Monday, June 8, 2009

Beth, or The Missing Girl. Part 3

A strange meeting.

I hovered about. I lit a cigarette. The 'phone was on a console table in the hall. A picture hung on th e wss, the image of a bowl of Longhi lilies. The picture was painted by Fantin -Latour and was inherited from a great aunt. For a moment I just stood there smoking and losing myself in the darkness of the painting.

There was an ashtray on the table next to the phone. The ashtray featured the face of the pope milling and waving. I squashed out my cigarette on his nose.

I dialled 1471, then the number the automated service gave me.

"Hello," I said. "Is that Cath?"

"Yes," said the voice.

"This is Clancy Smiles."

"Hello Clancy"."

"What do you mean, Beth is dead?" I asked.

"I mean, she has died," she replied.

"How?" I asked.

"I think you should come here," said the voice.

"My God," Is said, "who are you? Why are you being damn...mysterious?"

There was a pause. I lit another cigarette.

"Clancy." The voice was slow and quiet. "I think you may be taking this badly."

She gave me her address. I wrote it down on the pad.

Before I left the apartment I looked over to the dining room. The dinner things were still sitting there on the table. The light from the windows behind caught them, bouncing off their hard surfaces sharply. I could see the sombre facades of the buildings across the road, huge caryatid orders flanking tiny, feminine balconies.

Then I put on my overcoat. I turned to a mirror. I saw my face. It was wet: I had been crying.

I shivered even with my overcoat on outside. I held the address In my pink hands and read it: 11 Silesia Road, Hackney. Too far to walk.

What was Beth doing living in East London. It did not seem to be the right sort of place for her; too harsh.

I travelled to Islington, where I crossed over to the platform to wait on the North London Line. There were bits of litter blowing about outside on the platform. Someone had torn the timetable off the wall. A bearded man wrapped in innumerable layers of clothes like a huge ragged pupae shuffled about, then drawing a bottle form those wrappings, poured a coppery liquid into his tiny red orifice. Three teenagers, all pubic moustaches and menace eyed us as we waited. The train came in slowly: I got in: thankfully the teenagers stayed behind.

I felt a kind of shock when I came out of the station: the place was in a terrible state. All the buildings needed renovation and there was an aura of collapse everywhere, An old woman, head down, bumped me, then turned and apologised with a dreadful cringing.

"Can you tell me the way to Empire Road?" I asked her.

"Empire Road?" said the lady, "down there on the left." She scuttled off.

Did she think I was going to beat her up?

I walked on down the hill. The sky became suddenly bright with a silvery pallor. Then clouds blustered across, all gormless again.

I reached a giant Victorian block. I pressed the buzzer. Presently, a voice came from the speaker: Cath's voice.

"Come on up. First floor, right hand side."

I climbed a huge, steep staircase up the dingy interior. The door was slightly open: I knocked on it, then went in.

I arrived in a hall with marble floors, hung with green wallpaper: a motif of vines.

"You've arrived" I head a voice from my left,

"Yes," I said. "Good afternoon. Are you Cath?"

She was not taller than me; her posture was good. There was something austere about her. Hs e had dark hair which was put up and held in place with a golden clasp, in a style better suited to a much older woman. Her dress was green with a paisley print. She wore a black choker round her neck.

"Yes, "said the woman. "I am. You are Clancy, " she added.

"Yes. I am, " I answered. "I am Clancy Smiles".

"Come this way." She spoke as we walked down the corridor to a room overlooking the street. "You know, Clancy, we have met before."

"You said," I said. "But I can't place when for some reason."

"We attended the same lectures," she said. "We both studied at Vale's."

I did not mention that I still did not recognise her.

I was led to a room with a sofa, a chaise longue and some easy chairs. There was a music system too. But the most impressive thing about theroom as giant stuffed pig on a mahogany case on a giant sideboard.

"Yes," she said.

"How did she die?" I asked.

"She drank vodka and took some paracetamol."

"I'm sorry, " I said, uselessly.

Cath stood up. "Let me get you something. A gin and tonic?"


She went over to the sideboard; she came back with the drinks.


"Probably, " said Cath.

I drank the gin.

Cath sat down opposite me again. " I do not know how close you were to Beth. We were not close. She did not tell me about what she did or how she felt. She did leave this note, however."

The note read: "No-one should feel beholden to me. I cannot live with the burden of myself. I am no stranger to myself, and the knowledge that I have is too troubling to bear. I shall not go on."

"Is that is?" I said.

"Yes," said Cath.

"How did you know to contact me?"

"She told me about you."

"Did she?"

"She was in love with you."

"If she was in love with me then why didn't she contact me before?"

"I cannot answer that," said Cath. "We were not that close.

I stared at the pig.

"The funeral is on Saturday," added Cath.

I returned home.

There was a riddle to be solved. It was the riddle of Beth's demise.

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