CHAPTER NINETY-NINE: SELF-SALVATION

 

Author’s Note:

 

We are back with Phil now as he goes through his findings from Foxglove’s beams.  There’s much to be sorted and streamlined with this chapter, but some of the main ideas will be staying.  I just want to mention that, in this chapter, Phil refers to images of Aubrey which he has seen in photographs.  In my mind, Phil has stumbled across old photographs of Aubrey in his walk-through of Rosegate at the beginning of the novel when he and Redmond are at the house before the team arrives as well as during the team’s presence in the house.  I still have to write Phil’s discovery of these photographs.  I also have to go back and put a wrought-iron ‘CG’ for ‘Cemetery Grove’ on the gates between the family graveyard and Sorrel Lane.  And finally, you should be recognising some of Vic’s “new-agey” ideas and strategies (the power of rocks and reading without reading come to mind) playing out here in a more serious way.

 

 

Phil looked down at the second composition which now, save Foxglove’s key and the police torch, waited alone on the table.  He could see that Aubrey had penned the mood, affettuoso, with feeling, and the tempo, accelerando, getting faster, in the top left-hand corner above the music.  Scanning down the staff paper, he saw the piece was mezzo piano, half-gentle, to begin with, opening with three broken chords which ended in a dissonant chord which sounded crushed and unexpected, pleasantly jarring.  The sound reminded him of chords one hears in blues or jazz; it came together warped but only worked that way.

Next came the introductory melody clear and simple in the treble, classical in style, old-worldish, making him feel as if he’d heard the tune before.  Taking his right hand and placing it on the invisible keyboard, he played those lines; over-and-over, he played until it dawned on him that this, the melody was what he’d heard when he’d been standing by the Chappell on the morning he’d been on the scene with Redmond.  This, what he was playing in his mind, was the strange/familiar tune he hadn’t been able to pinpoint.  But not only that.  It was his tune.  His tune from ‘Four Shadows’His tune from 1981.  The opening part was pretty, but being in D Minor, it was sad, as if it were foreshadowing a gravity to come.

The more Phil played the opening lines, the more he grew aware of something warming against his hip.  Lifting his hand from the edge of the table, he delved into his pocket, pulling out the amber from Detective Redmond’s desk.  In all the mental turmoil he’d endured these past few hours, he’d forgotten that it was there.  But the instant he placed the stone in front of the police torch and saw it bathe the music in a dappled amber glow, he recalled the on-line excerpt which he’d read after Vic’s ‘Sermon on the Rocks’.   “Amber is the ultimate manifestation stone,” Phil murmured. “Renowned for clarity of thought and enhancing creativity. Revered for leading its bearers to their innate talents and inspiring them to live up to their full, creative potential.”

As if the composition hadn’t seemed beautiful to him before, it struck him as exquisite now, its recently inked notes glimmering in the copper light, a light accommodating the globules and flecks within the stone, a light which ebbed around the scorpion’s body.  The stone, aided and abetted by the torch, contributed to the music, not just aesthetically, but energetically, in mood and tone.  Mesmerised by what he was seeing, Phil was aware of the divine, no church, no mosque, no synagogue, no temple, no forest necessary.  Just this: a recycled piece of music illumined on a wooden table in a cottage with a history.

Spellbound for a moment, Phil sensed the broken pieces of his life were tumbling together.

This was his piece.  But not just his piece.  It was Aubrey’s piece. With her deft, musical hand, she’d added something to it.  She’d given it herself.  Because, in 1981, he hadn’t given it a mood, nor had he given it a tempo.  But she had.  It was clear to him.  Aubrey Holloway had come across his only composition.  She’d played it and she’d felt its energy, a vibe he’d never defined. She’d identified it and put it down in writing.  She’d given it the weight of words, albeit in Italian.

But howHow could that have been possible?

He closed his eyes, although it hurt to leave the view.

And in the darkness of his mind, he went back to 1981, to Philadephus Park where he’d gone after the piano recital to nurse his wound.  He saw himself again, sitting by the lake and studying the swans, the way they tucked their beaks into their moonlit feathers and drifted on their own magnificent reflections dimmed in the green water.  He recalled how beautifully serene they’d looked like that, like living prayers.

As Phil pictured himself by the lake, he traced the journey of his music. For Aubrey to have had his composition in her grip, only one thing could’ve happened. And so, the story wrote itself.  Phil saw it all so clearly.  Dave and Joe approaching, hollering in the dark.  Them cajoling him to accompany them to the Park Library, then up to the school roof.  Him rising, leaving the maroon folder on the bench.  Aubrey’s grandmother discovering it there the following morning on her wake-up walk in Philadephus Park.  Her rescuing it from the bench and tucking it away somewhere in Rosegate for safekeeping.  Her forgetting itwas there.  And then, years on, a girl who ransacked every nook and cranny of the house for self-imposed adventures into her own history, finding it amongst the clutter and reworking it at the piano.  That was the only way that Aubrey Holloway could’ve tussled with his boyhood composition, transforming it into an improbable collaboration, a work she’d deemed important enough to hide away with Justine’s documents and journals, Harold’s transcript of Tallow and Richie’s paintings.  This piece of music, their piece of music, was that hallowed.

His eyes still closed, Phil lingered in the vision of the night-veiled lake, taking it all in.  He watched the sleeping swans silvered by the moonlight, their upside-down reflections darkened, the ripples V-ed behind them.  He eyed the swaths of waterlilies extended from the banks, their pink-flamingo petals thirsting for the dew.  He saw the moon which looked like it was floating just below the water’s surface, its perfection made more perfect when it was disrupted – by a sudden breeze, a dreaming swan, a restless drake, a leaf which didn’t have the strength to make it into autumn.  There was no need for mysticism nor enchantment on this planet, Phil concluded in this state. Because the natural world’s allure was beautifully built in.  Whether it be because his and Aubrey’s music was in front of him, or because he was psychically in the park across the road from her ancestral house, his insight widened. Catching his breath, Phil experienced a vision only Life, which some call God, could give.

There.  

And it was precious/painful what he saw.

There was a little blond girl, sitting on that exact same bench.  Her red leather shoes barely reached the pavement, so they grazed the shadows of their rubber soles.  And that little girl, already, knew what it was like to go unseen on the peripheries of necessary, longed-for people.  That little girl understood what it was like to dance and sing and recite the little glories she’d come up with to try and catch the eye of loved ones looking elsewhere.  That little girl already had it figured out.  She vowed that she would ameliorate her own invisibility by seeing everything and everyone around her.  She would grow up to sit with you on the darkest of your nights, in the most disturbing places of your soul.  She would hold your hand when you no longer had the strength to lift it.  And she would see you.  Who you were.  Who you are.  And who you will be.  She would experience the ever-shifting triad of your identity-in-progress.  From dawn to dusk.  And in the dead of night when, every prayer you’d ever said had fallen on your deity-of-choice’s deaf ears, she’d still be keeping vigil.  Even when she wasn’t there.

Because.  Just because.

She was always writing songs.

She was always telling stories.

And they were about everything and everyone she’d ever seen.

That little girl knew that if she recorded everyone and everything that she’d ever seen, she’d always see you.  She’d always see you.  You’d never be invisible.  Because you’d be in a sentence on a page, or in the melody of a piece of music.  You’d read that line, or hear those bars, and suddenly realise you’d been seen and listened to and understood and accepted in all the ways you were and are and will be.  You would be seen. In your crudeness. In your repulsion.  In your fury.  In your sexual rapture. In your greed. In your kindness.  In your ‘roll-around-on-the-floor-pissing-yourself-laughing’ hilarity.  In your courage. And in the iridescence which is only you no matter how many lines you’re drawn from.

That little girl was Aubrey.

Phil felt her.  More than ever.  He felt her.

There in Foxglove, with his eyes closed, with their music – no – with our music – before him, he saw her now.  There she was, that sprite of a child, gadding about and springing up everywhere.  But she was never in London.  She was only in Rosegate, or Foxglove, or, as she was in this vision, in PhiladelphusPark.  But why?  Why there?  Why always there?  Why only there?  Or why here?  Why only in the Heath?   Of course, with what logic remained to him, Phil knew that he could only see her in those places because those were the settings which she’d given him in her manuscript.  Rosegate.  Foxglove.  Philadephus Park. Cemetery Grove.  On occasion St. Anne’s in Portsmouth.  So, naturally, he could see her in the places which she’d written.

But there was more to it than that.

Why had she created a manuscript about those places and the people who’d lived in them?

And ah, there it was.

And, yes, here it is.

And, also, there, is where it will be.

Aubrey Holloway had seen you in the very places where she had been seen, and loved, and heard, and accepted and treasured.  It was from those places that she could see you best.  It was from the locations in which she’d been visible that she garnered the insight and stamina to brave your worst night.  She gave you your reflection from Mistwell Heath.  Not from London.  Not from Boston.  Not from Cambridge.  Not from anywhere else she’d ever been.  But from the Heath.

Phil was both in Foxglove and lakeside in Philadephus Park.

He hated to admit it, but it was like Vic’s next simultaneously experienced lives, courtesy of the Life-to-Limb program, where he, in his wooden forms, could be a gazillion places at once.  And it was like that because, he, ever-the-pun-lover Phil, was about to go out on a limb and branch out beyond the cottage and the park into Rosegate, and not just into Rosegate, but into the photographs he’d seen when he’d searched the rooms, the photographs of Aubrey.

Who was Aubrey Holloway?

Well, she just was, wasn’t she?

Aubrey was beyond alive to him in that moment.  Phil felt like she was in everything.

With his mind’s eye, Phil watched the photos come to life.

He watched as she teetered from the front bedroom to the upstairs landing, steadying herself on the last rung of the bannister in Holls’ wedding shoes, several strings of pearls, and an evening dress from 1943.  He watched as she released the bannister, risking a precarious twirl before jumping up and down, the strings of pearls amok on her little body, announcing to the elderly couple at the foot of the stairs that she was about to slide down the bannister into their arms.

Phil watched as Aubrey, in flannel pyjamas and with fly-away hair, demonstrated some impressive fencing moves in front of the gas fire with the long brass fork before she attacked a piece of bread and dropped before the blue-gold flames to toast one side, then flip the done side on the prongs to toast the other side, nattering on about the origins of marmalade:  who invented it, why the oranges hail from Seville, who works in the orange groves, is the marmalade made in Spain, or is it made in England.  And who decided little bits of rind should be included in the marvel.  And who were these marmalade people?  Who decided that making marmalade was going to be their profession? And how many pots of marmalade did they polish off in a year?  And how was butter made?  And why was it delicious?  And wasn’t it time that Holls and Wellsy bought a toaster – for God’s sake – but then again, a toaster wouldn’t be as entertaining as a fork.

That moment faded.  The next one came.

Phil watched as Aubrey sat before the dressing table overlooking Philadelphus Park whilst Holls, Victorian curling tongs in hand, twisted her fine blond locks into a myriad of corkscrew curls, then pulled out a gazillion shades of nail varnish to choose from, not to mention brand new eyeshadows and lipsticks from Marks & Spencers because Aubrey wanted, more than anything, to be pretty.

‘Handsome is as handsome does,’ Phil heard Holls echo.

‘But I want to be pretty!’ 

 ‘If you write and if you keep making up songs, you will be more than pretty,’ Holls returned.

‘Because beautiful is as beautiful does, my duck.’

‘I’m going to grow up to tell lots and lots of stories one day,’ Aubrey declared.

‘I’m sure you will,’ Holls said.  ‘What do you think you’ll write about?’

 ‘Here, Holls,’ Aubrey’s little-girl self replied.  ‘About Rosegate.  And Foxglove.  About the Heath.’

 ‘And why’s that?’

 ‘Because it’s safe.  And you won’t be cross with me.’

 ‘Blimey, Brey, why would you ever think we’d be cross with you?’

‘Because I think I might be quite naughty in my stories.’

‘Ahhh – well that’s what stories are for, don’t you think, my pet,’ Holls responded. ‘Stories are these wonderful worlds where you can run all over the place and do all sorts of naughty things on paper. And just between me and you, if you misbehave in a book, you’re much less likely to misbehave in your life. Everyone knows that.’

‘Not everyone, Holls.’

‘ No, love – I’m aware of that.  But you listen to me.  I’m telling you, that for as long as you’re alive, you can write whatever you like here at Rosegate.  For God’s sake, you can use any of my body or personality parts, if you please.  I won’t be using them anymore, will I?  I’m just a little sad that I won’t be around to read your work.’

‘You’ll be in it though. I’ll promise you that.’

Phil stared at the music, at the melody repeated he’d written when he was twelve, ending with the thumpy part in the bass which had always reminded him ‘just-a-little-bit’ of the Pink Panther theme song by Mancini, and ergo of his mother on the prowl for her cigarettes.  He remembered putting that bit in as a cheeky little show of affection for his mum to see if she’d pick up on it – if she were in the crowd, which, as he ‘all’ knew, in hindsight, she hadn’t been.

But as he continued reading, he saw the music didn’t finish where’d he’d ended it.

Aubrey had picked up where he’d left off, adding a series of chords which got louder and louder, faster, and faster.  As Phil mentally scrambled through the music, he felt agitated and uneasy, as if some harrowing event drew night.  Then came another melody, this time eerie, reminding him of moments in the past when he’d felt like he was being followed, or the way he’d felt in Cemetery Grove on the day of Aubrey’s death when he’d experienced déjà-vu.  The music was suggesting that his epiphanous night was not yet over, that there was something more to Aubrey’s death than the conclusion he’d arrived at.

He heard the eerie melody anew, followed by some broken, mismatched chords which seemed to clamber up through different layers of madness. And suddenly, Phil remembered something George had said.  And he’d said it almost at the beginning of Aubrey’s manuscript, when the story had hardly started.

‘If Ada had been a song, she’d would’ve been in a minor key.’

That’s what George had said.

And this piece of music, which moved from sadly sweet to dizzyingly mad, reminded Phil of Ada.

Of all the people he’d just read about, only Ada showed up in his mind for this.  The way she ‘up-and-downed’ her way through life and, left one addled and uneasy in her wake.

Phil looked down at the music again, replaying it in his mind.  It was as if Aubrey, whether she’d intended to or not, was telling him something about Ada.  That she was off-balance, unsafe.  But what did that matter now if Ada were almost two centuries dead?  What did she have to do with anything?

“If Ada were a song, she’d be in a minor key,” Phil echoed George.

Taking his index finger, he traced the first two bars.

A – D – A.   A – D – A.

Those were the opening notes.  His notes.  The notes he’d written in 1981.  And they spelled Ada’s name.  He had spelled Ada’s name.  At the age of twelve and a half.  In the only composition he’d ever taken on.  Over and over, he’d played those notes at Elise Greenwood’s house.  They’d been his starting point.  He’d written his own warning without knowing he’d been doing it.

Christ.  That was it.

This compilation, between him and Aubrey, was a warning about Ada.

Ada?  Why?

Heart palpitating, breath accelerating, Phil wracked his brain for an answer.

If George and Justine had been reborn together in Aubrey, could it be possible that Ada had been reincarnated too?  And if she had been, who was she now?  And why was she important?

Phil’s hands were off the table now, and the music was playing itself, breaking from his head and filling up the cottage.  It seemed so loud, so urgent, bellowing at him from every corner.  Who had Ada hated?  That was the burning question.  Who – had – Ada – hated?

‘I hate Justine,’ came Ada, answering Phil’s question. ‘I loathe the way she looks at you with those big, hungry eyes of hers, the way she acts like she’s your wife.  She’s already had two husbands, George, and yet she wants my husband too.  I wish she’d join her husbands before she kills another.’

It was true.

Ada had detested Justine and often wished her dead.  And that was before she knew that George had married her and revelled in her body the way he had in Sid’s.  If Ada had lived again to come to know that fact, she would’ve wanted both George and Justine dead.  And if she knew that they were both in Aubrey, she’d want Aubrey dead.  If she killed Aubrey, she’d be killing two birds with one stone.

The music pounding all around him, Phil began to sweat.  The ‘IFS’ were coming fast and furiously.

IF Ada knew that George and Justine were both reborn in Aubrey, she’d want Aubrey dead. IF she succeeded in killing George and Justine through Aubrey, she would’ve killed two of her enemies, but not the third.  IF this scenario were true, she’d still be after Sidney, the man with whom her husband had betrayed her and the man who’d murdered her.  And IF he, Phil Owens, was Sid reborn, she’d be after him.

He’d be next – no – he was next.  He could feel her coming at him through the music.

The music fell upon him like a heavy hand.

It was imposing meaning – warning.

Phil thought of Harold Clarke.

Because in Harold’s world, an ‘if’ was a ‘might’ and a ‘might’ was a ‘given’.  And in all he’d read that night, Harold had been the voice of reason.  These IFS, therefore, were god-almighty IFS; bereft of ‘ands’ and ‘buts’, they stood alone, converting possibilities to cold hard facts.

ADA HAD COME BACK. ADA HAD KILLED JUSTINE AND GEORGE IN AUBREY.  AND ADA WAS AFTER SIDNEY IN HIM, PHIL OWENS OF 17 SORELY LANE.  HE WAS NEXT IN LINE.  BUT WHEN?  AND WHERE?  AND HOW?

Trembling, Phil looked down at the music.

The ‘A’s’ and ‘D’s’ and ‘A’s’ were everywhere.

But so were ‘C’s’ and ‘G’s’, often played together.

The A-D-A’s and C-G’s jumped out at him.

That’s when he saw the sign on Rosegate’s cemetery gate.  The C.G. for Cemetery Grove.  That was where he had to be.  He felt it in his bones because the music had put it there.  He’d put there in 1981, because the universe had known he’d need it one day.

‘What we do in childhood is important, Phil.’

Oh. Great.

That was Claire, the ex-nursery teacher, weighing in.

‘Robert Fulham, remember?’ Claire kept on.  ‘All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?  It’s like I’ve always said.  All that creativity we had before it got stomped out of us by God knows what and God knows who? That’s where the answers lie.  When you get yourself into trouble, most of the time, when you hit on the solution, you’ll realise you came up with it yourself WHEN YOU WERE FIVE!’

“Or twelve and a half,” Phil choked out as he was halfway to hyperventilating.

But even then, as crazy-anxious as he was, he knew he hadn’t solved the puzzle alone.  Aubrey, without knowing, had also come to help him, by expanding on his unintentional ‘notes-to-self’.  By way of adding mood, and tempo, and dynamics, by maneuvering the pace and sound to have the piece encompass Ada’s personality and fury, Aubrey had driven home that Ada was, for him, a tempest brewing, though for Aubrey she’d both come and gone.

But Aubrey wasn’t gone.

In that moment, Aubrey Holloway was more present than she’d ever been.

She was every glorious character she’d written all rolled into one.

As Phil looked up from the table, he caught his breath.  For, tall and slender, she was standing on the other side of the table, her fierce blue eyes aglow, her blond hair slashed below her jawline.  She’d travelled like Gregory had.  And yet, like Emeline, she’d known what it was like to be left behind, to try to salvage things in dreams. She saw double and let her imagination run wild like George did.  She was meticulous and premeditated like Harold was.  She made you laugh like Sid did.  She loved Christina Rossetti like Ada had.  And that was just the people that she’d written about.  As Phil stared, spellbound, at her mesmerising form, he knew she’d baked like Holls had, and played the piano as Wellsy had, that she’d been a keen academic like her parents.

But of all the people Phil saw, the person he saw most in Aubrey was Justine.

Sensuality?  Yes.  For certain.  A hunger to put that in print?  Why not?

A lover of language and a lover of love?  No doubt.

Just the sort of person who’d take a mirror smashed by someone else and turn it into art.

“Say something – please,” Phil whispered.

But Aubrey didn’t speak.

She didn’t need to anymore.

Because she’d finally been heard.

In the manuscript.  And in her music.

As she flashed her eyes across the music and the key to Foxglove and the gun, Phil understood completely.  Foxglove was a sacred place, the one location which Ada had never known about.  Phil needed to get out.  And he needed to get out fast.  To Cemetery Grove.