Oct 30th, Cheshire.
As I turn off the dual carriageway onto a wide country lane the encroaching dusk causes the Merc’s headlights to come on. I notice with annoyance that even though the car is almost brand new, there’s a tiny blemish in the rear view mirror. Making a mental note to call the dealership tomorrow I swing in through the front gates of the hotel.
It doesn’t get much more Cheshire than this. The place was obviously a country pile back in its day. Now, as I get out of the car, I can almost smell the celebrity perfumes and fake tan. Here my new Merc looks understated amongst the convertible Astons and blinged up white Range Rovers. Back home in the Cotswolds, the car sticks out like a sore thumb but suddenly home never felt so far away. The only reason I’m back here is Anthony.
I drop my bag onto a huge leather sofa and head for the bar.
I order a large glass of an overpriced but decently aged Bordeaux. The bartender looks familiar. His tag reads ‘Mark’. Perhaps I went to school with him. God I hope not. The last thing I need this evening is to get into that awkward ‘How’re you doing, how’s your life, please say it’s not as good as mine’ conversation. Fortunately, either he doesn’t want to let on that he’s recognised me or his memory’s gone the same way as his hair. Either way I get back to my comfy seat unmolested. Before I taste the wine I check my phone; a couple of messages but nothing from Helena. Only to be expected I suppose, she still hasn’t forgiven my…indiscretion, but I had hoped we could talk, that fifteen years of marriage counted for something.
The wine looks promising, good legs and a lovely tawny tinge to the edges. I’ve chosen a seat by the big central fireplace. As the coals warm me I raise my glass and watch the flames through the blood red liquid.
The wine’s as good as it first appeared, better even. I glance around. Mark’s giving me an odd look, Perhaps he’s decided he does recognise me after all. I give him a nod and realise he’s not actually looking at me. His gaze is going over my head to the man coming through the door. Well dressed and good looking in an old fashioned kind of way. There’s something of a young Robert Downey about him: dark eyes and hair with the hint of a darker soul. He turns down his collar and as he’s running his fingers through windblown hair he catches sight of himself in the long mirror on the wall to his right.
He staggers, as if what he sees in the slightly bedraggled reflection terrifies him and it’s all he can do to keep from running back out of the door. Then he sees me and he’s back. Just as I remember him. My cocksure; self- obsessed, utterly unreliable, ever loving brother, Anthony. So many vile words run through my head. All the things I wanted to say to him when I saw him again. Then he smiles, and I just want to rush over and punch him in the face.
I find myself smiling back.
‘Danny boy,’ he says loudly. Everyone looks round. Just the way he likes it. ‘Excuse me mate, give me a large whatever he’s got.’ He sees the glass of wine in my hand, ‘In fact give us a bottle. Cheers fella.’
As I stand to greet him, I wish I’d chosen something more expensive. He moves past my outstretched hand and grabs me into a hug. It lasts an uncomfortably long time. He stands back, hands on my shoulders.
‘Still the same laid back Danny then?’ Sorry… Daniel. So how the fuck are you Daniel? Long-time no…’
The pop of the cork and Mark’s shadow stop his mouth momentarily.
‘Cheers mate.’ Says Anthony. As the wine is poured he looks up. ‘Hey, do I know you?’
‘Thanks very much.’ I cut in. ‘Ignore him he’s easily confused.’
‘Thankyou Mr Lawrence.’ Says Mark as he beats a hasty retreat. Given that I've not checked in yet, I’d say he recognises me after all.
‘You’re welcome’ says Anthony. ‘Mr Lawrence my arse, bloody stuck up…’
‘So what do you want?’ I ask. The façade almost drops again. His eyes give him away. I can see the boy he was, nervous and eager to please. There’s something else there too, a look of defeat.
‘Nice way to say hello to your brother. Haven’t seen you for ten years…’
‘Fifteen?’ he says it again. It’s as if he’s speaking a language he doesn’t understand. ‘Fifteen years?’ An almost imperceptible shake of the head as if he’s denying it to himself. He glances at the mirror behind him then his eyes focus on me again. ‘Haven’t seen you for however long and you can’t even be bothered to ask how I am. This was a mistake, you don’t even care.’
If I wasn’t sipping wine my jaw would be on the floor. Is he serious? It’s all I can do not to grab him by the lapels and drag him over the table. Instead I lean forward, fists clenched.
‘You arrogant, selfish, self- important stunted little…’ I run out of words momentarily. That’s alright. I know ‘stunted’ hit the mark. He was always conscious of his size. ‘I don’t care…I don’t care?’ My whole body’s shaking now. ‘Where were you when I got married? Off drunk somewhere with some tart and then where? You leave the country; don’t answer your phone, not even a text in all this time. I tried to find you but no-one knew…or would tell me…I don’t care?’
Mark and the couple at the bar are looking over but pretending not to. No way I’m stopping now.
‘Where were you when Martina was born? Her Uncle and not even a gift on her birthdays.’ And now I grab his wrists over the table so he can’t pull away. ‘Where the FUCK were you when that bastard hit her with his car, when we BURIED her? We put our daughter in the fucking ground Anthony and where were you? And now you have the…’
Suddenly I’ve had enough. His face, inches from mine, crumples and tears fall but it’s too too late. My tears are harder earned, colder. They freeze my cheeks as I stand to leave.
‘Yumi’s husband found out’ He speaks so quietly I almost can’t hear him. ‘I don’t have long but I had to see you, to warn you.’
‘So the tart’s husband finally caught on?’ God help me I’m almost enjoying this. ‘Did he put his millions to use hiring a hit-man?’ I’m joking but something in Anthony’s face makes me sit back down. ‘What have you done?’
He swigs from his glass, fills it back up and drinks again. He uses a napkin to wipe his face. When, at last, he raises his eyes to mine I can see real fear. Another backward glance and then:
‘It starts small.’ The wine has brought a flush to his otherwise sickly pale face. ‘A smudge or a scratch in the glass, but it grows; slowly at first. You can’t tell but it’s always there in the background getting bigger and bigger. And it’s not in the glass, you think it is and you try and clean it off but it’s in all of them and it’s getting bigger but not because it’s spreading, it’s getting bigger because…’
He refocuses on me and it must be obvious that I’m getting ready to leave again. I’ve had more than enough of Tony’s shit. Because he’s my brother and because, in spite of everything, somewhere deep and dark inside I love him; I give him one more chance.
‘What did you do?’ I emphasise each word separately so he knows this is his last chance to put things right.
‘Yumi’s dead.’ He sags visibly.
‘He killed her in front of me. He used a knife. He had men with him, I couldn’t stop him, couldn’t help her.’
‘Christ.’ I don’t know what to say. She stole my brother from me, dragged him half way round the world, but she didn’t deserve that. Neither of them did.
He’s checking the mirror again. Something’s nagging at me, something he said before.
‘You said you had to warn me. You don’t have long and you have to warn me.’
‘You and Helena, you’re ok right? Everything’s fine with you two?’
‘Of course it is.’ I spit back, a little too quickly but he doesn’t notice. He’s caught up in his own relief. It’s no business of his anyway. And now he’s talking again, a little of that manic look back in his eyes.
‘That’s good, that’s good.’ He seems to relax a little, then he clasps my shoulders over the table. Never cheat on her Danny, you’re safe if you don’t cheat, don’t become an adulterer. He set something after me, something…’ I can see him searching for the word, in the end he utters a child’s laugh. ‘Something evil I guess. Whatever it is it’s old. He showed me photos of what it had done, what it would do; to me. They were terrible things. It won’t stop, it never stops. Not until it’s done. It’s coming for me because he told it my name. I heard him whispering to it. “Lawrence the adulterer, Lawrence the adulterer.” And then I heard it answer him. I don’t want to hear that sound again, ever, but it’s coming and it won’t stop and it’s getting bigger. It started small but it gets bigger and not because it’s growing. It gets bigger because it’s getting closer.’
His head snaps round and his eyes lock on the mirror, maybe he can see the front door from that angle. Whatever he sees, he leaps up from the chair.
‘It’s here. Oh god it’s here, got to go, got to keep moving.’ And then he pulls me to him, kisses me, whispers in my ear, ‘I’m sorry Danny, I’m so sorry; I thought I had longer but it’s here and I’ve got to go. I love you big brother.’
When he pulls away again there’s nothing left but fear in his face and he runs. There’s the sound of an engine gunning, gravel spatters the side of the building and my brother has gone.
October 31st M6
Must remember to mention the rear view mirror to the dealership, that mark’s getting worse.
Illustration: Rylan Cavell