One Day 6
Chapter six Poison Thursday, 15th July 1993
Belsize Park, London and Oxfordshire
Dexter Mayhew was sitting in his flat in Belsize Park. It was 10 AM and Dexter was very drunk. He had been drinking all night with some new friends.
Now that he worked in television, lots of people wanted to know Dexter. They all wanted to hear his stories about the famous people that he interviewed. They all wanted to drink with him. So he was often drunk these days. Usually, being drunk in the mornings didn't matter. Dexter worked in the afternoons and evenings and he was always sober by then. But this morning, the morning of 15th July, it mattered very much. Today he had to go to his parents' house in the country, in Oxfordshire. He was already late. He knew, in part of his mind, that he wanted to be late. In fact, in that part of his mind, he didn't want to go at all. Because today, thinking about his parents made him want to scream.
Dexter's mother, at forty-nine, was fifteen years younger than his father. Dexter liked his father and they usually got on well together. But his feelings about his mother were quite different. Dexter loved his mother more than anyone in the world. But now his mother was dying and Dexter knew that she couldn't live much longer.
He needed to see her, but he was afraid. He was afraid to see how close to death she was. So this morning, he needed to be strong. He needed to make himself drive to his childhood home. And he needed to make himself behave normally when he got there. Dexter looked at the large parcel, wrapped in brightly coloured paper, which he'd put next to his front door. He'd put it there so that he wouldn't forget it when he went out, even if he was drunk. The parcel was a present for his mother from his good friend Emma Morley.
Emma and his mother were very different people, but when they had met they had always enjoyed each other's company. And Stephen and Alison Mayhew had guessed that Emma was a good friend to their son. They hadn't really been offended at all when Emma called Stephen 'a bourgeois fascist'.
Remembering this, for a moment Dexter wanted to phone Emma. The two of them had still never touched each other, but he knew that she was his best friend. Suddenly, he wanted to tell her that she was a dear, wonderful person. And he wanted to tell her how unhappy he was about his mother's terrible illness. But he knew what Emma would say. 'She'll know I'm drunk as soon as I start to speak,' he told himself. 'She'll tell me that I mustn't drive.'
Dexter picked up his car keys and collected Emma's parcel. He locked the door of his flat behind him and walked to his expensive, green sports car.
An hour later, Dexter was still worrying about his dying mother. But he also knew that he was lucky to be alive himself. He had fallen asleep for a moment and had almost crashed his car into a big truck. He could still hear the noise of the truck's horn in his aching head. He wasn't far from his parents' house now, but he had to stop for a while. He slowed down and drove into a pub cark park. It was a pub which he had often visited when he was young. He bought a glass of vodka and a glass of beer and sat down. He drank quickly and soon he was feeling better. He walked outside into the sunlight and got into his car. In less than twenty minutes, he parked in front of his parents' house, just as his father opened the front door.
'I'd hoped you were coming earlier,' his father said as Dexter got out of the car. He looked angry and when Dexter tried to kiss him on the cheeks, he moved quickly away. At the television studios, everyone kissed everyone else on the cheeks. Dexter had forgotten for a moment that his father lived in a different world.
'Your mother hoped you were coming earlier too,' Stephen Mayhew added. He looked carefully at his son, then he sighed deeply.
'I'm sorry - I'm so sorry,' Dexter said unhappily. 'How is she, Dad?'
'You need to ask her that yourself,' Mr Mayhew said. 'Go up to her room now. I'll make us some lunch.'
Dexter walked slowly up the stairs, carrying Emma's present. He opened the door of his mother's bedroom and went nervously inside. Alison Mayhew was sitting up in her bed. She was very thin and she looked very tired and ill. But she smiled when she saw her son.
'A present! What have you brought me?' she asked.
'The present is from Emma,' Dexter said. 'Let's open it.'
The parcel contained books - long, serious books - Edith Wharton, Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler.
'How kind she is,' Alison Mayhew said. 'I'm very grateful to Emma. But please suggest to her that short stories might be more useful in future.'
Dexter tried to laugh, but inside his head he was screaming. A few minutes later, he went downstairs to the kitchen, where his father was making lunch. Dexter picked up a glass of wine and drank it quickly, then he refilled the glass.
'Dexter, please be careful,' his father said. 'You drink too much. Alcohol is poison for you these days.'
'I've got a headache, Dad,' Dexter said. 'I've been working too hard. I'm going to lie down for half an hour. I don't need any food.'
He went upstairs to the room he had slept in when he was a child. A few minutes later he was unconscious on his childhood bed.
It was evening when Dexter woke. The whole afternoon had passed. He went to find his father in the kitchen.
'I'm sorry, Dad,' he said. 'I didn't mean to sleep that long. Why didn't you wake me?'
'It wasn't my job. You're not a child any longer, Dexter,' his father replied angrily. 'And you were so drunk, there wasn't any point in waking you. You don't think that your mother wanted to see you like this, do you?'
'I'm sorry,' Dexter said again. He looked around the room. 'Where did I put my car keys? I have to go now.'
'I've got them and I'm going to keep them,' his father replied. 'You must not drive when you're drunk, Dexter. You'll kill yourself or you'll kill someone else, which will be worse. I'll drive you to the station now. You can get the train back to London. And you can come and collect your car at the weekend, if you're sober by then. Perhaps you'll be able to talk sensibly to your mother then, too.' Dexter tried to argue, but his father wouldn't listen to him. And he wouldn't talk to him on the way to the station. But as Dexter was getting out of the car, the older man held his arm.
'Listen to me, Dexter,' Stephen Mayhew said very seriously. 'Your mother was looking forward to your visit today. And now she's very upset. She hasn't long to live, you must know that. If you come here drunk again, I won't let you into the house to see her. Do you understand me? I won't open the door to you.' Stephen drove away and Dexter walked sadly into the station. When he was waiting for the train he tried to phone Emma. 'Emma will understand me,' he told himself. 'I need to see Emma.' But Emma wasn't at home. He left a message on her answer phone. He asked if they could meet later that evening. He said he'd call again.
When he got back to his flat and called again, Dexter still got the answer phone. 'Emma, where are you?' he said to the machine. 'I miss you. I need you. I'll try again later.'
Covent Garden and King's Cross, London.
Emma didn't get any of Dexter's phone messages that evening because she wasn't at home. When Dexter left his first message, she had just left her flat in Earls Court, West London. She was walking to the nearby Underground station. She was on her way to an Italian restaurant in Covent Garden where she was going to meet Ian Whitehead.
Emma had only seen Ian a few times since she had left Loco Caliente to train as a teacher, but they were still friends. They sometimes talked on the phone. And tonight he had invited her to meet him for dinner. They had been friends for three years, but Emma had never slept with Ian. She knew that he wanted to sleep with her. She liked him, but did she want to sleep with him too? She didn't know and she wondered now how the evening was going to end. At the station, Emma bought a ticket and waited for her train. Soon, it arrived and Emma boarded it. She sat and thought about how her life had changed since she had met Ian. She no longer shared a flat with Tilly Killick. Now she lived on her own in the small rented flat in Earls Court. And now she was ready for a new career. Tomorrow she was going to an interview for a job as a teacher of English and Drama. The job was in a comprehensive school in Leytonstone, in a poor part of East London. Emma was very confident about this job. She had enjoyed her year at teacher training college and she knew that she was going to be a brilliant teacher.
Yes, her life had changed. But Emma knew that her character had changed too. She had mellowed. She no longer had a strong opinion about everything that happened in the world. Sometimes, she could even see that there were two sides to any argument.
'I'm twenty-seven - perhaps that's the reason,' she thought. 'Perhaps I'm getting old. Perhaps I'm ready to compromise.'
When Emma arrived at the restaurant, she saw that Ian was already there. She hoped that this was the beginning of a pleasant evening. Later, she'd decide about what was going to happen next. They ordered food and wine and Ian started to talk. He seemed very nervous and Emma tried to help him to relax.
But an hour later - at about the time Dexter was leaving his second message on her answer phone - Emma was feeling desperate. Ian had been trying much too hard to make her laugh. She guessed that he was practising his stand-up comedy act on her. The problem was that everything he said was a joke and it was impossible to have a conversation with him. This was driving her crazy. She guessed that Ian was feeling desperate too. Everything he said made the evening worse. In part of her mind Emma wanted to leave and go home. But in another part of her mind she felt terribly sorry for Ian. It was clear to her that he wasn't a good comedian and that his ambition to have a career in stand-up was just a dream. At last, she couldn't listen to any more bad jokes.
'Ian,' she said suddenly, 'will you be quiet for a minute, please! Will you just shut up!'
Ian looked very surprised and he stopped talking. After a few minutes of silence, he asked quietly, 'Do you see your friend Dexter much these days?'
Emma suddenly understood why Ian had been so nervous all evening.
'No, we don't meet very often,' she replied. 'But we speak on the phone most days. He's busy with his TV career and his girlfriends - you know what Dexter's like. He's always been a bit crazy and now he's a bit more crazy, I think. His mother is seriously ill and he's drinking far too much.'
'I'm sorry to hear that,' said Ian. Then, after a pause, he said, 'To be honest I never liked him much. I always thought that he took you for granted.' They were both silent for a few minutes. Then Ian spoke again.
'Well, we've finished the wine,' he said. 'Shall we have some brandy?'
By the time they left the restaurant, Emma and Ian were both a bit drunk. Outside the restaurant, Emma turned to Ian and kissed him. She had decided that tonight, she was ready to compromise.
'Shall I come home with you?' she asked quietly.
'Emma, that's a lovely idea,' Ian told her.
And when Dexter phoned Emma's number again at midnight, there still wasn't anyone at home. Emma was at Ian Whitehead's and she was going to stay there until morning. Dexter was now feeling desperate. So he called another number. 'Hi, Naomi, this is Dexter,' he said in his television voice. 'I miss you, girl. I need you tonight. Can you find a taxi and come to my flat?