For the next few days we spent every spare minute at the hospital. My mother was at my father’s bedside almost every waking moment, going to Becca and Mike’s flat each night around ten and returning the next morning as early as the hospital would let her in – usually around nine. Rick and Becca and I managed to persuade her to let us handle the night shifts; she seemed to feel better about leaving my father if one of us remained at the hospital with him, so we took it in turns. 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, Christianity…”
Almost every night Wendy came back with us to the hospital after supper, accompanied either by Lisa or Colin; somehow, without it ever really being talked about, Wendy had taken it upon herself to provide a light supper for us at her house. The only one who raised any question about this was Rick; we were cleaning up the dishes one night before going back, and he protested that she mustn’t keep on putting herself to all this trouble and expense.
“Don’t be silly, Rick”, she replied quietly; “I’m the obvious person to look after it”.
“Well, I’m not as emotionally connected as the rest of the family, am I? I mean, I know you call us ‘the extended family’, and that’s really nice of you, but we’re not really in the same category as the rest of you, are we? And you’re 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”.
“But you’ve got to work, and I’m sure you’re a big wheel over at Merton”.
She laughed; “I’m a lowly college tutor, that’s all! I give lectures, lead tutorials and produce paper – and with a little effort at rearranging things, most days I can get away a bit earlier”.
“Well, we appreciate it. And by the way, I don’t think we’re going to let you get away with that ‘not really in the same category as the rest of us’ line. Did my brother tell you that? Tom, did you tell her she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”
I had been bending to load the dishwasher; I straightened up, leaned on the kitchen counter, and said, “Not that I remember. Maybe it was Em; hey, Em”, I called, “did you tell Wendy she wasn’t really in the same category as the rest of us?”
Emma put her head around the door of the kitchen. “Not in the same category?” she replied with a frown; “So how come she’s doing all this cooking for us? And anyway, she’s Lisa’s mom, and Lisa’s my sister – sounds pretty connected to me!”
Wendy smiled at us; “You’re all very kind”, she said gently.
Rick shook his head; “The kindness is definitely working both ways. Thank you”.
Owen and I weren’t seeing much of each other, but he called me most nights to check on the situation. One night when we stayed particularly late at the hospital he left a message on my answering machine; it was just after ten-thirty when we got home, but I called him back right away to explain. “Dad was in quite a lot of pain”, I said, “and they were trying to adjust his meds. Mum wanted to stay to see if they could get the situation resolved”.
“Not completely. There’s really not a lot they can do”.
“Is this from his femur?”
“Is the tumour still growing?”
“Yes, and he’s really not strong enough for them to do the targeted radiation any more”.
“Is he still communicative?”
“Oh yeah – there’s nothing wrong with his mind. He sleeps a lot, though; they’ve got him on a pretty high dose of pain meds”.
“How’s everybody else doing?”
“Mum’s exhausting herself. We’re trying to make sure she gets enough rest, but I don’t really have the heart to lay the law down about that. I remember what it’s like; you want to be there every minute you possibly can. And personally, I don’t think it’s going to go on much longer”.
“Are they saying anything about that?”
“Not really; it’s just a hunch”.
“Well, you’ve seen it before”.
“Are you finding that hard?”
“Yes, but there’s nothing I can do about that”.
“Well, let me know if you need a coffee break, alright? Any time of the day or night, I’ll make it work”.
“And give my love to Emma – and Wendy”.
The next night Emma and I got home around ten; we hung up our coats in the hallway, 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; “It’s probably Owen again”.
As Emma went out to the kitchen I pressed the button on the answer phone. The machine beeped, and I heard the voice of Mickey Kingsley. “Tom – Mickey here. 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.
“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 was meeting another student for an early coffee and study time the next morning, so she left the house just after seven. 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, “Are you related to Mickey?”
“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?”
“Ring him on his mobile then”.
She hung up, 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 kitchen table. Getting to my feet I went over to the counter, took my toast from the toaster and spread peanut butter on it. Taking it back to the table I sat down again, picked up the phone, and called 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”.
“Did you know that Mickey has a girlfriend?”
“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”.
“Do you know her?”
“Well, it’s not a common name, is it? A couple of years before we broke up he did some photographic work for the Spencer family – you know, the family Princess Diana comes from? Marina was a distant relative – sort of a ‘third cousin, once removed’, you know? I think she was a sort of fashion designer in London. If it’s the same Marina, he’s known her for a long time. Very posh”.
“I’m not sure – she didn’t say anything about herself”.
“What did Mickey want?”
“He wasn’t there – he’d already left for work, but I knew what he wanted; he’d 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.
“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?”
“Could you find out exactly when he’s going to be here?”
“Are you going to go away for the weekend?”
“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”, 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. So I used Emma as an excuse; I enjoyed having breakfast with my daughter on weekends, I said, 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 maître d’ 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 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 bright 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”.
“That would be great”.
He signalled 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 more laid back. Discipline’s a bit better here, but I don’t care for school uniforms any more – I’m used to a less formal approach”.
“Really? I seem to remember your father being a rather conservative lawyer or something like that”.
“Yes, but I didn’t pick up many 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 said, “So are you and Wendy a couple now?”
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 rung me a couple of times, and whenever you’ve talked about Wendy and asked about our relationship you’ve sounded rather jealous and possessive. If I’d been going by your tone, 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; why shouldn’t I?”
“No reason at all – 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?”
“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 my life after I went to Canada?”
“Nothing. I know 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, four years ago this coming May”.
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 year 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 was 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?”
“I think that would be a good idea”.
“Tell me what you’ve been up to since the last time we met”.
So I told him about my move to Meadowvale and how the community had adopted me, about Will and his family and my growing relationship with them, and about my marriage to Kelly. I told him about Emma’s birth and Kelly’s bouts with cancer, about our trips to England and Mexico, and about Kelly’s death and how Emma and I had dealt with it. Finally I told him about my father’s illness and our decision to come to England, and 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; 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”.
“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”.
“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’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.
“Yes – she came 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 put his hand on her arm; “Tom Masefield, may I introduce Marina Spencer? Marina, this is Tom”.
She took my hand with a dazzling smile; “I’m delighted to meet you”, she said.
“Likewise; sorry we got off to a shaky start on the phone the other day”.
“I’m sorry, too”.
We sat down again, and Mickey signalled for a waiter. “Coffee?” he asked Marina.
“How’s yours, Tom?”
“I’d enjoy another cup if you’re ordering, thanks”.
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; the place became home”.
“Have you got a family?”
“One daughter. I’m a widower, actually”.
“Oh – I’m sorry”.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’m a fashion designer of sorts. 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 originally?”
“Yes, I was born and raised there, but my family’s from Northamptonshire, and I’ve still got lots of relatives in the Midlands”.
“So you’re from the famous Spencer family, are you?”
She nodded; “I am”.
“And how long have you two been together?”
It was Mickey who replied. “We’ve known each other for quite a long time actually. I did some work for some of Marina’s relatives and they wanted some photographs taken on an estate of theirs in the Midlands – not Althorp, but another property. 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 in London”, 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, doesn’t he?”
“Occasionally. Usually I have to prod him a bit to get a reply”. He hesitated, gave a little frown, and then said, “Tom, you’re obviously quite fond of Wendy so I don’t want to cast aspersions or anything, but the fact is, 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’m not surprised 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 regularly for the next twelve years – sometimes when you were alone with her and sometimes in front of the children. Of course Wendy took the blame for a lot of this – abused women tend to do that – but she drew the line after twelve years of abuse when you attacked Lisa as well. Colin’s afraid of you, but not because of anything Wendy’s told him; it’s because of what he remembers about life at home with you. And Lisa hates you, plain and simple – in fact, when she found out I was even having a conversation with you it made things very difficult between us for a while”.
He shook his head; “I can see they’ve poisoned your mind, too”.
“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 don’t want to get into an argument with either of you. The facts about Wendy and Lisa’s injuries are a matter of medical record, Mickey, and you know that. Still, you tell me you’re trying to get your life together and 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?” asked Marina.
“Have you met Wendy?”
“Of course not – Mickey’s not allowed to have any contact with her”.
“Then I think you should reserve judgement”.
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I say: I think you should reserve judgement. You’re claiming I’ve only got Wendy’s word to back up the abuse stories. Actually that’s not true – I’ve heard them from Colin and Lisa too, and Rees Howard was the one who found Wendy and Lisa after Mickey assaulted 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, but the same is true for you: you’ve only got Mickey’s word to go on. 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”.
“So she told you the truth about Lisa being your daughter immediately, did she?” asked Mickey sarcastically; “Right from day one?”
“That’s different. She concealed that from me because she was afraid of me getting angry if I found out the truth”.
“So you can’t say she’s always been truthful with you”.
“I think that’s in a different category”.
“Of course you do”, Marina replied; “It’s no surprise that you would take her side”.
I could feel myself getting annoyed with Marina’s presence, but I was determined not to lose the initiative in the conversation. “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. 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. You insist that Wendy’s lying about the extent of the abuse; she maintains 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. 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 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. He really enjoys it when you and Emma take him out walking or canoeing; he loved that walking trip you made to the Peak District last year. He doesn’t say much about how he feels, but he doesn’t need to – it’s easy to read between the lines”.
“Still, if I tried to put any pressure on him to do something he didn’t want to do, I’d get nowhere – he knows his own mind”.
“All I’m asking is that you not 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 him, and to yourself. I understand why you don’t want to do that. I know how hard it would be for you to have to admit the damage you’ve done in Wendy’s life, and the lives of her children”.
He smiled indulgently; “Well, as I said, I’m not surprised that you believe everything Wendy’s told you – and I can’t really 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 and getting to my feet. “Look, I have to go; 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. “Thanks for coming out, Tom; I hope things go better for your father”.
“Thank you”. I shook his hand, then turned to Marina and said, “It was good to meet you”.
“And you”, she replied, but the expression on her face was cold.
“Keep in touch”, said Mickey.
“I can’t promise anything; my life is rather hectic at the moment”. I smiled at them both again, then turned and made my way out.