‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I’ve had him all day. Andy was meant to go out tonight. Instead he’s had to cancel just to stay home and babysit. I can tell you he’s not happy.’
Liv struggles to hear him over the noise in the bar. Greg holds up a hand, and leans forward to take someone’s order.
‘I mean, you know we love him, right?’ he says, when he returns. ‘We love him to death. But treating us like some kind of default babysitter is –’
‘I’m looking for Paul,’ she says.
‘He’s not with you?’
‘No. And he’s not answering his phone.’
‘I know he’s not answering his phone. I thought that was because he was with – Oh, this is crazy. Come through the bar.’ He lifts the hatch so that she can squeeze in, holds his hands up to the roar of complaint from those waiting. ‘Two minutes, guys. Two minutes.’
In the tiny corridor to the kitchen, the beat thumps through the walls, making Liv’s feet vibrate. ‘But where has he gone?’ she says.
‘I don’t know.’ Greg’s anger has evaporated. ‘We woke up to a note this morning saying he’d had to go. That was it. He was kind of weird last night after you left.’
‘What do you mean, weird?’
He looks shifty, as if he’s already said too much.
‘Not himself. He takes this stuff pretty seriously.’ He bites his lip.
Greg looks awkward. ‘Well, he – he said he thought this painting was going to ruin any chance the two of you had of having a relationship.’
Liv stares at him. ‘You think he’s …’
‘I’m sure he didn’t mean –’
But Liv is already pushing her way out through the bar.
Empty of anything, Sunday lasts for ever. Liv sits in her still house, her phone silent, her thoughts spinning and humming, and waits for the end of the world.
She rings his mobile number one more time, then ends the call abruptly when the answer-phone kicks in.
He’s gone cold.
Of course he hasn’t.
He’s had time to think about everything he’s throwing away by siding with me.
You have to trust him.
She wishes Mo were there.
The night creeps in, the skies thickening, smothering the city in a dense fog. She fails to watch television, sleeps in weird, disjointed snatches, and wakes at four with her thoughts congealing in a toxic tangle. At half past five she gives up, runs a bath and lies in it for some time, staring up through the skylight at the oblivious dark. She blow-dries her hair carefully, and puts on a grey blouse and pinstriped skirt that David had once said he loved on her. They made her look like a secretary, he’d observed, as if that might be a good thing. She adds some fake pearls and her wedding ring. She does her makeup carefully. She is grateful for the means to conceal the shadows under her eyes, her sallow, exhausted skin.
He will come, she tells herself. You have to have faith in something.
Around her, the world wakes up slowly. The Glass House is shrouded in mist, emphasizing her sense of isolation from the rest of the city. Beneath it, queues of traffic, visible only as tiny illuminated dots of red brake lights, move slowly, like blood in clogged arteries. She drinks some coffee, and eats half a piece of toast. The radio tells of traffic jams in Hammersmith, and a plot to poison a politician in Ukraine. When she has finished, she tidies and wipes the kitchen so that it gleams.
Then she pulls an old blanket from the airing cupboard and wraps it carefully around The Girl You Left Behind. She folds it as if she were wrapping a present, keeping the picture turned away from her so that she doesn’t have to see Sophie’s face.
Fran is not in her box. She’s sitting on an upturned bucket, gazing out across the cobbles to the river, untangling a piece of twine that is wrapped several hundred times around a huge clump of supermarket carrier bags.
She looks up as Liv approaches, with two mugs, then at the sky. It has sunk around them in thick droplets, muffling sound, ending the world at the river’s edge.
‘Not like you.’
‘Nothing’s like me, apparently.’
Liv hands over a coffee. Fran takes a sip, grunts with pleasure, then looks at her. ‘Don’t stand there like a lemon, then. Take a seat.’
Liv glances around before she realizes that Fran is pointing towards a small milk crate. She pulls it over and sits down. A pigeon walks across the cobbles towards her. Fran reaches into a crumpled paper bag and throws it a crust. It’s oddly peaceful out here, hearing the Thames lap gently at the shore, the distant sounds of traffic. Liv thinks wryly of what the newspapers would say if they could see the society widow’s breakfast companion. A barge emerges through the mist and floats silently past, its lights disappearing into the grey dawn.
‘Your friend left, then.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Sit here long enough you get to know everything. You listen, see?’ She taps the side of her head. ‘Nobody listens any more. Everyone knows what they want to hear, but nobody actually listens.’
She stops for a minute, as if remembering something. ‘I saw you in the newspaper.’
Liv blows on her coffee. ‘I think the whole of London has seen me in the newspaper.’
‘I’ve got it. In my box.’ She gestures towards the doorway. ‘Is that it?’ She points to the bundle Liv is holding under her arm.
‘Yes.’ She takes a sip. ‘Yes, it is.’ She waits for Fran to add her own take on Liv’s crime, to list the reasons why she should never have attempted to keep the painting, but it doesn’t come. Instead she sniffs, looks out at the river.
‘That’s why I don’t like having too much stuff. When I was in the shelter people was always nicking it. Didn’t matter where you left it – under your bed, in your locker – they’d wait till you was going out, and then they’d just take it. It got so’s you didn’t want to go out, just for fear of losing your stuff. Imagine that.’
‘What you lose. Just trying to hang on to a few bits.’
Liv looks at Fran’s craggy, weathered face, suddenly suffused with pleasure as she considers the life she is no longer missing out on.
‘It’s a kind of madness,’ Fran says.
Liv stares along the grey river, and her eyes fill unexpectedly with tears.
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