A voice louder than all the others says: ‘You are here to learn how to seduce Jack.’
Jack! Of course, Jack. My true love.
When I enter the apartment the studio door is shut and Smith is nowhere to be seen, so I assume Vann is working. I go straight into the shower and wash off the smells of the Underground, the sweat and the despair of the people in it.
Vann has left a note taped to a CD for me.
I first heard this played in an open-air
restaurant in Thailand. It reminds me of you.
I put the CD in the music system and hit play. The room fills with the pretty sounds of a guitar, a hi-hat and a tambourine.
Sugar, ahhh, honey, honey you are my candy girl…
It is the original 1969 Archies version of ‘Sugar, Sugar’. It makes me smile and lifts my heart. I replay it, and nodding my head, dance around goofily. Funny, I have never been this happy in my life.
I decide that I, too, should send him something. I know his favorite poet is William Butler Yeats. So I Google him and come across the poem ‘He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ I learn the last three lines by heart. I smile to myself. Later when we are lying in bed together I will recite them to him. I will surprise him.
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
It’s still too early to start cooking—yes, I have learnt to cook, and rather well too—so I go into the master bedroom and, sitting on the bed in a fluffy bathrobe, open my magazine. I love celebrity magazines. When they are about to come out on their due dates, I literally can’t wait. My heart starts beating with anticipation. But recently magazines have ceased to hold their magical allure—a peek into the lives of the rich and famous. I flick through the pages listlessly. I know I am listening out for the sound of the studio door opening. I look at the clock: 5.30.
I get off the bed and go back into the living room. The door to the studio stays firmly shut. I move to the music system and look through his CD selection. I recognize nothing. I whirl around as soon as I hear the sound of the upstairs door open. He stands for a moment at the top looking down on me.
‘That was a lovely piece of music. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ he says, sounding very American. I have come to really like his accent. It is very soft and easy on the ear. He comes down the stairs. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Trying to find something good to listen to. Haven’t you got anything mainstream? Like Justin Timberlake or…?’
I trail away when he winces and looks at me with an expression I cannot quite make out. He comes towards me, rifles through his collection, picks out a CD, puts it into the player, attaches the headphones, and holds the headphones out to me.
‘Close your eyes, and listen, really listen.’
‘What is it?’
‘This is the song I want played at my funeral.’
I become still.
‘Go on,’ he urges.
I close my eyes and listen. It starts off with a string instrument and then Indian drums followed by English lyrics. Again and again the words, cannot stay. Despite everything cannot stay. An Indian voice wailing, but beautifully. Aaaaaooooooaaaaaa. There’s no need to say goodbye. Not even to friends or family. All the memories going round, round. The voice so full of longing. Again the beautiful wail. Aaaaaoooooaaaaa. The long road. Cannot stay.
The song is sad on a level that I don’t often encounter. I remove the headphones. A conversation starts up in my head. This is too deep. He wants it played at his funeral. Where will I be then? There will be no us then. A strange emotion comes into my body. It affects my entire being.
We look into each other’s eyes and something passes between us, like discovering a secret code. Vann inside Julie? I shrink away from it. Obviously I will be with Jack then. And I feel strong again. I will not recite the poem to him later. That would be walking down the wrong path.
I look at him. ‘Don’t you have Lady Gaga?’ I ask.
A veil comes over his face. ‘No.’
Lana is back from her honeymoon. She has invited me to go over to Wardown Towers for tea. The last time I was here was on the eve of Lana’s wedding, I had come with Billie and it was already dark, so I had not paid any attention to my surroundings. Now I am sitting in the back of the Bentley alone. I gaze at my surroundings with interest. A guard and gatehouse heralds the start of a long drive that winds through arable fields ringed with wild flower meadows. After about a mile of driving through the estate we passed the long, high brick-walled kitchen garden. Visible in the distance are formal ponds, clipped yew hedges, summerhouses and beds.
At the front door a matronly lady in a gray uniform greets me and takes me through a wing of the house I have not been in before to a greenhouse, the largest I have seen. The roof is V-shaped and it is very old. The floor is made of large stone slabs. Abundant palm trees and the grape vines give the impression of a tropical rainforest. It seems cooler in here. The glass ceiling is lofty. From the open door comes the perfume of honeysuckle.
Lana is wearing an old bottle green sweatshirt and jeans. Her hands are encased in gardening gloves, and she appears to be re-potting a plant. She turns to look at me, and smiles. Even here, standing in an old apron and without a trace of make-up, she looks mind-bogglingly beautiful.
A strange flash of understanding. I like her. I’ve always liked her.
‘What have you been doing to yourself? You look absolutely wonderful,’ she says, her voice ringing with sincerity, and coming forward hugs me.
‘Hi. You’ve picked up a tan,’ I say shyly, and hug her back.
‘I thought we could have tea here since you love flowers so much.’ She gestures toward a beautifully laid wrought iron table. Anyway, it’s a bit of a mausoleum in there with all the dour paintings and drapes never fully opened in order to protect the artwork.’
‘Yeah, I passed a portrait of a stern man with an aristocratic nose and dark, angry eyes. It felt like his eyes were following me around the room.’
‘Ah, that must be the founding father of the Barrington dynasty, an astonishingly shrewd and secretive man. Apparently he possessed an unmatched talent for making money. It is said about him that he played with new kings as young misses do with dolls.’
‘Oh and what about those two totally eerie stuffed owls?’
Lana’s mouth turns downwards. ‘Those were pets. They used to belong to some ancestor.’