She answers the phone; her voice is exactly the same and it transports me back to the smoke.
I can’t imagine Karen sitting in a room that isn’t thick with itI Not only did all the grown ups in her house smoke, they also never opened any windows. We would head upstairs to her impressive doll collection and I would gaze out of the window at the little girl, Toni, over the road who eventually became my best friend. Both Karen and I could remember Toni’s wardrobe of clothes ‘do you remember her little kilt?’ I asked and she said ‘yes, she always wore it with that thin jumper’ and I knew we were both on the same page. Karen was my sister’s best friend at primary school and I would do what I could to find ways to tag along.
We haven’t spoken since I was 7. The saying goes ‘Show me a child til they are 7 and I will show you the wo/man’ (that’s the girl power version). So Karen knew the hot off the press grown up version of me and then we lost touch when she went to secondary school. She thought I was quiet but I was completely in awe of her, being as she was, the first May Queen.
The first and main thing we talk about is my Dad. He was the doctor in the area and that made his three daughters minor celebrities, a label which we tried to shake off constantly. I mean, your father’s profession really isn’t a choice you make, we just answered the phones and wrote little messages to him about chicken pox.
Karen tells me that she remembers him so clearly driving round the country roads with his classical music blaring out of the open sunroof. I’m suddenly sitting behind him on the back seat, asking if I can put my head out of the roof and then not being able to breathe with the rush of air.
I ask, bravely, whether her parents are still alive and she is pleased to say her mum is, and I’m quite amazed. She said she hasn’t given up the fags and can’t see the point at 84. Her dad died a while back. She said that my Dad was with him at the end. They had been expecting him to die for some time and my dad said ‘let go, just let go’ and he died.
I didn’t know that my dad said those words to his dying patients, but, in the hospice, that is exactly what I had said to him and he died.
I told her where his ashes were buried in Swepstone. ‘If you stand in the circle of stones opposite the church door and face Snarestone, he is at one o’clock (lunch time of course).
She told me of the death of her older sister, Diane, and that was a shock. That’s a problem with Facebook, you only know the facts that have been made public and if you aren’t on the phones anymore, these things can be missed. I might have been awestruck by Karen but I was always still able to say something. With Diane, I would gaze at her feathercut, her yellow platform shoes, her brown mini skirts and I became speechless.
I was pleased to hear news of her brother who was so popular and so naughty at school. (We didn’t mention the stink bomb that was set off during a screening of ‘Around the World in 80 days’ in the school hall and we didn’t mention the Southern Comfort incident either, best left.)
We talk about work and I tell her that my Dog book is coming out in Chinese. I laugh that the local famous Chinese restaurateur of Ashby is on my mind quite a lot and she tells me that he lost his empire in a card game, someone has taken over the restaurant and it’s still good.
Everything is still good. I’m on the phone talking to Karen, I haven’t spoken to her for 40 years and we are both grateful for the eventful and loving past that we shared.