She is struggling to stay awake. She rubs her eyes and stretches. She hates this time of day. The small hours. He could have told her he’d be late. He could have called. She opens the front door and peers into the darkness. Three parts irritation; one part grudging concern. She pads out in her slippers. Opens the garage door. Leaves the outdoor light turned on. A home-coming; a welcome. It makes her feel less guilty about giving up and going to bed.
I say Ssshhh. ‘You’ll wake up Daddy’. Kit says ‘Daddy should be getting up.’ He’s right of course. He should be. But Daddy keeps erratic hours. We both do. A blur of deadlines, taxis, late nights, tears.
The children yearn for familiarity; a rhythm; a routine. Parents who sit around and chat. Rituals that signal the closing of the day: pyjamas on; shutters closed; locks drawn. Smug. Snug.
They like it at their grandparents. The order, the routine. Butter in a butter dish. Breakfast on the table when you come down in the morning. The way whole days go by and no one leaves the house. Board games, tea trays, TV, bed. Somnambulant security; a self-contained cocoon.
They crave order. We all crave order. I call my mother to ask for help. She says ‘Is everything OK?’ I say ‘It’s fine. It’s just that we’re both mad busy at work. Is there any chance you could help out?’
Wake Up Call
Linda wakes up shortly after seven. Rolls over. He is already up. She barely sees him nowadays. Late nights, early starts. His work is all-consuming.
His bedside light is on, just the way she left it. His pillow plump and cool. No discarded socks; no soggy towel. She pads over to the window. The outdoor light is on; redundant in the daylight. The garage door still open. She crawls under the covers and contemplates the truth. He didn’t get up early. He didn’t come home at all.
Billy is standing in the doorway. Star Trek pyjamas. Eyes sticky with sleep. He wriggles into bed beside her; the space that should be warm but isn’t. She says ‘Daddy got up early. He had to go to work’. The first lie of the day.
I’ve come to photograph the site. A survey. For the record.
There’s a dog-walker out early. She’s not your average dog walker. A woman in her eighties. Maybe younger. Now I come to think of it, she doesn’t have a dog.
She adopts a sense of purpose. Heads in my direction. Close up she looks older. Agile all the same. Perfect make-up. Coiffured hair: snow white but immaculate. Too elegant for her setting. No coat despite the cold. Dressed for New York high society. Not for grey St Anselm’s with its endless driving rain.
She says ‘Are you the person I should talk to about the houses planned for Macey’s Field?’
‘I’m one of them.’ I say. Survival instinct. Share the blame.
She looks at me appraisingly.
Odd that she isn’t wet. Or muddy. I’m wearing thick tights, boots, a long tweed coat. I’m soaked through to the skin.
Perhaps I sounded too defensive. I try a different tack.
‘I’m Dee Delaney. Pleased to meet you. Do you live close by?’
She arches an eyebrow. A riposte to my impertinence. She’ll ask the questions thank you. Patrician eyebrows. Plucked and penciled. Stretched and stencilled. Permanently frozen in a disapproving arc.
She says ‘You will be keeping the old buildings?’
Of course we won’t. How could we? A clutch of crumbling hospital buildings. Condemned Victoriana. Cheaper to demolish than convert.
I say ‘I couldn’t say at the moment. We’ll need a comprehensive historic buildings survey before we make any decisions’.
‘In other words,’ she scoffs ‘you need to get your paperwork in place before you pull them down.’
Wait and See
She has never told so many lies. By lunchtime she is getting rather good at it. When his secretary calls she says that Alan is ill in bed. That she’d meant to call in earlier but it completely slipped her mind. When Myra gets chatting in the playground and says ‘Are you OK?’ she gives her brightest smile and says ‘I’m fine. Enjoying the weather’. When her grandmother calls to check that Alan is still coming round this evening to sort her telly out she says ‘He says he’ll try and come. He’s running a temperature at the moment so we’ll have to wait and see.’
She hasn’t finished with me yet. The woman with the picture perfect eyebrows and the complicated hair.
‘So you’re building modern houses?’
I say ‘Contemporary but classic. We like to think our houses will stand the test of time.’
‘And where exactly will you put them?’
‘We haven’t worked up the designs. We’re still at the exploratory stage.’
She looks a little bored. As though she’s heard it all before.
‘Why don’t you take a guess.’ she says deliberately, sarcastically.
‘How many houses do you think you might be going to build, and where exactly do you think they’re going to go?’
I say ‘We’re looking in the region of maybe sixty houses.’
‘So that’s blanket housing all the way down Macey’s Field.’
‘No…ooo.’ I say, defensively. ‘There’ll be green spaces too. An orchard, some allotments, space for children’s play.’
‘An orchard’ she says disdainfully. ‘There’s hardly room for that.’
‘A pocket orchard.’ I say weakly.
She throws back her head and laughs.
‘What’s that? Serried ranks of bonsai? Or apple trees in pots?’
I fiddle with my camera. Time to bring this conversation to an end.
She says ‘Can I give you some advice?’
‘Of course.’ I say. All smiles.
‘It says on your website you’re a “community-led” developer.’
‘Mmm’ I say, non-committally. I am playing with the lens cap.
‘A lot of people locally don’t want you here at all’.
‘We are the preferred developer’. I say. ‘We’ve been through a rigorous process, and we have a clear mandate from the Community Land Trust and the Parish Council.’
I do this when I’m nervous. When I’m caught on the back foot. Talk like a civil servant. As though I’ve learnt it in a book.
‘If you ask any of these people here’ – she swivels round to take in all the houses that have gardens backing onto Macey’s Field – ‘they’ll tell you their preference is that you don’t build any houses and the field gets left alone.’
‘I know.’ I say ‘I realise that. We don’t expect everyone to welcome us with open arms.’
‘I’m not here to have a go at you. I’m here to offer some advice.’
‘You’re going to advise me that we should pack up and go home. Build our houses somewhere else.’
‘I’m going to advise you that you’re in for a rough ride. You’ll make your lives a whole lot easier if you promise to leave Macey’s Patch alone.’
She indicates a patch of land between the tree stump and a sycamore tree along the north edge of the field.
‘What’s so special about that patch?’
‘It’s where we bury our pets.’
‘Pets’. She says. ‘Cats and Dogs. We’ve been doing it for years. You’ll upset an awful lot of people if you start interfering with their graves.’
Linda buys three chops as usual. She doesn’t want Colin-behind-the-Counter to think there’s anything amiss. By dinner time she starts to think perhaps she should be worried. She’s called his mobile countless times. She’s not sure what else to do.
Billy says ‘When will Dad be back?’
She says ‘Not ‘til after bed time.’
She wonders if maybe she should call the police. What would they say? ‘Had they had an argument?’ Not really. What would be the point? ‘Had anything been worrying him?’ Always. He could worry about anything and everything: a lone child on the beach; a new crack on the ceiling; the prospect on new housing on the field behind the house; global warming; grey hairs; gout. The list was indiscriminate and endless. Yes, he had seemed worried. More than usual? Who’s to say? They haven’t talked much recently. Had a proper conversation. Not for weeks. Maybe months. Maybe more.