I’m working from home. Right here with Bruno. At the kitchen table. It’s not ideal for Bruno. He’d prefer somewhere more corporate. He’d like a proper office. But he only works three days a week. He doesn’t call the shots. It’s just a temporary measure. Until my mother arrives. Then we can relocate to Starbucks. Or the café on the corner. She can’t make it ‘til next Thursday. She has her commitments too.
I try to focus. To exude competence. I should have made an effort to get dressed. It’s hard to feel professional in pyjamas. Amidst a sea of plastic toys. We make a pot of tea. Discuss our strategy for lunch. Agree we’re both too busy to take a break. We’ll just have fruit, to pick on through the day. And Hula Hoops as well. We make another pot of tea. We could really do with biscuits. We trot off to the shop.
Linda calls her Gran to tell her Alan’s still not well. He’ll be round tomorrow evening to look at her TV. She doesn’t like lying to Irene but she hasn’t any choice. She imagines telling the truth. Tries out the words in her head. ‘I’m not sure where he is. He stayed out all night long and he hasn’t been back since.’
That’ll be it. Out of her hands. Irene will call the neighbours; her mother-in-law; the police. It’ll be all over the playground by tomorrow morning. Blown up out of all proportion. Billy will get to hear of it. His Dad’s a dirty stopout. God knows what else he’ll hear.
She’ll leave it one more day.
There’s problem brewing at work. We’re being slated in the press. The St Anselm’s Gazette & Herald. There’s a picture of protestors. Six adults, three children and one three-legged dog. They’ve had T-shirts made and everything. DON’T PAVE OUR PARADISE. Red ink. Capital letters. A good six inches high. The Gazette & Herald wants a comment. A rebuttal. Democracy in action. Our right to reply. Everybody gets their say. Even good-for-nothing-developers with paradise in their sights.
I start to craft my copy. Run through our credentials. It’s too early to make promises. We’re not sure how many houses we’ll be building. But it will be exactly the right number. We don’t have any pictures but can offer absolute assurances as to the quality of the designs. I try to sound straightforward, not evasive, yet say nothing much at all. We must appeal to every audience; avoid specific promises. Be concise, a model of clarity; but wary of statements of fact. Punchy, provocative, fresh. Professional, reliable, safe. We must say everything and nothing. A linguistic sleight of hand.
It’s good to be at home. Safe at the kitchen table. Distance gives perspective. It’s not a problem; more a challenge. I compose a diplomatic statement. Reassuring, calm, sincere. I check the circulation list: partners, funders, lawyers, press. I swig my tea. Munch Hula Hoops. Remark to Bruno that kitchen-table-working is conducive to clear thought. I accidentally sign off with a kiss.
Linda is sorting through the post. Junk mail mostly. Three for two at Sainsburys. Bands of red and green across the corner. Sale at Sofa Warehouse. Bank Statements. Bills. Final Demands. This always happens on a Wednesday. You can get through the rest of the week without any post at all. Perhaps the postman only works a day a week.
She’s not sure what she’s expecting. A letter? A note? She retrieves the local paper. Stacks the unopened envelopes neatly on the table. Corners aligned. An attempt at order; at control. She really ought to look at them. Recycle them at least. She’ll sort them when she’s ready. When she can find the strength.
Right to Reply
Bruno says ‘You signed your Right to Reply letter with a kiss.’
‘I’m a very warm-hearted person.’
‘You are. But that’s not the view that Lester took.’
I wince. I’ve been hoping Lester wouldn’t notice.
‘What did he say?’
‘You know, the usual. That we don’t take ourselves seriously. That we should be more professional’.
‘I was being informal. The developer that cares.’
‘You really really pissed him off.’
A text comes through from Lester. Right on cue.
‘We have to get our act together. We need proper email signatures. And we need a proper office. And STOP MAKING PROMISES TO RESIDENTS.’
I read it out to Bruno.
I say ‘I haven’t made any promises.’
‘That’s not what Irene Grover said this morning.
‘Who is Irene Grover? And what did Irene Grover say?’
‘She says you promised we wouldn’t build on Macey’s Patch.’
‘I said I wasn’t in a position to make promises.’
‘She says to tell you that at the very least she’d like written confirmation that we won’t touch Gala’s grave.’
Bruno checks his post-it note.
‘Linda Kirkby’s dog.’
‘Irene Grover’s granddaughter. She’s got the big house on the High Street. Number 29.’
I’m thinking about Irene Grover’s granddaughter. Trying to picture her dead dog.
‘Wire-haired fox terrier.’ Says Bruno. ‘Before you ask.’
She notices the headline. DON’T PAVE OUR PARADISE. There have been rumours about houses for as long as she can remember. About a new estate on Macey’s Field. The view from her back window. There’s probably nothing in it. She scans the article in any case. She’s nothing else to do.
There’s a rebuttal from the developer. Mealy-mouthed, squirming. Low on detail. But the message is loud and clear. A direct quote. ‘We will be consulting with the community to ensure that the Macey’s Field development is the best it can possibly be’.
They’re really going to do it. Build houses on her field. The field her house backs on to. The view that she wakes up to. The field she played on as a child, escaped to as a teenager. The field where Billy and his friends roam free. The one place in St Anselm’s where she has the space to breathe.
She moves towards the kitchen and looks out across the view. Breathes it in. Everything she thought she knew is going to disappear. She’s not sure what she’ll miss the most. Her husband or her view. No competition. It’s the view.