`You did say you loved me once.' How could you say that? I told you I loved you all the time, and I meant it! Or did I just say it in my head? Maybe I did. Anyway I need you in here with me, Julia. I need you here beside me. I need you to know the truth.
Let me take you back to Helen's room, to the last time I saw her, when I learned the real meaning of post-coital tristesse. Post-coital distress.
I sat there for hours looking at her, the dark red hair spread over the pillow, and her dress and the pillow red too, and my shirt, matching the red Christmas ribbons all over the place and I was thinking What a cock up. Of all the things - What a fucking cock up. What am I going to do? I was angry. Not scared yet.
That's her phone over there, I thought, with my blood on it, next to the writing paper and a pyramid of books. Every joint in my body creaked as I got up and took her phone in my hand. It was cold but I could smell her smoky breath still on it. But who could I call?
I had the urge to hear someone compassionate, soothing and utterly on my side.
`Hello, Mummy, it's Patrick.'
`Hello, darling. How are you?'
What could I say? I'm sorry. Very sorry. For myself mostly.
`Alright,' I said. Pause. What could I say next? What could I say?
`I'm so glad you've called, darling,' her voice was posh and perky through the receiver, like a caricature, `I've been trying to get hold of you. I left messages with your boss but he said he hadn't seen you. Have you decided about Christmas Day?'
`We've got Tim and Fiona and the girls coming. Seb's being indispensable in Brussels as usual, and I thought we could have quail this time instead of, you know, turkey's so dull, what do you think?'
`I'm not sure, Mummy. Look, I'm a bit tied up. I've got stuff to do here. I need ... I need ...'
`Well, it's up to you. Are you still a vegetarian, or has that worn off?'
`I haven't been vegetarian for two and a half years.'
`Oh good. Well, let me know as soon as you can. Damn, there's somebody at the door ...'
I need ...
Mummy, I need ...
`OK, darling? Still there?'
`Yeah. I'm still here.'
`Let me know soon, won't you, darling?'
I put the receiver down. I could taste blood. There was a ridge across my tongue as I licked my cut lip. It looks like blood, tastes like blood, must be a cock up.
Was my tongue cut in half? That old taste slapped me right back to Tim and Seb and torture games, with me tied over my head in a sack and them rolling me round the garden over the gravel and the tree stumps, with me crying and crying through a sore mouth.
Suddenly I was so fucking angry I kicked a shiny little leather-topped table away from me. It rolled over and lay with two legs in the air, two on the floor and all the ash and fag ends from the ashtray splayed on the rug beside the books. I looked over at her lying on the bed. At the elegant way her spine curved from the dress at her waist down to the divide of her beautiful arse. I decided to kiss her again. You won't bite me now, Helen, I thought. I'm going to kiss you, and you won't bite me again.