Simon had scarcely been able to bear the sight of it. He had loved his mother more than anyone apart from his sisters, the living Cat, the dead Martha. He had never fully understood Meriel but he had admired her unreservedly, enjoyed her company, laughed at her, teased her. She had driven him mad and irritated him; he had felt sorry for her, wanted to defend her, and after an hour or two, had usually needed to get away from her. But his love had never faltered or been in question. And she had loved him. He often thought no one else ever had or ever would love him so absolutely, though her love had not been uncritical.
He had thought that she was immortal.
His drawing of her was on the wall. Others were in his bedroom, and more in portfolios in the chest. He had loved to draw her elegant, but at the same time, gentle beauty. He wished he could have drawn her as a young woman. Photographs had never done her justice, and in any case, she had hated the camera.
He looked at her. She was serene and calm, her head slightly to one side. He had drawn it the previous year as she had sat in the kitchen one winter afternoon bringing her garden diary up to date, with the low sun filtering in through the window. When he closed his eyes, he was there. He could smell the faintly scented China tea in the cup at her elbow.
His eyes pricked with sudden tears.
He felt like going out and getting drunk. But he was not a man who had mates to call on for that sort of expedition. His brother-in-law would be busy at the farmhouse, Nathan either still working or back home with his pregnant wife. Drinking alone was not Serrailler’s idea of fun.
And then he knew what he wanted to do; the idea dropping cleanly, satisfyingly into his mind. He was surprised by it.
“I confess I feel unequal to any more funerals,” Jane Fitzroy said, holding open the door of the fridge. “Max Jameson, which was desperate—six people were there and two of them were your sister, because she was his GP, and me. My mother, for which she left explicit instructions—no religious service, no prayer, no readings, no music. Have you any idea how bleak that sort of thing is in a crematorium? Your mother’s today which was triumphant but draining. I haven’t any more emotion left. I do have eggs, cheese, some rather nice home-baked ham from the farmers’ market and the makings of a salad. And a decent bottle of wine.”
Simon looked at her. How could she be a priest, a clergywoman—whatever she liked to be called? She wore pale blue jeans and a white shirt with a frill down the front. Her hair was longer than when he had first seen her. Earlier, during the funeral, it had been tied tightly back and then coiled into a black silk scarf. Now it was loose and brilliant in the light through the kitchen window. She wore no make-up and looked twenty.
“Jane, I came to take you out, not to have you cook.”
She looked at him for a slow moment, as if working out the meaning of what he had said. “I know. And I told you, I couldn’t face it. I was going to watch Ocean’s Eleven.”
“The best. Brad Pitt eating pretzels.”
“Brad Pitt answering the little acrobat guy’s Chinese speech—only in English.”
“Have you seen Ocean’s Twelve?”
“Saving it up.”
She was piling things on to the table of the tiny kitchen, bowls, forks, eggs, tomatoes, avocado, the ham.
“I wish I’d known your mother better. I think we might have been friends. Maybe that’s presumptuous.”
“No. Ma liked making new friends. She was good at it. It made up for my father.”
She did not ask, did not look at him, just took a bottle of Sauvignon out of the fridge.
“Dad doesn’t like them. Friends.”
“Just not a people person then,” Jane said with equanimity.
“Just a bloody Freemason.”
She gave one swift glance and started to laugh. “And you?”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t, but the whole thing just cracks me up. It’s the little suitcases and the aprons and the funny handshakes. Honestly, boys.” She handed him a chopping board, a knife and a pile of tomatoes. “Thin slices.”
No one, Simon thought, there has been no one in my life like this. What is it? Funny. Irreverent. Straight. Honest. Sensible. Light-hearted. All of those things. More than those. He had never imagined that a life such as Cat and Chris had would be his, a life of children and a warm kitchen, a Cat, a garden, a … there had been Freya. He might have had those things with Freya. Would. Might. Who knew now? He had never found out.
But after Freya, he had doubted that those were the things he even wanted.
He sliced the tomatoes wafer-thin. Jane put a glass of wine by his left hand.
“Did I tell you, they’ve gone back through my mother’s patients? It’s been so painstaking … they’ve pulled out the name of anyone they thought might have clashed with her—mind you, where my mother was concerned that would be most people. But they’ve found three they think may have been serious about getting at her. The Inspector rang me yesterday. He’s going through the files, he’s talking to the other staff there. I can’t really help him. She didn’t talk about her patients of course. She talked about her theoretical work. The academic stuff, never the children.”
“They’ll get there.”
“Ah, CID solidarity.”
“Most of it’s down to trawling through the detail.”
“Is that what got you Edwina Sleightholme?”
“Oh no. Luck. Big lucky break. You need them. Do you believe in the Devil? I suppose you have to.”
“I believe in evil. The force of evil. Pure evil and evil personified. If that is what you meant.”
“Not sure. I’m not a theologian.”
“Nor am I. Those look OK.” She took the plate of tomatoes. “Thanks.”
“I felt it. Evil. Looking at her. But it wasn’t what I expected. It was impenetrable and pointless. Cold. Locked away. Shut up inside itself.”
“Yes. I suppose you could say that. Odd. I felt I had no point of human contact with this person, not a single spark of recognition that we belonged on the same planet.”
“Would she have gone on?”
“Yes. So long as she was alive and fit and went undetected she would have gone on. People like that can’t stop. But she isn’t mad.”
“Absolutely and completely sure. Whatever evil is, yes, whatever mad is, no.”
He was glad they had not gone out. Out would have been different, other people, noise, interruptions. It was best like this, talking quietly, the food simple and good, coffee in an Emma Bridgewater mug on the low table beside him. He thought of Cat. When he got home he would ring her. He had left the farmhouse in a bad mood and his mood was now entirely changed. Everything. Entirely. Changed. He could not stop looking at Jane.
“I’ve been wondering how sorry I really will be to leave,” she said.
The room went cold.
“Ah, you didn’t know. Well, why would you?”
“You’ve only just come. Why? Is this to do with your mother?”
“No, no. I just made the wrong decision. It happens. Even to priests. I don’t know why.”
“How can it be wrong? What is wrong?”
“Me. What happened in this house when Max attacked me. Plus I don’t fit into the cathedral hierarchy … the Dean is fine, he was the one who wanted me here and pressed on until they let me in. But they don’t want a woman, they’re not ready for a woman, you know, and that really isn’t a battle I’m going to fight. I’ve other things to do.”
“I thought it was a battle won.”
“Yes, you’d imagine so, wouldn’t you?” She poured herself another half-glass of wine.
“Too many battlegrounds. The hospital, Imogen House … I’m not a fighter, Simon, I just want to get on with my work, there are more important things. I can’t play politics.”
“Oh come on, why let them win?”
“That isn’t a language I speak. Not in this context anyway.”
He looked at her in dismay, thinking only that he had somehow to produce enough reasons—not arguments, he sensed those would fail—to make her change her mind. He had no doubt that he would succeed. He had the best of all reasons. But he did not yet know how to put it before her.
“What about you? Lafferton for life?”
“No, this is about you. You.”
“What makes you think it will be different anywhere else? There are always battles. Didn’t you have them before you came here?”
“Every day. And most of my growing up. My battle to go to church, be baptised, read theology, go for ordination. My battles in the last parish with recalcitrant PCC and a very difficult bishop. I know all about bloody battles, thank you. I’m leaving the field.”
“What, not be a priest any longer?”
“I’ll still be a priest. I’m going into a monastery for a year. After that, either I’ll want to stay, or I’ll go back into the academic world. I feel a Ph.D. coming on.”
He sat silent, appalled. The room was dark. Jane reached out and switched on a lamp and sat in the circle of the light. He was transfixed by her beauty, the calm way she sat not on a chair but on the floor beside him, leg bent, arms clasped round it.
“People have quite the wrong idea,” she said, “about convents.”
“I don’t have any idea about them, I only know you can’t incarcerate yourself in one.”
“See what I mean?”
“Christ, you’d be … walling yourself up. For what? To do what?”
“If I say ‘to pray,’ I don’t expect much of a response. Leave it.”
“I can’t leave it.”
“Why? Why is this something that always gets people so worked up? I don’t want to argue, I don’t want a battle. Please.”
“Go and do your Ph.D., if that’s what you want you should do that.”
“Later. Maybe. Maybe not. The other first.”
For a long time there was a silence so complete, so absolute, that he did not know if he could ever breach it, ever utter again, ever be able to say another word to her for the rest of his life. The silence was a distance and a time span as well as the absence of sound. It was a space he did not think he had the nerve or the skill through which to travel.
He said, “I don’t want you to do this.”
She looked puzzled.
“It is rather rude when people say ‘What has it to do with you?’, but all the same—”
“It has to do with me.”
“How? You don’t even come to the cathedral.” She sounded bewildered too, at a loss to follow him.
“It’s got nothing to do with the cathedral.”
“Or anything. I’m not a police chaplain, I’m—”
“Christ. No. Not the jobs … you.”
He stood up and walked to the window. He remembered standing on the other side talking to Max Jameson. The bushes had been cut back so that he could see the lights of the Precentor’s house, shining out on to the garden.
“I want to see you. I want you to stay here.”
She laughed. It was a light laugh, not unkind, not mocking. But she laughed before she spoke. “Simon, you don’t know me. You’ve hardly met me.”
“I want to know you. I came to take you out because of that. This is better, to be here. But the next time we’ll go out.”
“No. No next time. Thank you. I’m flattered and I have really enjoyed your company. It wasn’t an evening for either of us to be alone. But that has to be all.” She got up. She came to the window to stand beside him, and touched his arm. “Simon, we could have been good friends, we might have worked together. Any of that. I’m very glad you came this evening. But now you should go.”
The blood did not seem to be moving through his veins. It was a warm night and he felt cold.
“Why is it such an appalling idea—for us to see more of each other?”
“Because I’m the wrong person. You have to take my word for that.”
“I can’t, I need to know why.”
“I don’t want anyone. I never have. I have—other things.”
“For God’s sake, Jane, don’t waste yourself, how can you think of it?”
“I wasn’t thinking of it. I’m not staying in Lafferton, for all the reasons you heard, none of them to do with you. How could they be to do with you, you’re virtually a stranger. I’m not staying here, there wouldn’t be any point. I don’t want to deceive you, Simon. That would be wrong. You’re a nice man.”
“Why does that sound like something I don’t want to be?”
She smiled. “You deserve the right person and that can’t be me. It just can’t and I’m not prepared to try to explain any further.”
When he left to walk up through the garden back into the Cathedral Close it was almost as warm as it had been in the middle of the day. The air was quite still. Simon turned not left towards his own end of the close but right and out of the gate into the warren of cobbled streets leading to the square. People were about, sitting on benches, piling out of the pubs, eating late in a couple of Chinese and Thai restaurants. He watched two young men and a woman swaying about in the middle of the road, the worse for drink but at the moment causing no trouble. A family strolled with a toddler high on its father’s shoulders and a boy bouncing about at his feet. He remembered those nights, when it was too hot to sleep and he had leaned out of his window for hours, smelling the night smells, talking to his brother in whispers. No one would ever have suggested bringing them out to enjoy the late-night town. He smiled at the thought and remembered his mother with a sense of pure anguish at the loss of her. Loss. He felt as if he had never won. He knew he was being maudlin and could not have cared less, let alone help himself out of the pit of misery into which Jane Fitzroy’s response had tipped him. He was angry too but not with her, only with himself for being a fool.
He reached a corner where the town, the shops and pubs and cafés, started to give way to residential streets. The Old Town. The grid called the Apostles. Beyond here lay the Hill. Beyond the Hill, the broad avenues of the more prosperous Lafferton suburbs. Sorrel Drive. And so on, to the bypass and the Bevham Road, other ways to the country, to his sister’s village, to that of his parents—father, he checked, just father now. East and you eventually came to Starly Tor and then Starly, home to a fat cluster of New Age therapists and ley lines.