Sheila finally opens the door wider and walks away back into the house. She doesn’t say anything but we take this as an invite and go inside and follow her in. She’s like a pudding as she waddles down the hall in front of me. Soft and rolling, so deceptive. She looks like someone you see when they show old footage of women scrubbing their stoops. Salt of the earth, keeping this country great. But she’s not. She’s vicious and vindictive and as I remember all the hateful things she’s said over the years I just want to turn and run. But I want to find out what’s happened to Jimmy more so I don’t, I go into the dark and overcrowded room and sit down on the sofa without being asked. Jules sits down next to me and looks round in horror. The already small room has been made minute by being stuffed to the gills with large, dark wooden furniture – cabinets mainly, which in turn are overflowing with dreadful china ornaments. Babies’ faces with one tear on one cheek. Ladies with parasols and flowing gowns. Teddies, cats, bears, birds, elephants. Plates, mugs, bells. It’s overwhelming.
‘Well what do you want then?’ Sheila says as she brings her pudding frame to rest in an oversized armchair in a slightly lighter shade of brown than the cabinets.
‘Is Alan here?’
‘He’s in bed. Not that it’s any of your business.’
‘We’re here to talk about Jimmy, obviously. How can you not be worried that he’s gone missing? Do you know where he is?’
I hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that and I can feel Jules’s surprise next to me and Sheila’s hackles rise even further opposite me.
‘Like we told the police, no we don’t know where he is. But we’re sure he’s fine. You wouldn’t know Missy as you never come to visit, not that we want you to, but we have lots of talks round here. Our Jimmy should never have married you in the first place and we’ve been telling him that all along. Hopefully he’s finally taken some notice.’
‘So, what, he’s left me? Is that what you’re saying? Did he tell you he was going to?’
She looks smug. Her eyes are gleaming with the power she perceives this situation to give her over me.
‘No, he didn’t tell me. But that’s what I reckon he’s done. Me and Alan’ll be seeing him before long I’m sure.’
‘How can you be so sure? He wouldn’t be leaving me. We were happy. And even if he was, why would he do it like this, why wouldn’t he just talk to me about it?’
I am shouting by the end of this sentence and Sheila is just gearing up to start shouting back at me when Alan comes bursting through the door in just his pants.
‘Oi. What the hell’s going on? What are you doing here shouting your mouth off? He pushes my arm as he goes to stand guard by his precious mother. As if she needs protecting from anything or anyone.
‘Don’t you think you can come here and talk to mum like that.’
Jules jumps to her feet then, my guard dog it seems.
‘She didn’t talk to her like anything. You two are the ones that are bloody rude. Kate’s husband, your brother and son,’ she jabs her right index finger at them both then, ‘has been missing for three days and I think she’s quite entitled to come here and find out why you two don’t seem to be bothered.’
It’s just descending into a shouting match and I can’t deal with it. I think I believe them that they don’t know where Jimmy is but I don’t believe he’s left me. I don’t believe he’ll be in touch with them in a few days. The reason they don’t seem bothered is because they aren’t. They don’t care about Jimmy, never have, and I have always been able to see that even if Jimmy couldn’t. The only thing they care about is themselves and each other. It’s weird the two of them living here together, spending most of their time together and Alan a grown man of thirty-five never having left home.
‘Come on Jules, let’s go.’
I grab her arm and she follows me out.
Alan follows, his pasty white gut hanging over the waistband of his pink panther boxer shorts.
‘And make sure you don’t come back.’
His voice is cut off as Jules slams the door behind us and we hurry away from the madness that is the rude family house.