Daisy and The Chalet Woman (Part Two)
I advised Kati that they should get a good solicitor. Although, as Kati pointed out, if Chalet Woman was after money surely she would have come years ago, when Daisy was growing up. Kati wasn’t actually averse to Mike helping financially; Daisy might want to go to university, or just need help with a deposit on somewhere to live. Kati didn’t feel that it was unreasonable for Chalet Woman to expect some help, after doing it on her own all these years.
‘I don’t mind them having his money, or even our money,’ she said. ‘I just wonder what else they want.’
A couple of weeks later, I got another call from Kati, with another summons to lunch.
‘Come to mine,’ I suggested. ‘It’s my turn.’
She said, ‘I know you don’t like me smoking there, even outside. What’s wrong with you coming to mine?’ She sounded defensive almost to the point of aggression. ‘I’ll even pay full price at the deli counter.’
I was shocked when Kati opened the bubble door. She looked tired and red-eyed, her hair was uncombed and her body seemed tense, as though held together only by a great effort. Her clothes did not look fresh. She blinked in the doorway, as though unaccustomed to the sunlight.
She looked at me vaguely. ‘Oh. Hi sweetie.’
I wondered if she had forgotten I was coming, but when we got to the dining room the little plastic pots were laid out on the table, the cat furtively investigating.
‘Bugger off, cat.’ She waved her hand wearily at it. ‘Wine?’
When she’d poured the wine I asked, ‘So what’s happening?’
She sighed, lit a cigarette and looked out of the window into the back yard. ‘You know, Mike never said he wanted kids. When we first got together I said to him it was something he needed to think about, because even if I had wanted kids it was too late by then, and I wouldn’t consider adopting. And he was clear. Crystal clear. He didn’t want kids.’
She flicked the end of the cigarette over a small metal ashtray. ‘He wants her to come and live with us.’
‘Not forever. Just for a few months. So they can get to know each other.’
‘Is this his idea?’
Kati shrugged. ‘Apparently.’
‘What does her mother think about it?’
‘All for it.’
After a moment she said, ‘He wants me to stop smoking. At least while she’s here. Or if I can’t stop altogether, only to smoke outside. Right outside. Not just stick my head out the bloody window. He wants us to decorate the spare room for her. Not just clear it out, not just stick a curtain up, but paint it, re-carpet it, buy a new bed and a dressing table, stick bloody fairy lights round the picture rail… all those things he’s seen little girls do on telly. He wants it all.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘And we’ve got to hoover, and dust, and make the cat do its business outside, and it would be nice if I could do a bit of cooking, just to show willing.’
‘Right,’ I said.
Kati said, ‘It’s as though everything we are, everything we have, nothing is good enough. It’s as though it was all right for us, for him and me, but it isn’t good enough for her, for someone who has no connection with him whatsoever, who wouldn’t even be here if he’d remembered to take his beach ball with him in the first place.’
‘It’s a new experience,’ I said. ‘The zeal of the converted.’
She said, ‘It’s as though I’m not good enough. Not good enough for her.’
‘Kati, I’m sure that’s not what he means at all.’
She lit another cigarette. ‘Do you know where he is now?’
‘No,’ I lied. I’d worked it out.
‘Staying with them. With Daisy and Chalet Woman. In her little council semi with the sparkling white nets and the pine scented toilet and the polished garden gnomes. That’s where he is.’
‘You don’t know…’
‘She was a chambermaid, for God’s sake,’ Kati shouted. ‘She probably folds the end of the loo roll. There’ll be an After Eight on his pillow!’
‘I think that’s a little upmarket for Butlin’s.’
Kati glared at me, then shook her head and allowed the ghost of smile onto her lips. ‘Fuck off. You know what I mean.’
I decided to come to the point. ‘You think Chalet Woman has designs on him herself?’
Kati sighed. ‘I don’t know. To some extent I don’t care. I understand that. I can live with that. That happens. But being told that I have to change. That our home has to change. That none of it is fit for purpose.’ She looked around the cluttered, grubby room, and I was startled by the fear in her eyes. ‘This is me. This is who I am. If this isn’t good enough, then neither am I.’
In the end, Kati negotiated. She still refused to pick up a duster, but she paid out of her own money for agency cleaners to go through the house, and for someone to come in once a week for the period Daisy was in residence. The clutter in the spare room was moved into the bedroom Kati used as her study, and Mike repainted and bought a new bed and a second hand dressing table. The change around meant that Kati fell behind with Mary Poppins and had, for the first time in her life, to ask for extra time to complete the translation.
The point of deadlock was the smoking.
‘It’s my home,’ Kati said to me on the phone. ‘I should be able to do what I like in my own home.’
‘It’s Mike’s home too,’ I said.
‘Not you, sweetie. Not you as well. We, me and Mike, we entered this home together, each knowing what the other was like. That I’m a chain smoker who can’t cook, that Mike likes to watch soaps and brain dead game shows on the telly, that the house would get cleaned twice a year, on the summer and winter solstices. That was the deal. And anyone else coming in has to accept that deal. Because it’s not their home. It’s ours.’
‘But circumstances change. And if one of you wants to change the deal…’
‘But Mike doesn’t want to change it for himself. He wants to change it for her. And he wants to change me for her as well.’
‘I don’t know what to tell you,’ I said.
She gave in, finally. She agreed that she would go into the back yard to smoke for as long as Daisy was resident, even when Daisy was not actually in the house. I wondered if her and Mike’s relationship would ever recover from this.
Daisy arrived on the first Saturday of the school summer holidays.
I didn’t phone Kati over the first few days. I thought I would leave them all to get on with it. She had been unhappy because Mike refused to take her over to Chalet Woman’s home to meet Daisy before the experiment started; Kati interpreted this a further indication that Mike was ashamed of her and was worried that Daisy would not come if she had a preview of Kati.
I took it as a good sign when a week went by and I had no word from Kati. I had half expected a phone call in the middle of the night to say she had packed her bags and was on her way over, but there was silence. I wondered if I should invite them all over for supper, partly as a gesture of good will, partly to satisfy my curiosity. Eventually I did ring Kati, on her mobile rather than the house phone, just in case.
‘Oh, hello sweetie.’
‘Hi. How’s it going? Can you talk?’
‘Not really, sweetie.’
‘How about coffee? This week, next week?’
‘Yes, sweetie, tomorrow would be fine.’
‘Eleven? At The Coffee Bean?’
‘Yes, sweetie. See you there.’
She was late, which was not unusual. I bagged our customary table near the door, handy for Kati’s frequent exits.
I looked up. Kati was sliding into the seat opposite me. Her hair was brushed and her clothes clean, but she still looked tired, and her eyes were red rimmed.
‘Hi,’ I said. And then, because there was no use pretending I hadn’t noticed, ‘Are you all right?’
‘The cat’s died,’ she said.
‘Kati, I’m so sorry. What happened?’
She shrugged. ‘It was all right Saturday night, nothing unusual. Sunday morning it was having its breakfast and it suddenly gave this little sort of sound and ran upstairs and hid under the bed in the spare room. That was its hidey-hole, it always went there when it was put out. Only of course…’ she took a breath. ‘Of course, Daisy doesn’t like cats and it’s her room now, and she insisted Mike got it out, and it screeched and clawed and it’s normally such a laid back little thing.’
‘It howled. It just howled. I knew something wasn’t right so I rang the vet and they said to bring it in. So I took it and I left it there and then they rang and said it had tumours inside its tummy, and something had burst and it was bleeding inside.’ She shrugged. ‘It happened to one of my other cats, years ago. There’s nothing you can do. I told them to put it down straight away. They asked me if I wanted to come and see it, or bring it home, but what’s the point? There’s nowhere to bury it in that yard.’ After a moment she said, ‘They wouldn’t even let it stay in its hidey-hole. Mike good as dragged it out. We’ve had that cat seven years.’
‘He didn’t know. I’m sure if he’d had any idea…’
She shook her head. ‘That’s not the point. It was its hidey-hole. Even if it just had the hump. It was its own place.
The waitress came over and we ordered. The Coffee Bean is, despite its dodgy name, a lovely little independent café with an assortment of delicious coffees including Kati’s favourite Turkish brew, served from a proper cezve.
‘You should have phoned me,’ I said.
‘I thought about it. But you couldn’t have replaced Daisy with the cat.’
‘Oh,’ I said.
Kati glanced at the door and pulled her cigarette packet out of her pocket. ‘Just give me a minute, sweetie. Before the coffee arrives.’
I watched her out of the window as she leaned against the wall of the coffee shop, her head tilted back, savouring the smoke snaking its way through her respiratory passages. She looked smaller, more fragile. Less substantial. When she exhaled the smoke wreathed around her, blurring her features. For no particular reason, I suddenly felt cold.