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Authors: Corinna Edwards-Colledge

The Soul Room (19 page)

BOOK: The Soul Room
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For some reason then I thought of John. Of how wonderful it had felt to
be in his big arms, the warmth and firmness of his chest underneath my cheek. I
had come so close to finding someone and yet, here I was, more alone than ever.
The tears on my cheek had started to chill and I wiped them away and started
along the path again, all the evening’s previous optimism evaporated.

 

Time seemed a
hard concept to grasp in the silence of the night, but it was probably less
than an hour before I found myself at the old kitchen garden again. The door in
the wall had been left ajar and I was grateful to be able to peep around it
without having to draw attention to myself by opening it first. There was no
sign of life beyond it, and no light showing from the little windows in the
room in the bank. If I hadn’t been heavily pregnant, I would have darted across
the little scented clearing; as it was, I waddled. The door into the ante-room
was again unlocked, and I crept across the sandy floor to the second doorway.

My heart felt like it was moving further and further up my throat with
every breath, almost making me gag, and I struggled to keep calm. Despite my
trembling hands, it didn’t take long to unscrew the hook on the door-frame that
helped secure the padlock. It was new, and the fixings hadn’t rusted or lost
their thread. As the fourth and final screw came away I realised I had no idea
what I would do if I met someone on the other side. I held up Nonna’s monkey wrench
as I turned the handle of the door. It was a redundant act (I was pretty sure I
wouldn’t be able to use it) but it felt reassuring. I held my breath and
tugged, wondering if Dan was waiting on the other side, and if so, what kind of
state he was in. To my crushing disappointment the door didn’t budge. It hadn’t
occurred to me that it may be locked on both sides. Fabrizio was obviously very
keen that no one except those he wanted, were able to get in through the door.
This meant there must be someone on the other side to let people in. The
padlock was obviously just a deterrent. Lorenzo and Stefano must have rung
their accomplice from the ante-room to let them know they were there.

Almost sobbing with frustration I screwed the padlock fastening back into
the door – taking care that it looked exactly as it had before. When I got back
outside I shut the door and leant against it, taking deep breaths from the cool
night air and gathering myself. I remembered the thin windows set high in the
walls of the ante-room. If there were rooms beyond it, maybe some of them had
windows too? Energised with this new hope, I decided to explore the top of the
bank, find the windows of the first room and work back. I stepped back from the
doorway and inspected the wall and bank for a way to get to the top. I was
lucky that there was such a bright moon. I hadn’t wanted to risk using the
torch, especially here.

Instead of retracing my steps back towards the garden entrance, I went
the other way, and after a few yards found a section of wall that had half
fallen down, leaving rudimentary steps that reached most of the way to the top
of the bank. With difficulty, I hoisted my leg up as high as it would go
against the swell of my belly and heaved myself onto the first level of tumbled
bricks, grabbing on to a half exposed tree-root and using it to pull myself up
further. It was so steep then, I could only continue by climbing up on all
fours. Although I was almost paralysed with nerves, I wasn't beyond seeing the
black comedy of the situation.  I didn't imagine heavily pregnant cat-burglars
were very common.

I had to pause half way up and catch my breath. Over the last couple of
days I had increasingly began to feel tightenings and aches in the top of my
thighs; sometimes nerves jangled deep in my pelvis and the pain of it would
stop me in my tracks. A small voice inside reminded me that these were signs
that women often got when their labour was imminent. Going into labour now
would make the baby a month premature, I simply couldn’t contemplate it, it
filled me with horror. I forced the thought to the back of my mind

Finally I reached the top of the bank. I could do nothing for a minute
but take great gulps of air, my palms pressed hard against the sparse, dry
grass. I got up slowly to avoid feeling dizzy, and waited for my eyes to focus
properly. I explored the bank thoroughly but found nothing that would hint at
what was underneath. It took another five minutes scrabbling about in the dark
and then I found the windows of the anteroom. The discovery encouraged me and I
started to look more feverishly – pushing through stunted old shrubs, upending
rocks. Then, I caught a splinter of reflected moonlight from behind a tangle of
low bushes, and received a firm kick from the baby underneath my ribs.

‘OK little one, I’m going to look.’ The bushes were prickly – some kind
of Mediterranean gorse, so I pushed them aside with a stick. My heart vaulted
into my throat. There was another thin rectangular window, about three foot
wide by half a foot high, just like the ones in the anteroom, set in the bank
by my feet. There
was
a room underneath. I knelt down so I could look
in, but found myself suddenly unable to move. I was terrified. Terrified of
what I would see - or not see. So many times in the search for my brother, I
had had to steel myself, will myself onwards. Now, possibly so close to the
end, I seemed to have nothing left. My head swam. I’d lost so many people in my
life, my mother, my ex-husband and step-daughter, Sergio. Could I take any more
loss? Could I go on if I was too late? If I’d failed Dan and he was dead? 
Sometimes it was
so hard
to love, to deal with the fear of letting
people down.

And then there was a voice.

'Hello?'

Brighton 2004

 

‘Hello
friends...and enemies. Hello Queers, Queens, Bears, Lipstick-Lesbians,
Dominatrix, S&M’ers and Gimps. Hello Bestialists, Blue-Eyed Boys,
Lady-Boys, Trannies, Fag-Hags, Bondagers, Dykes, and Doggers...’ Dan gestures
munificently across the assorted guests. His facial expression is completely
serious. ‘...and welcome to our wedding!’ There are sniggers and suppressed
giggles from the audience. I roll my eyes at Alan, he has his hands clamped
over Stephanie’s ears in mock horror.

‘Get on with it!’ I heckle.

Dan shoots me a look. ‘Please excuse my sister, she’s the shy retiring
type.’ Another ripple of merriment emanates from the audience, this wedding
speech has been hotly anticipated for some time. ‘We are gathered here today,’
Dan crosses himself and looks sky-ward, ‘in the sight of
God
,’ more
sniggers from the audience, ‘to celebrate the union of my good self to my
long-suffering sex-slave, sorry, I mean partner,’ Nicholas pinches Dan’s bum
hard and makes him jump, ‘Easy tiger!’ Dan retorts, seamlessly. ‘Where was I?
Ah yes, to celebrate our do-it-yourself union. Thank you for coming to help us
celebrate the fact that the delightful Tony Blair and his New Labour groupies
have finally seen fit to allow us Gay folk to participate in the outdated,
asset-stripping, morally bankrupt institution that is marriage, or at least,
nearly
marriage. Of course, Civil Partnership is the only way that Nicholas has any
chance of getting his hands on my royalty cheques, and as he does all the
cooking and cleaning in our house I thought it only fair that I repay him by
making an honest man of him.’

Nicholas is leaning back in his chair, arms crossed high on his chest,
shaking his head and smiling. They both look fantastic, super-sharp suites from
Gresham Blake, the lowering afternoon sun bathing them in golden light. The
ceremony was at Brighton Town Hall, the reception party at a big seafront cafe
a few miles East up the coast. They pretty much have their own bit of beach,
below on the Undercliff, the occasional cyclist or dog-walker being the only
trespassers.

‘Seriously though....’ Dan scans the audience, playing it as confidently
as a seasoned stand-up in a working man’s club, ‘No, really, seriously...’ He
takes a deep breath in and a long sighing breath out. ‘This man here,’ he lays
his hand on Nicholas’ shoulder and squeezes, ‘is my saviour, my anchor, my
rock. Along with my sister and father, and the memories of my wonderful mother,
he is my world. I know I am a narcissistic, sarcastic sod a lot of the time,
but somehow Nicholas finds enough in me to love.’

The tears are pouring down my face. Alan is squeezing my hand. I wonder
if he loves me as much as Dan loves Nick. Whether I love
him
as much?
He’s a lovely man, a great dad. I feel safe with him, I think we could be
happy. Stephanie slips off her chair and comes and sits on my lap. She is
sucking on a lollypop and her hands are sticky. Lollypops for the kids during
the speeches was a clever idea, Nick’s idea; keeps them schtum. Stephanie leans
back against me, her hair tickling my nose. It gives me a little thrill of
tenderness and gratitude, the way I always feel when she relaxes and treats me
to some unconditional affection. Alan beams at us. I know how much it means to
him that there is a woman in Stephanie’s life again, it’s a little scary. I
feel the weight of responsibility, of her delicate little heart, already
bruised by her mother’s abandonment. I know it could destroy her, to feel like
that again. I squeeze Alan’s hand back, he’s looking at me moonily. He’s been
talking a lot about Dan and Nick’s wedding, I wonder if he’s gearing up to
something.

‘Dear friends, what I’m trying to say...’ Dan stops, he actually has
tears in his eyes. I don’t think I’ve seen him cry since Mum’s funeral. ‘...Is
that, without this man, I am lost. I am just a lost little boy all over again.’

Italy 2007

 

Time stood still
for a moment, my heart stopped beating, the sounds of the night came to a
sudden halt. I froze, still kneeling, straining to identify what I had just
heard. I could almost imagine it was the earth was creaking, contracting as it
released the day’s residual heat into the cool air.

The baby kicked, I sat up; the sounds of the night returned as quickly as
they had gone; soft hootings and chirps, the cries of unidentified faraway
animals.

Again, softly. ‘Hello?’

‘Dan, oh my God, Dan!’ I started to scrabble at the gorse around the
little slit of window, it was filthy, I rubbed at it frantically. ‘Dan! Dan!!’

‘It is you Maddie! I can’t believe it!’

I could hardly see a thing through the smeared glass, perhaps a faint
hint of movement. ‘It is me! I’m here!’ My heart was thumping.

‘You found me Maddie, how...’

‘It doesn’t matter now...I can’t see you. I want to see you.’

‘They don’t let me have a light after dark.’ I heard the scraping of
furniture. ‘I’m going to get on this chair...hang on. Can you see me now?’

The pale suggestion of a face appeared near the glass, vaguely
illuminated with moonlight. It was a thinner face, but it was unmistakeably the
face of my brother. My breath caught in my throat. ‘Oh Dan, we thought you
might be dead! What have they done to you?’ Adrenalin coursed through my body,
every sense was resonating, animal like with sudden sharpness. It felt like the
baby was doing somersaults. ‘We’ve got to get you out! How do we get you out?!’
I tore at the overgrown grass and shrubs around the window, my nails scraping
the earth, tearing out clumps of plants, flinging them into the dark.

‘Stop Maddie, stop!’ Fingers touched the glass by my face, I was panting
with the effort, my nerves jangling with urgency. ‘It’s no good Maddie, the
window’s just too small, I couldn’t even get my head through.’

‘So I’ll call the police! I’ll do it right now!’

‘NO!’ His voice was suddenly sharp, it checked me. I sat back on the
grass, confused.

‘What do you mean? I’ve got a contact back in Brighton, a Detective
Seargeant. He can help us.’

‘I said NO POLICE Maddie, you don’t understand!’

‘What don’t I understand? You’re being held against your will by Amarena,
he’s dangerous, we have to get him arrested and you back home!’

‘He’s my father.’

I was winded. I couldn’t find enough breath in my lungs to speak.

‘Think about the dates, that last holiday here, my birthday.’

‘It can’t be!’

‘It is, Mum told me.’

‘You mean...’ I felt like I was going to be sick. ‘...from the rape?’

‘So you found Mum’s diary?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s not all, Amarena’s involved in something, something corrupt,
something big, and the police are part of it. If you go to the police now...any
police...he’ll find out and you’ll never see me again. We can’t involve them
until I’m out.’

I lay down on the grass, as close to the window as I could, my face only
inches now from his.  I put my hand against the glass. ‘I want to hold you Dan,
I want to hold you so badly!’

‘And me you. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you and Dad and
Nicholas all these months. My heart’s been broken every day.’ He lay his hand
against mine on the other side of the glass.

‘How do we get you out?’ Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I’d gone from
euphoria and hope to utter helplessness. ‘I thought I could get you from this
side, I got through the padlock, but the door’s locked on the inside as well.’

‘Shit!’ Dan hissed through his teeth. ‘They’re coming! You’ve got to go!’

‘But I can’t leave you!’

‘You have to, now! They’re coming from the other side, from the house so
you should be ok out there if you go now.’

The house! Of course, the house! In a second I realised what I had to do.
‘I’m coming for you Dan, Tomorrow. You’re not staying here another night!’

‘Just give me time to think, come back and we’ll talk. For God’s sake,
GO!’

I could hear them too now, muted voices, chatting, laughing beyond the
darkness of his room. I kissed my fingers and pressed them against the glass
then got up as quickly and quietly as I could and started to make my way back
down the bank.

 

Back in my
little room at Nonna's, I sat on the edge of the bed. The previous hours felt
like a dream; a bad, disorientating dream. I was exhausted, but my thoughts
were wild and anxious, and I was desperate to get control of them. I lay down
on the bed and curled up as much as my bump would allow. I longed for a loving
touch at that moment, so much that it was almost a physical pain. I thought
about John – about the way he had felt when he had held me and kissed me. It
made things worse. The only thing that gave me any comfort was thinking about
my baby. Dawn started to soften the darkness in the room, I wanted to sleep so
very badly, but I couldn’t help but start to listen out for the sounds of
wakening life outside; the birds and insects exercising their voices; the first
calls of cattle and people.

My body felt like lead, weighing me down into the mattress. This last
stage of pregnancy carried a tiredness with it that could fell you instantly
like a concussion. Finally I felt myself start to smudge at the edges, my
consciousness drift. 

 

 

I hurtled
through the darkness this time; the resistance in whatever the substance was
around me seemed to be lessening. The change worried me. I decided very quickly
to count, to measure the descent in seconds and compare it with the next visit.
It took only six seconds before a faint glimmer of light emerged below me, I
wondered if I would stop ok, or whether I would go smashing into the tiled
floor, but I needn’t have worried; I could feel myself slowing, the air
thickening again to support me.

I was desperate to see my son, but also strangely apprehensive. I
found him curled up on a sofa, tightly cuddling the Cheetah I had given him.
The stormy sea outside was luminous with pale sunshine; the silvery surface
churned up with white-topped waves. He looked pale and thoughtful, and my heart
swelled.

'I was hoping you'd come today.'

'Me too.'

'It gets lonely here you know.' He sat up and breathed heavily on the
window. A cloud of condensation blossomed on the glass. He traced a sad face
crookedly on it with his forefinger. 'What's it like Mum?' he said dreamily.

'What?'

He gestured towards the sea. 'The world, out there.'

'It's...' I floundered.

'Is it scary?'

'Sometimes, but it can also be wonderful.'

He nodded vaguely, looked out of the window again.'It feels like it’s
going to be soon Mum.'

I felt hot. 'What is?' I said feebly.

He shook his head admonishingly. 'Are you ready?'

'I...' I felt sweat breaking out on the palms of my hands.

He looked at me and it broke my heart. His face was full of trust. He
trusted and believed in me totally. I was his Mother. He was a little boy, and to
him I was indestructible, infallible. But I wasn’t indestructible or
infallible, I was cheating him. 'Sometimes,' I said in a broken voice, 'if I
woke up in the night and I was scared, I would go and get into bed in between
my Mum and my Dad, and it would feel like the safest place in the world. If I
was with them, nothing – no monster, or vampire, or witch or ghost could get
me. As if they were superheroes.' He was looking at me intently, smiling and
nodding in recognition. I wanted to weep so badly, felt the tears hammering
against my eyelids, but I forced them back. I was endangering my child. There
was no denying that; so the least I could do was resist dumping my feelings on
him. He was the child, and I was the adult. Taking the flack, putting your own
feelings second was the deal you struck when you brought a new life into the
world, a deal struck in your blood.

'I'll never be able to get into bed between you and my Dad will I?'

'No sweetheart. I'm sorry.'

'But there could be someone else, one day. You've met him already I
think?' He looked at me earnestly. His eyes were so dark, like mahogany.

'No love. Not him.'

'That makes you sad?'

'Yes, more sad than I think I realised.'

'I can't give you a cuddle Mum, so you'll just have to do with this.'
He kissed his hand and blew it to me. I was sure - I almost felt it, the brush
of something infinitesimally delicate on my cheek.

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