Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter thirty-six

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chapter thirty-six

Capricious new-born weather. A fierce wind descends from cloudy skies to pour cold drizzle down Regent Street, rattle awnings, sway estate agent boards, and wrap long winter skirts around scurrying legs. People turn their coat collars up and their backs to the wind and it rushes past, leaving them grasping the exposed skeletons of shucked umbrellas. The sun suddenly appears, shards of silver glint from the pavements and the wind, like a frisky colt, pauses and forgets its purpose. The temperature leaps. People unbutton their coats and admire the blue sky. In the west the black clouds of another squall approach.

The advent of spring provoked a vague ache of nostalgia in Jake. And then, as a sale sign in a shop window arrested him in his tracks, he realised why: ‘April 1. But there’s no fooling about these prices!’

He hailed the first taxi that came along. Ghosts were rising all over London. The taxi-driver gave him a piercing glance. He was a Sikh and his hair was wrapped in a turban — but his eyebrows were grey. “Primrose Hill?” he asked.

It started to drizzle again as Jake made his pilgrimage down the High Street. Cosily wrapped in nostalgia, he ignored the rain. He recognised many of the same shops and restaurants, but overall the street had smartened up — as if a glossed with a new brush. The traditional red telephone kiosk which he had fled with a policeman on his heels had been replaced by a pastel-coloured space-age booth, perhaps an upgrade for Dr Who’s police box. Jake checked his watch and made a call to his hotel.

A fortunate benefit of Lisa’s short attention span, coupled to a narrow focus on her immediate needs, was that angry outbursts quickly subsided into a normal mood of general resentment, which was tolerable and which could be relieved by shopping. Jake kept the phone to his ear while she prattled on about her purchases, not hearing, and then forgetting her completely as another ghost wandered into his vision.

Russell, scarcely changed, ambled down the street in a familiar jumper, now out at the elbows. Jake broke into a huge grin and stepped out of the cubicle, leaving the phone dangling, to embrace him.

“You’ve heard?”, asked Russell, without preliminary, as if he’d seen Jake only yesterday.

“I’m so sorry.”

“She never got what she wanted out of life. She wanted too much.”

“How is Hope taking it?”

Russell scratched his head. “Very strangely. After the funeral she couldn’t stop smiling.”

“Smiling?”

“Very odd, that.”

“Do you know, it’s twelve years to the day since we met. I guess I never stopped loving her.”

Russell gave him a curious stare. “Whom exactly do you think we buried yesterday?”

“Lady Gurney, I suppose I have to call her.”

“No. ‘The Honourable’ is the term we use.”

“Well, she was his wife.”

“Daughter.”

“Belinda?”

“Claudia never married Stephen.”

Jake seized Russell by the shoulders as if to squeeze twelve years of history out of him. “Where is she?”

“Same address. Not mine though. Claudia can afford a nanny now. From her steamy romantic novels. But Hope’s in a wheelchair. Psychosomatic, maybe. I live in a rather grand house of my own. I write pop songs. It seems I have an unsurpassed talent for banality.”

Jake started for the house. Russell grabbed his elbow, pointing him in the opposite direction, towards the park. “She never goes up on the hill anymore. But today Hope insisted on dragging her up there.”

Jake’s feet backed him towards the park. “I love you”, he shouted, and he turned and set off sprinting down the High Street.

Someone was shouting over the phone. An American woman. “That’s just another four-letter word to me. Jake? Are you listening to me?”

Russell rapped twice on the sides of the phone booth before stepping into it and putting the phone to his ear. “Hello?”

It was raining steadily in the park and trees bent in the breeze. Jake met no one as he ran to the top of the hill. He spun about, searching. The paths were empty. And then he spied them. A pair of women sheltering under an umbrella emerging from beneath a clump of trees. Claudia was pushing Hope in a wheelchair.

Jake shouted. “Hi-dee-ho!”.

Claudia and Hope looked up. A ray of sunlight streaked down out of the clouds to spotlight them. Claudia’s face beamed. Hope stood up from the wheelchair and took a step forward. Jake flew down the hill as fast as his legs could carry him. Halfway down he leapt into the air sideways and double-clicked his heels. He slipped on the grass, fell and then just let himself go on rolling and rolling.

 

FADE IN:

 

EXTERIOR WEST END CINEMA – NIGHT

 

It is a premiere gala. ‘Primrose Hill Revisited’ is on the marquee. The crowd is held back. The motor cars tell us it is the present day. Except for a 1960s’ robin’s-egg-blue Rolls-Royce convertible that glides up. A trio emerges onto the red carpet and enters the cinema. JAKE is a young 60s and CLAUDIA a young 70s. HOPE, now 40, links arms between them.

 

RUSSELL (Voice Over)

Love strikes without reason

In the summer season.

Summers pass, flowers die

The love that lasts

Comes bye-and-bye

Growing, out-of-season

 

HOPE starts to skip. JAKE gives a little Charlie Chaplin sideways hop into the air and clicks his heels. Just once.

 

FADE OUT.