It was three weeks before I was able to take advantage of Wendy’s invitation to Merton chapel. The weekend after our gig at the ‘Plough’ Emma and I were out at Northwood, and the following weekend Wendy and her children went down to Chelmsford. I saw Wendy a few times midweek; we went out for supper twice, she came over to our house one evening for a visit, and Emma and I went over to the Howards’ for supper one night. We talked to to each other on the phone almost every day, and when I turned on my computer and checked my email I frequently found little messages from her.
The first time we went out for supper together was on the Wednesday night after our gig at the Plough. We went to a small Italian restaurant north of the city centre. When we arrived at about six-thirty the place was about half full; we were shown to a corner table, and within a few minutes we were sipping red wine and enjoying focaccia bread appetizers. Wendy was wearing jeans and a wool sweater again; I was gradually realizing that her simple taste in clothes had not changed much over the years.
“So tell me”, I asked her, “How long have you been in love with me?”
She smiled at me mischievously. “Why, sir, I believe I must date it from when I first saw your beautiful grounds at Pemberley!”
We both laughed. “Seriously, now!” I said.
“Seriously? I think I fell in love with you for the first time in the spring of 1982, Tom”.
I stared at her; “But I thought…”
“I know. I was young, stubborn and opinionated, and I was wrong. Mind you, I don’t think I realized at the time that I was in love with you; I think the feeling of being in love must change, according to the person you’re in love with”.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, I was madly in love with Mickey from my teens, but what I felt for you didn’t feel like that at all; it was quieter and deeper, and so I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I know now, though”.
I nodded; “Now that you mention it, I think I feel the same way. Being in love with you feels different from being in love with Kelly, because you’re different”.
“Yes, that’s exactly right. But anyway, I think I realized very quickly after the first time we talked – at the school, when we had our appointment about Colin – that I still liked you a lot. You’re different now, though”.
“Yes – you’re not as shy as you used to be, and yet in a paradoxical sort of way, you’re quieter as well. You used to over-compensate for your shyness, you know”.
“You may be right”.
“I think so. Sometimes you came across as much more self-assured than you really were. It wasn’t until I got to know you better that I realized that you were a lot less self-confident than you seemed to be. Now it’s almost the other way around; you’re quieter and less assertive, but inside you’re much more at ease with yourself. That’s how it seems to me, anyway”.
“You’ve changed too, Wendy”, I said. “You’re a lot more mellow than you used to be”.
“God, I hope so! I was a real brat in our Lincoln Green days!”
I grinned; “You seemed pretty sure of yourself, let’s put it that way!”
“I wasn’t really, you know”, she said softly.
“I know. I started to see the cracks the first night you came to my room”.
“You were so good to me, Tom; I don’t know how I would have got through those few months without you”.
“I treasured every moment, you know”, I said.
“Thank you”, she whispered, her eyes shining at me.
For a moment neither of us said anything; we simply smiled at each other across the table. Eventually she took a sip of her wine and said, “As for when liking turned to loving – well, I think I started to realize it was happening the weekend we went down to Essex, especially after our conversation in the car on the way down, when you told me that you’d been falling in love with me back in our Oxford days. I think that’s when I realized that I was starting to fall in love with you, too, and then when I thought back on those early days, I realized that it wasn’t a new feeling”. She took a piece of focaccia bread and ate it slowly. “What about you?” she asked; “When did you realize you were in love with me again?”
I laughed softly; “Well, to go back to Lizzie Bennet, doesn’t she say something about love coming on so gradually that she’s barely noticed it?”
“I think she does!” she replied with a grin.
“That’s the way it was with me, I think. But when we were at Mum and Dad’s, and we walked back from the lake together and had that little talk by the stable block wall, that’s when I knew I was feeling something more than friendship. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you at supper that night”.
She laughed softly; “I think I noticed that!”
I reached across the table and took her hand; “I think you were doing some looking of your own as well”.
She inclined her head and smiled at me. “I might have been!” she said playfully; “Maybe I liked what I saw”.
“I know I liked what I saw”.
She moved her hand on mine, looking steadily at me. “Thank you”, she whispered.
We were quiet again for a moment, looking at each other. Eventually she said, “It almost feels like there’s a plan, you know?”
“Yes”. She took a sip of her wine, put the glass down on the table again, and inclined her head thoughtfully. “You come back to Oxford, you start teaching at Colin’s school, and it turns out that he’s in your tutor group. So you and I meet again, and as soon as we start really talking to each other, we discover that since we last met we’ve both moved toward Christianity. Not only that, but in our own way each of us has had a heartache, and each of us is lonely, although neither of us talks about it very much. Don’t you get the feeling that we’ve been set up in some way?”
I smiled; “It does seem like that, doesn’t it? That might be a comforting thought”.
She nodded slowly; “It might”, she replied.
It was the last weekend of March when I finally joined Wendy for Sunday morning service at Merton chapel. The worshippers were scattered around the chapel, facing each other across the centre aisle; most of them were obviously students, with a smattering of older people, at least some of whom I assumed to be Merton dons. David Wiseman and Bev Copeland greeted me warmly, and before the service Wendy also introduced me to her friends Gwen Kirby and Jeremy Bayly. Stephen Jeffreys wore a solemn looking purple vestment as he led the service, and I now knew enough about Anglican customs to realize that this signified the season of Lent. His sermon was quite short, but very personal and practical in its application of the text.
Wendy had invited me to join her and her friends after the service for lunch at the Bear, a historic little pub just down the street from the college. The late March weather had turned cold again, and I turned up the collar of my jacket as Wendy and I walked side by side up Bear Lane to the pub, her hand in my arm. There were seven of us squeezed in around a circular table in the corner of the little dining room; Stephen was wearing his black suit and clerical collar, and the others were dressed quite formally as well, except for Wendy who was wearing jeans and a thick wool sweater.
The lunch was friendly and relaxed; Wendy and the others obviously knew each other well, and the conversation reflected their shared interests. At one point, to my surprise, there was a general discussion about a point from Stephen’s sermon; Jeremy Bayly asked him to clarify something he had said, and this led to a lively conversation, with everyone expressing their opinions and Stephen vigorously defending his views. For the most part I just listened, but at one point I turned to Wendy and said, “See, you do have a discussion time after the sermon in your church!”
She laughed; “I suppose we do!” she replied. “I just don’t tend to think of a conversation in a pub as falling into quite the same category as what your church does!”
After the lunch coffee was served, but at this point Wendy and I excused ourselves; she was going to show me her room at Merton and give me coffee there. We walked hand in hand back through the narrow streets, our collars pulled up against the wind, Wendy’s long hair whipping around her face. Once we were on the college grounds, from the Fellows’ Quadrangle we climbed a staircase and came to a wooden door with Wendy’s name on a nameplate; she unlocked the door, let me in and took my coat. “Sit down and make yourself at home”, she said; “I’ll put the kettle on”.
I took my seat in an easy chair and glanced around at my surroundings. The room was quite large, with latticed windows on the outside wall and a fireplace at one end. In one corner, where I was sitting, there was a low coffee table, a chesterfield, and two easy chairs. Two walls were almost completely taken up with shelves of books, and at the far end there was a large desk covered with books and papers, and a work station with a laptop computer and printer.
“This is impressive”, I said.
Wendy was plugging in an electric kettle on a little trolley against the wall. “Thank you”, she replied. “In the old days, of course, when the dons were all bachelors – and all men – they lived in college too. There are still a couple that do that, and they have extra rooms for it, but most of us live out and just work here”.
“This area here is where you do your tutorials, I presume?”
I got up and walked over to her desk, glancing at the books piled up in one corner. The bulletin board above the work station was crammed with notes and papers, along with photographs of Lisa and Colin, of Wendy’s parents, and of Rees and his family. In one corner was a new photograph of Wendy and me, which Lisa had taken the last time Emma and I had gone to their house for supper.
I felt her hand on my shoulder, and I slipped my arm around her waist. “I see I’ve made a little foothold in your study”, I observed, gesturing toward the photograph.
“The small size doesn’t reflect the rather large foothold you’ve made in my life”, she replied softly.
I turned to face her, took her in my arms, and kissed her. We held each other close for a moment, and then she lifted her head, kissed me again, and said, “I’d better make that coffee before I get too distracted!”
We went back over to the other side of the room; she bent and took a cafetière and a package of ground coffee from the bottom of the trolley. “So what did you think of Merton Chapel?” she asked as she straightened up again.
I sat down on the chesterfield. “I enjoyed Stephen’s sermon, though it seemed a little short to me. I enjoyed the intercessory prayer time; we tend to get too focused on our own local concerns in our church, and we forget about the needs of the wider world. You Anglicans are better at that than we are. And I enjoyed the quiet at the beginning; we’re very chatty and informal when we come into church, as you know, and I liked having some space to think and pray before the service started”.
She spooned coffee into the cafetière and poured boiling water from the kettle. “What about things you didn’t like?”
“‘Didn’t like’ is too strong; some things are still strange to me, that’s all. The robes, the formality, the way the liturgy sometimes reads like someone making a speech to God – I’m just not used to it, that’s all. And I must admit that incense always makes me think I’m in a pagan temple. But don’t worry yourself about it, Wendy – a church is a church, and the things we agree about are far more important than the things we disagree about”.
She turned to face me again, leaning back against the bookshelf. “I suppose I was just a bit worried that you were secretly hating the whole thing. I remember you once saying that you thought a lot of traditions were long past their best-before date”.
“Yes, and we have some traditions like that in Mennonite churches, too”.
“Do you? I somehow don’t associate Mennonites with traditions”.
“Five hundred years of history – German language, cultural identity – not to mention generations of living in isolation from the world around. Oh yes – there are traditions!”.
“Give me an example”.
“A lot of them are tied up with language; the older people were raised speaking Low German at home and High German at church, and there are lots of words they use frequently and just assume that other people understand. No-one’s being malicious, but when outsiders like me with no knowledge of the traditions start attending a Mennonite church they can get a bit lost occasionally. Every now and again we’ll be singing a hymn and the song leader will say ‘Let’s sing the next verse in German’, and off they go, and people like Emma and me are left high and dry!”
“The words aren’t in the hymn book, I suppose?”
“Not always – sometimes they’re just in people’s heads”.
She turned back to the trolley. “Well, I’ll give this coffee a stir and then I think it’ll be ready”.
She stirred the coffee and then poured it into two earthenware mugs; she handed one to me and then sat down in one of the easy chairs across from me.
“This setup brings back memories”, I said.
“Yes; it seems an awful long time ago. Do you have students in pairs?”
“Sometimes in pairs, sometimes in threes; one of them will read an essay they’ve written on an assigned topic, and then I’ll respond to what they say, and – well, you remember the process, Tom!”
“Yeah, I remember some of my tutorials as the scariest parts of my week! I had a couple of rather fearsome tutors, although I got used to them in the end”.
She drank some of her coffee, put the cup down on the table in front of her, and said, “Well, Mickey has put in a formal request to see Colin”.
“A formal request?”
“What I mean is that his lawyer has filed a petition, asking for a relaxation of the terms of the court order while he’s recovering from his injuries. The court’s expected to move quickly on it; apparently it will be heard this week some time”.
“Down in London?”
“How are you doing with this?”
“My feelings are all over the map, but I’ve told my lawyer not to oppose it”.
“That must have been very hard for you”.
“Yes”. She looked away for a moment, and I saw the emotion in her face. “I’m really struggling not to hate Mickey”, she continued softly. “It feels like he’s reaching out to control my life again, just like he did when we were married. I think I’m over all that, but then something like this happens, and I realize that deep down inside I’m still afraid of him. Still, this isn’t about me, is it? It’s about Colin and his Dad”.
“How does Colin feel about it?”
“That’s the other thing. When I first raised the idea with him a couple of weeks ago I could tell that he didn’t like it. He didn’t say anything, but I know him well enough to know that he wants nothing to do with Mickey”.
“That could be difficult”.
“Yes; I’ve been careful not to put any pressure on him, one way or the other, but I know that if he refuses to go, Mickey will blame me for it”.
“Have you talked to him about it recently?”
“No – not since Mickey was first injured. To be honest, I’ve been putting it off; I’d hate for him to think I was putting any pressure on him to do something he really doesn’t want to do”. She stared off into space for a moment. “In all the years we were together, Mickey never hit Colin”, she said quietly, “but he often shouted at him and ridiculed him, and of course Colin knew what Mickey did to me. Occasionally he saw it happen. I know he’s afraid of his Dad”.
“Would you like me to talk to him with you?”
“Perhaps. Be with me when I talk to him, if you want”.
“Would you like to do it today?”
“You’re not in a rush to get home this afternoon?”
“No; Emma’s working, and I’m all caught up with my schoolwork”.
“Thank you, Tom; that would be really nice. The children will be glad to see you, too”.
“Lisa’s staying in college again, I hear”.
“During the week, anyway; she seems to be gradually getting over her fear. Mark’s trial is the week after next, though”.
“Yes, I’m testifying at it”.
“Of course you are – I don’t know why I forgot”.
“Wendy, have you said anything lately to Lisa about us?”
She gave a little frown; “Not very much. Why?”
“Last month at my Mum and Dad’s when we were talking, she asked me if I thought I’d ever come to love someone again. I told her that if I did, she’d be one of the first ones to know”.
She looked at me, a little smile playing around her lips; “So you want to tell her that you’re in love with me?”
She nodded slowly; “I think that would be fine, Tom”, she said softly.
It was the middle of the afternoon when we arrived at Wendy’s house. Lisa was sitting in an easy chair in the living room, reading a book; she looked up with a warm smile as we entered the room. “Hello there”, she said; “Did you have a good time?”
“Very good, thanks”, Wendy replied. “Where’s Colin?”
“Up in his room doing something; he didn’t say what. Do you want some coffee or anything?”
“No thanks; we’ve already shared a couple of pots in college”.
“Ah, of course”. Lisa grinned up at me; “What did you think of Mum’s little hideout?”
“Very impressive; I don’t remember the dons’ rooms at Lincoln being quite that large”.
“Are you two going to sit down, or are you en route somewhere?”
“I’m going to go up and talk to Colin”, Wendy replied; she glanced at me and said, “I’ll ask him to come down”.
Wendy slipped out of the room. Lisa looked up at me and frowned; “Is something going on?” she asked.
I sat down on the couch, at right angles to the chair where she was sitting. “Apparently Mickey’s put in a formal request to see Colin”.
I saw her eyes narrowing; “Can he do that, legally?”
“His lawyer has filed a petition to have the terms of the court order relaxed while he’s recovering from his injuries”.
“While he’s recovering from his injuries!” she repeated sarcastically; “The court order’s there because of the injuries he inflicted on other people!”
“You and your mum, you mean”.
“Did she ever tell you about those injuries?”
“Not in detail, no”.
“He broke her jaw, you know!”
“No, I didn’t know that”, I replied quietly. “All she told me was that she had broken bones”.
“It took a long time for her to heal”.
“What about you?”
“I didn’t have anything broken, but I had a lot of bruising and a minor concussion”.
“I’m very sorry, Lisa”.
“Yes, well, I hope you can understand why I don’t find it very easy to muster up a great deal of sympathy for Mickey Kingsley. I assume Mum’s told him in no uncertain terms to back off?”
I saw the anger flaring up in her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding!” she cried; “Please don’t tell me she’s going all ‘turn the other cheek’ on us!”
“I think maybe you need to talk with her…”.
“I’m talking to you at the moment!” she retorted; “I’m assuming you and Mum are agreed on this?”
“Agreed on what?” Wendy asked, reappearing at the living room door.
“This idea of letting Colin go and see Mickey in hospital! Please don’t tell me you’re actually going to let this happen!”
Wendy came into the room, sat down on the couch beside me, and crossed her legs. “I’ve told my lawyer not to oppose it”, she said.
“I don’t believe this!” Lisa cried; “Have you forgotten what he did to us?”
“I think you can assume I haven’t forgotten it”.
“Then what do you think you’re doing? You’re putting Colin in danger!”
“It’s hard for me to imagine Mickey being able to do anything to Colin while he’s in a hospital bed recovering from shrapnel injuries”, Wendy replied in a measured tone.
“But it won’t stop there, Mum! You know as well as I do that this will just be the thin end of the wedge! Once he wins this concession, he won’t rest until he has full access to us again!”
“Well, he may well decide he wants to fight that battle, but if he does, I’ll oppose it”.
“That’ll be too late; you need to draw a line now, before it goes any further”.
“Lisa, I’m sure he’s feeling his own mortality right now, and it makes sense to me that a man would want to see his son at a time like this”.
“So you’re actually taking his side?”
Wendy pursed her lips, and for a moment I saw the emotion in her face. “Lisa, my love, I’m not taking his side”, she replied softly. “Please don’t treat me as if I’m the enemy; I’m not”.
“But Mickey is the enemy; can’t you see that?” Lisa pleaded. “Please don’t give in to him, Mum! Please don’t forget what he did to us!”
“I’m not likely to forget it”.
Lisa turned to me. “What about you, Tom?” she asked; “What do you think about this?”
I frowned, choosing my words carefully. “Well, of course, I don’t know Mickey anything like as well as you two”, I replied. “Nonetheless, when I knew him in our university days, I was always a bit wary of him. Owen and I had our doubts about him from the beginning”.
“They did”, Wendy confirmed, “but I was foolish enough to ignore them”.
“Still”, I continued, “I don’t think it can do any lasting harm for Colin to see Mickey while he’s in hospital – that is, if he wants to. We’re all assuming that Colin will want to see him; I’m not convinced that’s a done deal, myself”.
“He’s just a seventeen year old boy!” Lisa replied. “You’re asking him to make a choice that’s far too big for his years; it’s not fair on him!”
At that moment Colin appeared at the door, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, his hair a little messy. “Are you talking about me?” he asked Lisa.
“Yes; has Mum told you about this outrageous idea your dad has come up with?”
Colin took his seat in the easy chair across from his sister, looked at Wendy, and asked, “What idea?”
“You know that your dad was rather seriously injured in Iraq”, she said; “He’s sent a message saying that he would like you to visit him in hospital”.
He frowned; “I thought that wasn’t allowed?” he said.
“It isn’t, and so he’s filed a petition to have the terms of the court order relaxed while he’s recovering from his injuries. I’ve decided not to oppose the request, but I’m not going to force you into doing something you don’t want to do, either. It’s up to you”.
“Can the court force me to see him?”
“No; you’re over sixteen, so you’ve got the right to decide for yourself. All the court can do is remove the legal restrictions, and he hasn’t asked them to do it permanently; just while he’s recovering from his injuries”.
Colin looked down at the ground. “I don’t want to go and see him”, he whispered.
Lisa leaned forward and put her hand on her brother’s arm. “Well done!” she replied; “That’s the first sensible thing I’ve heard on the subject this afternoon”.
“Lisa, you’re not helping matters”, Wendy said, and I heard a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“I’m not helping matters!” Lisa cried. “Mum, are you out of your fucking mind? This is Mickey Kingsley we’re talking about here! He’s a monster!”
“Please don’t swear at me”, Wendy replied; “I wish you would try to understand how difficult this is for me”.
The girl shook her head violently; “I’m sorry, but the only thing I can understand is that you should be protecting Colin, not exposing him to more danger from that bastard”.
“There’s no need to get upset about it, Lisa”, Colin replied; “The only way I’d be in danger is if I actually went to see him, and I’m not going”.
“But you don’t understand!” she exclaimed; “The only thing that’s protecting you from him is that court order, and if Mum agrees for it to be relaxed, it’ll just be the thin end of the wedge. He’ll be back in our lives, and none of us will ever be safe again”. She got to her feet, and I saw the tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry”, she said, her voice barely under control, “I just can’t sit here and listen to this; I can’t even begin to think about this happening. Please, Mum, don’t do this”. She wiped her eyes angrily with the back of her hand, and then turned and left the room.
We were quiet for a moment, and then Colin said, “I’m sorry, Mum”.
“About you and Lisa having a fight about me”.
“Don’t be silly; it’s not your fault”. She hesitated, and then said, “Are you sure you don’t want to go and visit your Dad?”
“Do you think I should go?” he asked.
She thought for a moment, and then said, “We all know the sort of thing that your Dad did to us in the past, and I can’t sit here and pretend that I’m not afraid of him, even now. But at the same time, I’m sorry he’s been injured, and I understand why he might want to see you at this time. It’s always possible that what he’s been through might have worked some sort of change in him. I’m skeptical about that, but I’m trying my best to give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, the last thing I want to do is to put any pressure on you to do something you don’t want to do. If you thought you wanted to see him, I wouldn’t put an obstacle in your way. If you feel you’d rather not, I’ll support you in that as well”.
“I really don’t want to go, Mum”.
“Fair enough; I can understand that”.
He got to his feet; “I’m going to go and talk to Lisa”.
“Are you sure?”
He slipped out of the living room and closed the door behind him. Wendy turned to look at me, and I saw the distress in her eyes. “Tom, what in God’s name am I supposed to do?” she asked.
I shifted a little in my seat, angling my body so that I was facing her on the couch. “Okay, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think. The court order’s in place to protect you and the kids. Both of the kids obviously feel they still need it. Lisa’s obviously terrified of the thought of it being relaxed, and Colin’s got no interest at all in going to see his Dad – presumably because he’s afraid of him. And you’re afraid of him too, aren’t you?”
She nodded; “I am”.
“Then I think you need to tell your lawyer you’ve had second thoughts, and you want to oppose the petition”.
“You’ve changed your mind?”
“But is it the Christian thing, for me to say ‘no’ to him?”
“Wisdom is a Christian virtue”, I replied. “I’m a convinced pacifist and I believe in non-violence and loving your enemies, but there’s no virtue in deliberately putting yourself in the path of violence. Mickey’s given plenty of evidence that he’s a violent man, and his recent communications with me and the children don’t indicate any change”. I put my arm around her shoulders; “Someone may be called to help him” I said softly, “but I don’t think it’s you. For you and the kids, safety comes first; that’s just the way it has to be”.
She looked at me in silence for a moment, then nodded slowly and laid her head against my shoulder. “Thanks, Tom”, she whispered. “I think I needed to hear that”.
“Rees will say the same thing, I’m sure”, I replied.
“I know he will”. I felt her nodding her head against my shoulder. “All right; that’s what I’ll do”.
Mickey called me on the following Thursday night. Once again, Emma was working late; I had done my marking and classroom prep, and I was sitting in the living room playing some guitar instrumentals when the phone rang. Leaning my guitar against the side of the couch, I picked up the phone and said, “Tom and Emma’s”.
“Tom; Mickey Kingsley here”.
“Mickey; where are you calling from?”
“Hospital; I’ll be here for a few more days yet. But of course, you probably already know that”.
“How are you feeling?”
“My wounds are healing slowly, but I’m rather pissed off right now about this petition of mine being denied. No doubt you’ve heard about that”.
“Was it Wendy’s idea, or yours?”
I leaned back on the couch, crossed my legs, and said, “Actually, Wendy was ready to let Colin go down and see you; he was the one who didn’t want to go. Until he told her how he felt, she was all ready to allow your petition”.
I heard him snort on the other end of the line; “You really expect me to believe that?”
“You’ll have to decide for yourself what you want to believe. I can only tell you what I saw. I was with Wendy and the children when the decision was made; Wendy had made up her mind not to oppose the petition, and I supported her in that. It wasn’t until she realized that Colin really didn’t want to visit you – and she saw how terrified Lisa was – that she changed her mind”.
“Lisa – I might have known she’d have something to do with it; she’s always been prejudiced against me”.
“Well, Mickey, a concussion can have that effect on a person”.
“She’s told you all about that in detail, I suppose?”
“Actually, no; neither she nor Wendy have said much about it. Wendy’s never gone into the specifics, and Lisa only mentioned the word ‘concussion’ when she found out about your petition”.
“You were there when they were discussing this, were you?”
“I was, yes”.
“Are you and Wendy dating or something?”
“That’s our business, Mickey”.
“Defensive again, aren’t we?”
“Was there something you wanted to say to me specifically tonight, or did you just call me up so that you could vent your spleen at me?”
There was a short silence on the other end of the line; again, I could hear his breathing, and eventually, to my surprise, he said, “Sorry, I’m a bit frustrated today, that’s all, and it’s not been much fun having shrapnel dug out of my body. For that matter, it wasn’t much fun having it put in there in the first place”.
“I can imagine. Was it just me, or did the recovery seem to take a bit longer than they thought?”
“One of the wounds got some infection in it, and I got a fever that I found a bit hard to shake. Things are pretty basic at Basra, too; I was mightily relieved when I finally got back to London and a decent hospital”.
“I can imagine”.
“I don’t think you can, Tom; Iraq’s a hell-hole right now, and if you haven’t been there, you’ve got absolutely no idea how God-awful it is. Blair had no business getting our troops into that quagmire”.
“No argument from me on that one”.
“Anyway”; he paused for a moment, and then continued, “can we talk about Colin for a minute?”
“What about him, specifically?”
“Well, I know you don’t seem to want to talk about it, but I can read between the lines and it seems pretty obvious to me that you and Wendy are having some sort of relationship. I’m a bit concerned about the effect you might have on Colin”.
“Well, I know that at the moment I’m not allowed to see him, and I’m prepared to admit that to a certain extent that’s my fault. But I’ve always hoped that situation wouldn’t last forever; I’d hoped that when he got a bit older, one day he and I might be able to have some sort of relationship again”.
“Well, I’m quite worried that if you and Wendy end up as a couple, the two of you are going to work together to keep him away from me. I don’t want that to happen, and of course I can’t talk to Wendy about it because of the court order”.
I thought for a moment, and then said, “Mickey, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Wendy and I are going to be a couple. What exactly is it that you’re asking of me?”
“Well, I know it’s too much to hope that you might actually encourage Colin to think kindly of me, but I’d hope at least that you wouldn’t oppose any moves I made to bring us closer together”.
“You’re asking me to do something I’ve already done; I was in favour of him coming to visit you, and I expressed that view to the three of them. It wasn’t until I saw how reluctant he was, and how scared Lisa was, that I realized it might not be such a good idea after all”.
“So you did persuade Wendy to contest my petition?”
“Mickey, your petition was going to have absolutely no effect; whatever the legal situation, Colin wasn’t going to come to visit you. He was quite clear about that. And given the way he felt, and the fact that Lisa was terrified of the thought of the court order being even the slightest bit relaxed – well, when Wendy asked me what I thought, I told her I’d changed my mind and I thought she should oppose your petition”.
“Who the fuck do you think you are? What gives you the right to push your way into this?”
“Do you want to stop talking now, or shall I hang up?”
“I’ll save you the trouble!” I heard the click of the phone being hung up; I listened to the dial tone for a moment, and then shook my head and pressed the ‘end’ button. Replacing the cordless phone in its charger, I got to my feet, stretched, and went out to the kitchen. I boiled a cup of water, made myself a cup of herbal tea, and was just about to go upstairs when I heard the phone ringing again. Going back into the living room, I picked it up and said, “Tom and Emma’s”.
“Sorry I lost my temper, Tom”.
I shook my head slowly; “Hello again, Mickey”.
“Listen, to get back to Colin…”
“Mickey, if you can’t even keep your temper on the telephone with me, do you seriously expect me to advise Colin that he should give you the benefit of the doubt?”
Again there was silence on the line; I sat down on the couch and waited for him to respond. After a moment he said, “Can we get together and talk about this?”
I laughed; “You want me to come and visit you?”
“Surely you must make trips to London from time to time?”
“Well, Mickey, believe it or not, my free time is kind of taken up with a dying father and a crippled niece right now”.
“A crippled niece?”
“Yes; my brother’s daughter was involved in a car accident on Boxing Day; she’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life”.
“I’m sorry to hear that”.
“Thank you. Anyway, I don’t have a great deal of leisure time”.
“I’d just really like to have a face to face discussion about this with you – man to man, you know?”
“Man to man?”
I laughed again; “Isn’t that phrase a bit old-fashioned? These days, if women are part of the situation, we tend to include them in the conversation, Mickey”.
“Look, just think about it, alright? How could it possibly hurt?”
I gave a heavy sigh. “All right – I will think about it”.
“Have you got my phone number?”
“I’ll give you my mobile number as well, alright?”
“Alright”. I found pen and paper and wrote down the numbers he gave me. “I’ll call you back in a few days”, I said. “Please don’t rush me on this, Mickey; when I’ve made a decision, I’ll be the one to make the phone call”.
“Fair enough. I’ll say good night, then”.
“Good night, Mickey; I hope you’re feeling better soon”.