Paul is silent. She trails a finger up his arm. ‘I know it sounds daft, but after he died, I just didn’t want to be part of anything. I sat up here for weeks. I – I didn’t want to see other human beings. And even when it was really bad, there was something about her expression … Hers was the only face I could cope with. She was like this reminder that I would survive.’ She lets out a deep sigh. ‘And then when you came along I realized she was reminding me of something else. Of the girl I used to be. Who didn’t worry all the time. And knew how to have fun, who just … did stuff. The girl I want to be again.’
He is still silent.
She has said too much. What she wants is for Paul to lower his face to hers, to feel his weight upon her.
But he doesn’t speak. She waits for a moment and then says, just to break the silence, ‘I suppose it sounds silly … to be so attached to a painting …’
When he turns to her his face looks odd: taut and drawn. Even in the half-light she can see it. He swallows. ‘Liv … what’s your name?’
She pulls a face.
‘Liv. You know th–’
‘No. Your surname.’
She blinks. ‘Halston. My surname is Halston. Oh. I suppose we never …’ She can’t work out where this is going. She wants him to stop looking at the painting. She grasps suddenly that the relaxed mood has evaporated and something strange has taken its place. They lie there in an increasingly uncomfortable silence.
He lifts a hand to his head. ‘Um … Liv? Do you mind if I head off? I’m … I’ve got some work stuff to see to.’
It’s as if she has been winded. It takes her a moment to speak, and when she does her voice is too high, not her own. ‘At six a.m.?’
‘Oh.’ She blinks. ‘Oh. Right.’
He is out of bed and dressing. Dazed, she watches him hauling on and fastening his trousers, the fierce swiftness with which he pulls on his shirt. Dressed, he turns, hesitates, then leans forward and drops a kiss on her cheek. Unconsciously she pulls the duvet up to her chin.
‘Are you sure you don’t want any breakfast?’
‘No. I … I’m sorry.’ He doesn’t smile.
He cannot leave fast enough. Mortification begins to steal through her, like poison in her blood.
By the time he reaches the bedroom door he can barely meet her eye. He shakes his head, like someone trying to dislodge a fly. ‘Um … Look. I’ll – I’ll call you.’
‘Okay.’ She tries to sound light. ‘Whatever.’
As the door shuts behind him, she leans forward, ‘Hope the work thing goes …’
Liv stares in disbelief at the space where he has been, her fake cheery words echoing around the silent house. Emptiness creeps into the space that Paul McCafferty has somehow opened inside her.
The office is empty, as he had known it would be. He launches himself through the door, the old fluorescent bulbs stuttering into life overhead, and makes straight for his office. Once inside, he rummages through the piles of files and folders on his desk, not caring as the papers spew out across the floor, until he finds what he is looking for. Then he flicks on his desk lamp, and lays the photocopied article in front of him, smoothing it with his palms.
‘Let me be wrong,’ he mutters. ‘Just let me have got this wrong.’
The wall of the Glass House is only partly visible, as the image of the painting has been enlarged to fill the A4 space. But the painting is unmistakably The Girl You Left Behind. And to the right of her, the floor-to-ceiling window that Liv had shown him, the view that extended out towards Tilbury.
He scans the extract of text.
Halston designed this room so that its occupants would be woken by the morning sun. ‘I originally set out to put some kind of screening system up for summer daylight hours,’ he says. ‘But actually you find that if you’re woken naturally, you’re less tired. So I never bothered putting them in.’
Just off the master bedroom is a Japanese style
It ends, cut short by the photocopy. Paul stares at it for a moment, then turns on his computer and types DAVID HALSTON into a search engine. His fingers thrum on the desk as he waits for it to load.
Tributes were paid yesterday to the modernist architect David Halston, who has died suddenly in Lisbon at the age of 38. Initial reports suggest his death was as a result of undiagnosed heart failure. Local police are not said to be treating his death as suspicious.
His wife of four years, Olivia Halston, 26, who was with him at the time, is being comforted by family members. A member of the British consulate in Lisbon appealed for the family to be allowed to grieve in private.
Halston’s death cuts short a stellar career, notable for its innovative use of glass, and fellow architects yesterday lined up to pay tribute to the
Paul lowers himself slowly into his chair. He flicks through the rest of the paperwork, then re-reads the letter from the lawyers of the Lefèvre family.
a clear-cut case, which is unlikely to be time-barred given the circumstances … stolen from an hotel in St Péronne circa 1917, shortly after the artist’s wife was taken prisoner by the occupying German forces …
We hope that TARP can bring this case to a swift and satisfactory conclusion. There is some leeway in the budget for compensation to the current owners, but it is unlikely to be anything near the estimated auction value.
He would put money on it that she has no idea who the painting is by. He hears her voice, shy and oddly proprietorial: ‘She’s my favourite thing in this house. Actually, she’s my favourite thing in the whole world.’
Paul lets his head drop into his hands. He stays there until the office phone starts ringing.
The sun rises across the flatlands east of London, flooding the bedroom a pale gold. The walls glow briefly, the almost phosphorescent light bouncing off the white surfaces so that on another occasion Liv might have groaned, screwed her eyes shut and buried her head under her duvet. But she lies very still in the oversized bed, a large pillow behind her neck, and stares out at the morning, her eyes fixed blankly on the sky.
She’d got it all wrong.
She keeps seeing his face, hearing his scrupulously polite dismissal of her. Do you mind if I head off?
She has lain there for almost two hours, her mobile phone in her hand, wondering whether to text him a small message.
Are we okay? You seemed suddenly …
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