He removed his cap then, a humble gesture that she wouldn't for all her life have had him make. It exposed his thick grey hair to the rain and removed the meagre shadow that had hidden the rubicund flesh of his nose. It made him look like what he was: an old man. It made her feel like what she was: a woman who didn't deserve such a fine man's love.
"Eugenie," he said, "if you're thinking you can't tell me that you ... that you and I ... that we aren't..."He looked towards the bookshop across the street.
"I'm not thinking anything," she said. "Just about London and the drive. And there's the rain as well. But I'll be careful. You've no need to worry."
He appeared momentarily gratified and perhaps a trifle relieved at the reassurance she meant to imply. "You're the world to me," he said simply. "Eugenie, do you know? You're the world. And I'm a bloody idiot most of the time, but I do--"
"I know," she said. "I know that you do. And we'll talk tomorrow."
"Right, then." He kissed her awkwardly, hitting his head on the edge of the umbrella and knocking it askew in her hand.
Rain dashed against her face. A car raced up Friday Street. She felt spray from its tyres hit her shoes.
Ted swung round. "Hey!" he shouted at the vehicle. "Watch your bloody driving!"
"No. It's all right," she said. "It's nothing, Ted."
He turned back to her, saying, "Damn it. Wasn't that--" But he stopped himself.
"What?" she asked. "Who?"
"No one. Nothing." He roused his retriever to her feet for the last few yards to their front door. "We'll talk, then?" he asked. "Tomorrow? After dinner?"
"We'll talk," she said. "There's so much to say."
She had very few preparations to make. She washed her face and cleaned her teeth. She combed her hair and tied a navy blue scarf round her head. She protected her lips with a colourless balm, and she put the winter lining into her raincoat to give herself more protection from the chill. Parking was always bad in London, and she didn't know how far she would have to walk in the cold and windy storm-stricken air when she finally arrived at her destination.
Raincoat on and a handbag hooked over her arm, she descended the narrow staircase. She took from the kitchen table a photograph in a plain wooden frame. It was one of a baker's dozen that she usually had arranged round the cottage. Before choosing from among them, she'd lined them up like soldiers on the table and there the rest of them remained.
She clasped this frame just beneath her bosom. She went out into the night.
Her car was parked inside a gated courtyard, in a space she rented by the month, just down the street. The courtyard was hidden by electric gates cleverly fashioned to look like part of the half-timbered buildings on either side. There was safety in this, and Eugenie liked safety. She liked the illusion of security afforded by gates and locks.
In her car -- a secondhand Polo whose fan sounded like the wheezing of a terminal asthmatic -- she carefully set the framed photo on the passenger seat and started the engine. She'd prepared in advance for this journey up to London, checking the Polo's oil and its tyres and topping up its petrol as soon as she'd learned the date and the place. The time had come later, and she'd balked at it at first, once she realised ten forty-five meant at night and not in the morning. But she had no leg to stand on in protesting, and she knew it, so she acquiesced.
Her night vision wasn't what it once had been. But she would cope.
She hadn't counted on the rain, however. And as she left the outskirts of Henley and wound her way northwest to Marlow, she found herself clutching the steering wheel and crouching over it, half-blinded by the headlamps of oncoming cars, assailed by how the blowing rain diffracted the light in spearheads that riddled the wind-screen with visual lacerations.
Excerpted from A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George Copyright 2001 by Elizabeth George. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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