We sit in Tom’s Audi, the big engine’s tick-over muted superbly by doubtless copious soundproofing. I look down from the lofted perch of the passenger seat at my little Polo in the next parking space – I’m not going to impress anyone in that, am I? But I’m getting ahead of myself - road trips and weekends away are a fair way off yet, much later tasks in the project plan that isn’t a project plan.
Cheers for today, says Tom, I needed that.
Yeah, me too.
Let me know when you’re ready to double-date and me and Sophie will have you round for dinner?
Oh, it’s like that now, is it? I can only come round for dinner if I bring a woman!
Something like that, mate, yeah.
I’d better do my best then. See you later, Mr B.
Always a pleasure, Mr P.
I hop down from the 4x4 and retrieve my golf clubs from its boot, then watch as Tom drives away. I try to jump into the Polo and do likewise, except that the door lock has seized. Again. I could just climb in through the passenger side and be on my way but it’s a nice sunny afternoon and I have nowhere to be, so what’s the rush? I pop the boot and fumble around amongst the old coats, rusty tools and damp travel rugs until I find the can of WD40. After a bit more fumbling, and a not inconsiderable amount of silent swearing, I find the tiny straw that attaches to the aerosol nozzle, and give the driver’s door lock a good squirt. Whilst waiting for the WD40 to work its greasy magic, I stow my golf clubs in the boot. It’s at this point I notice just how many other vehicles are in the FUA car-park – unusual for a Saturday afternoon, even when it’s the day after a work’s night-out. There’s Alan’s BMW and, three spaces further along, Ruth’s Alfa Romeo. Right by the entrance to Steer House are two Mercedes and another BMW, all of which I know belong to members of the senior management team.
For the briefest of moments, I’m tempted to ring Alan’s mobile – I even experiment with an excuse, something along the lines of I popped in to pick up my car and saw you were here – fancy lunch? But even as I play this through in my head, I know it sounds false – I’d never suggest we grab lunch together and Alan knows it, however blind he might be to what his staff really think of him. My other ‘in’ would be Ruth – I’m pretty sure I’ve still got her work mobile number, from when she was propping me up after Emma. I could give her a call and try the lunch line. But something stops me. I tell myself it’s the funny looks Ruth was giving me last night, and that maybe she wasn’t impressed with how I handled Jenny and Jas, but really it’s the row of black saloons over by the entrance. However curious I might be about that, it can wait until next week when it either all comes out in the wash or until the rumour mill churns it up. It’s only work, after all – why should I let it get in on what’s left of my weekend?
The WD40 has had long enough to soak in, and I give my key another wiggle in the lock. After a couple of abortive attempts, the door pops open. It is baking in the Polo after a morning soaking up the sunshine, so I wind the window down (the winder mechanism feels like it could do with a squirt of something to loosen it up too) and begin the drive home.
I start thinking about making a stop at The Tree at least two, if not three, miles before the turning for Long Lane. I turn the radio up and sing along with something old by Billy Joel that I wasn’t aware I knew the words too, but even this isn’t enough to force thoughts of Emma from my mind. I don’t turn down Long Lane though, I don’t even slow down as the junction approaches. I feel bad about it as I sail past, but not bad enough to turn around and go back. The Tree will not claim this afternoon.
What does claim the afternoon is the shoebox full of photographs. My original intention had been to drag out some old pictures of the family to take with me tomorrow when I go to see Mum in the hope that they’ll jog her memory, or provide something that she can connect to. That doesn’t take long – there’s the dog-eared 6x4 of me getting off the coach after Cub camp, clutching my sports bag in one hand and teddy bear in the other, for starters. Then there’s the black and white photo with the crinkly edge of Mum and Dad on their wedding day – it that doesn’t trigger a memory, what will? I even manage to find an old picture of the house I grew up in, the semi on Drake Close. Me and Tom are standing on the doorstep, wearing matching smiles. Half the picture has faded, like it has been left out in the sun, but even so I’m confident it will get through to Mum – she used to love it when Tom stayed over.
Pretty soon, I’ve got nearly a dozen photos crammed into an envelope, ready to take to St Margaret’s tomorrow. I should stop there but, of course, I don’t. This shoebox has been wedged under my bed for years, and who knows when I’ll get it out next? Inexorably, I flick through every photo in the box.
Here’s Emma, all suntan and smiles, on our first holiday together, feigning coyness in her bikini on a blinding Cornish dune. Here we both are, sat on a wall outside some castle or other wearing the fixed grins and idiot expressions of people waiting for a camera timer to run itself down. Here she is again, with a streak of paint through her hair, that weekend we spent redecorating her old flat. And here she is again. And again. And again.
By the time I get to the end of the box, the shadows have lengthened across the room. The last few photos show a pale woman who is gaunt and unsmiling, suffering the camera. I stow them back in the box, then push that back under the bed, as far as I can reach. It occurs to me that I haven’t taken a single photograph of anything or anyone since Emma died. I don’t even know where my camera is – my camera which still takes film, that’s how disconnected I’ve become. Old school, as Craig might say – time to get with the programme, grandad!
I go downstairs and fire up the PC, then make a cup of strong tea whilst it slowly boots up. I start browsing for a nice digital SLR but, when I realise that even the more modest offerings from Canon, Nikon and the rest are out of my price range, I settle on an unfeasibly tiny sliver of silver from Sony. Even that costs money I don’t have this month, not after my visit to Laura. Thank God for credit cards.
I click ‘Checkout’ and confirm my order. Time to get with the programme.