Julia chapter 26 contd / 27
I just love the clues Van Eycke put into his pictures but Hockney’s portrait stunned me when I was young and impressionable, those pastel colors and the vast scale of it. Valerie has been a good sitter and we’ve talked. We made some rules like children do when they play. You can be this and I will be that, you can say this and I can say that. It began as a joke, but somehow it worked. I could call her a ‘Tory housewife,’ and she could call me ‘Liberal hippy’ so that when we came to a point where we strongly disagreed about something instead of arguing I’d say ‘well that’s because you’re a Tory housewife’ and we would laugh. She in turn would do the same to me. It’s enabled us to communicate in a way in which we found impossible before. Perhaps because we have both found ourselves thrown into this uncomfortable place, both coping with mother, with Geoffrey, with Michael and in our relative financial hardship we have at last found common ground. I sometimes wonder whether that is the problem with humanity. Common ground has disappeared. Community struggle, shared difficulty, just day to day living has all disappeared into this soft, electronically engineered lifestyle that feeds the brain pap so that the world is starving from lack of reality. I think of Lilly and people like her who are deeply lost because no one really cares. But there I go again, always campaigning, even if it is just in my mind.
‘A penny for your thoughts.’ Valerie wakes me from this dreaming. ‘Sorry, I was thinking about Lilly’ I say. ‘Lilly?’ ‘Yes the girl I was in hospital with, she ended up jumping out of a window, killing herself.’ ‘Good god.’ ‘I didn’t even go to her funeral. It was after the car hit me. I was in A&E and a bit out of it on pain killers and shock and she was in the next cubicle having taken an overdose. I didn’t even know it was her until it was too late, until she’d jumped.’ ‘That’s awful, I’m sorry.’ ‘Yes, well I tell myself I could have done something if I’d only known it was her when she came into A&E. Maybe I could have spoken to her.’ ‘You can’t think like that Julia, we all wish we’d done things, I mean look at me with Geoffrey, do you think I don’t wonder what more I could have done? Maybe Brian would be alive today.’
When she says this, without thinking, the words ‘I’m glad he’s not’ come into my mind and this shocks me, but I realize that at another level it doesn’t. If Brian hadn’t died then none of this would have happened. ‘Julia’s mother watching TV’ would not exist, nor would Valerie’s picture which I have prematurely named ‘My sister and the sea’, but more important for me, my coming to terms with mother and with Valerie and finally myself. Brian’s death has been the catalyst for so many positive things. Even Geoffrey’s cowardly retreat showed Valerie how I felt about her deceit and we’ve had time to discuss the whole thing; admittedly with frequent use of the ‘Tory housewife’ and ‘Liberal hippy’ expletives. I hope that there will come a time when I can think of Brian in a different way and somewhere in the back of my cluttered mind I think I might have a need to paint his portrait. Who knows?
Something has been on my mind for a while and it seems the opportune moment to broach it. ‘Do you think Geoffrey put Brian up to marrying mother as part of the scam?’ Valerie remains still but her eyes dart towards me. ‘Do you know I hadn’t given it a thought. I have always assumed he met mother by chance and then met Geoffrey afterwards. But I suppose it could have been the other way around. That would be awful wouldn’t it, I mean for mother, knowing she had been targeted for money and there was nothing else to it?’
‘It just that it seemed to good to be true, Brian turning up like that out of the blue, and the fact that Geoffrey didn’t warn mother off. I mean unless he was actually the one behind it all surely he would have thought Brian was a threat to your potential inheritance wouldn’t he?’ Valerie’s hands start to fidget as they always have done when she is uncomfortable. ‘I suppose you’re right. Thinking back Geoffrey was keen that you didn’t get involved in anything and I just went along with him. In hindsight I can see why he wouldn’t want you there, you would have seen through Brian straight away. I’m so sorry Julia, I just wanted mother to be happy and I honestly didn’t think of the money side of things.’ ‘You didn’t give it a single thought?’ ‘No, not really. At the time we were wealthy Julia, and mother’s money was a drop in the ocean compared to what we had. Now of course it seems like a fortune. Ironic isn’t it?’ ‘You didn’t think about me then?’ I say this without malice but Valerie winces all the same. ‘I’m ashamed to say I didn’t. If I am perfectly honest Julia I didn’t think you would have wanted her money, you always gave the impression you didn’t want anything to do with her.’
‘That’s not quite true Valerie. You are right that I didn’t ‘want’ her money, I wanted her love, but not wanting money is not the same as needing it. I don’t think you have ever been able to understand what a precarious financial life Michael and I lived. Neither of us earned much, and starting late in life we had a huge mortgage. Well it was huge for us anyway. Mother’s inheritance was always there as a security blanket for my old age, and now off course it’s gone.’
‘You know we have both missed out Julia. I realize now that the way Geoffrey and I lived was just compensation for the lack of other things. It was safe and comfortable but endlessly empty, especially once the children had grown. You know I actually used to look forward to the hairdresser coming. Despite the fact that she always made a mess, and she always cut my hair too short, and talked incessantly about nothing in particular. I welcomed her because she was another human being, and she touched me.’ ‘She touched you?’ ‘Yes. She ran her fingers through my hair, she turned my head to a particular angle when I moved suddenly, she placed her hands on my shoulders when she was telling me something she thought was interesting. She was another human being Julia in touch with me.’ ‘But what about Geoffrey?’
‘Oh, sex you mean? Well we did have sex regularly but I switched off the minute he rolled onto me. Sex with Geoffrey was an anatomical joining that always ended with an apology for disturbing me.’ I am so shocked that Valerie has said this that I laugh. Valerie joins in and for the first time in months we both give in to the surprising freedom happiness suddenly brings.
‘It’s funny isn’t it, I think I am happier now than I have been for a long time. Stuck here penniless, Michael-less without any prospects and with….’ I point to the stairs, ‘there’s not a lot more I could want.’ Valerie says that she is glad but it is clear she is not sharing the same experience in her life. ‘I want Geoffrey inside, Julia, and I don’t mean me!’ We both burst out laughing again.
‘I don’t think there’s much doubt that he’ll be found guilty. After all who else is in the picture? My guess is that they fell out, had a quarrel and Geoffrey just lost his temper. A crime of passion, nothing premeditated.’ ‘I think you’re right, he wouldn’t have done a thing like that so badly. Geoffrey was always meticulous as far as planning was concerned. If he meant to kill Brian he would have done something devious like poisoning or pushing him overboard from his yacht. Oh my God!’ Valerie looks as if she has seen a ghost. ‘What’s the matter?’ I ask. ‘Geoffrey’s yacht! I’d completely forgotten about it. It’s worth a lot of money.’ ‘How could you forget his yacht?’ I ask.
‘Because I refused to go on it, I haven’t seen it in years. It became a bone of contention between us because he used it once or twice a year and paid huge mooring fees for it. So we never talked about it. Geoffrey used to hire it out or let friends use it but he never mentioned it because he knew my feelings.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Over at Lymington the last I knew of it.’ ‘Well maybe you ought to look out the documents and sell it!’ ‘If he hasn’t already done so’ remarks Valerie.
chapter 27 As predicted, the trial takes weeks to get started, with numerous breaks for legal disputation and calls for witnesses. The start was probably the most interesting part with Geoffrey in the dock looking surprisingly tanned and dapper in his pin striped suit. The judge was a woman whom I’d not seen before. Justice Love was in her forties and obviously a person of great personal resolve being young, female and a high court judge. ‘How does your client plea?’ She asks. ‘Not guilty’ your honour. There is a faint murmur in the court. Valerie and I are sitting in the public gallery and I know Geoffrey has noticed us but having done so he does not look our way again. Valerie is holding my hand. She presses it tight and I know she is knotted up inside. How must it feel to be watching your husband on trial for murder? How can she reconcile the years she spent with a seemingly harmless and upright man with the knowledge that he was a thief, a womanizer, and then a murderer? In my heart I know she can’t. Our conversations whilst painting have been open and frank and I have come to know a different Valerie, one who has been lonely, one who feels she has been consistently raped by a man it turned out she did not know, and one who has begun to understand that life cannot be avoided by having a once wealthy husband.
We've agreed that I'll attend the court with her when I can, but it’s impractical to do so everyday. For one thing neither of us can afford it, and for another mother will not put up with the agency care worker for very long. It was a struggle to get her to agree to anything. ‘Why do you want to see that man!’ she shouted when I told her I was going to support Valerie. ‘I don’t want to see him, but Valerie needs me.’
‘Well there’s a turn up for the books, are you two friends nowadays?’ It was clear that sitting in bed watching TV all day mother had missed out on our gradual rehabilitation. In the end she grudgingly agreed I could go but still could not understand why we needed to be there. I could not explain why, but I had the feeling that she did not want us to be there to see him tried. It was as if she felt we might just affect the outcome in the wrong way. ‘Don’t get involved’ she said. ‘How are we going to get involved?’ I asked. ‘They don’t invite you to take part, it’s not like a game show, ‘Come on down, your In-laws on trial.’ She didn’t want to understand the comic irony of the comment, or she found it to close for comfort.
It's lunchtime on the first day and we are having a coffee and a sandwich, and Valerie is checking whether she has some cigarettes left. She has taken up smoking in earnest and has developed the classic phobia of being short of cigarettes. I am concerned for her health but say nothing. I know she needs something to support her during this difficult time. ‘How are you feeling?’ I ask. ‘Shaky. It was so strange seeing him there, he looked so alone.’ ‘Yes, well he is. I suppose having been there so often I am used to the environment, but I have to admit it did seem weird watching Geoffrey in court.’ ‘There is something overpowering about it all isn’t there, something so rigid and uncompromising? I hadn’t realized how strange it is, almost machine like.’ I know what Valerie means. It is a machine, a relentless etiquette driven monster that creaks along at the behest of the be-gowned legal profession. Outsiders are not welcome except by invitation and even then they must leave once they have been used. Unless something dramatic occurs Geoffrey is doomed. He will be fed to the monster in the basement when her ladyship says ‘take him down.’ I wonder whether Geoffrey’s skin is that tough that he will come through it all maintaining his pompous and patronizing ego. Or perhaps I misjudge him and he cries in his cell, has nightmares, and actually regrets his misdemeanors? I shall never know, unless he writes a memoir. ‘A penny for them?’ Valerie says. ‘Oh, I was just mulling over the whole thing. Thinking about whether anyone regrets what they have done. Not because they’ve been caught, but genuinely regret the crime.’ ‘I don’t know, but I have this horrible suspicion that we are all capable of that moment of anger that turns into something like this.’ ‘Do you?’ I am genuinely shocked at Valerie’s statement. I can’t imagine her ever doing something rash. ‘Oh yes. Ask any mother with postnatal depression. Sorry.’ ‘That’s alright, I’m over all of that stuff. By the way did I tell you Michael has a boy? They are calling him Steven. I’m glad it all went well for them. ’ Valerie smiles and continues. ‘Anyway, given a certain unfortunate set of circumstances and the slightest misjudgement anyone could do something untoward.’
‘I suppose so.’ ‘Haven’t you ever experienced those strange moments when you just want to strangle mother?’ I look at Valerie and the truth of her remark hits me.
‘I thought it was just me.’ She smiles, then begins to laugh and once again we are at it, the more she laughs the more I laugh. I am beginning to think our laughter is more to do with hysteria from excessive stress than anything else, but it still feels good.
The day goes as well as such a day could. It was as I had told Valerie it would be, very functional and unexciting. We’ve booked into a small hotel which shows signs of wear on the carpets and paintwork. It is reasonable by city prices which is why we booked it for our overnight stay. The rooms are adequate and have en-suite facilities and a small mini bar which I am determined not to use. On the mini bar cabinet is a leaflet explaining the TV channels and how to use the ‘Adult option.’ I assume the two things go together, alcohol and porn. For some strange reason in my minds eye I see Tommy Ducks the Manchester pub that I once frequented long ago. They gave free salted peanuts and I used to wonder why until I worked out that it dramatically increased your desire to drink more. The other strange thing about Tommy’s was that the ceiling was festooned with women’s knickers and I was never sure whether they were put there as trophies or donated by the female customers. In those days such things were seen as quirky, nowadays they would be seen as politically incorrect. The world has changed, porn in hotel rooms and a distinct lack of knickers on ceilings, where is it heading?
We meet downstairs and go out to eat, the hotel looks too faded to serve decent food. A small Italian restaurant provides sanctuary from the drizzle that has set in during the early evening. The staff are actually Italian which is a blessing. Too many times I have been caught out and ended up in restaurants which purport to be something they are not. The restaurant is softly lit and candles flicker on each of the tables reflecting on the faces of the other diners. We checked before entering that it was well occupied. Never enter an empty eating place is my motto, if it is empty then it isn’t worth the risk. Inside the floors are original varnished boards, and the tables look as if they have just come from a monastery, each one dark oak and weathered. The seating consists of pews one side and bentwood chairs the other. Valerie chooses the pew and I sit opposite on a chair and we engross ourselves in the menu. ‘I wonder what Geoffrey is eating this evening?’ Valerie doesn’t look up from the menu as she speaks. ‘Humble pie I hope’ ‘Very clever Julia, you always were quick with that sort of comment.’ ‘One of my many talents’ I say jokingly. ‘Seeing as Geoffrey is obviously still on your mind, do you mind me asking you something?’ ‘Go ahead’ is her wary reply. ‘Why did you get together with Geoffrey?’ ‘Honestly?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Because he asked me. That and the fact he had ‘prospects.’ ‘So you weren’t in love?” ‘Were you?’ You mean with Michael?’ ‘Yes.’ I stop for a moment and try to recall just what I felt when I met him. ‘I was flattered I suppose. Because he's younger than me and good looking in his own way, and……’ ‘And?’ ‘Well this sounds really pompous but it's not meant to be. He was in awe of me being out there.