Richard Pierce


Day 170

Always chasing things. My stomach is decidedly on edge about going away, and there are still so many things I need to get done before I feel ready to go. And I do know it’s stupid, and I do know there’s not really any reason to feel like this. We’ve got a load of disposable facemasks for the flight and bus rides. We’ll keep ourselves to ourselves. Just the sun, the sea, and us. Oh, I do love a cliché.

And, yes, there is a lot of the workaholic syndrome in this. When I walked in here this morning after my customary Sunday morning lie-in, I did wonder what I will do without having this place (prison and sanctuary and creative workshop and day job engine room) to go to. It’s unhealthy, I agree, but it’s the way I’m built, and I have, over the years, tried to change this total focus, almost to the exclusion of all else, on doing, on working. I remember, in a previous life, in a previous job, where I was running a department of permanently-employed people, as well as a group of about ten or so lovely freelancers, and the freelancers always went to my boss, the Managing Director, if they had an issue that would keep them away from work because “Richard will just say work’s more important than anything else,” and MD was seen to be a softer touch than me. Not something I’m proud of, and not something I recognise now, as family always has to be the priority (even for me, and even with all the emotional and financial stresses that brings with it).

Which reminds me that it’s Fathers’ Day, which, although its a commercial invention, is at least a day where so many children make huge efforts to reinforce their messages of thanks to their fathers. Their parents, actually. I’ve already been overwhelmed by our children’s wishes and blessings, and my cynicism has taken a backseat for some moments. But let’s make this a team effort. All parents everywhere have an immensely difficult job to do, and we all just do our best, and sometimes it’s not necessarily enough, and sometimes, actually, it’s too much. The fact that my childhood was very unhappy has perhaps made me go too much the other way on occasions, and actually, honestly, bounce around between both extremes too often. And my children are still dealing with the fallout from that. Is it wise to be this honest? I don’t know. But then I’m not very wise. None of us are. We all still have many life lessons to learn.



‘Ridiculous,’ Robert says, his face and body tense, but allows himself to be pushed back down into his chair. ‘He’s my best friend.’

‘Friends often do things to hurt us,’ Aggie says. ‘Just stay there.’ She walks out of the room, out of the house, quickly, flips open the boot, to be met by Martin’s wide open eyes.

‘You cow,’ he says. ‘You’re not playing by the rules.’

‘There are no rules,’ she says. ‘You made that pretty obvious when you pulled the gun on us.’ She grabs him by the scruff of the neck, throws him over her shoulder. How light he is, how insubstantial. And yet he has carried so much power, so many lies, so many deceits. A man’s measure is never by his physical presence, nor by his words, but by what he does. She walks back into the house, her arm clamped across him. He knows there’s no point trying to shout, because there’s no-one around to help him. It’s all done now.

Back in the music room, Aggie throws him into the chair next to Robert. ‘Look at the state of you,’ she says. ‘The gentleman in decline.’

In the bright light, Martin does look dreadful. Dried blood on his face, shirt open, his old tie around his wrists, stains of blood and dust and spittle on his tweed jacket, hair awry.

‘Aggie says you have something to tell me,’ Robert says stiffly, disbelieving, sceptic, eyes staring into the middle of the room, not at his friend.

‘She’s making things up,’ Martin says. ‘Delusions of grandeur from a maid envious of those in a more exalted position than she could ever attain.’

‘That’s not very charitable, old boy,’ Robert says, and this time his eyes do find their mark. ‘Tell me the truth now.’

‘There is no truth,’ Martin says. ‘It all depends on from where you look at things.’

‘Valentine,’ Robert says. ‘He was always your pet.’

No more than yours,’ Martin spits. ‘We both thought he was the best thing since sliced bread.’

‘Did we have sliced bread then?’ Robert says, and attempts a smile.

‘You’re making it too easy for him to lie again,’ Aggie says, harshly. The old boys’ network approach isn’t appropriate here now.’

‘Oh, listen to the maid use longer words than she’s used to,’ Martin scoffs.

‘Has it ever occurred to you that she’s a lot more clever than people like you give her credit for?’ Robert says. ‘That people deserve more chances than it might occur to you to give?’

‘Inferior foreign creatures,’ Martin says, his face red.

‘Valentine,’ Robert says again. ‘Tell me about him.’

‘I don’t know any ore than you do,’ Martin says, and his face creases into the familiar grin it was wearing when Aggie first saw him.

‘Tell him the truth,’ Aggie says. ‘Or I will hurt you.’

‘The pacifist threatens the soldier,’ Martin says. ‘How quaint. Nothing you do can hurt me, because you’re not prepared to kill me.’

‘She might not be, but I am.’ Lilibet is next to the old man, and, before anyone can stop her, she grabs the little finger of his left hand and bends it back until it snaps.

Martin’s face goes white. ‘Bitch.’ He grits his teeth. ‘That all you have?’

Lilibet grabs another finger, starts bending it back. She bends down, her nose almost touching Martin’s. ‘You thought I could only do this stuff when I was programmed to? I can do this until you’ve got no fingers left. I knew there must have been a reason your lot chose to make me one of their machines.’

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