The Widow

The Widow by Fiona Barton




For Gary, Tom, and Lucy, without whom nothing would mean anything.





ONE


The Widow

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9, 2010


I can hear the sound of her crunching up the path. Heavy-footed in high heels. She’s almost at the door, hesitating and smoothing her hair out of her face. Nice outfit: jacket with big buttons, decent dress underneath, and glasses perched on her head. Not a Jehovah’s Witness or from the Labour party. Must be a reporter, but not the usual. She’s my second one today—fourth this week, and it’s only Wednesday. I bet she says, “I’m sorry to bother you at such a difficult time.” They all say that and put on that stupid face. Like they care.

I’m going to wait to see if she rings twice. The man this morning didn’t. Some are obviously bored to death with trying. They leave as soon as they take their finger off the bell, marching back down the path as fast as they can, into their cars and away. They can tell their bosses they knocked on the door but I wasn’t there. Pathetic.

She rings twice. Then knocks loudly in that rap-rap-rappity-rap way. Like a policeman. She sees me looking through the gap at the side of my sheer curtains and smiles this big smile. A Hollywood smile, my mum used to say. Then she knocks again.

When I open the door, she hands me the bottle of milk from the doorstep and says, “You don’t want to leave that out. It’ll spoil. Shall I come in? Have you got the kettle on?”

I can’t breathe, let alone speak. She smiles again, head on one side. “I’m Kate,” she says. “Kate Waters, a reporter from the Daily Post.”

“I’m,” I start, suddenly realizing she hasn’t asked.

“I know who you are, Mrs. Taylor,” she says. Unspoken are the words: “You are the story.”

“Let’s not stand out here,” she says. And as she talks, somehow, she’s come in.

I feel too stunned by the turn of events to speak, and she takes my silence as permission to go into the kitchen with the bottle of milk and make me a cup of tea. I follow her in—it’s not a big kitchen and we’re in a bit of a squeeze as she bustles about filling the kettle and opening all my cupboards, looking for cups and sugar. I just stand there, letting it all happen.

She’s chatting about the kitchen. “What a lovely fresh-looking room—I wish mine looked like this. Did you put a new kitchen in?”

It feels like I’m talking to a friend. It isn’t how I thought it would be, talking to a reporter. I thought it would be like being questioned by the police. Thought it would be an ordeal, an interrogation. That’s what my husband, Glen, said. But it isn’t, somehow.

I say, “Yes. We chose white doors and red handles because it looked so clean.” I’m standing in my house discussing kitchens with a reporter. Glen would’ve had a fit.

She says, “Through here, is it?” and I open the door to the living room.

I’m not sure if I want her here or not—not sure how I feel. It doesn’t feel right to protest now—she’s just sitting and chatting with a cup of tea in her hand. It’s funny—I’m quite enjoying the attention. I get a bit lonely inside this house now that Glen is gone.

And she seems to be in charge of things. It’s quite nice really, to have someone in charge of me again. I was beginning to panic that I’d have to cope with everything on my own, but Kate Waters is saying she’ll sort everything out.

All I have to do is tell her about my life, she says.

My life? She doesn’t really want to know about me. She hasn’t walked up my path to hear about Jean Taylor. She wants to know the truth about him. About Glen. My husband.

You see, my husband died last week. Knocked down by a bus just outside Sainsbury’s. He was there one minute, giving me grief about what sort of cereal I should’ve bought, and the next, dead on the road. Head injuries, they said. Dead, anyway. I just stood there and looked at him, lying there. People were running around finding blankets, and there was a bit of blood on the pavement. Not much blood, though. He would’ve been glad. He didn’t like any sort of mess.

Everyone was very kind and trying to stop me from seeing his body, but I couldn’t tell them I was glad he was gone. No more of his nonsense.





TWO


The Widow

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9, 2010


The police came to the hospital, of course. Even DI Bob Sparkes turned up at the accident and emergency department to talk about Glen.

I said nothing to him or any of the others. Told them there was nothing to say. I was too upset to talk. Cried a bit.

DI Bob Sparkes has been a part of my life for so long—more than three years it is now—but I think perhaps he will disappear with you, Glen.

I don’t say any of this to Kate Waters. She’s in the other armchair in the sitting room, nursing her mug of tea and jiggling her foot.

“Jean,” she says—no more “Mrs. Taylor,” I notice—“this last week must have been terrible for you. And after all you’ve already been through.” I say nothing, just stare at my lap. She has no idea what I’ve been through. No one has really. I’ve never been able to tell anyone. Glen said that was best.

We wait in silence, and then she tries a different tack. She stands up and picks up a photo of us from the mantelpiece—both of us laughing at something.

“You look so young,” she says. “Was this before you got married?”

I nod.

“Did you know each other a long time before that? Did you meet at school?”

“No, not at school. We met at a bus stop,” I tell her. “He was very good-looking, and he made me laugh. I was seventeen, an apprentice at a hairdresser’s in Greenwich, and he worked in a bank. He was a bit older and wore a suit and good shoes. He was different.”

I’m making it sound like some romantic novel, and Kate Waters is lapping it up, scribbling in her notebook, peering at me over those little glasses and nodding as if she understands. She isn’t fooling me.

Actually, Glen didn’t seem the romantic sort at first. Our courtship was mainly in the dark—the cinema, the backseat of his Escort, the park—and there wasn’t much time for talking. But I remember the first time he told me he loved me. I prickled all over, like I could feel every inch of my skin. I felt alive for the first time in my life. I told him I loved him, too. Desperately. That I couldn’t eat or sleep for thinking about him.

My mum said it was a “fascination” on my part when I mooned around the house. I wasn’t sure what it meant, “fascination,” but I wanted to be with Glen all the time, and back then he said he felt the same. I think Mum was a bit jealous. She relied on me.

“She relies on you too much, Jeanie,” Glen said. “Not healthy to be going everywhere with your daughter.”

I tried to explain about Mum being frightened of going out on her own, but Glen said she was being selfish.

He was so protective, picking a seat for me in the pub away from the bar—“Don’t want it to be too noisy for you”—and ordering for me at restaurants so I tasted new things—“You’ll love this, Jeanie. Just try it.” So I did, and sometimes the new things were lovely. And if they weren’t, I didn’t say anything in case I hurt his feelings. He would go quiet if I went against him. I hated that. Felt I’d disappointed him.

I’d never been out with someone like Glen, someone who knew what they wanted in life. The other boys were just that, boys.

Two years later, when Glen proposed, he didn’t go down on one knee. He held me very close and said, “You belong to me, Jeanie. We belong together . . . Let’s get married.”

He’d won Mum over by then, anyway, He’d come with flowers—“a little something for the other woman in my life,” he’d say to make her giggle—and he’d talk to her about Coronation Street or the royal family, and Mum loved it. She said I was a lucky girl. That he’d brought me out of myself. Would make something of me. She could see he’d take care of me. And he did.

“What was he like then?” Kate Waters asks, leaning forward to encourage me. Then. She means before all the bad stuff.

“Oh, he was a lovely man. Very lovey-dovey, couldn’t do enough for me,” I say. “Always bringing me flowers and presents. Said I was the one. I was blown over by it all. I was only seventeen.”

She loves it. Writes it all down in a funny scrawl and looks up. I’m trying not to laugh. I feel the hysteria rising, but it comes out like a sob, and she reaches her hand over to touch my arm.

“Don’t be upset,” she says. “It’s all over now.”

And it is. No more police, no more Glen. No more of his nonsense.

I can’t quite remember when I started calling it that. It had begun long before I could name it. I was too busy making our marriage perfect, beginning with the wedding at Charlton House.

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