As my mother shunted her little family off to Sokolniki Park, I tried not to think any longer about Carrie. I would have to see her again in two or three days; and she would have to cope without me. However, and what was the most irritating for me, everything seemed to make an image of the people I was abandoning spring into my mind, in a way that Joshua had haunted me since his demise two years ago. Even the name of the park reminded me of the previous day’s incident with Nicky and the mysterious tunnels. And then there was that ever-growing urge to re-search the wine-cellar of the Karkroffs. Nevertheless, I pushed the budding intuition away, casting it off once again as what my mother would call silly ‘feelings’.
It was about lunchtime (in fact, we had just finished our packed lunches and were resting the food off before we headed to somewhere more exciting), that time when the sun, high in his sky, was busy thawing patches into the park’s green, before I heard from the infamous woman again. It was as though I could never get away from her.
I was watching my brother chase a squirrel, and my mother observe the horse trails that dropped off and picked up their customers across the lake from us. It was then, in the silence of my mind, one moment of silence in the ever-rushing flow of my crazy mind, that I was interrupted rudely by the repetitive buzzing of my phone. I had put the darn thing on silent after the last call from my mother, and, being here, hadn’t thought to expect anyone other than her to contact me in this way.
Instead, I was shocked to see the number of her same mobile, and the grainy picture of a blonde-haired Carrie that I had taken with my older phone back in those old days, pop up upon my home screen. I had missed a first call from her, two minutes previously, but, insistent, she was trying again.
As much as I was worried and angry, gratefulness sunk through into my heart to the moment I heard her voice.
“Carrie…” I gasped, “you know that you shouldn’t be calling me. If my mother found out-”
“Don’t worry, Agnetha. You’re in Sokolniki Park, aren’t you?”
“How did you-?” I cried.
“Mr. Sterinsky saw you on his way. The national park isn’t that far from Karkroff Hall. In fact, you could walk here from there.”
“Carrie… You know I can’t come to you, so don’t try suggesting it.”
“Your mother is not doing her job-”
“Caroline! Don’t say that!”
“You don’t even like her.”
“I… Carrie, she’s my mum!” Finally, anger burnt within my voice, charring off any thankfulness I had had. I glanced across at my mother and Benny, now throwing a disk to each other. When my brother glanced over, I pretended to be observing the change of the nature gallivanting around me. In this park, the trees were unusually green, tinted with snow as though they were those fake Christmas trees with fake snow that we had once bought from a cheap garden centre off Oxford road. In this park, in fact, there was the least snow I had seen in the entire Moscow area. As though part of a new age, the dull green that seeped through was a cool colour; the dark sky-blue was dampened with weird clouds, the shapes of mythical beasts. I watched as a squirrel, possibly the same one as before, skimped through the gaps of the snow, reaching the base of an oak, before it bounded up the wood, its claws leaving little dents.
“I’m sorry, Aggie. I…” But she stopped. “I’m not gonna make any more excuses, and though I know this may get you into trouble, I have a favour to ask you.”
Her sigh smoked through the phone.
“Yeah, I know, but this is important and, I must say, case relative.”
“'Case relative’?” I boggled. “Have you been reading that Poirot?”
“It’s the only thing I can do in my spare time. You know, the Karkroffs won’t approve my request to have a television in my bedroom.”
I could almost hear her shrug through the handset.
“Anyway,” Carrie continued, “I need to speak to you about Elsie. It’s important.”
“Elsie Karkroff? The daughter?”
“My student, yes,” said Caroline quietly.
“Well, I’d rather talk to you face to face…”
I sighed, running my free hand through my hair. I knew how this was going to end because, ultimately, I didn’t want to refuse another of Carrie’s pleas. I glanced towards my brother, who was chasing the disk in the same manner that he had chased the squirrel across the park. Having jumped and missed the disk, his eyes met mine for an instant, and I felt the pleading seep from mine; I tried a quick gesture to summon him, he glanced back at our mother and snatched up the disk without a further look to me. How nice.
“Aggie?” Caroline’s raggedy breath brought me back.
“Wait…” I whispered without trying to. “I’m thinking.”
To my surprise, two things happened simultaneously next. For one thing, I looked back at my brother, to see if he had changed his mind. The other was that he now stood muttering to our mother, but then he turned and, within a minute of hurrying his short legs, he was at my bench. Mum placed herself down on the bench nearest to her, placed casually in the middle of the path and the lake-side and, wide-eyed, began to watch the world as I had done.
“You’re on the phone,” Benny noticed.
“Hang on again, Carrie,” I muttered into the phone, before turning to my brother. “Well done, clever-clogs. I hope you didn’t mention that to mother. Ben, I need your help. Do you remember Caroline Peterson, the lady to whom I asked you to send a letter to, like, ages ago?”
“Oh, yeah, I remember. I thought she’d left you behind.”
“She’s here,” I snapped at him, “in Moscow. And she wants to meet up. But-”
“But mum demanded that you stay with her today. I see your problem. What do you want me to do? You can’t exactly go up to mum and ask for the freedom she won’t give you. Neither can you just run off again-”
“It’s important!” I cried in frustration.
“You’re going to have to, sometime, tell mum what’s going on. She won’t put up with this forever.”
“I know! But-” I gestured, helplessly.
“And so, you would like me to have a word with her?” he replied, tediously drawing each word out to annoy me.
“Yes! I mean, could you?”
My brother raised his eyebrows, a move typically influenced by me.
“I can’t- and won’t- guarantee anything.”
“Just try, please, Benny!”
He shrugged, but stumbled away to mum. Their quiet words were by a frown crossing her face. Within a minute, she was beckoning me over, pushing Benny away.