Julia chapter 29 contd / 30/31 the end
She says. ‘What do you want?’ in a dismissive way. She thinks she has the upper hand. ‘I have come to give you an ultimatum.’ ‘An ultimatum? That sounds ominous.’ ‘I’ve thought about everything you’ve said. I’m still in a state of shock, but time is short. The trial will take its course before we know it and it will be too late.’
‘Too late for what?’ ‘For you to confess.’ I say. ‘I am not going to confess, I’ve told you that, and you know you don’t have anything on me.’
‘No, I don’t, but you have no money, no one to look after you if I go. You will end up in a home. You will probably like it there, they have the TV on all day, and you get served tea and cake and you get to sit around with all the other slowly dying people.’ I know she has a phobia of old people’s homes. Her idea of a bad death would be to end up like a zombie lying in her own excrement and that’s what I tell her.
‘So here’s the compromise. You write a confession, it includes everything you have told me, you seal it in an envelope and you put it with your last will and testament leaving the house, if any of it is still yours once the legal side of things is untangled, to Valerie and I. This is the payment for your ongoing care. You think that Geoffrey needs to pay penance for his actions and three years is not enough. Very well, you will be the custodian of his sentence. As long as you live he will remain inside. You will be his jailer. You and you alone will be responsible for his sentence and if there is a God you will take on the burden of this dreadful bargain. I know I can do nothing to change things because of your actions but I will not take on your guilt, that is yours alone.’ She looks at me with distaste but I get the feeling she understands the consequences if she does not agree. ‘Is it agreed?’ Her eyes look down, and she nods her head. ‘I will call the solicitor in the morning. He can come and draw up the will and certify that you placed the document you are going to write in the sealed envelope.
When it’s all done I look up the number I was given by Jane Franco. The phone rings but no one picks it up. The answer-phone kicks in. My message is short.
‘Jane, it is Julia. I am really sorry but I have looked everywhere and there is no recording in Cove House. I wish you luck.’
The drinks cabinet has an array of drinks from Christmas’s past. Fortunately there is a bottle of Vodka hardly used. Mother bought it one year under the misapprehension it was Gin. I unwind the top pour myself a large glass and wait for it to numb my torn spirit.
Chapter 30 It's the last day of the trial. Geoffrey doesn’t stand a chance. Despite the jury still being out there is little doubt of their verdict. The prosecution case was ruthlessly convincing. Had I not known better I would have convicted him myself with barely a second thought. Valerie sits with me holding on like she is scared of falling. How do I feel? Like a criminal if the truth is known. I have made a pact with the devil and the get out clause only comes into effect when mother dies. I have convinced myself that everything will balance out in the end, for undoubtedly Geoffrey will sue for having been wrongly convicted. He will be paid in retrospect for having taken on her sentence, the same as he would have been if he had been her carer. For each year she lives he will be compensated. It is as fair a deal as any man might expect, after all I will get nothing for the real work and it is because of him I must take that on. Valerie is protected, the children are protected and mother must live with her guilt. What is there left to say? Our house sold and my portion of the money is on its way, it’s not a lot, but enough to keep things going. I have decided that will be my motto into old age ‘Not a lot, but enough.’ I have completed five portraits now including mother’s and Valerie’s and twenty or so landscape sketches and I am exhibiting soon at the newly formed artists gallery at Ventnor, nothing grand but a show of my own. ‘Julia’s mother watching TV’ is not for sale, the others are. I am thinking about this when the Judge reappears and we are told to rise. There is the normal shuffle on the way up and back down and then silence as the Judge writes a note to herself. She looks up and asks ‘Members of the jury have you come to a decision in this case?’ The foreman of the jury answers. ‘We have madam.’
‘Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?’ ‘Guilty madam.’
Julia was in the conservatory watching the sea and listening to the news, the appalling catalogue of catastrophe that the world had become. She felt a heavy sense of guilt that living as she did she was not confronted by the devastation of drought, wildfires, war and famine that so many were. It was pointless of course thinking such thoughts and occasionally she rebuked herself for her inverted egotism. ‘Listen to yourself’ she'd say ‘feeling so sorry for them all but doing so whilst you sit looking out at the sea on a perfect June morning sipping your Earl Grey and eating your croissants’. Forget champagne socialism, nowadays it was champagne environmentalism. When she mentioned it to Steven, as she suspected she did a little too often due to her declining memory, he would tell her not to be so hard on herself, the world was not her responsibility and she hadn’t been one of those who had refused to listen when the warning bells were blaring out. He steadfastly refused to accept that she could have done more to save the world. Steven was her sanctuary and had been for twenty-six years. It was hard to think of a time when he’d not been a part of her life. In her recent worldview there was not a time when he wasn’t. She’d decided all that nonsense about linear time was not going to apply anymore, why should it? Too many people spent too much time thinking about the past living in the dead untouchable zone where nothing could be changed, only to waste the small amount of life they had left. At her age now, early eighties, you had to live every moment in the present, not that she hadn’t been trying to do so for years but it’d become more apparent, the older she got, that was what she needed to do. Daryl, one of the twins, said she would live to one hundred and twenty. She wasn’t quite sure how he knew or how that figure was arrived at but at seven years old she gave him leeway. His sister Francine was less hopeful and thought that perhaps one hundred was more realistic. She thought she would take the latter if it was on offer provided her eyesight did not deteriorate. They and their parents lived on the first floor. Kay and Eduardo, refugees from Somalia had lived with Steven and herself for five years so far and as she could no longer easily climb the stairs it seemed the least she could do was to offer accommodation when the situation in Somalia became untenable. The government was opposed to taking in more migrants but they were part of the deal struck with the European Union by which the United Kingdom’s huge debt repayments to the IMF could be offset by relocating migrants in return for EU funding. It was ironic and in Julia’s view totally hysterical that karma had struck in such a way. The xenophobic bastards that had wanted to go it alone and leave the EU were now having to import foreign nationals to offset a national debt caused by their appalling decisions. Touché and up theirs! Steven was wonderful about it. Despite his life long desire for solitude he rallied round and they became surrogate parents / grandparents. It was an unusual way to obtain a family but what the heck everything she’d ever done had been ‘unusual’. The only fly in the ointment was her sister but she backed down when Julia told her if she didn’t make a fuss she would leave her worldly goods to her. What she didn’t tell her was that Daryl and Francine had estimated her lifespan to be only ninety, which meant Julia would not have to come up with the goods! Mulling over the past twenty odd years it was difficult to fault them. Something had changed when purely by accident Steven struck up a conversation with her at one of her exhibitions. Not knowing she was the artist, he began to enthuse about her paintings, which was always a good way of getting her approval. When he began talking knowledgeably about her paintings of the cove and the headland beyond and then said ‘and this one of my father captures him exactly’ she realized she knew him. Steven was the son of the longshoreman at the cove. She’d played with him as a child, swam in the sea with him and on one occasion dared him to let her row them out at least two hundred yards. Childhood acquaintances, friends even. She told him who she was and immediately they struck up a friendship. She didn’t make it easy during their courtship nor for a long time into their late marriage for no matter how much he reassured her that the past didn’t matter especially her relationship with her mother she found it hard to accept. Not that he ever suggested things in a flippant way. He just kept repeating in a gentle manner 'hindsight was a cruel mistress whose demands could never be met'. There were moments when she felt like kicking him down the stairs and no doubt when he felt the same about her but…..they didn’t. Clearly his years as an environmental auditor gave him a different perspective on life to others. His work, when he met her, took him all over the world checking whether finances had been used appropriately for projects in developing countries.
‘I am an accountant’ he told her when she asked him what he did at the exhibition and that could have been the end of their encounter had he not swiftly gone on to explain his real work. How could she have taken up with an accountant of all things! The stick she would have got from her sister. God forbid! But an accountant who was modestly paid because he was ensuring people who had nothing were not ripped off was a different matter all together. So they pottered along amiably with Steven flying off all over the place and she staying home painting until her hands ached and they grew into one another like Ivy hugging a tree. Like Ivy and the tree however they were also themselves and when he retired they had their moments when differences came to the fore. The most recent and dramatic was five years previously and the decision over Kay and Eduardo where Julia had been her usual enthusiastic self-champion of the underdog and the ever open hearted and open armed benefactor. Steven had not been as keen stating that he had spent his career squatting on latrines, swatting flies, spending nights awake as children cried and dogs barked and he just wanted peace and quiet. Julia responded by saying they weren’t going to be digging latrines in the garden, they wouldn’t be bringing any flies with them and they didn’t have a dog. She omitted any reference to the children and instead scolded him for being so ‘fucking middle class’. In retrospect she felt the comment unfair, because he wasn’t, but it did work. Fortunately his reluctance was temporary.
She finished her croissant and was about to clear things up when her husband appeared. ‘So we are going then?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know.’ ‘It’s a big event, once in a lifetime.’ ‘It’s the end of the Island’ she remarked sadly. ‘Well it literally is.’ ‘You know what I mean, it wont be the same.’ ‘The Buddha taught that everything changes and it is our aversion to change that causes unhappiness.’
‘Stop being so patronizing you’re teaching your grandmother to suck eggs Steven, and you know it!’ ‘Just trying to put things into perspective. Daryl and Francine will be really disappointed if you don’t see them in the choir.’
‘I know, and that’s the only reason I would ever consider going.’
‘Well if it helps, me too, but we lost Julia we tried our best and we lost.’
‘A bridge. We didn’t need a fucking bridge!’ Steven smiled. ‘That’s my girl’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ snapped Julia. ‘I mean you are still fighting, after all these years you are still feisty and I love you for it.’ ‘You won’t get round me like that.’
‘I know but can’t blame me for trying.’ He leant over and gave her a hug. At first she was stiff and then he felt her grudgingly relax into it.
‘Ten generations my family has worked off that beach down there, through thick and thin and sometimes very thin. Don’t you think I feel just as strongly as you do? But the thing is built, it’s there and there is nothing we can do about it.’
‘We could blow it up.’ ‘Yes and spend the rest of our days as guests of Her Majesty.’
‘Well I wouldn’t mind.’ ‘I would.’
The opening ceremony was to be at twelve o’clock and the children had to be there by eleven in order to join the choir and the orchestra. Julia and Steven were travelling with them in Eduardo’s car and so they had to be ready by then. Steven was dressed and waiting when Eduardo and Kay knocked on the stairwell door. ‘Come in, come in’ he said ushering the family into the room.
‘My goodness don’t you look smart’ he said to the children who were in their best school uniforms. Grandma Julia is just dressing, she won’t be a moment.’ He had only just finished saying the words when Julia appeared. For a moment no one said anything; there was a pregnant pause. Julia was wearing her ethnic silk harem pants, gold sandals and a T-Shirt on which was emblazoned ‘Say no to the bridge!’
‘I’m ready’ she said. Steven turned to Daryl and Francine and said.
‘How long did you say she was going to live?’ Eduardo and Kay laughed but Francine not understanding the joke said ‘100.’
‘Oh’ said Steven in a resigned tone of voice.