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‘Have you finished? Do have some more tea.’
‘I have to go.’
‘How’s it coming on?’
‘Oh … fine … it hasn’t changed much,’ said Tessa, off guard.
‘Changed? Then you’ve been here before?’
‘Oh … only once … years ago … in the seventies.’
‘Then you must have known the … previous occupants?’
‘No … not really, friends of friends, you know.’
‘Bernard said they left the place in a terrible state. And that little girl …’ She quivered. Tessa said nothing. There was an embarrassed silence.
‘Well, well … they knew all about vegetables and flowers and things, so Bernard says … are you sure you won’t have more tea?’
‘I’ll be back tomorrow at nine-thirty,’ said Tessa, and left.
CHAPTER FIVE (#)
Tessa woke in her hotel room in Bury St Edmunds. She had been dreaming about Dee-Dee. Whenever she dreamt about Murray or Don she woke feeling angry, but a dream about Dee-Dee always left her sad. She had close female friends now; Fiona, who worked in the gallery in Bath, and Bunty who she went cycling with, but nobody was as close as Dee-Dee had been.
As far back as she could remember Dee-Dee was there. She came to play every other Saturday. Tessa was an only child. Her parents felt she needed ‘company’. Her dream was vague but what remained was a picture of Dee-Dee, crinkly gingery hair, wide blue eyes, pink cheeks and freckles, the little girl and the adult fused into one. She wondered, but only briefly, what Dee looked like now. With this thought she got out of bed and drew the curtains.
It was sunny, a good day for sketching. She wished bitterly she was back in her house. The hotel room with apricot sheets and curtains depressed her; there was nothing here she could use to strengthen herself. She ran a bath. At least the bathroom was stark and white. It was only seven o’clock.
Two girls in the garden with all the dolls. They were playing hairdresser’s, Dee-Dee’s favourite game, or rather she was playing and Tessa was watching.
‘… And this one’s called Dibby and she has beautiful yellow hair and I’m going to plait it and put blue ribbons on, and this one’s called Dobby and she has beautiful black hair and I’m going to make it all curly …’
She stopped in the middle of her monologue.
‘Tessy, will we always be friends?’
‘Yes,’ said Tessa; she couldn’t imagine it any different.
Dee-Dee began to brush the doll’s hair vigorously. ‘You’re full of tangles, you’re quite matty … Tessy, will we be friends even when we’re married?’ getting married was Dee-Dee’s other favourite game.
‘Yes,’ said Tessa, turning one of the dolls upside-down.
‘You mustn’t do that, she’s having a perm … Tessy, when people are married they don’t have friends …’
Tessa looked at her seriously. Dee-Dee had rosy cheeks and ribbons. She was pretty, Tessa wasn’t. Her parents called her ‘peaky’. ‘Why not?’ she said.
‘They just don’t. My mummy’s got no friends at all, and my daddy …’
Tessa thought, it was true, her parents didn’t have any friends either. The only person who ever came to stay was Auntie and she was horrible.
‘You see,’ said Dee-Dee, ‘when people get married and grown up they go and live in houses and they … don’t … have … friends.’ She threw the doll across the lawn. ‘You’re too bad, you’re too fidgety!’
‘Why can’t we still be friends?’ said Tessa.
‘Because we can’t, it’s not allowed.’ Dee-Dee was cross. She went all pink when she was cross.
Tessa thought again. She thought of next door and across the road and all of Lime Avenue and down to the shops and back. People in houses with babies and dogs and gardens. It made her cross too. She jumped up.
‘I want to be friends for ever.’
‘Well, we can’t!’
‘Why can’t we?’
‘We just can’t.’ Dee-Dee had started to cry. Any minute now Tessa’s mother would run out and ask what on earth was going on.
Tessa sat down. ‘Dee-Dee,’ she said, ‘why can’t we be different …’
Tessa moved her feet in the bath water. Ripples ran up her body. She moved her feet again and more ripples ran over her. She was lean and muscular. She used her body as a means of transport. These days she rarely connected it with pleasure.
Dee-Dee woke in the middle of their first night at St John’s.
‘Tessy, where’s the loo? I can’t remember, I’m dying for a piss.’
‘Oh, Dee … it’s on the other side and up some stairs.’
‘That’s miles away … I can’t find the torch … Tessy, there might be spiders …’
‘Shhhhh.’ But Don was fast asleep. They looked at him. He was lying on his back, both arms stretched out.
‘He’s exhausted,’ said Tessa, and they giggled.
‘Oh Tessy, don’t, I’ll wet myself.’
‘You’ll have to go outside.’
‘Somebody might see me.’
‘Dee-Dee you are a dope, we’re in the middle of nowhere.’
‘Will you come with me?’
‘If I must.’
Wrapped up in one blanket, they stepped into the night.
‘Oh, look! Wow!’ The sky was filled with stars. There was a thin new moon and the constellations were clear, each star a pinprick of brilliance. The Milky Way reeled over the Hall.
‘It’s trippy!’ said Dee-Dee, breathless. ‘Oh, I must have this piss.’
‘Now I want to go too.’
They squatted by the wall. Their two streams of urine merged into one and ran gurgling down a drain. They stayed there gazing at the heavens.
‘I got used to squatting in India,’ said Dee-Dee. ‘Everybody squats … the stars there were … cosmic. Jeremy tried to tell me the names but I’ve forgotten.’
‘I used to have a book about stars, that one like a W is Cassiopeia and that’s Taurus the bull, and that’s Hercules …’
‘I can’t see it.’
‘In the book there were pictures, it made it clearer.’
They held hands under the blanket.
‘Don’s lovely, isn’t he?’ said Dee after a while.
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