There was nobody there to meet him. He stood in line behind
three other men and watched them get their things and sign the
papers and walk out, and they all did it just the same way, as if
you couldn't choose how to do a thing like that after all the time
you'd been waiting for it. It made the same man out of all of
When it came to his turn there were only the clothes he'd
been in when he arrived and his wallet and cut-throat razor.
They made him sign for them, and for the postal order his father
had sent, and he was put to get changed in a side room. His
clothes didn't fit him properly any more; the trousers were an
inch too short and the arms of the shirt didn't cover his wrists.
He went back to the desk and put his wallet in his back
pocket with the postal order inside it, and the razor in his other
pocket, and waited while the doors were all unlocked again to
let him through. He didn't look at the guards, but crossed the
yard to the small door in the wall to the side of the big gate.The
door was unlocked, and opened, and he stepped out into the
There was no sign of the men who'd gone before him, or of
anyone at all. He kept a hold of himself and didn't feel too much
about it. He had been in a state of waiting, but the waiting
wasn't for his release, it was for his homecoming.Two years is
not a long time, but maybe longer from seventeen to nineteen
than at other times of your life.
It was the colours that struck him first, the colours and the
very bright sunlight. His eye could see far away, down the
street to where a small, pale blue car was turning a corner and
He looked up and down the street and thought that he could
stand there for ever in the clean air and look at the distance,
and the bricks in the houses that were different shades of yellow
and brown, and the bits of grass between the paving and the
way there was nobody there.Then he remembered the prison
at his back and wanted to get away from it. Then he thought
that it was all he'd known for a long time, and he didn't want
to get away from it, but he stopped himself thinking that and
walked down the street, away from the prison and towards
where the pale blue car had gone.
Lewis needed to cross the river to Victoria to catch the train
home. He had to get to a post office to cash the postal order
and he had to get to the station, then he decided he needed to
buy something to wear because he felt foolish, and going home
would be hard enough without looking stupid as well.
Getting from one place to another and having to speak to
people he didn't know made him feel frightened and more like
a convict than he had expected to, and when he got to Victoria
he stood across the road from the station, trying to make
himself go in.
There was no shade. He had bought two white shirts and a
light-grey suit that came with an extra pair of trousers, and
some cigarettes and a pack of cards and a metal lighter with a
hot flame. He was wearing one set of clothes and the man in the
shop had sold him a cardboard case to put the other things in,
and now he put the case down, and took cigarettes from the
pocket of his new trousers and lit one with his new lighter and
waited to be able to go into the station.
He'd never bought clothes for himself before. It was odd that
he could have done the things he'd done and not know how to
clothe himself. His father had sent him enough money not to
come home, but he hadn't asked him not to.
Thinking about what he'd done and what his father thought
of him wasn't helping, so he watched the people on the streets
instead. The colours were still very bright. There was a lot of
blue sky and the trees on the pavements seemed marvellous and
the women looked wonderful and he had to stop himself from
staring at all of them. He felt the flicker of life inside himself,
looking at them, and it was a bright flame and not a dark one
and there was promise in the way the women walked and the
lightness of them. He tried not to stare and was dazzled and
hypnotised by every woman who passed him.Trying not to stare
at women, but still looking at them as much as he could was a
game, and a good way to stop his head from getting away from
him, and made him feel alive again. He wondered if you could
get arrested for staring at women for an hour outside Victoria
station, and imagined the judge putting him away again the day
he got out for picturing them under their clothes, and after a
while he was able to cross the street and go into the station and
buy his ticket.
The train had the same rhythm and the same sound and the
same varnished wood as every other time he'd made the
journey. The seats were hard, with parts of them worn to a
shine. He had gone without thinking to the last second-class
carriage towards the front, and sat in a window seat facing the
back of the train so he could see the platform pull away from
Alice had been dreaming a lot about Lewis, knowing he was
coming out, and in her dreams he was always very young and
was being taken away, or being lost, and in some of them she
was a child too and she wasn't sure if she was him or herself as
a little girl.
She made sure Lewis's room was ready. She aired it and asked
Mary to make up the bed and saw it was dusted and then she
closed the door again, but she didn't know what time they
would have let him out and he hadn't written to say if he was
coming. If he didn't come, she thought, they wouldn't know
where he was.
It was a hot summer and it had become a habit to leave the
windows and the French doors to the garden open, and the
inside was often as warm as the outside and the carpet felt hot
from the sun coming in. Alice went to her room and checked
her face and then went down to the kitchen and spoke to Mary
about supper.Then she sat in the drawing room by the empty
grate and tried to read, not knowing if she was waiting or not.
The platform at Waterford was as empty as the street outside
the prison. Lewis walked down the steps from the platform
without seeing anyone.The road had trees arching over it and
sunlight came through the branches of the trees and dappled
the road. Lewis walked with his head down and when he heard
a car engine behind, he kept to the side, not looking.
The car passed him. It stopped. He heard it reversing and
then it drew level.
'Hey you! I know you.'
He looked into the open-topped car, at the blonde girl
driving. It was Tamsin Carmichael and she smiled at him.
'I'd no idea you were back!'
'Hop in.' He didn't move.'Are you getting in, or not?'
He got in next to her.The car was an Austin and Tamsin wore
short white gloves and a pale summer dress. Lewis didn't look
at her after the first look, but away and out of the car at the
country going by.
'How's it feel?' she asked, as if he'd just scored a century in
a cricket match.'You've missed absolutely nothing, I can assure
you. Caroline Foster got married, but apart from that, do you
know, I don't think a single thing's happened. Home, is it?'
'If that's all right.'
'Not exactly what you'd call a detour.'
Tamsin let him out at the end of his drive and drove off,
waving a gloved hand, and the sound of her car faded. Lewis
didn't think she knew what it meant to him for her to be nice
like that, but then he forgot about her, because his father's house
was ahead of him and he was home.
He walked up to the house and felt as if he was doing it in a
dream.When he knocked,Alice opened the door immediately,
smiling very brightly.
'Alice . . .You knew I was coming?'
'We knew they were releasing you. Sorry. Hello.'
He went into the house and she shut the door and they
looked at each other in the dim hall for a moment and then she
kissed his cheek.
'You've grown,' she said. 'We just didn't know whether to
expect you.You look so different.Your room's ready.'
Lewis went upstairs and Alice stood in the hall wondering if
she should phone Gilbert and tell him Lewis was back, and if
Lewis really looked as different as she thought, or if she had just
remembered him wrongly.
It was like having a man in her house.A man she didn't know.
He had been in prison and she had no idea what he'd been
through there and he had never been predictable. She felt alarm
and she waited in the hall, but Gilbert would have left his office
already and there was no phoning him.
Lewis's bedroom was roughly the same size as his last cell in
Brixton; a little bigger, maybe. That had been green and not
white and he had shared it. He put his case on the bed and went
over to the window and lit a cigarette and looked out at the
There was a bluebottle crashing against the glass. It explored
the edges, and seemed to search for an opening and then went
straight at the panes of glass in a series of small assaults and
then back to the edges again, and then it rested and then it
went for the glass again, hitting itself, and it didn't stop, but
carried on with it, trying to get out and not getting out and
The mantelpiece clock had a light, metallic chime and the sound
of it striking six reached Lewis in his room.
Alice quietly started to assemble the ingredients for her jug
of Pimm's, which would be ready at exactly six-thirty, just
before Gilbert walked through the door. She made it slowly,
and a small one for herself as a taster, to get the Pimm's and gin
mix right.When she went into the kitchen for mint and apple
and ice, she tried to make things better with Mary. Mary hadn't
known Lewis was coming out; the first she knew of it was
hearing his voice in the hall, and she was angry and she didn't
want to be in the house with him. There had been a row and
Alice had to beg her not to give notice. Now she found herself
practically following Mary around the kitchen trying to ingratiate herself, and after a while she gave up and took her mint
and her slices of apple and went back into the drawing room.
When Lewis heard his father's key in the door he went to the
top of the stairs. Gilbert stood in the doorway with his briefcase
in his hand, still wearing his hat. Alice came out of the drawing
room and watched them. Gilbert took off his hat and put it on
the straight-backed chair by the door.
'Come with me.' He said it quietly, but with rage.
Lewis started down the stairs to his father and followed him
out of the house. They got into the car without a word.
Gilbert drove quite fast towards the village and Lewis didn't
need to ask him where they were going. It was hard to be next
to his father again and to have his presence filling the car up like
that and Lewis tried to remember what he'd planned to say.
Gilbert pulled over and stopped and turned off the engine.
Lewis found he couldn't raise his eyes, but stared down at his
hands. He'd been going to make a promise. He'd been going to
make his speech and his promise and reassure his father, but
now he couldn't even raise his eyes from his hands and Gilbert
said, 'Look, can't you?'
He looked, obediently.
The church was ahead of them, warm with evening sunshine and very quiet and peaceful.
'It's just the same,' said Lewis.
'Yes. We wanted it to be just the same. Lots of people
chipped in. Dicky Carmichael helped enormously. It was very
important to everybody that it be just the same.'
Lewis looked at the church and there was silence as he
'Well?' said Gilbert, 'Do you have anything to say?' Lewis
Gilbert started the engine and drove home without speaking
to his son again.
The family sat in the dining room by the open window and
Mary brought in the dishes and put them on the table before
she left for the night. The sky was still light and the candles
stood unlit. Lewis was distracted by the things on the table.
There were holders and containers for everything; silver and
glass and lace that were almost hypnotically diverting. He
worked hard not to think about the wine that Gilbert was
pouring for himself and Alice. He could smell the red wine as
it was poured, mixing with the smell of the damp vegetables.
The only talking was to do with the passing of things, and
thanking, and Lewis wanted to laugh because he was nostalgic
for the huge noise of the mass mealtimes in prison. It had
been not unlike school, and quite relaxing, but this was just
self-conscious and tense and everything he'd hated about
home before. He thought there must be something really
wrong with a person who would rather be in Brixton prison
than their own home.
Gilbert made a speech about what was expected of Lewis;
how he must behave and get a job and be polite and not drink
and as his father spoke, Lewis kept staring at the things on the
table, but he couldn't see them properly any more.
Alice stood up, pushing her chair back crookedly. She
excused herself and left the room and Lewis and his father
finished their supper in silence. Gilbert placed his knife and fork
together and wiped his mouth carefully. He put the napkin on
his side plate and stood up.
'Good,' he said.
He waited to see if Lewis would get up too, but Lewis
continued to stare at the table. After watching him for a
moment Gilbert went to join Alice in the drawing room.
Lewis waited until he heard his father say something to Alice,
and then the sound of the door, closing.The wine bottle on the
table was empty. He looked at the liquor on the sideboard.
There was no gin.There was brandy and whisky, in decanters,
and glasses next to the decanters. He hadn't had a drink since
the night he'd been arrested. He could have one now. It wasn't
as if he'd decided not to drink, he wouldn't be breaking any
promise. He took a breath and waited and then got up and
stepped out of the open window onto the grass and walked up
The woods were dark already.The sky was pale and the house
was lit up behind him, but there was dark ahead. Lewis looked
into the trees and he thought he could hear the river -- but he
couldn't hear the river, the river couldn't have got closer. He
felt a coldness go over him at the thought of the water coming
closer to the house.
Alice was standing next to him and he hadn't realised and he
hadn't heard her.
He looked at her and tried to pull his mind back to where
'I wanted to say,'she began,'I wanted to say -- let's try and be
friends, this time, shall we?'
She looked so worried, he couldn't disappoint her.
'Your father,' she said,'he missed you.'
It was kind of her to say so, but he didn't think it was true.
'Was it bad?'
He wasn't sure what she meant, and then realised she was asking him about prison. She didn't really want to know, though.
'There are worse things.'
'We didn't come.'
They hadn't come. At the beginning, when he was so frightened, it had been unbearable that they didn't, and he had
written to them a few times, asking, but after that it was easier
not seeing them and hardly hearing from them, and he'd
forgotten about it -- or nearly.
Alice let the silence go on as long as she could and then she
tried again. She put her hand out, indicating his arm, stretching
her fingers lightly towards it.
'No more silliness?' she asked.
He pulled his arm away and put his hand in his pocket.
'Right,' she said, 'right,' and she smiled again, apologetic this
time. The grass was wet with dew and she had taken off her
shoes to come out to him and carried them now as she went
back to the house.
It was the same dream, and when he woke in darkness and
sweat, and cold with the fear of it, he had to sit up and put his
feet on the ground, and make himself keep his eyes open, and
tell himself he wasn't there and it wasn't true, or even if it was,
it was an old truth and he should forget it. He'd had the dream
while he had been in prison, but much less than before and
sometimes not for weeks at a time and he'd hoped it was leaving
He waited for the fear to drain away and to feel like he was
breathing air again, and not water, and he kept his eyes open
and looked for a moon outside the window, but there wasn't
one. He thought of Alice, pointing at him like that, and his
forearm reminded him of itself, like a separate thing making
him look and, after a while, he did. It was too dark to see the
scars, but he could feel them with his fingertips, both numb
and raw; a feeling of wrongness.
He went to the window and tried to make real things from
the shapes of the garden. He could see the apple tree and past
it he could see the line of the woods meeting the sky. He made
himself stand still, but it was very hard to be still and very hard
to stand there, and he would have clawed out of his skin if he
could, just to get away from himself. He told himself it was a
luxury to be able to get up in the night without disturbing
anyone and a blessing to be able to walk to a window if he
wanted, and there to be no bars on it, and a garden beneath. He
told himself all that, but it didn't mean anything.