Julia chapter 11 / 12
herThe window is open and a breeze strokes the curtains with a lover’s touch. The sea softly beats on the shore in the bay below the house like the heart of Gaia, and I remember how easily this place becomes a part of your soul. Despite our familial disagreements I was never in dispute with the house, and if I am honest, I expected to own it one day and make it mine. Not for any possessive reason but during the day the light is perfect for painting, and the windswept landscape surrounding it is ideal for capturing the season’s change. It is perfect artist’s territory. Now Brian, or rather Geoffrey, has stolen my inheritance and I begrudgingly add it to my list of lost things. I think of the words of Lady Bracknell. Have I really been that careless with my life that I should keep on losing things? A part of me wants to shout out ‘what have I done wrong!’ but then another tells me to shut up and get on with things. My dilemma has always been that I am not one person, I am two. To those on the outside I am the outspoken, confident, capable one who ran away to Morocco and got arrested at Greenham Common, a self-assured wild child, the black sheep of the family. To me, on the inside however, it has always been a question of trying to live up to some ideal of a deeper truth and honesty that I always fear will get me into trouble. When I was young it was easier to face that fear, but as I grow older the consequences of my actions damage me, like someone pressing on a half healed wound. No one wants truth and honesty. Why should they? They don’t like the bearer of bad news. Why would you? Why would you want to hear the things about life, about feelings, and about yourself that make you uncomfortable? Of course, nowadays anything I say will be tarnished by my time in the psychiatric ward. I have become a ‘nutter,’ a member of the Lobotomy Club, the sole member now that poor Lilly has gone. So what next? Start talking to myself, gather together some cats, pinch a supermarket trolley and become the local bag lady? I shudder at my own joke. It is all too real, too close for comfort. All of a sudden I realize that in the back of my mind I’d stored the comforting thought of the inheritance to cushion my old age. It never occurred to me that I might end up homeless, jobless, husbandless and inheritance-less. In contrast to the storage of my furniture that gave me a sense of freedom, this situation provokes a sense of horror. The more I think about what Geoffrey has done, the more my anger rises but I find this strangely encouraging. The combination of the Lobotomy Club, Michael leaving, and the accident, have left me without any really strong emotions. I put this down to the deep tiredness of being in the diving suit searching the wreckage. I had surfaced, but the experience had exhausted me. It had hollowed out my bones, thinned my blood, bruised my muscles and left me ever out of breath. Even when Michael appeared with his new woman and insisted I left the house, something caved in within me, and I knew it was my body saying don’t even bother to fight, you’ve hardly got the energy to breathe. So the feelings stirring in me now, about Geoffrey, are strangely invigorating. I want to feed them, I want them to grow, I need them to kick start the diver in me and get her to gasp in some real air, oxygenate that tired brain so that it functions properly. I want the old Julia back, and if she comes back I will never again berate her for her honesty. I will never tell her she was wrong to be out there wanting to ride naked on a motorcycle at ninety miles an hour and all the other fantasies of my youth. I'm lost in thought when I hear mother call. She is calling me by name and so I go to find out what is troubling her. When I get there it is the inevitable. ‘Julia what took you so long, I need the bathroom!’
‘You may not have noticed but I’m on crutches’ I reply sarcastically. I help to lift her from the bed and feel a frail woman in my arms. I have not touched my mother for twenty years or more. We did not like physical contact, and so it is strange to feel her fading energy next to me.
‘Do you want me to come in with you?’ I ask, hoping the answer will be ‘no.’ I am in luck, she can manage on her own. I stand in the corridor listening to her grumble, wishing I were somewhere else. The toilet flushes, she comes to the door and we limp down the corridor as if we are in a strange three-legged race. Valerie appears, too late.
‘Are you alright?’ she asks, ‘Julia shouldn’t be doing this with her leg like that.’ ‘If she’s going to stay then she’ll have to won’t she? Or are you staying to look after me?’ replies mother harshly. I am already beginning to see the way things are going to go. My punishment for returning is to become her nursemaid and suffer any insults I am offered. I get a roof over my head, and in return she gets a live in slave.
‘It’s that food she cooks’ says my mother bitterly ‘I’m always having to go to the bathroom. I’ve told her I don’t like spicy food. From now on you can do some of the cooking Julia.’ It is an instruction, not a request. The surprising thing is that mother has always criticized my cooking because she said she ‘didn’t like that vegetarian stuff.’ We will see how long she holds out on this one. Once she’s in bed I go back to my room but I’m even more awake than I was before. I ache for a walk along the beach in the moonlight, but there is no chance of that for a while, so I sit at the window and look down on the bay. The light is off in my room and so it is not long before my eyes become accustomed to the silky grey light and wonder how Van Gogh might have painted it with his head full of swirling stars, or Chagall, with his love struck couples forever hovering in mid air.
For a while everything is tranquil in the half lit world of the bay, nothing moves but the moon washed sheen of the sea, then I notice something. At the end of the garden I think there is a shape slowly making its way towards the gate leading out to the bay. Too big to be an animal I come to the conclusion that it must be a person and the thought fills me with discomfort for even though the figure is moving away from the house, no one should be in the garden at this time of night. Eyes fixed on the movement I then notice another figure make its way toward the first. They stand together and I find it hard to keep focused on where they are. Then they part and the first figure begins to move up the garden toward the house again. I feel that disturbing knife-like fear that following my illness comes upon me at the slightest sense of threat. A part of me wants to know who it is and why they are approaching the house, another wants to hide, to avoid conflict at all cost. In the end if I don’t go downstairs I will not be able to sleep and my fear will just increase, so I take my crutch and tell myself I will use it if there is an intruder. My journey downstairs is silent, the new carpets cushioning even my clunky movements. I don’t hear a sound until I get close to the door into the kitchen when I hear movement. Someone is walking in. Someone is moving things and I see torchlight on the floor. My heart is thumping heavily and I am sure they will hear it. It sounds so loud in my head. I go through the options. I can retreat and let the intruder in, let them take what they want, or I can try to wake Valerie and Lucy but that means hobbling back upstairs, or I can just go for it and turn on the lights and hope they run. In the end I decide if they are going to get me I have nothing to lose by confronting them and so I reach around the corner to where the light switch should be, I fumble up the wall until it is beneath my fingers and then holding my breath I turn it on. I hear a scream.
Chapter 12 In the morning I dreamt I was in Essaouira, Jake was there in all his skinny glory. Blonde hair, blue eyes, beach browned body, lying naked on the bed as the gulls squabbled on the terracotta tiles outside the window. I watched him and breathed in his essence as if it were some life-giving force. He was a god, and I was sixteen. I’d run away from home and found Jake on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, guitar hung around his shoulders, leather sheathed fishing knife on the belt of his cut down jeans, looking for all the world like a beautiful Robinson Crusoe. He had that air about him of self knowledge that would have attracted any girl searching for an older man. He was not old, but twenty seemed so when I was just sixteen. The first thing I noticed about him was the way he was wading in the shallow edges of the sea. Something was wrong with his feet, as if he had twisted something or had walked on hot coals. It was my introduction to him.
‘Are you alright’ I asked in the way only a cocky sixteen year old could. He looked at me and smiled. I would have given everything I had for that smile to last forever, but it didn’t.
‘Yep’ he replied ‘Just got a problem with my heels.’ I looked down at his heels and saw what he meant. Neither had any skin on them. Gouged out wounds the size of a large coin replaced the normal flesh that should have been there. ‘How did you do that?’ I asked. ‘Walking in the mountains.’ ‘Walking?’ ‘Yep. Never wear new boots is my current motto.’ ‘So your boots did that?’ He laughed at my naïve question. ‘Well actually it was a combination of my boots and me being so fucking stupid I didn’t notice.’ ‘When was this?’ I asked, desperately trying to keep the conversation going. ‘I was in Toubkal last week, thought I’d like to see the mountains, and I did, but at this moment I wish I hadn’t.’ ‘Can you get anything to sort them out?’ I asked ‘Nope, there isn’t a lot of medicine around here, other than salt water and enough dope to build a bonfire, which is cool by me.’ I was transfixed. This man, for I saw him as a man and not a boy, was self reliant, tough, and smoked dope! To a sixteen year old runaway from the South of England he was an exotic dream. ‘What about you?’ he asked. ‘What are you doing? Here with your mum and dad?’ ‘No. I’m here on my own.’ This wasn’t exactly true, but the gang with whom I had arrived from Marrakech had become decidedly uncomfortable to be with. ‘So where are you staying?’ he asked. ‘On the beach I guess.’ I replied. ‘I haven’t worked that one out yet.’ He stopped and gave me a sympathetic look. ‘How old are you?’ He asked. ‘Eighteen’ I lied. ‘Oh, that’s ok then. If you like you can share my room.’ Few sentences have ever had such an impact on me than those. In that moment the sand beneath my feet disappeared, but instead of falling I was flying. So I did share his room, and we made love and to me, inexperienced as I, was he was the greatest lover in the world, and I felt a joy that could not be explained. In later life I had to put at least part of this feeling down to the huge joint we shared beforehand; but still, real experiences were gushing into me as though someone had opened some flood gates of feeling and I was the sole recipient. Jake wakes up. As he moves. his genitals cluster together, and then bounce slightly and as a newcomer to naked men’s bodies I am fascinated. ‘Are they alright?’ he quips. Embarrassed, I just smile, and when he asks me to, I light up another joint. And then the dream ends.
Someone is smoking, someone else is smoking. Without wanting to, I come to my senses in the guest bedroom at Cove House, and a deep feeling of loss and sadness overwhelm me. No Essaouira, no Jake, no sixteen year old me, just the vague aroma of tobacco coming through my half open window. I get out of bed, look down into the garden and to my amazement see Valerie standing where she obviously thinks she can’t be seen smoking a cigarette. ‘Save some for me I say’ at which she physically jumps. ‘So when did you start smoking?’ I ask. We are standing under the balcony beneath my bedroom window. Valerie looks sheepish. ‘Oh, a few years ago’ she replies. I am taken aback but try not to show it. ‘I didn’t have any idea’ I say honestly. ‘No, well no one does. Don’t ever tell Geoffrey will you?’ she says in a tense voice. ‘We don’t talk that much’ I reply coldly. ‘No, that was stupid of me.’ Valerie is well aware of her husband’s dislike and disrespect for me. Over the years he has made it plain that I am some sort of unwelcome hippy, whose lifestyle is as close to destitution as he can imagine. Not only am I a ‘Bohemian’ but I am also in his terms, ‘poor’, the former is uncomfortable for him, the latter unforgivable. In Geoffrey’s book anyone without money is either a slacker or they are idiots who don’t know how important it is to be well off. I take a drag on the cigarette. I haven’t smoked since the psychiatric ward when I shared cigarettes with Lilly, and it immediately makes me think of her. I don’t think I could start again because it would always remind me of her. I tell Valerie about the strange experience of the night before.
‘So I turned on the light and there was a scream and who should be standing in the kitchen but Lucy. I asked what she was doing and she said she had heard a noise outside and gone to investigate but hadn’t found anything. It was peculiar.’ ‘Do you think she was telling the truth?’ ‘I really don’t know. All I can say is that if she was then there must have been three of them in the garden, Lucy and the other two, but she says she didn’t see anyone.’ Valerie shakes her head. ‘I must have slept like a log, I didn’t hear a thing.’ A thought occurs. ‘How did you find Lucy?’ Valerie thinks for a moment. ‘I didn’t, funnily enough Geoffrey did. He knew someone who runs an agency and he employed her. As we are onto the subject of Geoffrey have you thought about what we should do?’ Valerie looks at me as she used to when I was the older sister and she needed advice. I have thought about the situation but nothing concrete has formed in my mind. Perhaps talking it through will bring some clarity. Even though I have the possibility of wrecking her life I don’t want to do that. My deep hurt at her betrayal has been hard to accept but when it comes to revenge that has never been my thing. I am not vengeful, I just feel a deep sadness that some irreparable damage has been done and that I no longer feel any sense of sisterly attachment to Valerie. She has become an acquaintance rather than blood kin. Were it not for the fact I am so deeply angry with Geoffrey and the fact he has stolen what is rightfully mine I would perhaps tell Valerie that she needs to deal with matters herself, but I don’t. ‘Do you want to stay with him?’ I ask. Valerie looks confused, as if she hadn’t considered the possibility of divorce. ‘I don’t know’ she replies. ‘On the one hand I am scared of him now, but on the other, what would I do? I’ve got no income, no means of supporting myself.’ I want to say ‘neither have I’ but I resist what might appear to be a snipe.
‘Well if you are scared of him then you haven’t got much choice. Are you going to spend the rest of your life on edge, wondering what he’s going to do?’ ‘I am not sure, but leaving him scares me more than the thought of what he might do I suppose. And then there are the children to consider….’ ‘But they are grown up Valerie’ I say. ‘Yes, but what do I tell them? Their father is a thief and a liar, and that’s why I left him?’ Valerie’s voice is raised and I point up to mother’s window to warn her. She nods. ‘You never were one for telling things as they are Valerie.’ ‘Yes and you were, and look where it got you!’ Her response is unwarranted given that I am trying my best, but I can see she is upset and once more I bite my tongue. It does not come naturally, but I want to get some sort of resolution and Valerie is talking about going home that afternoon.‘If you want my advice then it is this,’ I say firmly ‘you tell Geoffrey you know what he’s done with mother’s house and he has to put it right. He’ll know that you could ruin him if this got out so he’s got to do something. If you like, you can tell him that I found that envelope and approached you, that gives you some sort of protection. He won’t do anything to you because he’ll know that I will make sure it all gets out if he does. Just say ‘Julia wants it put back to how it was before because she isn’t going to have her inheritance stolen.