She got home at two in the morning. The lights were still on in the Green Man where the closing hour seemed entirely dependent upon Norman’s mood. She could hear loud, drunken voices drifting across the common. Miles should have been among them. They could have caught up on matters that were falling behind. After Tyler’s little lecture about the efficacy of the season she’d checked her cycle. That looked good too. She tried not to let the thought get into her head (if Sara loses hers, I can make it up, I can even the balance). But it was useless anyway. Miles was in London somewhere, and there wasn’t so much as a single message on the answering machine.
After a couple of drinks she slept late. Then she bought some croissants and flowers at the supermarket and went back to the hospital, a thick, cold clump of dread sitting in the pit of her stomach. It lifted the moment she walked into the ward. Sara was upright in bed looking the very picture of health, and mightily bored too. She wolfed down two croissants in an instant.
“The idiots won’t let me out until tomorrow,” she mumbled, her mouth full of crumbs. “Ridiculous. Not a sign of anything since the accident. Little Horatio or Henrietta, whichever it is in there, is doing very nicely, thank you. And so am I.”
Alison grinned at her. “You have the mother of all black eyes.” It was more purple than black, and it stretched from her high cheekbone to well above the eyebrow.
“Just as well I am pregnant then. Nobody’d want to shag an old tart looking like this.”
“You’ll recover. Back to your old self by Friday. Promise.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She waved an exaggerated salute.
“Sara… do you remember anything more about the accident?”
She shook her head and flakes of croissant flew onto the pillow. “Nah. That copper says they’ll never find him. At least he looks as if he might try if I could remember something. Most of them couldn’t even be bothered. Nice looking feller as well.”
“But do you think…?” Her voice faded. Alison couldn’t understand why the notion wouldn’t leave her head.
“What?” Sara replied suspiciously.
“Do you think he drove you off the road deliberately. I mean, it wasn’t just the usual road rage thing. He meant to do it?”
“No,” she said in a monotone. Alison knew she was lying. Sara was just so bad at it.
“Sorry, love,” Alison said, smiling. “I’m just being stupid. It was an accident. That’s all.”
“You’re getting paranoid. Bodies in bonfires. Homicidal maniacs in our dear, sweet, bucolic paradise.” She wasn’t smiling when she said that.
“Now,” Sara said, wagging a finger, “I will be here for another day or two, or so the Gestapo with the bum thermometers say. You won’t do anything silly. Will you?”
“I mean it.”
And she did too. She kept on meaning it. All the time in the hospital. All through the drive home (and she couldn’t help looking at everyone else on the road, wondering how they were driving, couldn’t help stopping at the scene of Sara’s crash and noticing that the sweet-looking policeman was absolutely right; there was just a single set of skid marks).
By four she was back at Priory House. The light was already starting to fade. She walked in the door and yelled, “Miles!” And cursed herself for being so dumb. In the hallway the green light was winking on the answering machine. She stabbed the button and listened to his apologetic voice. There was a number she could use to phone back. She dialled, got through to an anonymous woman’s voice, and then he was on the line.
“Miles. What on earth is going on? When are you coming home?”
“Game’s getting dirty. God I never expected this kind of tactic from the Germans. Trying the same stunts on us we’re trying to pull on them . And doing rather a better job too. Major crisis I’m afraid. No chance of me getting home until Tuesday at the earliest.”
“What? Am I supposed to put up with this all the time until Christmas?”
“If you’re lucky.” He sounded full of himself. Miles was clearly enjoying the game, and this made it all the more infuriating. “We’re going to have to try to find a white knight, some kind of approved suitor who can keep them from the door. And insert a few poison pills along the way.”
“White knight? Poison pills? What the hell are you talking about?”
“No time to explain now, love. Just trust me. The short answer is we need to work harder than we’ve done in our lives, and we’ll still lose in all probability. But I’m thinking long. You do understand what that means, don’t you?”
She understood. “Yes,” she replied irritably. “But how long is long?”
“Months. Who knows?”
“Christ! Do I get to see my husband during any of this? Or do I have to make an appointment to come and visit you in town?”
“Now there’s an idea. Once my timekeeping becomes a touch more regular. Don’t sulk. It’s hard on me too.”
Sounds like it, she said bitterly to herself. “Tuesday?”
“Wonderful,” she groaned.
“So. How are things?”
“Nice of you to ask. Sara’s in hospital. Some bastard drove her off the road.”
He was silent for a moment. “Oh my God. How is she?”
“Bruised. Shaken up. She’ll be OK. And the baby too.”
“Baby? What baby?”
“Jesus Christ, Miles. How am I supposed to keep you up to date if you’re not even here?”
“But who’s the father?” he asked.
“I don’t know!”
And she thought about the policeman and what he said about Beulah. It was weird. No mistake. “Look, just come home when you’re ready and I’ll fill you in. OK? And by the way, did you really ask the Blamires to do the gardening at £10 an hour? Each?”
Another long pause. “I suppose if that’s what they say…”
“If you can’t outwit the Blamires, Miles, you won’t have much chance with your goddamn Germans.”
“I would not,” he said, suddenly stuffy, “make that assumption at all.”
And then, to her absolute amazement, put the phone down. Alison tried to remember. In the twelve years she had known Miles, eight of them married, he hadn’t done this once. They’d argued. Once come to something akin to blows. But nothing measured up to this single, outrageous act of out and out disrespect. She felt violated.
“Typical,” she yelled down the dead phone, knowing all the time that it wasn’t.
She stared at the empty living room. It looked cold and inhospitable. Then, thinking that there must be some odd kind of logic which justified this sort of behaviour, she remembered Sara’s earnest, well-meant entreaty.
Don’t do anything silly. Why did friends say things like that? What was the point?
She poured herself a drink. Then she went into the kitchen and pulled out the local map from the table drawer. It was getting dark. The big, rechargeable torch sitting in its holster by the back door would be useful. Paternoster Farm wasn’t marked on the map. But she could remember Sara’s directions. She’d get there all the same.
(C) David Hewson 2012