The car plummeted though the rain and the traffic. Sandra reached over and flicked a white rose petal from her new husband’s shoulder. She looked radiant. John Lennon was singing ‘Woman’ on the radio and the words seemed so appropriate to Tom. Sandra really was the other half of his sky.
The wedding was supposed to have been a small affair: just the immediate family and a few close friends. But somehow it seemed like there were hundreds of eyes on them as they made for the exit at the end of the night like they were Olympic runners. Sandra’s mother had cried like a baby – this was to be expected. Whether this was the emotion of the occasion or because Sandra’s father got drunk and spent half the evening trying to get his hand down Eve Crawshaw’s dress, we’ll never know. Sandra’s mother always cried like a baby.
Mary, of course, kept well in the background. She stared at them silently through the ceremony, unable to disguise her disapproval at her younger sister’s choice of partner. Tom was used to Mary looking at him like he had just raped Bambi. Somehow things just wouldn’t have been right if Mary actually deigned to be nice to him on this day of all days.
The rain washed over the windscreen in torrents and Tom found himself easing off the accelerator. They had just over twenty minutes left to get to the airport and book in. Tom simply had not anticipated the heavy traffic, and the thought of waking up in New York tomorrow morning to a honeymoon breakfast of bacon and two eggs sunny side up seemed more and more remote. Sandra seemed to sense his anxiety and placed a calming hand on his thigh. Then the phone rang.
Why is the phone ringing in the car? We don’t have a phone in the car.
On its fourth ring Tom reluctantly picked up the phone and mouthed a few words into the receiver.
“It’s Mary,” announced a voice with a heavy Irish accent. “Why don’t you return my calls?”
Mary. Tom found himself wondering if this was another symptom of his illness. Prescience. Tom had been dreaming about Mary and she had telephoned him. Was this yet another cross for him to bear? Then he remembered that Mary had been calling him constantly for the last few weeks. And that hardly anybody else even knew that he was alive. If anyone was going to call him it’s likely to be Mary.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“I want to see you… That’s what I want.”
“Look, Mary, there’s no point. I’m perfectly alright. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Then you won’t mind me coming down to see you.”
“Mary I’ve told you. I appreciate the concern but I really am feeling fine. I’ve told you that it hurts my head to have to see people.”
“I don’t care what you say, Tom, I’m coming to see you. That’s all there is to it. I’ve a train ticket booked for tomorrow afternoon. If you won’t let me stay in your spare room I’ll book a hotel.
Tom heaved a heavy sigh. “Mary,” he said wearily. “Don’t do this. Please, don’t take this the wrong way but I’m really not ready to see anyone…”
“But it’s been two years, Tom…”
“Mary. Please don’t. Who said there was a time limit on grief?”
“You’re not the only one grieving, you know.”
Three days had passed since Palmer had slapped the wad of £50 notes on the kitchen table. The money was still there waiting for him when as he poured cold water into a glass and gulped it down greedily. As usual, Tom had a raging thirst. He took another glass, and another.
The flat was in darkness. Tom preferred to keep the curtains drawn. That way he could avoid looking at any passers-by in the street. Experience had taught him to keep temptation well out of the way.
Tom’s head was clearing now. Three days in bed had reduced his headache to a dull throb. Sometimes it could take weeks for him to get back to normal but he recognised that his good progress was probably heightened by the knowledge that he wouldn’t have to leave the flat for a long time. The money that he won would see him through many months of solitude, if he was careful he might be able to make it last until Christmas.