“You think I ought to see a shrink?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Didn’t need to.”
“Stop it. I can’t take it.”
“You asked. It’s been a bad night. Helen Creedy rang me.
“What was she thinking of?”
“She didn’t know about Chris. Not everyone does. Why would they? I had to listen, I couldn’t tell her, but I’m pretty much drained. Her son Tom killed himself.” She paused, gulped and then said, “Anyway—if it doesn’t worry you, then it’s fine. If it does, do something about it. That’s good advice about quite a lot of things, from warts on the nose to liking your own company. Make the most of your time off.”
The roads to North Wales were easy for the first fifty miles, after which Simon ran into a series of hold-ups and an accident which created a particularly long detour. He switched the car radio from channel to channel until he found some news, started to listen to a long report on police corruption and switched to Mozart. It was dark and wet and, after half an hour, he heard a weather forecast which indicated that the area he was heading for would be subject to a higher than usual rainfall with gales and the likelihood of landslips.
He pulled into a garage which had a dismal café attached, drank a decent coffee, bit into a disgusting sandwich and had a sudden picture of himself, sitting alone at this plastic table in front of squeezy bottles of ketchup. The windows were steamed up but outside the weather was worsening.
He drank up, left most of the sandwich and ran through the rain. His plan was madness: he would have to retrace part of the route and probably stay somewhere overnight. He didn’t care.
Right, he thought. It’s the right thing.
He put a Bruce Springsteen disc into the player and drew away from the forecourt and out onto the road.
He stopped once more and then, an hour later, found a large corporate hotel off the motorway. It was bright, warm and dry, he had a clean room, two large whiskies and a good steak, before dialling the farmhouse number.
“Where are you? I hope you haven’t gone to North Wales, the forecast is seriously bad.”
“I heard it, so I turned round.”
She sounded relieved. “What will you do?”
“Might head for London.”
“Better than the Welsh mountains.”
“Might go across country, instead.”
“Right.” She knew better than to ask questions.
“How are you?”
“Oh, you know. It’s Sam I’m worried about … He went for a long walk with Dad and didn’t say a word apparently. Not a single word. Judith has been playing board games with Hannah. I just feel shattered but I can’t sleep. Normal. That’s normal.”
“I’ll be back on Tuesday. Maybe Sambo will talk to me … I could take him somewhere. I’ll think.”
He slept better than he had done for some nights, in spite of the traffic nearby and the soft mattress, woke at six and was on the road in half an hour. Breakfast later.
He switched on the radio. Off again. The sky lightened to a seagull grey but the rain had stopped. The roads were open and straight, the land flattened out. He speeded up.
Was this the way? He didn’t know. The right place to be going? Nor that. But he knew he had to try. If it wasn’t right, he could draw a line in the sand.
“Follow your instincts.”
It was just after eight. He drove to a hotel where he had stayed some years before. Still there, still the same. They had a room but it wouldn’t be ready until lunchtime. He left the car.
It was chilly. But beautiful. He had forgotten how beautiful the buildings were. The last time he had been here it had been springtime with daffodils and crocuses studding the grass. Now the last few leaves hung on to the trees and the wind ruffled the surface of the water. Bells chimed the half-hour.
He walked. Past Peterhouse. Past King’s. On. At first he could not find it, but then he remembered that it was tucked away, cloistered behind larger, more imposing facades.
He went through the gateway. Under the arch. Stopped at the lodge for directions. Across the court. Another arch. The sudden silence.
He pushed open the wooden door.
There were twenty or so people in the college chapel. The lights were on. Candles lit. He hesitated. Chapels and churches were not regular haunts of his in spite of living in the shadow of the cathedral. But this was where he had been directed. He slipped into a pew, at the end of the row. Bent his head briefly. When he looked up again Jane had come into the chapel to take the morning service. She was standing at the front a few feet away and staring, with astonishment, into his face.