The profound missing of that fellow soul orbits the day, a glorious verdant green spring day.
It informs all although I’d only met her once. On a boat on the Thames, one of those you can hire, as Barry did for his 60th birthday. So exactly 10 years ago, May 2005, it must have been. I was innocently interested to meet her. I’d heard much about her from Barry, how the two of them had travelled to all corners of the world together at a time when travelling was not as popular or easy as it is now.
I met Barry on the plane over to Kathmandu. We got talking, sitting next to each other. When we arrived and I discovered Barry hadn’t booked a hotel, I suggested he came to mine. He moved out the next morning. Our standards are different, you could say. He booked into the one across the road with en suite facilities and a zero at the end of the rupee price. After a few days of meeting for a drink and meal in the evenings, exchanging news of our days – Barry was negotiating a visa to Tibet, I was preparing for a launch of a book, he said ‘We’re were looking for a new travelling companion; may be I could be that person.’ They’d travelled with a middle class man called Tony, who’d they’d got on well with. But Tony had recently become ill.
The idea did not appeal, being between a married couple. However I accepted his invitation to come to his birthday party, and meet his clan, eastenders, and his wife Petra. She cold shouldered me. She was dressed in red, perfectly mad up, petit, and talked in a suprisingly strong German, mixed with east end accent, a hybrid which was quirky and amusing. Non pluses about her could shoulder, (she talked to everyone else at the table except me) Colin observing it, made a joke about the affair I was having with Barry, and I blushed. Far too bloody middle class to rebut. I cooled out with a cigarette outside.
I never saw her again. I followed her parallel to Barry life. Through their amicable divorce, working admirably mediators just rubber stamped by lawyers. The endless renovations to their mansion in Windsor road, Barry finding and renovating Sunderland place for Petra. She chose the colours, red and black, but she never moved in. She stayed firm in Windsor road.
She gave up smoking using one of those early fake fags, and it worked for her as it never had for me. I’m pretty sure it was after that she began getting ill, as if her body, relieved of the poison, suddenly woke up and shouted I am here, you had forgotten me. But there was the usual culprits too: she’d had a crumbling back since Barry had known her, and a certain amount of brandy had been consumed over the years. The last year she retreated into a single room in their 14 bed mansion house, a room I never found, when I visited once. Naturally when she was not there.
In continual pain, she refused painkillers, never liking pills. She became increasingly secretive. Barry was to know nothing, especially about her bodily deterioration.
‘Get a second opinion’ he’d challenge to her. Whatever the doctors have said, get a second.’
Her final carer, Ann, was one she got on with and confided. She was sworn to secrecy. But Ann let Barry know when Petra went to hospital. The pain was unremitting. One ailment exacerbated the other. Operations were out of the question. A past operation on her bowl intestine burst, but nothing could be done.
She lived in her little room, watched animal programmes on national geographic channel. Her beloved animals, who she preferred to people. She did her hair and make up every day. Ann said at the end she went to bed with her make up on in case she died in the night, so anyone finding her would see her at her best.
On Sunday before he came up to Suffolk, Barry went in as usual to see her, and tell her he was on his way and back on Tuesday with the new camper. He must have said that I was coming down with him to drive the camper back up.
‘Will she (she could never say my name) stay here then? she asked. ‘Of course not, she wouldn’t do that, Barry responded.
‘Because I don’t want her to see me like this, said Petra.
‘No need to worry there, she don’t look at the mirror herself!’
‘It was as if she’d come to accept your presence in my life’, said Barry to me.
The phone call came Monday morning. Marguaritte found her cold on the floor, propped up with some pillows. Pinned to her chest was a note saying: ‘Do not resuscitate.’