Submission Details

The Man Who Thought He Was Happy
The Man Who Thought He Was Happy
Lyn Ferrand
Crime
Yes - full manuscript is available


Jake Adams is a loner. Hes made his life a shallow insular place of pleasure and irresponsibility, where hurt people and their desperate pasts are invisible to him. Emma has changed this. Her disappearance has thrown up everything hes avoided. A spiral of events he could never have imagined forever connect her life to his, drawing him to the edge of corruption, where a powerful family are in control, making him reassess his perception of happiness. He discovers that family scripts run parallel, each new generation caught up in an involuntary mimicking of past lives and times and in his obsessive compulsion to find Emma, he is forced to see that what really matters is how, in the moment, we connect.

Chapter 1
Packing my few possessions in preparation for my move to Emmas flat - I like to travel light - in a backpack, I discovered an envelope full of old photos in one of the pockets. My mother sent them to me a few years ago when shed downsized. Although I didnt want them, I took them with me wherever I lived. I dont know why. Perhaps, I thought they made me happy? I always strive to be happy. I spread the photos out like a pack of cards on the table; pictures of me as a school kid, a student, with dad before the divorce, with mum on holiday in France and one of me, with Emma. In the days before Selfies, a street photographer had taken the photo. I would have been about twenty-one and Emma, twenty. We were standing in front of Eros at Piccadilly Circus, her sweet, uncomplicated expression making me feel uncomfortable, the lump in my throat disproportionate to the event pictured. I replaced them in the backpack, along with the birthday card from Mum, telling me in bright red numbers that last week Id turned 40. Jake Adams was now supposed to be a grown-up. Id been a bit forgetful about paying the rent; that was my reason for moving again. The sky wasnt going to fall in just because I was a few days, or even a month late with the money, was it? It probably had to do with my flatmates unhappy childhood. He had issues about his posh past, expressed in his neurotic fear of being poor. This assessment of why Id been ejected suited me. I had no desire to delve any deeper into his psyche. My take on the truth was far easier to accept than his. There were lots of girls I might have phoned and asked for a bed for a night or two and I dont know why I contacted Emma Di Lucca, except that Id seen her in the pub. She was sitting at the bar with an older man. I could only see his back; grey hair and tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbow. He leaned towards her. It was a palpable reminder that Id once sat opposite Emma and wanted her unrivalled attention, like him. She moved back as he bent forward as if she didnt want to breath the same air. Then, a crowd of people came in and obscured my view and when I looked again a few moments later, theyd gone. I found her number and address online. She was gushingly charming, saying of course I must come and stay with her and suggesting I rent her spare room. She said that as I was strapped for cash, I could pay her at the end of the month and move in right away. She spoke fast, with intense enthusiasm. She even apologised for dropping me so abruptly all those years ago. Wed dated for a few months, then one night, out of the blue, she said didnt want to see me anymore. She told me her parents were wealthy; theyd even bought her the flat. Her father was an Italian immigrant, her mother English. She said they were wonderful people but as Id never met them, I had to take her word for it. Her flat was on the first floor of a terraced house in a North London street of similar dwellings. It was bright and comfortable, with pale grey walls and white woodwork, a well-equipped kitchen and a large sitting room overlooking a leafy park with paths, swings and tennis courts. Standing in the street outside I felt excited at the prospect of seeing her again. When she opened the door I rushed forward, kissing her on both cheeks. Her response was business-like, her body stiffening as I touched her. In a split second I knew that the Emma whod spoken to me on the phone offering me shelter in such a selfless manner, felt nothing for me. The day I moved in, she told me she was a receptionist at an office near Canary Wharf and had no time for anything other than her new job. I didnt understand why shed abandoned her acting career. Id read about her in The Stage a couple of years ago. She was playing a nurse in a TV soap opera, until they killed her off. Maybe, she wanted regular money? I never worried about money. Something always turned up, so why worry? She handed me a piece of paper on which were typed the house rules. She expected me to make adjustments and fit in with her prescription of how she wanted a lodger to conduct himself. I took the sheet of A4 and nodded respectfully as she read each rule out to me. While she was at work, I must walk her dog twice a day. I must wash up my dishes and keep the kitchen clean, vacuum the carpet in my room and make sure the bathroom was spotless. I must give her space this rule was underlined by the tone of her voice, and on the paper. I had no memory of her being like this. Her aloofness was definitely a new facet of her personality. My room was at the end of a short passageway. Her room was down two steps, next to the bathroom, where the next morning, I stood scrutinising my face in the mirror over the sink, while she was clearing away the breakfast things. I opened the cupboard on the wall. Her stuff filled the shelves. I took out a bottle of hair conditioner for blondes and poured a large dollop of the yellow gloop into the palm of my right hand, slicking it across my head. I was certain it instantly brightened my brown hair, giving me streaks of colour that hadnt been there before, making me look like a matinee idol, rather than a desperately broke out-of-work actor. I put the conditioner back in the cupboard and leaned in to the mirror, pushing up the skin at my temples, smoothing out the wrinkles. They were laughter lines, surely? And the developing double chin? It gave me character. My eyes were still brilliant blue, werent they? I ran my fingers through my sticky hair. Jesus! It was thinner. Why hadnt I noticed? As I stared at my face, I heard her leave, footsteps clattering on the stairs, street door slamming. I guessed she would be walking briskly though the park to the tube station. It rattled me that she was so wrapped up in her new life. Who did she think she was? She was just a bloody receptionist. I refused to consider that perhaps I was a bit irritated by her. I didnt like this role shed placed me in, keeping me contained in some sort of self-designated pecking order. I concentrated on my image in the mirror. In the entertainment business, it was a good idea to keep quiet about your age, unless you were old and had once been a celebrity. Then, your desperate financial state usually propelled you to accept a part in a crappy farce at some struggling fleapit venue in a provincial town to an audience of three and a dog. After the first night, you were exposed as a complete failure and a bloody idiot for accepting the part. In the kitchen, I noticed Emma had left me a cup of coffee. The dogs mournful eyes fixed on me, its tail flapping from side to side. Only needy people kept dogs. My unshakable belief in my understanding of psychology enabled me to pontificate to myself, and anyone else who would listen, drawing conclusions where there were none and insisting my understanding of the mysteries of the mind was indisputable. I attached the lead to the dogs collar. It was a strange looking animal, a Shih Tzu by breed. Its name was Pinter, like the playwright. What was wrong with her, giving this weird little dog a name like that? Nevertheless, I would carry out her instructions to the letter. She wouldnt be able to find fault with the lodger. A long Monday stretched ahead. Walking up the quiet street that led to the main road, I noticed how different each house looked from its neighbour. Some of the bigger, detached terraced houses had closed white shutters and potted privet trees standing outside shiny front doors with brass knockers and security lighting, a sign that the area was gentrified. The High Street was full of betting and charity shops, interspersed with Starbucks and MacDonalds and a few up-market clothes stores. It was like every other litter-filled, grey street in this part of London, full of people with money and no money, aspirations and despair, drug-fuelled life-styles, struggling families on ridiculously small incomes and here and there, the very wealthy, determined to push up the house prices, so that only their sort could afford to live here. Pinter scuttled along, pulling on his lead until we reached Bubbatique, a shop selling clothes with designer labels. The dog squatted self-consciously and promptly deposited a sticky brown pile in front of the shop door. I searched my pockets. Id forgotten the poo bags. I could see through the window, a shop assistant, pink hair piled on top of her head, tottering through the clothes rails towards the entrance. She curled her lip in disgust and opened the door. Pick that up or I will call the police! Pinter leapt at her, snorting and spraying her pink skirt with mucus. For Gods sake! she hissed, backing into the shop. Control that sodding dog! I pulled at Pinter, forgetting the position of the poo. The dogs front paws were covered in it. I watched the animal create pavement art with its faeces. From inside the shop, a hand thrust a white plastic bag at me Back in the flat, I washed Pinters paws in the kitchen sink, dried them on a tea towel and made myself a coffee, ignoring the smell. The dog slunk away to Emmas bedroom and hid under the bed, leaving me to crash on the sofa and check my phone. The incident outside the shop depressed me. Nothing was going to plan; even the fucking dog had got the better of me! Resentful desperation, like bone chill, enveloped me as I read another text message from Maddie Cohen, my agent, telling me I hadnt got the part Id auditioned for last week but could I go to another interview at four that afternoon and then call her to organise a time to pop into her office for a little chat? I knew what that meant. I deleted the text and threw the phone across the room. It hit the wall and the back came off. It was a cheap phone, on the blink for ages. Now Id killed it. So what? I picked up a Biro from the coffee table and began to doodle on the edge of The Guardian newspaper. Emma told me I needed to be in touch with world affairs; get into the twenty-first century. It was 2014, not 1814. What the fuck did she think I was doing? She obviously had little respect for me since she thought she was some kind of VIP in the city. Maddie treated me like a schoolboy. It wasnt my problem that I couldnt land any work; that was her job. I was really talented, but the parts were all going to kids just out of school, with perfect cheekbones and Essex voices. I kicked the side of the sofa. Pinter heard the thud and started to bark. I retrieved the phone, attached the back and turned it on. Miraculously, it worked. Maddie had just texted me the details of the interview. I called her. So whats this film? Theres a small fee, darling I should hope so. No need to be snotty. At least youll be around creative people and it might lead on to better things. She was always so unnecessarily hopeful for me. She didnt know I had precisely thirty quid left in the bank. At the end of the month, Emma would want her rent. Make sure youre not late. Ill text you the address, she said. Pinter came out of the bedroom, giving me a reproachful stare. For a split second, the dog made me feel guilty, but it passed. It lay down and positioned its head between its front paws, taking sneaky glances at me every now and then. What a great life that mutt had. Everything it needed was someone elses responsibility; food, exercise, a place to live, a warm bed. Someone else would foot the bill. Youre a bloody parasite, I said. The dog wagged its tail. I knew that title had often been levelled at me. My relationship with Susanna, the mother of my daughter, was moribund. Since Daisys birth, Id had a running battle with her mother; never face-to-face, always by letter or email or text. Arranging to see Daisy was like trying to get an audience with the fucking Pope. Susanna's mother was in on the act, too. She had the funds to employ solicitors and set up injunctions. Shed even called me a parasite to my face. I hadnt told Emma about my daughter; it happened a long time after wed split up. There was no need for her to know. At three oclock, I shut the dog in the kitchen and left the flat. I walked through the park to the main road and hailed a cab. I should have taken the bus or the tube, but I liked the way riding in a taxi made me feel. As the driver manoeuvred through the London traffic, he listened patiently to my current tale of woe, unimpressed, like Emma and Susanna and lately, Maddie; judgemental women, all of them. They said I presumed it was always someone elses fault when my life began melting like ice cream in the sunshine. I described my happy-go-lucky personality to the driver. It had seen me through the chaos of my life for so many years, why should I change? Forty was a watershed, the man replied, sagely. You had to get it together by the time you were forty - it was middle age. I stared at the back of his bald head. What the hell did he know about life, anyway? As an actor, I slipped in and out of personalities and sometimes they had Velcro and stuck. The personality attached to me at the moment was a twenty-something and I liked it. The driver was laughing at me, refusing to acknowledge I had even a shred of depth and character and he was pissing me off. Through the window, I caught sight of a woman walking along the street. She looked like Emma. She was wearing a short black leather skirt and denim cropped jacket. Her long legs were suntanned, her feet in patent leather high heels. Emma usually wore her hair neatly tied back or elegantly swirled on top of her head. This womans hair hung loose. The taxi slowed down at the traffic lights. The woman went into a shop. You want me to stop, mate? asked the driver. I just thought I recognised someone, I said. It was bizarre of me to mistake another woman for Emma. I wasnt thinking straight. I needed a job and some money, then Id feel better. I watched the people in the street, hundreds of them, hurrying past, looking down at their phones as they walked, all engrossed in their own worlds, mysterious and unknown. It occurred to me that Emma was a mystery, like most women Id met. My last girl friend said I was false and had a split personality. She said I behaved differently towards her, saving my charm for our friends. I had no idea what I did to engender this criticism. I was simply trying to navigate my way through her peculiar emotions. Women liked to confront me with my faults and I hate confrontation. They wanted so much from me, constantly demanding things I couldnt give them. They puzzled me; made me itchy. I paid the driver with my credit card and stood in the street for a moment to orientate myself. I could see my reflection in a shop window. No need to believe it as gospel truth, but I didnt really look like that, did I? The way the light hit the glass was distorting my frame. I was taller and broader, wasnt I? I should have worn my green-waxed jacket; the one Id acquired when Id been in that TV advert two years ago. Id walked off the set wearing it and no one asked me to take it off. It was one of the perks I considered was my due, standing around in the cold all day, waiting for my fifteen-second scene to be filmed. A guy from the crew told me I had the sort of heightened physical presence that made what I was wearing hard to ignore. After that, I always put on the jacket for auditions. It was a sort of talisman, boosting my confidence. It gave me a touch of class in a situation where the outcome was like a lottery and depended, not on your talent, but on whether or not your face fitted the image the producer had in his mind. A door between two offices blocks opened and a woman came out. She wore jeans and a red T-shirt with STOP LOOKING AT MY TITS printed on the front. If youre auditioning for the film, its up the stairs, but if I were you, dont bother, hes a prick, she said. I ran up a narrow staircase to a small room opening from the landing. The woman behind the desk was tipping the contents of a carrier bag into a raffia waste paper basket. She straightened up as I came in. She was appealing, with light hair and a gentle, pink mouth. She looked like someones mum. She pointed to a row of chairs set against the wall. The room wasnt an office, in fact the table she was using as a desk resembled the type you might use to spread paste on wallpaper. She picked up the basket and shook it at me, indicating she was going to empty it. She ignored me and went through a door to a kitchen. I sat down and waited. This was another metaphor for my life. I was always waiting and I made other people wait, too. I read somewhere that you made people wait because you wanted to be more powerful than them. Was that why every director Id ever auditioned for was late, and I was rarely on time? I sat quite still, like a naughty child waiting to see the headmaster. I always felt like this before an audition. The prick turned out to be just that. A short fat man in his twenties, arrogant and dismissive, he refused to explain anything, except that he was the director and there was no money. He offered me the part of road sweeper in the final scene - two days filming at most, with no lines. I declined. The guy could go and screw himself. I made my apologies, saying Id had another offer from my agent, and had only come today as a favour to her. I filled out the lie with a description of the character Id been cast as - a police inspector in a new edgy murder mystery to be screened on BBC2 in the New Year. The prick wasnt listening. His phone had rung and he was deep in conversation with someone else. That night, Emma said she would cook me a meal as a belated birthday treat. I didnt think to ask her if anything was wrong when she served the food in silence. I dont often notice other peoples emotions. I ate the plate of pasta and sauce quickly, hoping Id find a moment to ask if it was her Id seen, walking along the street, in a short black leather skirt and high heels. She cleared the plates and excused herself, going to her room, taking the dog with her. For a moment, I was unsure how to react. This was supposed to be a celebration. It didnt feel like it. Should I follow her? Tap on her door, two glasses of wine in my hands, my charm switched on to intensive? I heard her go to the bathroom. The shower came on and the loo flushed. I stood up, hovering in the doorway, listening. It felt intrusive, as if I were some old geezer in a raincoat, peering through a bedroom window. I sat down on the sofa. I was a complete idiot, allowing myself to be affected like this but her naked body was just the width of a door away from me. I was stuck, unable to make a decision, to stay where I was or to barge into her room and tell her how much I wanted her; something Id realised that evening. I waited until the flat was quiet, hardly daring to breathe in case it drew attention to my prying. How could she possibly hear me breathe? It was absurd. I sat still for ages, until the meal and the wine acted on my brain and forced me to go to bed. I woke up. Id dreamed the prick was asking me to recite a Shakespearean sonnet and half way through, Id forgotten the lines. When I opened my mouth, barking and whining came out. I forced myself to sit up. Something monstrous was in the room making a noise that might morph into a physical attack. My eyes opened. It was that bloody dog scratching at the door. I checked my watch; ten minutes to four. I swung my legs over the side of the bed. The dog was facing me as I pulled the door wide, its tail between its legs, brown round eyes staring. Whats up, mutt? I whispered. The dog ran down the short passage and threw itself against Emmas door, pawing at the wood, leaving long scratch marks on the white paint. Lay off! I said. It rolled over, exposing its stomach. I put my ear against Emmas door. It started yapping, frantically. That was it. Emma would surely open the door and see me, standing there in my vest and pants. Christ! This was like some bad movie. The dog began running round in circles, panicked. I picked it up and shook it. It went limp in my arms, gazing up at me. Had I put the animal in a coma? I knocked on the door, a sharp rat-a-tat. There was no response. I put the dog down, pushing it away from me with my foot. It scampered to the sitting room. I opened Emmas door, slowly. I could see the bed, facing the window. Emma? I said, softly. The dog came yapping along the hall again and bounded on to the bed, snuffling in the duvet. I called out her name. Silence. I took a few steps into the room. The curtains were closed, but the moonlight shone through the split in the middle. It was enough to show me that Emma was not in the bed. 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Chapter 2
After ten minutes or so, I stopped wondering what to do next. Emma had every right to leave her flat whenever she wanted to, even if it was in the middle of the night. Her life and the way she lived it was nothing to do with me. I was just the lodger, making coffee in my missing landladys kitchen. The hot liquid scalded my mouth, I drunk it so fast. I felt agitated, not expansive and happy as I did most of the time. I lifted up my right hand. It was shaking. I put down the mug and compared it to the left hand. Both hands trembled. This wasnt like me. Why was I so spooked? I had to do something. I would search the flat again. It was stupid to think she might be hiding under the bed or in the wardrobe, yet I felt obliged to look in to every corner of her room, turn over every cushion, lift the carpet, move the wardrobe. I hadnt put so much energy into anything for a long time. Eventually, I went back to my room and lay on the bed. The dog jumped up and licked my face. I left him there and fell asleep. It was Pinter who woke me, pawing my arm, a couple of hours later. I picked the dog up and went to Emmas bedroom. She still wasnt there. I went to the window. I could hear shouting. The streetlight illuminated the couple from the flat below. They were standing by the gate at the end of the front garden arguing, the woman pointing her finger at the man while he walked up and down, yelling at her. She marched up the path to the front door. I heard it slam. The man walked away. Perhaps, I should go downstairs and ask her if she had seen Emma? I decided against it. It was still not quite light and I didnt know her. She might not be in the right frame of mind to answer questions. I went back to my room. Emma would be back. She was probably out with some bloke, having a good time. It niggled me. What right had she to treat me this way? I thought it would be fun living with her. If she was going to piss me around, Id have to move on. Where, might be a problem, but Id face that tomorrow. Two wooden bedside cabinets stood on either side of Emmas bed. I put the dog on her pillow, where it curled up, staring at me through a fringe of fur. The drawer of the left cabinet was open a few inches. I reached inside and extracted a piece of paper. There was nothing else in the drawer, nothing to give me any clues about her, only this paper with a phone number on it. With the sense that I had made a huge discovery, I sat on Emmas bed and stroked the dog. I wanted to stay calm. The phone number was Emmas private stuff. I had no right to look at it. I justified my next move by telling myself it was for Emmas own good, even though it was only six oclock in the morning. The phone rang for a long time. Finally, a woman answered. Hello, who is this? Jake Adams. Who? Im phoning about Emma. Emma? Emma Di Lucca? Yes. Im her lodger. Leo, theres some man on the phone. Says hes the lodger? Will you speak to him? There was a pause. She never told me she had a lodger, the man said. Im just staying with her for a bit. Shes missing Missing? Yes. Why do you think shes missing? Why? Because shes not here. Perhaps shes staying with someone? Is she with you? How did you get this number? It was on a piece of paper... When did you last see her? She was here last night. She cooked spaghetti. Emma cooked? Yes. I woke in the middle of the night because her dog Pinter? Yes. He was scratching at my door. I got up and checked her room. Her bed was empty. Ill come over. Wait dont you want the address? He hung up. I went back to Emmas bedroom and opened the curtains. The sun lit up her possessions as if they were a stage set. On the pink armchair under the window, her yellow silk dressing gown was draped across the back, black velvet slippers on the floor underneath. The tops of the two bedside tables were clear, apart from a lamp with a pink shade and a dish with some earrings. Her clothes still hung in the wardrobe, the doors open wide. The room looked different in the daylight. I noticed things I hadnt before. I pulled open the drawer of the other bedside table. Inside, I could see nail scissors and emery boards, a hair band and a mobile phone charger. At the back was a tiny plastic bag filled with white powder. I opened it and, licking the tip of a finger, I dipped it into the powder and placed a tiny dot on my tongue. I swirled saliva around my mouth, my tongue against my teeth, sucking in my cheeks. The taste was sharp and identifiable. It was salt. I turned the bag over and over and tasted the powder again, to make sure. Why would Emma want to keep salt in there? I needed to get out. The atmosphere in the room was oppressing me. A high-pitched noise from the hall made me jump. Pinter was sitting by the front door, howling. I picked the dog up. Its fur smelled of Emmas perfume, another thing I hadnt noticed before. I carried it in my arms and walked down the stairs. In the distance I could hear police sirens. I put the dog down, dropping the lead. It sat still and looked at me. At the end of the road, I could see crowds of people standing bunched together on the pavement, their bodies illuminated by a kaleidoscope of flashing lights from emergency vehicles. A van driver spoke to me through his window. Woman knocked over. Dead. Jesus! Youre kidding Wish I was. Been stuck here forever. I could hear people shouting and the air was acrid; a mix of petrol and diesel. I couldnt see the dead woman. I stepped on the lead, picked up the dog, holding it close to my chest and walked back to the house. A man was standing at the front door. Leo Di Lucca sat on Emmas sofa, his arms folded across his chest, his legs twisted awkwardly as if he were unbalanced, on the edge of a precipice, scared to look down. He had a square face and a wide, full mouth. His hair was a mix of black and grey and receding, showing a high, lined forehead. He wore a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. He looked familiar but I couldnt place him. I guessed he was in his sixties. Emma is a relative, he said. Is that why you knew where she lived? Of course, though I didnt know shed taken in a lodger. He moved again, this time leaning back against the cushions and stretching his legs out in front of him, his arms tightly folded across his chest. I noticed his eyes, dark brown, and his sallow complexion. You say she was here last night? he said. Yes. She cooked dinner And she didnt go out? She might have, but I didnt hear anything. You sleep deep, do you? What? You didnt hear her getting up? No, youve got it wrong. Shes just a mate doing me a favour - renting me a room. Yes. She was that kind of girl, wasnt she? Was? Is that kind of girl. Accommodating. Someone was knocked down and killed out there this morning. What if it was Emma? Dont be a fool. It was an old lady who walked in front of a bus. How do you know? I asked on my way here. Should I tell the police shes gone? Why? For Gods sake, man. Shes missing! How do I know if youre telling me the truth? What? Are you suggesting her disappearance has something to do with me? His smiled and stood up, stretching his arms above his head. Shell turn up. She always does, he said. Give me your mobile number. Ill phone if I hear from her. I dont think you should call the police yet. Give it till tomorrow, he said. As I showed him out, I knew I hadnt asked him the right questions. What did I know about him? If she really were his relative, surely he would have been more concerned? Then, I remembered where Id seen him - in the pub. He was the man sitting opposite her. The next morning, I woke up with a splitting headache. It was a stupid thing to sleep in her bed last night, a decision made on the spur of the moment. My dreams were vivid; Emma running away from me, stopping and calling my name. When I reached her, shed gone. I had to get back on track, find another place to stay, phone my agent and start looking for work. Leo Di Lucca had pissed me off, insisting I shouldnt inform the police. Id easily been persuaded that she would turn up, safe and well, though there had been no contact from her workmates or other members of her family. Should I obey Leo and not tell the police? My world had taken on an air of farce. It was like being in a play, waiting for the curtain to come down and real life to begin. I called the dog. It crawled out on its stomach from under the bed and let me stroke its head. It looked terrified. What the hell was I going to do with it? I couldnt drag it around with me all the time. It was worse than having a kid. There was no landline in the flat and Emmas mobile phone was missing. Id tried to call it several times and always got an answer phone message. She was consuming my thoughts and I resented her presence in my head. I had never spent so much time thinking about a woman, especially one that meant nothing to me any more. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind. When she turned up Id tell her what I thought of her behaviour; how bloody selfish she was, leaving me with the responsibility of the flat and her dog. I didnt want to, but later I called Leo again. I told him he would have to keep the dog and look after it until she returned. I had a life to live. He told me to get a train to his house, a few miles west of London. That afternoon, I took a cab to Paddington Station. I walked to the far end of the platform, keen to be away from people. Travellers milled about, oblivious of what was happening in my world, in the dogs world. Not one of them knew about Emma. No one knew I was going see Leo to dump her dog on him. I felt a pang of empathy for the animal, alone and homeless. I didnt want to acknowledge I was in the same situation. My lifestyle meant I was a kind of drifter, moving from one job to another in different parts of the country. That was the nature of acting and generally, I liked the freedom. Now, I felt trapped, accountable for Emma. Unwittingly, Id ensnared myself in her universe. My world was different. It was a free place where Id been blindly happy for years. The nagging knowledge that I was the only one on the platform who knew she was missing, made me angry. Where were Emmas friends? Her workmates? Her family? There was nothing in the flat to give me this information. I should have asked her more questions about herself, but I hadnt been that interested in her life, not really. I boarded the train and looked at my face reflected in the window. Uncertain of what I was seeing, I moved sideways. The face changed into Emmas face, the knowing eyes and thick hair, her long neck around which shed worn a silver chain on the night she disappeared; a tiny heart with one diamond at its centre dangling from it, sparkling as the light caught it when she moved. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Her face looked back at me. Then, it slowly faded, like the end of a film, before the credits roll. What the hell was happening to me, imagining I could see her? The dog shuffled at my feet. Pinter was real enough. As the train sped through the suburbs and into the countryside, the elderly woman sitting opposite struck up a conversation. She seemed to know a lot about the Shih Tzu breed. She droned on and on about them, until I excused myself to go to the loo and asked her to look after Pinter. When I came back, the dog was sitting on her lap. He looks comfortable, I said. I suppose youre too busy to look after him, are you? Hes not mine. His owner is missing Shit! Why had I told her that? Poor little man, she said, kissing the top of Pinters head. If you dont want him, Ill take him, dear. Thanks, but hes going to stay with a friend. She kept the dog on her lap until we reached the station, when she handed the dog to me, reluctantly. I sprinted towards the exit. I should be in London, auditioning for jobs, not in a country town Id never been to before, holding a bloody dog, with some mad woman mouthing at me from a moving train window. The train picked up speed and my mobile rang as I reached the street that ran parallel to the station. It was Leo Im waiting at the top of the hill, he said, Im in a dark green Land Rover. Leo lived in a rambling detached house, a mile or so from the station. Built in the twenties, it had a classic art deco faade with wide sash windows on either side of a front door. The walls were painted cream, the window frames black, fitted with sections of stained glass; blue and red flowers. It was just the sort of house a man like him would live in. Why did I feel so resentful? I hardly knew the guy. He parked on the turning circle in front. A woman opened the door. She was tall, with thick reddish hair tied back in a scarf. The lids of her green eyes were heavy, giving her a sleepy, vague look. She wore little makeup, just a bright red lipstick, slightly smudged at the corners of her mouth. Several years younger than Leo, perhaps in her fifties, she looked old fashioned, in her heavy linen blue dress with a pleated skirt and a dark blue cardigan, as if she would have been happier in the era the house was constructed. Behind her, a galleried landing looked down on an elegant hall with a tiled black and white floor. Modern art hung on the walls and the furniture was retro, sixties in style; a round white table with a pedestal and four bucket chairs in the middle, a large brown vase in the centre holding artificial flowers in a variety of creams and pinks. It was all too fucking perfect for me to feel comfortable. You sad little thing! she said, taking the dogs lead, pulling the animal towards her. A fat black Labrador stood beside her. It sniffed Pinters behind and losing interest, waddled to a room off the hall. The woman held out her hand to me. Im Sylvia Di Lucca, Leos wife. Welcome to our humble home, she said. She led the way to a long kitchen with a fireplace housing a blue Aga at one end. There was a rectangular oak table in the middle of the room. Around the walls were pieces of painted furniture, cupboards and dressers in soft greys and blues, packed full of expensive china. She put Pinter down in a small basket by the Aga. I think it fits him. It used to belong to our Siamese cat, she said. Pinter curled up in the bed, his eyes closed, as if this was the final straw for him. I was going to give him to this woman on the train, I said. No, that would be unthinkable. Were delighted to take him. I mean, what else could we do? Any news about Emma? she said. Nothing. Thats a shame. You know her well? I was surprised Id had the nerve to ask such a question. Was I being too inquisitive, assuming Emma acknowledged them as family? I had no idea what Leos relationship was with her. I was trying to recall when you last saw her, Leo? she said. He took off his driving gloves and handed them to her. Ages ago, he said, absently. I thought you had a drink with her when you were staying at the clinic, a few weeks back? I was right. I had seen them in the pub, the day before I called her. No, I didnt say that. Youre imagining things, he said. Well, I know exactly when I last saw her, Sylvia said. When? She came here last July. I wanted to introduce her to a nice unmarried chap I know. She wouldnt have been interested, I said. Really? How do you know that? She always seemed pretty independent to me I felt my face burn. Why should I care if shed fixed Emma up with a man? Thats as maybe, but every woman needs a man to lean on, Jake, she said. She was as old fashioned as her clothes! She knew nothing about my brief love affair with Emma, the way shed dropped me, once in the past and now by disappearing. Everything about this woman irritated me; her calm smugness, her upper-class confidence, her knowing eyes searching for a chink in my armour. Do sit down, she said, with icy politeness. Leo stretched and clasped his hands, cracking the bones. He pulled out a chair and waited for me to sit at the table. Im afraid, even though we are related, Im not able to tell you very much about Emma. Patient confidentiality, he said. Why? Are you a doctor? I asked. In a manner of speaking, yes. M G Y, W<6- W ;,”o~ƣt@O/6Kր0i1;$P0!YݩjbiXJB5IgAФ޲a6{P g֢)҉-Ìq8RmcWyXg/u]6Q_Ê5H
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Chapter 3
Sylvia insisted I stay for dinner. We drank a lot of red wine, ate roast beef and talked about my acting career, politics and money - oddly, anything but Emma, until the grandfather clock by the door chimed midnight and I realised Id missed the last train back to London. She took me upstairs to a guest room, decorated with pale blue wallpaper reminiscent of the sixties. A multi-coloured patchwork bedspread covered a huge wooden four-poster. The room was furnished with Art Deco artefacts. Black and white framed photos of Italian film stars hung on the walls - Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Gina Lollobrigida and beside the bed, a huge photo of Robert Di Nero. She switched on a table lamp. The bulb sat in a holder above a dancing nymphet, carved in alabaster. I thought it was ugly and it cast a sombre, yellow light on her face, making her features look elongated and drooped. She sat on the edge of the bed and patted the space beside her, an intimate gesture that made me feel like a child. Sorry, I think Ive had too much wine I said. Dont worry about it. Why dont you get into bed? she said. Im fine as I am, thanks. Suit yourself, but youd be more at ease lying down. I could smell her perfume; a green, sharp scent, like the stems of wilting flowers. My head was throbbing and I felt nauseous. I went to the window and pulled back the curtains, opening the casement, taking in a deep breath of night air. When I turned round, she was lying on the bed, her hands behind her head, her legs crossed. Would you like to know more, Jake? she said. About what? Emma? Never mind her. I want to talk about Leo. She rolled onto her side. Hes known as Mr. Affable. He doesnt mind the title, he believes he is affable Why? I asked. Because he never loses his temper, never says cruel things about anyone and always tries his best to fit in. Its laughable, she said in a mater-of-fact voice. She rubbed the front of her neck with her hand and I knew what this was about. Id seen it all before. Frustrated middle-aged women in unhappy marriages, wanting a quick screw while hubby was downstairs loading the dishwasher. If she thought I was going to join her on the bed, she was mistaken. Its like this, she said, theres something about him that creates a certain mood when hes in the room. Have you picked it up? I hardly know him, Sylvia. She sat up, pulling her knees forward, grasping them. He comes from a very large family, an influential family. Lucky him, I said. She was annoying me. You see, hes the one who tried to stay nice. Thats why he helped Emma. He said she was a relative of his. Why wouldnt he want to help her? As you said, Jake, you hardly know him. So Im going to fill you in, she said. What is he to Emma? A cousin? Uncle? She laughed. She made me feel like an angular youth, inexperienced and awkward. Was he her lover? I asked, impetuously. She paused, sniffing the air, her nostrils widening, her tongue licking her lower lip. Hes not a small man, not small in stature; small in real confidence, in knowing who he is, small in emotion, in generosity of spirit, in connecting with his fellow man or woman. Its surprising hes a therapist, really. A therapist? I thought he was a doctor? He has a PhD. So hes not a doctor of medicine? Psychology. Hes good at what he does, so his grateful clients tell him. Hes made a name for himself in one particular area What area? He helps the family with their problems. People in power have the same problems as you and me, you know. He searches childhoods, rooting out clues to personality defects, bringing to the surface old secrets; fathers who were drunk and abusive, men beaten by their fathers, passing the violence and hatred down the line Stop. Is this really anything to do with me? I said, bored with her inane ramblings. I wasnt even listening. I thought you should know. Why? Youre right. Ive probably said too much. She slid off the bed, her face sullen, mouth down-turned. Ill see you in the morning, she said. What the hell was she expecting from me? In the night, I tried to remember what shed said. All that stuff about her husbands work, the people he treated, this family shed mentioned. I couldnt work out her motive for telling me such intimate details. Eventually, I fell into an uneasy sleep and woke as the door handle turned. Sylvia didnt bother to knock. She was wearing a white apron over a black dress. She looked crisp, like a well-scrubbed maid. You dont have to be anywhere, do you? she said. I dont think so Im cooking you a special breakfast. Leo has gone, so its just you, me and the dogs. Downstairs in the kitchen, the morning ritual wrapped around us like protective armour, keeping us focused on the minutiae of breakfast. I noticed the way she scraped the spoon across the bottom of her bowl to collect the last of the milk, how she spread butter on her toast with finicky care, pushing it into the four corners of the slice, as if she was plastering a wall. When wed both finished, she collected the plates and put them in the dishwasher Leo leaves early, I said. Yes. He likes to be punctual. Hes always been like that. Do you take him to the station every day? I do. Funny, we never kiss each other. I always drive away without looking back. She switched on the dishwasher and sat down again. Leo tells me he visualizes my day as he waits for the train, she said, he says I drive back to the house to make a second cup of coffee, pick up the paper from the floor where hes left it, settle into the armchair by the small window in the hall, pluck a few brown leaves from a plant on the windowsill and close my eyes for a moment, sipping the coffee with great care, as if the cup might contain poison Might it? I said. It has been known, she said. Jesus! What are we talking about here? Its all nonsense. I take the dog for a walk through the fields. Youre taking the piss, arent you? Dont say that! The vehemence of her voice shocked me. Dont you see? He watches me, in his head. He sees me go through this sequence of events, tiny dramas that highlight the fact that Im alive, continuing to do what they want. Its what differentiates me from a bloody corpse! She lowered her head. I could tell her eyes were full of unshed tears, held in with gritted determination not to show me she was hurt. I turned away from her. When women cried, it made me feel sick. Thats how that bloody family functions. Controlling everyone, forcing you to imagine scenarios and then making them happen, she said. Family? The Di Lucca family. I thought you were talking about your marriage. You have to put everything into context, dont you? Its the secret of survival, Jake. He comes home and unloads on me the long silences, the infrequent sex, the calm niceness that keeps me just on the edge of sanity, because the family makes sure he never does anything, except what hes told to do! Her face was suddenly animated as if she was compelled to reveal everything now shed started. I could feel Pinter by my heels, his nose against my leg. Sylvia, Im grateful to you and Leo for taking the dog, but why are you telling me all this? I said. She reached across the table to touch my hand. Because Emma is a Di Lucca. People in that family go missing if they break the rules. Are you joking? I said. They know how the human body can deceive, Jake. How a man can wake up healthy and go to bed with an unexpected blood clot in his heart. I told you, they can make anything look normal. This was too much. She was nuts and I wanted out. I pulled my hand away. Her face was pinched, like a small animal caught in a trap. Dont go. I have much more to tell you, she said. Thanks, but Id rather not know. Its none of my business. It soon will be. If you continue to look for Emma. The sudden cool absence of any emotion in her voice was unnerving. Please, Im going, I said. I stood up and moved towards the door. She followed me, talking urgently. Every day Leo walks from the station to his office in the clinic. The room is furnished with nothing but a desk, a swivel chair and an armchair for his clients. There are five therapists working from that labyrinth of rooms, each practitioner specializing in some form of alternative quackery. Its all a cover, you see A cover? For what? Wait, listen! Clients might be sitting in the waiting room, staring at the wallpaper - insane, desperate men. Of course, the sight of people with disordered minds doesnt stress Leo because he knows how they got that way. Sylvia, what do you mean by a cover? I said. She was being too fucking enigmatic for me. Considering I was an actor, I should be able to communicate effectively. It wasnt happening. I know that at times like these, he thinks about her, she said, softly. She leaned against me, so close I thought I could feel her heart beating. He thinks about Emma? I said. All the time. Was he sleeping with her? She put her hand on my cheek. I could feel attraction and repulsion vacillating between us. You see, Jake - a man might be sitting in the armchair in the office, his case notes open on the desk. At school this man exhibited unusually violent traits, pinning a child against a wall, throttling him with white knuckled hands until a teacher pulled him away Sylvia, were Leo and Emma having sex? I repeated. The man listens, while he questions him about these childhood actions. His eyes grow wet with the type of self-pity that always blots out pity for anyone else. His explanations become a drone, a whining catalogue of pleading noises that add background to his thoughts about Emma. The man leans forward, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for the therapist to produce a reason for his abhorrent behaviour. He wants an explanation for his violence. He wants a syndrome, a medical description of his problem, giving him the security of knowing he is ill, that he alone, is not responsible for the abuse, the crime, the chaotic content of his life Her words came at me like a shower of splinters and her expression changed, a mix of fury and disdain. This is when Leo becomes Mr. Affable, she said, he talks quietly, professionally, in a manner thats neither threatening nor passive, telling the man hes made progress and needs to book his next session with the receptionist in the hall. The man leaves knowing that the next time he slips into old behaviour patterns he will be able to articulate the reasons why he was committing murder She leant against the worktop, her back to me; I could see the tension in her shoulders, the limp fall of her neck and head. When hes gone, Mr. Affable feels satisfied. He had done what they wanted. You understand, Jake? she said. No, I said. Do you ever think about becoming ill, Jake? What? A terminal illness that will destroy your body and trap your mind in decaying flesh? Thats what they can do Who? Leo has prepared for his demise by paying for care in advance. Money makes it all so easy, even death. They make sure of that. Hes bought insurance policies and discussed euthanasia with our doctor. She came back to me and put her arms around my neck. I want to trust in the compassion of my fellow humans. Someone will be around at the time to mop up my incontinence. You mentioned thisfamily. What do you mean? Leo says I am obsessed with my death; that is why I will not confront its absolute certainty, she said. I pulled her arms away. Are you in danger, Sylvia? Always, always She just wanted sex. I have to go, I said. We need to be free, Jake. Yes, well, we all need to be free. Thanks again for taking Pinter. Ill drive you to the station. Theres a train soon, she said, suddenly calm. On the journey back to London, I stopped myself dissecting what shed said, forced myself to count the trees, the windows of the houses that flashed past as the train sped towards the city. How had I managed to get involved with these people? Id met some weirdoes, fantasists, people with huge egos and small minds, but Id never met anyone like her or Leo. The whole episode was unreal. Why would the woman unburden herself on me, telling me things that were so private, so off the wall? Who were this family she referred to and what power did they have over Emma? I closed the front door of the flat, locked it and went to Emmas room. Her life, past and present, was here only I couldnt see it. I couldnt see her birth, her childhood, a time I knew nothing about. I couldnt see what had happened to her after we split up and she went her own way. None of it was visible to me, although I knew it was in the atmosphere, like an old film ready to play, if I only had the right kit. I grabbed the corner of the duvet and pulled it off the bed. It made a round, soft heap on the floor like a body devoid of bones and muscles. I took off the sheets and threw the pillows onto the duvet. There was no sign of where our bodies had been, hers before she had disappeared and mine, when Id taken such a huge liberty and slept there. I took hold of the side of the mattress and began to turn it over. I wanted to dispose of any evidence, any sign of that uninvited intimacy. Emma would be furious with me if she ever found out. I was insane to invade her personal space. As I lifted the mattress to the centre, I saw a small black book. I didnt touch it. I replaced the mattress and went back to the sitting room and poured myself a glass of her vodka. I woke up with another thumping headache. My hands and feet felt numb. There was a pain in my chest as if a lump of rock was in there. I walked past Emmas door three times. How was it that I, an educated man of forty years couldnt make up my mind? This was how it always was. Id inherited something in my blood; a diffidence so powerful it was now part of my fucking nature! I opened the door, lifted the mattress and took hold of the book. I placed it on the table in the kitchen, put a plate and a bowl beside it and the cornflake packet behind. My coffee tasted bitter. I couldnt eat. I picked up the book and opened the first page and closed it. I tried again. Very slowly, as if I was about to read something forbidden, I opened the book again. It looked like a diary, written in scrawled handwriting. What the hell was I doing? The book had nothing to do with me. It belonged to Emma. I went into the bathroom, peered in the mirror and saw somebody different. I splashed cold water on my eyes. A distorted face looked back at me. I wasnt seeing clearly. Imagination, thats all it was. An actor needed a good imagination to do the job. I was still Jake. He was still here, present, living, breathing and looking good. Seeing my face usually made me feel better. Susanna once told me I was a narcissist. She said I lacked empathy, thought I was special and needed everyone to admire me all the time. She said I was arrogant and obsessed with my looks, always taking Selfies with my iPhone. Why was I looking at my face and thinking about Susanna? I hadnt seen her for years. The only contact we had was through our daughter. Susanna was messing with my head, like all women did. Thinking about her had made me look old. I would do something practical. I would read the diary, whether she liked it, or not. Why should I care whether Susanna would approve of me reading Emmas diary? Susanna caused trouble for me; a lot of trouble. She told her mother Id hit her. I never hit her, only once and not hard. It was that day when Daisy was about five years old. Id bought her a little bike. I went round to the house to give it to her. Her mother had some bloke there, a man Id never seen before. I wanted to take Daisy to the park to try out the bike. Her mother and the bloke insisted on coming with us. Daisy tried to ride but she fell off and started to howl. Susanna said it was my fault, giving her a bike that was too big for her and expecting her to ride it without help. Daisy wouldnt stop yelling. I grabbed her and kicked over the bike. I was angry with the bloke, standing there watching, a supercilious smile on his face. Susanna tried to take Daisy from me and I lashed out. She put her arm up and I caught her bare flesh with my hand. I hadnt meant to hurt her. It was an accident. The little black book was waiting. I was waiting, procrastinating again. Now, Susanna and Daisy were in my head and coming forward, her hands folded in her lap, my mother, sitting in her favourite armchair, her hair messy, her face wet with tears. I closed my eyes and focused on the swirls of black and red I could see behind my eyelids, blocking out these women with their resentful faces, their constant demands. They faded and I opened my eyes and the book at the same time Emma, do you remember her? Caterina Di Lucca, my mother? She left the family. They had done with her. She went to live by the sea; an English sea-side town where people go to come to terms with approaching death, to feel secure as part of an ageing fraternity. There, she rejected her heritage, pretended to be English, told people shed been born here, ignoring the fact that her accent betrayed her. You see she was scared of the racial climate developing in the country. Sylvia used to visit. She never liked her, although I would tell her Sylvia is good, Mama. Sylvia is dutiful. She believes that her corner of heaven will be allotted by the number of do-good points she has accumulated down here, like a supermarket promotion. Sylvia sees my mother as a good woman, as many people do. Sylvia tells me that when she dies, my mother will have a balcony room overlooking the sea, while I, who find it hard to acknowledge my sins, will be hanging onto a cliff edge with the mouth of a volcano beneath me. They would sit in silence; in the garden in summer, in the conservatory in winter, sipping tea. Sylvia would always bring a cake; something with fresh cream and chocolate curls, for my mother had a sweet tooth. Sylvia had been a caring daughter-in-law, but still my mother disliked her - it was a family trait. When Mama became ill, it was you who came with me to visit her in the hospital, Emma. In an unspoken understanding, Mama embraced you with affection that is only reserved for blood relations. She never loved Sylvia like that. There are no daughters. I am her only offspring. I think she had hoped that I would fulfil the role of both son and daughter, in one pliable package. That is why you are so special, Emma. I often interrogated her when my own sexual identity was in question; as it was when I reached sixteen. Sex was not something she ever discussed with me. As a child I knew with the natural curiosity children have, that sex and its outcomes were unpleasant for her and something to be avoided at all costs. It gave me pleasure to know she had been caught, like a child, with her fingers in the jelly and I had been the result. She said shed been forced. The family made her marry someone she hated. We never talk about my father. Emma, never forget that you and my mother have a bond. Remember how at the hospital, you sat at the foot of her bed and nibbled grapes or chatted to the nurses when they came to take her temperature or change her bladder drain; inconsequential chat that never strayed to her condition? They are kind to me. They know I am a helpless man and cannot cope. Remember that Social Worker? She was called Rose. She was intensely concerned and I despised the way she talked, as if my mother were already dead. I slowed our discussions down, as each remark she made was translated by me into language suitable to be heard by a dying woman. I think that is the only sincere thing I have ever done for my mother in recent years. Perhaps it fulfilled that desire to see the daughter in me, caring and concerned, expressing a positive obsession with the quality of bed sheets and meals? One morning in May, we went to the hospital an hour or so before the final curtain. Roses message on my answer-phone was couched in such careful platitudes, warning of a catastrophe without giving the slightest hint that the coming event was to be the death of the woman inside whose body I had first come to taste life. Rose was waiting in a side ward. She beckoned us in with a finger. There was a curious smell of stew and urine. The curtains are drawn around my mothers bed. Rose wore a sympathetic mask. She indicated we should sit down and offers us tea. We observe in reverent silence, a bright, clean nurse arriving with two white china cups and saucers brimming with brown liquid. Do you remember this, Emma? My mother opened her eyes and focused the watery pupils on you. You took her hand and stroked it. Caring for a loved one is so difficult, Rose states, looking at me. I can't agree, as I have never cared much for my mother. Still, you have been fortunate, havent you? Your mother has always been such a healthy woman and has never been a burden on you, has she? I realise she cannot see that the family knew my mother had been a great and intense burden on everyone. She is very peaceful and the end should come soon, she murmurs. My mother was never peaceful, Emma. Death will give her the opportunity to usurp every emotion we might feel, in a silence where the noise of her recriminations will be deafening. My mother. My is a curious word. It implies ownership. I have never wanted to own her, or you. Remember how you continued to stroke my mothers hand with a peculiar tenderness that confirmed your relationship? I am her son, a stranger who happened here by chance; a fugitive from another dimension, unlike you and all these other dedicated women hovering around the bed. My mother looked like a total stranger to me, her face an olive colour. The eyes are sunken, the lips a thin line drawn with a sharp HB pencil. Her hair is khaki, sparse and crinkly, sticking out at aggressive angles against the white pillow. Somehow, she managed to exude anger. I remember how you looked at me, Emma. How you moved closer to me to accommodate what you thought was my grief Im so very sorry, Rose says to the air above my mothers head. She coughs quietly and places a hand on my shoulder. I look down at the dying woman and feel great sympathy for Rose. How conscientious she is, so well trained and ordered in her responses to such a messy situation. They have tried to package the event decorously. There are spotless white sheets. The smells in the immediate vicinity of the bed are deodorized. But we know that decay begins on day one, dont we, Rose? She can't read my thoughts and remains stoically grief stricken. As breath is taken at the moment of birth, death is queuing up behind, waiting for something to slip, someone to make a mistake, I say, smiling at her. She pats my hand. Grief makes men say strange things. You are stroking my arm, Emma. It is necessary for me to make some sort of comment on the progress of this extraordinary happening, to ease the strained emotions. I thank Rose profusely, congratulating her on her professionalism. I kiss you on the cheek and ask the nurse for another cup of tea. I look out of the window for Sylvias car. I am strangely elated that she will miss the climax. There is nothing I can say or do for my mother. The wide-eyed priest arrives to give her the Last Sacrament and as he begins to set out the objects of ritual beside the bed, my mother opens her sunken eyes, stares with piercing accuracy and says: Only a priest by my bed. Go away, Leonardo! I closed the book. Emma had hidden it, as if she might be ashamed of what was written. I walked around the flat. The walls seemed to close in on me. When I opened the doors, the rooms appeared smaller, darker. Still, there was this intense sensation that Emma was here, only her body missing. She was close, close enough to touch. Her DNA was everywhere. A person is more than the sum of the particles of their DNA, arent they? No one could be here and not here, could they? I began to search through her things again; her clothes in the wardrobe, papers in the kitchen drawers; utility bills, receipts and invoices, looking for something, although I didnt know what I was looking for. As I searched, I saw a business card with the address of a clinic and the name: Dr. Leonardo Di Lucca. I grabbed my jacket and left the flat. A silver and gold board on the wall advertised the various practitioners, under the name: THE CENTRE FOR LIFE. So, this was where Leo worked: in a house where a load of old hippies with one foot in the sixties were selling hope to vulnerable idiots. I walked up the four steps in front of the door and rang the bell. I felt anxious. It wasnt like me to feel this way. Im a happy person. I knew I could occasionally feel alone. Being an actor isolated you from others. Your world revolved around yourself. Thats what you were selling; your flexible personality, free to embrace any character, male or female and make them exist for an audience. In between roles you had to decide who you were, retract into the real you. I was Jake Adams and I was looking up at the building that reminded me of a Victorian asylum, for chrissake! If I had a mental illness, its bleak, brick faade would paralyse me. I had to stay cool. I was here to see Leo Di Lucca. If he had written the diary, he was also playing roles, turning like a Rubrics Cube, changing with each twist of a square, becoming part of other lives as if he were a microbe; indiscriminate about the host he attached himself to. All that crap about his mother I didnt believe a word of it. The door opened revealing a woman, tall and pale, wearing grey trousers and a white shirt. She had an undernourished look reflecting a disciplined life, like a pious nun. Im so sorry but the centre is closed, she said. Does Leo Di Lucca work here? Yes, he does, but only part-time. Can I talk to you? About him? I told you, hes not here. She began to close the door. Just a few minutes, thats all, I promise. In the waiting room she sat on the edge of the chair, leaning forward, her hands folded, her head to one side like an inquisitive bird. Who are you? I asked. Im one of the senior psychotherapists. Are you on any medication? Im not sick and Im not taking meds. I just want to know about Leo, thats all. She sat back, her face mask-like, blue eyes unblinking. Are you a friend? A relative? Do you know a girl called Emma? Im sorry, I cant tell you anything. She started to fidget. Emma Di Lucca? Leo is related to her. I told you, I cant tell you anything. Patient confidentiality. Emma is missing, I said. Im sorry? Missing from what? She must be sending me up. Shes gone. Like a playing card in bloody conjuring trick! It has nothing to do with me. Maybe not, but it has got something to do with Leo Di Lucca. She rolled her eyes; a gesture that made me see she was going to be as opaque as he was. Whats your name, she asked. Jake Adams. How do you know Leo? I dont, not very well. Mr. Adams, Dr. Di Lucca is not a close friend of mine, hes a work colleague and his relationship with his patients is none of my business. I had a foreboding sensation this thin, obdurate woman had important information about Emma. I had to engage her before she threw me out. Sitting with her in the pokey little room, with its bare magnolia walls and old chairs lined up created a new feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, adding to the anxiety that had been incubating, it seemed, since Emma vanished. Was she his patient? I asked. Im not saying that What are you saying? I told you. Leos work practices are nothing to do with me. Well, I tell you, if I was crazy, this is the last place Id come, I said, infuriated at her stonewalling. People have some strange ideas about mental health, she said, using the palms of her hands to rub her cheeks as if she wanted to force away the blush that was creeping up from her neck. Was Emma Di Lucca mentally ill? I said. Its the Cinderella service in this country and it looks like it will stay that way for some time, so those of us who work in the field, we have to do everything we can to promote good practice and let the general public know that mental illness is like any other illness and should be treated as such. She looked exhausted after her speech. For fucks sake, answer me! I think you should go, she said. You do know her, then? Id scared her. Emma Di Lucca was a patient here, yes, but only for a short time. Was she treated by Leo? Im sorry That was unethical, wasnt it? If he was related to her? All I can say is that she was here sometimes, talking with him. About what? She looked exasperated. About family, if you must know. Family? Yes! She came here to talk to him about her family? Patients often want to discuss those issues Why? What had they done to her? They appeared Yes? to have a great deal of influence on her. And on Leo? I dont know. Okay. Thanks. One last thing. Does he have anything to do with her disappearance, do you think? She pulled up the sleeves of her shirt, exposing sinewy arms. There is a huge disconnection between the faade certain people show to the world and the way they really are, she said. Are you talking about Emma or Leo? I said. Please, I have nothing more to tell you. Shed cleverly avoided giving me any real information. Id been awake since two in the morning thinking about my visit to the clinic, about Leo and Sylvia and Emma. It was now almost nine oclock and I was still in bed. The flat was silent and cold. The central heating had stopped working and I didnt know how to fix it. Id always been hopeless at things like that and I didnt have any money to call a plumber. My mobile rang. It was Maddie Cohen. Darling! Are you up? Maddie? Whats happening? Hearing her voice switched me into work mode. It was a button that was pressed when she called because it meant I might be up for a job. I have the most wonderful opportunity - just in, sweetie. The producer loved your mug shots and thinks youll be perfect. Really? Yes. And guess what? Theyre filming in the US. Is this a wind-up? Definitely not. Its Nathan Perez, the film producer. You must have heard of him. Hes making an ethical film Ethical? What the fuck does that mean? Oh, you know, about protecting the environment and all that stuff and he wants to use unknowns. Isnt that amazing? Unknowns? Like me, you mean? Now, dont be silly. I know you havent worked for ages, not through any fault of mine, I hasten to add. This is just the break youve been waiting for. More info, Maddie Perhaps today, I would go to Emmas room and shed be there, on the bed, like Sleeping Beauty. Perez will be in town next week. Hed like you meet you at his hotel. Which hotel? The Savoy, darling. When and what time and should I have a speech ready? Two oclock next Wednesday. Take a bit of Shakespeare and a Stoppard. They impress, so be prepared to deliver, darling. And try to keep your feet on the ground, theres a good boy Maddie once called me a dreamer because I wouldnt take the crap acting jobs she put me up for. Women did this; tried to label me. Maybe, she was right? I was in a fantasy about my life; waiting to play the lead in a blockbuster, star in a play at The Royal Court or in a TV soap. Why should I worry? Politicians did it all the time - living in fantasy worlds full of sales pitches and lies. The truth was why would any big shot film producer want to see me? I showered and dressed and walked past Emmas closed bedroom door. I touched the handle and felt a pull to go into the room. Perhaps I was in a film now, at this moment, playing the part of a hapless bloody lodger? If I waited, the ending would explain everything. The diary was still there, on the bedside table, where Id left it. I half expected it to be gone, like her. 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By Wooders 58 on 14 Dec. 2015 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase What a great page turner. Was lucky to read this on a long flight without any distractions. A totally self obsessed man living in a bubble of his own importance, unaware of what is going on in the lives of people he loves. The book takes you on a journey through his awakening into the world. Keeps you hanging and guessing all the way through, jump in and read it hope there is a lot more to come from this author. The writing is pacy and at times poetic but never boring. An engrossing read By Steve on 10 Aug. 2015 Format: Paperback Couldn't put it down. Got straight into it, right from the start. The struggle the main character has to make sense of his life, rang a few bells for me, as a mere man! The writing is pacy and at times poetic but never boring. An engrossing read, full of surprises. Best of lyn ferrand's books so far ! By Chris on 29 Sept. 2015 Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase Really enjoyed this book! The descriptions of places and people were wonderful, and the story line keeps you on your toes till the very end. Interesting to bring Italy into the story and mix it in. Looking forward to her next book now.
Posted by: Lyn Ferrand on Dec 28, 2015