This is part twenty-two. I mistakenly published yesterday’s part with the wrong number. Draft mix-up again!
This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 797 words.
I followed Helen inside as she clasped the flowers, then sat down to set up as she went into the kitchen with them. She returned with the small bunch wobbling precariously inside one of her vodka tumblers. As I had heard the tap running, I was satisfied the flowers were not resting in vodka.
“Sorry about that emotional outburst, Martin. But you see, I have never received flowers before, not from anyone. I don’t even have a vase, as I never expected to get any. My mum always said that a lady should never buy her own flowers, so I never have. It was a lovely gesture. Anyway, on with the story”.
She lit a cigarette and picked up the vodka glass that was already on the table.
“Four days after my birthday, I was taken to see the governor. I asked Alina what it was about, but she just shrugged. The governor was her usual businesslike self. She told me there had been a communication from the Foreign Office, asking after me. It contained the information that my mother had died three months ago, from cancer. That was it. No details, no mention of what type of cancer. Makarova said they had not confirmed my detention to the diplomat, but had agreed amongst themselves to pass on the message. I was too shocked to cry, and ashamed that I could hardly recall my mother’s face after so long away from England. Then Alina took me back to my cell”.
Helen paused to drink some vodka.
“Later on, it dawned on me that the diplomats must have been aware that I was imprisoned in Russia, and not dead in Bulgaria. Otherwise why would they send the communication to the Soviet Authorities? So they knew, and had left me stewing there. That made me so furious, I asked Alina for another meeting with the governor to request a visit from someone at the British Embassy. That was turned down flat, with Alina advising me not to antagonise the governor if I knew what was good for me. ‘She likes you, Renton. Don’t upset her’. So I was left thinking about my father. Dad was not the most romantic man, but he and mum had a real unspoken bond. First I disappear, then mum dies. I imagined he would be lost and alone in London. I need some breakfast. Let’s go out for a change, my treat”.
After getting her handbag and putting on her shoes and coat, Helen held my arm and walked me down to a cafe on the seafront. She ordered a full English with extra sausage, toast and fried bread. I settled for scrambled eggs on toast. Before the food came she went outside to smoke. I watched her walking back and forth, a wide ladder at the back of her nylons, and a black cardigan that had been washed out to dark grey. It was hard to picture the vivacious young woman on a Bulgarian beach, making plans with her lover. The food was demolished as if she was in an eating contest, and her lukewarm tea gulped down at the same speed. Five minutes later, we were back in our chairs.
“They wouldn’t even let me send a letter to my father. Of course, that was obvious, as that would mean admitting they had me in detention in Moscow. After staying so positive for so long, the next few years were not so good. I went the other way in my thoughts, imagining I would die in prison after spending the bigger part of my life stuck in there, being ignored and disregarded. I was simply a minor inconvenience to them. I also had a vision of them tiring of the expense of keeping me alive, and just taking me into some woodland one day and shooting me in the head. These days, we live in a world of twenty-four hour news. Breaking news, headlines, reporters in every country where anything happens. Christ almighty, even that Trump guy is running for President next year, and his face is never off the headlines. Try to imagine knowing nothing, Martin. In all those years up to then, all I had ever been told was that something was happening in Cuba, and Kruschev had died. I had no idea that there had almost been an atomic war because of Cuba, and the whole Vietnam thing was never mentioned once. I was news-starved, and nobody would tell me anything”.
She left the room to fetch another bottle of vodka, filled up her glass, and shook her head.
“By the time I was thirty-five, I think I had gone a little bit mad.”