Julia chapter 27 contd / 28
Doing things, saying what other people wouldn’t say. I suppose it was good for once to think I was being accepted for who I was.’ ‘Good answer Julia, and honest as always.’ The waiter interrupts and asks which wine we want. After much mumbling at the wine list we agree the house red would be fine. ‘So, your go, what about Geoffrey?’ ‘You don’t fall in love with someone like Geoffrey, I mean not in the Mills and Boone way. He was always serious as you know, and never exciting, but……’ ‘He had prospects’ I venture. ‘Yes, he did, and back then I was so naïve. I wasn’t like you, losing your virginity at god knows what age. In truth I was afraid of my own shadow, I wanted stability. I'd seen mother and father fighting one another, mostly over what mother wanted and father couldn’t give her. So Geoffrey appeared on the scene, he was a young lawyer and he asked me to marry him. It was that simple and I suppose I persuaded myself I was in love. We all do don’t we?’ ‘Yes, I suppose we do if love is the desire to be wanted and want someone in return.’ ‘My god Julia don’t ever try to write romances for a living, you won’t succeed with that definition!’ ‘I can’t help it, you know that, I’ve always been…well down to earth, practical.’ ‘So have you ever fallen in love?’ I think back through a frighteningly long list of ex’s and then say ‘yes.’ ‘Ah so who was it?’ ‘Well, its funny you should ask, because I actually had a dream about him. You remember that morning when I caught you were smoking under my window at Cove House?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Your cigarette smoke woke me up from a dream I was having. I was in Essaouira with Jake.’ ‘Jake?’ ‘Blonde, skinny, and bronzed, with a guitar and not much else.’ ‘Oh…’ ‘I fell in love with Jake. Sixteen year old love, the worst sort, all hormones and fantasy. I stopped existing when he was about because all I wanted was to be absorbed by him. Pure sexual osmosis. I would have jumped off a cliff or walked on hot coals for him, and the nice thing is that of all the men I have known he is probably the only one who would have never asked me to do either. There, confession over.’ The wine arrives and we enter that strange silence that waiters must dread. Valerie pretends to taste the wine and nods approval. The waiter smiles, apparently glad that he doesn’t have to come back with the same wine in a different carafe. ‘I fell in love with one of the Osmonds.’ I am in the middle of tasting the wine and her comment makes me choke. I try to stifle it but it only gets worse. ‘Are you alright?’ I signal with my hands that I will live but for a while I can’t stop the coughing and laughing. ‘What’s so funny about that?’ She seriously can’t see, so I try to placate her in between coughing fits. Poor Valerie she would never have run off to the desert with Jake, she would have been too afraid. ‘They kept it all quiet you know.’ ‘Who did?’ ‘Mother and father. In those days it was shameful. I only found out about it years later. They said you had gone on holiday to the Mediterranean with Martha and her family. I wondered why you went to another school after you came back.’ I suddenly realize that my teenage excursion was more dramatic for Valerie than I’d understood at the time and that despite being sisters there are large chunks of life we still need to discuss with one another. ‘I think that’s why they were strict with me. Why I ended up frightened of everything. They needn’t have been of course, because I never had the genes that would have allowed me to do the things you did.’
‘Sorry Valerie, I couldn’t help being who I was. I still can’t.’ ‘That’s why Geoffrey never got on with you of course. He was used to people doing what he said, and you never did. The arguments we’ve had over the years.’ ‘What over me?’ ‘Yes! The children loved you, well they still do of course, but when they were growing up you were their super aunt. Geoffrey hated it. I can tell you this now because it doesn’t matter. I think he was afraid of you.’ ‘Afraid of me?’ ‘Yes, because you threatened his world with your comments, your actions and your sexuality. Of course now I realize the hypocrisy of it all. He was taking whores to bed and criticizing your behaviour at the same time. Your dismissal of establishment was anathema to him and yet there he was slowly draining everyone’s accounts. It was all some sort of sad illusion.’ ‘I suppose so. Well it’s all over now. Perhaps he'll realize when he has a few years to think about it.’ ‘It’s not quite over is it? He hasn’t been judged yet.’ With those words the meal arrives and we eat. After the meal we decide to walk back to the hotel. The rain has stopped but it has left the pavements shiny in the street light. Valerie wants to window shop and is inevitably drawn to the displays. For the sake of maintaining our companionship I say nothing, but I have no interest in them, which is how I come to notice a shadowy figure some distance behind us apparently following in our footsteps. Perhaps it is my imagination getting the better of me, or maybe I have forgotten what it’s like to be surrounded by humanity and am getting paranoid. I tell myself to let it go and we continue in our slightly tipsy way down the High Street.
Valerie is not used to drinking so much and as a result is unusually flamboyant. ‘You know, not long ago I could have afforded anything in this street’ she says, rather too loud, which makes a group of passers by look at her. ‘I could have gone into any of these shops and bought what I liked. Now I would be afraid to go in the door in case I tried to use my redundant credit card. What a fucking mess Julia!’ Hearing Valerie swear still makes me giggle. ‘Did I do something to deserve this do you think?’ I could be self righteous and tell her that whilst she was skiing, people elsewhere starved, or when she was sunning herself, people froze in transit camps, but we are all guilty of that in various degrees and anyway I don’t believe the world works like that. ‘No, I don’t think you did anything Valerie, it’s just life. Things just happen that’s all.’ It is a bland response, but the only one I can come up with to reassure her. ‘Perhaps you can be happy living a different life. After all you said there was emptiness in the way you lived. Maybe it wasn’t the right life for you?’ I feel I am getting too philosophical for the time of night and the amount of wine and tell myself to stop.
‘That’s all very well Julia but I don’t know how to live any other way. How do you change yourself this late in life?’ I want to say something reassuring but I’m not good at giving others advice. All my life I have just lived it and damn the consequences, so how do you put that into words? How do you tell someone how to do what comes easily to you? ‘Maybe it’s the wrong time to think about that Valerie. Perhaps you need to get the trial out of the way, get the whole thing finalized and then you can decide what to do.’ She's looking in the window of a very expensive clothes shop, the sort I would pass by without a second thought because I know I could never afford to step over the threshold. ‘He’s never going to leave me is he?’ she says. ‘He will always be there. He has taken the best of me and left me with the menopause and old age. He has stolen my life.’ Her maudlin voice triggers something in me and it is time for the truth like it or not. ‘No he hasn’t Valerie. You’ve still got the rest of your life to live. It was Brian’s life he stole. What he’s done to you is awful and I’m sorry, but you still have a future. It may not be the one you think you wanted but at least it’s there; and sometimes what we want isn’t necessarily what’s going to make us happy’ What she says next closes the conversation. ‘It’s so easy for you Julia. You would never crave that dress would you?’ So we walk the rest of the way in silence. I occasionally look back over my shoulder to see if I can spot anyone but don’t. It does not however mean that they are not there. Intuitively I feel we are being followed. The hotel lobby is empty apart from the night porter who hands us our keys. We make our way to our rooms and say goodnight. I take the opportunity to say ‘it will be alright’ but I know she doesn’t believe me. I’m ready for bed, washed and in my pajamas when there is a knock on the door. Valerie obviously wants to talk some more. Without a second thought I open the door and begin to invite her in, but it isn’t Valerie. It is a smart middle aged woman with immaculate hair, opal earrings and a blue cashmere coat. ‘Can I come in, I need to talk to you.’ ‘I’m sorry but who are you? It’s the middle of the night and….’ ‘It’s about Geoffrey.’ For a moment I do nothing, my mind is trying to comprehend what is happening. Finally intrigued I let her in. ‘So who are you?’ I ask. ‘My name is Jane Franco, but that won’t mean anything to you. To put it simply, Geoffrey and I are partners.’ ‘What do you mean partners? You mean you have business interests together?’ Her face shows nothing. ‘No, we are lovers.’ When she says this I feel my body tense and I immediately regret letting her in. ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think we have anything to say to one another.’ ‘Please just hear me out, I need to tell you something.’ ‘Perhaps it is my sister you need to talk to’ I say harshly. ‘No. She wouldn’t listen to what I have to say. Geoffrey has hurt her too much for that.’ ‘Then why me?’ ‘Because you may be able to do something to save him.’ ‘Save him? What do you mean?’ ‘He didn’t do it, he didn’t kill that man.’ ‘I’m sorry but I don’t think you’ve come to the right person. Why don’t you tell the police? If you think he’s innocent then tell them.’ ‘I have, but they won’t listen to what I have to say.’ ‘Well there’s nothing I can do then. Anyway why should I? Geoffrey isn't exactly someone I feel inclined to save from anything.’
‘I understand your anger, but surely you're interested in the truth, in justice, in compassion?’ She looks at me, her eyes watering, her hands clenched. For a second I see another struggling human being and realize how much it must have taken for her to come to my room. Her question resonates in my mind. Am I interested, or do I want to see Geoffrey in prison? I need to find out. ‘What is it you came to say then?’ ‘Geoffrey didn't kill Brian because he needed Brian alive. I’m not here to plead Geoffrey’s innocence, I realize he's done a great many things wrong but you have to believe me I knew nothing of this until Brian’s death when the whole ghastly thing came crashing down, and that happened because Brian was no longer around. Why would Geoffrey ruin his own life by killing the one person who held it together.’ ‘Geoffrey is a compulsive liar so how do you know he hasn’t duped you the way he has duped everyone else? He’s just spun you a story to make you think Brian was important.’ ‘No, he was important, because he was blackmailing Geoffrey.’ ‘Blackmailing him?’ ‘Yes. And so when he died documents he'd accumulated relating to Geoffrey’s dealings were sent to the police. That's why they think they have such a strong case against Geoffrey. What better motive to kill someone than to stop them blackmailing you? The thing is, Brian had told Geoffrey this would happen if anything happened to him. It was Brian’s safety net so that he could keep taking money from Geoffrey without fear of reprisal.’ ‘So where do I fit in to all this. What could I possibly do to help you or Geoffrey?’ ‘There's a recording. Geoffrey left a recording of a conversation he made with Brian threatening him and I believe it is at your mother’s house.’ ‘He's told you this?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then why doesn’t he just tell the police.’ ‘He did. They visited your mother, they interviewed her and searched her house.’ ‘Yes I was there that day, how could I forget it? But they didn’t find anything. Are you sure he’s not lying?’ ‘I know he’s not, because I have heard the recording. Geoffrey played it over the phone the night he made it.’ ‘But if the police couldn’t find anything when they searched the house back then, then how can I?’ ‘All I am asking for is for you to look again. I am certain the recording is somewhere at your mothers house. Please help me.’ She has gone, and I’m trying to get to grips with my feelings.
Chapter 28 First thing the next morning I get a call from the care company looking after my mother. She's been acting up and they say they cannot be responsible for continuing her support. So at breakfast I have to break the news to Valerie. She says she understands and having ‘broken the ice’ as far as the courtroom is concerned she'll manage without me if I have to go back. I’ve not slept much due to the visit of Jane Franco, Geoffrey’s lover. I’m in a terrible dilemma. I know Valerie can't take any more bad news, yet I know I should tell her about Ms Franco. Valerie looks pale and drawn and I know if I do tell her then I’ll then have to leave her to her own devices whilst I am away sorting mother out. It would be too much for her. I make a snap decision to leave it until I've had a chance to see mother and look for this illusive recording, if it actually exists. In my heart I know I don’t want to find anything, I believe that Geoffrey has done to his lover what he has done to everyone else, lied. However, the possibility of a different truth is always there and I have always tried to be honest even when it has caused me damage. Perhaps I’m about to repeat the main theme of my life. The journey across the Solent is its usual predictable self. So much so that I close my eyes, get in touch with the rhythm of the water, and imagine I’m on the ferry across from the Lido to Venice. I do this now and again and it gives me great pleasure. I love Venice. What artist could not love that glorious sinking museum of a place with its endless passageways and bridges and painted walls? It isn’t Venice that arrives at the end of the journey however but East Cowes, nothing but a large car park come holding area on one side and a booking office on the other. Home sweet home. Onwards to the south of the Island and within the hour I am opening the front door of Cove House. The care worker is waiting, her bags packed in the hall. Mother must have been especially awkward this time. She is a young girl, not more than eighteen I guess, she looks at me with guilt in her eyes. ‘She’s watching TV’ she says, looking upstairs. ‘Yes, I guessed she would be. Are you off then?’ She nods. ‘Could you sign my time sheet please to show I was here when you arrived back?’ I do as requested and sign her release forms. The poor girl looks petrified. ‘Thank you for looking after her.’ I say. She turns to look at me and smiles. ‘That’s alright, I’m sorry you were called back.’ Mother shouts down the stairs, she must have heard me arrive and wants my attention. I shout back that I’ll be up with a cup of tea when I have made myself one. There's no further response so I carry on to the kitchen. Everything is spotless, I don’t know why I expected it to be otherwise but somehow my head thinks the whole care thing for mother is a mess and must translate into the physical world. Fortunately it doesn’t. ‘Julia’s mother watching TV’ now hangs over the fireplace where the ostentatious photograph of the wedding used to be. I survey it as I pass by and am shocked it still resonates with me. I'm still uncertain of my talent as an artist, I always expect the day to come where I'll look at it and realize that, like the Emperors clothes, it's all been an illusion and it was never really any good. Not this day fortunately. Mother doesn't look up when I come in the room despite the fact I place the tea on the bedside table. I’m not going to let her get away with ignoring me. ‘Are you alright’ I ask. ‘That flipperty gibbet girl didn’t know what she was doing. She should've still been in school. Why can’t I have Lucy back?’ I’m flabbergasted by her remark. ‘You know why you can’t have Lucy back, and besides you didn’t like her.’ ‘Nonsense, she used to look after me.’ I bite my lip.She’s in one of her cantankerous moods.