© BM 2008
Chapter Nineteen – Episode 29
The morning was cool, and after standing beside the Freelander for five or six minutes, Kate Fouchet got back into the car. She was early, she knew that, and looking at her watch yet again, she realised that there was still another fifteen minutes to go. She considered having a cigarette, but remembered with relief that she had left them at home. She had not smoked in nearly eight years, not since she was pregnant with Thomas, and she was irritated with herself for starting again.
“Dad would be bloody furious,” she told herself. He hated smoking; it was dirty, unhealthy, anti social, expensive and, most of all, stupid. But she needed something to help her at the moment. Still, she had not brought them, so she was not able to do a whole lot about it. She got out of the car again, and leaned against the bonnet, facing towards the entrance to the hospital car park, about sixty yards away. What did she say she would be driving? A Fiat something or other.
Was this a good idea? She had no answer to that. She felt partially to blame for the break up between her father and Francesca, and had, in the last nine years, harboured very strong feelings, bordering on hate, about the lady. Kate knew that Alex had been happy with Francesca, and that was more than she ever remembered his being with her own mother. When it came to counting up the score, Francesca was leading by five years to zilch. At the same time, she was also the cause of the awful decline in her father’s personal life. The break up had torn the heart out of him, and changed him, towards many people, into a bitter and cynical man.
She shivered, and felt cold again, and started to walk around the parking area to get the circulation going. She stopped in front of a parked Jaguar.
“OK, my girl, you are your father’s daughter. What is this?”
She knew, and smiled to herself at the thought that her dad had taught her well. It was simple; it was an XJS coupe, in red. He would have called it something or other red, but Kate was happy with a simple red. She walked around the car, and saw the V12 badge on the boot, and the old style rear lights.
“OK, pre 1991 then.” She spoke out loud.
“Yes, you are perfectly right, young woman.”
She whirled round, startled. “Oh, I’m sorry; I was just looking at the Jag. Is it yours?”
The man was tall with a grey moustache, and not unlike her father. “As a matter of fact it is. Do you have a Jaguar?”
“No, I have a Land Rover.” She pointed. “That one over there. My Dad was, is, a Jaguar fanatic. He used to drive an XJS.”
“What does he drive now?”
“I don’t know how to answer that. He did have an XKR convertible, until a few days ago. He’s in there now.” She indicated the hospital with a little inclination of her head.
“I’m so sorry. I hope he is better soon.” The tall man dropped a newspaper into the car, and locked it. As he walked away he waved to her.
She walked back to the Freelander. Francesca should be here by now. Perhaps she has changed her mind. Funny meeting that man, so like her Dad. All Jaguar drivers are fanatics, he used to say. He was a very biased man in many ways, her Dad. Only two proper cars in the world he would say; Jags, and Land Rovers. He had been pleased when she bought the little Freelander. She had wanted a Range Rover, but hadn’t been able to afford one. “One day” he laughed, “One day when I fall off the perch.”
She shivered at the thought. Where are you, Francesca?
Francesca had been good for her father, after the dragged out prize-fight of the divorce, and the knock out blow from Charlie. She had rejuvenated him, and given him back his joie de vivre, or whatever that was in Italian. She realised, and ever more clearly with the passing years, that much of the feelings had been on Alex’s side. He had loved Francesca dearly, and needed her badly, when they lived together, but, after their split, he loved and needed her even more. Loving someone is fine, but better if that person also loves you. Kate had never been sure about Francesca’s feelings. At one time she was prepared to believe that she had loved Alex, but now? Well, if you asked me to be honest, she told herself, I believe that she used him. Did that matter to Alex? Did he ever even think about it? No to both questions, and probably just as well.
She looked at her watch again. Ten minutes late. Perhaps she will not come. What will you do then, Kate my girl? Nothing. Go and see Dad, and go home in tears as usual. And then she arrived, the Fiat Bravo swinging in through the car park gates, and pulling up alongside the Freelander.
She got out. She seemed smaller than Kate had remembered, petite, yes that is the word. She was slim and dark, with short black hair, and dark brown, almost black eyes. She was dressed simply, but elegantly, in black trousers, a white blouse, and a black wool jacket. Kate had never considered Francesca to be beautiful, unlike her father, who had often said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Ah well, she thought, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The two women walked towards each other. Do we shake hands, Kate asked herself anxiously. Her problem was solved by Francesca who placed her hands on Kate’s shoulders and kissed her on each cheek.
“How are you, Kate. I am sorry that we have to meet like this. How long has it been?”
“I’m as well as I can be, in these circumstances, and it must be nearly ten years.”
“Is there any change, any improvement, in Alex, in your father?”
“I haven’t been to see him today, but, yesterday they said he was responding to stimuli. I’m not sure I am completely sure what these stimuli are. I mean, it seems to suggest sticking pins in him, but I suppose it really is how he responds to noises, and things like that.”
“Kate, there is something that I must ask you, and please do not be angry. I have been thinking about this since you told me about the accident.” She hesitated.
“Go on” encouraged Kate.
“Was it really an accident?”
“What are you asking me, Francesca?”
“Do you think your dad tried, was he capable of trying to kill himself?”
Kate was silent for some time before she replied. “Was he capable of committing suicide? Oh yes, very much so, especially in 1997. If I phoned him and there was no reply, I would want to tear over to his place, expecting to find him on the carpet. Was he still capable last week? Maybe, I don’t know. Did he try to kill himself last week?” She stopped to open the hospital door for Francesca. “How long did you live together? Five years? You really did not know my father very well. He would never have tried to do anything like that in the Jaguar. He loved that car, and all his other Jags. He would never have tried to kill himself in the car. Never.”
They went into Alex’s private room together, and Kate walked over to the bed and kissed her father’s cheek.
“Hi, Dad, how are you? I have brought you a visitor, someone you haven’t seen for a while.”
She waited for Francesca to join her. “I will go outside for a while. You may want to talk to him, and you won’t want me here. I will meet you at the car.”
Francesca seemed a little startled. “Can he hear what we say?”
Kate smiled, wearily. “He can probably hear what you say; probably he will hear you from the other side of the grave. I don’t think he can hear the rest of us.” She left and went back to the Land Rover, regretting once again that she had left her cigarettes behind.
The man with the red XJS was just returning to his car. “Did you see your father?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“You didn’t stay very long.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No, but I will be back later today. He is with someone he loved more than his Jaguars.”
The man started to say something, but noted the use of the past tense, and did not ask any more questions. “Well, I will bid you good day. I hope he recovers soon.”
Kate smiled. “Thanks, so do I.”
Francesca was gone for over half an hour, and when she emerged, blinking in the weak autumn sun, she looked as if she had been crying.
“Would you like to go for a coffee?” asked Kate.
“No, no, thank you, not now. Perhaps later. I will call you.” She walked away quickly and got into her car. She left the car park without a backward glance.
It was over a week later when she phoned Kate and arranged to meet for coffee. They met in Brighton and this time Francesca was there before Kate.
“Have you been back to the hospital, Francesca?”
“Yes, twice. Have you?”
They ordered and drank their coffee in silence.
Francesca was first to break the silence. “You have always hated me, haven’t you?”
Kate was astounded. “No, never,” she declared passionately. “I never knew you well enough to either hate you or love you. It didn’t matter. My father loved you, and you made him happy, happier than I have ever known him. Happier, much happier than with my mother. I wanted you to stay. Richard wanted you to stay.” She began to cry, softly, her head on her chest.
Francesca reached out and held her hand. “Kate, I’m sorry, I never knew that. I wish I had known, it would have made a difference.”
The two women remained like that for several minutes, before Kate dried her eyes and raised her head.
“Francesca, may I ask you something?”
Francesca raised her face, and said, “Yes.”
“If he was to recover, would you go back to him?”
The other woman thought for some time before replying. “I do not know. Do you blame me for what has happened?”
It was Kate’s turn to think before replying. “No. Damm it, yes! He loved you; he loved you more than himself, more than me or the children. I have never known such love.”
“If he dies, will you blame me for that too?”
“No, you were just the gun he used. He pulled the trigger himself, nine years ago when you left.” She was silent for a while. “My Dad died years ago, when you left him. He has just taken all this time to lay down. If you are asking me who killed Alex Millar, he killed himself. You were only the instrument.”
They did not meet again.
About a week after their meeting in Brighton, Francesca sat in her flat, a pile of schoolwork on her desk in front of her. The telephone rang, bringing her back into the present. She stared at it but did not move. A few miles away, Kate sat in her dining room staring out onto the garden. Her telephone rang, and she too looked at it until it stopped. She resumed looking out of the window at the garden, as the evening light faded, and died.