Gwen’s room, formerly Leila’s, smelled fresh enough, the dust and sickness air long gone. It was the human being that had yet to be expunged. She took the form of her belongings: nail scissors, a scent bottle, a little purse; a hairbrush with a comb wedged in it; a winter coat hanging on the hook on the door; a wardrobe containing less than a dozen skirts and frocks, drawers that Roy was too shy to look in; two pairs of shoes, neatly aligned; a framed photo of the elderly Don next to the bed.
Roy had an empty box with him. He placed the small items inside it, feeling watched, and with no idea what he would do with those items next. He needed to know what it felt like to disturb them, to move them out of sight. He closed the box, wrote “Gwen” on the top of it and carried it downstairs.
He had the Olympics on the TV already, primed for the men’s cycling road race. He settled down to enjoy it, chastising himself for his idleness but watching anyway. Cavendish was favourite to win the sprint down the Mall for gold, it would be history in the making.
Gwen and he had watched TV together near the end. Later, she would speak of visitors.
“Huw Edwards came yesterday. He came in through the window. And Prince William, he came too.”
“Are you sure it was them, Mum?”
“Oh yes. It was them.” She’d looked hard at her thumb and then at him. “Are you Brian?” she’d asked.
“No, Mum, I’m Roy.”
“Yes, I’m your son.”
“What about Brian?”
“What about him?”
“I don’t have a son called Brian.”
“Yes you do, Mum.”
“No, I don’t!” She became angry, her head shake resolute.
“OK, Mum. Would you like a drink?”
She’d eyed him, suspicious and unsure. It seemed he looked familiar, but only vaguely so. It was possible he was an enemy.
“I’m Roy, your son. Remember?
“OK, I’m Brian.”
Tears came to her eyes. “Can I go home now? I just want to go home.”
Roy went through Gwen’s things again, turning them around in the light, trying to get some sort of fix. Kristie had been so good about her moving in. Roy had tried to be the same but often failed. He felt ashamed.
It wasn’t happening for Team GB. Froome, Stannard, Millar and Wiggins were doing the peloton graft on Cavendish’s behalf, but the others were ganging up on them, sitting in their slipstream, letting the market leaders grind themselves down. A breakaway group forged ahead and the peloton critical mass failed to gain. A Kazakhstani won the sprint down the Mall. Cavendish finished twenty-ninth. He gave a painful trackside interview, desperate with disappointment, for much of it unable to look into his inquisitor’s face.
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