Liv nods understandingly. She is attempting, privately, to reconcile this tale of epic sexual misadventure with Jean, the fifty-something woman who runs the local flower shop, smokes forty a day and whose grey ankles emerge from too-short trousers like slices of tripe.
‘We knew it was wrong. And I tried, oh, God, I tried to be good. But I was in there one afternoon, looking for spring bulbs, and she came up behind me smelling of freesias, and before I knew it there I was, as tumescent as a new bud …’
‘Okay, Dad. Too much information.’ Liv puts the kettle on. As she begins clearing up the work surfaces, her father downs the rest of his glass. ‘It’s too early for wine.’
‘It’s never too early for wine. Nectar of the gods. My one consolation.’
‘Your life is one long consolation.’
‘How did I raise a woman of such will, such fearsome boundaries?’
‘Because you didn’t raise me. Mum did.’
He shakes his head with some melancholy, apparently forgetting the times he had cursed her for leaving him when Liv was a child, or called down the wrath of the gods upon her disloyal head. Liv thought sometimes that the day her mother had died, six years ago, her parents’ short, fractured marriage had somehow been redrawn in her father’s mind so that this intolerant woman, this hussy, this harridan who had poisoned his only child against him now resembled a kind of virgin Madonna. She didn’t mind. She did it herself. When you lost your mother, she gradually recast herself in the imagination as perfect. A series of soft kisses, loving words, a comforting embrace. A few years back she had listened to her friends’ litany of irritation about their own interfering mothers with the same lack of comprehension as if they had been speaking Korean.
‘Loss has hardened you.’
‘I just don’t fall in love with every person of the opposite sex who happens to sell me a pot of tomato food.’
She had opened the drawers, searching for coffee filters. Her father’s house was as cluttered and chaotic as hers was tidy.
‘I saw Jasmine in the Pig’s Foot the other night.’ He brightens. ‘What a gorgeous girl she is. She asked after you.’
Liv finds the filter papers, deftly opens one and scoops in coffee.
‘She’s marrying a Spaniard. He looks like Errol Flynn. Couldn’t take his eyes off her. Mind you, neither could I. She has a sway to her walk that is positively hypnotic. He’s taking on her and the baby. Some other chap’s, I believe. They’re going to live in Madrid.’
Liv pours a mug of coffee, hands it to her father.
‘Why don’t you see her any more? You two were such good friends?’ he wonders.
She shrugs. ‘People grow apart.’ She cannot tell him this is only half of the reason. These are the things that they do not tell you about losing your husband: that as well as the exhaustion you will sleep and sleep, and some days even the act of waking up will force your eyelids back down and that merely getting through each day will feel like a Herculean effort – you will hate your friends, irrationally: each time someone arrives at your door or crosses the street and hugs you and tells you they are so, so desperately sorry, you look at her, her husband and their tiny children and are shocked at the ferocity of your envy. How did they get to live and David to die? How did boring, lumpen Richard with his City friends and his weekend golfing trips and his total lack of interest in anything outside his tiny complacent world get to live, when David, brilliant, loving, generous, passionate David, had to die? How did hangdog Tim get to reproduce, to bring further generations of little unimaginative Tims into this world, when David’s unexpected mind, his kindness, his kisses, had been extinguished for ever?
Liv can remember screaming silently in bathrooms, bolting without explanation from crowded rooms, conscious of her own apparent rudeness but unable to stop herself. It had been years before she could view anybody else’s happiness without mourning the loss of her own.
These days, the anger has gone, but she prefers to view domestic satisfaction at a distance, and in people she doesn’t know well, as if happiness were a scientific concept that she is merely pleased to see proven.
She no longer sees the friends she had back then, the Cherrys, the Jasmines. The women who would remember the girl she had been. It was too complicated to explain. And she didn’t particularly like what it said about her.
‘Well, I think you should meet her before she goes. I used to love watching the two of you head out together, pair of young goddesses that you were.’
‘When are you going to call Caroline?’ she says, wiping crumbs from the stripped-pine kitchen table and scrubbing at a ring of red wine.
‘She won’t talk to me. I left fourteen messages on her mobile phone last night.’
‘You need to stop sleeping with other people, Dad.’
‘And you need to earn some money.’
‘And you need to get dressed. If I were her and came home and saw you like this I’d turn around and walk straight out again.’
‘I’m wearing her dressing-gown.’
‘It still carries her scent.’ He inhales Caroline’s sleeve, an expression of deep tragedy across his face, and his eyes fill with tears. ‘What am I supposed to do if she doesn’t come back?’
Liv stills, her expression hardening momentarily. She wonders if her father has any idea what day it is today. Then she looks at the battered man in his women’s dressing-gown, the way his blue veins stand proud on his crêpy skin, and turns away to the washing-up. ‘You know what, Dad? I’m not really the person to ask.’
The old man lowers himself gingerly into the chair and lets out a sigh, as if crossing the room has been some effort. His son, standing with his hand under his elbow, watches anxiously.
Paul McCafferty waits, then glances at Miriam, his secretary. ‘Would you like tea or coffee?’ she asks.
The old man gives a small shake of his head. ‘No, thank you.’ The way he looks up says, Let’s just get on, shall we?
‘I’ll leave you to it.’ Miriam backs out of the little office.
Paul opens his folder. He lays his hands on the desk, feeling Mr Nowicki’s eyes on him. ‘Well, I asked you here today because I have some news. When you initially approached me I warned you that I thought this case would be tricky because of the lack of provenance on your side. As you know, many galleries are reluctant to hand over work without the most solid proof of –’
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