NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2

There is no doubt that I was in a place in my life at that point where my close friends had been encouraging me to reach out to Fran’s family and re-forge the connections that had been there during her life, so that I had a place for both my grief and my happier memories about her, but I had been hiding up here in Norfolk, nodding when people said such things and steadfastly not doing anything about it once they had gone home or hung up the phone. As Andrea spoke I could feel myself wanting to know her, not in any kind of yearning way, and certainly not as a surrogate for my dead wife, but simply as a way of making the connection I still felt to her somehow more real and present, rather than allowing it to continue to languish in the dark, ignored and denied.
“I’m glad you came; sorry Jareth gave you a hard time.”
She laughed, and suddenly I was looking at a younger version of my dead wife, and despite my expectation that if Andrea reminded me of her I would be plunged into an ice-cold lake of pain, the pain did not come. Instead I felt an immediate wave of affection for her;
“Do you have somewhere to stay? I mean I don’t want to be inappropriate or anything, but I have a spare room and I don’t imagine that we are going to feel as though spending one afternoon in a coffee shop is enough time.”
She smiled and nodded before answering;
“I have a room at the hotel on the promenade, what’s it called? The Cliftonville, that’s it, but I could only afford one night. I suppose I didn’t really think that far ahead, I just took a guess based on your Twitter feed that you were here and then made for this place.”
“Well, if nothing else you are turning out to be a pretty good detective, I’ll give you that! The Cliftonville is lovely, but I’m not surprised you could only afford one night, it’s the priciest place in town. Will you let me settle your bill and we’ll move you into my spare room for a few days?”
“That would be great, but I don’t want to get in the way of your writing or anything and I can pay my own bill, I mean I didn’t come to find you for that, yeah?”
I took a breath, and studied her face, keen to divine whether or not I had offended her, but it seemed to me that she was simply making it clear that she was not gold digging and that pleased me no end.
“We can argue about the money later, if you like you can take me out to dinner or something, but you came to find me, to connect with some kind of family and now you’re here I think that you deserve the same level of hospitality as I would offer anyone in my family, heck even most of the people I call friends. If not, then what’s the point of being a slightly successful author?”
She laughed boisterously at the last part of that, which did my ego no end of good and then relaxed completely into her sofa, no longer worried that she was going to have to pitch me any more. She picked up her Latté and wrapped both her hands around it to warm them, taking sips and allowing herself to look around the place and take it all in. After a few moments she spoke again;
“So is it true, do you write here all the time now?”
“I suppose it’s a as true as anything else. I tend to come here most days for most of the morning or afternoon. I do write every day, and I suppose to the extent that I do it here I have a routine and habits that I have found useful, but the media perception of me camped out in the window from opening to closing, wearing out my laptop keyboard are a caricature at best. I suppose I write for about three or four hours a day, and if I am here in Cromer I will tend to do it here in Goblin King’s, but I do write at home sometimes, particularly on the weekends as it gets ridiculously busy in here on the weekends in the summer. Then of course if I am on the road for a book or a speaking tour I write on trains and planes and in hotel rooms and strange coffee shops and the homes of friends, so I cannot really say that I do all my writing here, but I do write here a lot.”
More laughing ensued. I was not offended, but I was surprised;
“What?”
“You just gave me an answer that could have been dialogue from one of your characters, I mean that was vintage Geraint, from Transom. You really are a writer, I guess. I mean I knew that you were and I have read your books, but here I am talking to you and I can see your work actually in you.”
No one had ever said something so simultaneously wonderful and damning to me, ever before, and yet even though there was a kind of judgement in her comments, it was clear to me that she was trying to say something nice and something that she meant.
We finished our coffees and I packed up my stuff so that we could head back to the flat that I tend to refer to as my loft. My loft is a top floor conversion with a reasonable living space, two bedrooms, a kitchen and its own bathroom I had considered myself lucky to find it on the market when I had made my first trip up to Cromer after doing little more considered than the twenty-first century equivalent of throwing darts at a map with Google Maps.
Andrea made all of the right kind of low-key, polite noises about how it was a nice place that confirmed to me what I already knew; it was clean and cosy with nothing whatsoever about it that could make it seem special or ostentatious. In fact it could reasonably said that I live year round in a holiday let style apartment in the top floor of a Victorian three storey townhouse above the Cromer promenade, and so seeing it offered Andrea almost no insight into me, unless it was to leap to the conclusion that this was where I lived, rather than in any way being my home.
I settled her into the spare room and then gave her some privacy while I went to find a bottle of wine in the kitchen. I was sitting at my desk a few minutes later, making slow work of my first glass of Shiraz and checking Twitter when Andrea came into the room, fresh from the shower, and picked up the glass I had poured for her;
“Is this for me?”
I nodded and gestured with mine towards the sofa.
“How do you feel about some takeaway food this evening, I’m not in the mood for the rest of society?”
“That sounds great, as long as it’s Chinese”
The sly grin on her face was enough to sell it and I called the Jade Dragon.
We made small talk before and during dinner, I learned that there is still nothing fun about flying trans Atlantic if you do not have the money for business class, and that growing up in the north of New York State is not as much fun as sitcoms from the seventies and eighties might have suggested. I also learned that Andrea’s father had actually passed away, and that was why she had been clearing out her room at her parents’ home. Under the same banner of smalltalk I had admitted that I was living the life of a monk since Fran had passed – well apart from occasional visits to what I want to refer to as call girls rather than mere prostitutes, not that I told Andrea about them – and that I was having some fairly serious problems with writing in the last few weeks, but was putting it down to the usual block I would tend to suffer as the days grew shorter. In short we spent the time becoming comfortable with one another.
After we had demolished the ‘Emperor’s Banquet’ and Andrea had helped me clear away the debris I put the coffee machine on and broke out my rolling box. Andrea had already copped to being an occasional toker as we chatted over dinner so I was not worried about tipping my own hand, and it was nice to have someone to smoke with; day to day I rarely indulged finding pot a much more pleasant experience in company. I skinned up a classic, two-skin cone, poured us each a coffee and made up a tray with an ashtray and the spliff, the coffees a small jug of milk and a bowl of sugar, and a plate of chunks of CDM, in readiness for the munchies. I carried it out into the living room and set up camp on the coffee table between the sofa where Andrea was curled up and the armchair that she had intuited was my spot.
I tapped the spliff a few times on my lighter and then lit it, enjoying the ceremony of it all, a kind of western and slightly boho alternative to Chinese tea ceremonies and the like. I held the first drag for as long as I could without falling into a spluttering heap, and then hung onto it for a couple more drags until I started to feel the beginnings of my high and then I offered it to Andrea, who took it from me with gleeful abandon.
She did not ask me the question until we had almost seen the whole joint off, passing it between us with yet more lightweight conversation, that was admittedly becoming more and more off the wall as the skunk did the trick and peeled away our inhibitions.
“Caine, can you tell me what happened to my sister?”