“Jesus Lord and Saviour, who paid for my salvation with your blood …” He stopped. What was he praying for? That his mother would not marry Phil Russell? “Dear Jesus, make Mum and—and Phil come to know you and ask you to come into their lives and give them new birth. Make them see the light. Take Satan from his heart and mind and wash him in your holy blood. Praise and worship. Amen.”
His heart felt ablaze with love and fervour and hope. Later he was due at a youth worship meeting and he would ask them to pray. He was leading the group for the first time tonight and it set him alight just thinking of it and the trust placed in him.
The front door banged. “Tom, you up there?”
He got to his feet in case Lizzie came bounding in. He shouldn’t feel ashamed and foolish to be caught on his knees in prayer and praise, but that was how it always was.
He went downstairs.
Lizzie was feeding the toaster. She held up a slice.
“Two,” Tom said. “Hey, Liz, why don’t you come with me?”
“Youth worship. I’m leading it tonight.”
“It’d be good. If you came.”
The toast jumped up, smoking slightly. “Bugger, it keeps doing that, it sticks somewhere and then the side bit gets burned. It’s only the one side. Can you have a look at it?”
“I did. Couldn’t see anything. We just need a new toaster.”
“Jam or Marmite?”
“Marmite. So, will you come?”
Lizzie opened the wall cupboard. “In your dreams. I’m going to see Mum but even if I wasn’t. That’s what you should be doing as well, that’d be more Christian.”
“I went this afternoon.”
“Oh. OK. How was she?”
“Seemed to have quite a lot of pain still. They don’t come round to check much.”
“Short-staffed, aren’t they? You have to speak up for yourself in those places.”
“He was there.”
“Don’t start, Tom.”
Tom held up his hands.
“Just heard on the news. Another one died today … she was on the bottom level when it all came down.”
“I’ll never go on one of those things again. I’ll probably never go near a fair again. Too bloody dangerous.”
“Lafferton’s dangerous, right? They haven’t got the gunman yet either.”
“The royals aren’t going to that wedding now, last I heard.”
“Don’t blame them. They’ve not been married all that long themselves, have they? He might take a potshot at Charles and Camilla. He doesn’t seem to go for marriage much, our local sniper.”
“God, I hope they get him before Mum and Phil go down the aisle.”
Tom scraped back his chair loudly and went out of the kitchen.
“Another person has died as a result of the accident at Lafferton’s Jug Fair last Saturday night when a ghost train collapsed. Today’s death brings the toll to nine. Tanya Lomax, aged twenty-five, was on the ride with her husband, Dan, when the cart in which they were travelling was overturned as the ride fell to the ground. Dan Lomax was badly injured and is still in intensive care. The couple were married only last month.”
He stood still in the middle of the bedroom, na*ed after his shower, transfixed by the radio report. It was ten o’clock. He had been about to switch off when the item had started. Now, he stood while the newsreader blathered on and his mouth twitched into another of the smiles he could never suppress.
So, nothing had happened at the Jug Fair!
And it had happened without his having to lift a finger. Something was looking after him.
He pulled on the old grey T-shirt and shorts which he wore to bed. He would read for a bit before listening in again. There was a local news bulletin on Radio Bevham every half-hour. He couldn’t wait.
“As abbess of the Paraclete, Héloïse wrote to her former lover Abelard asking for guidance on the observance which should best be adopted by nuns. Her letter hit on a critical problem; the lack of a rule written for women …”
The ringing on her desk made Jane start. She had been working for an hour, so immersed in The Monastic Order in Yorkshire 1069–1215 that for a split second she stared at the phone in bewilderment before picking it up.
“Jane, Peter Wakelin. I wondered if you had a few minutes to spare?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I need to rearrange things for a couple of Sundays in November.”
“Shall I come along now?”
“Now would be good—or I’m free after dinner.”
The Dean’s rooms were on the east side of the court overlooking the Backs where they narrowed to flow under the Martyr’s Bridge. Orange and brown leaves floated on the current as they stood at the window looking down. A couple of weeks before when she had been here there had been not a soul about. Now, with the new term under way, it was busy with young people cycling, walking, hanging about in groups.
“I like it full of life,” Jane said, “but I like it when it’s deserted too.”
Peter Wakelin nodded.
Before she had met him, she had had an image of a dean which was based on the one in her own undergraduate time, a thin, beaky man with an acerbic manner concealing great kindness and sensitivity towards the young. He had died suddenly in Jane’s last year and she had been surprised that he had been only sixty-five. Peter Wakelin had also come as a surprise. He was in his early forties and a Yorkshireman by birth and education.
“I’ve been asked to go to the cathedral in Washington for ten days in November. It runs over two Sundays so we need to rearrange the preachers and I wondered if you could do the first? I know you’re taking evensong that day as well. Is that too much?”
“It’s fine. Nice to preach near All Saints’ Day.”
“I’m very aware that you have limited time. I don’t want to push you, Jane. You have the chaplaincy and your PhD—and then you’re doing things here … Have some fun as well.”
“I’m fine. I love balancing the three things actually. It works rather well, though I probably like the hospital work best.”
He frowned slightly. “I was there this morning,” he said, “with a dilemma. Can I ask your advice?”
“Why not? You’ve worked in a hospice, I haven’t. Though I know them well enough of course.”
They sat on the window seat. But for some time Peter Wakelin said nothing, only looked out at the mist hanging low over the water. Jane waited. She knew little about him. Wondered what he had to say.
“I was called to an elderly woman,” he said. “She has Alzheimer’s and this morning she had a stroke. She was alive and conscious and they’d made her comfortable. No one had much idea of a prognosis but the quality of her life was certainly very low. Her family—sons, daughter-in-law, had asked if she could be—they said ‘put quietly to sleep.’ The doctors refused of course so the family called me. Wanted ‘my opinion.’ No, they wanted me to persuade the medics. I couldn’t, it wasn’t for me to do that, and even if I had they wouldn’t have listened. But they were so desperate and what they said hit home, Jane. They said it wasn’t that they wanted her to die, because she’d died to them long before, but that if she went quietly to sleep now, she’d finally be at peace and out of distress and pain—and they were right. They were right. No one knows how long she’ll last—maybe hours but it might drag on for weeks. They hope it won’t but …”
Two young men came running towards the college buildings through the gathering mist. They were wearing singlets and shorts, grim-faced.
“What do you think?”
“You mean what would I have said? The same as you because we have to.”
“In the hospice, were you asked this? To intervene? To plead with the doctors to end a life?”
“Yes. Only a couple of times, though I’m sure the medics are asked more often.”
“Listen, I understand the request … but in a hospice the pain is so well controlled and they make the quality of life as good as they possibly can that it isn’t the same. And death is not usually very far away.”
He was silent.
“You think you should have said yes?”
He shook his head and again was silent and then Jane realised that he was crying.
“Peter?” she said gently.
He went on looking out of the window. “I did it myself, you see,” he said at last. “I asked them to—to give her something much stronger.” He looked at Jane. “My wife.”
“Oh, Peter, I didn’t know.”
“No reason you should. She had a melanoma.”
“When was this?”
“Oh, it’s a couple of years. One reason I came down to Cambridge. Only you never get away, do you? You can’t.”
“I’m so sorry. It doesn’t help when you have to deal with situations like this morning.”
“Different though.” He stood up. “Feel like a walk out there before it gets dark?”
They went, out of the back gate, over the Martyr’s Bridge and along the path in the direction of King’s and Peter talked. He talked about his childhood, on a York housing estate, his visit to York Minster, alone one evening during choral evensong, and how he had stood at the back, a boy of twelve, transfixed by the singing and had come sneaking back—sneaking away from everyone—to wander about the great building, looking and sometimes listening and thinking. He talked about his decision to become first a Christian and later a priest—not a conversion, he said, a gradual, inevitable decision. About Alice. About their ten years together, longing for and failing to have children. Her illness, swift and terrible, and her death, slow and also terrible. His first months here, when he had felt lost and out of place, bewildered and uncertain of anything.
“Did you lose your faith?”
“Never. I just became very, very angry.”
They walked back through the streets of the town, dodging posses of cyclists, in the gathering dusk. Jane felt she had begun the afternoon with a comparative stranger and ended it with someone she had come to know rather well. A friend.
They parted at the college entrance. She had to buy a couple of books. In Heffers, finding the shelves she needed, she stood in front of them unseeing, thinking about Peter Wakelin and about living and dying and keeping the dying alive.
They did not have the books she wanted in stock. At the counter, waiting to order, she picked up a new edition of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and opened them at random.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
She did not buy the book because she had her own copy but it reminded her of how much meaning she had always found in the Four Quartets, how much there was between the lines, how the poems had sometimes seemed to enrich her as the Bible and the Odyssey had.
She came out into the street which was bright and busy with lights and packed with students and shoppers, so that she kept having to walk in the road. Cambridge delighted her. Everything was here and she felt an uprush of gratitude for her work, the college, the new intellectual stimulus, new friends. After a series of stumbles the way ahead seemed smooth.
She wished she had not left Simon Serrailler any message.
“Daddy’s been sick in the bathroom and now he’s crying,” Hannah had said, running down the stairs into the study after ten o’clock. Cat was replying to a long email from the practice manager. The fact that she was now off work to look after Chris did not mean she was out of touch and she knew that if she did let go it would be harder than ever to pick up the reins later. Whenever “later” was.
She had resettled Hannah in bed, cleaned up and gone into the bedroom.
His head was turned away.
“Oh my love.”
His shoulders shook occasionally. She put her arms round them and held him against her.
“You bloody don’t know.”
It was true. Whatever it felt like to watch him, to nurse him, to see him in pain and distress, it was different, separate, it was happening to him and not to her. Then he had mumbled something.
He pushed her slightly.
“I can’t see properly. It’s like a tunnel. I can see straight ahead but nothing else.”
“Earlier. I don’t know. I woke up. It was then.” She said nothing because she could find no words. After half an hour she had given him a shot of mor**ine and stayed until he slept before going back to the computer. Oddly, she had finished the notes and sent them off with complete concentration before checking on a query from the junior locum about a patient he thought had Lyme disease—had Cat ever seen a case of it locally?—and reading several articles in the BMJ. Her mind was hungry for facts and medical information about anything other than brain tumours and work kept her occupied—kept her down stairs, she thought—though the door was ajar and part of her was tuned for any sound from Chris or, as always, the children.
When she came to it was half past one, and Chris was calling.
He was lying on his back, eyes open and shimmering with tears.
“I can’t do this,” he said. “You’d be better at it.”
She took his hand. “I can’t give you another shot just yet but I’ll get you a syringe pump first thing in the morning. You’ll be much more comfortable. I think we should have one of the Imogen House girls come in every day—they’re so much more used to the dosages and everything else.”
“Don’t send me in there.”
She was silent. He had always said that though he had been happy to send patients into the hospice, knew how well they were cared for, knew it was far better than the hospital, he would never want to go there. Cat had not understood and never argued.
“No. If you want to stay here you’re staying here.”
“Do I have to have one of them come?”
“No. But if you could bear to, it would help. They really do know more than me about …”