Mother and Peony were out. They had taken Ken Tray to the pet superstore to look at the rabbits again.
I called Laurence and told him they were out.
“I’ll be right over,” he said and my heart sang. I just knew for a fact his heart was singing, too.
But the very minute I put the phone down, I got a call from school. It was that grating class warrior, Miss Cutting.
“John has vomited on a pile of quoits,” she told me.
“What do you want me to do about it?” I demanded. “They’re wipe-clean, surely.”
She cleared her throat.
“It is our policy, when a child vomits, to ask the parent – or guardian – to come to school and collect the said child.”
“Ah well there you are,” I said. “I’m neither the parent, nor the guardian.”
“I’ve got you down here as the person to contact. I assumed you were his grandmother and that strapping woman with the dyed hair was his mother.”
“That’s my daughter and that’s her natural hair colour. John is her ward. John’s real mother is incapable.”
“Incapable of what?”
“Of absolutely anything. Now give his little mouth a wipe and he’ll be right as rain. Goodbye.”
“You’re going to have to come and fetch him, I’m afraid,” she sighed. And of course we both knew I would be the first one to break.
“School policy, school policy,” I twittered bitterly all the way there. “I’ll give you school policy, you pompous jobsworth.” But when I saw the little fella’s pale face and grim expression, and more to the point, how it brightened with joy at the sight of me, I wanted to snatch him to me at once and take him home where he belonged.
As we walked up our street I saw Laurence at our front door, about to ring the bell.
“Is that ill man looking for drugs?” asked John, gripping my hand tighter.
I left Laurence and John in the kitchen to discuss the science of vomiting and went up to my bedroom where I thumped the bed violently for seven distraught minutes. Then I got up and rearranged my face at my mirror and went down. When I got back, John was busily drawing with Laurence looking on over his shoulder.
“Oh is that a worm coming through a trap door?” I asked.
“No it’s a pyloric sphincter,” he replied.
Laurence laughed heartily and I relaxed at last. What can you do? I am owned by everyone, controlled by their whims. I don’t remember agreeing to it, but there you are.
Laurence looked up at me with a contented smile. Here was a man who understood entirely this sense of perpetual captivity.
“You look chipper,” I said.
“The initial hearing went very well,” he said. “I feel a little less likely to be booted out now. Henge is being looked into and that can only show me in a good light.”
“Oh that’s wonderful news,” I said. “So mother’s angry visit to the hospital and my anonymous letters might have helped.”
“Perhaps they did,” he smiled. “But it’s not over yet. Even if I am totally exonerated, I feel a bit betrayed. The place won’t feel the same. What can I do? Just go back and watch it all go wrong again?”
I opened my mouth but John was the first to speak.
“Why don’t you write things as well? Then you can both live together and be writers. You could write about puking.”
Live together and write together. What was the boy saying? I frowned very hard and meaningfully at Laurence. Don’t get any ideas, it told him. It’s just a child talking. Life isn’t that simple or successful.
And I was almost grateful then, when I suddenly heard Peony grinding my gears as the others arrived back from their baiting session.
As I write this, I watch the blossom spiral lazily to the lawn. The year is fattening up again and at speed. I have a new book to launch very soon. But I’m restless and full of doubts once more, not taken in at all by the unfurling of things, the newness. It’s not new at all. It’s all just the same reminder of one’s irrelevance.
I am constantly distracted from my work by the people in my life. But maybe what I thought were distractions are the true life after all and the rest is a sham. Is it finally time to give up?