The stack of bills and the stack of unopened letters sat side by side on the desk’s green leather inlay, tidy, prim and unassuming. Brenda looked at the piles reproachfully for the story she understood they told and the depth of her own deceit they were witnessing. She interrogated a couple of the paintings on the wall. Smug young women too thin in fantastic fabrics in dazzling shapes and shades did not reply. How should they know what Brenda should do next? What her choices are. The choices facing Brenda were meagre indeed and all of them too much for her to face apart from the nonchoice, the choice that said do nothing. Sit still and safe in someone else’s life until they come to reclaim it. And then whatever happened next would be someone else’s choice not Brenda’s. Explaining this to her static observers, Brenda felt fresh walls go ip around the reality of who she currently was and what she had done and the unreality of participating uninvited in someone else’s life.
The Filofax she had retrieved from Audrey’s handbag was on the desk where she had placed it in readiness for Audrey’s return. Opening the Filofax she learnt more about Audrey from her blood type (B) and her car number plates (one scratched out), to her passport and driving license numbers. There was also an emergency contact detail listing Fiona Bellamy’s address and phone number. Brenda read through the neatly penned entries for flights and Eurostars, for appointments and coded notes, for a death and a funeral entries for which told Brenda that the dead husband’s name was Angus. Returning to the piles on the desk Brenda observed to herself that the bills were mostly directed to Audrey and that the letters with their oddly threatening demeanour mostly had Angus’ name on them.
The Filofax documented a diminishing number of appointments over the course of the year amidst complicated travels between England and France. There were a couple of curious references to “A away” and sometimes “A away (again?)”. As Brenda sat at the sumptuous desk in the immaculate room, watching the elegant trees beyond the windows swaying gracefully, she started to wonder if Audrey’s reality was not quite so perfect. But Brenda had no idea, no idea at all. She watched the steadying trees in the park and took a closer look at the bills matching their dates to activities in the Filofax. There was no particular reason for doing this, but Brenda was looking for symmetry, reliability, patterns that perhaps would give her solace.
One of the bills was from a funeral home, clearly for arranging Angus’ final resting place and the many trappings that went along with it. Brenda glanced at the figures in a state of mild shock. When her Aunty had died her Uncle had arranged and paid for everything. When he had died he had already organised the funeral and prepaid it. Luke and Brenda were not involved. Uncle John had left his house to a veteran’s charity, contents and all and left no trace for Brenda to mourn. All she had from her years with them was the battered old suitcase she’d left with. When Luke’s Mum had died his older brothers handled everything and although Brenda and Luke were at the service, he didn’t want to stay for the wake. In contrast, judging by the bills, Angus Saxton’s send off was nothing short of spectacular. Charges were made for arranging the service, providing a coffin, the coffin itself, celebrant, string quartet, cremation, vehicles, flowers, disbursements, doctors’ fees, more celebrant fees, and a matt teal nickel and silver urn with a black velvet lined and fully personalised oak presentation box. And the VAT. Over £12,000 in all for the coffin alone, more than Brenda had ever seen on a bill before. She pretended to write out a cheque to Hadley Cottage Funeral Services, but couldn’t bring herself to sign the empty envelop on which she had drawn a picture of a blank cheque.