It was bad enough having to be next door. Bad enough going over and over it, remembering. Bad enough having doctors and police ask your kid questions for more than an hour.
“What did you tell them?” she’d asked Kyra as soon as they got into the car. But Kyra’s mouth had firmed up, the way it did, and she hadn’t spoken. Not at all, not once, not until after television and her tea and her bath and then it had been about a holiday she wanted. In a caravan.
“Where’d you hear about caravans?”
But Kyra hadn’t answered.
“Did you tell them about what happened at Ed’s?”
“About making cakes and that?”
After a long time, Kyra had nodded.
“Did they say it was all right, then? To make the cakes and stuff?”
“What else did you tell them? About when you went round there. What did they ask you? What’d they say?”
“Hell, Kyra, I’m trying to make it OK, I don’t want them upsetting you, I’m trying to make sure it was all right.”
“It was all right.”
Natalie had given up.
Now, she stroked Kyra’s thin fair hair, wispy as dandelion clocks over her ears. Kyra’s eyelids drooped, and then snapped open again.
“You’d tell me, wouldn’t you?”
“Anything. Anything that happened.”
“Did Ed …?”
Kyra closed her eyes fast.
Natalie waited. Nothing.
Kyra’s eyes stayed shut.
Natalie went downstairs and put the kettle on, lit a cigarette and sat at the breakfast bar. It was warm. A dog barked somewhere down the street. She wanted to be somewhere else. Maybe they could. She could work in a call centre in some city, go back to where her family were, try London even. Every day she woke up now, she felt bad, sour. Old. And she was twenty-six. She didn’t deserve to end up in a house next door to a child murderer. No one deserved that.
For a moment, she thought she heard a sound upstairs, but when she went out into the hall it was quiet. For company, Natalie turned on the all-night radio and spent half an hour listening to the phone-ins, sad people needing to chat to strangers about being sad people at three in the morning.
When Kyra heard the voices coming faintly from the radio, she went back to her post at the window. Ed’s house was lit by the street lamp. It looked sad.
They had asked her what she thought about Ed’s house. When she had told them that she liked it more than being in her own house, and being with Ed more than being with her mother, they’d looked strangely at her. Asked her why and if she was sure and if she meant it and whether Ed had ever told her to say that, which seemed to Kyra the most stupid question of all. They’d asked her to tell them what Ed had said and whether Ed had taken her in her car anywhere or swimming or to shops or into the country and had she had any of Kyra’s friends to the house, to do cooking and things, when Kyra was there or when she wasn’t.
Questions. All about Ed. Weird questions, rude questions, stupid questions, but when she’d asked them questions they hadn’t answered, not properly. She had wanted to know where Ed had gone and whether she knew about the people going in and out of her house and when she was coming back and if she could go and see her and they hadn’t answered a single one of those questions. Not one.
“Why did you cry, Edwina?”
“ED. I keep telling you.”
“Have you any idea why that was?”
Say nothing. Just like the police. Say nothing.
“It’s just that you don’t strike me as someone who cries easily.”
“Do you remember crying much as a child?”
Here we go. She knew what was coming. Bound to. Your childhood. That’s all they wanted to ask about, all they blamed everything on, all they were going to pry into. OK, fine. Nothing to tell. And, even if there had been, say nothing.
It was a small room. Dark red tweed-upholstered chair. Quite comfortable. The shrink sat in another the same, with a clipboard on her lap. She’d have expected any doctor to be behind a desk. Might have felt better if she had been, somehow. The other thing was her being a woman. Doctors were men. Should be men. Like nurses were women. Only not now. This was a woman. Young. Too young. How could she be so young and be here? Short, dark, shiny hair. Designer glasses. Oval rims. Blue T-shirt. Darker blue denim skirt. Flat pale blue shoes. Wedding ring. Another ring with a twisted bit in it and a tiny chip of diamond that caught the light. Necklace with big beads. Smiled. Looked straight at her. And smiled.
Say nothing. You say nothing, not to the police, not to the prison officers, not to the shrink. Nothing.
“Why do people cry at all?”
She seemed to want to know. Really to be asking her. Why do people cry?
She thought about it. Why do they? Your dog dies. Your cat gets run over. You shut your finger in the car door. She winced, remembering the pain that had made her feel faint and sick.
“What? Something you remembered?”
“Yeah, trapping my finger in the car door. Bloody hell.”
“Oh, yes, I did that once. It’s agony. Worse than labour pains.”
“That and having a hockey stick swung across my nose.”
Ed imagined it. Her eyes watered.
“So that’s one thing.”
“A reason to cry. Pain.”
Shit. They were talking, like normal people, like people talk, and she’d said things.
There were a couple of plants on the window ledge and they looked neglected. Dusty. Yellowed leaves at the bottom no one had bothered to pull off. One of them wanted cutting back. She hated that. Why not have plastic plants if you couldn’t be bothered to look after real ones?
The shrink’s handbag was on the floor beside her chair, next to a plain black briefcase. The handbag had a photograph on the front. Scarlett and Rhett from the movie. She’d watched that half a dozen times. Scarlett had rhinestones stuck on for her necklace and there were rhinestones scattered on Rhett’s shirt front. She couldn’t get her head round a shrink having a handbag like that. She couldn’t stop looking down at it. Scarlett and Rhett.
Ed didn’t use handbags, she used her pockets and totes if she needed to carry bigger stuff.
“I think you cried because you remembered something.”
Ed waited. The shrink was going to go down the list now. You cried because you remembered something when you were little. Your mother. Or your dad. Someone hitting you, someone shouting at you, someone pushing you into a dark cellar and shutting the door on you, someone telling you you smelled. Or because of something else.
But Dr Gorley sat in silence, looking at Ed. Then glancing at her notepad again. Then back at Ed. But not in any hurry, not irritated. Not anything. Just patient. Relaxed. Just waiting.
She knew why she had cried and she was bloody angry at herself but she hadn’t been able to help it. The tears had just started. The policeman with the fair hair had been looking at her, asking his questions, looking, saying this, saying that. And then the picture had come into her head and with it had come the instant realisation of what would happen. And what would never happen.
She had seen herself in the caravan with Kyra. They had been coming down the steps, locking the door carefully and then walking off down the site towards where they could see the sea. Towards the beach, where they would go for the day. Kyra had a bucket and spade, Ed had a ball and the tote with their picnic in. But they’d buy drinks and ices down there. It was sunny. It was warm. They could hear other children’s voices, people shouting and calling out and laughing from the beach. Kyra was bouncing along, holding Ed’s hand, looking up at her now and then, excited. That week, that holiday, was going to be the best ever, best for Kyra, best for Ed. It formed a little see-through bubble in Ed’s mind and the bubble was quite, quite separate from everything else. Everything.
And now without warning, it had burst. She had looked round the interview room. Looked at the cops. Looked at her own hands. And the bubble had burst and she had known the truth, that the holiday would never happen and that she would never see Kyra again. No matter what she, Ed, said or did not say, no matter what else might happen. The bubble had burst.
Her eyes filled with tears.
“What is it?” Dr Gorley said. Her voice was soft, a nice, sweet sort of voice. She wanted to know because she cared and because she wanted to help and because she was a friend, not because she was a shrink, not because she was trying to probe and pry and then report back, not—
The tears began to slide down Ed’s cheeks.
Dougie Meelup was a kind man. Take this weekend. He had come home on Thursday with the coach tickets and the booking for the hotel, everything sorted, her treat. It wasn’t her birthday or his or their anniversary.
“You could do with a bit of a break,” he’d said, “and you like Devon.”
So here they were, walking along the seafront on a bright, blustery day, making for one of the benches in the sun. She had the afternoon off in any case and Dougie had taken a day of his holiday; the coach had left at half past one and now it was half past five, with two whole days to come.
“If we sit here, I can get us a cup of tea from that stall. You settle yourself.”
Eileen had been able to tell that he was a kind man the first night she had met him, when Noreen and Ken Kavanagh had dragged her out to the bowls club. Bowls was for old people, the women wore white hats, she’d thought, it just wouldn’t be her sort of thing. But they hadn’t taken no for an answer. The car had turned up and Ken had been at the door and that was that.
She’d been right about bowls. It might be something you could enjoy playing but watching it was like watching paint dry and she couldn’t see herself there again. It had been Dougie who had made the difference.
Eileen had been widowed four years and by the time Cliff Sleightholme had passed on, they had had precious little left to say to one another and that was how old age would be, she’d supposed. She had never imagined life without him and she had been shaken by how empty the house seemed, how she had taken his presence and the company for granted. They may not have said much to one another but there had not been loneliness. She had got the job on the checkouts within three months, partly because the money she was left to manage on was less than she’d expected, partly because she couldn’t stand being on her own in the house day and night. It got her out and she had made friends with Noreen and a couple of the others, but once she was home she was still by herself there.
Dougie Meelup was kind. She knew no one at bowls apart from Noreen and Ken and he had got her a cup of tea and made a place for her on the bench at the front of the pavilion. He’d asked her about herself and when she found herself telling him, he had listened, listened properly, in the way people who are kind do listen. His own wife had gone off with someone else the previous year. “Broke my heart,” he said, “and I never saw it coming.”
But he had the boys. They were both married with a couple of children each, both living in the town.
“Campbell and Marie give me lunch every other Sunday,” he had said, after a few weeks of them seeing each other, going out to a meal, driving to the country one afternoon. “So how about you coming along with me next time?”
“Don’t be daft.”
He had looked hurt. Eileen had felt a rush of guilt.
“I mean, they want to see you. They don’t know me, why would they want me to be there? Of course they wouldn’t.”
“They do. Marie said on the phone, bring your friend. She wouldn’t say it off her own bat, she’d talked about it with Campbell.”
“How do they know about me?”
“Well, because I’ve told them, how d’you think?”
She had gone. It had been hard until Marie had opened the front door smiling and after that everything had been good. Better than good. The next Sunday, it had been Keith and his Filipino wife Leah who had done the Sunday lunch, a barbecue that time, with Keith in charge because he was a chef and didn’t think women could cook meat properly.
Marrying Dougie had been marrying his family. Their wedding had been all about them, the boys, the daughters-in-law, the grandchildren, a registry office full of them.
Eileen had cried because of happiness and because of Dougie’s kindness, because of going from loneliness to a big family. And because neither Jan nor Weeny had been there.
“What do you mean, you’re getting married again, what are you talking about, Mother?” Jan had said, her voice going up and up. “What are you thinking? What about us? You can’t just marry some strange man.”
Eileen had told her everything about Dougie in a five-page letter, and written the same letter to Weeny and sent photos, sheaves of them, Dougie, the boys, the children, the dogs, Campbell and Marie’s caravan.
“He isn’t some strange man. I told you all about him.”
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, getting married again at your time of life.”
“I’m getting myself someone to look after me and keep me company in old age,” she had said, “so you don’t have to.”
Jan had shut up then. But she had not been at the wedding.
“It’s too far to come all that way.”
“There’s trains. You can even fly from Aberdeen. I’ll pay your fares to fly, to get you here.”
She thought that had done the trick. Jan had agreed. Eileen had sent the money. Only at the last minute, one of the children had apparently gone down with something and Jan couldn’t leave him.
“I don’t believe her,” she had said to Dougie. “I don’t think Mark’s gone down with anything at all. She just doesn’t want to come. She’d no intention of coming.”
Jan had kept the air-fare money, though.
If she had hoped for one daughter at her wedding, she had known Weeny would not be there. Not after the note.
The card had primroses on it, and Weeny’s writing was very neat. She said she was too busy “Travelling” for her job as a “representative.” Eileen had no idea what Weeny’s job was. She wondered what she had done wrong—not now, in getting married to Dougie, but then, in the past, in their childhood. She couldn’t think of anything. Cliff had been proud of Weeny. He had taught her to be tough, but the sisters had fought from the moment Weeny was born until Jan had left home to live with Neil. They had fought for attention, affection, pocket money, the biggest room, the first slice of pie and the last sweet in the packet. The house had been a battleground for twenty-two years and when they had both left, within a few months of one another, Eileen had felt that a long, long war had ended. But Cliff had minded. Cliff had ceased to have anything to say from the moment Weeny had gone.