Chapter 3. Ada the mentor
By the time Maeve got home it was late morning and the residual dampness had penetrated her jacket, crept up her legs, and chilled her to the bone. She could have left earlier, she didn’t have to wait for the police to finish their business, in fact that was still on-going. She had stayed because felt she owed the dead man some respect, as if by being there as a civilian witness he had a mourner, someone concerned with his passing. To the police he was either a corpse, or a victim, neither of which recognised him as a person.
Luckily the house was still warm from the morning burst of central heating. The house had been put on strict limitations of energy use since Orla had taken on her personal crusade to save the planet. Maeve felt a twinge of guilt as she put the kettle on watching the meter flip into the red, but the sun had been shining earlier so the solar panels should have compensated. Then she thought, ‘what am I doing, boiling a kettle is fine! There is a global pandemic, people are dying, let’s get this into perspective.’ She wanted to do her bit for the environment and felt that her generation really had accelerated the mess we were in, but it still needed a sense of balance. Right now her priority was to warm up and recover before talking to Ada.
Edward, her resident spirit, was fussing around behind her. She had gotten used to him and generally didn’t pay any attention. She was talking aloud to herself when he reacted as if she had scalded him…..what had she said? Playing it back in her mind Maeve had been describing the wood, the specific trees, the location and that very strange feeling of someone else’s grief. She couldn’t see the logic in his reaction so asked him directly,
“Edward, what’s going on? What’s up with you?”
Edward always looked the same, like he was in a faded fancy dress costume or doing a bit part in a period drama. He had been in Sir Edward Hales’ service and only found peace when doing domestic chores, he thought this was his home. In practical terms he couldn’t make tea but he could move things, tidy things and surprisingly he could make beds. Normally he was happy and Maeve liked having him around. At the moment he was hopping from foot to foot wringing his hands.
“You shouldn’t go there. You shouldn’t go into the woods. People live there, you know, thieves, bandits, bad people. They have been living in the trees for some time now.”
Maeve frowned as she considered this.
“Hmm” she said as a noncommittal holding noise, while she finished making the tea. Thinking this was another question for Ada.
Ever since Maeve had accepted that she had the gift of communicating with certain spirits, or more bluntly, that she could hear the dead, she had been working out how to control this gift. Her mother Ada, was the official medium, but following on from her heart attack Ada had lost her ability to reach over to the other side. Ada still said it was a temporary glitch, but many months on Maeve wasn’t so sure.
In the meantime Ada was still the frontman handling the publicity fallout from the dramatic events of earlier in the year. The paranormal communications and police chase leading to saving the life of the young PhD student, Adam. Ada, being the kind of medium people expected to see, with striking make-up and dramatic outfits. She had also nominated herself as Maeve’s mentor. They had worked out a way of doing things that suited them both. Maeve would encounter a situation, they would talk about it, and then Maeve would decide how to act on it. There were no abstract theory lessons. Primarily this was because Ada was a terrible teacher and Maeve who wasn’t in a rush, had decided that learning through practical examples might be slower, but it was something that brought them together. And that was her first priority.
Now Maeve wanted Ada’s considered opinion on two things, one to know what she had met or felt in the wood, and secondly, how best to interrogate Edward to elicit the most useful information, clearly he knew something but wasn’t telling her directly.
She texted Ada, who at that precise moment was in the process of doing her Cyanotype prints. Always an artist, Ada had revived her creative skills since lockdown, and was rushing to catch the daylight. So they agreed to make this an afternoon tea session.
This was another system they had come up with. It was a way to make it feel as if they were in the same room. In advance, they would agree on a food type, today it was toasted crumpets, dripping with butter, there was no disagreement here, with honey or the last of the summer’s homemade raspberry jam. Accompanied by their favourite drink depending on the time of day, Barry’s tea in Ada’s case and the now wholly compostable PG Tips tea bags approved by Orla, for Maeve. They would set up their respective iPad and laptop, positioned halfway along their own table so that when they Zoomed, or FaceTimed, it felt as if they were sitting opposite each other on a weird composite table. It was strange but it was also a lot better than nothing.
Maeve was impatient, she wanted to tell Ada her news and work out what was up with Edward, who was still jumpy. She had painfully learnt that not all spirits were good, they could be wily and manipulate you into doing their bidding. Equally you can demand things of the spirits. She still wasn’t sure if they were obliged to do what you demanded, but sounding authoritative had worked for her in the past. This was still an area she thought of as ‘work in progress’.
To get out of the house before her teatime rendezvous with Ada and avoid Edward’s fidgeting, Maeve went shopping.
Over the last year Maeve had gone from being part of a family of three, plus a wonderfully renewed relationship with regular visits from Ada, to being just Maeve on her own most of the time. Orla was out championing environmental causes, Marianne was in college and Ada was self-isolating. The house felt particularly empty when Orla was out on one of her missions. Even though Orla was not long seventeen she had followed her hero Greta Thunberg and become an environmental activist. Maeve and her ex husband, Pascal, had agreed that she could take time out of academic study so long as she got reasonable grades in her GCSE’s to give her some qualifications for later on if she needed them. She had done fine so held them to their promise. That had felt like this was the right thing to do. Of course hit with the reality of their child becoming an Eco Warrior was a different kettle of fish. They were all still taking this a day at a time.
Orla had been away for some time, but she was coming home today, and would be back in time for supper tonight. At the moment the activists’ focus was trying to save ancient trees growing in the path of the planned high speed railway to Birmingham, HS2. They had been camping up in the trees. Maeve couldn’t imagine the sanitary conditions and didn’t really want to think about what they did when they needed an emergency trip to the toilet. They had just lost some thousand-year-old trees so she thought Orla would probably be feeling bruised.
Maeve wanted to cook something nice for both of them. So she was off to Waitrose to get some edible Spanish chestnuts, planning to be back in time to get rid of any single-use plastic wrapping before Orla arrived. Not that she didn’t want to do her best for the planet too but for some reason vegetables without plastic were more expensive than those in wrapped packs. It didn’t make any sense, but for now finances were tight, Maeve was one of the lucky ones, she had started a new contract in the summer and with the second lockdown they had put her on furlough rather than let her go. The chestnuts in Waitrose were still a luxury but one that she could afford once in a while. They were for Orla’s new favourite dish, which was butternut squash, chestnuts and rice with sage butter. In fact it was the sage butter that had stopped Orla from going completely vegan for the time being.
Maeve parked her bike. Her bicycle was another concession to Orla, which she now loved and was grateful for. As she wandered past the plant section outside Waitrose she saw John the Big Issue seller and waved. Maeve liked to give something to someone she knew, if you were lucky enough to be okay, it was time to share good fortune. There was a lady in front of her handing over a five pound note with a whispered
“You keep the change, I think you will need it this time. Take care and hopefully I will see you on the other side of this lockdown, fingers crossed it will be before Christmas.”
As she watched, it gave Maeve the time to think about how to approach the delicate questions she wanted to ask John, about homeless people who might camp in the woods. She stood there and she wondered about the body, the man she had come across. It dawned on her that it might be someone John actually knew. Maybe this wasn’t the time to mention it, and maybe it should be Steve asking the questions.