فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Poetry and passion

I think I knew, even then, that I didn’t intend to carry out any acts of revenge on Pete. Out there on the blanket in the dark, sleepy garden, I encouraged him to talk about the past. I think I wanted to be convinced that he was a good man. That he deserved to live.

‘Tell me,’ I said. ‘Tell me about your ghosts.’

He looked at me. ‘You mean Cathy?’ he asked, and then he sighed and lay down on the blanket with his eyes closed. For a while I thought he wasn’t going to make any further response, but then he began to speak, and his voice was sad with remembered pain. ‘I don’t know what she’s told you,’ he said, ‘but I’m not the big bad monster in all of this, honestly I’m not. When I first met Cathy, I loved her very much. We were so happy, and we got married really quickly’ He sighed heavily. ‘I really believed it would last forever.’ He paused there, but I didn’t fill the waiting silence with questions and he soon continued with his story.

‘Unfortunately, after we’d been married for a few years, Cathy became depressed. Seriously depressed. I did all I could to try and help her, but I felt completely inadequate. Nothing I did seemed to make any difference at all. So when she said she thought she’d feel better if we had children, I wasn’t sure. But she begged me and begged me and finally I agreed. I suppose I should have known it wouldn’t help, but as I said, I loved her. All I wanted was for her to be happy again. To have the Cathy I’d first met back again.’

‘So it didn’t help at all when Ben was born?’ I asked, and Pete shook his head.

‘No,’ he said sadly, ‘quite the opposite. She was even more depressed than ever.’ And he went on to describe the desperate years of coping with Cathy’s periods of depression. The times in hospital and the different doctors. The trials with various drugs. The attempts to kill herself. What he described seemed like a catalogue of despair and false hopes.

‘I know you’re a friend of Cathy’s, Carla,’ Pete said to me at last, ‘but the truth is, I did all I could for her. She was completely unpredictable, and it simply wasn’t safe to leave Ben alone with her. So I couldn’t work. We were desperately poor, and although I knew Cathy was ill, I didn’t feel she was really trying to help herself.’

‘So, eventually you left?’

He nodded. ‘Yes, eventually I left. But I assure you, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I had to think of Ben. And funnily enough, although I know Cathy’s found it difficult since I left, I think she’s has been making more of an effort. She joined that course where she met you for a start, and now she’s got a circle of friends. She’s got her part-time job too.’

I didn’t make any comment about this, and he sighed again, accurately interpreting my silence. ‘Cathy’s told you about my decision to cut payments to her, hasn’t she?’ he said, and I nodded.

‘She’s very worried about how she’s going to manage,’ I said.

‘I know she is,’ Pete said, sounding miserable. ‘But the thing is, I’m just not going to be able to afford her payments any longer. I’m going back to university soon, to study creative writing. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer, and after so many years of looking after other people, I want to do something for myself. Is that so very selfish of me?’

I glanced up and found him looking at me intensely, his dark eyes demanding an answer. Perhaps even approval. ‘Is that so selfish of me, Carla?’ he repeated. ‘Is it?’

And do you know, somehow I found myself shaking my head. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think it is.’

Well, you know how I’ve always been interested in literature. And anyway, there was a bond of sympathy between us, a common understanding. We were connected by the experience of despair, and we were both survivors. Besides, the moon was shining down on the garden from over the trees and the sky above us was filled with a million stars. We were lying next to each other on a blanket beneath those stars, our shoulders touching. There had been an unspoken attraction between us right from the very start, and I know that if Ben hadn’t woken up from a nightmare at that very moment, that attraction would have been acknowledged. We would have kissed, I know we would.

But as it was, Pete went indoors to comfort his son and by the time he came down again the moment had passed. ‘Come out sailing with us tomorrow, Carla,’ Pete said, squeezing my hands in his. ‘Ben would love to see you again and… so would I.’

I blushed at that, and I don’t think I ever did that with you. Pete had such a warm, intense way of looking at me, it made me feel wanted. Needed. And it was a very long time since I’d truly felt either of those things.

Being with you was always so complex somehow. It was either fantastic or awful, depending on your mood. But Pete was different, and I think I sensed that difference straight away. I knew I would be able to wake up next to him in the morning and feel confident that he was the same man I’d gone to sleep next to the night before.

So I blushed and I smiled at him and I said, ‘Thank you. I’d love to go sailing with you.’

And he smiled back and said, ‘Good.’

I’ll always remember that first day Pete, Ben and I went sailing on the Norfolk Broads. It was a truly perfect day. The weather was lovely, with not a cloud in the sky. Pete was an expert sailor, and little Ben seemed to be an equally expert helper, despite his age. There was nothing for me to do but sit and enjoy the view. And it was a very fine view, with tall grass and wild flowers on the river bank, and water birds swimming next to us.

When I wasn’t looking at the view, I watched Ben and his father together, admiring how they worked as a team. Pete had a way of giving Ben tasks to do that made the boy feel important, and it was such a contrast to the way Cathy treated Ben. Cathy seemed to want Ben to be dependent upon her. She treated him more like a baby than an intelligent, capable young boy, and as a result he behaved like a baby. More than once I’d seen Ben really lose his temper when he’d been with Cathy, shouting and crying and stamping his foot when he didn’t get his own way about something.

But that day on the boat he was very different.

‘Daddy, there’s a man selling ice creams!’ he said once, pointing at the river bank. ‘Can I have one?’

‘Not just now, son. It’s nearly lunch time. An ice cream will spoil your appetite. You can have one later.’

And Ben gave the ice cream man one final look then started to play with a piece of rope which was lying on the deck.

‘I’m impressed,’ I told Pete. ‘If Cathy had tried to say that to him, he’d have gone mad.’

‘But she wouldn’t have said it, would she?’ Pete pointed out. ‘She’d have let him have the ice cream and then wondered why he didn’t want to eat any lunch.’

It was true, I had to admit, and I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat there on the boat with the sun on my face and a soft wind in my hair, that your daughters would have benefited a lot from such an approach. You spoilt them by giving them everything they wanted whenever they asked for it.

At lunch time we tied the boat up at a picnic area and ate sandwiches and fruit. Afterwards Ben ran around entertaining himself by chasing butterflies, and Pete and I chatted about the course he was about to start at university. He told me that he’d always written stories and poems, and that poetry had been his lifeline during the long unhappy years with Cathy.

‘Everyone needs to be able to express themselves, don’t they?’ he said. ‘I’ve always loved finding out about writers, and reading their books. It’s fascinating. The times I’ve got into trouble for reading when I shouldn’t be reading! At work, even on my honeymoon! I can’t seem to help it. If I see an interesting piece of writing, I’ve started reading before I know it. And now I’ve got the chance to become a writer myself! It’s fantastic!’

We were sitting on a blanket again, this time beneath some willow trees. The long branches were moving about in the wind, making sunshine patterns on Pete’s face as he spoke. Dappled shade, just like in our garden when you told me it was all over. And yet, that afternoon with Pete, I can’t honestly remember thinking about you or how you so brutally ended our relationship at all. I was just enjoying being with Pete, admiring his enthusiasm, appreciating the brightness in his eyes.

That day on the river bank, you were just a vague misty memory. And so was my very recent past. Don’t you think the mind is a strange thing? To some extent it can select what you remember.

Until something happens to make sure you face up to the truth.

‘I want to know more about you,’ Pete was saying. ‘People are so fascinating to me, but particularly you. I want to know all your likes and dislikes. I know, let’s start with poetry; it’s something very close to my own heart. What’s your favourite poem?’

I was able to answer straight away. “‘Summer with Monica” by Roger McGough.’

He smiled, reaching out to stroke the hair from my face. Ah,’ he said, ‘a love story.’ And then he leaned over and… he kissed me.

That kiss was as gentle as one of Ben’s butterflies would have felt if it had landed on my mouth. And yet it set off a fierce storm of desire in both me and Pete.

We pulled apart and looked at each other. I think we were both a little shocked by the force of our feelings.

‘Maybe we should slow down,’ Pete told me softly.

I looked into his face, and I suppose I probably looked worried because he reached out to touch my cheek.

‘I like you, Carla,’ he said. ‘I like you a lot. I don’t want to rush into things and spoil them. Let’s keep things special, yes?’

When you first told me our relationship was over, I felt as if I would never recover. I didn’t know who I was or what I was going to do. But there in Pete’s arms, with him smiling down at me and talking about keeping things special, I found myself again.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Let’s keep things special.’ And I felt happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because Pete accepted me exactly as I was. And sad because he would never, ever, know exactly what I was like.

Because how could I ever tell him he was holding a double murderer in his arms?

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