Monday morning. The day I get to work with Linda. I am determined to be professional, magnanimous. I don’t see I have an awful lot of choice.
I say ‘We should get you some business cards.’
She says ‘Actually, I’ve been thinking. This might be a good moment for me to change my name.’
‘Are you thinking of reverting to your maiden name?’
She says ‘I meant my Christian name.’
Even after all these years, she can’t dwell on her own name without feeling disappointed. So pedestrian. Prosaic. Frumpy. Stolid. Dull.
I say ‘Did you have anything particular in mind?’
She’s thought about this many times before. For years she used to fantasise that Linda was a shortening of something altogether grander. Rosalind or Belinda.
She says ‘Rosalind? Maybe Ros. Ros Kirkby. Or Belinda. Maybe Bella for short.’
She plumps for Rosalind. It works. It suits the woman she has become. The bob, the job, the lover. If only Alan could see her now.
She says ‘Put Rosalind Kirkby on the business cards. My friends can call me Ros.’
Bruno and I catch each other’s eye. United in uncertainty. We’re not sure where this leaves us. If she classes us as friends.
I say ‘I don’t think it’s that simple. To assume a new identity. You can write whatever you like on a business card. It doesn’t mean you’ve changed your name. Isn’t there some sort of legal process you have to go through? Changing your name by deed poll?’
Linda-who-is-now-Rosalind smiles a secret smile. That’s where Dee Delaney’s got it wrong. This is her great discovery. Things just are that simple. You wish you’d never married your husband and suddenly he’s disappeared. You tell Dr Tanner he can walk out of his marriage. And he’s single. Just like that. You yearn to be free of your Grandmother and then she’s dead and gone. You say that you’ve inherited and that’s the way it is. You ask for a job, a house, an income, and suddenly you’ve got it. Life is out there for the taking. Fate is hers and hers alone.
Lester says ‘We said we’d hold another public consultation before we put the planning application in.’
I think of Elsie Tanner hissing in my face.
I say ‘Fantastic. I can’t wait.’
Lester says ‘Can I leave it with you?’
Linda says ‘I’ve been on to the Community Hall. Wednesday the 16th is the first date they can do.’
I say. ‘It won’t be any good for Elsie Tanner. She goes to Weight Watchers on Wednesday nights.’
Lester looks at me oddly.
He says ‘Elsie Tanner’s skinny as a rake.’
I say ‘She’s busy Thursdays too. And Friday night’s the only night she gets to spend with Colin.’
Lester says ‘Who’s Colin?’
I say ‘I’ve no idea.’
Lester says ‘Are you OK?’
I say ‘I’m just not sure I can handle any more hatred. Or Elsie Tanner hissing in my face.’
Linda says ‘Don’t worry. Leave everything to me.’
Lester’s having lunch with Linda.
He calls it Starter’s Lunch. As though it’s absolutely normal. All part of the job.
I’m at the bungalow with Bruno. Trying to act like nothing’s changed.
I say ‘Do you still think she killed her husband?’
We’re both bored of this conversation.
‘No. I don’t think Linda Kirkby killed her husband.’
He says the words mechanically. Going through the motions.
I say ‘You don’t think it’s odd that he’d been gone for several days and she never said a word?’
‘You didn’t say anything to anyone when Daniel disappeared.’
‘Daniel didn’t disappear into thin air.’
‘Alan Kirkby didn’t disappear. He left his wife. It happens all the time. As you know all too well.’
I don’t like Bruno’s tone. Brusque. As though I’m not an ally, but an irritant. It makes me think of Lester.
Linda Kirkby’s in the doorway. Of course, she has a key. She’s popped back for her phone.
‘We were just talking about Alan.’ I say airily. ‘We thought perhaps you might have murdered him.’
‘I haven’t. She says helpfully. ‘But if I ever see him I think perhaps I might.’
‘You see,’ I say to Bruno. ‘She has murder in her heart. She admits as much herself. I don’t think she killed her grandmother. I think she stole her soul.’
Bruno’s eyes light up.
‘Like some sort of vampire?’
He likes that idea a bit too much.
‘Out of idle curiosity, were you going to carry on fucking Linda when I was living in your flat? Or did you have some other plan?’
‘It wouldn’t be an issue. She only came the once.’
‘One visit and she’s rearranged the wardrobe?’
‘She said she couldn’t relax until she’d done it. You can see it from the bed.’
‘So where have you been fucking her?
Bruno looks embarrassed. Slightly shifty.
‘At her house? Does Billy know?’
Bruno shakes his head.
‘Here? At the bungalow?’
‘It seemed a shame not to get some use out of a perfectly good bedroom.’
He sounds a bit too smug. Too sanctimonious. Proud of his ability to make the most of wasted space.
‘And Lester says I’m the one who struggles to observe professional boundaries.’
He says ‘We don’t do it in office hours.’
I note the present tense.
‘So when do you do it?’
‘After Billy’s gone to sleep.’
I picture Linda checking in on Billy, creeping down the stairs. Sneaking out across the field, wind-up torch in hand. There must be easier ways. Perhaps she likes the drama.
I say ‘She can’t relax until she’s colour matched your clothes rail. What’s she doing shagging in a stinking shack like this?’
He shrugs again.
‘I can’t believe you persuaded her to fuck you on a dirty shit-stained mattress.’
He says ‘I think the squalor turns her on.’
I say ‘So where’s she going to live whilst her new house is being built?’
For a minute I think Bruno’s going to make a dash for it. He glances at the door; the phone; his watch. Willing some sort of distraction. Assessing his chances of escape.
I say ‘Are you two moving in together?’
He shakes his head.
‘Is she moving into Irene’s flat?’
‘It’s a bit too pokey for her. There’s no outdoor space for Billy. Nowhere to kick a ball.’
I say ‘So what’s the plan?’
‘We’ve agreed to rent her somewhere for a year. While the house is being built.’
‘The company. Me and Bruno.’
‘You and me and Bruno.’ He adds, a second or two too late.
‘Rent her where?’
He looks me squarely in the eye.
‘She wants a cottage in the Old Town. She likes the vibe. And it’s close to Billy’s school.’
It’s a remarkable coincidence. Just as my cottage in the Old Town becomes available to rent.
He starts to plead.
‘Dee, this could be the answer to your problems. The company could pay your mortgage for a year while you get back on your feet.’
‘Until I get back the job you’ve given to Linda? Or until my errant not-quite-husband decides he’s ready to come home?’
‘Just think about it. It’ll buy you time at least. Take the pressure off. Stop you from rushing into any snap decisions.’
I say ‘Does she want my kids as well?’
Linda – Rosalind – says ‘You could rent my Grandmother’s apartment. If you need somewhere a bit smaller now you’re going to work part time.’
The flat without a place to kick a ball. That’s too small for her and Billy. Except it’s an apartment now. Now she’s trying to big it up.
I say ‘I thought it only had one bedroom.’
‘And a walk-in dressing room. A boudoir.’ She says, with just the slightest trace of irony. ‘I presume you won’t be needing that.’
Rosalind is the kind of woman who knows how to use a boudoir. The slash of bright red lipstick; the razor sharp black bob.
‘Is the boudoir big enough for both the boys to sleep in?’
‘It’s high enough for bunk beds.’ She says, in a voice that suggests perhaps it’s not.
The boys will have to have the bedroom. I’ll be in Irene’s boudoir. Cosy. Like being on holiday. Like sleeping in a caravan or a boat. How depressing. It must be twenty years since I last had a single bed.
She says ‘I’m sorry if you’re upset about the way things have turned out.’
I’m not quite sure what to say.
‘I thought I would be doing you a favour. You seemed so much more relaxed when you were off work with the boys.’