Chapter 6. Reconnecting
At some point, she registered that she was walking towards Steve, and felt some comfort. Here was the person who could make things better in the real world, who wouldn’t need explanations. She needed a bear hug, and he was good at that.
Steve was standing outside Fond’s, the coffee shop, he knew something was wrong as soon as he saw her. Maeve was deathly pale and walking as if in a dream.
They’d had previous experiences and seeing her like this made him forget that any time had passed at all. He walked towards her wanting to wrap his arms around her and say it was all okay. But he was a policeman, and he knew that he had to set an example of how to behave in lockdown, so he couldn’t. Instead he gave her a reassuring broad smile to indicate how pleased he was to see her and said,
“Hot chocolate? Or something with a lot of sugar? You just sit down here before your legs give out, and I’ll get it.” He guided her to one of the seats on the pavement. Leaving her for a minute while he got the hot drinks.
They didn’t say anything until she had warmed up, some colour had returned to her cheeks, and she was breathing normally. Steve started.
“Okay, I can see that you have had a shock. There is no obvious sign of damage and you are not on your phone, so I guess you saw, or heard, something. Can you tell me what happened? Was it something real or, of a spiritual, or otherworldly, nature?” As he looked at her, he could see what looked like panic in her eyes.
She didn’t speak, she couldn’t. Maeve drank some more, the heat and the sweetness were working on her, at last she said,
“I don’t know what it was. I hope I never experience it again.”
After another pause, she started to describe what she had been through as best she could. It took a few goes before he could capture what she was trying to convey.
“Let’s see if I have got this right. You were trying to ‘feel’ a spirit as an exercise so you opened your mind?”
“Yes.” Maeve had not fully recovered and was still having difficulty finding the right words.
“And you were on Butchery Lane, near the entrance to the Roman Museum, so you were also just outside Timpson the key cutting place? Right?” Steve had that half policeman half friend tone, the confidence of which Maeve found very reassuring.
Steve went on, he had a hypothesis to share,
“I don’t know if this is useful but years ago I remember a story that was in the paper. A girl called Emma, don’t know why her name stuck in my head. Anyway, this Emma who worked in Timpsons somewhere in the North of England had won some sort of prize to spend the night in the most haunted Timpsons in the UK. It’s coming back to me now, it was Halloween, that’s it, and it was like a dare. She was to see if she could spend the whole night in the basement, and she got stuck on a train and nearly didn’t make it. Something had happened in the basement. The staff who worked there wouldn’t go down at night. Let me think about it a little longer, there was some story….”
Maeve had been happy to have Steve talking, his voice sounded safe and normal. She didn’t want him to stop, so she said nothing and waited.
“Of course, the name, its in the name of the Street. Butchery Lane. The basement under Timpsons was an abattoir, I mean a long time ago, maybe hundreds of years ago. There was a story that one night some poor butcher went down to do his business but something happened, maybe he was just careless, anyway he was gored to death by the bull he came to butcher. I think you would have been standing right above the spot where it happened.”
Steve was pretty pleased that he had managed to drag it out of his memory. “I don’t remember if the girl did stay the night. I remember thinking at the time that I wouldn’t do it for love nor money.”
Silently Maeve agreed.
Steve couldn’t officially give her a lift home on his motorbike so when she had recovered to a more normal state, he suggested a taxi. Then Maeve looked at him a little dolefully and said,
“I know it might be a risk but I would rather be with you, than in a car with a stranger. Depending on the autopsy, our man in the woods might be police business, plus there is someone I think you should talk to.”
Sometimes human need overcomes the official line. Steve was thinking that everyday he had to go into an office and meet a wide variety of people under much less careful conditions. She was right it was official business, Steve already knew that he needed to have an ‘on the record’ conversation with her but didn’t think she was in the right state of mind today.
So they agreed, masks on, sanitise the bike and then they were off. It was what Maeve needed, to be able to hold on to Steve and feel that warmth and security. This was real, she thought, if she could just hold onto that thought, then she felt that she could deal with the trauma from the other side.
Steve left her at the door, with an arrangement to meet again. This time he suggested lunch, fish ‘n’ chips on the pavement opposite Close & Hamblin fabrics where if it wasn’t closed you could go in and see the remains of the Roman baths.
As he left her, Steve remembered all the reasons that he liked Maeve, she didn’t look it, but she was strong. She would manage this, and by tomorrow would be ready to hear his news.
When she got inside, Maeve just sat for a moment. Not at all sure what to do next. Then she heard the noises of Orla getting up. Going in and out of the bathroom, water on, for her shower, cupboards opening and closing. Maeve realised that she was following the sounds because they were so normal, so grounding. She picked herself up and began to think, I’m fine, I’m here and it’s time to get on with the day. So first things first, food, it might be mid morning but it was time for breakfast with Orla.
Yes, Orla, and her issues with the life she had chosen. It felt good to think about other people and not focus on herself. The routine business of sorting things out in the kitchen of preparing boiled eggs and toasting some homemade brown bread to build Orla up, all helped, and pretty soon she felt like herself again. She made her own double strong Aeropress coffee with hot milk, and tea for Orla. By the time Orla came downstairs it was all ready and waiting.
“I love you, Mum. You know just how to make things better. I am starving and in need of a proper breakfast. Mmmm, I might even ask you to make me a coffee too, it smells delicious.”
This was exactly what Maeve needed to hear. All good. Now they could tuck in and set the world to rights.
Orla had got the family to move from being everyday meat eaters to a ‘flexitarian’ diet where they had radically cut down on their meat and fish consumption. She had decided that she was a ‘lacto-ovo-vegitarian’ or in Maeve’s language, she could eat cheese, milk, and eggs, though she usually had oat milk, but not meat or fish. Maeve had had trouble keeping up, but once she had got started she had found that it was relatively easy to cut down on meat. She had found some delicious and simple recipes. Now she was taking it as a voyage of discovery, but she was in need of some people to feed.
Following on from their breakfast-lunch, a brunch in the true sense, Maeve could see that Orla was recovering too, her cheeks were pink, and she had regained her ironic sense of humour. Overall she clearly needed more sleep and decent regular food. Maeve had picked up that she has spent most of the last month living on pot-noodles and cup-a-soup. Not ideal. Despite the set-back of losing the trees, Maeve thought that it would take Orla a few days, then she would reassess the situation and decide the best next step. Maeve was glad that Marianne would be home shortly, it was always best when they could talk things through together.
Now that Maeve felt stronger herself, she needed to talk to Ada. She was not expecting the response that she got.