Linda is distinctly tipsy. Dancing round the kitchen. Uttering a silent prayer of thanks for Dee Delaney and her steer on screw-top wine. Not that it makes much difference. She’s already drunk the bottle.
She feels much better for it. If she’s honest there was a part of her that was feeling slightly guilty. A tiny tiny nagging thought that perhaps she should have kept the will. Let the inheritance pass to Billy. But that would have been absurd. He’s just a boy. And not the brightest. What was Irene thinking? It would have been a complete and utter waste.
She is talking to herself.
‘The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.’
Sod Queen Irene. She’d like to propose a toast.
‘A toast to Queen…’
A cloud falls across her face.
Even in her drunken state she knows it doesn’t sound quite right.
Bruno looks across the field at Linda Kirkby’s house.
The curtains have been drawn all day.
He says ‘Do you think we should go over? It’s not like her to leave the curtains drawn. Do you think she’s OK?’
I say ‘I guess she’s grieving. It takes people different ways.’
‘For sure, but she’d still have had to get up for Billy.’
‘Billy stayed at my house. She said she needed time to be alone.’
We both gaze at the window. The curtains with the avocado borders. The Autumn leaves motif.
I say ‘Perhaps it’s really hit her. First her husband, then her grandmother. It’s just her on her own.’
Bruno says ‘Perhaps she’s revelling in the freedom. Nobody to answer to. She can stay in bed all day.’
‘Oh yeah, it’s a blast, this single-parent lark. Just one long lazy day.’
Bruno gives me a sideways look. ‘You don’t have to be alone. You could always be with me.’
I say ‘I’m not getting into this.’
‘Name me one person on this earth who loves you more than I do.’
‘Name me one fully developed adult male who loves you more than I do.’
‘I suppose that in an ideal world I’d like a boyfriend who was mine alone; who wasn’t anybody’s for hire.’
Bruno smirks. He’s flirting out of habit. His heart’s not really in it.
He’s looking out across the field, at Linda Kirkby’s curtains.
He says ‘One of us should go over. It’s not like her at all.’
I say ‘I saw the curtains were still drawn.’
She shrugs as if to say ‘Whatever.’
She’s still wearing lipstick. I’m surprised it isn’t smudged.
There are empty bottles by the sink.
I say ‘Have you been up all night?’
‘I’ve been celebrating.’
‘I’m a wealthy woman now.’
She does a drunken pirouette across the carpet.
‘Irene left everything to me.’
I say ‘We were worried. We thought you might be upset.’
‘Grieving.’ I say, by way of prompt.
She giggles. ‘It’s worked out very nicely. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.’
‘You didn’t though, did you?’ I say uneasily.
She says ‘Only in my head.’
She’s honest, I’ll give her that.
‘And…‘ Linda pauses for effect. ‘I left her vanity case behind.’
She opens another bottle. Throws the cap towards the bin.
She says ‘She asked me to bring her make-up and I left it in the flat. I think that might have been what killed her in the end.’
‘You only think that because you’re drunk.’
‘You should have seen her face. She looked so pale, so indistinct.’
I say ‘It was an innocent mistake.’
‘That’s the thing. It wasn’t. It was premeditated.’
It’s a curious choice of word.
‘I didn’t forget to bring it. I picked it up. And then I put it down again. I left it behind on purpose. There was deliberate intent.’
I say ‘I’m pretty sure it’s not a known offence. Premeditated decision to leave a vanity case behind.’
Linda pours herself some wine. Lifts a glass to toast herself.
I say ‘I’m not sure you should be drinking any more.’
She says ‘If you’ll excuse me. I have a lot to do.’
Show and Tell
I have things to do as well. It’s Kit’s pirate party. I need to sort things out. Power Rangers. Plastic Swords. Prosecco for the parents.I have to collect the boys from school.
Mrs Sekibo is waiting in the playground. She used to be Miss Wingate. Before she got married in Africa. She brought in the video to share with the class. Where warriors danced with shields and spears and a bird did a poo on her dress.
She says ‘I probably ought to tell you about Kit’s Show and Tell.’
Kit’s been sharing too. Told the class that Daddy’s left. That we’ve all had enough so he’s had to move out. To a flat on the thirteenth floor.
His classmates live in seaside cottages, period terraces, mid-century mansion blocks. Nobody lives in a tower block. Some obvious questions come to mind.
‘Is it higher than the clouds?’
‘Can you see the top of birds’ heads when they fly?’
‘Is there a staircase or a lift?’
‘Is it a lift or just an elevator?’ Confusing, this one. Though Mrs Sekibo assures me that no-one questioned the distinction.
‘If your Dad spat from the window would it land on someone’s head?’
Pass the Parcel
The Malcolm Hodge Memorial hall looks positively jaunty. There’s a skull and crossbones in the corner. I’m wearing a bandana. Well a handkerchief. It isn’t really big enough. But it’s the best that I can do. Kit is a Power Ranger Pirate. He likes to mix his themes. Sonny is too old for this. He’s worn a stripy T-shirt. That’s as far as he’s prepared to go.
Billy Kirkby has an eye patch. The bit of cloth I use to clean my glasses. You can make out ‘Jones Opticians’ in the corner. It’s all a bit last minute. He wasn’t actually invited. He’s three years older than the others. But it doesn’t look as if his mother’s in any rush to pick him up.
Pete the Pirate turns up late. He smells of beer and Murray Mints. Even for a pirate he’s too loud; too jolly; too drunk. The kids are terrified. We’d have been better off with Magic of Milton Keynes in his polyester suit.
The kids are getting restless. They want to win some prizes. It’s time for Pass the Parcel. I’ve forgotten the CD player. There’s a radio in the kitchen. I fiddle wildly with the buttons. There’s an awkward minute or two whilst we seem stuck on Radio 4. There’s a discussion on changing attitudes towards domestic abuse. The five-year-olds fall silent. The adults look embarrassed. I could do with some support.
Pete the Pirate has requisitioned a bottle of prosecco. It doesn’t seem quite appropriate. For a children’s entertainer. For a pirate. He could at least be drinking rum.
Kit says ‘When’s Daddy coming?’ I say ‘You know, kids’ parties. They’re really not his thing.’
Bruno says ‘So where have you been?’
I say ‘Kit’s birthday party’.
‘Maybe don’t tell Lester that.’
I manage not to snap. He’s trying to look out for me. Covering my back.
I say ‘What did he want me for?’
‘He wants to know how you got on with your discussions with Linda Kirkby.’
I say ‘She doesn’t seem like a woman who’s suffering from grief.’
Bruno says ‘People deal with things in different ways.’
‘To be honest she seems positively triumphant. Irene has left her all her worldly goods.’
‘Did Irene have much money?’
‘She had a flat. ‘
‘Is that it? The flat?’
‘I’ve no idea. I didn’t ask.’
‘Aren’t you intrigued?’
‘It’s two days since Irene’s funeral. It seemed a bit distasteful to be discussing it all.’
‘Lester wants to know if she’s prepared to do a deal.’
I say ‘She’s been drinking since the funeral. It really wasn’t the time to bring it up.’
‘She must think she’s won the lottery. Her husband’s disappeared, she hasn’t got a job, she’s struggling with the mortgage, and we’re hovering like vultures willing her to lose the house. Irene dies in the nick of time. It’s like a gift from God.’
‘Irene died of natural causes. With a doctor in attendance. I know it’s disappointing but I think we have to drop the theory that Linda finished her off.’
‘I’m not saying she’s a murderer. I’m saying perhaps she’s learnt from Irene.’
‘The secret of survival. To see an opportunity where others see a threat.’