But they were there, sometimes together, sometimes one at a time. She went through it all again, step by step, from the moment she first saw them. Then, there had been a rush; now, there was none. She had recorded everything, her mind was a camera. She saw everything. She heard everything. She had photographs of their faces, close-up photographs. She had recordings of their voices. Every word they had spoken. The boy in the blazer. The boy with the sports bag. The girl on the bicycle. The girl with the shopping bag. The boy on the scooter. The one with the ice cream. Every face. Every word. Every detail. Every mile on every journey, every stop. Every last thing. Sometimes she stayed only for a short time, paid a brief visit then came out quickly, locking the door again and she never knew she had been gone, let alone where. Other times, when she felt safe or when it was hardest, she stayed for a long time.
But the shrink never found out. Sometimes she asked, but Ed never told her.
The place was like an oven. The banging went on. When the food came and it was hot, she had to let it go cold before she could eat it. The same with the coffee, same with the tea. Ice cream came but it was a sickly yellow puddle. Salad came and the lettuce was wet and the tomatoes lukewarm.
Once, she threw her food at the wall. They took her television away.
But it scarcely bothered her. She could think. She always had her own thoughts and her own pictures. Better than theirs. Far, far better.
“Right.” Dougie Meelup stood up and pushed back his chair from the table. “I’m opening these doors. What’s a garden for?”
Eileen watched him.
“I’ll put the deckchair out there, you bring your book.”
“No, I’m better here.”
“Eileen, it is beautiful sunshine out there, I’ve put up the umbrella, you can be in the shade.”
“I can’t sit out.”
“No one will see you. Next door are away.”
“And no one knows anything else.”
“Of course they know. They know my other name and it’s not like Smith, they all see the television, read the papers. They know I’ve two girls.”
“And what if they do? Whoever ‘they’ may be? What if they do?”
“I don’t blame you for losing patience with me.”
“I haven’t. I just want you to hold your head up a bit. You can’t skulk here for good, Eileen.”
“Hold my head up? Oh, I can do that. I can do that when I know it’s a mistake and they’ve charged the wrong person and want to be sued. Will be sued. When it’s all sorted. Only until it is, someone might believe it. Someone we know. Someone who’d see me.”
Someone already had, only Dougie had not told her. When he’d rung in to work to say she was sick, there’d been a pause first and then, “Yeah. Right.” In a tone of voice you couldn’t mistake.
It came in waves. But the waves were closer together now and higher. One day, Eileen thought, a wave would be so high and race in so fast it would break over her head and drown her and sweep her away and it was what she prayed for. Never to wake up. Pictures flickered on a screen behind her eyes. Weeny when she was three. Weeny on her way to school the first day. Weeny and Janet holding hands outside the gate.
In a box file on the shelf in the living room were the real pictures. She would get them out soon, because the pictures would tell the truth about how happy they had all been and what pretty little girls, about how they’d been such a close family. The truth was in the photographs. She knew that.
“Other thing is,” Dougie said, “I’m going to ring and book that visit.”
She fiddled with the spoon in her saucer.
“I’ll take you, we’ll both go up there.”
The prison was Gedley Vale. The name had been given out on the news. Dougie had looked it up on the map. It was about ninety miles.
“I’ll have to write everything down, what I want to say to her. I have to get it straight. She’ll need to know I’m getting it together. Maybe I’d better find out what solicitors she’s got, see them as well. Do you think?”
“I don’t know what you’re allowed to do.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, solicitors and that. I’ve never had to sort anything like this out.”
She stared at him. “You think I have?”
Dougie shook his head.
All the way home in Keith’s car, she had fought out aloud, fought with the police and the papers and the television, fought for her daughter and the monstrous injustice of it all; fought down any particle of doubt. It had been a mistake. How a mistake could be this bad, get this far, she had no idea but it had and she had to stop it dead. Weeny had been charged with doing things too terrible to allow into your mind, things that only the most evil, wicked people could ever do and not so many of them. Weeny was not that sort of person. How could anyone think she was? How could it have happened?
Janet had been on the phone twice screaming and crying so that in the end Dougie had had to take the phone away from her and tell the girl to calm down.
“I’ve got kids,” Jan kept saying, “I’ve got kids, you know.”
“But she hasn’t done any of it, Jan, she hasn’t done it.”
“What difference does that make? It’s her name, all over the telly, all over everywhere, picture in the papers, everyone looking.”
“They won’t look, they don’t know she’s your sister.”
“Of course they know and what they don’t know they’ll soon find out. I want to know what’s going to happen to us, you’ve got to do something about that.”
Eileen got up and went to the sink, turned on both taps and watched the water swirl round and run away down the plughole. There were pots to be washed but she did not wash them.
“You’d best get back to work,” she said.
Dougie had taken two days off then asked to be allowed to come home at lunchtime, pleading that she was not well, couldn’t be left alone too long. They didn’t believe him of course but he thought they sounded sorry.
“No one’s got any idea,” he told her.
Though they had. It wasn’t difficult. Someone had asked him direct and he had turned and walked off which was all they needed. He’d cursed at himself.
His boys had taken it in and gone very quiet. Keith had said nothing on the drive home but he’d kissed Eileen and kept an arm round her for a minute and said he was there for her, Leah was there for her. It was a dreadful nightmare and a mess but it would be sorted. Of course it would be. But then it had gone quiet. The phone hadn’t rung.
Dougie thought he’d go round to Keith’s later, on his own. Once they had the visit to the prison sorted.
“I’m off then,” he said. “Now you take your book and sit out. Make the most of the sunshine. You’ve no need to answer the phone or the bell, and keep the front door locked. Just sit in the sun. I’ll stop and get some eggs, bit of salad for later. Anything else we want?”
She was still watching the water run out of the taps into the sink.
Dougie came over and turned them off. He rested his hand on her shoulder for a moment.
“I don’t know where to start,” Eileen said.
“You don’t have to do anything. Best leave it to the professional people. They know the ropes, how it all works.”
“You think? They haven’t done much of a job so far that I can see.”
“I know, love. That’s how it looks, but they’re the experts, aren’t they?”
“No. I am. I’m her mother. What do they know better than me about her?”
He wondered if that was the truth but he had no answer.
He wished he could go up there himself, get a visit to her, stand in front of her and ask. Have it out. Get her to tell him how it had all come about. Get the truth out of her and he’d know what was the truth, and when he did, if it was an almighty mistake, he’d get behind her like nobody else. But he had to find out for himself.
And if there had not been any mistake? Oh, he would know that too. And then he would tell her what her mother was like, what it would do to her and what it would go on doing for the rest of her life, how it would break her and would go on breaking her, slowly, relentlessly, into smaller and smaller pieces which would be impossible ever to reassemble. If it was true he would want to get inside Edwina’s head, split open her skull and peer in to see, to try and get at the root of it, get something, some explanation, some reason or else some flaw or illness or madness.
If it was all true, the something rotten that would be there ought to be got out and destroyed.
Rotten. He pictured it, a rotten, scabrous, festering area and then he pictured a razor blade and himself cutting the evil out. He could see the hole there would be left, the clean, gaping, open wound that would be left.
He realised what he was thinking.
He looked at Eileen’s hair, brown going mostly grey, frizzled and dry. He could see a small patch of flaky skin on her scalp.
He pulled his hand away from her and went out, wanting the air and the sunlight and the normal world. Wanting to be on his own, and away from all of it, for a long time.
“You seem very determined to do everything alone. You don’t want to accept help from anyone. You don’t want to have any visitors at all. I’m just wondering if you can think why that should be.”
“I don’t have to.”
“No, you don’t.”
The shrink was wearing a pale blue T-shirt with a sparkly circle in the middle and a pair of smart black jeans. Smart, but it seemed wrong. She was a professional, a doctor, she was on duty. Jeans weren’t the proper thing to be wearing.
Ed was sitting on her legs in the low chair. She was tucked in.
A fan in the corner sucked the warm air in, whirred it round and belched it out again.
“What about her?”
“I’m wondering why you said you had no next of kin. You’ve a mother, a sister, nephews.”
“So bloody what? They’re nothing to do with me and nothing to do with you.”
“Why do you think that? They are your family, so they do have to do with you. That’s just fact. Isn’t it?”
Ed shrugged. “That’s all it is then.”
“I’m wondering why you feel like this about them.”
Ed wanted to hit her. She never looked fazed, never looked mad, or upset or put out. She never looked anything other than relaxed and quite—pleasant, she supposed. Yes. Pleasant. Her face was pleasant. Her expression was pleasant. Polite. Pleasant.
She sat on her legs and waited. She knew what was coming. How did you get on with your mother? What was she like to you? What about your childhood, your sister, your dad, your dad dying, what’s your earliest memory, did you have lots of friends, were people unkind to you, were you abused, did, didn’t, was, wasn’t, why, when, how, why, why, why.
“Have you ever thought of what it feels like to a child? To be safe and happy, everything normal, and then to be dragged into a car by a stranger and taken away from that safe, familiar world. Have you ever imagined the feelings?”
These were not the questions. This was not the way it was meant to go.
Ed was angry.
“Have you imagined what a parent feels like when their child is taken? Or a sister or brother? Neighbours and friends? Grandparents? Take a minute to imagine it.”
She wanted to stuff her fingers in her ears and scream. She wanted to run out of the room. She wanted to hurl herself at the young woman in the pale blue T-shirt with the sparkly circle and the black jeans and claw at her face and eyes and grip her round the throat.
The fan hummed.
The face was the same. Pleasant. She waited. She did not write or even look at her notepad. She looked at Ed and waited. Pleasantly.
“Are you thinking about it?”
“Do you think you ought to?”
“Do you think you can? Or would that be too difficult, take too much nerve? Would it be very threatening?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Have you ever felt threatened?”
“Not physically. Or perhaps, yes, perhaps that. But I really meant have you felt a threat to you, to Ed, to who you actually are inside yourself?”
“Yadda yadda yadda.”
“I’d like to give you a word to think about for next time. I’m going to ask you to take it into yourself and really study it … look at it from all round. Think what the word can mean. To you. To other people. To your family, maybe. To a child. Write things down if it helps you. Focus on it. Not all the time, obviously. Give yourself a few minutes here and there to focus on it, let it sink in. OK?”
“Good. Ed, here’s the word then. ‘Love’.”
The heat shimmered above the ground. Cat Deerbon drove down Gas Street in the vain search for shade in which to park, but the shady side of the street was bumper to bumper.
A police vehicle came crawling down as she got out into the Turkish bath that was the world outside an air-conditioned car. It made her think of Simon. She had rung him twice, left a message on his mobile. He had not responded. Part of her decided he should be left to digest the home truths she had dealt out to him. Most of her was ashamed of herself. It was almost six o’clock. This was her last visit of the day. When she had made it, she decided to go round and see if her brother was in his flat.
Number 8 of the Old Ribbon Factory was one floor above Max Jameson’s apartment. She walked up the three flights of stairs and had to lean against the iron rail to get her breath, wondering why having three children and a job, a pony and a paddock full of chickens did not seem to have kept her fit.
The patient, a teenage boy with appendicitis, was swiftly dealt with and the ambulance called. Job done. Now for Si. She headed back down the stairs.
Max Jameson, unkempt, and looking spaced out, was coming out of his front door between two policemen.
He turned his head eagerly towards her.
“Afternoon, Doc.” The PC nodded to her.
“It’s about Lizzie,” Max said.
Cat looked from him to the policeman, who hesitated.
“I saw Lizzie and she ran away from me. That’s all. I followed her.”