Books written by Ray Sullivan

Friday, 19 October 2012

Parallel Lives Chapter 7

Jack lay awake staring at the digital display alongside him, watching the time change from 04:32 to 04:33. Karen’s rhythmic breathing continued unbroken as he slipped from the bed, deciding to try drinking a cup of tea in an attempt to slow his brain down. The first few hours of sleep had been solid, without compromise until he had risen for a drink of water, probably around half past one. Up until then Jack’s only waking thoughts since arriving home that evening had been about the job, and most of those thoughts were innocuous and benign. The repairs to the plant were well under-way, at least for the temporary installation, with the various local authorities raising few serious objections. It was while Jack had been reviewing these plans in his mind that the memory of the notebook slipped in, only to be dismissed before returning whirling and thrashing in revenge for the apparent slight. The more Jack had tried to put the thoughts away, the more they intruded, asking questions he had no answer for.
The fact remained that nobody outside of himself and Karen knew the name of his biological father in this area, and as far as he could recollect his mother had stated quite clearly that she had never revealed the name to anyone else. It was, of course, possible that John Staples knew the man that Jack had never knowingly seen, or was in some way connected, but there was no rational explanation as to why he would then weave the name into a document that it was quite unreasonable to expect Jack to ever see. Or it could have been a complete coincidence, obscure to be certain, but remotely possible. Eventually the conundrum got the better of him and around a quarter to five found Jack sat downstairs in the kitchen sipping hot tea whilst flicking through the notebook he had picked up at John’s house.
If he was looking at a coincidence, speculated Jack, then there must be a reason why John had chosen to pretend he had had a different surname. That, of course begged the following question as to why John had felt the need to write this fictional account involving Jack, a question Jack decided to put aside onto the 'too hard' pile he had conjured in his mind. Let’s assume that John plucked the name at random, theorised Jack ('for whatever reason!' called a voice from the 'too hard' pile), then surely he would have made similar name changes for other persons in the notebook. Jack opened the book and started to re-read the first account on page one, the one he had, quite reasonably in his opinion, dismissed as nonsense thirty odd hours earlier. As he tried to get to grips with the speculative prose another thought intruded – what would it prove if John had changed someone else’s surname? What would it prove if he hadn’t?
Half an hour later Karen eased the kitchen door open, blinking in the dim light shed by the cooker fan unit, surprised at how bright it looked now compared with during the evening when it was generally used to supplement the failing daylight.
‘Are you having trouble sleeping?’ she asked, knowing the answer to be obvious. Jack looked up from the notebook, having read and re-read its contents.
‘Most of the night. My head’s been spinning round and round, so I decided to try and calm it.’ Jack raised his empty cup. ‘D’you fancy a cuppa?’ Jack stood up and re-filled the kettle, pausing at the worktop edge, both arms stressed and his neck bent.
‘The explosion?’ Karen had tried to let Jack work through the stress of the last couple of days. She knew from experience that he would come to her when he was ready, and she sensed that this was the time. Yesterday’s talking had been in circles, but sometimes that was how it had to be, when there were more questions than answers.
‘Yes and no,’ said Jack unhelpfully. ‘The problems the explosion threw up are well on their way to being resolved, everybody has pulled together well and it looks as if production will only experience a hiccup. We’ve got to work through the problems associated with the man who was killed, but a couple of the directors are tackling that end, letting us worker-bees get on with keeping the business going.’
‘The other man, is he going to be alright?’ Karen had known that Jack had planned to visit, but he hadn’t mentioned it since arriving home last night, and she hadn’t asked. He had said virtually nothing about work at all, in fact, regressing from their early morning conversation, but Karen thought she understood. Jack was shaking his head.
‘I’m no doctor, but I reckon he’ll have a tough time getting through this. He doesn’t even seem to know about the guy who died. He’s got a long way to go. I’ll be there but, you know, I realised I know next to nothing about these people that work for me. Sure, I have a banter with them but I can’t tell you which ones are married, who have kids and where any of them live with any accuracy…’ Jack turned to prepare the teapot with a couple of tea bags from the caddy, and then proceeded to prepare the cups, rinsing the one he had been using. Karen jumped in, trying to keep the subject as light as circumstances would allow.
‘Welcome to Britain in the Twenty First Century. You shouldn’t beat yourself up because you don’t know much about the guys you work with, most people don’t know the name of their next door neighbour these days. In fact, I only know Jane-next-door’s name because of the Junior school. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t even know her surname, or her husband’s real name. I know she calls him Rick, but I get the impression that’s a pet name.’ Karen drew breath in, she was on a personal hobby horse, and was just gathering her extensive anecdotal evidence as Jack interjected.
‘But that’s just it. I don’t know my guys from Adam and his mates, and I agree about next door’s; their surname’s a mystery to me as well. But one of the guys that works for me – works on the swing shift to me most of the time these days – knows stuff about me that I only learned a few months ago. That’s what I can’t explain, and that’s what’s bothering me.’ Jack filled the teapot and re-filled the kettle.
‘What sort of stuff?’
‘My father’s name,’ said Jack, handing Karen her tea. Her bottom lip dropped as her eyes widened. She hadn’t spoken to anybody about Jack’s mother’s revelation. She knew Jack had been absolutely torn at the time, both wanting to find his father and simultaneously wanting to eradicate all knowledge of the man who had not tried to find him. In the end Jack had stopped talking to her about it, and she assumed that it had been put aside, as indeed it had.
‘How?’ she asked, not really sure what her question meant.
‘He wrote about me in a notebook.’ Jack pointed to the book on the kitchen table. ‘It’s a long story and I’m not sure what to make of it, but somehow he knows my father’s name. I’ve not spoken about that to anybody except mum and you. Even the kids don’t know.’
‘I’ve not told anybody, including the kids,’ Karen said defensively. Jack hadn’t even considered that she might have mentioned the subject, assuming, correctly, that she had kept her usual counsel.
‘I never thought you would; I still don’t. This guy, John Staples, he’s found it out from somewhere else, but I can’t think where.’ They sat, exchanging occasional words as Karen flicked through the notebook, not really understanding the words any better than Jack had. After a while, putting the book down, Karen spoke.
‘Are you going to ask him?’
‘I don’t know. I can’t work out why he wrote all this stuff, most of it is irrelevant to us and the bit he did write that is bothering me, well I can’t see how I was ever expected to see it.’
‘Perhaps you weren’t supposed to see it.’
‘Perhaps, but I can’t see it’s purpose if I didn’t. Staples obviously has found out this information from somewhere, and probably long before I knew it.’
‘Is he local? Or could he be from Bristol?’ asked Karen, referring to Jack’s roots. Jack pondered for a few moments, as he recalled the few conversations he had had with John, both previously and recently. Sixteen years in the Army followed by six years following contracts around Britain had dulled Jack’s accent to the point where most people could only pin him down to the West country ‘somewhere’, but it was still recognisable to any true Bristol lad. Accordingly he felt he would have recognised the twang in John’s voice had it existed, no matter how altered it may have been. He shook his head.
‘No, I reckon he’s local, his accent’s not that different to your Dad’s. Perhaps not quite Salford, but not far off.’ Jack sipped his tea thoughtfully before announcing: ‘I’m going to have to see Mum, find out who else knows. Otherwise this is going to drive me crazy.’ Karen nodded, wondering when this would be. Jack answered that question almost immediately. ‘I’ve got some things to sort out in work this morning. I’ll do them and, if nothing else crops up, then I’ll drive down to Bristol. If it all goes well I should be back by five-ish.’ Jack looked up at the kitchen clock, another fifteen minutes had slipped by while they had been talking. ‘It’s not worth my going to bed now, I’ll get ready and turn in early, that’ll help out’ he said, draining his cup.


Copyright Ray Sullivan 2011

The characters, places and events described in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, places or events, past or present, is coincidence.  All rights reserved

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