Black & Deep Desires
Tuesday June 16
The next morning Oates decided it was time to do something about his health. Since Shirley had gone, his piles had been bothering him severely. He nourished a deep and secret fear that one day he would bleed ignominiously to death on the toilet and be found in un unflattering position, three days later, details of all this being described to the world in a small column in the Daily Mirror.
He had a choice between Dr Muir (a woman), Dr Rao (too dapper, he made Oates feel like a rogue elephant), Dr Moffat (about a hundred years old and a menace to the community), and Tim Wise.
“Well, I think we’re looking at a rather drastic, yet simple, change in diet for a start,” Tim Wise smiled affably; “I’ll give you a diet sheet.” Oates flinched. Wise leaned across the desk; “And secondly, I think it’s time to book you in for a colonoscopy.”
“And what sort of thing exactly does that entail?” Oates asked, deliberately casual.
“Tail is the word!” Wise chortled pleasantly; “Well, it’s the simplest procedure and absolutely painless. We insert a sort of thin, very long hosepipe up the back end, all the way up, and it’s quite ingenious really, because we get a panoramic view of what things look like inside. You can even watch it yourself on a screen. If you’re awake. Of course we give you something to relax you. Anyway, to put it simply, attached to the end of the hosepipe is an electric wire and a sort of metal claw. As soon as we see something we don’t like, we zap it with the wire and grab it with the claw. That’s the easy part, of course. Then we send it all off to the path lab. The hard part - for you - is waiting for results, although what we’re generally talking about here is polyps - sort of fleshy mushroomy lumps, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred absolutely nothing to worry about.” He sat back in his chair; “Any questions?”
He had died. This was Hell, thinly disguised as the Rundall Community Health Centre. He clung to the thought that maybe he wasn’t a lifer; maybe one could get out early for good behaviour. Possibly one could then write a sort of entrance exam to heaven - no, why be overly ambitious? - he’d be quite happy with a grey sort of in-between area, perhaps rather like a permanent waiting-room with three tatty National Geographics and a smelly gas heater in the corner. It was beyond belief. Not the most depraved member of the Spanish Inquisition could, in his wildest fantasies, have come up with something like this. One thing was for sure - nobody, but nobody, was going to stick that thing up his bottom.
“How’s the Guilfoyle business going?” Tim Wise scribbled some notes in Oates’ file.
“Nothing new. Nothing to suggest it didn’t all happen as Rex Guilfoyle said.” Oates couldn’t think straight.
“Something occurred to me.” Wise slapped the folder shut and pushed it to one side. “Rose Guilfoyle came to see me a few years ago. I shouldn’t be telling you this, since you’re not on the case. She asked me to prescribe antibiotics for a cold. Now you know how I feel about prescribing these things - yes, they are life savers, but as far as I’m concerned, only as a last resort, and certainly not for a bit of a cold. Anyway, antibiotics are useless for a cold, as you know, unless there are secondary viral infections, etc, etc. But some people feel that they haven’t had their money’s worth unless they walk out with a prescription. In fact, she was absolutely insistent that I give her two courses of antibiotics. She became quite upset when I told her I wasn’t prepared to do that, broke down and wept, said how ill she felt, how she couldn’t shake off the symptoms, and so on. The funny thing was, I examined her and I couldn’t find any evidence at all of an infection. I was at a bit of a loss. Anyway, she pulled herself together and asked me to write a prescription which she could use ‘just in case’. In the end, I gave in. It didn’t seem worth the argument. I’m a bit of a softie, I suppose. Why I thought it odd was that she’s always seemed to me to be a stoic sort of woman. Certainly not the type to fuss over a cold. Over the years I’ve probably seen her three or four times at most. It’s a small thing, really, but all this business brought it back to me.”
Oates wasn’t interested. “When you say a few years ago, do you mean two years, ten years?”
“Five and a half. I looked it up in her file this morning. October 1993. That was around the time the child was killed.”
Wednesday June 16
“What’s the matter with you?” Diana peered into his face as he stood on her doorstep in the dusk; “You look dreadful.”
“I’m going to have an operation.”
Her face melted into concern and tenderness and she reached for his hand. “I’m sorry. Is it - serious?”
He was stoic; “A colonoscopy.”
She withdrew her hand. “Is that all? That’s not an operation!”
“All? All?” Oates reiterated querulously; “What do you mean all?” Do you know what they do?”
“Oh, yes. But it’s not an operation per se. Good grief, what a fuss.” Seeing his face, she added; “Of course you’re afraid of what they’ll find, but more often than not it’s just a collection of old fungi which they remove and that’s that. It’s not very dignified, of course.”
“Have you had one?”
“No. I’m too young to have problems like that.” She grinned.
“Thanks very much.” He stared gloomily out of window. He wondered what Shirley would say when she heard he was going to die. A simple but touching service. Nothing ostentatious. She would weep over his grave, and the first of the autumn leaves would drift down symbolically onto the polished mahogany. Or teak. But mahogany and teak would be fiendishly expensive. Varnished pine, perhaps. The dead leaves would remind her of the bleakness of her life ... he was quite moved at the picture.
“You’re not going to die, you know.”
“How the hell do you know that? I feel bad enough.”
“Of course you do. That’s fear. But it’s not a good way to get back at her, Oates. Out of sight, out of mind.”
He was affronted. “I don’t want to ‘get back’ as you so vulgarly put it. I still love her.”
“Oh, for shit’s sake, Oates. Stop being such a bloody saint.” She marched through to the sitting room.
He followed her, sniffing disapprovingly; “Why do you swear so much?”
“Because it would offend my parents. Do I need a reason?”
“That’s really childish.”
She glared; “I am childish. Immature and irresponsible and really childish. Or so I’ve been told.”
“Well,” he glared back; “Perhaps you should take notice of what you’re told. Perhaps you need professional help, therapy, whatever. You’re always so bolshy.”
She surged to her feet;
“Too frigging right I’m bolshy!” I’m angry at the whole shitty world and let me tell you, it feels good. Not like you, all mimsy-pimsy humility and martyrdom. Yes Shirley, no Shirley, I’ll eat myself to death, Shirley. Why don’t you bloody go and punch the bloody bitch?”
“I - was - no - bloody - good - in - bed. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, I do, and has it ever occurred to you in your self-pity that it might have been Shirley’s fault? Why do you persist in taking the blame? You shit me to death with your roll-over-and-take-it attitude.”
from what you’ve told
me you’re not so
either in the relationship department. Slinking
was it? -
“Jesus, Oates, I’m sorry.” She put a tentative hand out to touch his inflamed cheek. Then she, too, began to laugh, and within moments they were hysterical, howling, bent double.
Outside in the unlit night, the watcher stood. Behind a veil of beech leaves the watcher stood and saw them silently speaking and moving and gesticulating in the bright frame of the window. Saw her hand come silently up to Oates’s face. A light wind riffled through the leaves and swayed the branches. When the tree was still again, there was no-one there.
Tuesday June 16
Guilfoyle had suggested that Cordelia might know someone who could
quantities of soft white cloth cheaply. Diana
on Tuesday morning, and she
She hadn’t wanted to pester Cordelia, but Simon insisted that he and his sister were getting on with their lives and trying to carry on as normally as possible. He had eventually persuaded Diana to go and see her. The shop was tiny, with thick dusky rose carpeting and warm lighting. Cordelia was alone, sitting at a glass desk staring into space. Her smile faded when she recognised Diana.
“I don’t suppose you’ve come to buy a dress.”
“No, I’m afraid. I’m on a begging mission.”
“I know why you’ve come.” She slipped off her stool, and stood, arms folded. “Simon told me you want stuff for the play.”
“I’m sorry. It seems insensitive.”
“Rubbish. It’s business as usual. What do you need?”
“Yards and yards of something white and cheap. I was going to ask parents to donate old sheets.”
Cordelia pulled the phone towards her; “What are you doing again? Midsummer Night’s Dream? You’ll want them in Greek tunics, I suppose. You’ll have about thirty to dress; I’ll order sixty metres. You’ll have too much, but you can keep the leftover stuff for next time.” She had a short, businesslike conversation with someone called Manfred and replaced the receiver. “That’s done. I’ve ordered you a plain white polyester cotton, fairly thin and drape-able. It’ll be here in a couple of days.” She waved away Diana’s offers of money; “It costs next to nothing, and I get a special deal anyway. I know the minuscule budget you’re given for these things. Let’s just say I’m donating it in memory of my legendary performances in past plays.” She looked up at Diana with a strange expression, an elfin half-smile that held more black mischief than humour. “You’ll have heard how wonderful I was?”
“Well, more than that; I’ve seen a video of Hamlet.”
“A video?” Cordelia’s eyes sharpened; “At the school?”
“No. At Richard Softley’s. He thought if I watched one of the past plays I might pick up a few ideas. I’d asked him for advice.”
Cordelia’s voice was cold. “So Richard Softley keeps a video of me.” She lifted a mass of red-gold hair and tossed it over her shoulder.
“I assume he has videos of all the plays he’s produced. He said something to that effect.”
“What does he say about me?” She watched Diana closely.
“He commented on what a fabulous Ophelia you were. And he’s right, you were wonderful. You stood head and shoulders above the rest. But I’m sure you’ve heard all this before.”
“Well, of course I stood out. I could act.” Cordelia’s voice was acid with scorn. “The rest were just school children in a pantomime.”
“Why didn’t you pursue it?” You clearly have a gift.”
“You sound just like a school teacher,” Cordelia said cuttingly. Her cool gaze flicked over Diana’s face. “You don’t necessarily enjoy something just because you’re good at it. And you don’t have to do it, either. I’m sick to death of people telling me I’ve wasted my talents.” She lifted her neat, pointed chin and said, sarcastically; “What are you good at, Miss Diana Gray? Don’t tell me you really want to drag out the rest of your life in some dreary school?” Her eyes were as hard and light green as peridots. Before Diana could indulge her instinct to deliver an invective on the pitfalls of behaving like a spoilt brat, Cordelia’s gaze moved past her face and a delighted smile transformed her cold white features.
“Fiona! You look gorgeous! That colour is absolutely divine on you!” There was exclamation and exuberant pecking of cheeks, and Diana was aware that the customer had, in a cursory glance, taken in every detail of her white cotton Marks and Spencers shirt and her cheap blue skirt. She didn’t want to lower the tone of the place.
“I must be going. Thank you, Cordelia. That was very generous of you.”
Cordelia was all effusive smiles; “Nonsense! I’ll give you a ring in a day or two when the cloth arrives.”
Outside, she stopped. The lane was flooded with early summer light, and weeping cherries hung their gay pink ruffles against the dark stone of the church opposite the shop. She savoured the colours, the air. There was a cafe a little further down the lane. She thought of going in and sitting over an espresso and watching people walk past. A man was seated at a table in the window. Soft blonde hair hung into his eyes ... her heart lurched. But it wasn’t Paul. A pretty dark woman strode across the café and flung herself down opposite him and he looked up from his book and smiled; then he reached across and covered her hand with his, in an intimate gesture that excluded all others. Diana’s happy impulse hardened and she turned and walked quickly away up the lane towards the Castle where she had parked her car. Stupid, anyway, when she had to get back to the school. She had a class shortly. She’d have a cup of Nescafe in the staff room.
Saturday June 20
was an odd atmosphere at the Rundall Church Fete. To
bedsocks in the grounds of Darkwood House, where a mere four weeks
two bodies had been found, seemed macabre in the extreme.
Even those who had rattled on about burying
the past and how wonderfully stoic that Rose Guilfoyle was had vague
of unease as they set up their stalls in the warm early morning haze. As was the custom, Rose had had Iain Taylor
slaving away for days to ensure that the lawns and beds were immaculate. The only change to previous years was that
the maze was sealed off. She had
Diana had a rehearsal at the school all morning. She arrived at Darkwood House just after midday. The skies were clear and the air unseasonably hot and sultry. She tossed her jacket onto the back seat of the Golf, and walked uncertainly across the broad sweep of the gravel driveway towards the stalls. The lawns were crowded, the stalls busy, but there was a strangely subdued feeling to it all. It was almost, Diana thought suddenly, as though they were all there because they were afraid not to be.
The long avenue of oaks to her left was a soft green tunnel, laced with light. As summer advanced, it would darken. At that moment, a single cloud moved across the sun, and the tunnel dimmed and the light falling through the leaves faded. She shivered. A tall, dark figure was coming up the avenue, walking slowly, hands deep in pockets.
“What are you staring at? You look as though you’d seen the family ghost.” She jumped; Richard Softley stood at her shoulder, grinning. “It’s only the Reverend. Although, I admit, he does look a bit ghoulish. Particularly on Sundays when he actually has to do some work.”
“I think I must be hungry. I missed lunch. I feel a bit shaky.”
“Well, come and join me in a cream tea. The scones, I’m told, are homebaked by Mrs Elizabeth Smale herself. Although whether that’s a recommendation or a warning, one can’t be sure.” They wandered across to the blue and white striped tent beside the rose garden, but Diana’s eye was caught by the secondhand book stall. Richard went on to order scones and tea for them both. She became absorbed in a box of very old Woman’s Weeklies, the small ones with pink covers that her grandmother used to read. She was crouched on the grass, digging down through the box, when a shadow fell across her.
“I can think of better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.”
Diana squinted upwards. Had the words been thrown out lightly, humorously, she might have parried with; “Now come on, Vicar, you must admit this is more fun than writing sermons,” or some such riposte, but the words had been bitter and deliberate. He was all of six foot three, stooped, thin, with dark hair that swept down over a white forehead. The black eyes kindled without humour or happiness. Despite the heat of the afternoon he wore a black sweater, shapeless and somewhat frayed, and had it not been that she remembered him from Rex Guilfoyle’s funeral, she wouldn’t have known who he was. Since he had stepped across the borders of convention, it was easy for her to reply, quite seriously;
“What would you rather be doing?”
He didn’t reply. His silent glare suggested no inner peace. Could she be imagining the waves of turmoil and passion in those eyes? Heathcliff at a parish fete? She laughed inwardly. His eye contact was uncomfortably intense and prolonged. A woman with one of the woolly blonde perms that reminded Diana irresistibly of sheep came ploughing towards them through the crowd. She ran in that apologetic female way, head thrown back, arms flailing, knees together. Was this his Cathy?
“James? James! Where have you been? I’ve been looking for you everywhere! You promised to lend a hand with the teas - they’re desperate, poor things. Off you go now, quickly, scones need buttering!” She drew breath. Voice like a hangnail, thought Diana, could rip a hole in a pair of tights.
She smiled automatically at the woman. “We were just talking about having fun.”
James Savage’s wife stared at her with round blue eyes; “You’re having fun. Good. Good. I’m Felicity Savage. I don’t think ...”
“No.” Diana smiled apologetically; “I stopped going to church when I was eleven. When I discovered Henry the Eighth invented it as a means to divorcing his wives.”
“Well!” Felicity Savage opened and shut her mouth. “That’s indeed a pity! I’m sure you’d find our family services very pleasant and stimulating. Perhaps I could invite you to come along tomorrow morning; James will be speaking on that very topic - the breakdown of the nuclear family.”
“That’s kind of you. I’m not much interested in the subject. My family is one person and a cat.” She was aware of Richard hovering with paper plates of cream scones, his face fixed in an embarrassed grimace. James Savage continued to stare silently, making no attempt to share the conversational burden.
Felicity gave her gleaming smile; “Well, you’re certainly welcome to join us on any Sunday. We’d be thrilled to see you there.” She seized her husband’s arm and marched him towards the tea tent.
“She has to say that, poor woman,” muttered Richard, “Since he started here, a lot of people don’t go anymore. Customers are few and far between, I fear.”
“I’m not surprised. He’s bloody peculiar.”
“It’s his sermons. Not a crumb of comfort to be found in them, according to Lilian. It’s all gloom, doom, horrors and despair.”
“Well, look at him. Not your standard jolly village vicar, exactly.” Diana finished a scone in two bites.
Richard licked his fingers. “I’m going to get some more. If I die of indigestion it’ll have been worth it. You didn’t have to be so rude to the poor woman, you know.”
“I know.” Diana sighed. “I do this. Then I spend years trying to make amends by being overly friendly. They come to dread the very sight of me, but I can’t stop myself. In the end I suffer ten times more than they do.” Richard shook his head and went in search of scones. Diana bought a bulbous china teapot covered in blowsy pink roses from Elizabeth Smale, who was presiding without much enthusiasm over the white elephant stall. As Diana turned to go, she noticed a heap of what looked like art folders lying underneath the trestle table. She put the teapot carefully on the grass and kneeling down, lifted them towards her. There were five or six, A3 size, tied with white cotton ribbon. She undid the top one and lifted open the heavy cardboard cover. It contained a dozen or so pencil sketches, very pleasingly done, of aspects of Darkwood House. None of them was signed.
“That’s Rex Guilfoyle’s work.” Elizabeth Smale’s face shone in the green light beneath the table. “I think Rose donated them. They were just left in the hall.
I didn’t like to display them. I mean, it’s gruesome, really, selling off his stuff like that.” She lowered her voice to a hiss; “I don’t think he’d have been very pleased. You know - to have his work lying around on the white elephant stall at the church fete.”
“I like them.” Diana leafed slowly through the pages.
“You can have the lot for ten pounds if you want. I’d be pleased to be rid of them.” The woman shuddered; her pale eyes bulged; “It gives me the bloody creeps to be here at all, I tell you. She must be mad having everyone crawling all over the place a bare month after he’s dead.” In the moist, fecund heat of the summer grass, the sweat was beaded unhealthily on her mottled face.
“I’ll take care of the stall for a while;” Diana put the folders down and rose to her feet; “You go and get yourself something cold to drink and put your feet up. Go on, I insist. You look as though you’re about to collapse.”
“Oh, would you? I’d be ever so grateful.” Elizabeth Smale struggled to her feet, one hand leaning heavily on the table. “I can’t take the heat today. Usually doesn’t bother me.”
The crowds had thinned somewhat. Diana cleared a space amongst the dusty brass ashtrays and old pipe racks and lifted the folders onto the table. The more she examined the sketches, the more she liked them. They had been swiftly and strongly executed; bold, broad lines of soft dark pencil, a feathery filling-in of trees, a mere suggestion, behind the house. She slid the next folder onto the top of the pile and opened it. These were all aspects of the grounds: the rose garden, the orchard. Some lovely ones of the avenue. The third folder contained studies of flowers. The fourth one arrested her attention. She paged slowly through it. These were all of the maze. The darkness in them made her catch her breath. In contrast to the lightness and spareness of the previous works, the surface of the paper was almost fully worked. The obscurity and blackness was oppressive. The entrance appeared as a massive, gaping portal, filled with elongated shadows. Studies of various angles of the paths made the walls appear enormously high, heavy as stone, the angular shadows falling like pillars of darkness. A sense of mystery and entanglement, of a perplexing puzzle that would confuse and mislead, breathed off the pages. A deep frown creased her forehead as she lifted the sheets of paper one by one, oblivious to the shifting crowds around her, the heat of the afternoon.
She was running down the cold, dark corridors of fear, pushing aside the interwoven branches of the cruel yew. The last drawing was of the centre of the maze. The statue of the bull was quite hideous, blackly and thickly executed in savage sweeps. And there was writing at the bottom of the page. Not a signature. She looked more closely. Rex Guilfoyle had written the words: Life is a crooked path, a prison of wandering ways leading to a Dead End. She shivered. The page darkened, and a sudden gust of wind blew across the garden, drying the film of sweat on her body, lifting the pages. She seized them, shuffled them together, and hurriedly slammed the cover shut.
“Well, this is a surprise.” The cool words sliced through the fog of panic and darkness that had slid across her vision. It was Rose Guilfoyle, cool and lovely in a sleeveless linen dress of palest apple green. “You look hot and bothered. Are you allright? I didn’t expect to find you serving at our little fete.” There was a slight, unpleasant emphasis to her words. Diana drew a controlled breath. “I’m just relieving Lizzy Smale for a few minutes. She was feeling the heat. Now - what can I sell you?” She forced a smile.
“Well,” Rose’s eye fell on the pile of folders; “Not my husband’s drawings. I wonder how they got here?”
“I’ve bought them.” Diana laid a proprietary hand on the folders; “They’re very good. I like them.”
“Oh, they are. He was a gifted artist. And he could actually draw, which so many painters these days can’t do. They think all you have to do is slap on a lot of colour and no-one will know the difference.”
“Don’t you want to keep them?”
Rose gave her a strange, level look. “I like to clear out the old and make way for the new. And if that sounds harsh to you, it isn’t meant to be.” She smiled, revealing small, white teeth, the canines pointing attractively inwards; “One day perhaps people will understand.” She patted Diana’s hand with cool fingers; “You will understand too, when you lose someone. Enjoy the drawings.”
“Sorry I took so long,” Elizabeth Smale panted up behind Diana; “I got talking to Glenda Smith in the tea tent. That useless son of hers is here. Without the dog, thank God. Nasty savage monster. Can you believe Shane was pinching scones? Right there under his own mother’s nose. I wouldn’t put anything past that kid. A waste of good space, he is. I think we’re brewing up for a storm. Look at those clouds.” Over to the west a deep rampart of cloud was building, as dark and empurpled as a bruise. A second gust of wind shook the flaps of the tea tent.
“I’ll help you pack up, if you like.” Diana glanced around; “A lot of people have gone. I don’t think you’re going to do much more business today.”
“Would you, love? I’d like to get away. This place is giving me the creeps.” She shivered, her fat shoulders quivering; “Now I wish I’d brought a cardie. It looked so nice this morning.” They started to pile things into boxes. Sheets of newspaper flapped free of the tables and went bowling across the lawns. Children chased gleefully after them. There were few people left now. The tents were being taken down hastily. All the time the wind was rising.
got to? I told her to hang about so she
“I haven’t seen her at all today.” Diana pushed some smelly old stuffed toys into a box; “But then I’ve only been here since just after lunch.”
“Oh, she’ll be allright. She’s wandered off home to watch telly, I should think. No help to her poor old mother.” Diana straightened and looked at the sky; “Funny weather for June.” The clouds were massing rapidly across the sky; the air was perceptibly cooler, but still uncomfortably humid. An eerie goblin light, acid green and yellow, slanted across the garden, picking out in minute and unnatural detail the shape of each leaf and twig. Then, as suddenly as it had risen, the wind died. The air was utterly still. They carried the boxes across to the garage. Diana looked back across the lawns. The garden looked bleak, floodlit with the acrid pre-storm light, the empty trestle tables waiting to be folded up and carried away, the striped tent flat on the ground, a few people hurrying with boxes. And then a seam of white neon split the black sky like the roots of a giant tree. All the world held its breath in the silence. The tunnel of the oak avenue was as dark as night. Screwing up her eyes, Diana could see a tiny glimmer at the end, a telescoped view of the iron gates, but the long space in between was shadowed enough to hide in. The maze to the left was a block of darkness before the towering dim wall of the woods. The silence stretched on and on. The crack, when it came, seemed to split the mind as it shook the earth, a reverberating blow of elemental rage. But no rain fell. The sound drummed away into silence.
Diana wondered what had happened to Richard, and to the vicar, buttering scones. Everyone seemed to have slipped away unnoticed. As a community event, it had not been an unqualified success. Carrying the folders under her arm, she hurried towards the cottage. A second vein of magnesium-bright light divided the mounting darkness of the clouds, black on an aubergine sky, and she glanced involuntarily upwards. At one of the long upstairs windows stood Rose Guilfoyle, staring down at her. Diana’s breath caught in her throat. The gaze was so piercing, so frozen. It took her a moment to realise that Rose was staring beyond her, towards the maze; she seemed not to have noticed Diana at all. Her face was unnaturally white and fixed. Diana tucked her head down and ran as the second crash shattered the silence, and the first stinging drops stabbed the thin cloth of her shirt.
Once inside, she laid the folders on the floor of the sitting-room and went through them more carefully. Rain pounded on the roof. She went to turn the lamps on, it was too dark in the house to see properly. The sketches of the maze she examined minutely. The maze meant something more to Rex Guilfoyle than a mere feature of a traditional landscaped garden. The detail of the yew suggested a writhing torment of tangled limbs, of inextricably knotted and uncontrolled growth. The branches were like arms, fingers, groping and desperate. The other works were really mere nature studies compared to these, these powerful and very personal works of what seemed to Diana to have been a disturbed mind. The last folder, the one she hadn’t yet opened, contained studies of the lake beyond the maze, and of the woods. Idly, pensively, she lifted the pages. She turned over a sketch of bare trees reflected in water, and froze. She sat so still, that anyone watching might have believed her to be listening for something. But she wasn’t listening; she was looking at a drawing that was like the others only in the fineness of its execution. In subject matter, one could not believe it had been done by the same artist. This one featured a human being, the only work in the collection to do so, the subject a young girl, just barely pubescent to judge from her undeveloped body. The horror was twofold. The girl, naked, reclined on a draped dais, assuming a pose that made no pretence at the subtle seduction of soft porn. She lay on her back, facing the artist, legs angled apart as though for a gynaecological examination. She smiled, expressionlessly, straight into Diana’s eyes. One hand was behind her head. The fingers of the other hand prised apart the juvenile vulva. Bizarrely, as though in an abortive attempt at a still life, a variety of fruits and vegetables were scattered around her open thighs. Flitcroft’s hothouse cucumbers, baby aubergines, phallic and gleaming, a melon, neatly bisected to display its inner structure, as symmetrical as the girl’s own sexual parts. The thought of people masturbating with vegetables had always struck Diana as perversely funny, but there was nothing remotely amusing about this scenario.
The second horror was the fact that the girl was, quite undeniably, Cordelia Guilfoyle.
After a long time, she lifted aside the drawing to see the last few. They were all, innocently, of the lake. Slowly, mechanically, she put them back and tied the folders shut. Then she slid them under the sofa. She felt ashamed, as she would have felt if she had taken pleasure in examining the drawing. She didn’t want it - any of them - in her house. She ought to tell someone. And why did she have to find this now, when there was nothing that could be done about it? Rex Guilfoyle had drawn an obscene picture of his own child. But he was dead. And Cordelia was grown up.
The rain pelted down on the roof; outside it was as dark as night. She knelt stiffly on the floor, unable to think clearly. Suddenly a shape emerged from the darkness and pressed itself to the wet window pane - a hideous misshapen sort of yellow featureless face - she gave a shriek and clapped a hand to her mouth. Oh, ridiculous. It was Oates. She’d kill him. She staggered stiffly to her feet and fumbled with the door.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, you idiot? You scared the life out of me!” Oates shook himself in a disgruntled way, drenching her hall carpet.
“Well, if you won’t answer your door. I’ve been banging for hours.”
“I didn’t hear you over the rain.” For a moment they stood and listened, and as they did, the drumming eased, softened, and became a mere whisper. The quietness was almost eerie.
“Listen. Something dreadful’s happened.” He looked at her directly and half reached a hand towards her. Then he put his hands back in his pockets. “It’s Molly Smale. She was attacked in Hogg’s Wood this afternoon.”
“Yes.” He heaved a sigh that shook his frame; “She’s in a bad way. It’s touch and go at this point, but I shouldn’t be telling you that. Basically, he left her for dead.”
“Oh, God. Oh, my God.” Diana put her hand over her mouth.
“I need to
She seized his raincoat; “Oates, no. Don’t tell me this. I don’t want to hear this.”
He gently prised her fingers off his lapel; “I’ll be back in ten minutes. Go and make yourself a cup of tea. Hot, with sugar.” He disappeared into the grey mist. She heard the splash of his feet tramp away through the puddles, then she heard only the hiss of rain. She slammed and bolted the door and started to check the windows. Then she stood still. Idiot, absolute idiot she was. A neurotic woman barricading herself in. Against what? A child rapist, who was probably a hundred miles away by now. A coward, who was right now probably trembling with terror at what he had done. She was racing around trying to protect herself while Molly lay, mauled and ripped, in a hospital bed, hovering on the edge of life. Furiously, she flung open the front door. She was not going to be afraid, trapped in her fear. The wind blew fine rain onto her face.
She would have to tell Oates about the anonymous letters. Correction: one anonymous letter, one anonymous file on a disk. Her eye was drawn reluctantly to the sofa and she thought about the drawings. Did she tell him about them? Oh God, what was happening to her life? No, that was grotesque. It was Molly Smale who was lying in the ICU fighting for life, not selfish, self-centred Diana Gray. Her life was intact. She stood, quaking, at her open front door.
Oates cradled the mug of hot tea in his hands and stared broodingly into space. He had forgotten to take off his raincoat and it dripped steadily onto the floor.
“It was one of the lads from the estate who found her. She was down in a hollow, leaves spread over her. No-one would have seen her, but the boy had had a fight with his mates and went into the woods to cool off. It was pure chance that he sat down on a fallen log that was near where she was. He saw the sole of her shoe amongst the leaves. Pretty brave kid - he climbed down to have a look, knowing full well what he might find. Bradley Rudd. Bit of a rascal, but basically a good kid. He was white as a sheet when I spoke to him, but holding up well. What he saw was not good.”
“Oh, God.” Diana rested her forehead on her fingers; “Oates, is she going to die?”
“That we don’t know yet. Should have a better idea in the morning. Lost a lot of blood. Badly damaged at both ends. Not enough to rip her to shreds, he had to bash her face to a pulp as well.”
Diana lifted her head; “You’ll find him. He’ll have left something.”
Tuckett’s arrived. The boys from
“Are you officially on the case?”
“Good. Dear God, I was talking to her mother this afternoon.”
“Poor woman. There are some who’ll lay blame at her doorstep.”
Diana frowned; “She was looking for Molly.”
“When?” Oates put down his tea untasted.
“About the time the storm started to build. When we started to pack up. She wanted Molly to help.”
“Well, she said she’d have gone home to watch television. Why would she have gone to the woods?”
“Someone took her.”
“Yes. I suppose that would have been easy enough. Have you told Rose Guilfoyle?”
“Yes. Is there anything - I’m asking officially now - is there anything at all that you can think of that struck you as out of the ordinary today? I’m looking for even the most trivial detail. In particular, of course, anyone you didn’t recognise, anyone who stood out from the crowd, an obvious stranger.”
“Nothing seemed ordinary today. Everyone was tense. Then the storm, coming out of nowhere. They were all glad of an excuse to pack up and go. I met the vicar and his wife, had a conversation with them - if you can call it a conversation. Very peculiar man. I looked after the white elephant stall while Lizzy Smale went off to have a cup of tea. She was gone about half an hour at most. Rose came up and spoke to me. I bought some of Rex Guilfoyle’s drawings.” She paused.
Oates wasn’t interested in the drawings. “What about the crowd? The usual people?” He urged; “Think, think. Anyone stand out? Anyone, even perhaps someone you know, behave at all unusually?”
“Richard Softley was there. From school. He went to get us both some tea. I was looking at the books. That Shane whatsisname was in the tent apparently stealing food. Lizzy Smale said his mother sent him home.”
“Shane Smith. What time?”
“That would have been late. About three thirty, I suppose. She massaged her temples, her forehead; “I remember thinking, when I was carrying boxes to the garage, that the avenue was so dark someone could be coming up it and be invisible. The vicar had been walking up it earlier, before it got dark, I mean, and it was hard even then to make out who he was. Oates, I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything.”
“No, that’s good.” He was disappointed. “You might remember something later.”
She looked at him sharply; “Rose was odd. After I spoke to her. I saw her looking out of a window, one of the upstairs windows. She was staring up at the storm with such a strange expression on her face. She actually frightened me. She looked like a corpse. Not that that would help you.”
Oates rose. She should show him the drawing. She should tell him about the letters. But what had they to do with Molly Smale? She looked at him, looked away.
“Yes? What? Come on, what are you not telling me?”
She’d forgotten he was a policeman. Stupid to think she could hide something from him.
“It’s something I bought at the fete.” He looked bewildered. “Here, I’ll show you.” She bent and pulled the folders out from under the sofas. He watched, perplexed, as she went through the drawings. When she reached the one of Cordelia, she swivelled it round so that he could see it.
“You see who it is?”
He nodded slowly. “It’s the only one?”
“The only one here.”
He muttered; “There’ll be others, I’d say. I wonder where he kept them.”
“I’ve just realised something,” She raised her head; “I’ve never seen any of his work in Darkwood House.” He looked straight at her, frowning, picturing the house. She grimaced; “It makes you wonder if Rose knows about ... this.”
Oates chewed a thumbnail; “Have you shown this to anyone else?”
“Good grief, no. I wasn’t even going to show it to you.”
“Yes, so I gathered. Don’t try that again.”
She shrugged dismissively; “I forget that you’re the law. Sometimes you seem almost human. I take it your little holiday is over.”
Oates rose damply to his feet. “I have to go. Keep that thing out of sight, for pity’s sake. I can’t even begin to think right now what it means.”
“Oates, there’s something else.” God, she didn’t want to talk about this. “I had a letter. Two letters. Anonymous letters.”
“When?” The word was a rifle-crack.
“The first was about a month ago.” She couldn’t look up at him. “The next was a couple of weeks after.”
“Did you tell anyone?”
“Where are they?”
“I threw them away.” She made herself meet his eyes. “I know I should have told you.”
His face was hard. “What did they say?”
She tried to remember the wording of the first note. “It was about me as a teacher. That I was a risk to the girls, that sort of thing. Horrible implications. Then there was a quote about bears and bushes and being afraid. It was short.”
“And the other one?”
“It was more of the same sort of stuff. I can’t remember exactly. I don’t want to remember. That’s why I couldn’t bring myself to tell you before.”
“You should have. It might be important. I want you to find a piece of paper and write down everything you can remember. Also, when they were delivered. How were they delivered?”
“The one was put through my letter box. The other was on a disk.”
“No. It was with my other disks. On my desk.”
His eyes widened. “In your house? Someone broke in?”
“You left the door unlocked?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Well, write it all down. I’ll be back shortly.” He stopped, turned, frowned, “Why bears and bushes?”
“It’s a quote from somewhere. King Lear, I think. The minute I’d read it, I made myself forget about it. I wasn’t going to waste even five minutes of my life thinking about it.”
“You don’t often find literary quotations in anonymous notes.” His voice was distracted, as he ducked back out into the rain.
she rang Richard. She needed to talk to
someone. The phone rang and rang. She felt unutterably desolate.
There was no-one else. When
the sun was shining and all was well
with the world, she didn’t
have friends. It was at times like these,
the end of the day, the rain
something dreadful to have to think about, that was when she hungered
companionship. Lilian, Simon and Rose
Paul would have wrapped her in his arms and told her that things were never as bad as they seemed, that everything would be better in the morning, that most people led happy, blameless lives, that life was various, beautiful and new and the world a good place to be. And she would believe him just as much as she needed to, she would relax warmly in his embrace and hear his heart beating steadily against her head, as though it would go on beating reassuringly for ever. But Paul was gone. And out there, in the darkening woods, stalked the spirit of evil. Somewhere out there walked the menace to her peace. She remembered something completely irrelevant but oddly upsetting: she’d never paid Elizabeth Smale for the drawings.
It was nine fifteen. She stood in the kitchen knowing she should eat. She’d had nothing since breakfast but a cream scone. There was a knock on the door. Refusing to peer through the window first like some anxious virgin, she made herself walk confidently down the hall and pull the door open wide. It was Cordelia Guilfoyle, in a silky silver-grey dress that clung to every curve of her body. She laughed;
“I’m wet.” The rain was falling in a solid sheet from the bent gutter over the front door.
“Oh, come in. I’m sorry. I keep meaning to talk to Rose about that gutter. Problem is, you only remember when it rains.” Had it not been for the drawing, she would have been glad of Cordelia’s company, but now Diana felt she couldn’t bear the sight of her. As the girl walked past her into the sitting-room, she had a sudden panicky idea that she hadn’t hidden the drawings. But the floor was empty. Cordelia pirouetted, water drops flying, and laughed again. “Look at me! I’m sopping!” She held the folds of the dress away from her body, where they clung like a second skin. I’ve just been to the warehouse to collect your material for the play. They’ve had a mini-strike and it wasn’t going to be delivered till next week, so I thought I’d go and get it for you. It’s in the boot of my car.”
“That was nice of you. Thank you. Listen, you obviously haven’t heard about Molly Smale-”
“Could I have a hot shower?” Cordelia spoke as though she hadn’t heard. She put both arms behind her head and lifted the flowing mass of hair. It glittered and sparkled with raindrops as she moved; she looked like a naiad in the slippery gown. “I’m chilled to the bone.”
Diana was faintly surprised; “Of course. I’ll show you -”
“I know where it is. I know this cottage like the back of my hand.” Cordelia smiled. Then she stepped out of her high-heeled shoes and ran lightly up the stairs. Diana went through to the kitchen to put the kettle on and make some toast. She called up the stairs; “There are spare towels in the landing cupboard!”
She was watching the steam rise from the spout of the kettle, her thoughts distant, when two arms slid smoothly around her from behind, and before she could react, slim fingers found and deftly pinched each nipple. She whipped round, and it was purely a reflex action that drove her right arm back for the powerful slap across Cordelia’s face. The girl staggered, then righted herself. She rose slowly from a crouching position, the blood flooding her left cheek. Instead of lifting her hand to her face, she smiled straight into Diana’s eyes and let the full force of the injury speak for itself. Her intention was miscalculated, though. The smile earned her a second sound slap, and sent her to the floor. The cloud of vivid hair flowed forward over her face. She flung it back, and stared up, tears trembling in the glass green eyes.
“Don’t - ever -” Diana separated the words incisively, as though slicing them with a scalpel; “Don’t ever do that to anyone without asking permission first. And -” her voice rose dangerously; “Don’t you ever do that to me. Do you understand?” Quivering with a mixture of emotions, she stepped back from the prone figure draped pathetically on the carpet. Then Diana saw something she hadn’t noticed before, something that sent rage surging anew through her veins. Cordelia was wearing one of Paul’s old shirts. The beautiful old checked flannel one, in cornflower blue and cream, the one she loved best. And how it suited her, thought Diana, as hot rage flooded her; the buttons undone, and one pearly nipple peeping out. Cordelia had been going through her clothes.
“Get that off. That shirt. Get it off.” She spoke through clenched teeth. Slowly, Cordelia rose to her feet, wobbling a little like a child, deliberately, thought Diana, and in one languid, fluid movement, shrugged the shirt off her body. It fell to a heap at her thin white feet. She lifted her face, one side of which sported two clearly delineated sets of fingermarks. And as Diana stared into her eyes, she saw in her own mind’s eye the figure of Cordelia spreadeagled on the black velvet, her thin legs propped apart. Her body, now, looked no older than it had then. And now, behind the cool green gaze, was the same detached, blank look. Diana wondered momentarily what the reaction would be if she were to pull the drawing out and show it to her.
She snapped curtly; “I’ll get you a dressing-gown.” Upstairs she reluctantly took down her winter gown. She didn’t want the girl there one minute longer than necessary. She didn’t want her wearing her clothes. She was shaking with anger.
Cordelia was standing where Diana had left her. She held her arms out, childishly, to be dressed. Diana held the gown out and made her take it. Sulkily, she put it on and tied the cord. Diana became aware that the irritating sound somewhere in the house was the kettle whistling itself dry in the kitchen.
“I will assume that you misinterpreted me. I will give you the benefit of that doubt, and we won’t speak of this again.” The girl stared. Then she spoke for the first time.
“Will you help me to carry the material from my car? It’s awfully heavy.” Her voice was whiny and babyish. She almost lisped, thought Diana, the clever little bitch. Years of dealing with schoolgirls stood her in good stead. She said, quite normally,
“Of course. Give me the keys, I’ll fetch it myself. You’re not properly dressed and anyway I’m stronger than you.”
When she returned with the unwieldy parcel, Cordelia was standing looking out of the window towards the woods. She asked, without turning, “Why are there lights in the wood?”
“It’s what I tried to tell you earlier.” Diana dumped the cloth on the sofa. “The little girl Molly Smale was attacked in the woods this afternoon. When everyone was at the fete. The police are there now. You didn’t hear about it?” Cordelia shook her head slowly, without turning round. She was positively infantile, thought Diana impatiently. She began to wonder about the girl’s sanity. She found herself explaining carefully, so as not to upset her. But Cordelia seemed not to be especially interested.
“Probably one of the boys from the estate. She’s a half-wit, anyway.”
“She was nearly killed.”
“Was she? I’m hungry. What have you got to eat?”
Puzzled and disturbed, Diana went into the kitchen and threw a cheese salad together. Cordelia ate ravenously, licking her fingers, sopping up the oil with hunks of bread. Diana had lost her appetite; her stomach was knotted and unprepared for food. She drank several cups of tea, watching the lights move in the woods.
“I don’t want to go home. Can I stay here?” Before Diana could concoct an excuse, there was a sharp knock at the door. It was Tuckett and Sergeant Prinn. Prinn automatically flicked a glance over her jeans and old sweater; she was one of those women, Diana remembered, who price you on meeting, from your hair to your shoes. Tuckett was immaculate, his narrow eyes alert. “Good evening, Miss Gray. I’m afraid we’re going to have to disturb you again.”
Diana stepped back; “I know. Come in.” Cordelia was sitting cross-legged on the sitting-room floor, fondling Weed, who seemed, perversely, to have taken a liking to her. Turncoat, thought Diana. She said; “You know Cordelia Guilfoyle. Cordelia, the Inspector and Sergeant are here to talk about Molly.” Cordelia glanced up, bored, then turned her attention back to Weed. “Cordelia was caught in the rain and I’m drying her clothes for her,” she explained.
Tuckett appeared not to notice the alteration in Cordelia. “Ah. Yes, I understand the church fete was rained out.” He brushed cat’s hair off the sofa before sitting down.
“To some general relief, I’d say,” Diana spoke without thinking.
Tuckett asked pleasantly; “Why do you say that?”
“Well, there was a feeling that the fete should be held elsewhere this year.”
“What do you think?”
“Hard to say.” She added honestly, “I don’t really believe in that contrived sort of respect for the dead. It comes to us all. I agree with Rose Guilfoyle that one gets on with life.” They all became aware of Cordelia’s absorption with the cat, the little song she was singing as she rocked gently from side to side. “However, some people felt the tension today.” She lowered her voice; “It was hard for Elizabeth Smale, for example.”
“Could you be more explicit?” Tuckett had gradually leant closer to her. His voice was a soft murmur. She caught a whiff of woody aftershave.
Her voice was barely a murmur. “She found the hand.”
“And she was running the white elephant stall today. The stalls were all near the orchard. She was clearly stressed and upset.”
“Did she say anything about it to you?”
Diana wanted, so badly, to tell him about the drawings. He was so easy to talk to. It was no effort to tell him things; he made it seem smooth and simple. If Cordelia and Sergeant Prinn hadn’t been there she felt she could have confided in him, about all sorts of things. “I was looking at some of the things she had for sale, and we got chatting about them. She was very hot and edgy. I suggested she go and have a cup of tea while I mind the stall.” Tuckett nodded almost imperceptibly while she spoke, as though he knew it all already and she was merely confirming his thoughts.
“At about what time was this?”
“It was about three o’clock. People were already starting to leave.”
“And how long was she away from the stall?”
“Not more than half an hour. She went to the tea tent. Then the storm started to break, so we packed up.”
“What did you buy, Miss Gray?”
“A china teapot.” Did this amount to lying to the police? Sergeant Prinn lifted her eyes from her notebook. She wasn’t going to write that Miss Diana Gray bought a china teapot at the fete. Tuckett changed his position slightly, and Diana saw that a corner of one of the art folders was sticking out from under the sofa, just next to his right foot.
“Molly. Did you see her at the fete?”
“No. I got there sometime after lunch. Her mother was looking for her to help pack up, but she said - as I told Sergeant Oates - that Molly had probably gone off home to watch television. She lives on the estate.”
Cordelia’s high, clear voice pierced the silence; “Molly shouldn’t have been left to wander round by herself. She’s an idiot.”
“An idiot, Miss Guilfoyle?” Tuckett asked politely.
“A half-wit. She should be in a special school. It’s asking for trouble letting a girl like that wander about by herself. Any of those louts from the estate could have raped her. And you can hardly blame them. She was trouble waiting to happen.” Cordelia gave a shrill little laugh; “See - now I’ve shocked you all. Saying what everyone thinks anyway.” Sergeant Prinn stared at her with round eyes in a pretty cat’s face. Cordelia suddenly flung Weed impatiently off her lap. He landed on his feet, aghast at such treatment. She stretched her toes out in front of her and pointed them like a ballet dancer. Then she looked straight up into Diana’s face. “Why don’t you show the Inspector Daddy’s drawings, Diana? You know - the ones you bought at the fete this afternoon.”
© 2010 Dendry Beer. All rights reserved.