It’s Christmas Eve and snowing hard. I decide to walk to the office. Guy isn’t due for forty-five minutes and he’ll call me from the airport. I have time to buy a few extras for tomorrow, maybe grab a coffee.
The snow on the pavement lies like gold dust under the yellow street lamps, like a scene from an old fashioned post card. I tilt my head to the sky, open my eyes and stick my tongue out.
A couple of hundred yards down the road, I regret this childish reversion and pull my hood up, my neck freezing now against my wet shirt collar. As I walk past the garage and into Rodney Street, I realise my feet are wet too. The snow a few inches deep on unused ground is already slushy on the pavements and blackened with exhaust and road dirt. The few cars left on the road are painfully grinding their bellies over the high ridges as they try to keep to the narrow furrows cut by the car in front. Those with less confidence of making it up the steep slope of Broughton Street are beginning to abandon their cars, parking before they start shimmying sideways into trouble. Staring at the pavement, I am drawn to the interesting array of impractical footwear: trainers, stilettos, court shoes tiptoe past me, their occupants no doubt praying that the buses won’t stop running – giving up on ideas of last minute shopping, hoping they’ll get home in one piece and in time to get everything done for the big day.
Then a pair of yellow slip-ons, just like David’s, pass me. I swing back. I don’t believe it! It’s David all right, his hand glued to his ear as usual, talking into his phone.
I see him let himself into the office.
I check my phone is switched on. Maybe David’s planning… What the hell could the bastard be planning – destroying records? Surely it’s too late for that – vandalism? I wait a couple of minutes before retracing my steps and following him in.
Mentally I crack my knuckles. I want him. I’m gonna pulverise the fucker – knock him out – extract his toenails one by one with my teeth, bludgeon his…
I let myself into the small office off the left of the hall, lean against the desk in the pitch dark and wait for night vision.
The industrial Sellotape dispenser gleams up at me. My god, I can just see the headlines. ‘David Crosby, Robert Redford look alike and spokesman for Eco Ecosse was knocked unconscious by hero Nathan Gillespie, whilst destroying vital evidence of a corruption attempt.’ Well maybe not. I put the dispenser down.
‘David?’ He’s behind Guy’s desk, grinning, with the diary spread out infront of him.
‘Ah Nathan. I was hoping you’d be early.’
‘I saw you come in, David. What on earth are you doing here?’
‘Just tying up some lose ends, before leaving.’
Cocky little shit.
Just as I’m building to an authoritative but restrained response, I am lifted off my feet by two of the largest men I have ever seen in real life. I say seen but I’m struggling to see anything as I float through space to a chair positioned this side of Guy’s desk.
‘I’d rather sta…’ I begin as my feet touch the floor.
‘Shut up, Nathan – no one’s interested.’
One of them takes my mobile, switches it off and pockets it. I confirm they are giants.
‘Guy’s due here in what – forty-five minutes? Gives us plenty of time. Okay lads, tape him up.’
Gaffer tape is so much more effective than rope – quicker, no loose ends to get hold of or work loose. First appearances they might have seemed Neanderthal, but their finger work is impressive – it takes about twenty seconds to mummify and bond me to the uncomfortable office chair. I imagine they’ll wait for Guy, and do the same with him. I’m finding this hard to get my head round – I can’t think where this is going, it doesn’t make sense – why Guy? But I’m scared, really scared and the fact that I obviously don’t have anything they want to hear or have just makes it’s scarier – I mean who are these guys? And who is David? I’m scared and ashamed and trying hard to hold onto the contents of my bladder.
They have not blindfolded me and I’ve never seen David so animated. ‘Da, daaaa!’ He dances a magician’s jig around a duster covering a small package on the desk, and da das again and whips it off. Dynamite Dave. Dynamite fucking Dave – Jesus. Leah was right, he’s a maniac. Okay, I get it now. He’s going to blow me up. Right. I wonder how scared you have to be to pass out – or if some people just don’t. I want to pass out.
He tapes the device to the underside of my chair, millimetres from my balls. Then his two helpers turn the chair to face the door so I can see what he’s doing – he’s running a wire or cable from my nether-regions more or less, across the floor and the small hallway and out the office door. He keeps glancing up at me; despite my imminent vaporisation he really believes I’m going to appreciate this cunning plan.
‘And just in case Guy is stuck in snow,’ he says grinning, ‘we’ll be inviting the lovely Leah and your sweet daughter Jade to our small Christmas party – I guess you’ll have their numbers in here, eh?’ He giggles, points at the door, waggles his finger at me… ‘I’m so glad you chose the mystery prize, Nathan, instead of the money – it’s just so much more, fun, isn’t it?’
My eyes shut, in silent horror initially; giving way finally to prayer, something, if you’d asked me, I would have sworn I would never do. They open again though, as David bends my chin upwards. ‘I want you to watch, Nathan – it’s so much more fun to watch. Do you think Jade will bring Josh?’
I can’t trust my senses, but I could swear David’s levitating – more magic no doubt. But no, one of my Neanderthal buddies is lifting him away from me while Big Ears pushes a second chair up against the back of mine and tapes it fast – and then I hear this screeching of tape as they do the same to David as they did to me. Five minutes later they’re out through the back door leaving us in pitch dark.
David is crying and I wonder why this release never occurred to me.
I wake up crying and turn on the light; it’s two, two in the morning. It’s okay.
I try and pull myself back, but it was so real. I’m in shock. I push myself to sit up against the pillows, heart still racing. Jesus. Leah went back to her flat. She is angry, but she’ll be okay. Jade is sleeping in her room for the first time since she left. There are small stockings hanging from their beds bulging with gifts. The tree is glittering with fairy lights and Jade is here – she’s sleeping in her room. Sleeping. I say it again, becoming calm in the comfort of it. Jade is with us for a couple of days, two precious days… We’ll be together: Josh. Jade. Leah. It’s Christmas Eve.
Guy came back from Paris and I dealt with it. It was gruelling, yes, but it’s over. And David? David’s a jerk, a nasty bit of work – forget him, Nathan, forget him…
And then I almost jump out of my skin as the house phone rings beside the bed. I stare at it, my heart pumping and hammering. As I pick it up, I half expect it to be David.
‘Is that Nathan Gillespie?’
‘Yes it is ― how can I help?’
‘My name is Staff Nurse Reeves at The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. We have your wife…’
I leave a note for Jade on the bottom step of the stairs. I don’t know what else to do. Had to go out, call me. Won’t be long. x
All I can think about as I pull away from the kerb is that I won’t have her here. That’s it. I don’t want to deal with her again – does that mean I wish she’d died, well maybe it does and as I’m driving down Inverleith at two in the morning these thoughts take up rhythm with the wipers, and together they act as an anaesthetic to the bleak rumblings in my soul.
I pull to a stop.
Jade. Jade would want to be here. I should go back. I should have woken her up and told her. Why didn’t I do that? She’s just a child, that’s why. She’s been through enough these last few days, we’re all in a state of recovery; I am that far away from a breakdown. It is Christmas Day and I can’t bear that look on her face: the panic, the despair, the guilt. I can’t face the drama of Jade on top of everything else. Besides, who would be there for Josh if he wakes? There is no way we could have woken him up, bundled him into the car, taken him to see his mother, unconscious… This way I can explain when I get back, we can both tell Josh.
I ease into the road again. The drumming and hissing and pounding has become a complicated and engrossing symphony without which I may start screaming and pill popping myself. Oh yes, truly.
I pull into the hospital car park.
From time to time sirens scream past me and blue splintered light spits and hisses into the ambulance bay. I don’t want it to stop; I don’t want to swap it for the drone of polishers on the soft disinfected linoleum lakes that await me inside. And especially not with the old croc who is waiting in the shallows to swallow me up whole.
Without deciding to, I find myself sloshing across the car park towards the blue light. I find admissions and after too few questions they walk me down the long gleaming corridor and into a small side room. A stunningly elegant black man with crystal white hair is sitting beside the bed. He stands and holds out his hand to shake mine.
‘Nathan Gillespie? I’m Winston Lawrence, I would invite you to sit down but the circumstances are somewhat strange. I found your wife. I’m afraid I don’t know what to offer – except my deepest sympathy. I’m rather jet lagged I’m afraid. I only flew in from Jamaica a few hours ago…’
His hand has a slight quiver as he withdraws it from mine. I move close to Phoebe. She is linked to monitors and I’m longing to lose myself in the bleeps and flicks and drips – I’m missing the drumming of the rain. I suggest we go and find some tea.
The vending machine in the waiting room spits out tea for me and hot chocolate for Winston.
‘So you found her. That must have been rather a shock.’ An understatement of monstrous proportion but it’s the best I can do.
‘It was. I’d just got back from three months away – looking forward to seeing Ryan, my partner ― in fact surprising him. I wasn’t due for another week, but my last bit of business finished early… I managed to get an early flight. You often can on Christmas Eve. I thought I’d surprise him. Yes, well, as you know I found, instead, a young woman making an attempt on her life, in my bed, in my flat.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry; how horrible for you – she and Ryan, well, I believe they were lovers I…’
‘No, go on.’
‘When did you get back ― just a few hours ago did you say?’
‘Around midnight. Why?’
He doesn’t know. He doesn’t fucking know. ‘Ryan. Do you know about Ryan?’
‘About him being bisexual?’
‘No, not that. I’m afraid something awful happened. He died last week, well not even a week ago, a few days ago. You didn’t know? You don’t know?’ I reach across and touch his wrist. He doesn’t move it. He actually smiles at me briefly before standing up and turning his back. This is what you call composure. I stare at his beautiful three quarter length grey cotton coat and wonder if it would suit me and if I could ask him where he bought it – at a better moment maybe, when we’re friends.
He turns around and lowers into the only chair, takes a sip of his chocolate.
‘I’ve been flying all over the place the last three days. I hadn’t heard. How? I mean he sounded so cheerful last…’ His voice breaks.
‘I’m so sorry. I don’t really know the details. I think his front door was open and someone found him. You’d be better to talk to the police in the morning. Maybe you should go home. No, I suppose not, well maybe… No, well maybe you should try and get some sleep before you attempt to take in any more, there is only so much… You look dead beat. Listen, you can sleep at my house if you like – I mean maybe that would be the sensible thing to do.’ I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, it’s impossible of course but he looks so kind and so destroyed and so old suddenly. ‘My girlfriend, Leah, would…’
‘You’re kind, really you are; I’ll book into a hotel ― you can’t possibly offer a complete stranger…’
‘No, well I’m just so sorry that’s all. Can I call somewhere for you?’
‘That would be very kind.’
I phone the Balmoral. I give him our number and he promises to call and find out how Phoebe is…
He leaves and I go back to Phoebe’s bedside to wait. An hour later, the nurse tells me to go home.
It’s almost six when I zombie through our front door. I switch the tree lights on and stare at the presents around its base, not seeing them really – not seeing anything, except a blur of reflective wrappings. I long to slope off to bed, collapse for twenty-four hours, let things settle. It’s amazing that Josh’s not woken already. Panic stirs in my stomach. I must wake Jade. I must wake Jade now and tell her. Now. As I wait for the kettle to boil, it’s all I can do not to curl up beside the Aga with Nevis and sleep.
‘Jade? Jade it’s me.’ I have my hand gently on her shoulder. If there was any way I could spare her this I would, any way at all. She wakes up all sleepy eyed and stares blankly at me for a moment. Without her make-up she looks like a young child I used to know so well. My heart is breaking up with love. She smiles at me and looks towards her stocking at the end of the bed.
An awful dread steals over me.
‘You should have told me first. I should have been there. It’s me who lives with her not you. You had no right! I should never have left her alone!’
‘She’s okay. I knew her life wasn’t in danger, that she wouldn’t even be conscious. I couldn’t bear to wake you.’
‘That’s the problem isn’t it! You couldn’t! You couldn’t! It’s all about Nathan again, it’s always about you! Well, she’s my mother, she chose me! I should have stopped it, stopped her, I should have checked up on her, I should have rung Dawn, made sure she was there. I should have called her – she wasn’t, she’s not strong enough… Oh god, how could she? How could she?’ And then Jade howls. ‘Why did you do that, Mum?’
‘Listen to me, Jade. What she did is not about you, it’s about her. For God’s sake, you didn’t make her take pills, or try to kill herself. You’ve done everything you could to look after her, you’re exhausted. This isn’t about you, it’s about her!’
She pushes out of bed, drags on her jeans and sweater over her pyjamas and storms across the room kicking out at the soap and chocolate pennies that have spilled from the bulging stocking.
‘Don’t you even think of following me – don’t you dare.’
I think perhaps she’s turning back to hit me and I get down quickly, lean back a little, but she’s just retrieving her boots from under the bed. Along with them, she scoops up a handful of tiny forlorn gifts and throws them at me in disgust. ‘You can stuff your fucking Christmas – I’m spending mine with my mother!’
‘There was nothing you could have done, Jade.’ She must believe me. I get up now and take her arm.
‘Get stuffed, Dad. Just fuck off. You are unbelievable! This is my problem, it was my problem. Let me go, you’ve done enough damage.’
She flies down the stairs, picks up the house phone and asks for a cab. I follow her from room to room.
‘Listen to me, Jade ― I’m going to tell you something.’
‘Something that’ll get you out…’
‘Something that shaped the way your Mum behaves, something that happened to her.’
‘Go on then.’
‘Carl, her Dad…’
‘Yes I do know Carl. I do know he was her Dad actually. Get on with it ― my cab will be here in a minute.’
‘He abused Phoebe, both of them, her and Sheena, when they were little ― that was why she didn’t…’
‘What do you mean abused them? Hit them? What do you mean abused? What the fuck do you mean?’
‘I’d always hoped you’d never have to know, but now, well you’ve got to stop blaming yourself ― Mum was never…’
‘For fuck’s sake, Dad!’
‘He played with them at bath time ― it was his time with his girls and he played with them; he didn’t rape them, but what he did was maybe worse because it left Phoebe utterly confused about, about trust and about what love means ― I can only try and imagine what it must be like and I can’t get close, not really…’
‘Fuck you! Fuck you, Dad. Just stop it, I’ve heard enough. You’d say anything…’
She storms through to the hall dragging a scarf and gloves out of the tall boy.
‘Granddad would never have touched her, not like that, you’re lying, you’re fucking lying. Why are you doing this, Dad ― why are you trying to blame Granddad?’
She’s backing into the loo by the front door.
‘Just get out, fucking let go. Because I loved Granddad and, and why didn’t she tell me and I hated her for hating them and that’s so unfair. And this is so fucked up ― I mean I can’t bear this… Why didn’t she tell me?’ Her voice breaks.
I’m trying not to shout, praying Josh doesn’t wake up. I have my foot wedged in the door.
‘I don’t know. I probably should have told you but I didn’t know where it would lead. I didn’t know what to do. I think you should have known, but Mum, well it was up to her wasn’t it?’
She lets go and the door springs open with my weight. She pushes past, collapses on the bottom stair and rests her head in her hands. ‘And Gran ― I mean did Gran know?’ She half turns towards me.
‘No, well not until four years ago.’ I sit at the far end of the same step.
‘I told her. I shouldn’t have, but Phoebe was so cruel to her. I wanted to explain that it wasn’t her fault. After the barbeque.’
‘So after all those years you told her that Grandad had… Poor Gran. I mean, how did she take it?’
‘She couldn’t take it on board, so she had a series of tiny strokes, got ill. I haven’t got much right really. I’m sorry Jade, I am so sorry ― I don’t know what to say except that none of this is your fault.’
‘And it isn’t Mum’s fault either, is it?’
‘No, of course not, Jade, but it’s up to her how she deals with it ― it’s not up to you to stop her messing up her life – sorry but it’s not.’
‘So what you saying, Dad? That I should give up on her too ― like you did?’
‘She needs help, Jade, professional help. I can see what it’s doing to you. I mean leaving school ― giving up Jamie, going out with Ash, that’s all about…’
She rounds on me. ‘Just shut the fuck up will you. I made my own choices ― don’t you dare do that. I like living with her, I like my life. It might be convenient for you and Leah ― but I’m not like you, she’s my Mum and I’m not just going to give up – I won’t.’
The phone rings. Jade picks up, grabs her stuff and disappears. I flop sideways on the bottom step in as much of a foetal position as it allows me and sometime later wake to whoops of joy coming from Josh’s room followed swiftly by Santa’s outsize stocking bump bump bumping from stair to stair towards me.