Chapter 01

Lia tried contracting her fingers into a fist several times. It was hard – the fingers were swollen, as always when she was too hot and too thirsty. She checked her pockets and found several coins, enough to buy her a cold drink in a near-by pub. She had often found herself in a similar situation, but never before had she decided to yield to the heat before she got back home. Still, home was quite far away and the thirst unbearable.

She sneaked into far side of the cemetery, and walked down to the main gate. There she turned left and a few minutes later she walked into the pub. She ordered a coke and excitedly realised she could sit at one of the tables on the raised platform at the front windows. She had only been to the pub twice before and always in the company of her disabled friend, so the step had been out of the question.

“We’re all going to die!” announced a drunken young man loudly. This caught Lia’s attention. This pub was usually a quiet, friendly place; people didn’t get that demonstrative here, did they?

“You’ve had enough,” said the girl at the bar calmly. “You should go, really.”

“Who cares, for God’s sake? At least I’d have a choice to go as I please. They’re going to slaughter us like animals anyway,” the young man protested.

“Not with your kind warning,Constantine. Now move it or I’ll have you moved,” the bartender told him decisively. With her words, two men appeared at each side of him.

“All right, all right!” he gave up. “I’m going.”

The two men accompanied him out of the door to make sure he didn’t change his mind. Lia checked her phone to see it was onlyhalf past six. What drove people to be so drunk at half past sixin the evening? She felt more sorry for the man they calledConstantinethan appalled by his behaviour.

She stayed for a further twenty minutes till she finished her coke and decided it was time she got back to Gerald’s. She was extending her time-off quite a lot as it was. But when she came out of the side entrance to the pub, she saw something that rang further delay – the drunken young man was sitting with his back leaned against one of the cars at the car park and banging his head against its door.

Lia approached him carefully, still not sure whether it was a safe thing to do. He didn’t even notice her coming.

“Hey,” she said gently, “can I help you?”

He looked up abruptly, his eyes ablaze with hatred. “God, why do you have to be so ugly?” he groaned spitefully.

“Well, I’m sorry, but it seems that pretty girls have better things to do than saving lonely drunks at the car park.”

“What do you want?”

“Why are you sitting here like this?”

“Can’t find the lock with the key.”

“Since when are car locks opened with a key?” she wished to know.

“You know, you’re right,” he remembered and stood up to try the button on the pendant, which of course worked. “Thanks. I owe you.”

He proceeded to sitting behind the wheel and trying to insert the key in the ignition.

“What are you doing, you idiot? Do you want to get yourself killed?” Lia realised what she had helped him to do.

“We’re all going to die anyway,” he protested. “Can’t see the bloody point anyhow.”

“Well, I for one can see better ways of going than having a suicidal drunk smash my car, can’t you?”

“Get lost, you stupid hag, and mind your own business.”

“I’ll drive you home if you tell me where you live,” she offered, prepared to just give up on him if he refused. She was feeling particularly patient tonight, but even this patience had limitations.

“Wish I knew,” he said, suddenly looking surprised and thoughtful, as if he only just remembered this was why he wanted to get into his car and drive away, but couldn’t remember the other part – where the hell his home was.

“You must remember something,” she reasoned. “You don’t look that stoned to me. Come on, is it far? Is it a house, or a flat? What does it look like?”

“Aargh,” he groaned, the questions came in too quick a succession for him to take them in. “Orchard,” he said then. “Orchard… and a barn with an arc window.”

“Seriously? That’s where you live?”

“Yeah. So? You know it?”

“I’ve been trespassing on your property,” she gave him a vague explanation. “I mean the orchard. Come on, shift. I’ll take you there.”

Constantinevacated the driver’s seat and gave himself up to Lia’s assistance.

Lia had been circling the barn like a lusting animal around its prey for ages. It was an old stone building with tall arc windows on each side, tastefully reconstructed and refreshingly huge. Lia resented confined spaces, and envied anyone who could live in such vastness. There were openings in the tall hedge around the orchard, and much used pathways, but she was never sure whether the owner of the barn allowed people to just roam in there. No one ever drew her out of the orchard, though, even when she got very close to the barn. But if the master of the house was like this often, that explained a lot.

“What’s your name?” she asked, to be told officially.

“Constantine. Yours?” he managed, although his drunken state was getting the better of him.

“Lia.”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” he announced instead of an answer, and Lia obligingly stopped the car to let him out.

His normally tanned complexion looked very pale when he climbed back in, and it seemed like the evening air and empty stomach sobered him up a bit. “Ok, let’s go,” he whispered. Lia nodded and got the car moving again. “Could you miss the speed bumps on the road along the common, please?” he asked quietly.

She smiled. “Yeah, that wouldn’t be wise, would it? Ok, I’ll find another way,” she promised him, and she did, even though it took them considerably longer to finally reach Constantine’s home.

“I’ll see you in, shall I?” she offered, and he nodded. She therefore supported him all the way inside the barn, into a huge living room where she let him drop onto a sofa. She found a woollen blanket thrown carelessly over an armchair, so she picked it up and covered him. She took off his shoes and made sure his feet were covered properly, and then pulled a pillow under his head. She thought he had already dozed off, but suddenly he said: “You can stay if you like…”

“I can’t,” she shook her head. “I’ll come around tomorrow and bring you something for the hangover, though. But now I’m late.”

“For what?”

“For work. I look after a disabled guy and he needs me to be there at night, in case he woke up and started choking,” she explained.

“Right,” he nodded, and then fell asleep for real.

Lia shrugged and left. It was a fifteen minute walk fromConstantine’s barn to Gerald’s, which Lia spent remembering his job description (Gerald is a very easy-going man: this must not be taken advantage of!) and feeling a bit guilty, because taking advantage of his easy-going nature was what she was doing almost constantly. Still, for some obscure reason, Gerry loved her. He said it was because she made him laugh, but Lia doubted that was enough of a reason to keep a carer if they sucked in all other aspects.

“Hello sunshine!” she smiled when she unlocked the door and entered Gerry’s bungalow. “I’m sorry I’m late. I stopped for a coke at Two Chimneys and met the owner of the barn I’ve been going so Pavlovian about. I actually had to drive him home, he was horribly drunk.”

“Whats he like?” Gerry typed on his litewriter.

“Young and very handsome, in an inconspicuous way… and quite rude… a bit delusional, I’d say, but maybe that was the alcohol talking.”

“Will u see him again?”

“Well, I’d like to check on him in the morning if that’s ok with you. He might be in for a decent hangover.”

Gerry laughed and then nodded. “OK, go.”

“Thanks,” smiled Lia and went into her room to change. Then she washed her hands and went to the kitchen to make Gerry dinner. Gerry meanwhile played The Beatles on his computer in his study opposite, and it amused him greatly how Lia never failed to sing along and knew most of the songs by heart.

Gerry was fifty-three and could have been completely healthy had it not been for complications at birth and tragic negligence of his mother’s midwife. As a result, he had no control over his movements apart from his head and neck and couldn’t speak (apart from the occasional ‘yeah’ and ‘no’). Quite amazingly, his brain remained intact and over the years he was able to invent all kinds of gadgets to help him survive as independently as possible. He also had a childlike sense of humour and Lia found herself making up wild stories and legends for him, mostly about the neighbours’ cats. The lady next door, who suffered from MS, had two beautiful black ‘basement cats’ that loved to sit on top of Gerry’s garden shed, no doubt plotting the end of the world. And each morning, when Lia got Gerry dressed in his chair and on his way to his study, there was a white and ginger ‘slightly rusted ceiling cat’ waiting to greet him across the car park. Gerry also claimed his loft to be full of dead social workers. He said there were sixty-four of them, upon which Lia laughed and expressed her surprise at the fact that he still counted them.

Lia was very lucky to have got a client like Gerry. She had lots of freedom and fair amount of money for the little she did, and apart from a few things Gerry would do or say that set her off like a volcano (although she was fuming privately and never told him), they got on really well. The only physical trouble, beside his disability, Gerry had was that he couldn’t stay lying in bed. It was all right when he was asleep, but once he woke up, he needed to be seated, otherwise he could choke. It only happened once since he came to Lia’s care, but she couldn’t take the risk of leaving him alone during night-time.

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