Peter, Paul and Mary – Hangman

This is a 1965 performance of the traditional song ‘Hangman’ by Peter, Paul and Mary. This song has many variants in the folk tradition, including ‘The Prickly Bush’ or ‘The Prickle-Eye Bush’. ‘The Maid Freed from the Gallows’, and ‘The Gallows Pole’ or (in Leadbelly’s version) ‘The Gallis Pole’.

 

Peter, Paul, and Mary

Wikipedia article on this song

Mainly Norfolk’ article on this song.

A Time to Mend – Chapter 28

Link to Chapter 27

A few nights later I was jarred from my sleep by the sound of the telephone. Reaching for the cordless receiver on my bedside table, I peered at the luminous hands of the clock; it was about one-thirty in the morning. In the darkness of the room I pulled myself up into a sitting position and put the phone to my ear. “Hello?” I said.

“Tommy, it’s Becca. You need to come down here right away”. My sister was covering the overnight shift at my father’s bedside.

“What’s happening?” I asked.

“He’s fading fast. I don’t think he’ll last the night”.

“Does Mum know?”

“As soon as you get down here, I’m going to go and get her. Please be as quick as you can, alright?”

“Do you want me to pick Mum up at your place?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet; I wanted to tell her in person”.

“I’ll do that if you like”.

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather be the one”.

“Okay; I’ll wake Emma up, and we’ll be down as fast as we can”.

“Right; see you in a few minutes, then”.

“Okay”. Pressing the ‘end’ button, I turned on my bedside light, got out of bed, pulled on my dressing gown, and went down the hall to Emma’s bedroom. Knocking softly on the door, I called, “Em?”

“What is it?” came the sleepy reply.

“We need to get down to the hospital”.

I heard the creaking of the bed, and after a moment the door opened; Emma’s hair was messy from sleep, and her eyes were screwed up against the hallway light. “Is it Grandpa?” she asked.

“Yes; Becca says he’s fading fast”.

I saw the sudden stillness on her face; “Give me five minutes to get dressed and brush my teeth”, she said quietly.

“Becca wants us to hurry so that she can leave the hospital to go and get Grandma”.

“Right – I’ll be as fast as I can”.

Ten minutes later I was backing my car out of our parking spot; it had been raining for several hours, and the water was lying in puddles on the surface of the road. As I put the car into gear and pulled away, Emma took out her mobile phone; “Do you think we should call Wendy and the kids?” she asked.

“I was going to do that when we got to the hospital, but you can do it now if you like”.

I heard her keying in the number, and a moment later she said, “Wendy, sorry to wake you up; it’s Emma. Dad and I are in the car on the way down to the hospital, and I thought we’d better call you… Yes, Becca called us a few minutes ago and told us he’s fading fast”.

She listened for a moment, and then said, “Well, I can’t see why not”. Covering the phone with her hand, she said, “Dad, is there any reason why Wendy and Lisa shouldn’t come down to the hospital?”

“None whatsoever”, I replied; “Tell her my Dad and Mum would want that”.

Emma spoke into the phone again; “He says I’m to tell you that Grandpa and Grandma would want that… Right, we’ll see you down there”. Closing the flap on the phone, she said, “Lisa’s at Christ Church tonight, but Wendy’s going to call her and then go and get her; apparently they’ve already talked about what they would do in this situation”.

When we got to my father’s room we found a nurse standing beside the bedside talking quietly with Becca. My father was wearing an oxygen mask; his eyes were closed, and I could hear the sound of his laboured breathing as we entered the room. My sister greeted us both with hugs and said, “Right – I’ll go and get Mum”.

“Wait a minute, Becs”, I said; “What’s happening?”

“He’s never really shaken off the pneumonia; there are a few other factors as well, but the pneumonia’s the main thing”.

“He’s not in a coma, right?” Emma asked.

“No – he doesn’t appear to be conscious, but we assume…”

Emma nodded; “I remember”, she said softly.

“Of course you do”. Becca reached out again and gave her another hug, then stepped back, looked her in the eye, and asked, “Are you going to be all right?”

“I’ll be okay”.

“Becs, does Rick know?” I asked.

“He’s on his way; he should be here before I get back”.

“Wendy’s coming too”.

“Good – I was hoping you’d let her know. I’d better go, Tommy”.

“Okay”.

She turned and went out, and we sat down in chairs on either side of my father’s bed, holding his hands, now and then talking quietly to him, not knowing whether or not he could hear us, but wanting to believe that he could.  From time to time I stole glances at Emma; her hair was tied back in a ponytail, her eyes were red from lack of sleep, and I could see the emotion clearly on her face as she watched my father’s tortured breathing.

Alyson and Rick joined us a few minutes later, slipping quietly into the room and moving over to stand beside Emma. When she saw Rick, she got up quickly; “You sit here, Uncle Rick”, she said.

“No, no”, he replied in a quiet voice, putting his hand on her shoulder; “I’ll take my turn in a minute, but for now you stay right where you are”. He glanced across at me; “Has Becca gone for Mum?”

“Yes; she should be back in fifteen minutes or so. Are any of your kids coming?”

“We woke them up and told them”, Alyson replied, “but Anna seemed a bit scared of the idea of coming, and Eric said he’d stay with her”.

“We rang Sarah too”, Rick added; “She can’t come, of course, but I thought we ought to let her know”.

“Was she okay?” Emma asked.

“Sleepy, and of course a bit sad”, Rick replied.

“I’ll call her in the morning”, Emma said.

We lapsed into silence, Emma and I continuing to hold my father’s hands; my brother moved around the bed to stand at my side, and I saw Alyson put her hand on Emma’s shoulder. After a few minutes the nurse came back into the room, checked the monitors, glanced briefly at my father, and left as quietly as she had come. A couple of times Emma reached out and stroked my father’s emaciated face, whispering, “I love you, Grandpa”.

My mother and Becca arrived a few minutes later; I could see the tiredness in my mother’s face, and as she came around the bed toward me I stood up, held out my arms and gave her a hug. “You look exhausted”, I said.

“I didn’t sleep. Somehow, I think I knew this might be the night”.

I stepped back from the bed, and she took her place beside my father on the chair I had been using. Taking his hand, she said, “I’m here, Frank; the children are all here, too, and Alyson and Emma”.

I put my hand on her shoulder; she glanced up at me and said, “Did you ring Wendy?”

“She’s on her way, but she had to go into town to get Lisa at Christ Church”.

“Good”.

Wendy and Lisa arrived a few minutes later, both of them showing evidence of hasty dressing. By then Rick had taken Emma’s place across the bed from my mother, and Emma and Lisa stepped back into a corner together, talking to each other in low tones. Wendy came around the bed to where I was standing; I put my arm around her shoulders, and felt the answering touch of her hand on my back.

We kept vigil at my father’s bedside for the rest of the night. At around three o’clock Mike Carey came in and took his place at Becca’s side. Nurses checked the monitors by my father’s bed at regular intervals, and a doctor in a white lab coat spent a few minutes in the room, checking my father’s vital signs and talking quietly with Becca. At some point Emma resumed her place at my father’s side, holding his hand, and now and then talking quietly to him.

At about four-thirty Wendy and I went out to the parking lot for a breath of fresh air. The eastern sky was beginning to get light, and the rain had stopped. We leaned against the back of the same bench Lisa and I had used a few nights before; “Are you okay?” she asked me.

“Yeah; sad, of course”.

She took my arm; “Sad is okay”, she said.

“Yes”.

We were quiet for a moment, and then she said, “You and Rick seem quite relaxed with each other – not at all the sort of distant relationship you had a few weeks ago”.

“I know. That’s partly Emma’s doing, with all the time she’s spent with Sarah”.

“And it looks to me as if there’s been some sort of reconciliation between Rick and Alyson, too”.

“I haven’t had time to ask Rick about that. I’m not sure what’s happened there”.

“Your dad’s got his family all around him tonight”.

“Yes. I think he’d have preferred it to be at home, but we all knew that wasn’t going to be possible. It was the same when Kelly died. She’d spent the better part of the previous six months at University Hospital in Saskatoon”.

“Was that where she died?”

“Yes”.

“Was the family all there?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly Wendy frowned and shook her head in annoyance. “I’m sorry, Tom”, she said; “That’s a very insensitive question for me to ask you on a night like this”.

“I will tell you about Kelly’s death soon, though”, I replied; “There was something really special and unusual that happened at the end”.

At that moment Lisa emerged from the doors of the hospital and walked slowly over towards us. “Am I intruding?” she asked hesitantly.

“Not at all”, I replied. “Everything pretty much the same in there?”

“His breathing’s getting a bit quieter”.

“Are you all right?” Wendy asked her.

Lisa nodded; “A bit tired, and a bit sad”.

“I’m glad you’re here”, I said.

“Thanks, Tom. It seems somehow unfair, doesn’t it?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I get a new grandfather, and then a couple of months later I lose him”. She smiled at me; “I actually rather like him”, she said.

“Yes, he’s rather grown on me, too”. I straightened my back, stifled a yawn, and said, “Well, perhaps we’d better go back inside”.

My father died just after six o’clock in the morning. For the last hour of his life, we could clearly hear his breathing getting shallower, and eventually it just seemed to fade away into silence and stillness. Emma and my mother were sitting on either side of the bed, holding his hands; Wendy and Lisa and I were standing behind my mother, with Becca and Mike beside us, and Rick and Alyson on the other side of the bed. A doctor had slipped into the room at around five forty-five, and it was he who finally checked my father’s vital signs, looked up at us, and said, “It’s over”.

Becca crouched down beside my mother and put her arms around her, and for a few minutes they held each other; I could hear the sound of my mother’s quiet weeping, and I could see the tears on my sister’s face, too. Emma had gotten to her feet on the other side of the bed, her face stricken; I moved around the bed and took her in my arms; I felt her body begin to shake, and I held her close. “You were with him all night”, I whispered; “That was exactly what he would have wanted”.

I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “I wanted to do that for him”, she sobbed; “I really wanted to stay with him to the end”.

“And you did”.

After a few minutes, I felt the shaking of her body subsiding; she stepped back, wiped the tears from her eyes with a Kleenex from her pocket, and said, “I need to go out and call Sarah”.

I felt Becca’s hand on my shoulder, and as I turned to face her she spoke to me in a low voice; “We need to give Mum a few minutes here by herself”, she said.

“Right. I expect there are some formalities here that need to be looked after, are there?”

“Nothing that can’t wait until later in the day”.

“Okay”. I glanced around at the rest of the family; “Where shall we go?” I asked.

“Come to our house and have some breakfast”, Wendy replied; “You all know where it is by now”.

My father’s funeral took place five days later at the Oxford Crematorium. His two brothers and his sister and their spouses were all present, along with my mother’s sister Brenda, and a number of my father and mother’s friends. All of our immediate family members were there, including Sarah who had been brought from the rehab hospital in her wheelchair. Rick had managed to have his sentencing postponed for a few days in order to be able to attend the funeral; he sat at the front with his family, Alyson’s hand in his. Becca and Mike sat beside my mother, and Wendy, Colin and Lisa sat with Emma and me. Owen and Lorraine were a little further back in the chapel, and Owen’s father and mother were with them.

My mother had surprised me the day after my father’s death by handing me a sheet of funeral instructions in his handwriting. As I had expected, he had not wanted a standard church ceremony, but in a short note addressed to me at the bottom of the page he had said, “Prayers and observances according to your Mennonite religious tradition may be added at your discretion, Tom”. We had asked my father’s old partner, Jack Marlowe, to lead a short memorial service with stories and remembrances of my father’s life, and at the end Emma read a short passage from the Bible, and I led a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Afterwards there was a reception at Northwood; my mother had insisted on making the arrangements for it, and she had hired a catering company to provide a stand up lunch in the large piano room at the back of the house.

Late the next afternoon we went to the offices of Masefield and Marlowe in Oxford for the reading of my father’s will. My mother had insisted that I bring Wendy with me, which was why we were meeting late in the afternoon, after her last tutorial of the day. As we gathered in my brother’s luxurious office I saw that Becca had brought Mike as well; Jack Marlowe was sitting behind Rick’s desk, and the rest of us took our places on various chairs and sofas around the room.

The will was much as I had expected it to be. He left his share in the house to my mother, and he left educational bequests in the amount of £25,000 each to all of his grandchildren, including Lisa. I had not said anything about this to Wendy beforehand; I heard her catch her breath when she heard it, and I felt her grip tighten on my arm. Various smaller bequests were listed in the will, and at the end my father left the remainder of his investment money to be divided equally between Rick, Becca, and me. At this point Jack looked up from the document in his hand; “I haven’t got the exact figures yet”, he said.

“I don’t expect there’ll be much after the inheritance taxes”, Becca said.

“No, actually, your father was wealthier than you think”, Jack replied. He told her what my father had told me, about the money he had received from his father and had left in investments. “Inheritance tax doesn’t apply to what he’s left to your mother”, he continued; “bequests to spouses are exempt. For the money he’s left to you three and to the grandchildren, the first $325,000 is tax-free; after that it’s taxed at 40%. As I said, I haven’t got the exact figures, but I’m pretty sure that after taxes and the other bequests, the three of you will be dividing a sum of approximately £550,000 between you”.

There was a stunned silence in the room; from the expressions on the faces of my brother and sister I could tell that my father had not said anything to them beforehand. Becca’s face had gone white; she gripped Mike’s hand and whispered, “Oh my God! I had no idea…!”

“But what about you, Mum?” Rick asked.

“Your Dad and I have had joint bank accounts for years”, my mother replied; “There’s more than enough money in those accounts for me to live comfortably for the rest of my life. Don’t worry, Rick; your Dad and I talked this over very thoroughly before he died”.

Jack Marlowe folded the document in his hands and replaced it in its envelope. “These things take time to wind up”, he said, “so it’ll probably be a couple of months before we’re in a position to actually make any of this money available to you. Meanwhile, if I can be of any help to any of you, don’t hesitate to ask”.

Wendy suggested that I tell Lisa myself about my father’s bequest to her, and so I invited them up to our house after supper. Emma and I had a quiet supper together; I didn’t say anything to her about my father’s will, and she seemed to know instinctively that I didn’t want to talk about it. I mentioned to her that Wendy and the children were coming around later, and she said, “I’ll make some oatmeal cookies if you like?”

“That’d be fine”.

Wendy and the children arrived at about seven-thirty, just as Emma was taking the first batch of cookies out of the oven. Colin came into our living room, sniffed at the air, and observed, “Something smells very good in here!”

“Fresh oatmeal cookies!” Emma replied with a smile as she came into the living room from the kitchen.

I made a pot of coffee and we sat around the living room, talking quietly about the events of the last few days. The evenings were getting longer now, and Emma had a fondness for natural light, so we had left the curtains open and only had one small table lamp burning in the darkest corner of the room. Eventually Lisa said to me, “You and Mum haven’t mentioned anything about your meeting today”.

“No”, I replied; “We wanted to get you all together so that we could tell you about it”.

“Were there some surprises, then?”

“Not for me”, I replied, glancing at Wendy; “My Dad had discussed it with me a few weeks ago. I could tell that it came as a surprise to almost everyone else there, though”.

“What did he do, Dad?” Emma asked softly.

“Well, he turned out to be a much wealthier man than I had known. He’s left the house and all of his money from his own business earnings to my mother, and apparently it will be quite adequate for her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. Nothing unusual about that, of course, but there’s more”.

I paused, took a sip of my coffee, and continued. “Apparently he received a pretty substantial inheritance from my grandfather when he died eighteen years ago, and he never touched that money; he simply invested it. Out of that money, he left bequests to all of his grandchildren to help with their education. That includes you, Lisa, and Emma too. Emma’s already received some money from him, so her bequest is a bit smaller, around £19,000. He left you £25,000, Lisa”.

Lisa’s face went pale; “Oh my God!” she whispered.

“That will pay for your postgraduate degree, if you still want to do it”, Wendy said softly.

“I’d be an ungrateful idiot not to do it, wouldn’t I?” Lisa replied.

“There’s one more thing”, I said. “That investment money of my Dad’s turned out to be a very large sum. Of course, there will be inheritance taxes to pay, but when all of that has been taken care of, he’s left the rest to Rick, Becca and me. It’ll be about £180,000 for each of us”.

There was a stunned silence in the room for a moment, and then Lisa said, “Mum, would you please marry this man, or something?”

We all laughed, and I saw Wendy’s face flush. “I’m not so desperate that I need to marry a man for his money!” she said.

“No, but it does add to his many other attractions, doesn’t it?”

Wendy shook her head with an embarrassed smile. “You’ll be in a much better position to be able to buy the house you’ve wanted”, she said to me.

“Maybe; we’ll have to think about that”.

Later on, after Wendy and her children had left, Emma and I sat in our usual places on either side of the fireplace, drinking our hot chocolate. Emma had been unusually silent after I had broken the news of my father’s bequest to me, and now I looked across at her and said, “You don’t think I should keep it, do you?”

“It’s not my business, Dad”, she replied; “He left it to you, not to me”.

“But nonetheless…?”

She shook her head. “We’ve got enough, especially with the money he left me for university”.

“So do you think I should give it away?”

“Well, to start with, I’d give Colin the same amount of money for his education that Lisa and I got”.

“I thought about that. Have you got any other thoughts?”

She shook her head. “I’m still coming to terms with it, Dad. It’s a huge amount of money, and we were getting along fine before Grandpa left it to you. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough. And what about all the people in Britain who don’t have fathers who can leave them £180,000 – what do they do? They live modestly and do the best they can. Why shouldn’t we do that? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to do?”

I got to my feet slowly, and went over to the back window; it was dark outside now, but still we had not closed the curtain. I took a sip of my hot chocolate and said, “Yes, it is what Jesus taught us to do – although I can’t deny that the thought of buying a house and having a very low mortgage payment is pretty attractive to me”.

“If we stay in England”.

“Yes”, I said, “if we stay in England. We have to think about that one now, too, don’t we?”

“Yes, we do”.

Link to Chapter 29

Paul Simon – Hearts and Bones

The album ‘Hearts and Bones’ was released in 1983, after Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park. It was originally intended to be a Simon and Garfunkel album, but Art Garfunkel backed out, so Paul Simon finished it as a solo project. It was one of his least commercially successful albums, but I have always loved it and think it one of his best ever pieces of work. This is the title track. There are a few miscellaneous fragments added to the end, including a bit of Elvis Presley’s ‘Mystery Train’!

 

More about the album here. Paul Simon’s website is here.

A Time to Mend – Chapter 27

Link to Chapter 26

For the next few days we were back to our old routine of spending every spare minute at the hospital. My mother was at my father’s bedside almost every waking moment, going to Becca’s flat each night around eleven o’clock and returning each morning around nine. Rick, Becca and I managed to persuade her to let us handle the night shifts; she seemed to feel better about leaving my father for the night if one of us stayed at the hospital, and so we took it in turns to stay with him. Once Emma joined me in my all-night vigil; I fell asleep, and when I woke up at around four in the morning I discovered she and my father talking quietly together. When I asked her later what they had been talking about, she replied, “A lot of things – you and Mom, me, Meadowvale, nursing – we even talked about Christianity for a while”.

Almost every night, Wendy and Lisa came back with us to the hospital after supper; somehow, without it ever really being talked about, Wendy had taken it upon herself to provide a light supper for us at her house on Grays Road, which was quite close to the JR. The only one who raised any objection to this was Rick; we were cleaning up the dishes one night before going back, and he protested that she mustn’t put herself to all this expense and trouble. “Don’t be silly, Rick”, she replied quietly; “I’m the obvious person to look after it”.

“How’s that?” he asked.

“Well, I’m not really part of the family, am I? You people are all tied up with what’s going on at the hospital; you don’t want to be bothered with worrying about supper every night, and I’m happy to take care of it”.

“Not part of the family?” he replied, smiling across at me as I bent over to load the dishwasher. “Is that what Tom’s told you? I wouldn’t let him get away with that if I were you! Tom, have you really told Wendy that she’s not part of the family?”

I straightened up, leaning my hand against the kitchen counter. “Not that I can remember”, I replied, grinning mischievously at Wendy. “Emma”, I called, “did you tell Wendy that she wasn’t part of the family?”

Emma put her head around the door of the kitchen. “Not part of the family?” she replied with a frown; “If she’s not part of the family, why’s she doing all this cooking for us? And anyway, she’s Lisa’s Mom, and Lisa’s my sister, so that makes her part of my family, for sure!”

I saw a smile playing around Wendy’s lips as she looked at Rick and me. “Thank you”, she said softly.

“No”, Rick replied, “thank you”.

“So you and Mum are definitely a couple now, are you?” Lisa asked.

She and I had slipped out of the hospital for a breath of fresh air; a strong wind was driving the scudding clouds across the darkening sky overhead. She was wearing a leather jacket against the cold, and her hair was whipping around her face as we sat on a bench by the parking lot together.

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that”, I said; “I haven’t forgotten what I said to you at the lake at Mum and Dad’s: that you’d be  one of the first to know if I came to love someone again. But after that, things got a little complicated between you and me”.

“I know”, she replied, “and I still don’t understand about you needing to meet Mickey. I still think you’re making a big mistake”.

“I know that, Lisa”. I sat back, stretched my arms across the back of the bench, and looked at her. “Are we going to be able to get past that?”

She looked away, and for a long time she said nothing. I waited, and eventually she spoke in the barely audible voice that she used when she was thinking out loud. “I know you’re a good and decent man, Tom”, she said. “God knows, you’re the closest thing to a decent father that I’ve ever had. I’m just scared”.

“I know”.

“But it doesn’t change anything for you?”

“Well, at the moment, nothing’s happening anyway. All my time is being taken up with Dad; I’m not answering Mickey’s phone calls, and to tell you the truth, for the past few days he hasn’t left me any messages. I’ll worry about him after…” I stopped suddenly; I had been going to say, “After Dad gets out of hospital”, but I had suddenly realized that I was no longer expecting him to get out.

“After…?” she prompted me gently.

I looked away; “You know what I mean”, I said softly.

She didn’t respond, but after a moment I felt her hand on mine. I glanced across and saw her looking at me; “I’m sorry”, she whispered.

I shook my head; “No need”, I replied.

We were quiet again for a few minutes while I struggled with my feelings. When I could trust myself to speak, I said, “So, back to your mum and me; yes, we’ve discovered that we love each other”.

“So does that mean…?”

“We don’t know what it means at the moment; we’re both sort of preoccupied with all the other crazy stuff that’s going on in our lives right now. I think we both want our future to be together, but there’s a lot we have to talk about yet”.

“I understand”. She looked away again, and in that same quiet voice she said, “Emma and I talked about it last night”.

“About your mum and me?”

“Yes; she seemed to be happy enough about it. Actually, I was a bit surprised that she had such a positive attitude; I thought she might resent it”.

“We’ve talked about that, Emma and me. She’ll always miss her mom; I know that. I miss her myself”.

“Still? Even though you and Mum…?”

“Yes”. I reached across and put my hand on her arm. “How about you?” I asked; “Are you okay with this?”

She turned her face toward me again. “I think so, Tom”, she whispered. “I’m still really confused by this whole thing with Mickey, but…”; her voice trailed off, and she looked down at her hands.

“But?”

She shook her head. “I suppose I’ve watched the way you are with Mum, and the way you’ve been with Colin and me, and the sort of relationship you and Emma have, and…” she hesitated, biting her lip and looking away again.

“And…?”

“And, I suppose I feel really torn. On the one hand, I’d like to think there’s room for me in there somewhere. But on the other hand, you and Emma live your lives on the basis of such a big risk, and I don’t know if I’ve got the guts to do that”.

“A big risk?”

“Yes: trust. This whole thing with Mickey is a case in point; you seem prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t bring myself to do that. I don’t even want to do that”.

“I understand; I don’t really trust him either”.

“And yet you’re prepared to give him a chance?”

“Whether or not he responds to that chance, I think I should be willing to talk with him. It’s about my attitude, not his”.

“Emma and I talked about that, too”.

“You must have had a long conversation”.

“We did. I like Emma; she’s a good listener”.

“When were you talking with her?”

“When you and Mum were in with your dad last night. We went for a walk for about an hour. I told her all about life with Mickey, and all about how hard it is for me to believe in God. She was really good about it. She didn’t try to fix me or change me or anything”. She paused, and in the dim light I saw that she was frowning again. “The truth is, Tom”, she continued, “you and Emma might just be the most decent people I’ve ever run into. I really want to trust you; I’m just not finding it easy”.

I reached across and put my hand on hers; she hesitated for a second, and then tightened her grip around my fingers. We sat there for a few minutes without saying anything, while the cars came and went in the busy parking lot. Eventually she said, “I’m getting cold; can we go back inside?”

“Just one more thing, Lisa”.

“What is it?” she asked, turning in her seat to face me again.

I tightened my grip on her hand. “I promise I’ll never, ever do anything that puts either you or Colin in danger. I won’t take it upon myself to come to any sort of understanding with Mickey; I’ll just listen and keep the door open. If he asks me to consider any course of action, my first response will be to talk to you and Colin and your mum, and if any of you feel at all unsure about it, the answer will be ‘no’. I promise you that, Lisa”.

In the darkness I saw her look away suddenly; after a moment she ran the back of her free hand across her eyes, looked up at me again, smiled through her tears, and said, “Thanks”.

I shook my head, but she squeezed my hand and said, “No, I mean it – thanks. And thanks for putting up with me, too”.

“Putting up with you? That’s not been too hard”.

“Oh, you are such a liar!” she exclaimed. “One minute I’m friendly, and the next minute I’m swearing and yelling at you, and then the next minute I’m crying my eyes out!”.

I smiled at her. “That’s not what I see, Lisa”.

“Isn’t it?”

“No. I see a beautiful young woman, very smart, a hard worker, a person who’s been through some very difficult times over the past few years and somehow still manages to stand tall. And I know I had absolutely nothing to do with bringing you up, but I have to say that you make me very proud anyway”.

She looked at me, her eyes still wet with tears. “Thank you”, she whispered.

“You’re welcome”. I got to my feet slowly; “Are you ready to go back inside?”

“I think so”.

Emma and I got home at around eleven o’clock that night; we hung up our coats in the porch, and as we moved into the living room she said, “I’ll make the hot chocolate”.

“Okay”. I glanced at the answer phone; the message light was blinking steadily. “I’ll check for messages”, I said.

As Emma went out to the kitchen I moved over to the telephone table and punched the button on the answer phone. The machine beeped, and I heard the voice of Mickey Kingsley. “Tom”, he said; “Mickey here. I’m out of hospital now, and I’m going to be in Oxford over the weekend. I’ve got a contract to take the photos for a story someone’s doing on one of the colleges. Ring me at home, please; I’d like to meet with you while I’m there”.

Emma walked slowly back into the living room. “He’s coming to Oxford?” she said.

“Apparently”.

“Are you going to call him back?”

“I’ll call him in the morning before I go to work; it’s a bit late now”.

“What are you going to say?”

“I really don’t know”.

Emma had an early shift the next morning, and she left the house just after seven o’clock. I went out for a walk, and when I returned I put some toast in the toaster, poured myself a cup of tea and sat down to call Mickey. I keyed in the number of his London flat; I heard the phone ring three times before it was picked up, and to my surprise a woman’s voice said, “Hello?”

“I’m sorry”, I said. “Perhaps I’ve got the wrong number; I was looking for Mickey Kingsley”.

“Mickey’s gone to work already; can I take a message?”

“I’m sorry – who am I speaking to?”

“This is Marina”.

I hesitated, and then said, “And you would be…?”

“Who wants to know?”

“This is Tom Masefield calling from Oxford. Mickey left me a message last night; I got in late, and I’m returning his call at the earliest opportunity”.

“Ah, yes, sorry – we’ve talked about you. I’m Mickey’s girlfriend”.

I was astonished; “Mickey’s girlfriend?”

“What’s the matter?” she asked icily; “Isn’t he allowed to have one?”

“Of course – I’m sorry, he just never mentioned to me…”

“Have you got his mobile number?” she snapped.

“Yes”.

“Ring him on his mobile then”.

She slammed the receiver down, and for a moment I sat there motionless with the phone in my hand. Then I shook my head, pressed the ‘end’ button, and put it down on the table. Getting to my feet, I went out to the kitchen, took my toast from the toaster and spread peanut butter on it. Taking it back into the living room, I sat down at the table again, picked up the phone, and punched in Wendy’s number.

“You’re up early this morning”, she observed.

“I’m always up early; I’m just not in the habit of making early phone calls”.

“Something wrong?”

“Did you know that Mickey has a girlfriend?”

“A girlfriend?”

“Apparently”.

“No, I didn’t know that. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; he’s a handsome devil, and he’s never been able to go without sex for any length of time. How did you find out?”

“There was a message for me to ring him when we got home last night. I rang his house this morning, a couple of minutes ago, and a woman answered. When I asked who she was, she said she was Mickey’s girlfriend – Marina, I think she said”.

“She stayed the night; typical. What did Mickey want?”

“He wasn’t there – he’d already left for work, but I knew what he wanted; he’d already told me in the message he left last night. He’s coming to Oxford this weekend, and he wants to meet with me”.

“He’s coming to Oxford?” I heard the sudden chill in her voice.

“Apparently”.

“When, exactly?”

“I’m not sure; I haven’t spoken to him yet”.

She was silent for a moment, and then she said, “Could you do something for me, Tom?”

“Of course”.

“Could you find out exactly when he’s going to be here?”

“Are you going to get out of town?”

“Yes; I’ll ring Rees and arrange to take Lisa and Colin down to Chelmsford. I’ll also ask Rees to ring Mickey and lay down the law”.

“Wendy, are you all right?”

“He’s never done this before, Tom”, she replied in a voice suddenly devoid of emotion; “He’s never come to Oxford since he got out of jail”.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Just find out when he’s going to be here”.

“I will. I love you”.

“I love you too”.

I met Mickey for morning coffee on Saturday at the Randolph Hotel. I had stipulated that it be fairly early, as I had schoolwork to do and I also wanted to spend as much time as possible at the hospital with my father. Mickey had readily agreed; he had work to do and only a weekend to do it in, he said, so why didn’t we have breakfast together? I had been on the brink of agreeing when I suddenly found myself feeling very strange about the thought of Mickey, the man who had once broken the jaw of the woman I had come to love, treating me to breakfast at the Randolph. I had used Emma’s early shift that day as an excuse; I wanted to have breakfast with my daughter before she went to work, I explained, and I proposed coffee at 9.30 instead.

If Mickey had wanted to intimidate me by his success in his chosen profession, he could not have chosen a better location to do it. The drawing room at the Randolph had chandeliers hanging from a high ceiling, polished wood paneling on the walls, a large fireplace, and elegant tables covered with white tablecloths. It was already filling up, even at this early hour; the maitre de directed me toward the far corner of the room, and as I approached the table I saw Mickey sitting there alone, a cup of coffee at his elbow, reading the newspaper.

I stopped for a moment, looking at the man who had loomed so large in my past, and far larger in the lives of Wendy and her children. He was still wearing his curly hair long, but it had gone almost completely grey, and he was wearing a pair of reading glasses as he studied the newspaper. There were lines around his eyes, but with his long patrician nose, high cheekbones, and cleft chin, he was wearing his years well. Wendy was right, I thought; he was still a handsome devil, and the clothes he was wearing – casual, yet obviously expensive – were carefully chosen to underline the youthfulness of his appearance.

He glanced up from his newspaper, saw me standing there, and got to his feet. “Welcome, Tom”, he said, holding out his hand with a smile.

I took his outstretched hand; “How are you feeling, Mickey?” I asked.

“Better, thanks. You’re looking well; the years have been good to you. Have a seat”.

“Thanks”.

“Coffee?”

“That would be great”.

He signaled for a waiter, ordered a second cup of coffee, and then turned to face me again. “So – still teaching, then?”

“Yes, I seem to have settled into it”.

“Bit of a difference between Canada and here, I should think?”

“Canada’s a little more laid back. Discipline’s a bit better here, but I don’t care for wearing a tie all day long”.

“Really? I’d have thought you’d fit right in there – isn’t your father a lawyer or something?”

“Yes, but I didn’t pick up a lot of my habits from him”.

The waiter arrived with my coffee; he set it down on the table, and I thanked him as he turned to go. Mickey waited until I had taken a sip, and then looked at me and said, “So, you and Wendy are a couple, now, are you?”

I cradled my coffee cup in my hand, eyed him for a moment, and said, “Tell me about Marina”.

“What do you want to know?”

“Well, maybe I’ve been misreading you, but over the past few months you’ve called me a couple of times, and whenever you’ve talked about Wendy, and made insinuations about a developing relationship between us, you’ve sounded rather jealous and possessive. If I’d been going on your tone in our phone conversations, the last thing in the world I’d have expected would have been that you had a girlfriend”.

He avoided my gaze. “Wendy’s obviously moving on”, he replied; “Why shouldn’t I?”

“No reason in the world – except that when you talked to me, you didn’t sound like a man who was moving on”.

“And what about you – are you two moving in together?”

“No”.

“Is her newfound religion making it difficult for you?”

For a moment I didn’t answer; I sipped at my coffee, looking at him steadily. Putting the cup down on the table, I said, “What do you know about what happened in my life after I went to Canada?”

“Nothing. I know that you came back with a daughter; I’m assuming she has a mother somewhere in Canada”.

“She had a mother in Canada, yes. My wife Kelly died of cancer nearly three years ago”.

He stared at me for a moment, and then said, “Well, I put my foot in my mouth with that one, didn’t I? I’m very sorry; I didn’t know”.

“No, and there are a few other things you don’t know, either. Kelly and I met in my first couple of years in Saskatchewan. Her last name was Reimer, and she came from a Mennonite family. She’d moved away from her family faith as a young teenager, but was on her way back into it when we met. I got curious about that, too, and I ended up making that faith journey with her. We lived our married life as practicing Christians, and Emma and I have carried that on. So when you asked if Wendy’s newfound religion was getting in the way of something – well, you couldn’t have been more wrong about that, either”.

He smiled ruefully; “Shall we start again?” he asked.

“I think that would be a good idea”.

“Tell me what you’ve been up to since the last time we met, Tom?”

So I told him about my move to Meadowvale and how the community had adopted me; I told him about Will Reimer and his family, and my growing relationship with them, leading eventually to my marriage to Kelly. I told him about Emma’s birth and Kelly’s first bout with cancer, about our trips to England and our involvement in Third World missions. I told him about her death and how Emma and I had dealt with it, about my father’s cancer and our decision to come to England, and about my surprise at finding Colin in my class, and meeting Wendy again.

“Quite a story”, he said when I was finished.

“I don’t know – it seems pretty ordinary to me. What about you – what have you been up to?”

“No need to play ignorant with me, Tom”, he replied; “I’m sure Wendy’s given you the gory details”.

“To a certain extent, yes”.

“I lost my marriage, and I went to jail, but I’ve managed to crawl out of that hole and I’m actually doing quite well for myself at the moment”.

“I hear your career’s going well”.

“I’ve been lucky; I got some good contracts early on, and my name got around. I’ve developed a bit of a reputation for going to hot spots and taking photographs; I tend to be one of the first ones newsmagazines call on when they want pictures taken in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. You know – all the places you need to wear a flak jacket”.

“You were in Afghanistan too?”

“I was. Actually, I was there several times before the invasion. One of the American magazines did a feature on the Taliban, and I did the photography for them. I’ve been in the Sudan a few times, too, and I was in Rwanda while the genocide was going on”.

“It sounds like an exciting life”.

“Well, this is the first time I’ve actually been injured in the pursuit of photographs, and I have to tell you, it’s caused me to think again about my exciting life. I don’t know if I want to go back into that sort of situation”.

“I guess not”.

“Still, I’ve done well financially; I can afford to take it easy for a while”.

“Except that you’re not taking it easy this weekend – you’re working, and rather soon after your release from hospital, too”.

“Yes, well, I wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t been in Oxford”.

“Oh?”

“It gave me an excuse to come up and see you”.

“So this whole work trip was just a pretext?”

“To a certain extent, yes”.

I put my coffee cup down on the table slowly. “I don’t like the feeling of being manipulated, Mickey”, I said.

“I’m sorry you see it that way – I wasn’t trying to manipulate you”.

“When someone hides part of the truth from me in order to get me to do what they want, I call that manipulation”.

“Call it what you like”, he replied, his tone suddenly cold.

We looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then I saw him glance behind me. “Ah – Marina’s here”, he said.

“Marina?”

“Yes – she came up for the weekend with me”. He stood up slowly, a smile spreading on his face, and I turned in my chair to see a woman coming toward the table. I guessed her to be in her late thirties; her brown hair hung loose behind her back, and she was wearing designer jeans and a white jacket, her face discreetly made up. I got to my feet as Mickey took her hand; “Tom Masefield, may I introduce Marina Spencer?” he said. “Marina, this is Tom”.

She took my hand with a dazzling smile; “I’m delighted to meet you”, she said in a perfect BBC accent.

“Likewise”, I replied; “Sorry we got off to a bad start on the phone the other day”.

“I’m sorry, too”.

We sat down again, and Mickey signaled for a waiter. “Coffee?” he asked Marina.

“Yes, please”.

“How’s yours, Tom?”

“I’d enjoy another cup, if you’re ordering, thanks”.

“Of course”.

He ordered fresh coffee for us all, and then turned to Marina and said, “Tom was just filling me in on everything that’s been happening since he went to Canada all those years ago – it’s a fascinating story. He’s been teaching in a small town for over twenty years”.

“I take it you enjoyed it?” she asked me.

“I did, actually. The place became home”.

“Have you got a family?” she asked.

“One daughter. I’m a widower, actually”.

“Oh – I’m sorry”.

“What about you?” I asked.

“I’m a fashion designer of sorts”, she replied; “I own a little company in London. Never married, no children, but I’ve got lots of uncles and aunts and cousins and nieces and nephews and all that”.

“Are you from London?”

“Yes, I was born and raised there, but my family’s from the Midlands – Northamptonshire, actually. I’ve still got lots of relatives there”.

“And how long have you two…?”

“…been together?” Mickey completed my sentence. “We’ve known each other for a few years, actually. I did some work for some of Marina’s relatives – her family’s quite aristocratic, and they wanted some photographs taken on an estate of theirs in the Midlands. I was between jobs at the time, and they contacted me about it. I went up for the weekend, and that’s where I met Marina”.

“We kept in touch”, she continued, “and I moved in with Mickey about nine months ago”.

A waiter appeared silently at our table, a tray of coffee cups in his hand. We waited while he set the cups on the table; I thanked him, and he nodded and slipped away without a word.

“So how are you getting on with Lisa?” Mickey asked me.

“Fine; I’m enjoying her, actually”.

“She’s done well for herself at Oxford, I hear?”

“She’s very bright, yes”. I took a sip of my coffee, glanced at my watch, and said, “I can’t stay for too long, Mickey – was there something you specifically wanted to talk about with regard to Colin?”

He nodded; “He’s my son”, he said, “and I’m very sorry that I’m not allowed to see him”.

“He emails you, does he?”

“Occasionally. Usually I have to prod him a bit to get a reply”. He hesitated, gave a little frown, and then said, “Tom, I know you think very highly of Wendy, so I don’t want to cast aspersions or anything, but the fact is that she’s done a good job of turning Colin against me”.

I looked him in the eye; “I think you did a pretty good job of that yourself”, I replied softly.

“I’m not surprised that she’s said the same sorts of things to you”.

I sipped at my coffee slowly, trying to gather my thoughts. Shifting a little in my chair, I said, “Here’s what I know. A couple of years after Lisa was born, you started hitting Wendy, and you did it continually for the next twelve years, sometimes when you were alone with her and sometimes in front of the children. Also, when you were traveling overseas you often cheated on her with other women. Wendy of course took the blame for a lot of this, as abused women tend to do, but she drew the line after twelve years of abuse when you attacked her daughter as well. Colin’s afraid of you, not because of anything that Wendy’s told him, but because of what he remembers about life at home with you, and Lisa hates you – in fact, when she found out that I was even having a conversation with you, it came very close to wrecking my relationship with her”.

He shook his head; “I can see they’ve poisoned your mind, Tom”.

“I should think so!” Marina added hotly; “I’ve been living with him for nine months, and I’ve never seen any of this so-called abusive behaviour!”

I put my coffee cup down on the table. “Look”, I said, “I don’t want to get into an argument with either of you. The facts about the injuries Wendy and Lisa sustained the last time you assaulted them are a matter of medical record, Mickey, and you know that. Still, you tell me that you’re trying to get your life together and that you want to have some contact with your son in the future, and I think that’s good. But it’s not going to happen if you continue to deny responsibility for what’s happened between the two of you”.

“So you deny that she’s influenced Colin in any way, do you?” Marina asked.

“Have you met Wendy?”

“Of course not; Mickey’s not allowed to have any contact with her”.

“Then I think you should reserve judgement”.

“How do you mean?”

“I mean that I think you should reserve judgement. You’re basically saying to me that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to back up the abuse stories. Well, in fact, that’s not true – I’ve heard them from Colin and Lisa too, and Wendy’s brother Rees was the one who found Wendy and Lisa after Mickey’s last assault on them”. She opened her mouth to protest, but I held up my hand and said, “Hear me out. You’ve implied that I’ve only got Wendy’s word to go on; I respond to that by reminding you that you’ve only got Mickey’s word to go on to back up his version of the story. And if you tell me that you love Mickey and you know he’d never lie to you, I’d respond that I love Wendy and I know she wouldn’t lie to me, either”.

“But she did lie to you once, Tom”, Mickey said; “She lied about Lisa”.

“That’s different”, I replied defensively; “She did that because she was afraid of me getting angry if I found out the truth”.

“Still, you can’t say she’s never lied to you”.

“True, but I think that’s in a different category”.

“Of course you do”, Marina replied; “It’s no surprise that you would take her side”.

“Well, let me ask you this”, I said to Mickey; “Do you deny the court record from your trial? Do you deny the truth of the medical records from that assault on Wendy and Lisa?”

“You know I can’t deny them”, he replied, avoiding my gaze; “All I’m saying is that they were more of an isolated incident than Wendy made out. As I told you once before, she had a very good lawyer, and the courts are always biased against the husband in cases like this”.

“So we’re basically at an impasse”, I said. “You maintain that Wendy’s lying about the extent of the abuse; she maintains that she’s not. Meanwhile, you want me to work for a reconciliation between you and Colin”.

He laughed grimly; “I’m not simple enough to believe that you would do that”, he replied. “All I’m asking is that you not get in the way”.

“How could I possibly get in the way? I’m not his Dad and I have absolutely no authority or influence in his life”.

“Really? Are you sure?”

“What do you mean?”

“I think you may actually have a growing influence in his life. In the few emails I’ve had from him in the last few months, he’s spoken very highly of you”.

“Still, if I tried to put any pressure on him to do something he didn’t want to do, he’d baulk – and he’d have every right to do it”.

“So you won’t try to influence him against me?”

“I think reconciliation between you and Colin would be a good thing, Mickey. I just don’t think it can happen unless you’re willing to admit the truth about the past – to yourself, and to him. I understand why you don’t want to do that. I know how hard it would be to you to have to admit the damage you’ve done in Wendy’s life and the lives of her children”.

I saw a momentary flash of anger in his eyes, but it was gone almost instantly, replaced by his familiar polished smile. “Well, as I said, I’m not surprised that you believe everything Wendy’s told you – and I can’t blame you for it. Just keep an open mind, please, and remember – it’s not wrong for a man to want to see his son occasionally”.

“I’m sure it’s not”, I replied, draining my coffee cup. “Look, I have to go”, I said, getting to my feet; “My Dad’s very weak, and I need to go to the hospital to spend some time with him”.

“Of course”, he replied, standing up and holding out his hand. “Thank you for coming out, Tom; I hope things go better for your father”.

“Thanks”. I shook his hand, then turned to Marina and said, “It was a pleasure meeting you”.

“And you”, she replied, but the expression on her face was cold.

“Keep in touch, Tom”, Mickey said.

“I won’t promise anything”, I replied; “My life is rather hectic at the moment. Well, I’ll be on my way, then”. I smiled at them both again, then turned and made my way out.

Link to Chapter 28