Saturday 9th December
Phil can remember the day he started University so clearly now. Cambridge, his father had been a Cambridge man and had been delighted that Phil carry on the tradition. Though what on earth did it really mean; when Harriet was going to University, the last thing he thought about was Cambridge. Too many bad memories he supposed. Phil hadn’t enjoyed those years anything like he had imagined he would. He could never really let himself go, he always felt there was someone looking over his shoulder. Even when he got drunk a couple of times, he was terrified the authorities would report me back to Dad. And while most of his fellow students were having a ball, Phil would be sitting in his room reading up on his next lecture, or listening to jazz on the wireless.
Phil liked jazz, it felt free, as if they were making it up as they went along; it had an exuberance, a thrill of being alive, an unpredictability that attracted him. And late at night he drifted off into another world, Chicago, St. Louis, black jazz musicians blowing trumpets into the night sky and he wanted to be one of them. He couldn’t read a note of music though. Tone deaf, they had said at school. He was forbidden to sing too loud at Assembly. The only instrument they let him play at school was the triangle; he would have to wait for ages, and then the master would suddenly point at him, and I had to ring his triangle for all he was worth. Even at that he was pathetic, and missed his cue all too often. He tried to learn the piano, they had a piano at home, which his mother would play sometimes at Christmas, just simple carols, she wasn’t an accomplished pianist and though she sat Phil down a few times and told him about the notes and scales, and he sort of understood the logic, when she hit a key and said that was a ‘C’ and then hit another note and asked him what that was, Phil hadn’t a clue. They sounded a bit different but how different he couldn’t tell. One of the things he liked about Jazz was that there seemed to be no wrong notes, just a lot of them. Lots of notes but no particular right order and yet such exaltation, such joy in playing them.
The girls used to go on about music all the time, and Jane was forever playing it far too loud in her bedroom, but this ‘beat’ music as they called it meant nothing to me Phil. Jingle-jangle and boom-boom, but none of that mystical freeing of the mind that he had so loved with jazz.
The girls – he hadn’t thought about them all this time. He supposed they were at home with June, he hoped they would be alright. Why hadn’t he given them a thought? What was wrong with him? Harriet would be alright, she was smart enough, he didn’t have to worry about her. She was everything Phil wasn’t; confident clever and self-assured, but Jane was a mystery to him, he hardly knew the girl.
All this time he had been so engrossed in his own thoughts he had hardly spared a thought for June or the girls. He should really give them a ring, just to let them know he was alright. Maybe tomorrow, or the day after. He just needed a day or two more of freedom on his own.
* * *
As the train drew into the station, and Harriet watched in reverse order the nursery, the fertilizer factory, the foundry, the railway cottages and then the station with its wrought iron footbridge looming into view; there on the platform was Jane. For all Harriet knew she had been waiting for her since Wednesday when she left for what she had thought would be a nice long break away from home. And here she was again. Harriet’s little sister Jane; she would have to buck herself up for her. Harriet would have to be strong for Jane at least. No matter what she felt about her mother, she would have to be strong for Jane.
* * *
‘Harriet, so good to see you.’ Jane hugged her as she struggled off the train with a huge suitcase.
‘Yeah,’ Harriet replied, ‘Who would have thought I’d be back so soon. But I couldn’t leave you all alone, what with Dad doing his disappearing trick, now could I?’ and she smiled her one of those old familiar smiles, and Jane suddenly felt good. For the first time in almost a week Jane started to feel better. Harriet was home; at least she wouldn’t have to sit around and try to think of mundane things to say to her mother all day long. Jane knew she couldn’t bring their Dad back home, but at least they were nearly a family again. Three out of four, at least.
‘How long are you staying for Harriet?’ she asked, even though she knew she had been asked to go back home and until at least all this business with Dad was cleared up.
‘Who knows, Sis. It’s nearly half-term anyway, so a couple of weeks anyway. Maybe longer. Actually I may not be going back to university at all. I haven’t decided yet. I may be off to London soon, I’m thinking of moving there, you know permanently. Get myself a little job, a flat and say goodbye forever to Suffolk. You could come and visit me whenever you like you know, and we’ll go out to clubs and dances all over.’
And even though Jane knew this was just talk, there was no real truth in it, she went along with it. It felt like the old days, before Harriet had ever gone to University, when she would tell Jane her daydreams in all the vivid detail she could muster, and she would be amazed, because Jane couldn’t see past the end of the week herself, and had no idea what she might do with her own life. Here was Harriet, confident as ever, telling Jane all the things she was going to do, the places she would visit, the worlds she would conquer. And suddenly their problems didn’t seem so awful. Maybe it would all end up alright; their Dad would just walk in the door and be able to clear up all that money stuff and they would become a family again.