Alice kept us on the edge for quite a while, including one particular day when she arrested, which left my uncle shaking and shaken. I stayed as long as I could manage, but in the end I had no choice but to head back west, this time with my wife beside me, which did ease the strain of the driving. I love my sister to distraction, but why she had to pick the other side of Britain to live…
No. I knew exactly why, and he was banged away in more than secure premises and probably doped to the eyeballs. Out of sight; leave him out of mind. That thought drew a snort from me, which I had to explain to my wife, and she started the run of bad jokes that always showed that she was worried.
“Vicky’s due any day, Lainey. That’ll bring another comment from my mam, innit?”
“She can sod off, aye? Show some bloody gratitude is what she should do. Kev and Vicky have gone above and beyond, aye? Even Sar, having her at the wedding! Not in the mood now, not at all. I’ll end up saying the wrong thing, and with her even bloody breathing is wrong. Look, let’s get home, check on them later. Don’t want to drive angry, do I?”
Siân just squeezed my knee and left the subject alone, but she was straight to the phone when we arrived.
“Water’s bloody broken, Lainey!”
She turned back to the phone, and it was in Welsh, which meant that it could only be her bloody mother at the other end. That made for a shorter conversation by far, and she joined me on the sofa just after I had put two mugs of tea down.
“Kev’s in with Vicky, Lainey. He’s going to ring us when he’s got news. Ta. Needed this”
I began to have some reservations about our own plans as the hours went by. Obviously, this wasn’t Vicky’s first, but she still took what seemed like an age before Kev was able to announce the arrival of their seven pounds six ounces son. I could hear his own strain in his voice, but he was clearly fighting it with a strong dose of elation.
“He’s perfect, Lainey! And we’ve already got his name sorted!”
“Er… Kevin Twm”
“No, love. After your Dad, if you don’t mind. Can’t call him after you, that might cause him a few problems”
“Christening for this one?”
“With Siân’s Mam in the house? What do you think? Yes, got the local chapel warned, and there’s a pub just down the road for when you’ve had enough tea or orange squash”
“Everything planned, then. Well done that man”
There were some odd squeaks at his end, probably a trolley going down the corridor, and then he was almost whispering. “Your ma-in-law’s been getting mail, Lainey. Particular mail”
“Bondage Weekly? Whips Are Us? Broomsticks and Cauldron? Muckspreader Monthly?”
“Er, em, no. The return address is on that place down from Anglesey. The other island”
“Môn” I said automatically.
“No, the other one. Little place. Forty thousand saints or whatnot”
“Enlli? What the hell for?”
“It took me some digging, but it’s a retreat place. Godbotherer Butlins, like”
“Bloody specialised holiday, Kev”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Lainey, I don’t think it is. I think she’s looking to do a flit”
I was turning into bloody Echo. “What do you mean flit, butt?”
“Ah, woman, you can be so blind sometimes. Think of what she had to do just to have somewhere to live, the humble pie you fed her, you and Siân. Me too, to be honest. She hasn’t changed her views, not one bit, just learned how to keep it zipped when people are around. She dotes on Taz, really does, but you two just rub her face in it. You should have split up years ago, you and Siân, and she can’t see why you haven’t”
I drew a breath to tell him exactly why, and he shushed me. “I can see how you two are, aye? So can everyone else. She just has this big filter in her head; computer says no, but just the Bible in her case. It’s not that she won’t see, Lainey, just that she can’t. Sorry, but we’ve had this all the time. Low grade niggle, innit, but still a niggle”
Shit. “Sorry, Kev, if we had realised…”
“Not at all, love. She’s been good with the little ‘un, and I’m sure she’ll be good with the boy. I mean, she’s saved us a lot of hassle with Vicky in hospital, babysitting and that, but, well, every now and again something will be said”
“Does she need help packing?”
“Fuck me, Lainey, you really don’t like her, do you?”
A memory of that pinched face, the damning words. “Why do you think Siân took my name, Kev? Things were said that can never be taken back. I won’t wish ill on anybody---“
Anybody not called Evans, that is.
“---but well, if we can help her find somewhere that suits, it’s best for all of us, aye? Don’t you agree?”
I had another thought. “Kev, you know what the links are like to that island?”
“Aye, and really, really nasty currents there are. Got Hell’s Mouth just along the coast”
“No, Lainey, that would be too much”
“Eh? Oh! No, Kev, just if she changes her mind she’ll find coming back tricky. Don’t want her drowned, aye?”
“I will take that one under advice, Inspector Powell. Now, dates…”
I rang Mam immediately afterwards.
“Kev and Vicky have a little boy, Mam. Seven pound six. And they’ve got the name already. Kevin Twm”
There was a catch in her voice. “This is after your father, Elaine?”
“We thought… We thought, all those years ago, we said it then, that we would have no more, no grandchildren, and now we have one, and this, this is an honour, this is almost another for us, with the name. I am sorry, cariad, but I will have to go. I will tell your father, and he will be proud”
She hung up abruptly, clearly to spare me from hearing her sob. My own tears needed wiping as well.
In the end, the christening went as well as it could, given the po-faced nature of the celebrants in Bethel Chapel, and we made our escape to the Prince of Wales a couple of hundred yards down the street. It was warm enough to sit out in the garden, which allowed us to take the children, Taz fussing around her new brother as if she’d just been handed the world’s most wonderful dolly to play with. We didn’t spend all day there, which was fortunate as one of us wasn’t walking too well, and she had arrived with Uncle Arwel. They had slipped in at the back of the Chapel just before things got properly underway, and as she was in a wheelchair she needed the space. I only spotted her when we turned to leave, and Arwel was already pushing her down the path.
“Alice? How are you feeling?”
“Hiya, Elaine, Siân. Arwel does a good job of pandering and pampering, doesn’t he? And in answer to your question, a lot better than I was. The Meccano’s gone, for a start. Still got to be careful, no standing, but as I have my portable seat and a Great Big Man to do my bidding, what more could a girl ask for?”
Arwel grunted as he picked up the pace, drawn by the lure of the pub. “You do half talk some rubbish at times, woman. Man can’t go turning up at church on his own, someone will try and set him up. Miserable bunch of teetotallers, that lot”
Despite his words, there was a twinkle back in his eyes that I had thought lost forever in those dark days at the hospital. He grinned again. “She can hardly go up to the bar, aye, so I get to go through her purse, see how much cash she’s got”
Alice laughed. “Bugger off, Arwel! Lainey, he hasn’t let me pay for a bloody thing, not since picking me up from home, not even something towards petrol”
We entered the pub garden, and I nodded to the obvious door. “Ladies’, Alice, or Disabled?”
“I don’t need--- ah, if you help me into the Disabled I can do what I need to do”
I got the key from the bar and wheeled her in, and as soon as the door shut she turned on me. She was polite, pleasant and friendly, but it was most definitely a Turn.
“Not now, Elaine, and I’ve said the same to your sister. Arwel and I will work this out, one way or the other, but WE will do so. There is a chance here, a chance that could be smothered”
“A chance for what, Alice?”
“Do you love your uncle, girl?”
“Oh god aye. He can be bloody irritating sometimes, but there’s no bigger heart, unless it’s Sar’s, aye?”
“Aye. Yes. He is a man of heart, a very deep man. If, well, if things had been different, my cap would have been firmly set at him”
“What do you mean by ‘would have been’, Alice? From what I have seen of you, the way you look at him, there’s certainty there in you”
Still sat in the wheelchair, no need for the facilities, she cocked her head. “That is the point, Elaine. Look, the more I settled into being me, the easier it got, for it wasn’t starting anything, more stopping something else. Stopping the acting, in fact. What Arwel has seen is me, not Alan. He sees me very clearly indeed, and that is why I need to hold my horses very firmly. Others will not see clearly, and that will have an impact on him, on his life”
“So what does that mean for you, Alice? You looking to pull back?”
“Do you really think I could? Elaine, here is my confession. Not for the first time in my life, I am in love with someone, and if you see what I mean I really hope it will be the last time. There is no uncertainty in my heart, none at all. That is where I stand”
“You have told him this?”
“No, and I will not do so. He will make his own choices, come to his own understanding and decision, or he will not. If I tell him what to do, in any way, what happens after a year or two if he has second thoughts. No, the Arwel I know, the Arwel I love, as you know very well, will always think things through before he makes a choice in his life, and that choice will be his and his alone”
She looked away for a few seconds, before turning back to me, dabbing at her eyes with a square of toilet paper. “Elaine, the only people who have talked sense in this one have been Enid and your mother. You and my dear Sarah are so much alike I despair. Could you just let an old man and an old woman be foolish for once?”
The crying started in earnest when I hugged her.
Arwel was waiting at the table with a pile of cutlery, paper napkins and every sort of condiment imaginable.
“Thought you two’d died in there, aye? Lainey, I’ve ordered you a pie on the advice of that one with the hair you might know, and I’ve got the trout some scampi and chips. She’s been on a sea food diet since coming out of that place, aye?”
Alice sighed. “See food and eat it, he says. Do I get a say in this one?”
“Here’s the pudding menu, woman”
“Yes, but what are you having?”
“Mixed grill, with the cheesy chips”
Alice shook her head. Ruefully. “I will have to start working on your diet, Arwel. Don’t want you popping your clogs on me”
Once more, he grunted. “Knew there’d be a downside to courting”
Pull back, Elaine. Let them find their own way.
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