Chapter Thirty-Two: Visiting Yvonne Shore
“You know...I wish your father and I had met earlier in life,” Yvonne remarked. She took a small sip from her glass of sherry. The TV was on but the volume low enough to allow her to carry on a conversation with her daughter “When my family came over from Sligo in the 60s, I never thought in a million years that I’d end up with someone like your father.” She turned to face Christine “Our coming together was quite magical in some ways. Maybe, even – destined I believe?” she grinned. “We came from completely different worlds: Gerry, from the Caribbean, and me from Southern Ireland. But just look at the pair of us! We just flowed together like Guinness poured into a pint pot.” Yvonne had a youthful laugh; it was cheery and unapologetic. She put down her glass. “Of course, things were very different then,” she added candidly. “For a start, race relations were not as relaxed as it is today, and we didn’t have a lot of money either. But despite the odds we got married - I don’t know what in the world possessed us? It’s like we believed our meeting was right. And when we eventually stood at the end of the aisle in that big church and said our vows in front of God, we promised to remain true to that right.” She paused, however, this time when she sighed it was one of fatigue. “Although, sometimes I wonder if your dad was alive, what would have become of us now? You know, with the state of marriages these days and divorce being so high, would we have remained true I wonder?” She turned to face Christine again, who was sat in the chair next to hers. “But I wish to God he had lived, at least so I could have had more of you,” she smiled lovingly at her only child
“More of me?” Christine said absentmindedly pointing to herself.
“No. not you, exactly,” Yvonne laughed, “but more children.” She gulped down the last of her sherry, the only one she’d allow herself for the night. She continued. “Imagine, my darling, you came into this world - and just look how you turned out? Look at the special gift that you possess? Alright. I understand that you’re exceptional. But, the interesting thing I’m starting to realise, is that there are just too many facets to the human character. Beautiful, shining, striking, facets; very much like a diamond when held up to the light.” Yvonne’s green eyes shone as though she were gazing upon one herself. She continued. “As a civilization, there is so much more to us, Christine, so much more than meets the eye. We are a shining reflection of something. And whatever that thing is…” she swallowed “I believe it’s a thing of beauty. Why else were we told to multiply...?”
And so began Yvonne Shore’s unique observations on life, and the world around her. Christine was very used to her mother going off on one of her long talks. When she was younger, she used to wonder if it was because her mother was Irish but soon learned that it had nothing to do with that. This is who her mother was: the world’s greatest armchair philosopher.
Christine laughed and she listened. And this evening, she was all ears, taking in her mother’s views on politics, the price of butter, and everything in between.
Her mother was raised a simple country girl. But from youth Yvonne Shore held an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and a real appreciation for all things pertaining to the literary arts. It was no coincidence she ended up working in a library, given her vast collection of literature by foreign authors. Yvonne genuinely enjoyed the company of books. Yet, even with her bright mind, she was exceptionally humble. She enjoyed listening to others, and was happy to learn new things. Be it taking up plaiting lessons, so she could cornrow her daughter’s hair; or designing greeting cards to sell at her churches’ jumble sale, or learning to speak fluent French in the hope that she would be able to retire there, someday. She picked things up easily, shared gracefully, and read voraciously. That was Yvonne.
‘Look. The British have their English,’ her mother would say in the heat of passion, ‘but let’s never forget England is still only a small island to the rest of the world. If you want to be progressive, my daughter, you should really think about learning Mandarin…’
Christine laughed. That was Yvonne Shore: thoroughly grounded yet held the most esoteric views of the world around her. Her mother was the only guardian Christine ever had, and she wouldn’t change her for the world.
Yvonne chuckled. “And do you know what Christine? When you really think about it, it is impossible for one child alone to encompass all the varying facets that is present in one parent. Let alone the rich, diverse, personality and heritage of two people.” She let out a small whistle “And I suppose neither should one, come to think about it.” Her face furrowed in serious thought. “That is why I say, when we have more - more children that is - more levels of the human psyche is expressed. And these depths reveal the rich tapestry of our great ancestry - and of humanity as a whole. Why? Don’t you think so my dear?” Yvonne said noting her daughter’s disapproving look.
“Mum,” she said harshly. “I think the world is over-populated enough, don’t you think? Never mind going around insisting that families increase their number.” She replied indignantly. “And just why should our Ancestors’ past lives and stories matter, anyway?” As soon as she said this her thoughts flew to baby Tobey and the amazing Wisdom Calls he said he was so fond of receiving. She quickly suppressed a sudden rush of guilt. “And even when we do arrive on earth, we don’t necessarily live in a world that supports anyone’s true objective in life - do we now?” she said her words proliferated with shards of sarcasm, “We pop out filled with all this promise and purpose, but what’s it all for? What’s the use? When all you’re ever faced with is disappointment and pain. Children let you down. Parents let you down. People let you down. This is life and this is our reality! I don’t see any honour in it - do you? I think we should stop lying to ourselves, most especially of all to the children. In truth, we cannot really do - whatever it is we want to do - or be - whatever it is we want to be. In the end, we all end up having to do the best our circumstances allow. Which, to be honest, isn’t a great deal for a lot of people.” She breathed in bitterly. “In fact a lot of people I know don’t really like the life that they’re living - present company included. In my opinion life is not a gift – it’s tragic! Babies are born, babies die. Or worse, we grow old and then we die.”
“Christine!” her mother gasped. “I can’t believe you’re saying this! That’s rather pessimistic of you.”
“Pessimistic.” She rolled her eyes. “Is this really unbelievable? Coming from me?” In that fleeting moment she wondered if her mother ever knew her at all.
“What do you want me to say? Life is great. I’m having a ball!”
“No. Christine.” Yvonne fell back into her chair. “Okay. I agree. Life may not be always be fair but it certainly isn’t futile! I wholeheartedly believe each of us has a great purpose - and more than most - will go on to fulfil theirs. I didn’t say we will know what that purpose is - who’s to say we even need to know!” she said emphatically, shaking her head. We just need to strive to make sure that our purpose is a positive one. Good God Christine! What on earth has gotten into you today? I can’t believe you’re talking like this.”
“Like…life doesn’t matter…I thought...”
“You thought what?”
Yvonne looked at her daughter through tired eyes. “I thought we were making progress…” She breathed a heavy sigh. She turned to face her daughter again. “No life is a waste - do you hear me Christine? By all means you can live a wasted life, the way I see it - you very much have a say in this - but no life is a waste. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from - your life matters, and you’ll impact more lives than you’ll ever know. Every waking moment - till the day you breathe your last - you will always count. Do you know why that is Christine? It’s because you’re part of something great - it’s called humanity. You can love it, or hate it, or believe it or not - just accept it! You are great, because you’re a part of this colossal bundle of greatness - or whatever humanity is. You’re a part of it - and it’s a part of you. So there’s no point in complaining about it child. Just go out there and do something good with it for Barney’s sake!” Yvonne’s voice scaled down a notch. She looked away, her eyes trailed over to the empty glass in her hand. “Even when one dies, that, too, may serve a purpose you know.”
“No.” Christine answered abruptly. Her eyes were dark and smarting. “There you go again using your faith to justify everything - even death,” she said hissing her disdain, “I suppose that makes you one of the lucky ones but for everyone else - this is life! And there’s no explanation...” What started out as a frank discussion between mother and daughter, soon gave rise to Christine’s all too palpable concerns. She fired away. “Forgive my sentiment but I can’t share your optimism about anything…not when....” she broke off, “…not when I think of poor baby Tobey and his parents. Tobey is scheduled to die on Saturday morning - two days from now. And it tears me up just to think about it. And for what?” she cried. “Why was he put on earth? In fact, why are any of us here? The other day I met a baby girl. She was about nine months old. I was able to have a brief chat with her, which was easy to do as her mother was puffing on her cigarette, whilst yapping away on her mobile phone. The baby told me she was being abused. She was scared and hungry. I gave her the only thing of substance in my bag at time - some chocolate mints I took away from a work do. Anyway, later, she gave me her family details and as soon as I got home I reported her mother to social services.”
Yvonne slowly shook her head but said nothing. She let her daughter speak.
“Did I ever tell you I was almost ejected from a house once?” Christine searched her mother’s face. “The boy I was asked to speak to was 18-months old. He kept insisting he was fine, but his parents weren’t having a bar of it. ‘He can’t be alright!’ they screamed at me, ′They said he’s autistic! Go ahead - talk to him! ′ And I did. But the boy gave the same placid response: ‘Look! Tell those two to stop with their fussing. I’m fine…and everything is fine…’ Naturally, I had to relay this to the boy’s parents. You should have seen the look on their faces. Honestly mum. With all the ‘talking’ and ‘hearing’ that has gone on so far, absolutely nothing has changed - has it? Nothing has changed! How am I making any sort of a difference?” The question she threw down instantly heightened her misery. She had finally got to the heart of her problem.
She was a failure. She had failed at being a wife, she had failed at being a mother. And now this gift - which defies even human logic - what was she doing with it? She was failing with that too…She was a failure!
“Mum,” she whispered, “I don’t have an answer for any of this. Who am I to give answers? Especially, when I’m still trying to figure out what the question is….”
Yvonne smiled then. “Christine dear. This is the time for you to be brave my darling. Don’t you get it? You are the answer you don’t have to look anywhere else. When you can’t see what the answer is, it is because - you’re it! And it’ll become clearer to you soon enough…”
There was silence. Christine turned to the TV. The volume had been muted so she couldn’t hear what the newsreader had to say
Was it good news? Or bad news? She wondered with little care. She yawned and wiped her forehead. “I know you’ll probably think this is nonsense, but when I was twelve I did something that never did quite sit well with me.”
Yvonne looked surprised. “Oh. And what was that poppet?”
“I lied to the innocent.” She turned to her mother. “Do you remember Mason - Ivy’s son? I told him I couldn’t hear him anymore, knowing full well that I could.”
“Who? Ivy’s boy? That rascal of a son. In and out of prison more times than a sailor in a knocking shop. That young man is an absolute menace to society. I don’t know what went wrong with him. But he has given his mother nothing but heartache since, whenever I can remember. Is he the one you’re talking about?”
Christine was finding it hard to reconcile the good-natured, well-intentioned baby, with the dastardly fellow her mother had just described.
“Yes. He’s the one,” she replied
“Darling. You told me about this ages ago. That’s not something to feel guilty about - you were nothing but a child yourself for Peter and Paul’s sake!”
Christine nodded. “I know. I know…It’s just that…Life is funny. There I was, not wanting to hear when Mason urged me to do so. And now - here I am - with baby Tobey - eager to hear so I can help save others.” She gave a wry smile. “I suppose, in the end, there’s no escaping it. You know what needs to be done, it’s just about having the balls to do it!”
Yvonne’s eyes lit up. “Oh my word. I think that’s it Christine.” She said leaning forward. “Didn’t you say that’s what all the babies had in spades when they arrived here? …Courage…I’m starting to think it’s only the brave who survive. In fact, it’s only the brave who actually get to come here in the first place.” Her bright eyes twinkled, they smiled without blinking. “To achieve any goal, any cause, any dream, anything in this lifetime, will take nothing - if not sheer bravery to do so.” She held her daughters gaze. “Courage…We cannot forget this very important characteristic. Not now. Not with the way things are in the world. We have to be brave Christine. Whatever you decide to do - be brave about it, have courage, and I can almost guarantee it you’ll come to realise your purpose in life.”
Whether it was the combination of being back at home, or seeking comfort in things unseen, Christine discovered she had amassed a huge appetite. She devoured two helpings of her mum’s spaghetti bolognaise and half a bottle of red wine.
“Have you noticed a difference?” Yvonne asked as she heaped more spaghetti onto her daughter’s plate. “This time, I added minced pork to the meatball mixture. Apparently, this combination adds real depth to the flavour.”
“Mmmm - no difference,” Christine mumbled in between bites, “It’s as delicious as always.”
Yvonne rolled her eyes and smiled.
Then a little later her mother urged. “Why not take some home with you?” she said as Christine prepared to leave. “You know it’ll only go to waste - I cooked it for you anyway.”
“No thanks mum I’ll be okay. You should have it tomorrow.”
Christine looked out into the night. The light from the hallway lit up the stairs ahead. She rushed down the steps as quickly as she could.
“Call me when you get in,” her mother yelled from the top of the steps. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call you a cab?”
“Mum. I’m going to be fine. Close the door - you’ll let the cold in.”
Not that there was any cold about, it was a warm summer evening and it wasn’t quite dark yet. Above her it looked like the sun had exploded into a spectacular crimson and indigo tie-dye work of art.
Christine checked the time on her phone. It was 9.22pm
‘Oh freak! Where did the time go?’
It was later than she realised. With a full stomach and a lighter head she quickly made her way towards the nearest bus stop.
In just over an hour Christine had arrived in north London’s Manor House. It was dark outside, however, it was still warm and humid and the scent of scorched barbeques wafted seamlessly through the air. She tightened her fingers around her shoulder strap and began her seven-minute walk to her flat. The long stretch of park to the left of her was now a gnarly wall of blackness. With no sunlight to offset the greenery, the dark clustering of shrubberies had the feel of an enchanted forest rather than a municipal park. Christine shivered she didn’t waste time staring into the void, besides, she might see something she didn’t like. Instead she diverted her attention to the rays of light spilling out from the convenience stores up ahead.
She briskly turned a corner. She cut through an opening that led into her well-lit, but eerily quiet, housing estate which overlooked Clissold Park. She had now entered into an arena of identical, recently-erected, new-builds; with each block possessing the same navy-blue doorways, and a band of concrete, tarmacked parking spaces at the front of each building.
Christine rapidly approached her apartment block. After punching in the code, she yanked open the security door. It was a temperamental old thing which had to be handled with force, otherwise, the door simply would not open despite painstakingly entering each digit correctly.
To get to her front door, which was on the top floor, Christine had to run up four flights of carpeted staircases. This was no real burden to her. In fact, it was one of the reasons why she had purchased the property in the first place. She was in seclusion but never alone. From her bedroom window she was able to get a bird’s eye view of The Emirates Stadium. And after dark, the dazzling lights on the field could be seen from miles around. It was a mesmerizing, albeit, a slightly spooky sight, as it gave the appearance of a live concert playing to an empty auditorium or - as Christine often viewed it - an audience made up of ghosts. Although, on match days, she didn’t need to switch on her TV or radio to know when the Gunners had scored, as the resonant roar of sixty-thousand voices in unison crashed through every part of her home. The floorboards rumbled, the mirror in the hallway shook, even the top of the sugar pot gave a quick jig. The cheers from the stadium was felt as much as it was heard.
As soon as she entered her flat she turned on the lights in the hallway and hung up her jacket. Her bedroom was directly ahead of her. She was so grateful to be indoors. The mix of good food, thought-provoking chatter, and the long bus ride home – had taken its toll on her weary body. She couldn’t wait to change into her night clothes and dive straight into bed. Sleep, beckoned.
It’s amazing what the human eye picks up even though it seems the brain is far from engaged...
Christine had passed the kitchen on the right of her before she realised that she had seen something...something...that shouldn’t have been there...
She walked back on herself and just as she thought, there was something on top of the kitchen counter. It was small and Christine was amazed that she had even spotted it in the first place.
It was the spare key to the flat.
She whirled around
Of course she was alone. Wasn’t she?
She turned in the opposite direction, it was the room where her lounge was situated. She didn’t need to turn on the light as the brightness from the corridor flooded into the room, immediately bringing everything into focus.
Her living room had a large bay window which overlooked the park. Pushed up against the window was a petite dining table surrounded by four chairs with piles of magazines arranged on top of it. And just before the dining table, a motionless figure lay on the laminated flooring...
“Lydia!” Christine rushed to the ground. She turned Lydia over.
“Lydia, Lydia...” She cried. Christine could see it was indeed her friend Lydia. But there was blood everywhere. It looked like someone had spilt red wine all over the floorboards. It ran down the front of Lydia’s jacket, all over Christine’s hands and formed a huge, dark, puddle on the floor....It really was blood.
Christine was thinking several things at once.
‘Run for help!’
‘I can’t leave her!’
‘Stop the bleeding!’
‘Which one first?’
Her bag was still fastened to her shoulder. She quickly ruffled through it, found her phone and dialled 999
“Hello. Please. I need an ambulance...There’s blood...My friend...my friend is bleeding…”
As soon as Christine was put through questions were asked.
“Stay calm. Don’t panic. We’re sending someone out to you,” the voice down the line reassured. “Can you tell us if she is breathing?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Where is the blood coming from?”
“I-I don’t know! Everywhere!”
“Do you think you can check for a pulse?”
In some way, the reel of questions had broken Christine’s temporary paralysis. She could feel herself breathing steadily again. And now that she was calm, she was able to see everything clearly. With a voice void of emotion Christine proceeded to answer the questions that were directed at her. “I can’t check for a pulse.” She said plainly. “There’s blood everywhere...She’s not breathing…” She swallowed before ending her sentence. “And her throat has been slashed.” She glared in horror at the gaping spectacle and repeated. “Her throat has been slashed.”