It's always this same dream that Lewis has, and he does the same thing when he wakes; he reaches up to feel the place where his bottom lip was opened, running a finger over his chin. He has a scar there still, almost imperceptible to the casual eye, like a ghost mouth that never opens, like a horizon. It has been fifteen years since he jumped and fell, and he has never been back to the beach. He has spent his adult life in the heart of England, at the very core of the city, as if putting himself in the dense centre of a world would protect him from another fall off the edge of it. But now he has returned to his mother's house, and the dream is more vivid here, in colour, with sound effects and rising panic, as if it too has finally come home.
“There's a letter for you”, his mother shouts, hearing his footsteps on the stairs,
“I've put it on the table.”
She says no more, but Lewis can hear excitement in her voice, as if letters are the rarest of things. He's been here a month now, and has spoken to no one, apart from his mother, has had no phone calls, certainly no letters, nothing at all from Anna. He pictures her, lying in their bed, her face shocked and tearful, just as the morning he left her.
He takes his mother tea, and finds her sitting at the back of the house, facing the window and the view over the strand. She has a woollen shawl wrapped around her nightie, and pink slippers on her feet. She looks unbearably frail.
“The days are getting longer”, she says, nodding at the light creeping in over the sea. She has said this every morning since the first one. The idea occurs to Lewis that he might still be here come winter, when she'll say, The nights are drawing in. The thought fills him with dread.
She doesn't ask who the letter's from, and as soon as they've had their conversation about what he will do today, he takes the letter upstairs to his room. The envelope has been steamed open. Inside, there's a sheet of folded paper and another envelope with just his name on it, which has also been steamed open. Lewis pauses for a second, sucks in his breath. She might look like a little old lady, but she hasn't changed. He decides not to confront her. The second envelope contains a note from the Headmaster, suggesting that he might like to come in and discuss matters. The plain folded sheet is from Anna. It says: “Geoff Harris dropped this by. He asked about you. I didn't know what I should tell him. Everyone's asking about you. What should I say?”
Lewis puts it to his face. He can't find the scent of her in the words.
He spends his mornings lying on the bed, trying not to think. In spite of his efforts to block it out, the scene comes back repeatedly; the smaller boy with his blazer pulled off his shoulder, and the other two - the two Michaels - pushing him against the wall. There was blood on the boy's lip, and dirt on his face, and paler tracks running down the dirt. He was making no sound. Lewis had seen him in the corridors, with his new uniform and his back bent from the weight of his rucksack. He didn't know his name then, although he would know it too well, later: Paul Fry. He looked like all the other new boys at first; after a week, they'd be kicking their rucksacks along the floor, their shoes would be caked with mud, they'd have a laughing, cynical look in their eyes. Lewis only noticed the boy because he hadn't made it to this stage: his shoes remained shiny, and his blazer was smeared with wiped-off chalk and streams of dried spit. His face wore a haunted look. There were a few like this in every year. A couple of the male staff - Stott and Walker - had a nickname for them: they called them New Pins, and after a while, simply Pins, to denote the ones that wouldn't ever fit in. They individuated the boys by adding to the nickname: Pin-Pong, Pin-Head, and this boy, Pin-Up, on account of his pale, girlish face and curly hair.
The burlier of the two Michaels was stroking Paul Fry's hair now, in a mock-affectionate, teasing fashion. When they saw Lewis, they retreated, laughing. Paul Fry didn't look at all grateful for this intervention: he straightened his blazer and turned away.
Trying to sound like a friend, Lewis said, “Go and wash your face, son.”
Merci pour la lecture!
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