Anthony was giving his views on where he felt the film industry would be heading in the 90s and Martin was agreeing the whole way. He’d bagged it, it was obvious. They had not got on to talking about Wondering yet but Anthony had Martin in the palm of his hand. It was on the cards that Martin was thinking Anthony perfect for the lead. This would be his biggest film yet, a blockbuster. He could almost jump for joy at the thought.
Thud, thud, thud. The noise made all three jump and Hannah brought her hand up to cover her mouth as she drew a sharp breath of surprise. Someone was hurrying down the stairs and the crashing was so immense the CD was skipping.
Anthony stood up. Is that her? Who else could it be? Why’s she running? Why is she running?
Within a second Autumn had burst into the room and stood in the doorway, excited and smiling as if possessed.
Hannah and Martin could do nothing but stare, gob-smacked.
Here was the marvellous Autumn Leigh with makeup smeared all over her face and dress, her hair a tangled mass of fuzz, standing in front of them with sick on her feet, grinning neurotically. It was almost too much to believe. Hannah shot her husband a shocked glance but her husband did not see it, as he could not tear his eyes away from what was standing facing him.
Anthony walked over to his wife, searching for a sign on her face as for what it could be. He himself was unable to speak or move for the first few seconds after she had run, jumped almost, into the room. He looked blankly at her and shook his head a little.
There was no sign, no warning as to prepare him for what he was just about to hear.
‘Anthony,’ she grinned through tears, placing shaky hands on her confused husband’s shoulders. ‘Alexander is alive!’
Anthony’s eyes widened to a horror filled realisation that his wife was suffering from some kind of mental breakdown and was dragging up the memory of their poor child in the process, in front of important guests no less. After the initial shock of what she had just claimed, all he could concentrate on was a tumbling feeling of anger. A lump instantly formed in his throat.
‘Excuse me,’ he said to his bewildered visitors, who were sitting rigid and speechless.
‘Who’s Alexander?’ Hannah whispered to Martin once Anthony had escorted Autumn out of their sight.
Martin shrugged and shook his head, lost for words.
Anthony had hold of Autumn’s arm tight as he led her through to the kitchen. Once in there and with the door firmly shut behind them, he stood only centimetres away from her, staring into her fluttering eyes.
‘What?’ was all he could manage to say.
‘Alex! He’s alive! He’s communicated with me and… and he’s been in a foster home but he’s ready for us to collect him now and he likes to play with worms!’ The words she spoke were blurred with laughter and tears of joy.
Anthony blinked back angry water and hissed: ‘Alex is dead. He was born dead and he was buried dead.’ Don’t give me this shit Lucy, don’t hurt me like this…
‘No Anthony, listen to me!’ She was still smiling madly. ‘He never died, the doctors made it up. They lied to us!’
Anthony made for the stool at the breakfast bar and sat down heavily, his legs a mass of nerves unable to support a grown man of thirty-eight under such emotion.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he whispered, staring at his hands outstretched in front of him, fingers pressed hard on the marble surface.
‘What’s wrong with Autumn?’ Hannah asked Martin another question he was unable to answer.
He finished his wine in one rushed gulp and said: ‘I don’t know, but I think we better leave now.’
Autumn was still standing, smiling, hugging herself and twisting her upper body as if ecstatically happy.
Well of-course she was ecstatically happy – her only son, whom she had thought dead, was actually alive! A thousand prayers had been answered and Autumn was on top of the world. So many plans to make, toys to buy, parties to throw…
She had developed completely selective hearing and sight as well, it seemed. For her husband was sitting opposite her looking like he was ready to explode or kill someone but she just didn’t register it. What she did register, however, was the sound of rustling just outside the kitchen door. She darted for it and opened it hastily to find Martin and Hannah getting their jackets out of the cloakroom.
Martin swallowed deeply when he saw Autumn’s face. He just wanted to get the hell out of there, no prying, no goodbyes, just maybe a phone call to Anthony later in the week.
‘Martin, Hannah, are you leaving?’ Even her voice sounded airy and unreal, about three octaves higher than how she usually spoke.
Martin put his hand on his wife’s back the girl looks like she could hurt someone and gave a weak smile.
‘We do have to be going now. Thank you for the lovely meal and please tell Anthony I will call him.’ With that he gently pushed Hannah towards the doors.
She opened one and shakily said: ‘Bye Autumn, thank you,’ before walking out without looking back.
Martin gave another nervy, fake smile and began walking out but Autumn grabbed his arm and he turned to her.
Martin – an eighteen stone, large, powerful man – suddenly found himself feeling quite afraid of this woman of whom the public claimed to know so well.
‘Do you have any children, Martin?’ she asked while Anthony remained transfixed at the breakfast bar, too crushed to even cry or think straight and too scared to try and convince his guests with a lie to explain her embarrassing behaviour.
‘Yes, I have a child from my first marriage,’ Martin replied politely, desperate to leave.
‘Oh! Boy or girl?’
‘Really? We have a boy too!’ she screeched, laughing.
Autumn and Anthony don’t have kids! What is this? What the hell is she talking about? ‘Oh,’ Martin nodded, not knowing what to say.
‘How old is your boy?’ she asked.
‘He’s twenty-seven, not really a boy any more.’
‘Really? Our Alex is two. Maybe they could play together sometime?’
‘Erm, okay. Goodbye.’ What the hell was that?
Martin did not even entertain a fake smile – She was crazy. He left the house at a fast pace and jumped into the car.
‘What happened?’ Hannah asked, uneased by her husband’s saddened face.
‘Looks like we have another friend who will be paying a visit to rehab soon,’ he replied, waving his driver to move away. ‘Out of everyone in the business, I never thought Autumn Leigh would be ruined by drugs, but that’s what fame can do to you, honey.’
Because all I could think about was my new job, I sort of stopped being scared of the flat. That first week of half term was the first and only week I’d spent in that place without having ‘shitting it’ as part of my day-to-day activities. Everything was calm for a change and we just watched videos all day (our Lou made me watch Titanic three times: torture). But then, guess what? The shits n’ giggles ended and we were soon reminded that we should be scared.
Me and Lou had been looking through Mam and Dad’s wedding album and having a laugh at Dad’s flares and everyone’s stupid hats when Lou said: ‘wait there, I’ve got a corker to show you, if I can find it,’ and left me in the front room. She went through into her bedroom and I heard her rustling through bags, and then I heard her bedroom door slam shut.
‘Chris?!’ she shouted. ‘Chris, was that you?’
I shouted back that I was still sitting in the front room and she was like: ‘Chris, my door’s just slammed shut!’
I put the album down and went to open her door but it wouldn’t budge.
‘Let go of it then!’ I said.
‘I’m nowhere near it,’ she replied, sounding panicky. ‘I’m over by the window!’
Neither of us said owt for a bit and once I got my head ‘round it I tried the door again but it was like trying to open a wall. The handle moved but the door was stuck fast. I could hear our Lou panicking more and more so I told her to stay near the window coz I was going to try and kick it through. I counted to three then I pushed the handle down and full on booted the door. My heel went through the first layer of MDF but other than that the door didn’t move at all, it was like there were breeze blocks cemented behind it or something.
When I kicked it Lou screamed: ‘Chris? Was that you?’
‘Yeah!’ I shouted. ‘I’ve just made a right fucking ‘ole in it! Mam and Dad are well gonna see that.’
‘It dint even move! The door dint move at all, Chris!’ Lou shouted back, getting hysterical.
I said: ‘I know,’ and she started screaming for me to get her out.
I kept trying to open the door but nowt was happening. Lou started proper wailing and telling me to kick it through and stuff. She was making me panic she was getting that hysterical but I knew Mam would flip if she came back to the door kicked in so I just shouted: ‘Lou! You try it from that end! Try it from that end!’
‘I’m not moving from here!’ She cried.
‘Lou!! Just fucking try it!’ I yelled.
Everything went quiet for a sec’ and then the door handle started moving up and down, but the door still didn’t open. I thought she’d give up after a while but she kept at it for ages.
‘Lou, it’s not working that,’ I said.
‘What? Did you say something…? Chris?!’ she shouted from inside the bedroom.
‘I said, it’s not working, that!’ I shouted.
She didn’t reply straight away, but when she did, she yelled: ‘Well stop doing it then!’
‘Stop doing what?’ I said.
‘That!’ I heard her scream. ‘That with the handle! Stop it!’
‘But… I’m not doing it!’ I said. ‘Aren’t you doing it?’
She screamed: ‘No!’ and started wailing again. Once I realised that neither of us was making the handle move and that it was doing it on its own, I backed up away from the door. I kept my eyes glued to the handle and think I even started shaking my head (I didn’t mean to, but it was well weird). It was going like the clappers for ages and I could hear our Lou working herself up into a frenzy in the bedroom shouting: ‘Stop! Stop!’ over and over like a mentalist. I don’t know if it wer’ just me imagining it, but I swear the rhythm of it started to speed up just before the door swung open, and then when it did swing open it was so powerful that it hit the wall and bounced right back shut again. I had just enough time to see our Lou absolutely pegging it towards the door from the other side of the room. She opened it and nearly knocked me to the floor she barged out that fast. Before I had chance to shout ‘wait!’ she was through the front room and down the stairs. We both ran out of the flat and I caught my breath while Lou calmed herself down.
Neither of us had any shoes or keys or anything and there was no way we were going back in there alone so we ended up sat on the grass in the back-garden for the rest of the day. We started getting hungry and daring each other to go in and get some crisps and stuff by about six but we couldn’t get any closer than the bottom of the stairs each time. I’m not a puff or owt, it’s just we’d been stressing each other out all day talking about it and our Lou was useless too; she kept freaking out whenever we went near the door. So anyway, in the end we decided to sit and starve instead; it was easier.
Mam got back just as it was starting to get dark and we told her about what had happened. She didn’t seem very surprised; she said she’d known the silence was too good to last.