A pall of silence hung over the house. Like some
dirty secret that couldn’t be shared. I listened
carefully to news hour on the radio. I waited to
hear shocking stories about the discovery of a
body. However no such report came over the air
waves. I dared not ask Uncle directly. I was
morbidly curious about the accomplice. I imagined
some meat-headed villain with blood-splashed
knuckle dusters. Carlos’ face would be mashed.
I struggled not to feel sorry for him, reminding
myself of Carlos’ unhinged behaviour. I never
wished to see the boy again. Uncle had done right.
He was my saviour.
I waited up for Uncle. It was past midnight
when his key turned in the lock. Uncle was
nursing his left hand. I asked him to open it
out. His knuckles were caked with blood.
They looked horribly beaten up. I rushed
upstairs to get some antiseptic cream, so
I could salve Uncle’s wounds. I felt certain
Uncle’s fist had collided with Carlos’ jaw.
Uncle was craggily silent whilst I tended
the injury. I delicately bandaged his hand
in some soft gauze. Uncle cleared his throat
and mumbled gratefully. The matter was dealt
with, he suddenly announced, in a dark, brooding
voice. Our eyes met. Something bloodstained
passed between us. I was glad.
Uncle was resolved. He would give Carlos
a serious clobbering. I thought the idea was
immensely foolhardy. Uncle underestimated
Carlos’ insanity. I told him so. But the police
were lame. Matters, Uncle insisted, would need
to be taken into his hands. Uncle would employ
a rough, to lend credibility, and really rattle Carlos.
I didn’t like to think where such a pair of fists
would be procured. I had real qualms about this
bloodstained venture. However I gave Uncle the
address. I had no pity for Carlos. He’d dirtied my
soul, and drowned me in fear. I craved for revenge.
There was no sign of forced entry. Uncle
double-checked all the doors and windows.
I came to a horrible conclusion. Carlos must
have the key. Uncle immediately telephoned
the locksmith. He’d have everything changed.
Carlos must have burgled my pockets and made
a duplicate key. It felt like a violation. I opened
the envelope. Inside was a beautifully ornate
card. A single rose, frozen by winter. There
were no words, excepting a large C and three
exact kisses. I shivered. Uncle was saying how
he’d get me some pepper spray. I knew this
would not deter Carlos. Because he was crazed.
Something in me expected to find the house
trashed. But everything was perfectly in its place.
The only addition was a fine layer of white dust
which coated everything. Uncle went off to relight
the boiler, whilst I made hot tea. The tent gear had
been haphazardly stacked in the hallway. I felt
certain it would languish there for some time.
I boiled the kettle. To my horror, a maroon
envelope was balanced beside the teapot.
My name was printed on the back and front,
in a bold calligraphic hand. There could be no
doubt. The writer was Carlos.
We checked out quickly, and Uncle drove us to
London by the speediest route. It was all flat green
broads, without even the slightest suggestion of a
hill. When the urban sprawl began to hem us in,
the city girl in me rejoiced. I hadn’t shared my
troubling vision with Uncle. My stomach was
cramped up with jitters and nerves. The traffic
ahead of us slowed, and ground to a halt. The
last twenty miles would be a hideous crawl. Mr
Steinberg was surprisingly jaunty. I think it was
relief. He told spooky stories while Uncle tapped
the steering wheel in frustration, and the car’s
radiator heated up. When we finally snailed into
our lane, I looked around nervously for signs of
Carlos. The street was completely deserted.
Relief washed over me. It had been a harmless
spectre I’d seen. Carlos wasn’t so mad after all.
I helped Mr Steinberg prize himself from the back
seat and turned my key nimbly in the door.
When we got back to the hotel, Mr Steinberg
immediately collapsed into his plush leather
chair. He was clearly shattered. Mr Steinberg’s
room was nicer than mine, although I was
disturbed at the number of pill bottles on his
dresser. I whispered softly to Uncle. This trip
was unnecessarily tiring our dear grandfather.
We should pack up now and head back to London.
It was hard to judge if Mr Steinberg was hiding
his pain, but I suspected it was so. Uncle was
aggrieved to pack-in our holiday so soon, when
we’d only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to
speak. According to him, the Fens were a
wonderland of earthly delights. However Uncle
agreed, glancing tenderly at Mr Steinberg now
asleep in his chair, snug as an oriental cat.
Suddenly a startling image of Carlos leapt into
my head. I felt my blood pressure soar. Carlos
was reclined moodily beside our post box at
home. His hair was wildly dishevelled. Rain
dripped from his black jacket. It was like a vigil.
He would be waiting there for me.
We found a faceless restaurant not far from
the cathedral. I barely noticed when lunch was
served to us. Small talk surged and swam around
my ears. I couldn’t listen. I’d had a higher
experience. I wanted to share it with Uncle,
but he was burbling some tiresome football
nonsense with William. Mr Steinberg was eyeing
me curiously. I could tell he knew. Only he was
in touch with his spiritual side. I didn’t want the
glow to subside, or get swamped below all the
mundane stuff. I wondered if I’d become religious
now. Attend church services. Give praise. No, my
bright chip of heaven would simply sink deeper
into my soul. I’d never ever forget it.
The cathedral was an unmitigated bore. We
stood by the sombre altarpiece, it chilled my
bones. Uncle insisted we scrawl our names
in the visitor’s book. He popped a five pound
note in the donation box. There was scaffolding
everywhere. It detracted from the spiritual
experience. William said his stomach was
chewing at him. I prayed the rest of Ely wasn’t
such a complete drag. Suddenly some choristers
were singing in treble voices. They’d materialized
out of nowhere. The unearthly melody reached
out and kissed my heart. It made me want to cry
uncontrollably. Sunlight caught in the achingly
beautiful stain-glass window. I understood
everything. A thousand years of prayer. And
then the music died.
I ate immodestly. Although I never touched any
meat. At the last moment, it repulsed me. Uncle
was still piping on about the magnificent cathedral.
A visit seemed unavoidable. I regretted that rain
was no longer tumbling from the heavens. As we
stood in the foyer, Mr Steinberg was complaining
of a sore back. He’d stay back in his room and
recuperate. I wondered if I might concoct some
tall story about facial pain. But I didn’t think anyone
would believe me, after my glutinous display over
breakfast. Suddenly, William asked if there’d be
gargoyles. This surprised me. My mind simmered
with devilish images. With a considerable spring
in my step, I bounced into the cobblestone street.
Uncle led the way.