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Authors: Elizabeth Gill

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BOOK: Snow Angels
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Edward did not come home. Gil left Helen’s room when the streaks of light showed through the sky. She was not sleeping so heavily then, though he could imagine the headache and the sickness that she would have when she awoke.

He went off to work and was busy there all day, doing what he had always wanted to do, so that he forgot about her. When he got home she was pale and listless, ate little at dinner, drank nothing and afterwards didn’t attempt to play the piano. Then Edward came home. He had tickets for the theatre that Saturday evening. She was at once a different person, smiling and lively. She clapped her hands and became excited. Edward offered to play a card game with her and she agreed. They went off to bed together early but later, when his parents had long gone up and Gil was trying to talk himself into making his way up the stairs rather than falling asleep on the sofa by the fire, she came down. The servants had gone to bed and Gil found her clattering about in the kitchen by the poor light of one candle.

‘The brandy’s in the sitting-room,’ he said behind her. She jumped and turned and the candle hovered dangerously.

He lit the nearest lamp and saw by its glow Helen in a long white cotton wrap, wide sleeves lace-edged and pearl buttons from neck to toe. She looked so small in the huge space of the cook’s domain.

‘I didn’t come for brandy.’

‘I should think not, after last night. Don’t you feel ill?’

‘What do you know about it?’ she said.

‘Why don’t you go to bed?’

‘I don’t want to. It’s silent there and the night is so black and—’

‘I’ll take you up.’

‘I’m not a child.’

‘Come on.’

He put out the light, lit another candle in the hall and led her up the stairs by the hand. In her room, half a dozen candles burned and the fire was almost out. Gil put some wood onto the fire to make a pyramid and it began to burn. He secured the shutters over the windows and pulled the curtains tightly across.

‘Your maid is supposed to do that.’

‘I didn’t want her to. It makes me feel closed in.’

‘It’s too cold for anything else,’ Gil said. ‘Aren’t you going to get into bed?’

‘With you here? Hardly.’

‘Go on, I’ll tuck you in.’

He did so, but he knew that tears were close.

‘It’ll be all right tomorrow,’ he said.

Helen shook her head. She looked woodenly at him for a few seconds and then turned away. She began to cry, silently and without moving. The room was changing. Gil couldn’t help but notice it and was glad that he had not been drinking heavily, or he would have blamed it on alcohol. It seemed to him that the few candles gave out the light and flame of fifty and that the fire became amazingly hot so that it warmed the whole room. The
night was well shut out, but the curtains seemed thin like muslin. From somewhere behind them came the faint breeze of an early summer night with the air gentle such as at the onset of the new season. The walls were coloured golden from all the flickering flames and the shadows were large upon the walls from the fire.

‘Don’t cry,’ Gil said, hoping his voice would bring normality back.

‘I’m not crying,’ she said and to prove it she turned over towards him. It was as though someone else offered the tears because she gave no indication of them. Her face did not tremble; her nose did not run. The tears, unaided and unacknowledged, poured down her cheeks as though somebody was standing with a bucket behind her eyes and she was just some vessel through which they were going. She didn’t sob and her throat didn’t work; only her hands gave her away. Her fingers closed on the bedcovers and clenched there.

Gil was sitting on the bed. He took hold of her frozen fingers and rubbed them to put warmth back into them. She sat up and smiled at him and the room was all white, just as he had seen it in his mind a hundred times since they had met. Could you recognise the future like that? He had thought it was the past. Where was it? If things had already been arranged, if fate was there, then her marriage to Edward had been threatened from long before. Perhaps his brother had not stood a chance because time was mixed. The past and the future were more powerful together than the present, which was all Edward had had to offer.

It was just as he had known. His recognition of her had been right. They knew one another well. Gil had never been with a woman, but her body was not new to him and half the delight was in touching her again, in having her back from whatever distance they had come to be together. After the first kiss he could not have left her, even if his life and the lives of half the world had depended upon it. He had been lonely for her for years, waited for her for decades, mourned her loss, dreamed her presence, seen her in the distance a thousand times, wished that
other women had her face, her body, her voice, her laughter. She had never been another man’s wife. She was his and she came to him confidently, surely. In his mind it was summer in whatever warm country they belonged to. The very stones of the house were bleached by the sun.

She came to him naked, joyful, greedy, as though she, too, had waited from a long way off, as if distance was a prison and she had escaped. Her body was warm and soft and her hair became loose from the tight braids which usually held it. She was not crying, she was not speaking, yet her voice was full of love.

He had wanted her for so long and nothing could stop them from being together. It was like a fight, a struggle to be near and, though all the demons of hell should try to stop it, nothing could. Each kiss was better and each caress brought her body nearer, until near was not sufficient. He thought the light flickered, even the shadows retreated and beyond, he knew for a split second, was the clarity that told him it was a Northumberland winter’s night. He felt the hesitation on her, a second’s resistance. Her body fought and then yielded. All the devils in hell screamed and Gil knew triumph. She was his. It was meant to be and nothing could alter his possession of her. You could not go back from there; it could not be undone; it was too late. She gave a cry and he knew it for pain. The winter wind howled beyond the window. The room was cool and the dying flames of the fire threw twisted shadows upon the walls. The bed was a tormented mess of sheets and blankets, and Helen lay sobbing, half clinging and half resisting. He didn’t let go of her, not until it was over, not until her hands released him and her body drew back and then he stopped and left her.

In the candlelight with the bedclothes thrown back, on the white sheets there was blood, enough for him to recognise what it was, sufficient for him to stare. She was turned away from him as though ashamed and crying softly.

‘Helen?’ His voice sounded hoarse, as though it didn’t get much use. She turned further away and tried to get in among the
blankets, to pull them up to cover her body. He hauled them out of her hands and dragged her back to him. She protested and fought and he put her down so that she should look at him. She closed her eyes and turned her head away, but he waited.

‘Helen?’

Resigned, she opened her eyes, though she still didn’t turn her head or look at him.

‘What?’ she said with a hint of impatience.

‘Tell me that was not the first time.’

She closed her eyes again, but only for a second and then she said, ‘What would be the use?’ Her voice was tired, almost hoarse, as if she had spent hours shouting and fighting and had no more to offer.

‘Why?’

She smiled. She changed in that instant. She was not the person that he had thought, the pretty empty-headed girl. She was not as he had seen her.

‘Do you know how I spent my wedding night? Alone. I spend all my nights alone.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘He doesn’t love me.’

‘If he hadn’t loved you he wouldn’t have married you.’

‘He’s afraid of your father. He married me because your father wanted my money.’

‘No.’

She looked at him clearly.

‘But you love me, I know you do. You loved me the moment you saw me and I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.’

‘I just did.’

‘Oh, that.’ She stretched like a well-fed cat. ‘That was divine. If you knew how I’ve ached for you.’

Gil covered her body in kisses and caresses. She tasted like rich fruit, like peaches and she felt so soft. He hadn’t realised that a woman would be quite so soft, all rounded and warm. He found that he could make her body lift for him, that he could
make her desire him just as much as he desired her. He could make the tips of her breasts harden under his tongue and have small noises of need make their way past her lips. It was wonderful. Best of all were her eyes. When she opened them it was as if someone had lit a candle there, for they were blue shine. He felt as though he had discovered the perfect secret, the greatest pleasure. Her tongue was so pink and her teeth were so white and he felt as if he could do anything now. He had the whole world there in bed. Nothing else mattered. He thought that he would never be lonely again.

Chapter Seven

Edward came to Gil in his office in the middle of the following morning and said, ‘I’m playing billiards with Toby and the others tonight. Do you want to come?’

Gil didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t look at him. Edward came further into the office and closed the door.

‘I didn’t mean the things I said to you. I’m not jealous, really I’m not, but I wanted to please the old man too and I can’t, no matter what I do, whereas you seem to be able to do it all the time.’

Gil was too ashamed of himself, too guilty and wretched to speak.

‘I thought I might taken Helen to Venice in May, try to make up for things. What do you think?’

‘I’m sure she’d like that.’ Gil was amazed at how calm his voice was. Could he be a natural liar?

‘I’ll surprise her. So, are we playing billiards tonight?’

Gil couldn’t think of an adequate reason to say no.

Every minute hurt that evening, watching Edward walk around the billiard table. It had been a wretched day. Gil couldn’t work. His mind replayed his seduction of his brother’s chaste wife with himself cast as the villain. The billiard hall had been a haven, now it was just another place. Edward had not changed. He smiled across and asked for advice and Gil tried to
be the same. Toby was full of talk about his garden, the containers in which he had planted bulbs which were flowering and the flowers which he was growing from seed on the window ledges of his white house.

‘There’ll be roses and I’m going to have a lavender hedge at either side of the path so that when people brush against it there will be an exquisite perfume. Do you know you have eyes that change colour?’

Gil looked at him, startled.

‘In the evenings they’re almost black; during the day they look like sherry. Curious.’

The room felt airless to Gil, even more so than usual. He made an excuse and went outside. After a few minutes Edward followed him. The Newcastle night was full of sounds and the pub opposite threw orange light across the pavement. He heard Edward and moved away. There was a bridge not far and they walked there and listened to the water as it made its way down to Tynemouth and out into the North Sea. Further on were the docks and the shipyard where their father had made his fortune.

‘When I left Oxford I swore to myself I wouldn’t come back here,’ Edward said, leaning over the bridge and scowling into the dark water.

‘So why did you?’

‘I can’t help it. I’ve tried to leave, but every time the train pulls out of Newcastle station my bloody stupid heart breaks. I don’t know how to go. I want to but I can’t. If I was born a thousand times, it would always be here, Tynedale, or Tyneside and Bamburgh beach. It belongs to me. When I was at Oxford I used to wake up in the night because I thought I could hear the pipes.’

Gil didn’t want to go back inside and either Edward didn’t want to or he understood that Gil didn’t, because they took the last train home. The stars were bright and Edward sang local songs as they walked from the station.

Gil had half-imagined that Helen would be waiting in his
room and dreaded it, but she was not and everything was silent. He made excuses to himself, said that it had only been once, swore that it would never happen again. Edward would take Helen to Venice and things would get better. He fell asleep thinking of this, so tired that he could think no more.

All that week Helen was smiling and bright, even though Edward went out each night and stayed out on the Saturday. Gil’s hopes began to lift. He had made a mistake. Everybody was allowed a mistake. He didn’t think of her all the time; he didn’t even want her.

On the Saturday night when it was late, therefore, it could not possibly have been that when he passed her room to go to bed he opened the door and went inside and closed and locked it. There were candles and there was a fire and he had not even the excuse that everything changed, because it didn’t. And she had not gone to him and she was not crying. Anyone else would have thought she was reading. There was a book open beside her and a glass of wine untouched on the table by the bed. She watched him lock the door and come to her and he knew then that she had been expecting him. Her hair was loose and brushed and shining gold and she wore a nightdress that showed off her arms and shoulders and breasts and it had buttons conveniently placed down the front. Gil sighed and sat down on the bed.

‘How did you know?’ he said.

‘I’ve waited every night.’

She leaned forward and kissed him, friendly and sweet. That was when Gil realised that the moment you think you have conquered an enemy, all is lost. He had thought he could make his mistake and go back to where he was before and it was not so. He had thought he was strong, that he didn’t want her. That was laughable now. He had not thought that he would betray his brother a second time, but then he had not thought that he would betray his brother the first time. He was not the person he had hoped to be. All he wanted, or would ever want, was her. She got out of bed and kissed and kissed him like somebody starving
and held him and begged and started to pull his clothes off until Gil helped. He couldn’t understand how he had managed to keep away from her all that week. The part of his mind that knew this was wrong was deliciously employed like a parent, telling him what an evil person he was. He was pleased to show it how bad he could be, putting her down and taking her like she was a whore without kisses or caresses, then cradling her in his arms and giving her wine and laughing and telling her all the things that he had not been able to say the first time.

BOOK: Snow Angels
4.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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