Dedicated to Robin this time. I wasn't originally planning on posting the whole story here - I was just short on blog ideas, so I thought I'd plonk a bit of story down and see if anyone commented. You did, you lovely people, and so I had to finish it (I knew how it would finish, but hadn't quite got there yet...). Now Aerin and Robin are going to take up the challenge of writing their own stories over a three/four day period. It looks like Aerin's going first, starting Monday, then Robin, starting Friday. Aerin will post on her own blog - I'll post details here, but Blogless Robin's will appear here.
If you have any great ideas for a name for this challenge, or you'd like to take it up yourself, post them in the comments, but in the meantime here is the fourth and final part of 'The woman in the wall'
He's actually taking good care of me. I haven't had the energy to step out the door, but he goes on the bus to Edinburgh every couple of days and brings back food, real food – fresh things that need peeling and chopping – and he chips, chops, fries and grills and makes things that taste good to eat. I'm not used to that.
'I didn't know you could cook,' I mumbled at him one day through a mouthful of grilled lamb with parsnip mash.
'Eck loaned me a book or two,' he said. 'It's no' that hard once you get the hang of it.'
I twist the cheque in my hands and look out through the window and through the air, and see nothing but trees and hills and blue, blue sky. I should go out, but I can't, and it's not just lack of energy. I need the woman in the wall, but she's still not talking and I can't figure out if the silence between us is the comfortable silence we've enjoyed so often, or just silence. When Dad's there, it's fine, but when he's out, the silence is so loud it deafens me, but no matter how much I call her, she won't talk to me. Maybe it's Dad. Maybe she won't talk until he's gone.
What if he doesn't go?
'How long are you staying?' I ask him now. He's wiping dishes and putting them away in the kitchenette. He's reorganised the cupboards 'so things are near where they're needed', he says. At home Mum never put a thing away, but Dad likes order.
He puts down the tea towel and leans over the counter to look at me, like he wants me to speak to him. 'I've let the flat go, hen,' he says. 'Eck's been over and cleared out my stuff, no' that there's much worth clearing, and he'll store it for me for a while.'
How easy it sounds. 'I've let the flat go.' Within a week the council will have somebody else living in it, somebody else struggling to see the sky through the tower blocks. Maybe they won't mind, because they won't have the memories. Of stepping over my father, drunk and unconscious in the hallway. Of my mother's hand, open on the kitchen table like a pale spider, fingers chewed to the bone by the cat and yet unbleeding. Of Benito, in Dad's hands one moment, gone the next, tossed over the railing outside the flat, his tabby fur invisible against the dingy buildings, then his blood spreading like tomato sauce over chewing-gum plastered pavement below while his falling yowl still echoed through the narrow canyons between the high-rises.
But I don't say any of that. 'So, where you planning on living then?'
He smiles. 'I thought I'd stay here wi' you a while.' I don't say anything, but he takes that as a 'yes', because the next day he goes on one of his trips to Edinburgh and comes back with a pile of paint swatches and presents them to me with the same shy smile he did when I was a kid and he came back with Benito, just a puff of black fur in his hands.
'I don't like cats,' Mum said.
'Well, I do,' he said. 'And so does Jackie.' I had no idea I liked cats, but the moment Benito twitched in my arms I knew I loved him.
I fan the swatches out. Creams, yellows and terracottas, all warm colours. 'What's are these for?'
'Thought I might do a bit of painting, maybe get a bit of renovation going for you. Pay for my keep.'
I fold the swatches back together. 'I like the yellow,' I say. 'The honey one.'
'Aye, me too,' he says. 'Honey sunshine. Like painting summer on the walls. So I'll do it then.'
By answer, I reach behind the sofa cushion and pull out the cheque. 'I got this,' I said. 'Can you pay it into the bank for me?' I ask.
He looks at it and his eyes do little circles. It's four times as much money as he'd make in a year.
'You'll be wanting an interior decorator wi' this,' he says. 'No' me and my paint pot.'
'No,' I say. 'Honey sunshine will be fine. This might need to do me…us…for a while.'
'Why don't you come into Edinburgh with me?' he says. 'A wee trip out'd do you good.'
'I'm not well enough,' I said. 'I can't leave the house.'
I don't want to miss the woman in the wall, but he's ready with the paint two days later and there's no sign of her.
'Can you start with that one?' I say, pointing at her wall. Maybe she'd like a new dress, maybe she'll come out to say thank you. Or maybe I'm angry with her and I just want to stir her up a bit.
I make mugs of tea, while Dad gets going with the preparation, peeling off strips of old-people wallpaper with his bare hands. Watching him work, like when I was a kid and he was always doing odd jobs in the flat. Before the drinking. Making shelves, painting walls, even making me new toys. A strip of wood salvaged from a skip could turn into a rocking horse, a doll, even a dog. I'd forgotten about that, like I'd lost the good memories along with the bad.
'You like doing this kind of thing, don't you?' I said. 'Maybe you should do it for work.'
He turns from the wall for a minute. 'I only like doing it for you, lass,' he says and for a moment our eyes meet.
'When you had me…everything was fine with you and mum, wasn't it?' I ask.
'There's no need to talk around it, lass,' he says. 'Aye, there was no drink and no drugs then.'
'Why just me, then? Why just the one child?'
'We only wanted the one,' said Dad. 'You were special. That's why you had the two names, one for each of us.'
'I hate my name.'
'We thought it was braw. 'Jacqueline' – that was my favourite name. 'Marie' – that was your mum's. Jacqueline-Marie. It's got a ring to it, we thought, mixing the new and the old. A hint of the big world with the heart of Glasgow. Jacqueline-Marie."
Nobody ever says my whole name all together, and said slowly in his rolling accent it suddenly sounds different. Richer.
'Maybe you should use it more often, instead of Jackie,' I say. 'If you like it so much. Maybe…maybe you could make me like it.'
He smiles at me. 'It'd be my pleasure, lass,' he says and then he turns back to the paper. White powder flutters down with the shreds of paper, then flakes and chunks of plaster crumble off and fall to the floor as he works his way towards the window corner. 'This plaster's rotten,' he says. 'I'll need to redo that and all.' He taps the wall thoughtfully. 'It's no' original,' he says. 'Maybe it's plasterboard over the original. Let's have a look.' He picks up a hammer from floor and taps the wall harder, then hefts it for a minute, preparing for a harder strike.
For a moment I think about stopping him. But why? She's gone anyway. I'm Jacqueline-Marie. I am my father's daughter. All that I am is all that he made me.
Dad smashes the wall with the hammer and the plaster shatters like hard icing, in a cloud of white dust, that makes him turn away, coughing. Cracks radiate out far beyond the point of contact, which is a dark, ragged-edged hole. Out of the hole drops a yellowing skeletal hand, oddly elegant and relaxed, like a hand dangling over the edge of a bed. A gold wedding band glides slowly down one flaking finger, sliding from bone to bone, catching for a moment on the last knuckle, before slipping off and spinning through the dusty air to land softly in a bed of white powder.
'That's not me,' says the woman in the wall.