Late on Sunday morning, Jean crawled out of bed, groaning and wincing. She had been exhausted, and just slightly drunk on the wine she and Lesley had shared, as they had talked long into the night. Consequently, she had slept well. Now though, her body was punishing her for the abuse of yesterday. She tottered stiff legged to the shower and stood for a long time under the hot water. It helped, until she had to try to bend and dry her bruised, grazed legs. After swallowing two pain killers she went in search of caffeine, hoping it would get her on the way to feeling almost human.
Lesley had been up early and walked into the village to buy fresh bread from the bakery. She’d made bacon sandwiches, and brewed the coffee. The kitchen smelled wonderful. As Jean staggered through the door and fell onto a chair beside the table, Lesley grimaced in sympathy. “You need to take it easy today.”
Jean nodded in agreement. “Yes, I will. But first, I really need to go and see Doris. I can’t put it off. I’m not looking forward to it, but it won’t be any easier leaving it. Will you come with me?”
“Yes, ‘course I will. It might not be as bad as you think though, eh? After all you didn’t find his body, did you? Just the car.”
“Yes, but I don’t think that’s going to help her that much. She’s been living with the thought that he was wandering around somewhere suffering some sort of amnesia and she said it broke her heart. This seems to back that up, doesn’t it, in a way? I mean if he’d accidently crashed and hurt himself then, well, surely, someone would have found him, or he would have struggled to get help. The fact that there was no sign of him isn’t going to be much comfort. I bet she has imagined him, over and over, just driving back into the farm yard one day, and now she knows that can’t happen.” Jean sighed, “Then again, as you say, at least I didn’t find his body.”
Doris had a friend staying with her. A slim, wiry woman, with short, grey hair, thin lips and mournful eyes, who introduced herself as, ‘Sandra, from the women’s group’. She and Jean and Lesley stood together in the little vestibule at Hawks Farm. Boots were lined up untidily against the wall, and coats hung, one above the other on a rack of hooks beside the front door. A big dog basket with a grubby, squashed cushion was pushed into a corner with a water bowl beside it. It was all rather dreary and sad. The windows were streaked and dull, the floor in need of a clean. A sense of despair swept over them as Jean and Lesley took off their jackets and hung them on top of the others already there, some of which obviously belonged to a man. They were Ted’s, no doubt. They hadn’t wanted to come, and now didn’t want to be here. This was not the holiday that they had been looking forward to. Still, it had to be dealt with, out of kindness and a sense of duty.
“She’s in the living room. Try not to upset her. The police have just been again. Do you want tea?” As she spoke, Sandra led them down the narrow hallway and leaned past them to push open the door.
Doris looked up as they walked through from the hall. She began to rise from the easy chair and then flopped back as if she just could not summon the strength. “Mrs Duncan. Are you alright? They said you fell.”
“I’m fine Doris, a bit bruised and battered, but I’ll mend. What about you, though?”
Doris shook her head and wiped at her eyes with a balled-up handkerchief. “I haven’t seen it yet, the car. They won’t let me. I know it’s ours though. They found some stuff, in the glove box, a notebook, his knife, work gloves. Brought ‘em to show me, just now.” She began to sob and Jean went to kneel on the carpet in front of her. She laid her hands over those clasped tightly now on the other woman’s lap, the fingers wringing together. Doris looked up and tried to smile. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I really don’t. When all is said and done this hasn’t changed much. He’s still gone, still wandering about somewhere. They didn’t believe me, I suppose now they might but…” She shrugged. Lesley had quietly taken a seat on the settee and it was only now that Doris became aware of her. “Oh, hello Mrs Brown. I didn’t know you were here. I’m sorry. You ladies, don’t need to be bothering yourself with all of this. It’s not your problem. Don’t spoil your holiday because of us and our troubles. Thank you for coming though. That was kind.”
“We had to come, Doris.” Jean joined Lesley on the settee and as, Sandra from the women’s group, clattered about in the kitchen, they tried to find out what had happened since Jean had been taken back to Well Head Cottage.
The Land Rover was probably going to be recovered later in the day. The police had done all that they could do to examine it on site, given the perilous position, and, until it was towed to the police pound, there would be nothing more to say. Again, Doris complained that nobody had believed her, when she had told them over and over that Ted wouldn’t have gone away and left her, even though they had been having such troubles. “We had some rows, Mrs Duncan. I never hid that and so they thought he’d left me. He wouldn’t have done though. He never would have done, leastways not without making it clear.”
There didn’t seem to be anything more that they could do and so, with awkward hugs, and promises to come back in a day or two, to keep in touch, they left Doris staring vacantly at the dead, empty fireplace.
They walked around the house to stand before the sad remains of the farm shop, and the derelict tea garden. Their mood lowered by the encounter, wishing they were back in their own homes, the two women set off back towards their holiday cottage. Rain overnight had made everywhere wet and muddy, but the verge was safer than walking in the road proper. As they trudged through the soaking grass, Jean was very quiet. Remembering her sister’s illness earlier in the year, Lesley glanced across, assessing, worrying. “Are you okay? Well, I know you’re a bit sore and what have you, but you know; are you okay, apart from that? Jean just nodded and carried on.
Weaving along the side of the road, stepping around puddles and debris needed total concentration and, Lesley had to grab at Jean’s arm, pulling her back to the kerb edge as a white van swept past throwing up dirty, oily water. “Bloody hell Jean, watch what you’re doing. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, I’m okay. It’s just…” Jean’s response, muttered quietly, made her stop, and turn her sister to face her.
“I wonder where he is?”
Lesley sighed, rubbed a hand over her face. “No. Leave it, Jean. I mean it. The police will look into it again now, probably more carefully. If he doesn’t want to be found then maybe everyone should respect that. It’s possible, isn’t it? On the other hand, if he is somewhere, wandering around with a screw loose, then surely, they’ll find him. I doubt that myself though. I reckon he’s gone because he wanted to. She said they’d been having rows, and all that other stuff, well you can’t blame him wanting to make a run for it.”
“But what about the car?” They had stopped again, faced each other at the side of the road. “How come the car was there and he wasn’t? No sign of him.”
“I don’t know. Neither do you. Maybe he crashed and just thought ‘sod it’ that’s the last straw. Maybe it was left parked near the edge of the river and the land collapsed.” As she spoke Lesley saw the same thought come into her sister’s mind the instant she acknowledged it herself. “No, surely not? No. If he’d thrown himself into the river, surely his body would have washed up somewhere. Oh god, Jean. They must have thought of that, mustn’t they?”
“Yes, I’ll bet Doris has as well. She didn’t say anything, but she’s not daft.”
They began to move forward. “Anyway, as I say, leave it, Jean. The police are the ones to handle it and I’m sure we’ll find out if his body does turn up. You’ve already done everyone a favour. It was accidently I know, but still. it’s a good thing. Really, I don’t think you should think about it too much now.”
“Yes. You’re right, of course you are. But…”
Lesley snorted, screwed up her eyes and muttered under her breath. “Jean. Please, just leave it.” But, from the look in her sister’s eyes, she had a feeling that it was already too late.