The visiting area was a large hall, laid out with tables, just like you used to see on those stupid soaps that most women used to pore over every evening. Mum, and Nikki may not have really liked each other that much, but they had that in common. Soap after soap, broken up by some stupid show where the television channel dumped a large group of socially inept retards into a house and made them vote to evict each other. These gash horrid little shows hardly got any fucking thing right, but prison halls were spot on.
A lot has happened over these grey tables over the past twenty years. I have received my divorce papers in this cold room, sitting there in front of my ice faced ex as she described in every minute detail what had been happening in the affair she was having. Joey risked detection to come and inform me about the loss of my Aunt Nikki. Toni came in to talk to me about Dad’s memory loss. Toni came in to tell me that my Dad was going to die. I can’t remember the last good thing that happened since being thrown amongst these animals.
As always the visiting halls smelled clean. Nothing spectacular mind, just chlorine bleach and some cheap-ass polish having some pretense of smelling like something to do with dead wood and varnish. Henry sat next to me as we waited for our sister to arrive. Henry drummed his hands on the wooden table top, allowing an irritating click-clacking echo around the near empty hall. Over the years everyone had fewer visitors cross the halls. Most of the Country now was either dead or too frightened to come through those doors, for fear they may never leave. Grace had it all worked out though, brazenly walking in through the door in her tight fitting black suit, letting her long red hair swing down below her perfectly round rump. She always made an effort when she came; swaggering and swinging her assets in front those lecherous pricks in uniforms, making her statement. “I’m the one of Simon’s kids you can’t fucking touch, let alone fuck, so keep looking; watch me walk.” Grace floated to our table and sat down with a paper cup of strong sweet latte and moved a whispering thread of red hair from her green eyes. We checked our peripherals for eavesdroppers before I leant over the table and embraced my sister. It was always great seeing her; I have always fully understood the sacrifice she has undergone to stay free and off Lewis’ radar. I have always felt terrible too; it is because of me that she has to sacrifice so much. My little Sister, protecting the family now, it should have been me doing that. But my temper was always one for action and not for diplomacy. What she has had to do sickens me, and I will spend the rest of my life making it up to her when I leave here.
“Damn Grace it is good to see you.” Henry broke the silence once we were sure that there was nobody near enough to decipher our conversation.
“You too Henry, how is everything?” Grace had a lyrical sing song voice, very similar to Aunty Nikki, although spoke with a deliberately forced bland twang of received pronunciation. A product of working for a government she hates.
“Yeah the view hasn’t changed much, but at least Cameron has learned to leave the toilet seat down for me.” The three of us chuckled loudly, a moment’s mirth curing an untold amount of tension. The room was filling up around us, wives with sullen children, siblings, mothers, Lawyers and other ghosts. The artificial light cast a thousand shadows around the bland room as the quiet pulsing hubbub began, chairs screeching against floor, tables being bumped, quiet hellos and loud tears.
“Listen boys we haven’t got a lot of time, the party is organised. We will be having it in three days’ time. We will be bringing the attenders to your venue at about twenty-one hundred hours ok?” Henry leant back on his chair as Grace spoke and kept his eye on the closest guard. I think he was satisfied that the Guard was paying attention to someone else’s conversation and then he leant back on to the table. Henry’s piercing blue eyes leveled urgently at Grace, burning with an urgent concern.
“Grace, what is the margin for error?” He spoke softly but the insistent danger rasped and graveled in his throat. Grace looked at her fingers momentarily, flexing them like she was about to play a massive concerto.
“There’s no easy way out.” She looked at us both with wide eyes.
“There’s no short cut home.” I finished the line for her. The three of us understood the code, a song our Father used to play in his music room when we were younger. Always in times of stress and duress we would huddle in his room, with the stench of sweat and coffee and listen to the song. The fact that Grace had referenced it here put a glum feeling between the three of us.
“Come on boys, we always knew it would be a long shot. But in three days’ time we will have a small window and then when that party ends, we will have another to attend.” Grace’s chair creaked as her leg shook and quivered under the table.
“Can you guarantee the guest list?” I asked vaguely irritated by the crescendo of noise building up with the room. Some stupid bitch was crying down by Dan ‘Lech’ McGrady’s table, weeping about injustice, about how ‘It’s all lies, they can’t keep you here.’ So fucking what, it’s all lies, they are keeping him here, along with the rest of us, and I wished that dumb bitch would just shut the fuck up. I guess my irritation wasn’t so damned vague after all then.
“Yes Cameron, I can certainly guarantee the guest list.” Henry and I looked at each other and greeted each other’s gaze with a subtle and mild nod. We gave no smile, no frown, just blank silent communication. We held each other’s gaze for a moment before Henry tilted his head toward Grace prompting me to ask.
“How’s Dad?” I asked simply. Grace’s eyes immediately shot to her own hands, her brow furrowed and her pretty red lips pursed. This would be good then. I waited a moment for her response, before she leveled her gaze directly at me.
“I haven’t spoken to him. But I did see him Cam. Lucy and I went to Nikki’s plaque to pay our respects a couple of days ago, and I stood under the grove of pines and watched him and Toni.” She inhaled a breath, the subtle vibration of shuddering sob evidently fought hard. Swallowing Grace continued. “His memory is…well…I don’t know how to describe it, he remembered everything and then nothing. Whatever is in Dad’s head is destroying him, and it is taking Toni with him. He spoke to memories and illusions that weren’t there, before realising they were all gone. He talked to me as if I was five; he talked to Nikki as if they had argued, and then he talked to her as she lay dying in his arms again.” A few tears spilled over Grace’s darkened eyelids and slid down her porcelain skin. “I watched the strongest man I ever knew, slip to his knees and weep for a phantom. We cannot fail now Cameron. Not now, not when everything is in motion. We did this for him. I would love to be able to approach them again; since Toni told me that I have disgraced them I haven’t seen him. I just want to hold his hand and make him see what I have been doing. But if I go to them, I will lose Lucy and will be right in here with you. So for the sake of Dad, Toni and I do not fucking fail do you hear me?” In many ways Grace and I were similar, only I was angry all the time. Grace only got angry when she was depressed, and with everything that had happened in our lives she had every right and reason to be depressed.
“How is Mum Grace?” Henry spoke softly, looking at the table, cringing under the weight of the galling wailing and booming chatter.
“Coping I think Henry, but gaunt and a little pale. I am not entirely sure she didn’t catch my eye you know. But she said nothing and helped Dad towards the car.” A long pause hung, like the minutes silence at a football game, we sat in stricken contemplation for the afflicted people we loved, and once loved us. A simmering anger was building up again in the back of my head, a little like a saucepan of water put upon an unattended hob. It bubbles and builds, steam arrives, but there is no relenting until the saucepan empties and the hob continues to sear the bottom of the pan. My mind is that pan, how long before it is empty and begins to blacken with the burning hatred and anger? This shit fucking situation can be traced back in my mind to one man. The one man that made me this fucking eternally angry; always at the back of my mind sneering, leering and jeering. If it hadn’t been for what this man had taken from me, I wouldn’t be here, Henry wouldn’t be here, Joey would be able to walk without fear, and Grace would be able hold her own fathers hand. I am such a selfish prick, I know it, they know it. I need to make it right for everyone, but whilst that pan is bubbling I cannot focus and be everything everyone needs me to be. I need to take the pan off the hob, before I am blackened and burnt. I am the older sibling after all.
“Three days then. I have a little job to do before my chauffer arrives then.”