The Last Truth is about the damage done by living with denial and the burden of unwanted responsibility. It examines how a mother and her two children, separated from each other, find ways to live with the damage done by selfish need, the pretence of good intention and turning a blind eye. It leads each of them down a twisted path to violence. In trying circumstances the children are reunited as adults and, in sharing their stories, a terrible truth emerges. The truth cannot lay buried any longer and its uncovering results in tumultuous and shocking events enacted by those who urgently need to escape culpability or obliterate the challenge to what has been denied. The vulnerability of the damaged individuals followed in The Last Truth is matched by that of the public services they encounter, whose agents and institutions are revealed as equally self serving and harmful. Their capacity to exercise their power to ‘manage’ truth, and act in ways that lay blame on individuals for circumstances they impose, is a recurring theme. It is a preoccupation of the characters whose behavior is shaped by their experience of public services. The book will appeal to those readers interested in psychological drama and crime stories, but the layering of intimate psychological experience, the evolution of disorder, misuse of authority, protection of privacy, organizational violence and the moral questions of personal and organizational responsibility, may give it wider appeal. It asks whether it is reasonable for some people to be held solely responsible for their actions when so many influences contribute to what they have done? How should responsibility for harm be distributed when so many have caused it, but only a few have the protection of legitimate process to step away from accountability? The Last Truth is, in the end, optimistic of the human condition, but not before a tough examination. The story is divided into three sections and is set in an industrial city in England.
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This was justice, not the exhilarating slaughter he had practised until sweat sprayed from him. There was no thrill now, and there would be no catharsis to soothe him when it was over. Even so, it waited to be done. He pushed closer, leaning over her with the knife held low and behind him, as if to surprise her. With his free hand he pulled her upright by the hair. There was no resistance remaining and she fell back into the chair. Gravity took her as far from him as it could. It was not far enough to save her from the ending he intended.
Twenty-Two Years Earlier: Stepping Out
Jenny watched her mother from the shadow of the hallway outside the bathroom. She had dragged her duvet from her bedroom and secured her thumb in her mouth. Angela sipped from the glass of wine by the sink and began the ritual of make-up: moving forward, getting ever closer to the image of herself applying the detail, and then back to admire the full effect. Each forward motion brought with it a contortion of the face, arms held at angles and an instrument dabbing close to her eyes or a brush fluttering on her cheek. It was a lengthy process, which drew Jenny. She looked forward to the time when she could prepare herself this way. Final adjustments to her mother's hair would be next, then lipstick would be applied, and then the top layer of something tight and pretty.
Angela asked, What are you doing up, Jenny? Shouldn't you be dreaming? She turned to the mirror.
Where are you going? Jenny asked with her thumb still in her mouth.
I remember asking the same question of my mum. Her eyebrows lifted ready for the lids to be painted. That was a long time ago.
Did she wear make — up? asked Jenny.
No. It wasn't like that when I was your age, said Angela. Something desperate flickered in Angela's eyes. Jenny saw the discomfort of a sudden memory passing through her mother.
I'm going into town with a friend tonight. Maybe I'll find someone nice, to come and stay with us. We could be a family again. What do you think? Would you like that? Angela said.
Men had stayed in the house before, always with the promise of how much better it would be. Jenny understood how important it was to her mother. A sloppy thumb was removed long enough for Jenny to ask, Are You going to find a new daddy for me?
Angela reddened. No, Jenny. It's not like that. Her mother was looking in the mirror. The disappointment of being less beautiful than before was obvious.
Am I pretty too?
Angela looked at her daughter. Very pretty. So much prettier than me. They both smiled.
Can I have a story?
Go on now, said Angela. Get back to your bed and I'll be there in a moment. Jenny reached with the duvet and sticky thumb to be hugged away to bed, as was the custom. Angela bent down, craning her neck to avoid her make-up being wiped with the quilt or smudged with the thumb. Jenny turned and went off to her room, like the good little girl she wanted to be. It was always hard to sleep when her mum was unhappy.
The bright light in the bathroom was, Angela thought, unforgiving of motherhood and disparaging of her youth. It was getting harder to achieve what was needed for going out. She dragged the brush through her hair and thought she was still pretty, but not as she had been. Still young, but not like the carefree girls out at night. Something had been lost and her desperation was starting to show. She worried that a man would not take her as a partner with Jenny in tow. Angela reminded herself not to drink too much, or too quickly mould herself to some young man on the dance floor.
Her neck flushed scarlet with how pathetic it seemed and then she looked to snap off the stare of anyone watching. She was at home and there was no one, but she resented the judgement of her own thoughts. The lipstick twisted out; she pursed her lips and began to smear. Sex was such an effective means of inviting men into her life, and there might be one who would stay. Why shouldn't I? she muttered to her image through barely animated lips. Everyone had a weakness. For men, it was lust: the urgent, distressing need that preoccupied them from time to time and for which she could offer sordid diversion and panting tonic, just by tolerating what they wanted. It was simply bartering her body for companionship as women have always done. At least she was honest about it.
Angela looked at her watch. She might find time for another glass of wine before the babysitter arrived.
The two women giggled into the street from the taxi parked outside the club. The glass of wine at her friend's apartment had set the tone for the outing and now they emerged onto the evening stage ready to be players. Alcohol fuelled the guffawing and confident young men, walking past, eyeing the pair with cartoon interest. Angela and her friend slipped in front of them and walked past the doorman and into the pulsing noise emanating from down the stairs. The doormen stepped forward to stop the boys.
Pointing to the women, two young men protested, We're with them. Angela looked back and caught the eye of one. The doorman nodded and on they went. It had started.
Late into the evening loud music and thumping rhythm dominated their senses. The circling young men and sparkling women had settled on their luck, and those without moved off, up the stairs into the cool air and garish light of the town centre.
Angela's friend inserted her head between Angela and a young man and shouted. Don't wait for me. I'll make my own way home. The two women grinned at each other. Over her shoulder, a young man waited. What time do you have to be back? Will you be okay?
I'vejust been bought some vodka and ... cranberry, Angela said, inspecting the red bottle. I think I'll be fine. Her grin conveyed the alcohol consumed and salacious intent. Her friend smiled back and bounced off.
It was quiet when she woke. In another room music played and people could be heard. She was sitting in a small room, leaning back, uncomfortable and stiff. Opening her eyes, Angela knew it was a toilet cubicle and felt an unpleasant surge of adrenaline at not knowing where it was or how she had arrived there. She wondered what she must look like and cursed herself for letting this happen; but there was nothing to do but take stock. Her clothes had been unsettled and everything was out of place: skirt up, underclothes twisted. From entering the club only fragments remained in memory. She could recall feeling hot and perspiring, and then feeling dizzy. Angela began adjusting her clothing back into position and remembered her friend leaving. She reached between her legs to ease a sudden discomfort, and then inspected the sticky moisture on her hand. She knew what it was and a sudden alarm rushed through her.
The babysitter came to mind. Angela looked at her watch and remembered Jenny would now be home alone. Jenny would be upstairs asleep. She recalled what a good girl she was. She would be okay. Angela stood on wobbly legs, quickly organising herself to get out of the cubicle.
From her bedroom window at the front of the house, Jenny watched the street until a taxi arrived, and felt the disappointment of seeing it did not bring her mother home. Instead she heard the front door of the house open and close, and saw the babysitter walk into the dark street to the taxi before it drove off. It was not difficult to be home alone, but it was difficult to sleep. She worried about her mum being unhappy and somewhere else.
Finally a second taxi arrived, with her mother. Jenny listened to Angela coming in; the door closed, a tap ran, footsteps made their way up the stairs. The toilet flushed, her bedroom door opened wide enough for her mother to look in and then Angela opened her own bedroom door. Jenny waited long enough for her mother to undress and lie down before leaving her own bed. To arrive in her mother's bedroom when she was still up risked being brought back to a lonely bed. She waited until it was quiet before crossing the landing and getting into her mother's bed and snuggling in. Her mother smelled of something sweet, and of cigarettes, but she was home and warm. Jenny found the crevice between her mother's arm and bosom, and allowed sleep to come.
Jenny woke alone in her mother's bed. The sun was up. The house was still quiet save for the radio. It was Saturday and it meant there was no school or rush to get out of the house. Angela was downstairs. It was not like her mother to be up so soon on Saturday. She wondered if her mother was all right, and then slipped out of bed to find her.
It was important to be good for her mum today. There was something wrong this morning and Jenny was anxious about her mother, and going to school. At the school gate, Jenny turned to her mother, who made the final checks of her kit and apparel, as did all the mums. She reached up for a hug and a kiss and turned to launch herself into the schoolyard. She walked quickly, with purpose, feeling her mother's gaze. Jenny was gradually being engulfed by children and noise. She offered her mum a final smile and wave, and allowed herself to be swallowed by the red-brick school building. Like all the other Victorian school buildings dotted around the city, this one had seen more than a hundred classes of new starters and endured countless modifications. Prefabricated grey classrooms squatted between school and playing field. Jenny watched Angela turn away and make her way towards the bus stop, and wondered how her mother would be when she got home.
The bus arrived and Angela heaved herself up the step, showed her card to the driver and sat heavily in the first available seat. The waistband of her jeans was becoming harder to close and she was feeling bloated. In fleeting and terrified moments, she knew the cause of the changing arch of her abdomen, but hoped that it was something else. At first she thought it was wind. A week later it might have been constipation, so she had filled her shopping bag with remedies from the chemist. Finally, as the pressure on her clothing became inescapable, she considered the possibility that she might have a tapeworm or even a tumour of some kind. In any case, her doctor was sure to help. She had phoned earlier to make an appointment, apologising for the one she had forgotten, and was grateful to the receptionist for fitting her in quickly.
The bus rumbled along. Angela felt her temperature rise. More and more people squeezed on. Getting off and going home was on her mind, but the crowd hemmed her in, overcoming the half-hearted commitment to changing her mind, and it was too late to forget the appointment.
Angela walked briskly to the door of her family doctor's surgery, a large detached house in a suburban street, indistinguishable from the other houses save for the brass plate by the door announcing that it was the surgery of Dr Burrows, Family Physician. She entered the hallway leading to the receptionist. Every step caused the floorboards to creak and moan. I am sorry I missed my last appointment, but I'm here to see Dr Burrows. I usually see him.
The receptionist hardly looked up from her desk. Take a seat, please, she said, pointing to the waiting area beside her, with four others sitting in it. Angela knew well where the waiting area was and scanned each of the occupants keenly. None of them looked to be in pain or to be struggling very much. Her sense of deserving established firmly in her mind, she sat on the nearest chair, feeling reasonably satisfied that she should be there, at least as deserving as them. There was silence and coughing, while she concerned herself with what they were thinking about her. Minutes passed. Several patients came and went, and gradually Angela relaxed enough to believe no one was minding her business very much.
The receptionist spoke. Angela, would you like to go through now? Angela leapt up. With a raise of the eyebrows and tilt of the head the receptionist directed her out of the waiting room back into the corridor. She knew where to go and set off down the hall to the doctor's consulting room on the left. Straight ahead, at the end of the corridor, the bathroom door was open. A wild-eyed woman stared at Angela from over the sink. It was a moment before she dismissed her own image and turned into the consulting room.
Angela sat down beside the doctor's desk. Dr Burrows smiled at her and said, Hello, Angela. What can I do for you today? Angela began talking to the doctor, knowing he would help her. All the possibilities tumbled out.
Angela fixed her gaze on Dr Burrows as intently as the doctor looked at her. Gradually, she could see that the doctor was no longer listening. It was what professional people sometimes did when they did not understand or did not want to hear an explanation. With his practised gaze, Dr Burrows maintained eye contact, but Angela knew that behind the eyes he was thinking, judging, and it was pointless speaking more with professionals when they got into that state of believing they knew everything before you told them.
Dr Burrows began, Angela, I'm trying to make sense of this. He smiled. It isn't uncommon that a woman arrives here complaining of stomach problems, only to be told that they are pregnant. It does not happen very often when it has become obvious. I'm happy to do some tests and tick off all the other possibilities until we find out for certain, but I think you're likely to be pregnant. Do you think you could be pregnant?
I can't be pregnant.
Dr Burrows waited a moment and started again: Some people struggle to come to terms with it, but we can help.
How can you help? Angela looked up.
Well, we can refer you to the local hospital for counselling or you could see the practice nurse here. Dr Burrows smiled again and looked at her carefully.
I can't wait.
All right. Just wait in the waiting room for now and I'll get the practice nurse to see you this morning, while you're here. I'll arrange for some tests to be done. The two walked out of the doctor's office. Angela returned to the waiting area and Dr Burrows crossed the corridor to speak to the practice nurse.
Angela waited, in turmoil, now oblivious to those around her. It was not possible for her to disentangle the feelings and thoughts that rushed past her, each pushed on by the one following. It was as if she was lost forever in a world of being endlessly responsible for others. Jenny was almost six years old now and it had been hard. She had been a lovely, smiling child who had loved her mother, but the burden had taken its toll. It had been lonely and difficult to establish friendships.
There was no one to help look after the house, the money, the shopping or Jenny. Angela had been to social workers and doctors and friends, but there was no help that she could rely on. It was always on her. Now, just as Jenny was starting school and Angela would get some relief in time and support, it was starting again. It was not even her fault that she was in this situation, but mostly she did not want the blame for all that would go wrong with the child and everything she did as a parent and mother.
She tried to imagine having a different life and finding a partner, but her prospects became entangled in the implications of a new child. It might be possible, Angela thought, to establish a relationship before telling them that she had children, by which time they might be willing to stay with her. A series of agitated loops played around and around for the 30 minutes she waited for the practice nurse. When the nurse arrived, Angela was in a swirling mist of anxiety and despair. She would never find a partner.
Hello, said the nurse cheerfully. I'm the practice nurse. Call me Jordan. Angela looked up and saw the grinning woman, who was bulging and straining from every button and pocket. Come in and sit down. Angela was motioned in and directed to a plain wooden chair in an examination room that served all the nurse's practice needs, from taking blood to bereavement counselling and offering birth control advice. The nurse sat down, overwhelming a small chair. Dr Burrows has asked me to speak with you. He said that you seemed upset when you spoke to him. Angela was silent. Nurse Jordan opened a set of fresh case notes on the table beside them and became poised to record the conversation. I know you're having some tests but we understand you're going to have a baby, she said with a grin. Angela looked carefully at Nurse Jordan and realised she was without the first idea of the impact such a thing would have on her. It can come as quite a shock, can't it? There was a long silence. Would you like to talk about it?
Excerpted from "The Last Truth"
Copyright © 2016 Brian Thomas-Peter.
Excerpted by permission of Unbound.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Author,
Twenty-Two Years Earlier: Stepping Out,
Six Years Later: Early Days,
Book Two: Fifteen Years On,
In The Long Run, We Are All Dead,
Tad: Just Looking,
Tad: The Hostel,
Tad: Secret Pleasure,
Jenny: Domestic II,
Tad: Fish and Chips,
Jenny: The Specialist's Letter,
Tad: The Way Home,
Jenny: Counting Eight,
Jenny: The Appointment,
Tad: TV Room,
Tad: Stealing Secrets,
Jenny: The Ride,
Tad: Triumphant Return,
Jenny: Office Life,
Tad: The Knife,
Tad: Lara Croft,
Jenny: Who To Call,
Tad: The Moment,
Jenny: Interview II,
Tad: The Chase,
Jenny: The Psychiatrist,
Tad: Police Interview,
Attending the Doctor,
Jenny: Interview III,