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It was two hours before the news came through confirming it. The guests filed out of the church shaking their heads. Kerry heard the word ‘pity’ over and over. When two old blokes from either side of the church began laughing on the way out they stopped suddenly, and the laughter that had echoed around the church subsided so that the only remaining noise was that of feet, shuffling slowly out of the building.
Neither woman had expected to go on holiday together again. Back in the nineties, they’d been in a group of girls who went to Ibiza year after year, on drinking sprees, free of the shackles of the shit jobs their lives were restricted by. Now here they were, lying together in a four-poster bed, sharing a champagne breakfast as the morning sunlight climbed the Lake District hills.
‘Still can’t believe he did that to you, mate,’ said Lydia.
‘Well, like I say, we just need to make the best of it,’ replied Kerry.
‘Must be heartbreaking for you though.’
‘Just drink your champagne.’
‘Not that nice, to be honest.’
‘You’re not paying, are you?’
‘Told you, I don’t mind giving you a few quid or something.’
‘Just get it down your neck.’
Lydia finished the glass of champagne and then got up to look out of the high window at the hills of sun and shade.
‘Lydia, will you at least put a dressing gown on?’
‘Okay, mate. Hey, might bring Tim here sometime.’
‘Oh, your husband, right.’
‘Oh, sorry, mate.’
‘Rub it in, why don’t you?’
‘I’m just winding you up. Look, I’m a free woman again, aren’t I?’
Lydia met up with her husband in Patterdale and they had a meal in the White Lion. She came back in the early evening, and saw Kerry in the beer garden of the hotel, chatting away to a man with long blonde hair.
‘Hey Lydia, meet Lewis. Can’t believe it, we used to work together.’
‘Oh hi, er, I’m just going up for a shower, mate, be back down soon. Nice to meet you, er … Lewis?’
As Lydia towel-dried herself she looked out of the high window of the room and down at the beer garden. She saw Kerry smiling at Lewis. She couldn’t believe it. She got dressed and went back down to the beer garden, stopping off at the bar to get herself a pint.
‘Oh, sorry,’ she said when she got back, ‘I should have asked if you two wanted a drink.’
‘It’s okay, Lydia, no problem.’
‘So, Lewis? You and Kerry worked together?’
‘Er … yeah. Was a long time ago, though.’
‘You know about yesterday then?’
‘Yes, Kerry was just telling me.’
‘Yeah, my brother.’
‘Ah, didn’t realize,’ he said.
‘I’ll go to the bar,’ said Kerry. ‘Same again Lew?’
‘You’re all right aren’t you Lydia, you just got one for yourself there, didn’t you?’
The next morning the weather didn’t follow the forecast, but Kerry and Lydia continued with their plan to walk up High Raise. They made their way through Patterdale and began the long ascent up to Angle Tarn, where they paused to eat the snacks they’d bought from the village store. They sat in a sun trap, the hillside behind shielding them from the wind, the tarn a placid surface of reflected crags.
‘So, you were going to come up here with Sean, were you?’ asked Lydia.
‘That was the plan, mate, yes.’
‘He used to hate walking when we were kids.’
‘You know that Lewis, don’t you? You’ve been shagging him, haven’t you?’
‘What? I told you, I haven’t seen him for years.’
‘You never said that.’
‘Well I haven’t … anyway what is this?’
‘I’m just asking you.’
‘It’s your brother that jilted me remember?’
‘Must have had his reasons.’
‘Yeah, he must have. But you need to ask him about it.’
‘Yep. I will.’
‘Fuck knows why you came,’ said Kerry, standing up.
‘Maybe you thought it would work.’
‘Make it look like you wanted it to look.’
‘What the fuck are you on about?’
‘Look, I know Sean. And I know you.’
‘So, what you saying?’
‘I’m saying that there’s more to this and you aren’t letting on. And that fucking Lewis is something to do with it.’
‘Fucking hell, Lydia, how many times? I haven’t seen him for years. He has nothing to do with anything. It was your brother jilted me.’
‘I’m going back. Fuck this. I’m not going to listen to you bad-mouthing Sean all day. I always told him what you were like.’
‘He’s the one didn’t turn up.’
‘Enjoy your walk.’
As Lydia retraced the route past the tarn and back down into the village, Kerry sat on the rocks, eating an apple. It was tart, and she threw the rest of it into the tarn, disturbing the still surface and watching the ripples blur the crags. She looked beyond the tarn towards the arrayed peaks. One of them was Helvellyn, she knew that. Someone had recently died on there. She looked back down at the water as it slowly returned to stillness. She thought of turning back but carried on.
One time she’d seen stags. It was a bright frosty morning, the rising sun coming up all too slowly. She’d glanced down the hillside and seen that the stags were looking at her already. When she moved again, the one at the head of the herd skittered away, dragging the rest in a sparkle of nervous movement.
There seemed to be more people on the paths than ever before, and the paths had grown wider in spreading scars. When she finally made her way down into Pooley Bridge she went into The Sun and got herself an ice-cold pint of lager. She downed the pint in a couple of gulps, and, leaving her rucksack at the table in the beer garden, went back for another pint, at the same time ordering some fish and chips.
The chips were dry, the fish stale. She left half of it on the plate, pushed it away when wasps appeared. She went back to the bar and got herself another pint. She felt her face glowing, so she pulled her cap down to cover her eyes from the falling sun, and, three pints of strong lager in her, began to feel pleasurably mellow. She went back for a last pint, and sipped it slowly, thinking of the grand scheme of things. That was the phrase her mother had used.
As the sun dipped behind the mountains the light began to fade. Blackbirds filled the dusk with routine urgency and a song thrush went through its repertoire. Kerry zipped the legs back onto her convertible trousers, put the fleece on from her rucksack. She looked at her phone. Three missed calls from Lydia and a voicemail message, plus a sarcastic text from Lewis saying he hoped she hadn’t thrown herself off a cliff. Joking aside, she was glad she hadn’t seen that message earlier. She’d thought about it, lying there at the bottom of a rock face, your body all smashed in. What if the fall didn’t kill you, and you just lay there in terrible pain? What if you changed your mind about dying, while you were lying there? Would you be able to call mountain rescue? What was the number for mountain rescue anyway? You could freeze to death. No, if she was going to do herself in there were easier ways than that.
She looked at the ferry timetable in her pocket and saw she was too late to catch the last one. She crashed at a B&B in Pooley, and in the morning, missed breakfast. She lay there on the bed, still wearing the sweaty clothes she’d walked in the previous day. She had a shower, stayed in there a long time, reducing the circle of white soap to a wafer. It was only when she came back out, padding in wet feet across the carpet and towel-drying herself, that she realized she’d have to get back into the same sweaty clothes. She turned her underwear and socks inside out, but then just lay naked on the bed.
She’d turned off her phone to keep the charge. The reception was always in and out anyway. Now she turned it back on and saw that there were two more voicemail messages left by Lydia. She listened to the first one. The line wasn’t great, but she could hear the anger.
Kerry kept trying to call Lydia. Every time, she had the option to leave a voicemail message, but never knew what to say or how to say it. She didn’t know what else to do. She called Lewis. Asked if he could get her some clean clothes. He went to the hotel and picked her up in his car, and they went to his house in Penrith. However much it had cost, she couldn’t stay in that honeymoon suite any longer.
It was on Quay Street in Manchester. Terry Shaw’s retirement do. She remembered how Terry was carried out at about ten and put horizontally into a cab. Kerry was sat next to Sean. Kieron was opposite. There was a two-for-one offer on cocktails before seven, and everyone came back with four each. Most had Mojito’s, but Kerry had four Bellini’s. Kieron drank Old Fashioneds. Before the meal was over and they went downstairs to the nightclub, Kieron rubbed her leg under the table. The first time he did it, she thought it was an accident, and she smiled. When it happened a second time, the look they exchanged was different, and Kerry stopped returning his gaze. She was thinking about this as she sat on Lewis’s couch in Penrith.
Sean hadn’t been able to handle the cocktails. He never could drink. Whenever they went out she had to make sure she got him home okay. She would put him into bed and wake up next to him in whatever she had been wearing that night. And that’s what happened after Revolution de Cuba. They didn’t even go downstairs to the nightclub. They were home in time for Casualty, which Kerry watched as Sean snored on the couch. She took off his shoes and held his cold feet in her hands – strange, to remember that.
She thought of how Sean had always wanted her to have her ‘special day’, and so he said he would do that for her. He was excited about it for months, did all the planning, told her that she didn’t have to do anything except support him and stay out of the way. She remembered how he had seemed to be exhausted by it, made nervous. She wondered now if it was that that had made him nervous, or something else, something that would only become clearer in the future.
Kerry smiles when Lewis comes back downstairs. He has changed into a dressing gown. As she sits on the couch he walks towards her. He is smiling. His long blonde hair is wet and dark. He sits down next to her and says his wife died from cancer two years ago. They hug. Kerry holds on to this man she barely knows, and listens through his chest to a heart beating fast with grief or desire or both of those things.
About Neil Campbell
From Manchester, England. Included three times in Best British Short Stories (2012,2015, 2016). Four collections of short fiction, Broken Doll, Pictures from Hopper, Ekphrasis and Fog Lane. Two poetry chapbooks, Birds and Bugsworth Diary. First novel Sky Hooks came out in September 2016. Sequel Zero Hours out now