Dedicated to Blogless, this time. The fourth part should be the final one, but, um, not quite finished it yet. I'll try and do it tomorrow (my time) so I can stick with the daily posting schedule. Then I'm going to challenge somebody else to do this too! Or you can volunteer.
So when it comes to responsibility, the woman in the wall is a better candidate than my dad. The one good thing about dad is that he can get me out of here, so I smile sweetly and say: 'thanks, Dad,' all enthusiastic so the nurse can hear.
Because of the no-licence thing, the hospital arranges for a volunteer to drive us to the cottage. She's a square-shouldered older lady with grey helmet hair who smells of hairspray and fusty perfume. She helps me into the back of her car with a heap of fussing and seatbelt arranging. Dad makes as if to climb in after me, but I shut the door, so he has to go and sit in the front next to her. She witters on about the weather, and was I comfy in the back there, and the price of bread, and she doesn't shut up until I interrupt a story about her budgie to say: 'so, you'll be leaving as soon as we get to the cottage then, Dad. There's a bus stop up the road.'
Dad doesn't say anything for a moment, so the helmet-hair gets back on to the budgie story, until he interrupts her to say: 'Jackie, you'd have died if I'd no' found you when I had.'
Helmet-hair draws her breath in sharply between her teeth, and then even more sharply when he adds: 'You minded me of your mum when I found her after the overdose, you were that empty-looking and still.'
That offends me, because I'm no addict, unlike him and Mum, and I don't even want to look like someone who's an addict, so I jump the conversation on. 'Well, maybe you should have gone away down the pub for another drink, like you did when you found Mum, and then I'd be dead too.'
'Jac, your Mum was dead already. I've told you that many times I canna even do it nice any more. She was dead, with the needle still in her arm, and I just needed a drink to give me the strength to call the police in.'
'So you left her there for me to find.'
Helmet-hair's not got the strength to hiss any more breath in, but when I look at the back of her head, I can see her hair quivering despite the hairspray.
'I didnae ken you'd be home early. But…I've no excuses, Jackie. I'm no' going to make it sound any prettier than it is. I coundnae have brought your mother back, but I did the wrong thing. It took me more than twenty year to learn how wrong, but I ken it the now.' He turns round in his seat and looks right at me, and for the first time, probably because I've been avoiding looking at him, I notice that the whites of his eyes are that. White.
'Look,' he says. 'I'm no' drinking any more, hen. I've no job, I've no car, but I've no bottles rattling around in my pockets either. I'm a fully signed up member of AA, I go three times a week back in Glasgow, and I've been twice to the church up the road since you've been in the hospital. Back home I sit alongside Eck McKinnnon. He's been in the AA for over 30 years and I never even knew. He says that's why he'd give me a birl home after a night in the lock-up. There but for the grace of God, he says. And he says it's the grace of God that brought me to the AA, too. I dinny ken too much about God, but every morning when I wake up with my face in the pillow instead of in a pile of puke I've the manners to say thank you to Him if he's a hand in keeping me sober. But, if it's any help, hen, I'm awful sorry for your mother.'
I don't know whether he means he's sorry for not doing anything to help her, or, he's sorry she died so pathetically, sprawled across the kitchen table with my cat gnawing on her fingers. Or he's sorry I had to see it. Or even that he's sorry that she didn't have the courage to do what he's done and stop it all before it was too late. If he has stopped. I heard that one in a million different ways when I was a kid. 'Never again, Jackie.' 'Our lives'll change now I've stopped drinking.' 'Just one more chance, Jackie.'
I don't say anything else all the way home, and neither does he, and neither does Helmet-hair, so we never find out what happened to Joey, her budgie that flew out the window on a cold winter's night. When we get into the cottage I’m feeling a bit light-headed, so I let him help me in. He looks around as I flop on the sofa.
'No' done much wi' the place, have you?' he says. 'How's the sofa facing the wall and not the telly?'
'I don't watch television.' I close my eyes and when I open them again, there's a mug of black tea on the coffee table beside me and a note saying: 'Away to the shops for some milk and bread'. Well, I suppose he might as well get some supplies for me. I wonder if he's any idea where the shops are. If you turn right at the gate, the next village is only a mile away; if you turn left then you've three miles to go. The tea is cold, so I'm guessing he turned left.
'Hi,' I whisper, but nobody answers. 'Hi,' I say again, a bit louder. 'Hello? Where are you?'
No Dad. No woman in the wall.
When Dad gets back he's carrying more plastic bags than a bit of bread and milk would need. 'The bus stop's up the road,' I remind him.
'I ken,' he says. 'I got the bus into Edinburgh the day.' Then, without saying anything more, he unpacks a sleeping bag, a pillow and some new clothes. 'I forgot to bring any,' he says as he unpacks a packet of undies. 'I was in that much of a hurry when Stuart called me.'
'Why did Stuart call you?'
'Said he'd given you notice and you looked a bit weird. He was worried about you.'
'I don't need anyone to worry about me.'
'Aye. Right,' he says as he piles the bedding on the end of the sofa by my feet. 'Where's the shower?'
I don't tell him, but he finds it, and when he comes out, shaven and washed, he looks almost respectable. He sleeps on the sofa at night, and when I lie on it in the day, the cushions smell of cigarette smoke.
'I couldna give up the fags,' he says. 'I will, but no' too much at the one time.' He smokes outside, without my having to ask, but the smell still clings to him and I find myself breathing in deeply when he walks past me, and sometimes I bury my face in the sofa cushions, not to hide from the smell, but to absorb more. The smell of my childhood. I ate, slept, lived in a musk of cigarette smoke. I thought I hated it.
There's no sign of the woman in the wall. Perhaps it's because he's here. Perhaps she's shy. I whisper to her when he's in the toilet, or off to the supermarket, but there's no answer. I’m worried she's gone. There's so much I need to talk to her about. Not working is driving me mad, my fingers fidget on the arms of the sofa like it's a plush keyboard, but they're typing out nonsense. I've nothing to think about, and that's making me thing about things I don't want to think about. I've got to get back to work. Then I remember I've no work to go back to and my fingers fidget all the more, until I'm exhausted and slump back into sleep, clutching a cushion with a sharp-cornered zip that feels like one of Benito's claws.
After a few days, Dad brings in a letter from the hallway. A cheque from the office with a formal letter terminating my contract and offering me six month's redundancy. A pink post-it is stuck to the front of the letter. 'I fixed this up for you. Hope it helps. Stuart.' The post-it has a puppy in the corner. He must have picked up off Maddy's desk.
I rip the letter and post-it into shreds, then roll the cheque up into a little tube. Dad cleans up the shreds without asking what or why or even complaining. Sometimes I like him for that.