WARNING: References to suicide.
‘Y’know; if you close your eyes and chant three times “I don’t believe in Goths” we all disappear.’
Richard started and looked up at the woman who had appeared beside his table holding a glass of red wine. She was young, and smallish, with excessive eye-makeup and whitened lips.
‘Plaid suits aren’t exactly a fashion must-have round here.’ She smiled a little and extended her free hand. ‘You must be Richard.’
‘Um… Amelia Lestrade?’
She had a surprisingly firm handshake and sat down without being invited, but it was her club. ‘Lia, please.’
He had expected ‘Lia’ to be older, with neat matriarchal hair, possibly touched by grey, and a smart business suit. Instead her hair was blue-black and awry, and she wore tight black jeans and a burgundy top that made Richard avert his eyes when she leaned forward. In retrospect he wasn’t sure he approved of his daughter’s admiration for her.
In retrospect Lia was probably young enough to be his daughter.
‘Jenna thought we’d get on,’ he hoped his voice didn’t betray his doubtfulness.
Lia crossed her legs and cradled her wine loosely in one hand. ‘Emma Woodhouse has nothing on her.’
‘No idea what you mean.’
With one hand she tugged down her slinky top as she shook her head and he shifted uncomfortably.
The club was hot and crowded with people who, in his view, weren’t wearing enough. Some were wearing frilly shirts that belonged on Sunday night television and others wore jeans so torn they were almost cobwebs. Richard even thought he saw a few with artificial fangs. He should have invited Lia to his office; at least then they wouldn’t need to shout over the bass line that thrummed his breastbone.
‘Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it, I guess.’ She saluted him with her glass before sipping. ‘Or maybe you have. Don’t patients get fixated on their shrinks all the time?’
‘It’s against the rules.’ He stared at his glass of G and T. Through the clear liquid the chipped tabletop looked distorted and magnified.
‘Your daughter’s solution to all my woes was that I should “get laid”. Pretty much any time someone was uptight or acted out that would be her reasoning. Can you imagine the STI rates if we all ran out for it whenever we felt a little stressed?’ Lia chuckled at her own joke. ‘Sorry, I’ve got a degree in philosophising about absolutely fuck all.’
He twisted his cufflinks rather than look at her as he spoke. ‘Jenna said you really helped her when she was diagnosed.’
Lia smiled, genuinely, he thought. ‘Well, the wonders of experience.’ She tapped the side of her head. ‘Legally blind nowadays, I can’t even drive,’ she murmured, scratching her chin. ‘I get a free bus pass though, swings and roundabouts.’
‘How’d you know I was here?’
‘One of my bartenders told me, like I said you stand out.’ She sipped her wine. ‘Most people don’t notice; the Human Race is incredibly dense like that.’ She sighed and smiled wryly. ‘I’m not saying I agree with her but I think she didn’t want to be a burden.’
Richard’s grip tightened around his glass until his knuckles whitened. ‘She wouldn’t have been.’
‘Guess you’ve never worried about losing your independence.’ There was a pause in which he didn’t reply. ‘She said something about not wanting to be a “vegetable” and not wanting to lose herself. You’re the shrink, maybe you heard that kind of stuff before.’
A group scream went up from somewhere and he looked about, almost relieved at the distraction. There was a gaggle of girls near the bar dressed in tight black outfits with red dribbles painted at the corners of their mouths, and one of them was wearing an L-plate. They let out another screech of laughter and then headed for the exit.
‘What was that?’ Lia asked.
‘Hen party.’ Richard turned back to look at her.
‘It’s fun and laughter ‘til the bloody divorce,’ Lia said into her glass.
‘That’s the truth,’ Richard replied. ‘My ex took everything; house, car, even the cat.’
‘I think that I might be like your ex.’ Her lips thinned. ‘But then, my ex had a thing about cleaning ladies. Do you?’
He cleared his throat and felt his cheeks warmed.
‘Sorry, too forward again.’ She grinned and sipped her wine. ‘Maybe I’m losing my inhibitions along with my sight. I should get therapy, how much do you charge?’
‘Five hundred an hour.’
‘Pounds? Jesus, I should be in your line of work.’ She sighed. ‘All my ex had was a goldfish and a second-hand Nissan. Now I can’t drive the Nissan and the bloody goldfish died.’ She put the glass on the tabletop. ‘I just didn’t bother to replace it this time. He never once noticed, never even noticed when I dyed my hair. Bastard.’
Richard chuckled as she shook her head making her hair swing back and forth.
An awkward silence settled between them.
Eventually she asked: ‘What did you come here for, Richard? Presumably not for a laugh, or to reminisce, or just to gawp at me.’
Richard felt as though he should have an answer to that. He was supposed to be a professional; he was supposed to have the answers. But he didn’t. He’d just been sat in Jenna’s bedroom with her phone in his hand and the first number in her phonebook had been ‘Amelia’. In retrospect it had been a stupid thing to do.
Lia leaned forward; her fingertips brushed the table, bumped his hand then closed around it. Her fingers were warm and the tips callused, he wondered if she played the guitar. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Everybody’s sorry, but it’s my fault I should have seen it, been there.’
‘You want to hear it’s not your fault. You want someone to tell you there was nothing you could do because if you don’t believe that then the guilt’s going to drive you mad.’
‘My daughter threw herself off a building. What part of that isn’t my fault?’
‘Unless you pushed Jenna off I don’t think it is. She was an adult who made her choice. We might not agree with it but it was her choice to make.’
He pulled his hand away. Her hand stayed on the table and she stared at it silently. He wondered if she could actually see her own hand in the middle of the table but as a strobe light passed over her face her eyes looked unfocused.
‘You know,’ she said eventually, ‘You’re a lot like Jenna.’
He shrugged but she didn’t react. ‘Really?’
‘Angsty, and a little bit stubborn.’ Lia straightened and smiled. ‘She always had to be right.’
‘I’ve got to go.’ He got to his feet then paused with his hand in trouser pocket and his fingers loose around his car keys. It felt wrong to just stride off when she couldn’t follow. ‘Can we talk again?’
Her gaze found him again. ‘Somewhere quieter? And maybe…’ She made a show of looking him up and down. ‘A little more casual?’
He ignored that last bit. ‘Can you… do you need any help?’
‘Nope.’ She drained her glass. ‘Oddly, I know the way.’
‘Yeah, sorry…’ He scratched the back of his neck and made to leave. He turned back. ‘I can call you?’
‘I’ll hold you to it.’