All that about the cigarettes wasn’t without consequences. Like some people who think a lot before acting, who are very sure of themselves, Anne wouldn’t tolerate being disobeyed, dishonoured. By doing the soft thing, by releasing her harsh hands from my face, she was going against that side of herself. She’d guessed that something was happening, and she would have made me own up to whatever it was, but at the last moment she gave in to pity or indifference. Because she had just as much trouble taking care of me, training me even, as she did admitting my weaknesses. The only thing that pushed her into this role as my tutor, my teacher, was a feeling of duty – that by marrying my dad, she was taking responsibility for me as well. I would have liked it if the constant disapproval, if I can call it that, could have improved to just annoyance. I would have liked it if I could have felt that she was just over-sensitive, because then it would have faded as she got used to me. It’s much easier to get used to someone’s behaviour if you don’t feel like it’s up to you to sort them out. In six months she would have been tired of me, but in an affectionate way, and that was exactly what I needed. But that wasn’t going to happen, because she felt responsible for me, and in a way she was, because I was still easily mouldable. That and stubborn.
So she was cross, and she let me know it. A few days later at lunch I was talking again about how unbearable all this holiday homework was, when an argument began. I was a bit too blunt, I even managed to offend my dad, and Anne ended up locking me in my room and taking the key, all without raising her voice even a little. I didn’t know she’d done it, so when I got thirsty and I went to the door, I tried to open it and it didn’t budge. I realised it was locked. I’d never been locked up in my life. I panicked, I really began to panic. I ran to the window – there was no way I could get out through there. I turned around, really beginning to lose it, and I threw myself at the door til I badly hurt my shoulder. I tried to break the lock, gritting my teeth, I really didn’t want to have to scream for someone to open it. I jammed my nail clippers in and managed to break them. So I stayed stood in the middle of the room, my hands empty. Perfectly still, noticing that I was becoming calmer as I began to think more clearly. It was my first contact with real cruelty – I felt it building inside me, weaving bit by bit into my thoughts. I lay out on the bed, and carefully built a plan. The cold anger took over so much that I got up three or four times in the afternoon to go out of the room and bumped into the door in surprise.
At six o’clock my father came up to let me out. I sat up automatically when he entered the room. He looked at me without saying anything, and smiled at me just as automatically.
– Shall we have a chat? he asked.
– About what? I said. You would hate it and I would as well. We’d just give excuses and nothing would change.
– Maybe true.
He seemed relieved.
– You need to be more gentle with Anne. More patient.
That surprised me. Me, patient with Anne? He’d got it the wrong way round. So he saw Anne as a wife that he was forcing on his daughter. More than the opposite. I began to hope that I really could achieve what I planned.
– I’ve been horrible, I said. I’m going to apologise to her.
– Are you… Erm… Are you happy?
– Yeah of course, I said, lightly. Anyway, if we end up jarring a bit too much with Anne, I’ll just get married or something, that’s all.
I knew that answer would hurt him.
– Don’t even think about it! You’re not snow-white for god’s sake, she’s not your evil queen… You think you could put up with leaving me so early? It’s only been two years since you came back.
This thought was just as painful to me as it was to him. I glimpsed the moment when I would cry against his shoulder, and talk about our lost happiness and out of control emotions. But I couldn’t get there with his help.
– You know I’m exaggerating a lot. Anne and me get each other, basically. But we obviously have to give each other a bit of slack…
– Yeah, he said. Of course.
He must have thought like me, that I would be the only one making any effort in that area.
– You get that I know Anne is essentially right, I said. Her life is a lot more successful than ours, a lot more meaningful.
He began to shake his head a little, but I took no notice –
– Just give it one or two months and I’ll have absorbed all her ideas, and we won’t have any more stupid discussions like that. It’ll just take some patience.
He looked at me, visibly defeated.
Scared, also. He’d lose a partner in crime for his future adventures, and he’d lose a bit of the past as well.
– There’s no need to exaggerate, he said, quietly. I understand that I’ve made you lead a life that’s maybe not appropriate for you age, and erm… mine neither, but it wasn’t a stupid life, it wasn’t unhappy… No. In the end we weren’t too… er… sad, no, unbalanced, for the two years. We don’t need to deny it all like that just because Anne has a bit of a different way of looking at things.
– We don’t need to deny it, but we do need to leave it behind, I said with conviction.
– Obviously, said the poor guy, and we went downstairs.
I apologised to Anne without feeling at all embarrassed. She said I needn’t apologise, that our argument must have been down to the heat. I felt indifferent and cheerful.
I found Sal again in the pine woods, as agreed – I told him what we needed to do. He listened with a mix of fear and admiration. Then he held me in his arms, but it was too late, I had to go back. It was amazing how tough it was to leave him there. If he was looking for strings to hold me with, he’d found them. My body recognised him, met his again, unfurled against it. I kissed him hard, I wanted to hurt him, to mark him so he wouldn’t forget for one moment of the evening, so he would dream about me all night. Because the night would seem endless without him, without him against me, without his skillfulness, without his sudden passion, his patient strokes…