face buried in the seat of the upright chair, sobbing.
If she had not been so paralysed with fear and shock that she could not speak, she might have taken the chance to get up and make a dash for the door to get out before he could reach her. But she could do nothing. She just sat, shaking, the breath hurting her chest as she tried to take it in, her heart hammering, the sound of it pulsing through her ears, her head.
They stayed like that for a long time, then the room quietened and the two of them seemed to be in a strange state of suspension and of calm, as if they were sharing something intangible, unutterable, but acutely real and of importance.
After a while, they heard the voice again.
“Max? Can you hear me? Just let me know you can, then tell me you are both all right.”
Max lifted his head slowly. “Tell him,” he said, as if he had run a marathon and could barely catch his breath. “Get up, go to the window.”
“I won’t touch you, Jane.”
Trust, she thought, this is about trust, and I think I have lost mine.
She moved. Stood. Max did not look at her. She walked unsteadily to the window and pulled the curtain back. Outside, a tall man with very fair hair was looking at her.
“Good,” the man said. “OK?”
She did not know.
“Max?” the man called.
But Max sat, looking at the floor, his breathing strange, rasping as if he were asthmatic.
“Jane, can you come to the front door?”
Max still did not look at her.
“Or else, I can come in there. Max, which do you want? Jane to come out here or me to come inside?”
Max shook his head from side to side. Did not speak. Did not look up. He was trapped in his own tight, terrified circle, far out of their reach.
Jane went over to the door. Waited. Into the hall. There, she stopped. She felt as if she should rescue him but to do that she would have to bring Lizzie back to life. There was no way out.
“The door is locked. He took the key.”
She waited. Max stayed in the sitting room, still and silent, head bent forward.
It took a couple of minutes. There was such quietness that she could hear the blackbird in the bush outside. Then footsteps running down the path and the heavy crash of cracking, splintering wood.
The man with the fair hair came through the broken door towards her.
A couple of hours later, she had been discharged from hospital, shaken but unhurt. She did not see Max Jameson.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked, in the police car driving through Lafferton streets, so calm, so normal in the late-afternoon sun. “I’d like to go home. I have to see people … see to the door, I …”
“We’ll get that secured, love. You’ve got to make a statement, get him charged.”
There were two policemen, one in uniform, driving, a detective beside him. Ginger hair. Cheerful. Ugly.
“I don’t want to charge him. There’s nothing to charge him with.”
“Aw, come on, Reverend, he took you by force and kept you under duress, threatened to slit your throat … course there is. There’s stuff a yard long to put on the sheet. It’s assault, it’s …”
“I don’t want to do that.”
“Listen, you can’t take it in yet—”
“I can take it in. I have. Thanks. He is out of his mind with grief. His wife died. He doesn’t know what to do or where to turn, he is angry … There’s nothing to charge him with. I was just … a focus for it all. He didn’t hurt me.”
“Right, tell me he didn’t terrify you and all.” He smiled.
“Yes,” she said. “But all the same.”
The DS shook his head. “If it’d been my wife he’d taken I’d have bloody slaughtered him.”
“But he needs help. Someone to talk to. Not a cell and a charge of assault.”
“Tell you what, no offence, but there’s such a thing as being too forgiving, you know, too Christian. I reckon there is.”
Jane leaned back. She was exhausted. She felt hollow inside, as if there were no blood running through her veins or bones holding her together. She did not go on arguing. She hadn’t the energy.
As the car pulled up in the close, Rhona Dow, the Precentor’s wife, came out of her door.
“Jane, my dear girl. I’m so relieved to see you. What an appalling thing to happen. Now, you’re staying with us, of course.”
It was all Jane could do not to sit down on the path and cry.
The windows of the farmhouse were open and every so often the sound of the Deerbon children’s laughter came out, as if someone were blowing little bubbles of it from a clay pipe. They had spent the afternoon in the paddling pool or under the garden hose, and were now having their baths.
Cat and Simon had two deckchairs, and a bottle of champagne between them on the plastic table. Chris was in and out of the kitchen, making supper.
It was Cat and Simon’s birthday.
“Ivo’s as well,” Cat had said early that morning.
“Happy birthday, Ivo.”
But they were unlikely to hear from the other Serrailler triplet, who ignored birthdays, as he ignored most of the usual markers of normal life.
The early-evening sun was still hot.
“Did you put on sunscreen?”
Simon’s white-blond hair went with a skin that was burned readily.
He waved his hand.
“Well, don’t come running to me in the middle of the night when your face is on fire.”
“OK, I’ll wake Chris.”
It was good, he thought. His favourite place in the world. Dinner being prepared. No need to watch how many glasses of wine he drank, as he would sleep here.
In the field opposite, the ghost-grey pony pressed itself up against the high hawthorn hedge for shade. One end of the paddock had been fenced off for a chicken run, a wooden coop; a dozen ruddy brown hens were pecking about on the grass.
Cat was looking across at them now. “Dear God.”
“You’ll love it. All those good fresh eggs.”
“All that mucking out and the carnage when the fox gets in after I’ve forgotten to shut them up.”
The chickens were her birthday present from Sam, Hannah and Felix, kept a gleeful secret, until six that morning when they had led her, blindfold, into the field.
“A hen-run indicates permanence. You can’t take chickens to Australia.”
“No, there is that to thank God for.”
“You couldn’t leave here. How could you?” Simon reached for the bottle and topped up their glasses. “Here’s to the end of quite a week.”
“God, I still can’t get my head round that. It’s a man’s crime. She’s a man.”
“Sort of, yes. Looked like a boy. We thought it was a bloke in the car the whole time.”