Mary took seven minutes to replenish her nicotine intake, before returning to her cuppa and cake. Enough time for me to compose my thoughts, the key points jotted down in my notebook.
I didn’t expect her to make small talk; she didn’t, came straight at me like an express train.
‘Richard, your indiscretions have caught up with you. We have a grandchild to support.’
I met her head-on. ‘If you’re inferring I’m Jane’s father, you’re wrong.’ I glanced at my notes. ‘I’m sure Jamie must have told you.’
Mary rocked back in her chair, initial surprise turning to a chuckle. ‘His doctor did. Said the chemo drugs made Jamie sterile.’
‘Is that so?’
A frown crossed her face. ‘Why wouldn’t it be?’
I took a sip of tea, watching her self-composure falter. I crashed through. ‘Because your fabrication wasn’t what Jamie told me.’
Mary raised a hand and clutched her throat. ‘You’re lying.’
I felt sorry for her, shook my head. ‘Jamie and I were best mates, shared confidences like twin brothers. The doctor told you both’ — I paused to see it register — ‘that the drugs could make him sterile. In Jamie’s case, being young, more likely a low sperm count.’
Mary put a hand up to her mouth, took it away. ‘He told you that?’
I sat back, picked up my notebook, and shook it at her. ‘It’s all in here. ‘Places, dates, and times.’ It wasn’t, but my semi-bluff worked. She squirmed in her seat, grabbed her cigarette pack and lighter.
‘I was so sure.’
She pushed away her cup and stood up. ‘I need a cigarette.’ She pointed the pack at me. ‘But don’t go away. We haven’t finished yet.’
Hmm. Around me, the ebb and flow of a busy cafeteria, but with a subdued tone. Loved ones, sick, ill, and injured in crowded wards, a pervading smell of carbolic soap, and the clatter of cutlery and empty tea cups.
I rubbed my sore legs, stretched my arms, and looked at my watch. Another hour before our meeting with Donaldson to talk about Jane’s funeral arrangements, and Mary’s grandson’s future.
I looked up. Mary, poker-faced.
‘Another tea, Richard?’
What’s her game? I waved away the suggestion. ‘Sit down, and get on with it.’
She made a show of perching on her seat, leaning forward with her elbows resting on the table. Her eyes met mine. Held them, although I was past caring about her drama-filled mind.
On cue, she opened her mouth. ‘That day at Cheltenham, Richard. Remember?’
Not that again.
‘It’s possible. A couple of weeks after, I missed my period.’
‘Mary, it wasn’t me.’
‘And it wasn’t Jamie.’
Lying bitch. I glared at her. ‘Are you telling me you remained celibate for two whole weeks? Fourteen whole days?—and nights?’
Her face reddened. ‘I’m not a slut, Richard.’
I sat back, folded my arms, didn’t speak. In the following silence I sensed those two weeks passed through her thoughts. Truth was, I knew more than her. Jamie told me after that day when he sobered up, he’d made it up with Mary, big time. Even with a low sperm count he’d pumped enough juice to create a cricket team.
Tears glistened at the edge of her eyes. She reached out a hand. ‘Please help me, Richard.’
While I pondered, I realised her suffering the same torment I had with losing Angelique. My hard-nosed intimidation — sarcastic bullying — had brought her to this crisis. And she was losing it. Mary needed help, probably counselling. But her options were limited here.
Would Donaldson help?
My best option. I unfolded my arms, reached out and took her hand in mine. Explained that we’d talk it through with him. She nodded, and we passed the time sitting in silence.
An hour passed. Delcie returned, found us, said Donaldson was ready, and we all trooped into his consulting room.
The man was tired; puffy bags under his eyes, and stubble that he rubbed, while he listened to a more energised Mary rant on about her grandson’s future.
DNA testing was out. ‘We don’t have the facilities, here,’ said Donaldson, ‘and I’m not authorised to take samples for analysis. I told Rod that.’
Mary didn’t hesitate. ‘Who is, then?’
He sighed, pinched the skin around his eyelids. ‘Mrs. Parrington, this is Indonesia. Adil, a Pakistani. Decisions like these would be handled by the Hospital Director, but in my opinion Mr. Saleem would defer to the family wishes.’
‘And what about my family? Don’t I have a say in the matter?’
One of those silent moments when the answer was clear. As Donaldson said, we weren’t living in England. Mary’s rights, if any, would be shrouded in no man’s land as far as the Aceh authorities were concerned. I think Delcie felt the same because she coughed, and interrupted.
‘Mary,’ she said, ‘Jane’s dead, Adil’s dead. Tragedies for both families, and for Sara, whose future has been wrecked. What good would it do to add more suffering?’
I asked the question, and Delcie recounted the meeting with Rod. ‘Ah,’ I said, while Donaldson blinked, trying to stay awake, ‘in that case, I agree. Hornet’s nest and all that.’ Mary tried to object, but I interrupted. ‘Right now, Mary, our priority is Jane’s funeral, isn’t it?’
‘That’s right,’ said Donaldson, ‘and mine. I’m flying back to England straight after.’
But my reaction was not shared by either woman. Shocked expressions, and gasps of “oh no, so soon?” I suspected Delcie had a “thing” about him, but did Mary, also? Or another one of her devious schemes?
‘Good,’ I said. ‘Let’s agree on something today.’
Mary flared up. ‘You only want rid of her to avoid a paternity test, don’t you?’
Oh, oh. Unhinged. ‘Look, Mary, we’ve been through all this before. I. Am. Not. Jane’s. Father. How could I be? She didn’t look a bit like Angelique.’
Mary glared at me. ‘Your precious daughter, huh? Wipe that smug grin of your face, mister. I’ve got news for you.’ She pointed at Delcie. ‘I think your faithful wife needs to come clean.’