Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Six

It was getting cold.  The dull ache in her temple was finally easing up.  Celia was sitting at her mother’s grave in the courtyard behind Corpus Christi.  Her knees were tucked up near her chin and she watched a plane in the sky.  She couldn’t think of what to say.
     Later she drove down to the Iris Medical Institute, a large steel and glass building on the edge of King’s Cross.  In the foyer behind the receptionist’s counter hung a gold plaque with embossed silver lettering.  It read Perception Is Everything.  Celia hadn’t been here for nearly ten years.  It seemed longer than that, a lifetime ago. 
     There was a cute red-haired secretary at the counter.  “I’d like to see Dr Benjamin Foster, please,” Celia told her.
     “Do you have an appointment?”  Her eyes lingered on Celia’s bruise.
     “No, but I’m a former client of his – Celia Gray.  I really need to see him.  It’s kind of an emergency.”
     The cute receptionist called up to the office, repeating the name into the phone, then glanced at Celia.  “Go right up, Miss Gray.  My apologies.”
     Dr Ben Foster was incredibly fat, with dark eyes and large hands.  He’d been big the last time she’d seen him, but now he was huge.  He threw his arms around her when she stepped into his office.  She laughed and hugged him, like a mountain against her slender frame.  “Celia, my God!  How are you?  Wow…you’ve certainly aged well!”  She pulled back and smiled almost sheepishly. 
     “Thanks Ben.”
     He gestured at the chair.  “Take a seat, take a seat…wow, it’s so good to see you!”  She grinned and sat down, still nervous despite Ben’s enthusiasm.  Instead of going behind his desk he sat in the chair beside her, his massive frame filling it completely.  He shook his head, smiling.  “Nearly ten years.”
     Celia nodded and took a breath.  She wasn’t going to play games with Ben; she’d known him for too long, and she’d loved him a little too much.  “Ten years.  But, for me – for me the clock stopped when she died.”
     “Your mum loved you.  Totally.  That’s why she brought you here.  You know that.  She often told me how proud she was of you.  Despite the strain of the blackouts you didn’t let go of that fighting spirit.  I think Alice actually admired you.  Between a mother and a daughter I’d imagine that’s a fine thing.”
     Celia stared at the certificates on his wall.  “I was just a girl back then.”
     “And now?”
     “Now I’m just a confused grown-up.  Feels really strange being back here.”
     “Celia, how did you get the bruise?”
     “I nearly beat myself unconscious.” 
     He thought she was making a dark little joke and so he laughed widely, “Ouch!”  She had to smile at his expression.  He grinned and said, “I read both your books, you know.”
     She shook her head and pouted comically.  “Oh no…what did you think?”
     “I loved them.  I’ve always had a taste for ghost stories and powerful drama.”
     “Powerful drama?  I don’t know about that.”
     Ben leaned over, touching her hand.  “Remember, don’t sell yourself short, or your experiences.  Healing requires confidence.”  She smiled sadly and nodded. 
     “I know, I know.  I remember.”
     “So, Cee, spill the beans.  Why the sudden visit?  My oodles of charm?”
     “Well, a friend of mine…was nearly killed, two nights ago.”
     What?”
     “A man broke into my house and stole my mother’s diary.  I didn’t even know it existed, but…he stabbed Louise.  Now she’s on a respirator at St Patrick’s.”
     “My God…”
     “Yeah.  I’m afraid he might come back.  I know this sounds crazy, but…it feels like this was all meant to happen, setting something in motion, you know?”
     He placed his hands on his protruding belly.  “You think you were fated to have this happen?  As in destiny?  You sure?”
     “Ben, I don’t know.  It feels like it.  Like I’m being drawn into…something.  It scares the shit out of me.”
     “I imagine it would, Cee.  Sounds like a terrifying ordeal.”
     She leaned across and took his large hand, gripping it.  “What the fuck am I supposed to do?  What if he comes back?”
     “Are the police involved?  Are they protecting you?”
     She hesitated.  “There’s a guy.  He took a statement from me.  He seems solid but…I just feel so naked.” 
     There was silence and he shifted in the chair.  “Has this brought up feelings from your mum’s death…your suicide attempt?”
     She stared at him blankly.  “I’ve been having dreams, Ben.  My mum comes to me.  At least I think it’s her.  Maybe it’s some phantom that…wears her face.”
     “Which is the more frightening possibility?”
     “I don’t know.”
     “Well, do you think it’s possible that Alice is communicating with you through your dreams?  We’ve talked about these ideas before in progressive therapy.  There is some evidence that consciousness can survive death of the body, if one doesn’t ridicule or dismiss it off-hand. You seemed really open to discussing those themes before.  What’s changed?  Does it have any less import these days?”
     “It’s too painful,” she said quietly.  “So much has changed.  I don’t have that boundless energy anymore.  That need to understand everything is dying these days.  But I do still believe she’s out there…somewhere.  For what it’s worth.  Yeah, metaphysics and survival of the soul.  I get it, I believe it.  But they should’ve let me join her, should’ve let me go.  It would’ve been a lot simpler.”
     Ben shook his head and smiled.  “Maybe the world wants you here.  Maybe you’ve got something to give, huh?  Something special.  Is that so crazy?”
     Celia smiled and sighed.  “You sound more like a priest than a psychologist.”
     He grinned back.  “Well, thank you.”
  
***

The hotel blinds were drawn.  Myers sat perched on the edge of the bed.  A cigarette trembled in his hand.  The cigarette didn’t taste right.  He’d made a very bad mistake.  Killing Mr Finn and the other man had been reckless.  Somehow he’d convinced himself that he was taking control, going off the grid.  Really he’d engraved a bullet with his own name.  They’d find him, of course.  Execute him.
     What if he died and there was nothing, no spirit?  What if he died and there was a place for sinners, a place called hell?  No, those were Clockhost myths.  He couldn’t allow himself to fall prey to them.  He pressed his eyes shut.  Perhaps Christopher was staring at him, sadly judging him.  He needed to see the pretty writer again, to bury his face in Celia’s breast.  Suddenly he felt as though he were sealed inside a tomb.
              
***

The corridors of St Patrick’s were busy and brightly-lit.  They had moved Louise to a smaller bay, near a window.  Another sun was setting outside.  Celia sat beside the bed, holding Louise’s hand.  She listened to the respirator and the bleeping cardiograph.  She stroked strawberry-blonde hair. 
     “Can still taste you, Lou,” she murmured, “I can still feel your fingers inside me.”  She gently shook the woman in the bed.  “Lou.  Lou, get up.  Get up, get up you silly fucking bitch.”
     She soon left the hospital and cruised the night-time roads for nearly an hour.  She circled round and round in the car, listening to choice segments of a Beatles CD over and over again: ‘The White Album’. 
     Eventually she parked the car a street away from a pub called The Garrison.  She lit a cigarette and watched men enter and leave the establishment; fat men, muscular men, thin young men with pretty faces.  She locked the car and walked across the dark road to the pub.  The place was filled with warm bodies and the chaos of many voices.

***

Myers had driven to St Patrick’s Hospital and spotted the writer’s Ford almost immediately.  He parked only a few spaces away.  He simply waited until Celia finished visiting the blonde that had stumbled onto his knife.  He was still watching the car when she came out of the exit.  He followed her in circles around Highgate. 
     As she entered The Garrison she tried to appear nonchalant but she looked hunted and alone, almost spectral.  He followed her in and watched her order a bottle of cider.  He watched her eyes searching the room.  Myers knew that look.  Yeah…he knew it well.

***

She sipped her drink, observing what was on offer.  A man crossed the pub to the bar, only a few feet away from her.  He obviously hadn’t noticed that she was sitting there alone.  He was quite tall, wearing blue jeans and a red hooded-sweatshirt, his hair a scraggly sandy-brown.  He was handsome in a rough-around-the-edges way.  He leaned across the counter, trying to get the attention of the bar-maid.  Celia noticed the faintest scar at his chin.  His eyes promised secrets.  A suitable lust object for many women, she guessed. 
     “Come on,” he muttered to himself, “for fuck sakes…”
     “Can I buy you a drink?”
     He turned, frowning slightly.  “Can you buy me a drink?  Sure.  You could get me a pint of Carling.  Thanks.”  His accent was an educated South London, a voice of crushed ice.  When Celia caught the attention of the bar-maid she ordered him his beer, glancing quickly at his hands.  No wedding ring. 
     He frowned again and began studying her face.  She liked his eyes on her.
     “I think I recognise you, sweetheart.  I saw you on some late-night interview panel.  You’re that writer aren’t you?  Sure.  Something Gray.  Celia Gray, am I right?”
     She nodded and smiled, shaking his hand.  “You’ve read one of my books?”
     “I’ve read two of them.”
     “I only wrote two.”
     “Oh,” he said and smiled, “Sorry.  I’m David, by the way.  But yeah, I thought they were fucking excellent.  Don’t want to sound like a gushing idiot.”
     Celia grinned and shook her head.  “No, please, gush away.  It appeals to my vanity.”
     “I can’t believe I bumped into a god’s honest writer.  Your stories touched me.”
     She gave him a flirtatious smile.  “They touched you?”  He laughed and suddenly looked boyish. 
     “Yeah, they touched me.  Emotionally.  Spiritually.  I used to write, you know.  It meant everything to me when I was young. I’m sad that I stopped.”  She raised an eyebrow and nodded.  The bar-maid set his beer down and he took a deep swallow.  “So, your second book…?”
     Leaving Her,” Celia said tightly.
     “Loved that book.”
     “Maybe you’re a closet feminist?”
     He laughed, boyish again.  “Maybe.  Don’t really know what it means, but maybe.  I like female writers.”
     Celia reached out and brazenly stroked the scar at his chin.  He didn’t flinch at her touch.  He didn’t even smile.  “So…David?”
     “Yeah?”
     “You want to get out of here…?” 
     He looked at her for a long while, slightly unsettling her.  Finally he nodded.

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