I wake up exhausted.
In fact, last night I was so dead to the world, I did not even wake up at dawn to take care of Sorab. Blake did. Before he left for work he gently shook me awake and said, ‘Shall I ask Gerry to come take care of Sorab today?’
But I had shaken my head. ‘No, I’m fine.’
‘OK, I’ll call you mid-morning.’
I pull myself out of bed. I am so tired I feel almost tearful. I hear Sorab cry and I move instinctively towards the sound. I pick him up and put him in his playpen. He looks at me with his great big blue eyes and grizzles softly. I know what he wants. He wants me to carry him. But I can’t. Not today.
Today I just want to go back to bed and sleep. I wipe my hand down my face. I go over to the tin of biscuits. Flavored with organic grape juice they are his favorite. I thrust one into his hand. He starts nibbling on it and I stumble out of the room. I have a plan. I will leave him with Billie and I will have a good sleep. I need it.
By the time I reach Billie I actually feel dizzy.
‘What’s the matter with you?’ Billie says.
‘Tired,’ I say. ‘Can you just watch him while I go back and sleep for a few hours?’
‘Whoa,’ she says. Her voice sounds far away. ‘You’re going nowhere like this. Come here.’
Obediently I turn towards her voice. She leads me to her bed. I fall gratefully into it; it smells of her hairspray and perfume. Familiar. I turn my face towards it.
I feel a cool hand on my forehead. ‘Shit,’ I hear her say. ‘You’re burning up with fever.’
I go to sleep and when I wake up I hear Blake’s voice, raised, angry.
‘Why didn’t you call me?’
‘It’s not like she’s dying. She’s got the f**king flu. Everybody gets it.’
‘I’m calling the doctor.’
‘Who’s stopping you?’
I feel Blake sitting on the bed beside me. He seems odd, distressed.
‘I’m all right. It’s just the flu.’
‘The doctor will be here soon.’
The doctor confirms Billie’s diagnosis. ‘Flu, but,’ he cautions, ‘she does seem malnourished. Perhaps even anemic. I’d recommend a full check-up.’
Other doctors come and inject me with cocktails of vitamins, C, B complex. I must admit I feel better after these injections. I am spoon-fed tomato soup that Laura has sent. It doesn’t taste anything like the canned Heinz tomato soup that I am used to. I make a face.
‘It’s just missing the MSG,’ Blake comments dryly. He makes me finish it all.
I am then moved into my old room. The sheets have been changed. They feel cool against my skin. It is a relief to fall into soft blackness, but I sleep badly. Tossing and turning through the night. Sometimes I open my eyes and Blake is always there. Awake and working. He has brought a desk into my room. The fever breaks in the early morning hours. I sit in bed and eat a cup full of jelly. The jelly tastes funny. I complain and grumble.
‘You are such a terrible patient. Get it all down. It is all good stuff. You’re body is crying out for minerals and vitamins,’ Blake scolds.
To my absolute horror I am put into a wheelchair the next day and wheeled down the corridor and into the lift. It stinks of urine and I see Blake’s mouth settle into a hard line. He hates dirt, chaos, disorder, ugliness.
For a week I am invalid, but the expensive daily injections and cups of red, green and yellow jelly are useful, and soon I am almost myself. My appetite returns and I feel good again.
But I have lost five days of my 42.
I meet Blake for lunch in Maide Vale, in a restaurant that reflects the laid-back style of the area.
‘Why are we meeting here?’ I ask.
‘Got something to show you,’ he says.
‘What?’ I ask curiously. His eyes are twinkling, he laughs at my impatience.
‘Why spoil the surprise?’
After lunch, Tom drives us to an apartment block in the middle of Little Venice. We get out and take the lift to the fifth floor. Blake fishes a key out of his pocket, and with a lopsided smile at my uncomprehending frown puts the key into the door and opens it. We step into an empty apartment. I am immediately drawn to the balcony. It has a wonderful view of all the waterways and canals that make up Little Venice. Pretty amazing.
‘Do you like it?’
‘Yeah,’ I say carefully, not sure where this is going. And then suddenly it hits me. This is my kiss-off present at the end of our 42 days. I keep a bright smile on my face, hope it doesn’t look too false, and turn around.
He has taken Sorab out of the pram and is coming towards me with him in his arms. ‘He’ll drool all over your suit,’ I say, trying to appear normal.
‘Come, I’ll show you the rest,’ he says. He seems almost excited. That kind of annoys me. I remember Jack saying, no man wants a woman for just 42 days. You’ll end up as his mistress.
Silently, I follow him around the two-bedroom flat. The main bedroom is sunny and spacious, but my heart is breaking inside. He wants to stash me away here!
‘Do you think Billie will like it?’
‘Billie?’ I ask, confused.
He nods. ‘You know her taste, do you think she will like it?’
I frown. ‘Why?’
‘It’s for her.’
‘What?’ I laugh. A crazy cackle.
I laugh again with relief. It is tumbling inside me like an upturned bowl of marbles. The sound a joy to behold. ‘She’ll love it.’
‘That’s settled then,’ he says, in a satisfied tone. ‘It is in your name, of course, since I know that she keeps…er…complicated financial arrangements with the Her Majesty’s government, but whenever she becomes financially independent you can transfer it into her name.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘I don’t want you visiting her on that horrible estate. Every time you tell me you are going there I almost break out in hives.’
I can’t stop smiling.
‘Obviously it needs a new bathroom and kitchen, but you girls can redecorate it in any way you want. Just liaise with Laura and she will open accounts wherever you want.’
I am so full of joy I am almost in tears. ‘It is the most wonderful thing that anyone has ever done for Billie.’
He becomes suddenly brusque with embarrassment. ‘Well, I have to get back to the office. Tom will drop you off wherever you want to go. See you at home this evening.’