Joseph sets out
By the time Laura and Mrs Patterson were sitting down to talk, Joseph was already on his way. He had driven straight home and made sure the van was parked somewhere safe, away from prying eyes and the attentions of traffic wardens. He had a quick shower and made some toast from the last of a sliced loaf he found in the cupboard, washing it down with black coffee made as strong as he could bear. Then he threw a few clothes into a bag and switched off or unplugged all the obvious things before leaving the flat. He didn’t know when he’d be back again.
It didn’t take long to hail a taxi and he sank gratefully into the worn upholstery. The cabbie was chattering on about some discussion on the radio but Joseph wasn’t listening. Physically still at last, his mind began to race, thoughts of the Mer, their threats and his half-baked plan, swirled around in his brain. And in amongst it all the memories of the night before, flashes of Laura crowding out everything else. The more he tried to ignore them the more vivid they became, until eventually he banged his fist against the door of the cab with a growl of frustration as he tried to clear his head.
The driver stopped talking and looked anxiously in the mirror at his fare – the last thing he needed was a nutter in his cab.
“You alright mate?”
“Bad night was it?”
“Something like that.”
“I’ll put some of my music on, that’ll calm you down,” and the driver prodded his stereo and turned up the volume.
‘By the time I get to Phoenix, she’ll be rising…’
Of course, what else would it be? Joseph closed his eyes as Glenn Campbell’s sentimental tune filled the cab. At least it wasn’t far to Kings Cross.
At the station he bought a single ticket, taken aback by the price but with no choice but to pay up. Thankfully there was less than half an hour until the train left, time to buy a sandwich but not time enough to lose his nerve. Only once the train was pulling out of the station, non-stop to York and then onwards to Scotland, did he allow himself to think again. It had to be a real possibility, this idea of his, but could he bear to return there to try and make it work? He’d soon find out.
He’d thought his memories were hazy, it was so long ago, but standing on the firm sand looking out across the Sound it all came flooding back. She’d been ill for so long, as a seven year old he knew only the frail shadow of a mother who could still summon the strength to hold him tight, but could barely walk a hundred yards. She’d talked so often of returning to her beloved Scotland, and that Easter his father had finally been persuaded to take them.
Joseph had loved it up there. He’d played for hours among the rock pools, finding treasures to show his mother who sat on a folding chair, wrapped up in a thick rug and gazing out at the sea, his father always hovering nearby. They’d only left her for moment or two, perhaps he’d wanted an ice cream, or just to go to the loo, but whatever it was by the time they’d returned she was no longer in her chair. Instead she was in the sea, fully clothed and wading out purposefully away from the shore towards some unseen destination. His father shouted after her but she didn’t turn back. It was already up to her chest when he plunged into the water, and by the time he was waist deep she was gone.
The coastguard found her body the following day. The Sherriff’s report said suicide but when he was old enough to understand, as he was learning about the ‘family business’, his father told him about the Sirens, and how he thought that his mother, weakened by her illness, had been lured to her death.
Today only the low hum of the nearby wind farm sang to Joseph, and after gazing at the sea for an age he knew that there was nothing left to torment him now, he would be able to do this. All that remained then was to get on with it, to try and turn his idea into a reality. But where to begin?
It had started to rain so he retreated to a café with a view of the sea and the golf course. Despite the sudden squall there were still plenty of folk trudging up and down the links in pursuit of their balls. Joseph had never understood the appeal himself, though Cosmo was a big fan and frequently tried to persuade him of its joys. He remained firmly on the side of Mark Twain: a good walk spoiled.
Turning away from the hardy souls out on the course he pulled a battered notebook from his pocket. Once bound in fine leather, the cover was now worn and threadbare and the pages hung loose where the stitching had frayed over the years. It was Joseph’s most precious possession, the one he guarded most vigilantly, and in it were recorded the details of all those who had ever worked as he did. Most were long dead, but the book had been updated sporadically, and there were a handful of active names, scattered across the country. He just hoped that there would still be someone up here who could help him now.
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