Part 3 – Redemption
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which, as they kiss, consume”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Jesus looked at him for long, drawn-out seconds, then said quietly: “Guy Jarvis, you’ve been a silly boy.”
Jarvis screwed up his face. He couldn’t understand why Jesus was speaking with Mark Edge’s voice.
“He’s dead,” Jesus told him, “My name is Andrew Poulsom now.”
“Why are you here, Mark?”
“To make sure you don’t make killing yourself seem too easy.”
Jarvis looked away with humiliation, “I can’t even do that properly. I only managed to half drown myself and then almost froze to death.”
“Seriously Mar… Andrew. Why are you here?”
“To look after you once you’ve left this place and to make sure that you don’t start drinking again, once they’ve dried you out.”
“Where are you staying?”
Edge looked out of the window, “At the hotel just down the road, the one with the pub next door.”
“What about your wife?”
“She’s OK. It was partially her idea to come and see you.”
“How on earth did you find out?”
“Because I’m Fountain Pen now.”
“What about Henry?”
Edge smiled sadly, “It’s a long story that will have to wait until you get out. That’s if you want to get out.”
Jarvis looked at the others in the ward. From the moaning old man to the one who had to be given medicinal alcohol to prevent seizures, to the former dentist dying of liver failure. I shouldn’t be in here.
“Of course, I want to get out. I feel so humiliated to be here. You really have no idea what it’s like.”
“No, Mr Poulsom, you don’t. You ran away and pretended to be dead. I stuck with it.”
Edge’s eyes narrowed as he stared long and hard at Jarvis.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I owe you my life to you. I’m not thinking straight at the moment.”
“I was in exactly the same place as you. I lost my job and my wife and family because I was drinking. I made a conscious decision to drink myself to death.”
“But you didn’t?” Jarvis asked, “Why? Did your wife come back?”
“Eventually after eight years, but it was because my cat came home and he was in a worse state than me. It jogged me enough to stop.”
“You have a cat?” Jarvis laughed, “Somehow I didn’t see you as a mad cat person.”
“Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, KG, GCB, DSO, PC, DL, is no ordinary cat.”
“Clearly not,” Jarvis agreed
They chatted generally for just over an hour and then Edge stood up, “Well I’m going now. I’ll come and see you again tomorrow. Is there anything you need?”
“A drink. Sorry. A pair of pyjamas as my arse is rather hanging out of this hospital gown. And something to read, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“One last thing,” Edge said, pulling a Landranger OS map out of his coat pocket, “This is a map of Boston and Spalding. Show me where you live. I’ll need your house keys.”
They’re at the bottom of Delph Bank along with my car. You’ll have to break in.”
“Any preferences for reading material?”
“Surprise me, but not Stephen King or Trainspotting.”
Edge grinned, “OK. Take it easy and no chasing the nurses, unless you like them morbidly obese”
“There are a few nice ones, the ones that don’t look at me like I’m a piece of shit.”
Edge half waved and went out past the nurses’ station, where a blonde staff nurse was filling out paperwork, the bane of clinicians’ lives.
She looked up and recoiled slightly. Edge saw the brief look of fear in her eyes, so he smiled disarmingly. She had seen faces like his in the past, almost dead eyes and a battered face. She knew this man was capable of appalling violence and he had seen too many things. But there was something else, compassion and worry.
“Is this about Mr Jarvis?”
“You are oppos?”
“You know the lingo.
“I had a boyfriend once… Long time ago.”
“Not that long, surely?”
She smiled “You old charmer.”
Edge concluded that she was painfully cute.
“Would you please explain to him his future treatment, prognosis and life expectations? Doctors aren’t always the best at explaining things.”
The nurse rested her chin in her hands and looked at him. It was so appealing that Edge felt his heart melt, “Does he want to live, Mr…
Yeah and I’m Reese Witherspoon.
Edge pushed into her thoughts, but didn’t know how he did it, Prettier in my opinion.
She gave another start. He knows what I’m thinking. Bloody hell!
“Does he want to live?”
“Yes. I think he does now.”
“Where have you come from, Mr Poulsom?”
“He must mean a lot to you.”
“He is my friend.”
Edge looked away and she felt his sadness. You’ve been in the same place as he has, you poor bastard.
“I’ll talk to him.”
“Thank you. Don’t sugar coat it. Give him the full magazine.”
“Don’t worry, Mr Poulsom, I will.”
Edge walked out of the hospital and along the road to his hotel and where he’d left his car, to avoid the exorbitant hospital car parking charges. After all these encounters of minds, he had a headache, throbbing inside his head where his old head wound lurked. Perhaps one day it would kill him, but it was just another manifistations of brain injury. Edge drove into town and parked by the war memorial, then went into Waterstones. He purchased Chastise by Max Hastings and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Next, he drove to the supermarket by the railway station and bought pyjamas, fruit and energy bars’ then headed south-west to Holbeach and Jarvis’ gaff.
The mournful solitude of the Fens appealed to the misanthrope in Edge, but Jarvis’s house and its situation horrified him. He broke in through a window near the back door and went into its cold interior.
This isn’t a home, it’s a fucking mausoleum, Edge thought with a shudder. He could sense death and something deeply oppressive and evil in the fabric of the place. Even the birds seemed to avoid the overgrown vegetation around the property
Back outside with a feeling of relief, Edge concluded that this was the last place on earth conducive to a good recovery. He nailed some hardboard that he cut with a saw he found in the horrific garage to the window. Then headed back to Boston and his hotel, where he phoned Moira and told her about his day.
“I think it’s the only way. Do you mind?”
His long-suffering wife sighed, “I suppose that it is the only way. But just temporary, Mark.”
“Promise. Love you and missing you a lot.”
Edge went back into town an treated himself to a haircut and close shave, smiling at the thought of his wife’s patience. He reagarded himself in the mirror and decided he felt good.
Back in the alcohol recovery ward, Jarvis decided to go for a shower. He had to unscrew the filter because the dribble of water that came out wouldn’t wet a mouse. When he had finished he was surprised to see clumps of hair in the shower tray and he looked in the mirror in shock.
“Bloody hell!” His hair was coming out in tufts and he pulled some to make sure, looking at the tufts in his hand. He spoke to one of the nurses later.
“I’ve never heard of that happening before. You’ll need to speak with one of the doctors when they do ward round tomorrow. Apart from your hair, how do you feel?”
“Genuinely, I feel OK.”
The next day Edge visited the hospital again and gave Jarvis the books and pyjamas, “Chastise because your dad was a Crab and no new film would ever top Richard Todd, da,da,da,da,da da da da and you must never utter the dog’s name.”
“But Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?”
“Yes, forget about the shit Nicolas Cage film, I read it in Kabul and kind of liked it. It’s about unfulfilled love, something that should be close to your heart.”
He could tell from his expression that a casual, throw-away line had hurt Jarvis, “Look I’m sorry. I know she meant a lot to you.”
“More than you could know. I missed my chance.”
“Did you know she sat with you all night in HMS Ocean’s sick bay while you were out of it?”
“Never give up. Life is a funny old thing. But, Guy, you can’t convalesce in that creepy place you’ve been living in,” Edge told him.
“Because you’ll be on your own. Have you not noticed something strange about that place?” asked Edge.
“No. I do know that the previous occupant killed himself, but Shit happens. It was cheap.”
Edge sighed, “You don’t have a car anymore, so you’ll be totally isolated out there. You’re coming home with me until you’ve got your life back on track.”
“I can’t do that. What about your wife and kids?”
“They’ve fled the nest and it was Moira’s idea. I’ll have a word with the doctors and get you referred to the North Devon District Hospital for ongoing blood tests and medication. We’ll get you registered with a GP in Bideford. Did that nurse speak to you, by the way?”
“Yes. She really likes you.”
Edge smiled, “Of course she does. I’m so good looking, sex on two legs, that’s me.”
“She said you were kind and had a gentle soul. I had to tell her what a bastard you really are. Seriously, you and your wife will look after me?”
“Until you’re better, or at least able to live on your own. It will take at least a month or so until they stabilise the sodium levels in your blood. Diet, gentle exercise and complete abstinence. You do know that you’ll never be able to drink again?”
“I never really liked it in the first place. I think it gave my Dad cancer and I was just using it as a crutch to deaden the pain in my leg as well as in here.” Jarvis said, tapping his head.
The pain and the nightmares may always be there,” Edge told him, “But at least you’ll be alive. You’ve been given a second chance. Don’t waste it. By the way, Guy, what on earth has happened to your hair?”
“It started coming out in clumps last night when I had a shower. There was loads on the pillow this morning as well. Just another shit show of this disease. What’s your excuse?”
“It’s not too bad. You look like Blofeld. Would you like me to bring you a Persian cat next time I come?”
“Very bloody amusing.”
Jarvis was discharged from hospital six days after his suicide attempt and Edge picked him up. They stopped off at Jarvis’ house for him to collect some clothes while Edge stayed in the car, after helping him to reopen the window. He couldn’t bear the oppressive malevolence of the house and its dismal rooms. On the six hour drive back to North Devon Jarvis slept most of the way. He still looked pallid and yellow, but nowhere near as bad as he looked when Edge had first seen him in hospital.
Jarvis opened his eyes. It was late morning and he had fallen back to sleep at dawn. The nightmares had gone and he felt warm and safe lying in the bed. He could hear Moira, Edge’s wife downstairs. He got dressed and went down. The kitchen wood burner was lit and she had been skinning and gutting a rabbit with her husband’s Fairbairn Sykes fighting knife.
“Hello, Guy. Did you sleep well?” Her smile was genuine and it lit up her face. They had been right. Even in middle age, Moira Edge had a youthful beauty.
“Yes thanks. Sorry but it looks like I slept in. Again. Where’s Mark?”
She washed the blood off her hands in the sink, “Oh up in the woods, doing manly things like gathering firewood and seeing to his traps. To be honest, I get sick and tired of bloody rabbit. I’ve got some nice pieces of fish from the market and we’ll need to eat them.”
Monty, the Edges’ elderly and battered looking tabby cat had parked his arse on the table. He regarded Jarvis with his suspicious good eye. He was the alpha male and didn’t approve of yet another addition to the household. Jarvis scratched the top of the cat’s head and Monty decided that this strange man could stay as long as he didn’t try to sleep in his bed in the cardboard box to the side of the wood burner.
“Would you like some tea?”
Moira filled the teapot and sat opposite Jarvis.
“I don’t know how to thank you both…” He said becoming emotional. Jarvis had felt quite vulnerable and was often tearful… Much to his disgust, “Sorry. I’m off again. I don’t know why Mark even bothers with me.”
“He has a lot of time for you. You’re his friend, which is good enough for me.”
“I thought he hated my guts.”
“He always talked about you. Guy did this, Guy did that He said you were a great help during your first tour to Iraq. Mark came back from there a very different person. What happened out there, Guy?”
Jarvis closed his eyes and remembered something he wished he could forget, but he told her:
Ahead of them, about ten miles west of Rutba were vehicles, blackened and distorted by some imaginable heat. Some were on the road, others pulled away as if they had been trying to avoid something unconceivable. The Land Rovers slowed down and motored cautiously amongst the wreckage. Some were undoubtedly Iraqi army vehicles, but most were civilian cars and minibuses and what looked ominously like an old coach. The Pinkies came to a halt and the rear crews dismounted. The stench of fuel oil and burnt flesh was indescribable. Clouds of flies erupted from the blackened, twisted vehicles as they cautiously walked past, like writhing and hissing entities.
They had been caught in the open by a massive fuel air explosive bomb, as they tried to flee west to Jordan. Edge made his way to the coach, blackened outside, but the Red Crescent flag was still identifiable, hanging inside the melted and distorted windscreen. Every fibre of his being was screaming NO! But Edge looked at the burned steel hoops of the tyres and climbed up the steps, pulling his keffiyah over his nose to block the jolting stench. The flies hit him like a solid wall and he felt the hot bile rise in his throat.
They had once been the disabled, the forgotten ones and the Red Crescent had wanted to move them from Ramadi to the relative safety of Jordan when the fighting started. Their misfortune was to have been joined by an army convoy. The JSTARS identified vehicle movement and a C130 Combat Talon had slid the palletised BLU 82 out of its rear ramp. The 15,000 lb bomb detonating had been one of the brilliant flashes in the distance, Edge and Morrison had watched, two nights before.
They were blackened and dried like raisins, the glass from coach windows partially melted over the bodies. Their heads were thrown back, mouths open as if gasping for the superheated air. The massive 1,000 PSI overpressure had ruptured their internal organs and burst their eyeballs and the heat had desiccated their suffering bodies. Edge turned round, went back down the steps and walked into the desert.
When Morrison and Jarvis found him thirty minutes later, he was sitting down, his head in his hands, “Edge, what the hell are you doing?”
When Edge turned to look at him his face was grey and drawn in grief, “Is this what we do, Guy? Is this what we’ve come to? We’re part of this. Aren’t we just fucking great?”
Jarvis crouched down and put his arm on his comrade’s shoulders, “We didn’t do it, Mark.”
“But we’re part of it. I’m going to have a child. What am I going to tell her about her father?”
“That despite the terrible things he’s seen, he did the best for his brothers in arms. That’s all you can say.”
Moira was staring at him, “Thank you for telling me that, Guy. It must have been terrible for you as well. Now I begin to understand.”
Edge came back a few minutes later with a brace of rabbits and some dead wind fall wood. He came into the kitchen and looked at the tableaux around the table.
“Oh sorry. I’m not interrupting anything am I?”
Moira smiled at him and winked at Jarvis, “No you’re all right, Mark. Guy had just finished giving me a good seeing-to across the kitchen table.”
Jarvis looked mortified. Edge shrugged, “Oh well. As long as Monty wasn’t watching. I can do without a traumatised cat.
That night Edge cuddled up to his wife in their bed. They could hear the river beyond the meadow in full flow, a strangely comforting sound. A car headlights on the road the other side of the river, briefly swept across the ceiling.
“He’s looking a lot better than when I saw him in hospital.”
“That’s because of Moira Edge’s home for waifs and strays,” she said looking at him. There was a sad look in her eyes. “Mark, he told me about what happened in Iraq in 2003. I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand the horrible things you have to see and do. It’s a small miracle that the country isn’t full of ex-Service, gibbering wrecks.”
“That’s what wars are like. There are always victims, because there’s no such thing as a “Smart” bomb. They still kill and maim people. Most people aren’t fundamentally evil, they just do evil things.”
“Do you regret your life, Mark?”
“There’s no point. Some things perhaps. I should have killed Daz Copeland a long time before I did, and then perhaps we wouldn’t have wasted eight years of our lives, instead of being together. If I hadn’t taken the path in life that I did, I would never have met you and had our kids.”
“This is how I imagined we would end up, or rather hoped. Getting old together. Aching joints, grey hair…”
“Everything still in the right places, just a bit further south.”
She hit him playfully, “Do you remember that hotel in Bideford?”
“With the guy banging on the wall, yelling for us to keep the fucking noise down? That was your fault for being so loud.”
“My Mum and Dad absolutely hated you. They can’t do enough for you now.”
“I’m still cautious around them. To change the subject, I think you should know I got a phone call this morning.”
“Oh God. This is the part of your life that I hate.”
“I need to meet someone tomorrow, so I’ll be back by dinner time. It’s an early start for me, but you’re to stay in bed.”
“Who is it?” She asked with an exasperated sigh.
“I can’t say, but he did mention that our meeting could be mutually beneficial.”
“Is it safe? Do be careful, Mark.”
“Don’t worry. I’m going tooled up.”
“Yes, and that’s what bothers me.”
“Moira, do you believe places, inanimate buildings or houses can be evil?” He asked, wanting to divert her from this subject.
“Oh God, yes,” she said getting up and straddling him to look in his face, “Daz’s place was horrible, like the evil in him had permeated the fabric of the building. Why?”
“Because that’s what Guy’s place is like. It’s in the middle of the Fens and the place has a foreboding sense of evil. The previous owner killed himself and his bedridden wife died in bed. But I sense it is just an evil place and has been for a long time. Living in that place drove Guy mad.”
“How could you know that, Mark?”
“Because I died when my brain exploded and since then I see things.”
“What, like the little boy in Sixth Sense?”
“Sort of. Please don’t think I’ve gone mad, but I can read minds sometimes as well.”
“Bloody hell. In that case I’d better wear a foil hat when our postman comes round in those shorts. What are you or rather we going to do about it?”
“I’m going to persuade him to sell it and move closer to here.”
“What, so the pair of you can go down the pub?”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea, do you?” He leaned up and kissed her, “Guess what I’m thinking about now?”
Moira smiled and pulled the nightie over her head, “I’m a mind reader as well, Mark Edge.”
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