A Banquet of Consequences(4)

By: Elizabeth George


She entered the Pride of Spitalfields, and her annoyance with him was such that she found she didn’t much care if he followed. But follow he did and they sat at the only table left, directly next to the door to the ladies’, which shot a shaft of near blinding florescent light on their faces every time someone ducked in or out. Music was playing. An iPod or iPhone with a hookup to something of a satellite nature because it was a country and western mix of oldies only, Johnny Cash foremost with dashes of Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, and the Judds.

Lily said, “You didn’t answer me, William.”

He was looking round the pub but brought his gaze back to her. “Untrue. I told you that—”

“You tried to misdirect me is what you did. So let’s go back. You spoke to your mum. You told her what’s happened before you told me.”

“I said this isn’t about my mum.”

“Let me guess at the conversation. She told you to come home to Dorset. She told you that you can ‘start again’ there. She promised help: hers, your stepdad’s. When are you breaking away from them?”

“I’m not intending to live with Mum. At least not permanently. It’s only till I can get established. It’s for the best.”

“God, I can even hear her voice in you,” Lily fumed.

“I’m thinking of Sherborne,” he said. “Or Somerset. Probably Yeovil because it’s less costly but the business itself will do better in Sherborne. There’s money there. Even Mum says—”

“I don’t want to hear what ‘Mum’ says.”

“It’s London, Lily. It’s attempting to have any kind of business in London.”

“I have a business. It’s working out.”

“Tattoos, yes. Well, this is London after all. But what I’m trying to do . . . having my kind of business, what I’m good at, here . . . People don’t connect the way I need to connect in London. You’ve said that yourself: the perfect place to be anonymous, but if one wants anything more than anonymity, it’s not going to happen. I’ve heard you say that. It’s no go for me here. It’s only because of you I’ve hacked it for this long.”

She looked towards the bar. She thought uselessly about how trendy Spitalfields was becoming as the City of London inched towards it one hideous glass tower block at a time. Even here—God, not that far from where Jack the Ripper haunted the narrow Whitechapel streets—there were young women wearing pencil skirts and young men in suits flirting with one another as they sipped white wine. White wine, for God’s sake. Here. In the East End. They were only a sign that nothing ever stayed the same, that progress was relentless and that “making progress” applied not only to society and economics and science and everything else but to people as well. She hated that: the very idea of constant change to which one had to become accustomed. But she also knew when fighting it was hopeless.

She said to him, “I suppose that’s it, isn’t it?”

“What’s it?”

“You and I. What else?”

He reached for her hand across the table. His palm was damp where it covered her balled fist. He said, “You can come to Dorset as well. You can set up a shop there. I’ve already spoken to—”

“Yes. Right. To your mum. And she’s assured you that there’s plenty of scope for tattoos in a place like Dorset.”

“Well . . . yes, if it comes to that. You’re reading her wrong, Lil. She wants you there as much as I do.”





14 DECEMBER



SPITALFIELDS

LONDON

Will hadn’t expected that Lily would be the first to move out of the flat. He’d more or less depended upon her to remain there—a constant presence in his life till he himself had packed up and departed. But two days later she was gone and this left him four days on his own till his mother and stepfather showed up with the bakery van to cart back to Dorset those of his belongings that didn’t fit into the Fiesta.

Four days on his own put him where he didn’t want to be and that was with his head as his only companion. Inside his head resided voices. They informed him of what he already knew: He’d wrecked his chances for a life with Lily; he’d proved once again what a loser he was; he’d been a wanking weirdo from the day of his birth and a look in the mirror’ll show you that, Will. Which was what he did, of course. He walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw those things he hated about himself. His laughable height. What are you, a dwarf? A deformed right ear. Your dad’s a plastic surgeon and he wouldn’t even bloody operate on you? Thick eyebrows forming a peak over his eyes. Got a gorilla in your makeup, laddie? Cupid lips that looked like something off a doll.