Authors: Sue Moorcroft
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
She'd had her rationale.
And now that disaster had struck, surely the family would realise that her place was with Giorgio?
Giorgio was placed in intensive care, and Judith's pleas and demands for admittance availed her nothing but a variety of nurses advising her pleasantly, 'I'm so sorry. Family only.'
She called twice at his parents' house in an attempt to negotiate, willing to do anything, say anything, to make them understand and permit her to see him. But no one answered her knock.
She went to Cass.
Cass Zammit, Giorgio's aunt, was the only member of Giorgio's family who'd ever had any respect for their relationship, meeting them occasionally for quiet evenings well away from Sliema to eat pasta and drink red wine. Although she had her own children, Giorgio held a special spot in Cass's heart.
But even she was unable to help. 'I dare not. I cannot,' she declared. 'It's too difficult at the moment. And if Saviour found out I'd interfered...!'
Her husband would be furious. Saviour was Agnello's brother.
'I'm sorry, Judith. But Maria and Agnello...' She hesitated. 'They're adamant that it's your fault. You introduced him to diving, then abandoned him to an inexperienced partner. You could have kept him safe. They say it over and over, and tell Giorgio how you have let him down.'
Judith couldn't even refute it. Since Charlie had broken the news the same thoughts had whirled through her head constantly. She should have found a way to stop Giorgio diving with another novice. Shouted or screamed or cried.
Damned well made him.
Giorgio had only just been certified for open water. Judith had more advanced certificates, and qualifications in first aid and rescue. Training and experience enough to limit the damage in bad situations.
'Just tell him that I love him.' Responsibility and guilt felt liable to choke her. 'Make sure you tell him, won't you, Cass? And that I never wanted him to dive without me. Try and make him listen.'
'I'll tell him,' Cass promised. She hesitated. 'But I don't know if he will hear.'
Helpless, Judith went through the motions of her life without really eating or sleeping. Empty days and endless nights were her harsh reality.
Richard was lovely, her rock on a suddenly heaving world. 'You take what time off you need,' he said. But she took none, because what would she do with it? Go hospital visiting?
The Times of Malta
printed the full story of this latest diving accident; the slow process of Charlie getting help, Giorgio airlifted to hospital as that first 'Golden Hour' when treatment to head injuries is most effective, filtered away. There was a new outcry against jet skis in letters to the editor, and diving clubs made statements both of caution and reassurance.
Judith winced at a counter outcry about novice divers. Was it fair to blame only the jet skier. Had the diver had adequate instruction? And supervision whilst experience was gained? Desperately sick in the heart, Judith collected the clippings.
She drove out to see Giorgio's partners, Anton Dimech and Gordon Cassar, at the large, low shed that housed the buses and the filled-to-bursting office of Sliema Z Bus Tours that backed up the kiosks in Sliema and Paceville that sold the majority of trips.
'Hello?' they said, as if surprised to see her.
She pulled herself up tall and drew all her people skills into play, pasting on a smile. She was a shareholder here, which surely gave her a little leverage in a negotiation. Private investment had been sought earlier in the year, expansion capital to buy two new buses. Purchase negotiations were obviously incomplete, but they still had her money.
'Good morning.' She sat down and gripped her bag to prevent her hands from shaking. 'I'm sorry to bother you at this awful time. You must be busier than ever in Giorgio's absence?' She waited out the following silence.
Gordon was the one to blink first. He was a small, pleasant man with coppery lights through untidy hair, and black-framed glasses. He smiled. 'Of course, we have plans to cope with the unexpected absence of a partner, you need not worry - '
Anton made a rapid gesture to hush the other man. 'Madam, what is your enquiry?'
She swallowed, the quality of Anton's smile an uncomfortable reminder that he was used to being in control. He was the one the others deferred to, with his push and focus and faultless English. She cursed herself for not cornering Gordon on his own, the easier target. On his own she might have steered him into the channels of information she wished to investigate. 'As a shareholder, I thought it was reasonable to ascertain - '
'Madam, we appreciate your investment. I can assure you that his absence will not affect our shareholders.'
She was flustered by his cold courtesy.
'And how is Giorgio?' She hated to hear herself ask, she who'd shared a bed with Giorgio several times a week, and should now be beside him every day.
Anton cut off the reply Gordon had opened his mouth to make. 'His family will have the most accurate news, Madam.'
Her throat congested stickily, making it impossible to do more than poke out her chin against the humiliation of her reception, and nod her curtest goodbye.
She returned to the office to stare out at the traffic and the creek beyond. What else could she do? At least, there, she had Richard, his quiet support preventing her from racing in madness to St. Luke's Hospital and hurtling at the plate glass, or attempting to thread in through a door unlocked for a member of staff.
But she just had to wait.
It was weeks before she could persuade Cass to meet her in a café in St. Julian's, a tiny, front room of a place where Cass felt tucked away from curious eyes. A bead fly-curtain clicked softly in the doorway, and the serene young lady behind the little counter hummed under her breath as she put out trays of fresh
, balls of rice filled with cheese or bolognese sauce.
On the pale green table were two glass cups of capuccino.
'News?' Judith poked her teaspoon into her froth.
'He's out of intensive care.' Cass and Saviour had worked in England before her marriage, and her English was effortless. Cass lifted her cup elegantly, and pursed her lips to sip. Her dress was smart, her hair carefully 'done'.
'I read that in the paper.' Judith leant forward eagerly, as if she could haul Cass's knowledge into herself by sheer proximity, her feelings, impressions, visions. 'So how does he seem? When did you see him last? What are the changes? What do the doctors say?'
Sipping again, Cass raised her pencil-arched tan eyebrows sadly into hennaed hair. 'Changes?
about Giorgio is changed. There is no energy, no smile, no laugh, no joke to make you smile, no endless conversation. It is a completely different Giorgio.'
Hope sank and settled somewhat lower in Judith's stomach. 'But he no longer needs intensive care?'
'He has stabilised,' Cass acknowledged, sighing, shaking her head, then sipping again.
'And has he... has he asked for me?'
Another sigh. An aching silence. 'He's not going to.' Cass's voice was very kind. 'If that had happened, don't you think I would've found a way to let you know? To leave a message at your office? Don't torture yourself.'
Judith tried to lift her cup, but her hand was shaking, and her voice came out as a whine. 'I must see him! I might not exist for his parents, but I
just suddenly stop existing for
Compassionate tears stood in Cass's eyes. 'I'm so sorry. But you do need to accept that Giorgio will never ask for you again.'
OK. Cass had confirmed it: he was out of intensive care.
Out from behind the locked doors.
She visited when siesta emptied the street, the Maltese summer sun blazing down to yellow the limestone buildings. Inside, the hospital corridors were cool and quiet. Judith stole along, following Cass's - reluctant, it had to be said - directions.
And there he was.
He had a room of his own, his name written onto a tile on the door, she could see him through the doorway. He lay on his side, his back to her, hooked to a heartbreaking array of machines. But recognised the way his hair lay at his nape and the gold of his skin.
The open window fluttered the yellow curtains, the bed a white island in the centre of the room. Two nurses and a woman in a white coat surrounded the bed, selecting from a trolley, talking soothingly to Giorgio in gentle Maltese.
She stepped slowly away. Giorgio was receiving necessary care. In ten minutes she'd return.
Ten minutes became twenty, then thirty before her heart hopped to see the nurses gliding the trolley up the corridor, passing her and moving on to a different white room and another patient. With a lift of her heart, she quickened her pace.
But then she saw them. The stocky Maltese couple barrelling towards Giorgio's door from the other direction. The woman's lips were set, eyes blazing.
Judith froze like a guilty child.
Furious words began to stream from the woman in rapid fire, her chest heaving beneath her sedate, navy, belted dress, her voice a frustrated hiss as a concession to the hush of the wards. '
! Get away!
! Not you
here, you, no!'
They'd met only once, but Judith had no trouble recognising her. She pitched her own voice low. 'Mrs. Zammit, I was only - '
Maria Zammit thrust her short body between Judith and the door to Giorgio's room. 'No! He not speak to you, you go. Leave.' And then, as Judith hesitated. '
! You never see my son. You English. Go England!'
'I love him,' Judith tried, astounded by despair so intense that it seemed to suck away her oxygen. She glanced at Mr. Zammit, whose forehead was furrowed unhappily as he put his hand on his wife's arm and spoke to her in their own language.
Mrs. Zammit stood her ground. 'Go! I call for the
The ridiculous notion that a mere nurse would scare her away returned Judith to reality, she was tempted to fold her arms and challenge, 'Ha! You do that!'
But then. Anger wasn't the only emotion in Maria Zammit. Judith hesitated. A muscle was tugging at the older woman's cheek and a tremor at her lip. 'Go.' The tic jumped more fiercely.
Judith was considerably the taller of the two, but Giorgio's mother didn't give an inch, evidently a tiger when it came to doing what she believed protected her family.
Family was important to Giorgio, too. Judith's conscience twinged because she, of all people, understood how he'd hate this confrontation. And his family was making his decisions for him, holding all the authority. If she wanted to get in to see him, she was going to have to think outside her usual box.
And Mrs. Zammit's outrage had given her a last-ditch bargaining tool. An all-or-nothing. She made her voice calm although her heartbeat was shaking her entire body. 'I'll go away - after you let me see him. On my own.'
Mrs. Zammit snorted. Her husband muttered something.
'If not, I'll just keep coming back.'
A tear slowly escaped from one of Mrs. Zammit's dark eyes. She showed Judith gritted teeth. 'You teach him to dive under the water. He nearly die. Is because of you! All know this.'
Judith's face drained. 'If I could change places with him, I would. Please, Mrs. Zammit.'
Silence. Judith dug her nails into her palms, staring at Mrs. Zammit, willing her, willing her to comply. See sense. Judge the long-term benefit against a five-minute concession.
'You are not his wife,' Mrs. Zammit pointed out unnecessarily.
'No. And I'll bet his wife doesn't visit him much, does she?'
Agnello Zammit made another remark, softly, palm up and shoulders shrugging. An older Giorgio. His voice went on, gentle, musical, Judith couldn't make out enough words to know whether he was arguing for or against her cause.
An angry glitter brightened Mrs. Zammit's eyes. 'You go away? Stay away?'
Judith nodded, every muscle willing Giorgio's mother to concede.
Mrs. Zammit's lips thinned. 'Five minute!' she allowed eventually, folding her arms. 'He not talk to you. I know this.'
Tears spilled out onto Judith's cheeks, and she wiped them away with her palms. Relief shook her voice. 'Five minutes.' And she stepped through the door.
Such quiet. A machine hissed and peeped. Wires. Tubes. White bedlinens, yellow curtains. Outside, the distant sounds of a vehicle straining up the hill.
Giorgio, on his side, didn't look up as she walked around the bed. She was shaken by the peculiar expression on his face, a twist to his lips that wasn't a smile.
For a moment she couldn't speak, shocked by his appearance. His face seemed to have softened and sagged, although he'd lost weight. He had a jowly, loose look that stepped him abruptly forward in years. She tried to catch his dark gaze, wanting him to focus on her face. 'Giorgio?'