A Banquet of Consequences(3)

By: Elizabeth George


He was triple blinking. He needed to be calm. Lily knew from experience there were very few ways to calm him if he got too far along in the direction he was taking, so she said, “I was taking you to Marrakesh, actually. I’d found a hotel on the cheap, a pool and all the trimmings. It was supposed to be a surprise weekend and I should have told you this morning—at least that I had a surprise trip planned—but that would have meant . . . Oh, I don’t know.” She ended rather lamely with, “I thought it would be fun.”

“We’ve no money for that sort of thing.”

“My mum lent it me.”

“So now your parents know how bad things are? What a loser I am? What did you tell them?”

“Not him, her. Just my mum. I didn’t tell her anything. And she didn’t ask. She’s not like that, William. She doesn’t intrude.” Not like your mum was what she didn’t add.

He heard it anyway because his look became sharp the way it always became when the subject of his mother came up between them. But he didn’t go there and instead he said, “I should have seen from the first they were bloody mad fools, but I didn’t. Why do I never see what people are like? They say they want something special and I can give them something special and they will love it if they only let me get at it. But no, they want drawings and sketches and approval and control and daily receipts and I can’t work like that.”

He stood. He walked to the same window at which she’d waited for so long for him. She didn’t know what to tell him, exactly, but what she wanted to say was that if he couldn’t work under the aegis of someone else, if he could only work alone, then he would have to learn how to deal with people because if he didn’t learn that, then he would fail over and over and over again. She wanted to tell him that he wasn’t being reasonable with people, that he couldn’t expect them to hand over their gardens or even part of their gardens to his creative impulse. What if they don’t like what you have in mind? she wanted to ask him. But she’d said it before and she’d asked it before and here they were again where they kept ending up.

“It’s London,” he said abruptly, to the window glass.

“What’s London?”

“This. It. Me. London’s the reason. People here . . . They’re different. They don’t get me and I don’t get them. I’ve got to get out of here. It’s the only answer because I’m not going to freeload off you.”

He swung from the window then. The look on his face comprised, she knew, the very same expression he wore when his clients asked questions he deemed unreasonable. It signaled that he’d made his mind up about something. She reckoned she was seconds away from learning what that was.

He told her. “Dorset.”

“Dorset?”

“I’ve got to go home.”

“This is your home.”

“You know what I mean. I’ve spent all day thinking and that’s the answer. I’m going back to Dorset. I’m starting over.”


SPITALFIELDS

LONDON

She got him out of the flat, no matter the rain. She suggested the Pride of Spitalfields. It wasn’t far, a bit gastropub-ish with its creamy exterior and deep-blue awnings dripping with rain, but inside there was still a decent cider to be had and usually a table or two tucked away in a corner. He was reluctant to go—“I can’t afford it, Lily, and I won’t let you pay.”

She told him it was money from her mum to spend in Morocco and what did it matter as they were in things together, weren’t they?

“It’s . . . it’s unseemly,” he said, and his use of that word suggested his mum was in one way or another behind every decision he’d made since falling out with his clients: from smashing his mobile into oblivion to declaring a need to return to Dorset.

Without doing what needed to be done to school herself to patience, she said to him, “You’ve talked to her, haven’t you? You told her about this before you told me. Why did you do that?”

“This isn’t about my mum,” William said.

“Everything’s about your mum,” she told him.