Diamond Beach Days
Daisy sat at the café table gazing out the window at the promenade as tears ran down her cheeks and dripped mascara onto the linen tablecloth.
Janice walked in wearing a bright summer dress and sat opposite her.
‘Sorry it took so long. I was in court all morning.’
Daisy dabbed at her eyes with a napkin but didn’t speak. A blonde waitress in a sugar-pink uniform approached, pencil poised over her notebook as if she were about to take dictation.
‘What are we…?’ Janice began, then noticed the half-empty bottle of wine on the table. ‘Daisy, it’s four o’clock in the afternoon!’ She turned to the waitress. ‘We’ll have two cappuccinos, please.’
Daisy cleared her throat but looked down at the tablecloth. ‘You don’t usually drink coffee.’
‘I can’t have more tea: I had tea on the train, it was dreadful.’ Janice reached over and pushed a wave of Daisy’s hair back. ‘What’s happened, kiddo? You can tell me.’
‘He…’ Her voice caught, and Daisy pressed the napkin to her nose and mouth as her body shook with hiccupping cries.
‘That bastard. What has he done? Did he hit you?’ Janice ran her eyes over Daisy’s arms and face, looking for bruises.
‘Oh.’ Janice reached her hands toward Daisy but faltered, then leaned back as the waitress delivered the coffees. Daisy’s sobs slowly gave way to big breaths.
‘What happened?’ Janice asked.
‘He said he wasn’t ready for the responsibility.’
‘Unreal! But you guys made a baby together.’
‘He said he thought he was ready, but when it came down to it, he just wasn’t.’ Daisy dabbed her eyes again. ‘He flipped out and left.’
‘It’s hard, taking responsibility,’ said Janice. ‘I’m sure he just got rattled. Once he’s let off steam, he’ll be back.’
Daisy looked up and met Janice’s eyes. ‘It’s been nine days.’
‘Oh.’ Janice frowned. ‘Why did you wait so long before calling me?’
‘I just kept thinking he’d be back in the morning, but the days went on with no word from him.’
‘And does Robert have any family you can contact?’
Daisy shook her head.
‘So, you’ve been on your own with the baby all this time?’ Janice looked around the cafe. ‘Where is my goddaughter, anyway?’
‘She’s, um, in the flat.’
Daisy shook her head again. ‘The landlady came for the rent, so I asked her to stay with Estella while I went to the bank.’ She started to cry again. ‘He’s emptied the account.’
‘I didn’t know what to do. I’ve got no money, no job.’ Daisy sobbed.
‘You did the right thing, calling me.’ Janice gestured to the waitress, asking for the bill. ‘Right. Here is what we’ll do.’ She stood. ‘We’ll pack up your pad and then you are coming back to London with me. You can crash at my place and I’ll share the babysitting. You can get an evening job, maybe.’
‘Do you mean it? You’d really do that for me? For us?’
‘She’s my goddaughter, of course I would. And you’re the closest thing to a sister I’ve ever had. Come on.’ Janice tugged Daisy up by her arm.
‘I really appreciate this. I couldn’t go to my mother; she hasn’t spoken to me since the wedding. She’d love the chance to say, I told you so.’ Daisy stood and brushed down her dress. ‘I don’t think I’d be any good at waitressing but perhaps I can try writing, you know, when Estella is sleeping.’
‘Maybe you’ll be a famous novelist one day. I’ll ask my friend Alfie if he knows any publishers.’
Janice looped her arm through Daisy’s, and they walked along Brighton seafront toward the apartment as the breeze ruffled their hair.
Janice brushes sand from her bare feet then leans back, eyes closed, as the breeze plays with her greying hair.
‘Sorry I was late picking you up,’ Daisy says. She doesn’t look at Janice, but watches her small black-and-brown terrier furiously digging instead.
‘It’s fine,’ Janice replies. ‘I feel like I’m on holiday now I’ve got my feet wet.’ She smiles as the sun warms her pale cheeks.
‘I got side-tracked and poor Hamnet hadn’t even had his walk.’
‘Were you working on a new book?’ asks Janice.
‘That’s not what made me late. I was thinking.’ Their eyes meet and Daisy continues. ‘I have something to tell you. Sorry, but I can’t spend the weekend wondering if I should say it.’
‘About me? Have I upset you? I wouldn’t have been offended if you said I couldn’t visit. It’s just…’ Janice sighs. ‘I was going to tell you later, I had to get away from home. It’s over between Alfie and me. I’ve given him the weekend to move out.’
Daisy also sighs, then wraps her arms around her knees. ‘I know.’
Janice stiffens. ‘What do you mean, you know?’
‘Alfie phoned and said he was leaving. He wanted to make sure I’d be there for you.’
‘When did he call?’
‘A couple of weeks ago.’
‘What?’ Janice stands and turns to face her friend.
‘Yes.’ Daisy looks up, shielding her eyes from the sun. ‘It didn’t feel right that he called me behind your back. I wanted to warn you. But then too many days passed, and it would have seemed odd. And then you didn’t mention Alfie when you said you were coming to stay, I assumed….’
‘Two weeks ago?’
‘Nearer three. Sorry.’
‘But…’ Janice sits back down heavily. ‘I only told him to move out on Tuesday.’
Daisy shrugs. ‘Maybe he saw it coming and was trying to save face.’
Janice picks up a stone and throws it toward the sea. ‘Or maybe he manipulated me into being the one to break it off.’
‘Well, either way the result is the same. It’s over between you and Alfie and you’re here to visit me.’
‘It’s not the same at all.’ Janice bangs her fist on the ground. ‘I was sitting here feeling guilty at kicking him out, but now I know he’s been manipulating me.’
‘At least you aren’t in denial.’ Daisy puts her hand on Janice’s arm.
The two women look at each other. Daisy winks and Janice smiles. They both smirk, giggle, and begin to laugh.
‘Oh good riddance. He was lousy in bed.’
‘Yes, but you enjoyed the travelling and holidays.’
‘I did,’ said Janice. ‘It’s crap being on your own on holiday. You could come with me next time.’
Daisy shakes her head. ‘I’ve built up the “reclusive author” reputation because I couldn’t bear to leave Hamnet, not even for my oldest friend.’
‘Hey, less of the “oldest”, please.’
It will be a warm September day when Daisy parks her small electric car at the top of the cliff. One other car will be there, a shiny almost-new Mercedes. Red. Always Jupiter red.
Janice will be sitting on a nearby bench as small clouds scuttle across the sky. She’ll watch as Daisy approaches, her walking stick tapping on the gravel path.
Daisy will sit with a creak and a sigh. ‘It’s not as easy getting around nowadays. I’m really sorry about your news.’
They’ll both sit in silence for a few moments.
Janice will try to avoid the issue a little longer by changing the subject. ‘How is Estella doing?’
‘Fine. She’s a grandmother again. It’s a baby girl and they’ve called her Bobbie, apparently after Estella’s father.’ Daisy will roll her eyes.
‘The ultimate irony,’ Janice will tut, ‘considering he hasn’t seen his daughter since she was two weeks old.’
Daisy will shrug. ‘Well, I haven’t seen Estella in person for years, either. The doctors say I can’t fly and she’s too busy with her own life to come here. I doubt I’ll ever meet my great grandchildren.’ She’ll turn to face Janice. ‘The headscarf suits you. Have you lost all your hair?’
‘I shaved it weeks ago. The thought of going bald was a big, scary wall, but once I’d shaved it off, the fear went too. They give you these headscarves in hospital.’ She’ll give it a tug. ‘They’re quite soft and comfortable.’
‘So you’ve finished the chemo? Will they do radiotherapy?’
Janice will shake her head. ‘There’s no point.’
‘Who’s looking after you?’
‘Well, that is the point.’ Janice will swallow and clear her throat. ‘I want to die at home. I dread the idea of being in hospital. I know you looked after your mother until the end. Will you come and stay with me? It’s a cheek to ask.’
‘Of course I will.’ Daisy will nod.
‘I’ve got plenty of space, you can have a study for writing. Do you still write?’
‘Usually, yes. But I haven’t for a few weeks.’
‘And it’s fine if you want to bring the dog, erm…’ Janice will struggle to remember its name.
‘Claudius.’ Daisy will inhale sharply. ‘He died. Three weeks ago.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Are you getting another? Is that tactless to ask? I can’t imagine you without a little dog.’
Daisy will shake her head. ‘Janice, when you’ve gone, I’ll have nobody left. No friends or family nearby, no pets, nothing.’
‘I already have nobody left but you, Daisy. We’ve been the one constant in each other’s lives, haven’t we?’
Daisy will suggest, ‘Instead of me staying with you, why don’t you come to mine? It’s much more comfortable than your apartment in London. We can walk on the beach every day.’
‘Yes, I’d like that,’ Janice will say.