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Authors: Corinna Edwards-Colledge

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BOOK: The Soul Room
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‘John.’ I said finally, unable to hide my disappointment. He came up
alongside me and smiled grimly.

‘You were expecting someone else?’

‘You could say that.’ I turned and gestured into the flat. He went past
me then turned and looked at me apologetically.

‘I just wanted to bring you this.’ He put an A4 Manilla envelope onto the
coffee table. ‘In a few days, if Dan hasn’t turned up, this will be an official
Missing Person’s case. If you want to be ahead of the game you could have a
look through those lists. It’s flight records for everyone going to Italy on
the day your brother disappeared. There’s no Dan Armstrong listed but you might
want to look too in case there’s anything we’ve missed.’

‘What kind of thing?’

‘I don’t know, possibly a pseudonym, something like that.’

‘Oh, ok.’ I looked past him at the door.

‘This isn’t a good time?’

‘Well not exactly.’ The phone rang and I shrugged at him and picked up
the phone as if to say
‘You see what I mean?’
Something in my face must
have given it away pretty quickly, because he was across the room and by my
side before I had time to hit the floor.

‘The bomb went off.’ I heard myself say flatly, as if another person was
speaking. He lowered me slowly onto the sofa.

‘Bomb? What bomb? I don’t understand - ?’

‘Sergio…’ I shook my head, unable to say any more.

‘Who’s Sergio?’

Still I didn’t answer. He gently prised the phone out of my hand. ‘Hello?
Hello?...Do you speak English?’ He looked at me quickly then went over to the
window, his broad back almost obliterating the light. ‘I see, yes, this
morning. OK, yes. Sorry – what was that? The baby? What baby?’ He seemed to
tighten, his shoulders drew together and he walked away from me. ‘Oh. And what
was it? She’s not up to it now but she’ll want to know in a minute.’ I became
almost completely unaware of myself, my body, all I could see was him; the
regular shallow nodding of his head; his left hand resting in his coat pocket;
the small patch on his crown where his hair was thinning (and which I imagined
he wasn’t even aware of).

John turned around and looked at me briefly. ‘Will she understand this?
Did she know?’

My mind was unwinding. I wanted to think about anything rather than what
I had just heard. If I thought about other things I might be able to rewind
time, make it not have happened. Unable to do anything else I studied John
minutely, considered his solidity, in body and spirit. Unless he had a reason
to move he was still. When he did move it was economical. Yet there was no
sense of laziness or sloth about him. I imagined that although he didn’t rush
about, he hardly ever stopped. 

He hung up the phone and came and sat beside me. I didn’t want him to
speak. I didn’t want him to make it real. Gently he felt the back of my neck
and hands. ‘You’re cold, in shock. We need to get you warmed up.’ He went and
investigated the flat, coming back with blankets and a cup of sweet tea. I
continued to sit there, unable to think or move, like a mechanical toy that
needs winding. He put the warm cup in my hands. ‘Please drink your tea.’ I
found I could respond to instructions even though I couldn’t function for
myself, and sipped the tea slowly. He sat beside me, quietly watching. When I’d
finished he got up again and came back with a shot glass. ‘I found a bit of
brandy in your cupboard. I don’t think the baby will mind in the
circumstances.’ He put that in my hand too. I drank it as instructed and
gasped; the act bringing me back a little.

John took hold of my free hand, it fitted snugly into his giant palm. ‘So
this Sergio, he was a friend of yours?’

‘More than a friend, we had a relationship.’

‘In Italy?’

‘Yes…’

‘So the baby…’

‘Is his, yes.’ I stammered.

John looked awkward. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. They said he had a
clot in his brain.’

‘I know, he never wanted to talk about it. When I tried he…’ I ran out of
words.

‘He died very suddenly this morning at about half eleven, just before he
was going to leave for the airport. He wouldn’t have felt any pain or had time
to panic.’

My chest heaved, pushing all the air out of my lungs, making me struggle
for my next breath. ‘I think he knew it was coming. The other day, he said he
was scared.’

‘There’s so much we don’t know about ourselves…’ There was a short
muffled beep from John’s jacket, he freed my hand and quickly looked at his
phone. ‘Sorry, I have to check in, make sure they don’t need me at the
station.’ He frowned and put it back in his pocket. ‘I mean there’s so much we
don’t know about our instincts. My brother on a whim went to see his doctor about
a mole. He’d had it for years and never thought about it. But one day, he just
had to go. Turned out to be cancerous. Just a few days more and it would have
been inoperable.’

‘This morning, I felt a pain. A big pain in my stomach, it was about
10.30. 11.30 in Italy.’

He looked at me sympathetically. ‘Is there anyone I can call for you?’

‘My dad, please call my dad. His number’s in my address book on the
windowsill.’

‘Sergio’s Father said you had an appointment; your first scan.’ He looked
at me enquiringly. ‘You might still want to go?’

 ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!’ I looked at him
desperately then put my head in my hands. He stayed beside me, his heavy arm
across my shoulders. We remained in that position for so long that I felt us
begin to abstract. We were no longer people. We were a picture, a still-life of
grief.

 

I cancelled my
scan appointment and didn’t make another. I couldn’t face the rawness of it –
the emphasis –
life
and
death
. I didn’t really think of the baby.
I couldn’t. Even in my dreams he didn’t appear. On the rare occasions that I
found myself in the lighthouse I would only see the bob of a small dark head
out of the corner of my eye, or the flash of a figure behind the windows. I
shut myself in my flat, only seeing dad, and the look of fear on his face –
fear that the depression might return – brought all the old guilty feelings
hurtling back.

Dan was declared a
Missing Person
on the day after his birthday.
Neither Nick, or I had heard from him, as I now knew we wouldn’t. The world was
full of horrors and unfairness. Why would it be any different with Dan? John
kept me informed as best he could but I was avoiding him. I could feel his
concern, see the care in his expression, the intense way he looked at me, and I
couldn’t deal with it. I encouraged him to email me updates and to copy in my
Dad and Nick. Nothing much seemed to be happening. There was lots of standard
procedures to follow and so far nothing had come up. The only comfort being
that no body that matched his description had appeared either.  The news report
of a man’s corpse being discovered by a dog walker in some local woods, or
washed up in the Ouse haunted me daily; one of many dark thoughts that
punctuated my grief and shock.

 

About a month
later I got a letter from Italy. I put it down on the table and sat and stared
at it for about half an hour. I hadn’t gone to Sergio’s funeral, I hadn’t been
able to bear the thought of being in Terranima. Instead I had gone to the
Woodland cemetery where my mother was buried under an Ash tree and had sat,
leaning on the trunk, drowning in the amount of death that I had already had to
deal with.  My ultimate powerlessness.

I was convinced the Amarena’s must hate me. I imagined Nonna’s face, hard
with disapproval; Fabrizio’s dark-eyed scowl.  Still too cowardly to open the
letter, I got up and went out for a walk. It was a mild day with a blank white
sky. I meandered down to the beach and walked heavily through the shingle
towards the West Pier. A flock (or hadn't I read somewhere that it was called a
murmuration
) of Starlings buzzed about the bare steel beams of the old
concert hall – like flies picking at the carcass of a great beached whale.
Then, as if on some silent but compelling command, they arched off into the
sky.

I sat down on the shingle and watched them, transfixed. Even people up on
the promenade were stopping – a group of cyclists turned and rode up to the
railings, leaning forward in their saddles. Two tourists started to take
photos. The Starling's displays were always best at this time of year - when
the home colony was joined by others that had migrated here for the winter.

I don't know if there was a purpose, or whether it was just
joie de
vivre,
but this flock were putting on a show the like of which I hadn't
seen before. They seemed to be engrossed in some kind of silent air-born act of
ecstasy. At first they formed a giant comma, then half the group split off and
created another as if putting the sky in parenthesis. Then they converged again
and became a pair of Dali-esque lips; which stretched into an enigmatic smile,
osmosed into a giant hammer then, loosening, split into three undulating shapes
like cells viewed through a microscope.  For their grand finale, they re-formed
into a giant doughnut, which, after holding for several seconds, they
majestically dissolved by falling off at the edge and flying up through the
centre. I heard someone above me on the prom gasp; another said ‘it’s fucking
insane’ admiringly under their breath.

I felt my own heart beating faster, and remembered, with a strong sense
of nostalgia, a science experiment from primary school. We were given a tray of
iron filings and a sturdy red magnet with silver ends which we moved about
under the tray – watching the metal dust gather and chase hungrily. So what
moved the starlings? Was it pre-ordained? Was it loaded with meaning? Or was it
a conscious-less act of instinct - some kind of phenomenon explainable through
mathematical equation. Maybe it didn’t matter why, maybe all that mattered was
that it was beautiful. It occurred to me then that I was stuck. Stuck between a
need to think Sergio’s death had happened for a greater reason and the hope
that I was just a victim of chance. If it had happened for a reason, it was
hard not to believe that I was being punished for not loving him enough. And
yet, hadn’t I had enough grief and loss in my life? Hadn’t I had my share of
misery by now? How much more did God, or Gaia or Buddha or Allah or whoever was
up there
(if there was anyone
up there
) think I could take? Or
maybe that was the point. Maybe they wanted me to fail, to give up? It was hard
to face the idea that there was something nameless and malevolent out there,
working against me. Yet, if his death, my mother's, Alan and Stephanie's were
just chance, it made my life little more than one long accident. Was it
possible to make beauty and form out of accident? Is that what the starlings
were doing? Accident didn’t explain Nonna. If accident was something you could
‘read’ like she could, didn’t that make it fate? And could
accident
really still exist in a world that was increasingly scarred and traversed by
limitless connections? People, blood-lines, conversations – the real and the
digital kind, messages; the world was crammed. It often occurred to me how even
just a hundred years ago the air – though not necessarily physically clean –
was at least organic. Now it was polluted by millions of radio-waves, satellite
transmissions and electronic impulses.  I put my head in my hands, overwhelmed.

And at that moment, sitting on the beach surrounded by that great pale
sky, I felt my baby kick. I didn’t believe it at first. It was so faint, like
someone gently flicking their finger against the inside of my skin. But there
it was again – unmistakable this time. For the first time in weeks I pictured
the child in my belly. What would Sergio have thought of my cowardice?  I felt
horribly ashamed. All those things I had said to myself about how I was going
to look after this child – and then – at the first hurdle – I’d failed.

With a sudden surge of adrenalin I got up and started up the shingle. I
had to read that letter. A steep bank had built up from the night’s waves, but
I scrambled up urgently, digging in with my feet and hands. When I got to the
prom, I ran all the way home, my heart beating fast and shallow.

 

To you, filio

 

Maddie says you are a boy, how she knows is mystery to me but I have
learnt to not argue with mothers about these things, they are nearly always
right! I have to write this just in case we never meet. It is strange and crazy
thing to have to do, believe me. Every day is like a gift to me, but also makes
me scared because all the time I think, maybe this is my last day. I wanted to
give you the world, but all I can give you is a letter in case the last day
comes. A letter, I think, is something you can keep with you, even if you can
not have me. It is just un piccolo parte del mio amore of the big love I wanted
to show you.

 

A letter like this could be many many pages, but I will try to make it
just one. I am more happy to leave you a poem not a big novel. I think a novel
would become too heavy for you.

 

I won’t say to you how you should live, or what you should be. I will
say only that for me, I wish I follow my own hopes and needs in my life, not
always the hopes and needs of other people. I think I have been a coward, and
now I wish I had talked about how I felt inside.

 

I hope you will know Italy – some things here are not so good, but it
is beautiful, and it will always be part of you. You must also meet Nonna, she
will give you very powerful benedizioni.

 

The last thing I say is be good to your Mamma. I love her very much.
She is a strong and beautiful signora, who sometimes does not believe that she
is these things. I hope, one day this will change.

BOOK: The Soul Room
9.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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