Steam halos her head as the kettle comes to a boil. She pushes me away and fills her mug with hot water.
“Black market. That’s how I got them.” Lifting the mug to her face, she pulls the aroma into her nose. “Mmmm.” She walks past me to her easy chair and plonks her mug on the coffee table. “So, why are you on the run?”
When I turn to face her she is not looking at me and the question hangs casually in the air. I don’t know what to say. The question isn’t specific enough. Until this moment I hadn’t realised how long a process it was to reach the ultimate decision of running away. And now that I have, I don’t know if it will do me good to analyse it. I suddenly feel very tired.
“You don’t have to tell me.” She looks up quickly and meets my eye. “It’s obviously been a tough decision. You’re safe here. I sympathise.” A small smile backs up her last statement. I move to the cream sofa and sprawl myself across it.
“I’m tired.” I close my eyes.
“It’s okay. We don’t have to talk right now.” Her voice is soothing, soft; it reminds me again of my mother and an ache starts up in my chest again. I cough.
“I’m tired of everything.”
“That’s a little dramatic.”
“Is it? I don’t care.”
“We live in dramatic times, for fuck’s sake,” I drawl out in my tired voice and she laughs. She’s probably right. What do I know? I open my eyes and reach for my wine. She pushes it with her stockinged toe towards me and it reminds me of the YouTube video they found on my hard drive.
“Do you think it’s wrong to have a …” I pause, pursing my lips. How can I say this? “do you think it’s okay to like stockinged feet?” I look down into my wine glass and observe the imperfections of the ruby black surface.
“No. They feel nice don’t they? Thin stockings provide a light barrier that smoothes the skin. They feel so good to touch don’t they?” She is smiling. I can hear it in her voice. And I feel… what? Matronised.
“You saw the reports in the Party Line?” I stare at her and she nods simply. “What did you think?”
“I thought nothing. It’s the Party Line. I’m more interested in the truth.” Sipping her coffee she leans back in the easy chair and it reclines. I didn’t know it could do this. My Gran had a chair like this. I feel more relaxed and take a sip of my wine.
“I couldn’t carry on with it.”
“No. Why? What changed?”
“It was all a lie.”
“But you knew that when you were inaugurated.”
“Yes. But I was still lying to myself.”
“Right!” She’s leaning forward now. I’ve caught her interest. “So, you woke up?” Her eyes glitter with intensity.
“Yeah. Guess so. I couldn’t carry on.” I shake my head slowly.
“Why couldn’t you carry on? What woke you up?” It’s like she’s been waiting for this conversation and she’s suddenly really interested in me. It makes me want to hold back and keep quiet. But I also want to explore it.
“They wanted me to knowingly lie.”
“What do you mean?”
I sigh. What do I mean? “We had a meeting. The whole cabinet was present. The air felt different. More serious. I knew something was going to happen.” I glance away over the Thames.
“And?” There is an impatient note in her voice.
“I still feel sworn to secrecy. I still feel bound to them. Can you believe it?” I implore her with my eyes and shake my head.
“What did they tell you to do?” Her voice is stern and focuses my mind.
“They wanted me to tell the people at Wembley Stadium that the time had come to start nominating people worthy to die.” I shake my head again. “It had all been propaganda up ’til then. Not really real. I thought we wouldn’t go through with it.”
“The idea that in order to cultivate a strong nation we must cut back the weak?” She asks it with such clarity and without emotion that I want to cry. I nod.
“Not just cut back the weak. That we must -” this is so hard to say around the lump in my throat. “That we must… nominate the weak that we know personally.” I gasp. Big tears overwhelm my eyes and I shake; the surface of my wine is fractured.
“So, now what?” She is almost cold.
“I don’t know.” My nose is running. I sniff. Sipping my wine, I realise something: I have no idea what I’m going to do next. Where I’m going to go. Where can I go? I have nowhere. My apartment is watched; I can’t go back there. I can’t stay here forever. I look at her, “you are the only one I can trust.”
She flinches. “What about your mother?”
“No she isn’t.”
I stare at her for a long time. “To me she is.”
A knock at the door makes us both jump. She laughs and gathers herself, “back in a mo. Help yourself to more wine if you like.”
I look at my glass. It’s empty. I don’t recall finishing it. Sliding my feet across the wooden floor I retrieve the wine bottle and fill my glass. My mother is there. I can’t push her aside any more.
Rebecca’s cheeks are flushed. She is smiling. Settling herself in the easy chair she says, “we need to talk about your mother.”
I stand and take my wine to the glass wall. Pressing my forehead against the cool glass I feel safe momentarily.
“She misses you.”
Instantly I turn and face her. “You know her!” I realise my mouth is open and I return to the glass, my breath clouding the view.
“Steve, you became a Party official to spite her didn’t you?” So gentle, her voice. I want to punch something. I spin round to face her again.
“What’s with the fake Charles Dickens book?”
“I don’t kno-”
“Don’t treat me like I’m stupid. My mother did enough of that. You think you’re so fucking cool don’t you? I’m sick of this.”
“Steve, I don’t have a fake Charles Dickens book. You can see for yourself.” She motions to the bookcase.
“No, not now you don’t. But yesterday you did. Before I dropped the wine glass I was looking at it.” I stare her in the eye, defying her to tell me I’m wrong. That twinkle reaches her mouth; the corners twitch.
“It’s not what you think.”
Thank god. I thought she was going to lie to me again. I walk back to the sofa and sit. She stretches and moves a stockinged foot back and forth across the edge of the coffee table.
“I needed to check something out. Make sure you were clean.”
“What do you mean?”
“I took the condom we used yesterday to a lab.”
“I took the used condom to a lab.”
“I needed to check you out.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your mother is better at explaining it than I am.”
“What the fuck has my mother got to do with this?”
“You should know that by now.”
“Well, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me?”
She looks uncomfortable. She’s inching her toes along the table back and forth, watching them as they move, and looking like she’s having trouble formulating her words.
“Your mother… is my… um. Teacher.”
I stare at her, open mouthed. I don’t know what it means. My mother disappeared years ago. I hated her for it. She wanted me to go with her. I thought she was mad. My head swims with the possibility of seeing her again. I’d become used to pushing her out of my mind. This overwhelming vision of her Is too much. I realise I’m holding my breath and I take tiny breaths in and out, barely there.
“I realise this is very painful for you, Steve.” She’s leaning forward and looking at me, her eyebrows, so beautifully sculptured, knitting together. I raise my eyes to the ceiling and back to hers, still taking a minimal amount of air.
“She never cared about me. Not really.” I shake my head. Her gaze remains steady and holds mine. “She left.” There is a large lump in my throat and I dare not swallow. My eyes feel dry and tired.
“She has missed you so much.” The words are so soft. I give a tiny laugh into them. I want to believe them.
“I need to lie down now,” I say to the words and I get up from the sofa and slowly walk to the bedroom to lay on the soft bed. She follows me and, kneeling at the side of the bed, strokes my forehead.
“She loves you, Steve.” She whispers it. My breathing fills the room. I don’t want her to love me. It’s too much.
“She’s been watching your public persona and hoping that you’d see the light. That you’d come to us.”
There’s a burning sensation in my belly. My solar plexus. Daylight seems really bright. It hurts my eyes.
“The light is hurting my eyes.”
“Okay. Let me close the blinds.” She gets up and moves to the window to close them. Climbing on the bed, she leans against the headboard and my instinct is to inch towards her and lay my head in her lap. She welcomes it and strokes my hair, “it’s a shock. I know. It’ll take a bit of time to get used to it.”
Laying on my back I open my eyes and realise I’m not where I thought I was. It’ll never be the same again. I feel free and a smile hovers on my lips. A snuffle in my left ear announces someone else and it all comes flooding back. My bones feel heavy. Quietly, slowly, I turn my head and see her: red hair frames her sleeping face. She knows my mother. I blink slowly, watching her dream; tiny muscles make tiny movements and I wonder where she is.