Other Voices

 

 

“Well, this looks like a quickie divorce to me,” her solicitor says.

“His lawyer is a friend of mine, so we can just fix it up over lunch one day, should be a doddle.”

He’s about the same age as Margot, dressed in a pin-striped three piece suit. Secretly she thinks he’s a bit of a hufter, trying to make himself look more respectable. He’s coughing his lungs out between drawing deep breaths on his Cuban cigar, burning down in the ashtray. She has a strange feeling he’s dressed up, in costume, and that this is far from his real nature.

It’s her third visit here, with all the necessary documents. She wants to say she knows it won’t be that smooth, that he can’t know what tricks her husband will play in delaying the procedure. She has expectations it will take as long as he wants it to. She’s already had letters from him mentioning how he will suffer financially. According to him, single men suffer financial injustice. She knows he’s trying to bluff his way through the last year in Nigeria pretending he’s married, but she has made sure since she left that friends there know exactly what the situation is. God bless gossip! Pity he didn’t think of his financial sacrifices before he wrecked all their lives then.

He’s coming back and, after almost a year, says he wants to see his daughters. He hasn’t paid a penny in all those months. Unknown to her, he writes asking if he can stay with their old neighbour, who Margot shops for and drives about. They pick sloes from trees nobody but Eve knows about, deep in the countryside. She makes the best sloe gin on earth, always the highlight of Christmas.

When John turns up and Eve says he is her “best friend”, Margot’s furious. She hasn’t said much, it’s still too raw, but it takes the cake when the old dear falls again for his surface civility and starts wearing lipstick when he’s in the house.

“He offered to pay me for staying, but of course I said no, he’s a friend,” she smiles at Margot.

“Let him pay, Eve. Think of what he’s saving, nothing to us since we left, and no hotel bill!”

She lets him into the marital home, he swings the girls up and hugs them and begins immediately to justify himself in giving her no money.

“You can’t expect me to suffer just because we’re separated, let’s leave it to the lawyers shall we? ” he says.

“You closed the account, what am I meant to live on?”

“Get a job, you’re young enough,” he says cheerfully.

When he leaves she forces herself to say,

“From now on, you can pick them up and drop them at the door. Phone me first.”

She read a book just last night where the heroine said those exact words, and they work far better than the ones she really wants to fire at him – all four lettered. He looks amazed, expecting no doubt to sit comfortably between being a single man with no responsibilities and a married man, ditto. She has the locks changed in the house and garage after Eve says casually to her one morning,

“Oh, he wanted to use the car when you and the girls were in London yesterday, but he couldn’t find the garage key.“

“He came in the house while I was out?” Margot’s enraged.

“Well, you know, I suppose it’s hard for him to get used to not being able to come and go.”

Eve blushes a bit, then continues,

“He’s taking me down the Royal tonight.”

Margot wonders if the Royal is a pub or the local theatre. Eve once told her she was “going down the crem” and Margot was amazed she was going to a cremation.

“The theatre?”

“Yes, what can I wear….?”

Eve is 76 and not naive. She once had a chip shop with her husband Jack but sold up and moved because “the fat got in me pores”. She’s a big lady with a lot of humour, but to this day, fifteen years later, blames the chip shop for her weight problem.

“It just sinks into your body and never leaves you.”

This is a statement, as though it’s a burden one must bravely bear. She’s totally secure in the knowledge that it has nothing to do with the cakes, chips and fry ups she still consumes daily. Once, after a few whiskies, she confided to Margot that Jack (now dead and gone) was rendered useless in the bedroom after the war.

“That there bromide they put in their tea in the army, it did for him,” she said.

She’s a terrific lady, knows all the gossip, all the neighbours. She and her friend Janet sometimes get dressed up as Bunny Girls on a Saturday night after a few whiskies. Thankfully they don’t head for the streets when they do this, so Margot never witnesses the apparition, but even hearing about it cheers her up to know two old girls can be so happy in each other’s company.

Instead of feeling used, as she just has been, Eve considers John’s visit as the highlight of her year.

“He’s lovely,” she says tearfully as he departs back to Nigeria.

Never once has she asked what went wrong, never once has Margot tried to explain. She has the uncomfortable feeling Eve has been a walkover, giving every scrap of information and perhaps even an uninformed opinion about the situation. Some women always pull the stops out for men, it’s a surprising lesson to learn that age is no barrier to such folly.

The spare bedroom has always had an aquamarine coloured Murano vase on the windowsill. It’s heavy, high and the sun changes the colour of the glass at different times of the day. On top of the chest of drawers is a gilt mirror, nailed stoutly to the wall. The rest of the room is bare walled, the emphasis being on the bed linen, lovely old lace pieces accumulated over the years from house sales and junk shops. Silk pillow cases, linen sheets, old bolster covers all in white make the bed look well worth falling into. Margot closes the door before setting off to pick up the 15yr old babysitter Mandy, who’ll be sleeping here tonight.

Margot advertised in the local shop for a babysitter. Mandy’s mother phoned asking if her daughter  could do it. She wants to ask Margot questions, tells her some of Mandy’s history – adopted, not very confident, a bit special.

“She’s very sensitive,”

“It’s the age, I suppose.”

“Yes, but she is very sensitive to other realities.”

She stops there, then says,

“See how it works, it will be fine.”

Margot is off to meet some new friends. After drinks she will go to an astrological meeting, the first she’s ever found, so is really looking forward to the evening.

Mandy and the girls like each other, you can see she is used to small kids. As Margot leaves, Mandy gives her a strange look and says,

“Where are you going?”

“Just to see friends, then to a meeting,” Margot’s putting on her coat.

“Be very careful,” Mandy says.

What does she mean? They’ve just met, yet she could swear that was a warning.

Just after midnight, Margot’s key turns in the lock. Through the glass she sees Mandy sitting on the stairs.

“I thought you’d be asleep…”

“You’ve been with bad people tonight,” Mandy says in a hard voice.

“What?”

“They told me you were in danger.”

Margot can’t believe what she’s hearing.

“They? who are you talking about?”

“Nobody believe mes, but spirits talk to me. They’ve have been here the whole evening telling me to warn you….”

Margot almost collapses. What Mandy cannot know is that the new ‘friends’ are indeed worrying. At kindergarten, their kids in the same group, it was easy to talk to Lucy. She is heavily pregnant with her second baby. She’s very beautiful, very blond, with some electricity in her. She was a dancer with some famous group – Pan’s People, Young Generation? She says she and her husband were hounded out of their village after a book was published.

“What was the book about?” Margot asks.

“Possession,” replies Lindy.

“What do you mean?”

”I’ve been possessed by a man who murdered someone in 1870 – I used to pass out of my own character and change into a man – not physically, although this happened once at a huge party, a hundred people saw it.”

She had even been exorcised on UK television by a Catholic priest!

Immediately Margot begins wondering what Lucy’s chart looks like. She’s starting her Faculty exams once more, and knows most astrologers believe in reincarnation but it’s never appealed to her. At astrological meetings in London she’s heard people speak with conviction of their experiences, yet she is too practical to accept it.

“I’m going to an astrological meeting tonight,” Margot says.

“Ah…. I knew there was something familiar about you,” Lucy says.

Margot is hell bent on finding out the birth details because, astrologically speaking, she knows what you’d look for in a chart if it was true.

”Drop in for a drink on your way out tonight.”

Margot’s thrilled. She never goes out in the evenings, and now has an almost perfect one lined up.

The log fire is burning, it’s welcoming there, so are Lucy and Nigel.

The conversation steers back to possession.

“How do you fit into this, Nigel?”

“It’s complicated really. I thought it was a load of rubbish but if I told you what I’d seen you’d probably leave.”

“Hey,Nigel, give her a copy of the book and let her read it,” Lucy says.

Margot is deeply impressed when he hands her a paperback telling the story. Oddly, when he gives it to her says,

“You can write, can’t you?”

She hasn’t written for years, how does he know she writes?

“This book is badly written. It sold well, so well that Hollywood wanted to buy the rights, but it didn’t happen. It could, but it needs to be rewritten.”

“If Hollywood’s interested, what’s the problem, they can do everything.”

“Well, take it and read it, see what you think.”

There is some kind of expectation here she feels. Lindy glances at her husband, a slow sigh deflating her body. There’s something hanging there.

“I haven’t had any episodes for a couple of years….but only week Nigel’s brother came round, they went to the pub and when they came back, I was “him” again. When they came back an hour later I’d transformed, finished a whole bottle of sherry and was raving.”

Margot ‘s instinct is to ask “What about Steven?” the three year old son sleeping upstairs, but stays silent, takes her leave.

“ I must go, I’ll read the book in the next few weeks.”

She feels disturbed. She’d die of shock if she saw ‘transforming’. Is someone trying to give her a message that reincarnation DOES exist? She shoves the book under her coat on the passenger seat.

The astrology meeting is marvellous. Only six people, and one of them, Liz, has the diploma – the ultimate in astrological qualifications. She lives close by and they promise to meet up. The evening flies, they speak the same language, Margot drives home on wings.

And now…. Mandy.

“ They dump the vase on the bed, trying to wake me, can I sleep with you?”

Margot feels unhinged, disconnected from reality.

“No, Mandy.”

They go upstairs, the girls are sleeping peacefully.

“I’ll sit on the stairs then, they said I must protect you.”

They drag her mattress into a corner of Margot’s room. Mandy’s asleep instantly but Margot lies rigid, the book under the mattress on the other side of the bed. She’s determined Mandy won’t lay eyes on it, feeling deeply distressed she has brought it into the house. It cannot be real, a night like this.

On her last visit to the solicitor (“Call me Philip”) he was not pleased with her.

“But it makes sense!”

She won’t be dissuaded, after hearing on a radio discussion the future of divorce. The main thrust was that wives could not be forever dependent on the husband, they would have to earn a crust as well.

“If I offer to limit maintenance to four years, if it’s doubled, he wouldn’t pay anything to me after that, only the girls, I would be organised by then.”

“No, bad idea. Looking at you, I’d say your chances of remarriage are high…..”

“That shouldn’t have anything to do with it!”

“Well it does! Judges always assess your future in terms of remarriage. What if you get multiple sclerosis and end up in a wheelchair? Or breast cancer, or knocked down in the street?”

“ I’m only interested in making the short term as comfortable as possible. I’ll take the risk, please offer it to him.”

She sees a balloon above his head with the words Stroppy Bitch written in it.

 —

Margot’s friend Julie arrives at Heathrow from Wellington. Mandy babysits, and on the way back , Margot spills the odd story out. Mirth comes from the passenger seat of the Mini.

Mandy is deep in conversation with Julie. She can see they get on, odd, she’s only been there half an hour. The girls are vying for her attention, trying on her shoes, the four of them stuffed into one small corner of the room. Bundle, their bad tempered mog, joins the scene and jumps on Mandy’s knee. Margot stands there with the tray and cake, laughing out loud at this suddenly convened domestic conjugation – it’s a modern version of a Breughel in the Rijksmuseum.

Later, Julie says,

”I had doubts this morning about what you said…” she trails off.

“I know it sounded completely nuts…”

“The girl is a medium. There is no question she‘s lying. Have you looked at her chart?”

“I’ve only got the date, l want to keep things……ordinary. I don’t have the time and place. She’s a Scorpio, Mercury /Neptune conjunction in Scorpio as well – perfect for hearing voices.”

“How can you differentiate between say, a schizophrenic and a medium?”

Julie’s psychology degree makes her ask the right question.

“I can’t, but Mercury/Neptune in any sign is tuned in to nuances……in Scorpio, it’s powerfully emotional. For the first time I’m witnessing the difficulties a kid has growing up with it. Good point though, would you think she was schizophrenic?”

“She offered to move anything in the room from one side to the other!”

“Even furniture?”

“No – choose anything on that shelf, she said.”

“What did you say?”

“Maybe some other time, not with the girls around. I thought your life would be boring these days…..!”

They laugh, and open another bottle.

Philip phones asking if she could do a couple of days’ work in his office. His secretary has broken an arm and a leg in a skiing accident.

“I can manage half a day.”

Julie’s staying for two months (“Do it!”) and sees to the girls.

Philip is a good, fast dictator and over a few weeks, Margot gets used to the smell of cigars. It’s great to have a mission, however small.

She’s leaving the office one Friday when he asks,

“What do you do on weekends?”

“Well, friends visit, we go to church fetes, junk shops, parks, nothing much.”

“Would like to meet other people, join a club? ”

He’s leaning back, his arms behind his head.

“Depends what it is.”

“Well, it’s not for single people really, but you’re one of us,” he smiles confidentially.

She stares at him.

”It’s a nice group of people who meet up in each others’ houses now and again.”

“But what for?”

He shifts a bit in the chair, lowers his arms.

“We just get together for a drink and a chat…..the only difference is that we take our clothes off.”

She bursts out laughing… it’s a joke isn’t it!

“But why?”

“Well, we’re naturists and it is just wonderful to be out of your clothes. Everyone’s married, you’d be the only single person there.”

She’s silent.

“No need to be ashamed of your body, our Sun Club is relaxed and informal.”

“I thought naturists went outside, in summer, but in suburban London in February?”

“Yes, in summer we go to France, its normal there.”

“But don’t you freeze, its so damned cold here.”

“We just turn up the central heating to maximum, it’s cosy.”

She can hardly keep a straight face and stops herself from asking if anyone leaves skid marks on the sofa.

He is suddenly fed up with her.

“Just thought I’d ask, it can be hard to find company when you’re on your own.”

He shuffles the papers on the desk angrily, she’s been dismissed.

Julie has now moved to London and Margot reads Lucy’s story in one sitting, but something in her remains unconvinced. At the end of it, the reincarnated murderer is predicted (before Lucy had children) to return in another incarnation as the first born son. Lucy’s chart is ordinary, no signs of reincarnation at all.

She invites them for a drink. By now their second baby is almost three months old.

“I’ll bring the baby, do you mind?”

They arrive with him in a carrycot. Catherine and Jane are dead to the world upstairs, they’ve had a busy day.

“Can I leave him in the hall?”

“He’ll be cold.”

“He’ll be fine, I can hear him if he wakes,” Lucy says, sipping the red wine.

“I could really do with this.”

“What did you think of the book?”Nigel asks.

“Interesting, but hard to believe. That’s really something, to go on national television with a Catholic priest though, to be exorcised…..”

She hears the huge madness of saying such words in an apparently normal conversation!

“Do you agree the writing is crap?” Nigel asks.

“But it sold, that’s all you should care about.”

“You could rewrite it,” offers Nigel.

“No, thanks!”

“Did you look at Steven’s chart?”

“Yes, he has nothing in his chart to show reincarnation.”

“He hasn’t shown signs of anything yet,”’ Lucy says of her blonde, innocent son.

“I looked at Jack’s chart, and that would be a classic example – if reincarnation is true.”

Half an hour and another drink later, they hear Catherine screaming at the top of her voice. It’s pure terror.

Margot opens the door, rushes into the hall. As she passes the carrycot, she sees the baby frantically kicking, the whole cot is rocking, but no noise is coming from it. What shoots through her mind is : how can a very small baby have that much strength? She runs upstairs and Catherine, white as a sheet is standing at the door, Jane behind her in the cot sobbing. It’s a good minute or two before Catherine says,

“There was a witch in here, in a pointy hat with a black dress on. It was a man, he was laughing.”

Margot takes them downstairs.

“There was a witch in their room. You have to leave, it’s too bizarre. I’m sorry, please go.”

She understands utterly how they have been hounded out of wherever they came from.

Nigel and Lucy pick up the carrycot and leave without a word. Is Margot imagining that Lucy was telling her something when she looked at her for the last time? She knows from the book people have been afraid of her, but it’s something to feel that herself. The girls are deeply upset, Margot makes hot chocolate and they eventually sleep, one each side of her in the double bed. She lies awake the whole night.

Having never believed in evil, she is forced to admit it exists. She prays silently, for the first time in many years.

 

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