The next day was Friday, and that evening I went straight to the top floor, the spell broken, ready to tackle Paul about Angélique. Dan was there alone, humming in concentration over the new workbench in Grandpa’s odd-jobs room that had become Paul’s. Alongside the workbench stood a table and easel with familiar stains of white spirit, trails of sawdust and shavings.
‘Dad’s gone to London,’ Dan said without looking up. ‘He had to go.’ No mention of when, or if, he’d be back.
So October winds buffeted Joe and me that Saturday when we took Dan and a pack of friends to the Downs. Joe kept insisting they were old enough to go on their own, but Dan had entered his tenth year and I was fearful. I didn’t let them wander out of sight. I stood back and watched Joe gazing at the billows of vapour hanging over the sunset, infused with the moment. The end of the day was creeping up on the afternoon. Though he never came close, I could still feel his intense, untrammelled joy. Live for the moment. Just be.
Paul might, or might not, return. I crept up to the top floor before Dan went back to his room after supper. I shouldn’t have looked to see whether Paul’s clothes were still in the old tank room under the eaves. He had transformed it into a cramped bedroom with garments hitched on nails along the bottom of the skylight and dropped next to sketchpads on makeshift shelves. Nor should I have checked the letters and sketches scattered over his bed, or pried into the stacked canvasses in the workshop and studio next door. A still life stood half restored on the easel. I was only concerned about his present safety, after all.
I felt free to tuck Dan in, chatting and sorting out his clothes.
‘Why don’t you come every night?’ And when I didn’t answer, he just said, ‘I miss you’. Then, ‘you’ve never left me alone before’. I thought he stressed ‘you’.