Another completed chapter, and we’re heading towards the conclusion, hopefully very soon.
To save me typing the usual again: …………………………………………… St Marmaduke’s Page.
Monday 18th November 1985: 08.30 – 08.55
‘Good morning, Kevin. Did you have a good time in Aberystwyth?’
‘Not bad, thanks. Though it turned out the festival invitation was meant to go to some editor at Penguin. I spent the whole time answering to “Keith Peters” and being asked if I know Salman Rushdie; I think I managed to cope, though.’
Sally saw Kevin’s eyebrows shoot up, and realised, replaying her remark, that she’d just paid him a compliment. That was unusual. Not unknown — just unusual.
She also realised, with a start, that she hadn’t corrected his opening ‘Sal’.
Maybe it had been having only Joseph for company last Thursday and Friday; she had to try hard to moderate her personality around him, as she felt the poor boy wouldn’t be able to cope with her as she normally was. Maybe she should try equally as hard with Kevin, as well. In the lonely reaches of the night, when she was sitting up in bed reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and, for light relief, all twenty-seven volumes of Gibson’s History of the Decline and Fall of The Empire Strikes Back, she often wondered if he could really cope with her either.
He was so infuriating, though. She knew — had known for a long time — how he felt about her. And that had only been confirmed by…
By the manuscript she’d read last Wednesday.
The chills that had raced up and down her spine from reading it had been so intense, she’d had to sit on the floor with her back against the radiator for the rest of that day. And she’d slept even less than usual since then.
Could it just be coincidence? The fact that all the details of hers and Kevin’s interactions were detailed so exactly? Her thoughts of last week laid as bare on Page 119 as if she’d typed them herself while she was thinking them?
‘Anything much happen while I was away?’
‘Hmm?’ Oh. Concentrate, Sally. ‘Well,’ she managed, ‘not so much happened, as didn’t happen…’
His forehead creased into a frown. He probably didn’t realise, but when he frowned, such as when he was trying to work out whether she was having a go at him or teasing him about something (and probably worrying like heck it was the former rather than the latter), his mouth turned up in a cute half-smile at the same time. She’d never known anyone else able to do that.
‘Huh? How do you mean?’ he said.
She explained, and the frown was replaced with wide-eyed incomprehension.
‘You read that other manuscript — and HL Danvers didn’t interrupt?’
His expressions really were going through the gamut this morning. This one was frown-with-quirky-half-smile and wide-eyed-incomprehension combined. Which, given his thus-far experience with that manuscript and their least-favourite author, wasn’t surprising, really.
‘And I think,’ she said, ‘that you need to read it yourself, Kevin. Right away.’
Frown deepened, and for once, quirky half-smile disappeared. ‘Is there a problem, Sal?’
‘Sally.’ Oh. Maybe she was beginning to feel her normal self again. ‘Not a problem, as such. More a puzzle, really.’
This time his expression remained constant. Maybe he’d run out of all the ones that didn’t incorporate either goofy grin, wistful longing, or rabbit-crossing-a-motorway-during-rush-hour, which were his default settings around her.
‘For a start,’ she continued, ‘a great many more pages have appeared over the weekend. I checked when I arrived; there are fourteen more chapters than I read last Wednesday…’
‘What? And I take it the postman didn’t deliver them?’
‘Correct again. And the other thing is…’
She hesitated, unsure how to continue. No — that definitely wasn’t her beginning to feel her normal self.
She shook her head. ‘Perhaps you should read it, Kevin, and see for yourself.’
He turned away, and walked through into his office.
When he was gone, she got up from her chair and went over to the coffee maker. She’d take him a cup in as soon as she heard the yelps of embarrassment that would inevitably come when he read Pages 14, 15, 39, 40, 42, 54, 62, 95 and especially 71. The poor idiot would be needing it. Assuming it was all real, and not just an author’s imagination…
But there was still Page 119. That was most decidedly not anyone’s imagination.
How would she explain its absence from the folder? He was bound to ask. The author must have forgotten to include it? That would probably be best, if a bit feeble. But he’d know it was about himself and her, from the few sentences at the end of 118.
She couldn’t help but open the top drawer of her desk and stare at the sheet of paper nestling there. How did it contain her thoughts from last Wednesday? Her longing to be invited to Aberystwyth? That thought about it ‘leading to who knew where’…?
She’d take the page home with her tonight and make sure it was buried so far inside her dustbin, it’d take a team of moles to uncover it. And hope to God that Kevin never met whoever this author was who’d written it.
Joseph was strolling along Wordsworth Street, on his way into work.
He’d been more than relieved to wake up in his bed that morning, rather than at the church in the middle of a prayer meeting, as had happened the previous Monday. Briefly, he’d contemplated actually going there; after all, Father Rawlings had expressly wanted him to, and Joseph didn’t like to think that he would be letting anyone down by not attending.
And then, the thought had popped into his head: I do not care what Father Rawlings wishes.
This thought had been so shocking, he’d almost swallowed his breakfast while it was still outside his mouth.
Instinctively, he’d shot an apology into the ether: I am sorry, Mother.
And then, even more shocking — so shocking, in fact, that his breakfast plate turned a double somersault and careered off somewhere in the direction of the washing-up bowl, while still laden with items that wouldn’t taste good when flavoured with Fairy Liquid — Actually, I do not care what you think either, Mother.
Oh, my. What on earth was happening to him?
His footsteps slowed, then halted. The next shock to his system had been the decision he’d reached not long after he’d scraped his remaining breakfast off the floor and wiped the egg-yolk up with a cloth. A decision so unbelievable it had snatched his breath away and held it hostage somewhere in his oesophageal region.
He was going to telephone Amita at the police station and ask her out on a date.
As he stood rooted to the spot, he felt heated glows and icy chills competing for place on his spine. Could he really do that?
And what about Mrs Rawlings?
But that was the thing. The mere fact that he was thinking about her as ‘Mrs Rawlings’ was key.
Amita was ‘Amita’. Not ‘Miss Chowdhary’.
And, he couldn’t help hoping, forever more would be.