Trust No One
The officer leads Jerry and Eva through the fourth floor of the police department. Most people stop what they’re doing to look over. Jerry wonders if he knows any of them. He seems to remember there was somebody he’d used for the books—a cop, maybe, who he could ask how does this work or how does that work, would a bullet do this, would a cop do that, talk me through the loopholes. If he’s here Jerry doesn’t recognize him, then remembers that it’s not a police officer he got help from, but a friend of his, a guy by the name of Hans. He still has the photograph Eva gave him in his hand, and he can remember when it was taken. Things are coming back to him, but not everything.
Eva has to sign something and then speaks to the officer again while Jerry stares at one of the walls where there’s a flyer for the police rugby team that has six names on it, the last one being Uncle Bad Touch. The officer walks over with Eva and wishes Jerry a nice day, and Jerry wishes for the same thing—he wishes for a lot of nice days, and then they’re riding the elevator down and heading outside.
He has no idea what day it is, let alone the date, but there are daffodils along the riverbank of the Avon, the river that runs through the heart of the city and appeared in some of his books—beautiful in reality, but in his books normally a murder weapon or a person is being thrown into it. The daffodils mean it’s spring, putting the day in early September. People on the street look happy, the way they always do when climbing out of the winter months, though in his books, if he’s remembering correctly, people were always miserable no matter what time of the year. His version of Christchurch was one where the Devil had come to town—no smiles, no pretty flowers, no sunsets, just hell in every direction. He’s wearing a sweater, which is great because it’s not really that warm, and great because it means he must have had an attack of common sense earlier that told him to dress for the conditions. Eva stops next to a car ten yards short of a guy sitting on the sidewalk sniffing glue. She unlocks it.
“New car?” he asks, which is a dumb thing to say, because the moment the words are out of his mouth he knows he’s set himself up for disappointment.
“Something like that,” she says, and she’s probably had it for a few years or more. Maybe Jerry even bought it for her.
They climb inside, and when she puts her hand on the steering wheel he notices again her wedding ring. The guy sniffing glue has approached the car and starts tapping on the side of the window. He has Uncle Bad Touch written on his T-shirt, and Jerry wonders if he’s going to play rugby for the cops, or if he was the inspiration for the comedian who wrote the name on the form upstairs. Eva starts the car and they pull away from the curb just as Uncle Bad Touch asks if they’d like to buy a used sandwich from him. They get twenty yards before having to stop at a red light. Jerry pictures the day being split into three parts; the sun is out towards the west and looks like it’ll be gone in a few hours, making him decide they’re nearing the end of the second act. He’s trying to think about Eva’s husband and is getting close to picturing him when Eva starts talking.
“You were found in the town library,” she says. “You walked in and went to sleep on the floor. When one of the staff woke you up, you started shouting. They called the police.”
“I was asleep?”
“Apparently so,” she says. “How much can you remember?”
“The library, but just a little. I don’t remember walking there. I remember last night. I remember watching TV. And I remember the police station. I kind of . . . switched on, I guess, during what I thought was an interview. I thought I was there because the police figured out what I’d done back when—”
“There is no Suzan,” she says, interrupting him.
The light turns green. He thinks about Suzan and how she doesn’t exist outside the pages of a book he can barely remember writing. He feels tired. He stares out at the buildings that look familiar, and is starting to get an idea of where they are. There is a guy arguing with a parking attendant on the sidewalk, poking his finger into the attendant’s chest. There’s a woman jogging while pushing a stroller and talking on her cell phone. There’s a guy carrying a bunch of flowers with a big smile on his face. He sees a young boy, probably fifteen or sixteen, help an old lady pick up her bag of groceries that has split open.
“Do we have to go back to the nursing home? I want to go home instead. To my real home.”
“There is no real home,” Eva says. “Not anymore.”
“I want to see Sandra,” he says, his wife’s name coming out without any effort, and perhaps that’s the key to tricking the disease—just keep talking and eventually you’ll get there. He turns to Eva. “Please.”
She slows the car a little so she can look over at him. “I’m sorry, Jerry, but I have to take you back. You’re not allowed to be out.”
“Allowed? You make it sound like I should be under lock and key. Please, Eva, I want to go home. I want to see Sandra. Whatever it is I’ve done to be put into a home, I promise I’ll be better. I promise. I won’t be a—”
“The house was sold, Jerry. Nine months ago,” she says, staring ahead at the road. Her bottom lip is quivering.
“Then where’s Sandra?”
“Mom has . . . Mom has moved on.”
“Moved on? Jesus, is she dead?”
She looks over at him, and because of that she nearly rear-ends a car that comes to a quick stop ahead of her. “She’s not dead, but she’s . . . she’s not your wife anymore. I mean, you’re still married, but not for much longer—it’s just a matter of paperwork now.”
“Paperwork? What paperwork?”
“The divorce,” she says, and they start moving forward again. There’s a young girl of six or seven looking out the back window of the car ahead, waving and pulling faces.
“She’s leaving me?”
“Let’s not talk about this now, Jerry. How about I take you to the beach for a bit? You always liked the beach. I have Rick’s jacket in the back, you can put that on—it’ll be cold out there.”
“Is Sandra seeing somebody else? Is she seeing this Rick guy?”
“Rick’s my husband.”
“Is there another guy? Is that why Sandra is leaving me?”
“There is no other guy,” Eva says. “Please, I really don’t want to talk about this now. Maybe later.”
“Why? Because by then I’ll have forgotten?”
“Let’s go to the beach,” she says, “and we’ll discuss it there. The fresh air will do you good. I promise.”
“Okay,” he says, because if he behaves, then maybe Eva will take him back to his home instead. Maybe he can carry on with the life he had and work on getting Sandra back.
“Was the house really sold?” he asks.
“Why do you call me Jerry? Why don’t you call me Dad?”
She shrugs and doesn’t look at him. He lets it go.
They head for the beach. He watches the people and the traffic and stares at the buildings, Christchurch City on a spring day and if there’s a more beautiful city in the world he hasn’t seen it, and he has seen a lot of cities—that’s one thing the writing has given him, it’s given him freedom and . . .
“There was traveling,” he says. “Book tours. Sometimes Sandra came along, and sometimes you came too. I’ve seen a lot of countries. What happened to me? To Sandra?”
“The beach, Dad, let’s wait for the beach.”
He wants to wait for the beach, but more is coming back to him now, things he would much rather forget. “I remember the wedding. And Rick. I remember him now. I’m . . . I’m so sorry,” he tells her. “I’m sorry about what I did.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
The shame and the humiliation come rushing back. “Is that why you stopped calling me Dad?”
She doesn’t look at him. She doesn’t answer. She swipes a finger beneath each of her eyes and wipes away the tears before they fall. He goes back to looking out the window, feelings of shame and embarrassment flooding his thoughts. Up ahead cars are coming to a stop for a family of ducks crossing the road. A camper van pulls over and a pair of young children climb out the side and start taking photos.
“I hate the nursing home,” he says. “I must still have some money. Why can’t I buy myself a home and some private care?”
“It doesn’t work that way.”
“Why doesn’t it work that way?”
“It just doesn’t, Jerry,” she says, using a tone that lets him know she doesn’t want to discuss it.
They keep driving. It’s crazy that he feels uncomfortable with his own daughter, but he does, this giant wall between them feels unbreakable, this wall he put up by being a bad father and an even worse husband. They get through town and head east, out towards Sumner beach, and when they arrive they find a parking spot near the sand, the ocean ahead of them, a line of cafés and shops and then the hills behind. They get out of the car. He watches a dog rolling itself over a seagull that’s been squashed by a car. Eva gets Rick’s jacket out of the trunk, but he tells her he doesn’t need it. It’s a cool wind, but it’s like she said—it’s refreshing. The sand is golden, but there are lots of pieces of driftwood and seaweed and shells. There are maybe two dozen people, but that’s all, most of them young. He takes his shoes and socks off and carries them. They walk along the waterline, seagulls chirping overhead, people playing, and this—this right now, feels like a normal day. This feels like a normal life.
“What are you thinking about?” Eva asks.
“About when I used to bring you here as a kid,” he tells her. “The seagulls used to scare you. What happened with your mother?”
She sighs, then turns towards him. “It wasn’t really one thing,” she says, “but a combination of things.”
“That was a big part of it. She couldn’t forgive you. You also couldn’t forgive yourself.”
“So she left me.”
“Come on,” she says. “It’s a beautiful spring day. Let’s not waste it on sad memories. Let’s walk for another half an hour and then I’ll take you back, okay? I told them I’d have you back by dinner.”
“Will you stay for dinner?”
“I can’t,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
They walk along the beach, they walk and talk, and Jerry looks out over the water, and he wonders how far his body could swim, how far he would make it before the dementia kicked in and he lost all rhythm. Maybe he’d get ten yards out there and drown. Just sink to the bottom and let his lungs fill with water. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.