11 SEPTEMBER 2001
Lorraine, still wearing nothing but her bikini bottoms and gold ankle chain, sat on a bar stool in her kitchen, watching the small television mounted above the work surface, waiting for the kettle to boil. The butts from half a dozen cigarettes lay in the ashtray in front of her. She had just lit another and was inhaling deeply as she held the phone to her ear, talking to Sue Klinger, her best friend.
Sue and her husband, Stephen, lived in a house that Lorraine had always coveted, a stunning detached mansion in Tongdean Avenue – considered by many people to be one of the finest residences in Brighton and Hove – with views across the whole city, down to the sea. The Klingers also owned a villa in Portugal. They had four gorgeous children, and, unlike Ronnie, Stephen had the Midas touch. Ronnie had promised Lorraine that if Sue and Stephen ever sold the house, he would find a way to come up with the money to buy it. Yep, sure. In your dreams, my love.
They were replaying the images of the two planes striking the towers again, and then again, over and over. It was as if whoever was producing or directing this programme couldn’t believe it either, and had to keep replaying them to be sure it was real. Or perhaps someone in shock thought that if they repeated these images enough times, eventually the planes would miss the towers and fly past safely, and it would be just a normal Tuesday morning in Manhattan, business as usual. She watched the sudden orange fireball, the dense black clouds, feeling sicker and sicker.
Now they were showing the towers coming down again. First the South, then the North.
The kettle came to the boil but she didn’t move, not wanting to take her eyes off the screen in case she missed Ronnie. Alfie rubbed against her leg, but she ignored him. Sue was saying something to her, but Lorraine didn’t hear because she was peering at the screen intently, scanning every face.
‘Lorraine? Hello? You still there?’
‘Ronnie’s a survivor. He’ll be OK.’
The kettle switched itself off with a click. Survivor. Her sister had used that word as well.
Shit, Ronnie, you’d better be.
A beeping sound told her there was a call waiting. Barely able to contain herself she shouted excitedly, ‘Sue, that might be him! Call you straight back!’
Oh, God, Ronnie, please be on the phone. Please. Please let this be you!
But it was her sister. ‘Lori, I just heard that all flights in the US have been grounded.’ Mo worked as a stewardess for British Airways long-haul.
‘What – what does that mean?’
‘They’re not letting any planes in or out. I was meant to be flying to Washington tomorrow. Everything’s grounded.’
Lorraine felt a new wave of panic. ‘Until when?’
‘I don’t know – until further notice.’
‘Does that mean Ronnie might not get back tomorrow?’
‘I’m afraid so. I’ll find out more later in the day, but they’re making all planes that are heading to the States turn back. Which means the planes will be in the wrong places. It’s going to be chaos.’
‘Great,’ Lorraine said glumly. ‘That’s just bloody great. When do you think he might get back?’
‘I don’t know – I’ll get an update as soon as I can.’
Lorraine heard a child calling, and Mo saying, ‘One minute, darling. Mummy’s on the phone.’
Lorraine crushed out her cigarette. Then she jumped down from the stool, still watching the television screen, pulled out a tea bag and a mug, and poured in the water. Still without taking her eyes from the screen, she stepped back and bumped her hip, painfully, into the corner of the kitchen table.
She looked down for a moment. Saw the fresh red mark among the uneven line of bruises, some black and fresh, some yellow and almost gone. Ronnie was clever, he always hit her in the body, never her face. Always made bruises she could easily hide.
Always cried and begged forgiveness after one of his – increasingly frequent – drunken rages.
And she always forgave him.
Forgave him because of the deep inadequacy she felt. She knew how badly he wanted the one thing she had not been able, so far, to give him. The child he so desperately wanted.
And because she was terrified of losing him.
And because she loved him.