Authors: Trezza Azzopardi
Also by Trezza Azzopardi
The Hiding Place
A NOVEL BY
Copyright Â© 2007 by Trezza Azzopardi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
“White Wedding” words and music written by B Idol.
Published by Boneidol Music/Chrysalis Music Ltd. Â© 1982.
Printed in the United States of America
FIRST PAPERBACK EDITION
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4595-7
1. Norfolk (England)-Fiction. I. Title.
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Distributed by Publishers Group West
Lewis can see the world up here: balanced on the top rung of the ladder, his view is dazzling. It's not just the height he's at, or the clean cut of morning; it's the smell of being back home. He's breathing deeply, he's taking it in: the salt scent of foreshore, and wet tar, and Wales. Lewis grips the rattling frame of the window to steady himself; falling on his first day at work would not be clever. But everything is so different. Looking left, he can just make out the white spar of the Millennium Stadium with the thin brown smudge of the Taff running beneath, and beyond it, a mile away, a cluster of tall new buildings. There's a pure white dome, a silver arch, a thin spire pricking the skyline; there's even a building with wings. To his right is a tangle of railway lines and the dirty smoked back of the station. This at least is familiar.
Down in the real world, a cat is crying like a baby. Lewis follows the sound, and finds it, perched on the high wall which separates the property from everywhere else. Directly below him is an overgrown garden, more like a jungle, and a narrow path cutting between the outbuildings and the lake. There's a new-build complex in the adjacent field, sitting in a bowl of orange mud. The doors are freshly painted in leaf green, royal blue, letter-box red. Caught in a flare of early sun, it reminds him of a cardboard cut-out. Lewis looks again: it's not the sun, it's security lighting, shining over the entrance
to the site. There are several heaps in the yard, savagely lit. He knows it's only gravel, but from the height he's at, they could be snow-capped mountains, giant cones of sugar. They could be moonrock.
He catches the ghost of his reflection in the window: he should get down to the job; a week's money will give him enough cash to buy the time to look for something better, something that won't involve working for Carl Finn. He casts his eye over rotten sashes and crumbling mortar. Picking at the paintwork, it comes away under his fingernails like an old scab. Carl said it was a job that would need a gang, and asked Lewis if he was up for it. Cash in hand. No papers. You takes your chances. It sounded like easy money, the way he said it. Up close, Lewis can see it'll be more than just a tosh job; the woodwork will need stripping, the rails replacing, the sashes re-hung. He sweeps his hand along the sill and feels gritty dew and the sharpness of the paint flakes on his palm. Turning his hand over, he inspects it with a kind of wonder: it feels tight and sore, there's a faint blue bruising, a jagged split across the knuckles. Under his nails there are dark brown cracks.
The tools are in a metal box in the back of his van. Lewis takes each rung of the ladder carefully; the dew has made them slippery. It's now he sees the mud caked on his boots, and scuffed on every rung, and with it comes the recollection of Carl's father Manny, early this morning. He was leaning against the sink in the kitchen, drinking tea and watching as Lewis rummaged through his kitbag. He nodded down at Lewis's feet.
Don't go treading that into my carpets, he'd said. But Lewis was paying scant attention; his mind was on the contents of his bag. It was important to check that everything was in order; more important than worrying about a few clods of mud on a stretch of worn shag-pile.
He moves quickly along the side of the house, trying not to notice the shimmer of water through the trees. He sees
well enough the deep ruts of tyre tracks down to the lake, and he knows, but he doesn't know how, that it is a heart-shaped lake. It could be a scene on a Valentine's card: all you would need to complete the picture are two figure skaters circling each other. But Lewis can't know this, because he's sure he's never been to this lake before.
The sun comes up, shining on the water like a silver coin, so it's mostly surface, Lewis can't really see in. It isn't his job to see but he looks anyway. The change is sudden and irrevocable, as is the certainty that he can't take it back. He can feel the soft give of ground beneath his feet, he can smell the stagnant water; he can hear the anguished cry of the wood pigeons; but he can't unsee what's been seen. Pulling a rag from his pocket and holding it to his face, he tells himself that he's wrong.
At the edge of the lake, jutting out from a straggle of rushes and reeds, Lewis sees an arm. One finger of the right hand is proud of the rest, as if it's pointing at him. Further in, half-submerged in a sludge of weeds, he sees the back of a head, bobbing gently on the surface.
Lewis folds the rag over, wipes his eyes, and trying not to panic, wipes his hands of the greasy dew-dirt from the window and the body there in the water, wipes away any sign of what he's seen. He takes the path in a slithering, winded rush, not stopping until he's slam against the wide trunk of an oak, and still not stopping until he can feel the rough bark breaking the skin on his forehead, as if force alone will let him push right through the tree and out the other side. He takes a series of sharp breaths.
It's not him, he says, It's no one. Go back, have a proper look. You know it can't be him.
Lewis turns and raises his head. The sun has lifted up across the sky, cutting a pale yellow path through the clearing and turning the fallen leaves to gold. He tries to look again, but a black pain is flowering in his vision, blotting out the light. Covering his left eye with his hand, he focuses on the water's
edge, seeing now only what is actually there: a tangle of bent branches caught in the weeds, a punctured football covered in slime. There's no one. There's nothing.
It was a mistake, he says, It was a mistake to come back.
Lewis is fast now, running to the back of the house where he'd parked the van. He'll tell Carl where to stick his job. He'll tell him it was a mistake.
But the van is gone, and so is Carl. On the ground, under a dripping hedge, Lewis finds his kitbag. He takes one quick glance around, picks up the bag, and walks.
It's far too early for a phone call. Anna lies face down on the pillow, not quite awake, but aware of voices: she's left the radio on again, and the presenter is talking about the threat of London flooding. In her almost-dreaming state, the sound of ringing becomes wave after wave of muddy water as it sweeps through the back garden and into her flat. She gets to the telephone just before her answer message cuts in. Sitting in the kitchen with the receiver to her good ear, Anna looks for signs of damage: everything appears to be in orderâdry, at leastâbut she still avoids putting her bare feet on the flagstones, just in case. The voice on the other end of the line is vaguely familiar. It's Vernon Savoy, her mother's lodger. Her mother had taken another fall, this time on the steps outside her house.
You've no need to panic, he says, She's going to be perfectly all right. No need to rush up here.
I understand, says Anna, So this is just a social call atâerâsix a.m.?
Vernon's intake of breath is clearly audible.
Actually, it's nearly seven, he says, and assuming a more nonchalant tone, And if you must know, I haven't really slept. I merely assumed you would wish to be kept informed.
I do wish it, Mr Savoy, says Anna, You did the right thing. So, how is she?
Vernon plays his trump card.
You'll be relieved to hear that they'll discharge her later today, he finishes, All being well.
You didn't say she'd been taken to
Anna cries, suddenly wide awake. She imagines Vernon, standing at the phone box in the hallway, in silk pyjamas and monogrammed slippers, waiting for what he considers the appropriate time to phone.
I took her last night, as a precaution. There was some swelling, you see. As a matter of fact, she didn't want to go. Made a terrible fuss. Now I'll be in her bad books.
I'll come as soon as I can, says Anna, Will someone be there to let me in?
Of course, says Vernon, his tone at once more ordinary and chivalrous, I shall await you here.
discarded material washed ashore, esp. that thrown overboard to lighten a ship.
Brendan hovers at the door of the lock-up, glancing back to the garden gate, which Anna has left swinging open. He hears the sound of a thump and immediate swearing.
Are you alright in there, Anna?
'Course, comes a voice out of the darkness, Never better! Now hand me that bloody torch before I brain myself.
Brendan takes two steps in, and finds the torch on the bonnet. There's the roll of wheels on concrete as Anna slides out from under the car. She raises her hand, grabs the torch, and slides back in. Brendan stares at the floor where Anna briefly was. He is full of admiration until he sees her toolbox, which is full of tubes of glitter and sticks of Pritt.
Didn't know you were good with engines, he says, picking a paintbrush out of the box.
I'm not, she says, I'm trying . . . to find . . . this . . . leak.
There's something familiar about the board she's using, but it's too dim to see. Brendan bends his head under the chassis, but all he can make out in the wavering torchlight is Anna's hair, spilling over the concrete like oil itself.
Quite a big leak, I'd imagine, he says, straightening up to better view the sticky patch under his feet, Not something you can fix with a bit of Blu-Tack.
Anna slides back out again. She's been using an old skateboard as a truckle. She stands up, flails a length of crepe bandage at the car.
No. Well, it was worth a try.
You were going to
it? asks Brendan.
I saw it in a film, says Anna.
And this is the crisis? he says, You know I'm hopeless with things that go.
Brendan shines the torch directly on Anna, then clicks it off. She has spatters of oil on her face and in her hair.
I've got to get to Yarmouth, says Anna, thumping the bonnet, But not in this old crock.
The sun outside is bright and warm, despite the early hour. Anna opens the lid of the wheelie bin and throws the bandage in, leaving a clear pattern of her hand on the lid.
Stand still, says Brendan, licking a finger, Just a
He rubs at the tip of her nose.
Clean as a whistle, he says, starting to laugh. Anna looks down at her filthy clothes, and spreads her hands at him.
Think I'll just have to take the train.
Good plan. But get a wash before you go, says Brendan, Your mother will have a fit if she sees you in that state. And you don't want to go making things worse.