Here is the seventh extract from my book ‘Albatross – the scent of honeysuckle’, recently published on Amazon. The link to Extract 1, for those who want to catch up is –https://besonian.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/albatross-extract-1/
Martin and I arranged to meet by the river the following Monday. Sunday was his usual day for fishing but, as he pointed out, get good weather on a Sunday and the river and its banks would be awash with boats, people, children, ice cream vans, frisbee throwers et al. He would pick me up from the train station at a place called Egham, just a few miles from his fishing spot. Staines would have been closer but Staines was a busy place with a bustling train station. Egham on a Monday morning, he assured me, would be quiet.
I had a week to wait. I decided to use that time in closely observing my own natural behaviour. Then in modifying it where necessary in order to try and create an individual with behavioural traits unlike those of the erstwhile Barnaby Marechal. When the following Monday came, I wanted to feel that in as many ways as possible, I was Mister New Man.
Philosophically it was fascinating. If you want to obliterate the person you have been, and thereafter to be seen and accepted as whoever you now are, you have to go a long way beyond simply changing the way you dress, growing a beard, putting on a flat cap and a pair of shades. You have to give attention to the whole physical and psychological organism that amounts to ‘you’. Recognition of another human being takes place at the instantaneous coming together in the mind of the observer of an immensely subtle and complex combination of factors – physical appearance, gestures, facial expressions, mannerisms of all kinds. So if you’re going to do the job properly, all those things have to be addressed.
There was a full-length mirror by the head of the bed. I walked up and down in front of it – like Mr. Silvero in the night – studying my walk, how I held myself, how I started off, stopped, turned around. The process began to intrigue me beyond its present purpose. How often does one cast that detailed an eye on one’s own self? Not often enough, it seemed. My walk, for a start, almost embarrassed me. It was an odd walk. Slightly snatched and jerky with, even so, a bit of a loping stride. It was not attractive – but it was noticeable. In fact, it was probably one of the main features which, at a distance, would have identified me to those who knew me. It needed modifying.
I set out to study walks. I spent time in shopping malls in and around the capital, Brent Cross, The Whitgift Centre, Bluewater – moronic places, full of people armed with bags they seem determined to fill. We must have developed a great opinion of our own worth, that we lavish so much on ourselves. Or is it the opposite? Is it that deep down, we feel such a lack of worth that we’re driven to try and redress the balance by the power of our purses?
In such places I sat down, and from the foxhole of my shades, my burgeoning beard and pulled-low black cap, watched people walking. Walkers come in varieties – the shamblers, the draggers of feet, the slow and weary ones, the totterers, those who take weeny steps and those who stride, the swayers from side to side and the ones who look like they’re leaning into the wind. How few walk well. How few are aware of themselves, confident, head up, shoulders out. Once back in my room, I would train myself to be that sort of walker.
I gave time to my interpersonal mannerisms. Before the mirror, I talked to myself as to another person while, at the same time, studying my body language – my hands, my facial expressions, the crossing and uncrossing of my legs. Although happy with this in principle, still I appeared less fluid, less open, free and demonstrative than I’d supposed. I’d work on it. And I tried out a few new gestures. I quite liked the idea of lightly rubbing my chin when appearing to think hard, and of running a hand through my hair when puzzled or when laughing. (Both, I realized with something of a jolt, were common gestures of my Dad’s). I practised looking cool and relaxed when sitting. Stretching out a little, lounging, one arm perhaps half over the back of the chair.
By the following weekend I was reasonably happy with my progress. Things seemed to be falling into place.
“I do so adore this view.” Ellen stood by the french windows, a hand lightly clutching the heavy curtains. She watched the clouds scurrying before the wind, their shadows sweeping over the fields and leaping the hedgerows. “Those hills in the distance – would they be the Black Mountains?”
Frank Lippincote eased himself out of his armchair and stood by her side. “Where? Show me.”
“Those distant grey humps.”
He followed her pointing finger. “You know,” he said, “I am not as well up on the local geography as I should be. But I suspect they might well be the Black Mountains. Martha will know. We must ask her.”
“’Black Mountains’.” Ellen savoured the words as she turned from the window. “Fairy tales – spirits and hobgoblins.”
He watched her as she returned to her armchair. She was still shapely. Elegant. She moved with an unselfconscious grace. Barney had spoken of her incipient arthritis, but Frank had seen no sign of it. As she sat down again she smoothed her skirt nicely beneath her bottom. She picked up her cup from the little table at her side and took a sip.
He left the window and returned to his own chair opposite her.
Martha came in with another pot of tea. She was a short, overweight woman whose movements seemed often ill-judged and awkward.
Ellen watched her carefully. “How are you today, Martha?”
Martha braced herself, held her breath, then leaned creakily forward to put the teapot down beside the milk and a now almost empty tray of cakes. She stood up, released her breath. “Mustn’t grumble, Ellen. Mustn’t grumble.” She prepared to lower herself into her armchair by first hovering above it. “There are people with worse.” She released herself and plumped down into the mass of cushions. “Aren’t there, dear?” she said to Frank.
“As you say, Martha.”
Each sipped. Teacups chinked in saucers.
Martha pointed to the french windows. “Starting to rain. I had a feeling it would.”
Frank set his empty cup and saucer down on a low coffee table. He cleared his throat rather loudly. “So Ellen – the question on all our lips – what about this man of yours?”
“Yes Frank,” said Ellen, after a pause. “What about him?”
“Well – is there – I mean – have you or anyone heard anything more?”
Martha, peering into her teacup, said, very quietly, “Ellen might not want to talk about this, Frank.”
Ellen waved a dismissive hand. “It’s alright, Martha.” Then to Frank, “No. That Harry Jardine rang the other day. But only to clarify a detail.”
Frank sat back. “You must feel – well – actually, I don’t know how you must feel.”
“Then I’ll tell you – abandoned. Abandoned, dumped, betrayed – ” – she paused – “ – and quite angry.”
Martha shuffled around in her armchair. “I think” she said, “a little top-up on the cake situation.” She heaved herself up once again, picked up the plate on which one cake remained. She offered that one around.
The others shook their heads. Martha made her way slowly from the room, biting into the cake as she went.
The first spots of rain were running down the window. Ellen watched them catching sparkles of light.
“Ellen,” said Frank.
She turned to him.
The words he’d rehearsed failed him. Others unintended came out. “Er – it’s just that – well, you know how it is.”
“Do I? How what is?”
“What I mean is – in the circumstances – well, I feel helpless.”
Ellen said nothing. She looked again at the rain. The drops had all joined now into a single sheet of water running down the glass, distorting the countryside and the racing clouds beyond.
Frank put the tips of the fingers of both hands together, and pressed them to his lips. He rocked gently back and forth. “I hope you know where I’m coming from when I ask this – but things with you and Barney – were they, well – ?”
“Were they what?”
“As they should be? You know.”
She frowned. “I answered that in a letter.”
“Yes, you did. But – “
“Then that’s your answer.”
He retired, nursing the rebuff.
“I certainly had no reason,” she said, “to expect him to vanish off the face of the earth. If that’s what you mean.”
He cleared his throat. “So what view of it all do the police have?”
“They don’t suspect foul play. Mr Jardine seems to agree. They’re probably right. If it were an accident of some sort – or something a lot worse – you’d expect a clue. But there’s nothing. It’s like it had all been planned – no loose ends. Some taxi driver – in Wigan, of all places – thinks he might have picked up a man who might have answered Barney’s description the day after his talk in Carlisle. But apart from – ”
“What would Barney have been doing in Wigan?”
“I’m sure they’ve got that wrong. The London train from Carlisle stops there, that’s all. But it stops at other places as well. And – ”
“Was he not on his way to Ludlow though rather than to London?”
“Probably. Does it make a difference?”
“It does. In order to get to Ludlow he’d need to change at Crewe. Now, the thing is, the London train doesn’t stop at Crewe. So the police may well have been thinking that he got off at Wigan in order to change for Crewe. But on the other – ”
“Oh, Christ, Frank – I don’t know. Did he get on the train at Carlisle in the first place? They don’t even know that.”
“Did no-one drive him to the station?”
“It seems not.”
“And if you ring his mobile?”
There came a sudden crash from the kitchen. Frank shot up, half out his chair. “Martha!”
“It’s alright, Frank! Dropped the tray. That’s all.”
He sat back again.
Ellen said, quietly, “Is it my imagination or does Martha seem not so well again?”
His face darkened. “It’s not your imagination.”
“It comes back. It goes, then comes back.”
She looked down into her cup. “I do wonder sometimes what it’s all about, you know. Not that I’m thinking of doing anything about it, but I can understand people putting an end to themselves.”
“I’m afraid I’ve always avoided thinking too deeply about that sort of thing.”
“Have you never wondered?”
He shrugged. “One has a life. One has to get on with it.”
She put her cup down on the coffee table. Then sat looking at it.
Frank watched her. “A penny for them.”
She turned to him. “Did I do something to deserve this, Frank? If I did, I really don’t know what it was.”
He had never seen Ellen look vulnerable before. A wave of confusion threatened to embarrass him. “I really do so wish,” he said, “that I could help.”
“Yes. That would be nice. But you can’t.”
Martha returned from the kitchen with more cakes. Frank looked at her in a sort of puzzled despair. “We’re never going to eat all them, Martha.”
Martha hovered once again over her chair. Then dropped herself in among its cushions. “Let’s see, eh?” she said, catching her breath. “Let’s just see.”
Ellen returned to studying the rain on the windows.
Frank picked anxiously at a fingernail. Watched Ellen out of the corner of his eye.
Martha, daintily and with great care, selected a cake from the replenished pile.
The wind rattled the wisteria against the window.
Monday morning. Barney stood before the mirror. In approximately three hours time he would meet with Martin Cosgrove – the first time in over fifteen years. He was reasonably happy with the work he’d done on himself. His hair – although there was not a lot of it– was noticeably longer and just beginning to curl at the sides and back. He had not worn it this long for many years. The touch of it on the skin of his neck, straggling a little as it did in the wind, stirred memories. Its dark brown was now pleasantly streaked with grey. He liked that. It made him look almost distinguished. But be careful – the line between ‘distinguished’ and ‘conspicuous’ might be quite fine.
Hair gel was out. However he’d manipulated it, he’d looked ludicrous. His stubble had grown to where it qualified now as a short beard. He had been concerned it might contain patches of ginger. But the few ginger hairs that had appeared were hardly noticeable. Overall, it was turning out pleasantly darker than he’d expected – almost black around the chin. He would not allow it to grow beyond what he considered ‘mid-length’ – long enough to be seen as a full beard, but not so long as to attract attention. But it itched. And, to his slight distaste, was subject to dandruff.
He had not entirely come to terms with his new wardrobe. He still had to push past some psychological barrier to avoid putting on a tie. Open-neck shirts still gave him a sense of being half-dressed. And vulnerable. Like the zebras and wildebeest in David Attenborough wildlife programmes being attacked by lions who always went for the throat.
He had splashed out on a pair of Calvin Klein blue jeans. He was pleased with how they looked on him, but he couldn’t figure out why they made them so tight that he had difficulty just putting his hands in his pockets. But then maybe if they weren’t that tight, they wouldn’t look the way they did. You can never have everything.
The footwear question had, for a long time, defeated him. He’d upgraded the grotesque Wigan trainers to a pair of expensive designer ones. But still he had been unhappy. The soles were so thick and rubbery they made him feel slightly unstable. In any case he could not get past the thought that really they were little more than extortionately expensive plimsolls. In the end, he bought himself another pair of Church’s brogues. They should not, in theory, go with jeans. But to his eye they did. They looked good.
The pride of place in his new wardrobe was a black leather jacket, made in Italy and bought from a branch of M&S in one of those awful shopping malls. He had not shopped in stores like that since his early days in advertising. But the quality surprised him. The leather was beautifully supple, the cut excellent.
Thus attired, he stood before the mirror that Monday morning. His long aversion to casual modes of dress had all but disappeared. There would no doubt be those who would look on him as an aging rocker – was that the word? – attempting to recapture the unrecapturable. Let them. He looked good. And little like the Barnaby Marechal of old.
He was ready to meet Martin. Ready to start a new life.
He left the train at Egham. The only other person to get off was a young woman dragging along, either side of her, a couple of complaining children. He crossed the tracks via a metal footbridge. He watched the train below him as it pulled out of the station on its way to Weybridge. ‘Weybridge’ – didn’t George Harrison once live there? Paul McCartney? Both?
He had half an hour to kill. He left the station, and looked up and down a street of small shops. A couple of hundred metres or so further on, on the opposite side, was what looked like the gated entrance to a park. He set off towards it. The walk – watch the walk. Head up. No loping. When you imagine all around might be looking at you, it’s hard to act natural. A sudden police siren sent a brief shot of panic through him. There’d be flowers in the park. He’d go and look at them. Or watch the ducks. If ducks there were. He liked ducks. They were calming.
He came to a pedestrian crossing and stood with the knot of people waiting for the green signal to cross. He glanced covertly around to see if he could detect any dawning of recognition. They all seemed aware of little outside their own heads. The green light came on. They all crossed. Barney remained buried and unrecognized in their midst. He unwound just a little. He made his way into the park.
There were ducks. On a small lake, they paddled serenely around among reeds and water lilies. He sat down to watch them on a wooden bench dedicated, according to a brass plate in need of polish, to the memory of ‘My Dear Sister Florrie’. Their colours were iridescent in the sun. What natural poise. A small black one with a white forehead suddenly attacked – or so it seemed – another of its kind. There was a great deal of splashing, squawking, beating of wings. But only for about ten seconds. Then both of them backed off, shook themselves down and swam calmly away like nothing had happened.
He looked at his watch. Twenty minutes still to go.
What?? He shot bold upright.
“Barney!” A woman’s voice.
His heart pounding, he looked all around. A woman, probably in her forties, overweight and gasping, was half-running towards him waving her hands. Jesus! Who in hell? But wait a minute – he followed the direction of her eyes – to a diminutive white dog, yapping and scuttling furiously along the path towards a dog four times its own size.
“Barney – no!! Come back, Barney! Barney!” But Barney the dog took no notice.
Barney the man sat back and took a deep breath. His pulse rate slowed again. He chuckled to himself. A clock struck some indeterminate point between the hours. He checked his watch. Then glanced in the direction of the sound. Rising up through the jumble of buildings crowding the land on the far side of the park was a square stone tower. Squat, dark, massively built.
Barney was no man for churches. The interior of an empty church with its ancient silence, its gloom and graphic images of pain and torture stirred in him dark shadows. Their silent depths called to that depth within him where childhood demons played. Yet as a man afraid of heights is drawn inexorably to peer over the edge, so such places exerted over him an almost magnetic pull. This dark tower called to him. Like it had risen up through the surrounding buildings in order to be able to see him across their rooftops. And there he was. He got slowly to his feet, and set off towards it.
The heavy wooden door swung ponderously on ancient hinges, opening up a silent chasm. Shafts of sunlight, tiny dust motes floating in them, poured down from the high windows picking out in bright pools irregular sections of the pews and the bright colours of heraldic banners that hung out from the walls. He made his way on near silent footfalls into the centre of the empty space. One other human figure sat, half-lit, across the far side, alone and head bowed. Accusing effigies gazed down at him from walls and windows. He stood for a few seconds, then sat himself slowly down in the nearest pew. Its wood was a rich chestnut colour, polished to a lacquered shine by the rear ends of guilt-ridden generations.
He set his briefcase down by his side and composed himself. Unlike the huddled, bowed figure over there, he sat upright, back straight. Clasped his hands together on his lap and sat very, very still. He was no man for religion any more than for churches. But it seemed the thing to do.
The silence, like some entity reacting to the space he had created for it, moved closer to him. He shut his eyes and took a deep breath. It came closer still, tentatively at first, as though trying him. A sudden urge to start thinking came over him – Martin, money, his son. He pushed it away. Allowed the silence to keep coming towards him, to wrap itself around him.
It was then that he began to experience a most extraordinary sense of space – space that encompassed him, and everything out to and beyond the furthest stars. A limitless and timeless emptiness that took in all things. Asking nothing of him, and incomprehensibly benign. Tears started. But as suddenly as it had arrived, so it began to retreat. He reached out to keep hold of it – but he would as well clutch running water. Then it was gone. He was alone again. He looked up and around. Something had happened. Some thing had reached out and touched him – then slipped back among the shadows.
He stood up. The huddled figure still sat with head bowed. The shafts of sunlight came and went with the movement of clouds across the sun.
“I suppose,” said Barney, struggling to work out the geography of a camouflage-green waterproof cape, “this would have to go down as one of the more bizarre moments in my life.”
Martin Cosgrove reached out and settled it around Barney’s shoulders. “There.”
Barney’s head projected from the apex of a green tepee. He looked down at himself. “I feel,” he said, “like something that’s come up out of the river.”
Cosgrove smiled. “But you look the part.”
Barney held out a hand, palm up towards the sky. “No rain. Won’t people wonder why I’m wearing this thing?”
“Fishermen are pessimists.”
Barney looked down at their little area of river bank. Two folding chairs. Two rather flashy-looking fishing rods resting in steel supports set in the soft earth, their extremities hanging out over the water. Tins and boxes of fishing paraphernalia. “The last time I did anything like this, Martin, I must have been about ten years old. I had a stick with a piece of string tied on the end, and a hook on the end of that.” He pointed to Cosgrove’s expensive, many-pocketed fishing jacket. “We didn’t wear stuff like that.”
“This,” said Cosgrove, “is nothing. Some of them leave home on Sunday like they’re going into space. Anyway – ” – he indicated the chairs – ” – shall we make ourselves reasonably comfortable?”
They both sat. “What’s happening to people, Martin? Some of them seem to need to wear designer outfits to go for a bike ride or a run round the park.”
“One can, I’m afraid, get rather seduced.”
Barney looked out over the river. The water lapped gently at the bank by his feet. A breeze stirred the leaves in the trees above his head. “Brilliant idea, this, Martin.”
Cosgrove looked him up and down. “It’s good to see you. It’s been a long time.”
“And you. Sad to say though, I can’t tell you what all this is about. Not yet. I’m feeling a bit how a fugitive from justice must feel.”
“It suits you,” said Cosgrove.
“What – being a fugitive?”
“No, no. The beard. The different clothes. The dark glasses. Very ‘alternative’. To be honest, I never thought you fitted very well into the suit-and-tie brigade anyway.”
“Really? Interesting. I had a bloody good try though, didn’t I?”
“And your situation – what I sense of it – sounds somewhat ‘alternative’ too.” Though he smiled a chummily conspiratorial smile, his once sparkling grey eyes had dulled. He was looking old and just a bit tired. His hair, though still thick and wiry, was completely grey now, untidy and not well looked after.
“I hope,” said Barney, “that none of this is going to put you in a difficult situation – professionally.”
“Worry not. I’m retiring this year.” He took from a pocket a pack of cigarettes. Held it out to Barney. “Smoke?”
Barney shook his head.
“Wise man.” He lit up. “Not that retirement absolves me of professional responsibilities. But please don’t concern yourself with it.” He drew on his cigarette. “I’m flattered you’re prepared to put the trust in me you already have.”
“It seems I’ve got you just in time. To be honest, I was a tiny bit surprised to find you still in practice.”
Cosgrove knocked the ash from his cigarette. “I should have gone long ago. Judy wanted me to. But – well, I didn’t. Then it was too late. We’d had no children – sadly. After she died I carried on primarily to keep my mind occupied. I’m not a man for hobbies.” He indicated the spread of fishing tackle. “This apart. At which I’m little more than a dilettante, frankly.”
The unsolicited intimacy touched Barney. “I’m sorry, Martin. I didn’t know about Judy.”
“So when do you actually retire?”
“When I’ve finally accepted that I’m no longer indispensable. Probably later this year.” He sighed. “Forty-two years. That’s what it will have been then, Bernat. Forty-two years in the same building. Forty-two journeys of the earth round the sun.” He looked out across the river. “I sometimes think, you know, that we spend our lives struggling up a winding staircase in the dark, not really knowing where it leads. While outside, the sun’s shining, the grass grows. Birds sing.”
Barney looked at him in surprise.
Then, with an expression on his face as though his own sudden flight of whimsy had reactivated some dormant impishness, he leaned across to Barney. “Good luck!” He stage-whispered it, as though he feared the trees had ears.
“Pardon?” said Barney, taken aback.
“Bloody good luck to you. Whatever madcap thing you’re up to Bernat. I wish I had your courage.” The old sparkle was, briefly, back in his eyes.
“Or my foolhardiness.”
“Whichever. What the hell.”
“So,” said Barney, sitting back, “how long is this money going to take?”
“Not long. I’ll make sure.”
“No-one must know. Not anybody, ever.”
“They won’t.” He smiled.
“I’m sorry. I forget. You’re well used to keeping the family secrets.”
“I’ve kept yours a long time.”
“I have egg on my face though Martin, don’t I? I swore on my life I would never touch his money.”
“What you actually said to him in a letter was that if, in spite of your expressed wishes, he still went ahead and left it to you, you’d give it all to Greenpeace or Save The Whale.”
Barney chuckled. “You have a good memory.”
“I’m a lawyer. I salt away useful snippets.”
“So.” Barney sat forward, elbows on his knees. “Once it’s released, when can I get my hands on it?”
Cosgrove took from a pocket a little battered tin, on its front a faded picture of John Bull. Unhurriedly he removed the lid, took the remainder of the cigarette from his lips, and stubbed it out in the tin. Then replaced the lid and put the tin on the ground at his feet. “You’ll have it as soon as I can get it transferred to the new account. Which will be in the name of Bernat Gyorgy Horvat-Marshal. And which will be with an internet bank, such as – ”
“Internet? Martin, I know nothing about the damned internet!”
“You don’t need to. At least, not very much. That way, everything’s done online. It’s quite anonymous. You get your money out of holes-in-the-wall as normal.”
“What about cheque books, paying-in books, direct debits, that sort of – ?”
“You don’t need a cheque book. They’re on the way out anyway. Anything else you want, order it online. You do everything online – standing orders, money transfers – everything”
Barney took a deep breath. “I guess I can send an email. Look up a web page.”
“But where, how do I access the internet in the first place? I can’t sit in one of those internet cafés. Somebody’s going to see me and – ”
“The phone I gave you. The screen’s a bit small, but you can get on the internet with it. Once the money’s released, obviously it’s up to you how you manage it. But I warn you, there’s an embarrassing amount of it.”
“I might need an embarrassing amount.”
Cosgrove waited for the elaboration he felt might be imminent. But Barney turned away, looked across the river, over the meadows that stretched away on the far side towards the village of Laleham. He sat staring into space. Then came round again, and pointed suddenly to the little tin on the ground at Cosgrove’s feet. “Why,” he asked, “do you put your cigarette butts in there?”
“Er – well, just dropping them on the ground here doesn’t really seem the thing to do. And I don’t throw them in the river. What would a mouthful of tobacco do to a trout?”
Barney laughed, looked curiously at him. “How long have you been on your own now?”
“Five years. Why?”
“Have you never thought of – well – you know – ?”
He shrugged. “Look at me. Who’d want me? Anyway – ” – he cleared his throat rather loudly – “ – talking of women – what’s your wife’s financial situation likely to be at the moment?”
Barney took a second or two to gather himself. “OK. Ellen has family money of her own. And there’s still a fair amount in the joint account. There are bonds in her name. The London flat’s in her name. She’s at liberty to dispose of any of that if and when she wants.”
“And I suppose,” said Cosgrove, smiling amiably, “if you’re still AWOL in seven years’ time you’ll be presumed to have departed this life and she can sell the Ludlow house as well.” His smiled faded. “You are sure Bernat, are you, that this is what you want to do?”
“’Want’ isn’t in it. I really have no choice. I’m sorry to be so MI5 about it, but that’s all I can say at the moment.”
The conversation lapsed. Cosgrove tweaked his fishing lines. Barney looked at the people on a small pleasure boat sliding gently past. Its bow wave rustled the reeds near his feet. A woman passenger in a wide straw hat was looking at him. He returned the look. She turned quickly away. He smiled to himself. “Out of interest,” he said, turning to Cosgrove, “suppose, I’d never come to you. What then?”
“I always assumed that one day you would. Despite what you’d said.”
“But suppose I hadn’t. Suppose I’d died, for example, and the money was still in trust. What then?”
“If, twenty-five years on from the setting up of the trust, you as beneficiary, had still not been located or had been located but had continued to reject the terms of the trust, then it was to be dissolved.”
“And the money?”
“The money plus its accrued interest was to be transferred to the account of an orphanage in Hungary.”
Cosgrove looked expressionlessly back at him.
“Martin? An orphanage?”
“In a town whose name I can’t possibly pronounce, but spelled – ‘M-a-t-e-s-z-a-l-k-a’. Not all that far from the border with Romania, I believe.”
“I know nothing about it Bernat, or about the town, or what connection it had or did not have with your father or his family, or your mother or her family.”
Barney ran a hand through his hair. “My mother,” he said, very quietly, “was born there.”
“In the orphanage?”
“No. Not in the orphanage. In that town somewhere – I don’t know where. I’ve never been there. None of this was ever spoken about. Not in front of me, anyway. I’m stunned.”
Cosgrove’s eyes narrowed. “Your mother’s Jewish parents were her natural parents I suppose?”
“God, Martin – don’t.”
“It might be worth following up, old boy.”
“I haven’t the space in my head.”
Cosgrove reached into a large bag by his side. He took out a Thermos flask and two plastic cups. He unscrewed the cap and poured. “I do apologize if you prefer your coffee black, but living on my own, I’ve rather got into the sloppy habit of adding milk before I put it in the flask.” He handed the cup to Barney, who sipped tentatively at the rim of the cup. He looked around at the boats, the river, the waving reeds, the trees. “How often,” he asked, “do you do this?”
Cosgrove stretched his legs. “Not often enough.”
Barney sat back. Listened to the birds, to the ripples as the river murmured quietly to the bank. Some little yellow flowers in the grass by his feet were brilliant in the sun.
Martin ran me back to Egham train station. On the way, we drove past a school. Young children, released for the day, ran across the playground like chaff before the wind. Mothers and one or two fathers waiting for them at the gates in order to shepherd them home. I didn’t do that. I could have done.
For those interested in buying the book, it’s available here –
And here – www.booksellercrow.co.uk
And if anyone reading this knows the wonderful La Bruschetta in Crystal Palace, London SE19 – I left a free copy in there.