I am writing this on my laptop on the floor of my front room where I have been sat all afternoon in an inconsolable flood of tears. The world around me is descending into madness and it is rapidly dragging me down with it. I don’t know who to go to for help and I feel painfully alone, terribly confused and very, very scared.
I agreed to meet Amber for lunch at midday today. To be honest, the last thing that I feel like doing at the moment is eating or engaging in polite conversation, but she has been pestering me with inquisitive text messages and phone calls and I thought that if I could satisfy her concern - or more likely her curiosity - then she would be one less thing to worry about. I think she got the message that I wasn’t feeling particularly sociable from my distant behaviour over lunch. She fawned over me and made a series of pathetic noises until our food arrived and then she took to questioning me incessantly about how I was feeling. Eventually I snapped “I’m fine!” and we sat in silence as she watched me nervously twist my salad leaves around my fork. Very few people have ever dared to lose their temper with Amber so she looked quite shocked and didn't know what to say for once, but fortunately rather than fly into an angry strop or a childish sulk she simply adopted her concerned voice and calmly asked how I was coping without Alex. I reassured her that Alex was the least of my troubles, which prompted her to enquire if anything else was bothering me. How are the preparations for the start of my postgraduate course progressing? Am I up-to-date with my bills? When did I last speak to my family? She persisted with every conceivable question until I eventually gave in to her prying, however rather than reveal the true cause of my malaise, I spat out “it’s just a silly disagreement that I had with Leonard about working hours, that’s all.”
Leonard rarely enters into my conversations with Amber and she deliberately avoids any mention of him or our work together. At first I assumed that she was jealous of our friendship and she was worried that Leonard might replace her as my closest friend and confidant, but it has become apparent over time that her jealousy is founded on her all-consuming desire for attention; she would desperately love to sit for an artist and adorn the walls of a public gallery for all to see, although I doubt that she would ever be truly satisfied until she was the main attraction at the Louvre. However on this particular occasion she was keen to engage in a serious discussion about Leonard, leaning forwards in her chair, furrowing her brow and nodding furiously. I realised that she was only interested to hear my criticisms of him and she would probably seek to manipulate the situation in order to sour my friendship with Leonard, but I needed someone to talk to and Amber’s ear was as good as any.
“So what’s the problem with the hours that you’re working?” she asked.
“Well, to be honest, it’s not just the hours…”
“Then what else?”
I paused and rested my fork on the plate. I had lost my appetite.
“He trusted me with a secret...something very precious that no-one should know...and I’ve told someone.”
“Can you tell me?”
“No, but I think I might already have...”
I was reluctant to pursue this line of questioning any further and so I dismissed my comment and told her that I missed the enjoyable conversations that I had with Leonard and I did not want our friendship to come to an end over such a silly misunderstanding, to which she looked a little hurt and I could see the whiny protest on the tip of her tongue - ‘but what about our conversations? Are they not enjoyable enough?’. We finished our meals in silence and then Amber did something extremely out of character; she made a genuine and heartfelt attempt to find out more about Leonard and to resolve our disagreement.
“So when did you last speak with him?”
“About three weeks ago now...”
“Oh right. I’m sure everything will be ok and he will be back in touch soon.’”
“I hope so…”
“I’m sure of it,” she smiled, then asked “how did the two of you end up working together anyway?”
“It just kind of happened,” I answered, “we met at a funeral back in December last year...it was a young man who had died suddenly…a friend of his…I can’t remember his name or cause of death…”
Suddenly I was silenced mid-sentence as though God Himself had held my tongue. I froze in my seat and the sickening nausea that swept over me was akin to the dizzying shock of witnessing a horrific accident. Amber looked puzzled and she asked a question, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. And neither did I hear my response. Nothing in the world was more important than my thought processes at that very moment. Not even breathing. A myriad of thoughts were slowly crystallising in my mind and causing my chest to tighten and my throat to constrict. Everything around me felt unreal, like the fracturing of reality upon hearing of the death of a loved one, and then a tidal wave of memories flooded through me and everything began to fall into place…
Making my excuses, I snatched my coat from the back of the chair and stood to leave. Amber grabbed at my arm and asked if I was ok and I remember promising to call her, handing her a note from my purse to cover the cost of our lunch and quickly running out of the café before she could question me any further. My head was buzzing as I hurried through the busy high street in the centre of town and I was in an absolute daze, tripping over myself and repeatedly bumping into people. I turned a sharp corner and let out a loud shriek as I collided with a tall man who was dressed from head-to-toe in a skeleton outfit. I apologised for almost knocking him over, to which he smiled, apologised in return and handed me a flier for a club night and as I read the words ‘’Trick or Treat’ on the flier in my hand I realised that today is 31st October. All Hallow's Eve. And when I looked around myself I saw that the main street was full of Halloween festivities; the shop window of the large department store was dressed with cotton wool spider webs and mannequin ghosts and witches, the pavement was heaving with stalls from a Psychic Fair and devils with red painted faces and sequin horns weaved through the crowds offering to paint children’s faces to resemble all kinds of monsters, complete with white face paint, ugly scars and blood-stained lips.
I’m normally resilient to most shocks and scares but – although I am embarrassed to admit it - I confess that I was slightly disturbed by the ghoulish activity that was taking place around me and I found myself hurrying through the city centre while staring down at the pavement like a scared little girl. The line between fantasy and reality was blurring in my mind and the costumes and make-up didn’t feel like fakery. Each spook and monster that I encountered seemed very real indeed. I tried to cut myself off visually from my surroundings but when I succeeded in doing so I only descended further into my mental torments and as my body wound unconsciously through the crowds I began dredging up every forgotten memory of my afternoons spent at Elmfield House and desperately searching for clues, any indications that my suspicions were real. My mind was racing and I couldn't stop it. I was remembering half sentences and throwaway comments that Luke and Leonard had made to me or to each other and they seemed to take on a whole new meaning. And the more memories that I evoked, the more my fears fell squarely into place. Leonard’s obsession with the body after death. Luke's lessons on deification and magical resurrection. Their mutual obsession with immortality. Luke's physical state and our co-dependent relationship…
People passed by in a haze and the bus ride home felt by far the longest journey that I have ever taken. In fact I cannot recall getting off the bus or walking the short distance to the flat. Arriving home, I burst through the door, threw my keys onto the table in the hallway and ran into the front room. Tipping my black leather music bag onto the floor, I searched frantically through the papers for the yellow funeral service booklet that Leonard had written his phone number on when we first met. And there it was. Thank God I hadn’t thrown it away. ‘A Service of Remembrance for Lucas James -------.’ I felt numb when I saw the first name but the surname was unfamiliar. What was Luke’s surname? Did Leonard ever mention it? I sat cross-legged amongst the music books that were strewn across the floor and thumbed through the booklet desperately searching for photographs, poems or readings. Anything that was related to the deceased. But, aside from the words to Amazing Grace and All Things Bright and Beautiful, it was a blank service sheet.