‘Good morning, Miss Bloom.’
‘Hi, Mrs. Arnold.’
‘Is this a good time to talk?’
‘Good,’ she says briskly, and then falters for a second. ‘I…uh… How have you been?’
‘Fine, thank you.’
‘That’s good. Are you still on contraceptives?’
‘Oh!’ It is clear she cannot understand why I have come off them.
Again the lies trip off my tongue so easily they surprise me. ‘I have been in Iran. There was no need for them. Besides they are difficult to buy over there.’
‘I will schedule an appointment with the nurse for a repeat prescription.’
‘Next you will meet with the lawyer and then Fleur will take you shopping, and afterwards you have an appointment with the hairdresser, followed by appointments at the nail and wax bar.’
Suddenly I am swamped with a sense of déjà vu. I’ve done this before. Definitely. First time I was naïve. Stupid. That first kiss, it had blown me away, but now I know… I am the ‘unnecessary, unwanted thirst’. The man who thirsts for me also despises me.
But then I thought it was all a fantastic adventure. A romantic dream. How I had jumped in with both feet. All I knew about him and his family was what Bill had read out to me from the Internet. Now I have done my research, sitting alone and pregnant by a window in Iran and I know a lot, a lot more about the great Barrington clan.
I know for example that there are no fewer than a hundred and fifty-three species or subspecies of insect which bear the name Barrington, fifty-eight birds, eighteen mammals and fourteen plants including a rare slipper orchid, three fish, two spiders and two reptiles. Numerous streets around the world and dishes have been named after them too. The only dish I still remember is the one with prawns, cognac, and Gruyère on toast.
They are the twenty-first-century Medicis, offering patronage to artists, writers, and architects. I learned about the houses they have donated to the people and the staggering amounts of money they have expanded into beneficiaries ranging from universities, hospitals, pubic libraries, charities, non profit institutions and archaeological digs. But Blake had already explained how the very rich play the philanthropic game to me. Steal from millions over a long period and give a small portion back as a taxable gift.
Over the weeks I came to realize that Blake’s words were true. If you see it in Wikipedia or a mainstream news outlet then we have planted it. That everything I read and saw about the Barrington family and history was part of a picture, a false picture. They wanted the world to believe the bogus biographies that they themselves had commissioned, all of which declared their family as a once great dynasty that had since lost most of its wealth and influence. It was the picture of a benign, powerless house that jealously guarded its privacy.
Then I came across a Youtube video of Blake’s father. There he was not the cold-eyed man who wanted to arbitrarily dismiss me to the toilet so he could talk to his son. Dressed in an expensive cashmere coat and metal rimmed glasses he worried about the world economy in a mild mannered way. His opinion: more austerity measures should be implemented worldwide before any recovery could be achieved. His silver hair made him look like someone’s grandfather, but as I watched him I felt a cold shiver go up my spine.
At his transformation.
At the benevolent role he had so easily and effectively slipped into. If I had not seen the frosty arrogance with which, the blue stones had snubbed me I would never have believed these two men were the same person, but it gives chilling credence to Blake’s warning that nothing in his world is as it seems to those in mine. That was when I began to search through the conspiracy sites. And they were rife with ‘information’.
The Barringtons were blamed for everything from secretly starting the American Civil War in order to capture the monetary system, precipitating the American bank panic of 1907, to duping Congress into approving The Fed in 1913, to funding the Bolsheviks and Hitler. They were even accused of having a hand in the assassination of Kennedy. I gave up after a while.
There was one thing they got right, though.
They refused to believe the fairy tale that the Barringtons were a declining dynasty, whose members could not even make the Forbes rich list. As far as they were concerned the Barringtons were one of thirteen old families. Through complicated structures of off-shores companies they owned all the debt of all the countries. They were trillionaires and the true rulers behind governments and world organizations. To be a Barrington is to be a modern Croesus, a twentieth-century Midas.
‘Is it all right if Tom knocks on your door at 10:00 am?’ Laura Arnold asks.
The state of the lift flashes into my mind and I feel ashamed. ‘No. Just ask him to call me on my mobile when he gets close to the flat. I’ll come down.’
‘All right then. Have a nice day, Miss Bloom.’
I thank her and end the call. As I place the phone on the dining table Billie walks in. Her eyes are half-shut. She goes to the fridge, takes a mouthful of orange juice straight from the carton and turns to face me. Her face is unsmiling.
‘What time are you leaving?’
‘Less than an hour.’
‘Right,’ she says.
‘What would you do if you were me, Bill?’
‘I don’t know because I don’t have all the facts, do I?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You took the money and disappeared on him, no note, no goodbye, while he was unconscious in hospital after he had risked, if what you tell me is true, his precious life to save your lowly one. So in his eyes you must be the worst kind of gold digging slut that ever walked English soil. Instead of wanting to jump your bones shouldn’t he just put it down to a lucky escape and thoroughly detest you by now?’
I put my head down. I feel ashamed that I have not told Bill the whole truth. ‘You’re right, he does detest me, but I’m like an itch that must be scratched.’
‘Hmmm… There’s something wrong with this explanation too—scratched itches get worse.’
‘OK. He called it a disease.’
‘For f**k’s sake, Lana. What are getting yourself into?’
I close my eyes. I am making it worse. ‘Look, Bill, it is not as bad as it looks.’
‘Make it look better then.’
‘I can’t. All I can say is, I have to do this. I know I left him, but I have never ever stopped wanting him. There is not a single day that has gone by when I have not thought of him and longed for him. I don’t fool myself that I can have him. I know I can’t, but these 42 days are mine and nobody and nothing is taking them away from me. So he wants to punish me. Let him. A slap from him is better than nothing.’