Saturday, 24 April 2010
Extract from Chapter 13
Dr Merryweather took the long way round on a whim. At least, he told himself it was a whim. Really, a part of him had to admit that he spent more time avoiding home than living in it. Those crowded college rooms were no longer warm and eccentric but close and maddening. There were too many memories, too many associations, too many things. The tattered old books piled high at the walls of the office, the dizzying array of glass paperweights he neither wanted nor needed, the dining room with its too-big table and china teacup display on the dresser, Jemima’s nightmarish collections of small crystal animals that simpered and frolicked and sentimentalised every spare surface in the reception rooms – to him they had become the empty hieroglyphics of a history which had, presumably, once been infused with meaning. (This was, incidentally, exactly how the six students who had managed to remain present and awake described Dr Merryweather’s lecture over six large brandies in the King’s Arms that evening). Most of all it was the unseen pink frills and German teddy-bears that disturbed him, teddy-bears whose black eyes stared onto the debris of an innocent adolescence sunk into bizarre tragicomedy, gathering dust in Flora’s room. Nobody would touch them – nobody had opened the unassuming bedroom door at the top of the stairs since that day. It was as if some deep, untapped superstition prevented them, kneading into their minds as they lay awake at night, grieving. A very quiet part of him wished he could burn it all, the whole damn place - and himself with it.
He passed narrow Queen’s Lane and took the second turning down Dogge Street, a wider promenade complicated by the towering bulk of the Observatory, glass roof gleaming pink with sunset. A carriage pulled over beside Hertford College. He would barely have glanced at it, had a sharp sneeze of wind not blown his top hat into the iron railings that separated the Institute from the street; a cold, uncompromising line of superiority. The hat bounced off the railings and rolled onto the floor, where Dr Merryweather picked it up, trying to ignore the stiffness in his back. It was then that he caught sight of her, a fleeting glimpse as she passed him just a few yards away, looking over her shoulder, face pinched with worry. He would hardly have recognised her in that garish, flamboyant dress with wide, stiff skirts at least thirty years out of fashion. But her face was the same – that ghostly, angular countenance that had looked up at him with unnerving eyes, devoid of innocence, eleven years ago. It was the face he had hated, silently and burningly, ever since the day it had disappeared from every landscape beyond the bleak tundra of his dreams.
Dr Merryweather said nothing. Part of him felt he should have shouted after her: “murderess!” His throat tried but his lungs could not summon the courage – a strange gargle escaped, unnoticed except by a middle-aged lady who happened to be passing, and promptly crossed to the other side of the street. Dr Merryweather hardly noticed. The enormity of what he had seen swallowed all other considerations. But what could he do about it? He put on his hat. The action seemed to resolve him. He passed Oldgate Lane, which would have brought him home, and strode down Broad Street instead. There was only one person who had the power to deliver justice – one person on whom he had come to rely.
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