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In which Helen tidies up the loose ends with mixed feelings
From the window of Addison’s ward, she can see the new maternity building and remembers all too clearly her visits there with Carla.
I told you it would bring trouble but you wouldn’t listen, the voice in her head chides, but Helen refuses to heed the might-have-beens of August. She lived it the only way she could; no point in wasting time on regrets. She was right and Addison wrong on that score – except that she does indeed know where she is coming from now, thanks to his help.
‘The Lord bless you for comin’. Don’t go yet,’ Addison pleads, but afterwards seems mostly unaware of Helen sitting on the edge of his bed. He talks from time to time about his family and his childhood, and offers fragments of his tortured thinking for her approval, his eyes roving the ceiling incessantly.
‘God didn’t stop me, I married her… I killed Steve.’ he murmurs. A few moments later he says, ‘It isn’t right to give so much burden to one person.’ Later again he turns his gaze full on her. ‘You don’t have to be unhappy,’ he says. ‘The Lord loves you more than the poppies, remember?’
Helen finds her throat constricted. Despite the breakdown, he is still thinking of others, still carrying the responsibility of what he believes God has given him to do. She opens her mouth and is as surprised as Addison appears to be when her words are there in front of them: ‘You don’t have to be perfect to please God,’ she tells him. ‘I think it’s your intentions that count more.’
This seems to please him. He reaches out briefly and touches her arm gently – a caress light enough to miss had she not been watching his hand. After this, he shuts his eyes and seems to slip away from the room.
He needs rest, the nurse tells her, and Helen leaves.
She dials Rebecca’s number at eleven and arranges for Addison and Carla to go to the island for his convalescence. The registrar has told her that Addison’s return home is scheduled for Tuesday – if he responds to the medication. She reports this to Rebecca, and offers to send her a contribution to their board for a few weeks. She points out, after confessing her part in the episode, that Addison will probably not know whether to accept Helen’s money or the bingo money in preference, there not being much to choose between the sources. This brings a hoot of laughter down the line.
‘We’ll soon have him back where he belongs,’ Rebecca promises. ‘Do him good to be on the receiving end. He’ll be a better giver afterwards. And misplaced shame and guilt are sure killers. Soon get those out of him.’
Helen replaces the handset, feeling a great deal more fond of the great-aunt than a short time before.
She drops the two chairs off at Newton Grove, having first wrapped them round in sheets because the rain is patchy but heavy. Pete and the young men show her the progress they have made but Pete makes no reference to Addison, nor even to Malcolm. It’s as if a veil has been drawn over the previous night, the whole business, in fact.
Both say, ‘See you,’ as they part. It means nothing.
Finally she extricates herself from Carla. She very nearly cracks at this point. But years of practice come to her aid and she explains succinctly that they need to be a couple alone for a while to reflect and rest. Even Dinah must not be allowed to stop the process, she says.
‘Do you want to hold her?’ Carla asks. She is once more calm and self-collected. ‘You helped save her. Which is more than I did.’
Helen looks for a long moment at the sleeping baby, then slowly shakes her head. ‘I won’t disturb her.’ She wants to ask Carla about her feelings at Steve’s death, her final dash to try to save him. But no words will come. And she acknowledges the rightness of her silence on that point.
She turns to Carla and kisses the girl lightly on one cheek. ‘I have been in the way,’ she says. ‘I’ll go.’
Carla throws her arms round Helen and begs her not to stay away too long. ‘I might need to buy more frillies,’ she explains, her voice wavering ever so slightly and her eyes beginning to glisten. Helen recognises the signs and pulls gently away.
‘I can’t promise yet,’ she says. ‘But… friends usually stay in touch, don’t they?’
Her offer of transport to the station when they leave is accepted. It will delay the parting but in her heart it is done.
Strangely, she feels nothing as she walks down the path to her car. The feeling of belonging only here owed much to her imagination. It was a kind of madness that struck her because the weather was so unusually hot for so many weeks.
Her thin jacket is getting wet in the continuous drizzle that has set in, and she quickly slips into the car and drives away.
At twenty to ten that evening, the phone rings as Helen is watching the gardening programme she taped on Friday night.
She sets her glass of wine down on the coffee table, rises slowly and goes to the kitchen extension. With her hand still on the receiver, she hesitates. She knows it is Malcolm, ringing for her answer before he decides whether to drive home for the bank holiday Sunday and Monday.
She has thought about it for hours. Will she stay here without him? Will she follow him on his endless moves, for old times’ sake? Finally she has made up her mind.
Of course, he will point out that it’s not as though she has a job or anything, she should grab at life before it passes, and has she remembered the patio they planned to build at the new house? He will fight for a decision in his favour before she has even had a chance to speak. That is just Malcolm. She is no longer perturbed.
In fact a slight smile plays on her lips even as she takes up the receiver. The decision she has made is not really important. But the deciding brought her the greatest sense of satisfaction – it felt like the freedom she has dreamt of for years.
In which we see further thought and development
With Dinah safely settled upstairs at Park End Road, Helen goes down and takes the old tomes from the bookshelf. She then loses herself in them for two hours. She is not certain whether she is lured by the content or the feel and look of antiquity (which promises to soothe her into steadiness). But as she reads further into Pilgrim’s story, she begins to understand that his freedom lay in having the power to make a choice. Of course, his actual choices mattered greatly, it being an allegory. After all, his eternal wellbeing rested on them. But Helen sees that, for her too, having a choice is what makes her free. She can now stay with Malcolm or she can start again on her own. She has viewed life from another side, has discovered painfully who she is and what she is capable of – both positively and negatively – and is now free.
She closes the large volume carefully, returning it to its place on the shelves, and makes herself a blackcurrant tea.
Pensively gazing into its liquid depths, she considers her situation. The mess at Holy Wind is not her problem, though she may have to appear at an inquest. As far as she can see – and she is beginning to see with clear sight a long way backwards and to project her vision some way forwards – losing control has had a more damaging impact than staying in control and running no risks. In fact, she never wants to lose control again. She has contributed to Addison’s collapse though she is not going to accept total responsibility. But he was deserving of her gratitude on several counts and she is mortified at her part. She will visit him tomorrow and try to make amends, before turning to her own path through life.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Helen wearily pushes aside her hair and sits back on her haunches to survey the two stained bentwood chairs she has restored. Four hours work on them has numbed her to the point of exhaustion. But the glow of their newly varnished curves is nothing to the sense of expectancy inside her as she gradually formulates her future.
Next to her is the letter from Great Aunt Rebecca. As soon as morning comes she will ring the number at the top: she and Carla have agreed that there will be nowhere nearly so suited to restoring Addison to health than the windy agricultural Manx landscape. Rebecca’s uncanny perception of people’s needs will work with Addison’s beliefs rather than against them.
In which Helen regains some sanity
Helen’s eyes meet Carla’s as Addison is helped to the ambulance by a paramedic, all of them quickly sporting damp patches on the shoulder after only a few minutes outside. The body is placed in a second ambulance after the police have done their job.
‘I’m sorry for what I said earlier.’ Helen knows that her blurting of the truth still stands between them, not in any way overtaken by this tragedy.
In the depth of Carla’s gaze, she reads a tacit acknowledgement that neither is wholly responsible for that incident. Both spoke out under the pressure of defending another: Carla, wanting to protect Addison from Natalie, betrayed Helen’s trust, and Helen, responding to the hurt child inside her, betrayed Carla. They are in essence three victims, and the most efficient route to picking up their lives is for Helen to allow their relationships to alter.
In a strange way, she is relieved. While she kept their secret, she was bound to them. Now things will have to change and she is freed to move on. As they are too, now that Steve is behind them.
Watching as Addison is made comfortable – although seemingly unaware of most of what is happening to him – she has the clearest image of the ageing head librarian, pottering about among the rows of shelving, always quoting, rarely speaking from his own thoughts, as though programmed to be the mouthpiece of any dead poet or writer wishing to be heard. She can hear him declaiming Byron now: Hereditary bondsmen! know ye not / Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.
Strike the blow, not wait to be struck. How obvious it is in the aftermath of her own angry beast slinking away. How suitable a summary of what they have done with Steve. They struck a blow for Dinah and with Steve’s death they have freed her.
‘I must go with him,’ Carla says simply as the paramedics start to close the back doors.
‘It’s okay. I’ll take Dinah home and wait till you come, if you give me the key.’
When the ambulance pulls away, the other Followers gather in the prayer room and begin a silent vigil for the Preacher. They have made no attempt to speak to Helen as she removed the pram from the narthex, though several gave Carla a brief hug or a caring clasp on the shoulder before she climbed in after Addison. Helen is not bothered; she has never been one of them and what they think is no longer of import.
She allowed herself to be willingly pulled by Carla and the baby into a life that was not her own. It was unequivocally satisfying and opened up a whole world of experience, but it was not freedom. It was, in substance, no different from being dragged upwards by Malcolm and his job. She has been at the mercy of her emotions for weeks – just as she was when she had to let Uncle John do what he did, in order to keep his affection.
The first blow she struck on impulse, wide of the mark, and Addison suffered for it. Now she must counter it with a second, healing strike – well aimed for everyone’s sake – to finish the job efficiently. She must hope that her skill is still intact.
In which we bear witness to madness
Helen has seen Addison withdraw mentally – she has seen it before. There is something about him that shrinks into an invisible case that confines him to quarters. Her heart quickens. If he fails now, it will be her fault. She must give back some of what he expended on her.
The crooning has started again.
‘They daren’t come near, baby darling. You’re all fine – mine until I give you up.’
Carla is no longer moaning. She is clinging to Helen, the tears dried on her cheek, fear stark on her face.
Helen tries to think. It is made difficult through Steve’s drunken litany. The hum sucks her mind into a black hole.
‘I think it’s time to give you up, baby.’
She must shield the blackness out. Until she has the thing she needs, which is near the door.
She hurries Carla to the entrance, whispering urgently to gain her co-operation. ‘I’ve got a plan, Carla, just hold on for Dinah.’ Thrusting the girl none too gently at a Follower, she grabs from near the door the small glass vial they use for anointing people.
Slipping quietly back to a vantage point from where she judges she can succeed, she watches a moment more. There has been silence for nearly a minute. Steve is swaying to a soundless beat, eyes on Addison. She cannot detect his intention since his face is side-on to hers, but in a moment she must take her chance. There will not be another. They are like tigers sizing up the opposition and awaiting the first strike.
Addison glances down at her, and the emptiness in his face triggers the decision. She nods briskly at him, indicating Dinah with her left hand. With her right, she hurls the glass vial in a projectory straight at Steve. Worthy of her bowling days, but there is no time to gloat.
The man senses some change, is startled into distraction and looks over his shoulder.
Addison, acting more on instinct than plan, Helen is sure, leaps forward and grabs the baby as intended, pulling her away from Steve’s insanity into his own strong safe arms.
In horror Helen watches as Steve sways, stumbles sideways and flails around for the railing. He emits a cry and loses his balance. The thigh-height rail fails to contain his fall. Helen cannot move to do so. A bullet from behind flings past her with a scream, ‘No, Steve!’
Carla is too far away to make the distance in time. The thud on the wooden floor echoes round them and dies away as she stands screaming into the emptiness of the evening.
Helen runs to her side and cradles the hysterical girl in her arms.
She is wimpering again, ‘He didn’t have to die, he shouldn’t be dead. He wasn’t bad really.’
‘He was drunk. It was an accident, but it was his fault,’ Helen states firmly. At all costs, Carla must hear the truth, for Addison’s sake.
Suddenly others move to surround them. Helen, searching the room over the top of Carla’s head, realises the screaming has brought the prayer meeting to an abrupt halt, and they are all gathering in the room, spreading out and around the body spreadeagled on the floor.
In death, Steve wears a puzzled expression. As if he cannot understand what has happened. Helen cannot bear to look at him for more than a few seconds. The body doesn’t tell a true story. It points a finger at them when it should accept blame, and is therefore a travesty of truth. She values truth highly. They are going to have to fight for it to be acknowledged. Addison will not help his own cause, she suspects.
He stumbles from the walkway stairs with Dinah, his face distorted with some agony Helen cannot name. No one speaks as he hands the baby to Carla.
He is crying. The terrible sobs grow to fill the arena and Addison crumples onto his knees, his face buried in his hands. Carla crouches beside him, helpless, unable to comfort both him and the baby. He seems to diminish before them, even in his brightest waistcoat.
‘God, what have I done? I killed a man.’
His words are raw and pitious, to Helen a statement of guilt before a supposed court. One that they have not set up.
Nothing he says in the next half hour is at all coherent. He seems deaf to all their entreaties; they lead him to a chair. His eyes remain wide open but his brain has turned in on himself.
At someone’s suggestion, and with a distant nod from Carla, Helen pulls out her mobile and rings for the police and an ambulance.
The only sound is the heavy pounding of rain on the skylights – no one even comments on it.
In which Dinah’s fate hangs in the balance
Addison enters the walkway with the light almost too dim to make out Steve’s form. The sun has been obscured by the rain clouds and Steve is some distance from the skylight. With a nervous smoothing of his sticky hands down his trousers, Addison starts towards man and infant. Each step on the metal floor rings out like the film soundtrack of David approaching Goliath. The image frightens him. David had God on his side, Addison may not have now.
He starts to speak soothingly to Steve: words of reassurance, casual comments about the baby, anything to fill the drum-marked atmosphere with a sense of normality.
As he nears the man, Steve sways towards him, swinging the child carelessly away from the low guard rail. ‘Peekaboo, I know you’re there. I know everything, you can’t fool me.’
The smell of alcohol floats menacingly on the air. Steve is not steady on his feet. The danger is tangible. ‘Shall I give her back to Carla?’ he says. He dangles the baby over the railing and Addison flinches at the grin, struggles to overcome a wave of nausea. He can see the girls below. Some Followers stand silent outside the doorway, latecomers awaiting the interval…
They are not his business. He’s being distracted.
‘Steve, Stefan, whatever you like to call yourself, we all do unwise things and no one is going to blame you… Shall we talk?’ Addison holds a hand towards him, as to a child, but regards him seriously as he would a sober adult able to talk man to man. Love the sinner, hate the sin.
‘Carla signed the deaf… death warrant. She tried to cheat me. A man needs a child. Wouldn’t you say so?’ He hugs Dinah to him. She starts to cry.
Her piercing wail is the worst tearing of his soul Addison has ever known. For the first time since he heard of the murder of the other baby, he can hardly contain the pain of knowing it. He forces his distress to distance itself and become focused anger – finely tuned on the baby’s tiny shoulders. This one will live. He takes a further step towards Steve.
‘Let me hold the baby, Steve. You look unwell. There are people who can help, you know.’
The words are calming, reasoned and careful – everything Addison is not. His insides are burning with agony, confusion and hate for the man who dares to perpetrate this evil. He has spoken what he does not mean. He’s conning the man into submission in order to win back the baby, when he should be confronting him with his sin, saving his soul, preaching hell and brimstone.
He descends deeper into the mire. At the bottom of them all is lust and hate, and the love of a woman is fuelling it. Both men are sinning because of Carla.
His eyes fall on Helen, who is moving across the floor towards them with something in her hand.
In which Steve taunts the onlookers
Steve is high up in the walkway, dandling the baby between his hands as if aiding her to stand and walk. But her feet are not on the wrought iron floor: they are slipping and sliding on the retaining rail. He is deliberately playing a dangerous game with her.
Even from this distance, Addison can see that Dinah is drained of colour. She is not even attempting to cry. Some tiny flicker responds within him. ‘Don’t shout,’ he whispers urgently to Helen. ‘He’ll drop her if we surprise him.’
But as the seconds pass and the voice continues, he recognises with anger that Steve has already seen them, has in all likelihood counted on them appearing at his tuneless summons. He is performing to an audience.
‘Come on little one, walk for your daddy.’
His words taunt, intent on invoking retaliation – and certain disaster. They produce in Addison a turmoil of decision-making, which in his present state is too much. If they allow this infidel to keep up his chanting they are allowing him to win; if they intervene too quickly, they may provoke the diaster they fear. For this man is ill – he needs help.
‘Addison. we have to do something.’ Helen is pushing her hair back in her usual sign of frustration, yet still whispering.
At that moment, Carla comes in to the auditorium, and her shriek of horror breaks the humming and chanting like a knife through flesh.
‘No, no, no nooo-’
Steve takes his eyes off the flailing baby and gazes down to the watchers below.
‘But yes, Carla, my love. See how she dances for her real daddy. Look!’ He twirls the baby over in front of him as if she were a skipping rope. The cruelty of it wrenches a gasp from Helen. Addison grabs Carla as she falls to her knees.
‘Stop, stop’ she screams. Her whole body is rigid with terror and stretched up in supplication. ‘You’ll break her wrists, you’ll kill her. You can have her.’
‘No!’ Addison will not offer his daughter to this man – the very epitome of evil, everything he has always denounced. Solomon’s judgement rings like a church bell in his head. This man is no father to Dinah: he would kill her rather than relinquish her. She is Carla’s by right. And if it costs him his life, he will execute the judgement on behalf of Carla.
Suddenly, as if by revelation, the whole of the Lord’s mysterious doing sums itself inside him with one short epithet: love redeems. This is his moment to act on it.
He lays a hand on Carla’s head. His strength returns to operation levels. ‘This is the enemy’s doing,’ he whispers. ‘I’m going up there to sort it out.’
Steve is crooning away again, whether in calculated badness or madness Addison no longer cares. He is on God’s business and his demons will finally be laid to rest by selfless action.
‘No, Addison!’ The objection is from Helen. ‘He’s insane enough to do anything. We need trained help to get him down.’
He pushes her aside. ‘You look after Carla.’ His voice is sharp, he fears her reaction, but knows exactly what he must do now. He has one chance and he must not lose it. No weakness will stop him now. He will save the baby – and if God spares him, he will set about saving the man too.
In a few long strides he is gone up the narrow stairway. Speed will be on his side. If the man is unbalanced or drunk – probably both – then he will have slow reactions. But Addison is in no doubt that the reaction may be disasterous when it comes and his aim is to prevent such a move.
In which we see Addison’s and Carla’s worst fear realised
Addison feels the most solitary person in a city teeming with life, as it surely is this Friday night. He has no part in it any more. He would prefer to be dead than live with his shame. His own corner of operation has been built on badly flawed judgement, on a public failure to keep up to his own standards, preached incessantly in this very place. He tries to tell of his pain but the words die in his mouth, leaving garbage for those around him.
Addison senses rather than sees that the meeting has started. Pete, unaware of what has happened, is getting on with his job of leading tonight, like Addison should. Only there is no point now. The news of Carla’s complicity with Steve’s sin is his death blow. Guilt he could cope with – man, if you do something wrong you straight way put it right and make amends. Guilt is fixed by divine decree – but shame? If they’ve seen you’re inadequate, there’s no amends.
He turns to Carla. They will go home. ‘Fetch her,’ he orders hoarsly. His voice already lacks authority.
Moments later, Carla’s scream fills the narthex. Pitted against the words coming from the room alongside, it is a wail, sharp enough to jerk Addison to attention. The uncontrollable trembling in his limbs is instantly drowned in the pool of dread that springs up within. ‘What the––?’
He seizes Helen’s arm, ignoring her jerk of discomfort.
As they arrive at the pram, the truth is revealed in the sprawled coverlets: Dinah is missing.
Carla is wimpering. Standing holding the pram edge, rocking back and forth over its obscene exposure. Her long hair like a mortuary shroud.
‘Oh God, Carla, where is she?’
Helen speaks for the first time since her outburst. Addison is glad of her return to their midst. In all this madness they have only each other and God. And Addison no longer knows where God is in the smaller scheme of things. He feels no anger towards Helen. They need her.
A strange hum reaches their ears and they look up, alarmed. None of them moves.
It is human without doubt, but the voice is low and insistent, though tinged with instability. It croons: ‘Not yet, not yet, little one.’ Then a tuneless hum, and the words again, on and on.
Helen is first to react: she runs forward through the doors into the main auditorium. Addison, like a zombie, still holding her arm, allows himself to be dragged with her.
She comes to a halt not five metres inside the arena and pulls on Addison’s arm, restraining him. ‘Its Steve.’ Helen’s voice is barely above a breath. ‘He’s got Dinah.’