Once on the Pilgrim’s Way Angela picked up the pace. Her legs spun the pedals with practiced ease. She leaned forward, hands on the drops, feeling the wind flow through her helmet and over her short brown hair. She felt Eric pull along beside her; he seemed so much faster than her. Her heart was pounding and she was sucking in deep breaths but Eric seemed to expend no more energy than if he were sitting on the sofa and watching TV.
‘You’re doing fine,’ he said. ‘You’re going great.’
‘Oh thanks,’ said Angela. ‘You patronising bastard.’
Eric grinned and pulled ahead; she dug into the pedals and chased after him and caught him at Cow Poo corner.
They crossed the M25 just near Pol Hill and turned left onto the Filston rollers. Angela was faster here and she moved in front, touching 30mph on her Garmin, streaking past the hedge-rows and farms. She stayed in front as they reached the outskirts of Shoreham Village, Eric sitting on her wheel and free-wheeling much of the way.
‘You let me win, you bastard,’ she said but she was smiling.
‘I didn’t,’ said Eric. ‘Honest. Well maybe a bit. Anyway it’s not a race.’
‘It’s always a race with you Eric.’
They dismounted at the Battle of Britain cafe. They ordered mugs of tea and bacon door-stops from the nice lady in the cafe, surrounded by drawings of Spitfires and Lancaster bombers. They went outside and sat at one of the tables on the grass. Angela removed her helmet, gloves and gilet and let the warm sun dry the sweat on her forehead and arms. She leaned back in her chair and felt the cool breeze on her face.
The boy brought the sandwiches and their tea.
‘Have you got any brown sauce?’ said Eric.
‘And red,’ said Angela. Can I have red sauce please.’
The boy returned with two bottles of sauce; he looked about 11.
‘Thanks,’ said Angela. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Jack,’ said the boy.
‘Thanks Jack,’ said Angela.
She upturned the bottle, opened the sandwich and slathered sauce all over the still steaming bacon. The melting butter had soaked through the bread and was hardening on the plate like a little patch of sunshine.
Eric took a bite from his sandwich and the brown sauce oozed out and slid down his chin.
‘Mmmmmmmm,’ he said with his mouth full of bacon and bread and sauce.
‘What do you think about Dad?’ said Angela.
‘He’s a cunt,’ said Eric. ‘I hope he dies.’
‘Don’t say that,’ said Angela. ‘You don’t know.’
‘I do know,’ said Eric. ‘I do know he’s gone and left Mum. I know he’s walked out on her. I know he’s behaved like a cunt. I know he’s treated her like shit all her life. He’s a cunt.’
Angela ate her sandwich. There were tears in her eyes.
‘He’s still our Dad,’ she said. ‘I still love him, I can’t help it. You do too, really, even if he did walk out on Mum.’
‘And us sis. Don’t forget, us. He walked out on us too. And no, I don’t.’
‘Yeah, I know,’ said Angela.
There were others in the garden now. Some ramblers, an elderly couple, some mountain bikers, members of a cycling club, people come to look round the museum.
Angela sipped her tea.
‘At least he’s not having an affair,’ said Eric.
Angela stopped eating and looked at him. She spoke slowly, hesitantly.
‘Has Mum spoken to you?’
‘About Dad. Has she spoken to you in the last few days?’
‘What do you mean sis? I’ve been away; you know that, I only got home last night.’
‘I thought she phoned you.’
‘She did. She phoned me yesterday morning before I got on the plane. She wanted me to bring her some duty free fags. She said she was going to start smoking again.’
‘What did you say?’
‘I said no. I said I wouldn’t, I said that was not the answer.’
‘She’ll only buy them in the shops,’ said Angela.
‘I know, that’s what I realised. So I did get them. I’ll give them to her later. Benson and Hedges.’
He finished his sandwich.
‘So what hasn’t she told me sis?’
‘Oh, it’s nothing. Really. I just thought she’d spoken to you is all.’
‘You won’t get out of it like that sis. You’re a shit liar, you always have been. Is he having an affair then? The cunt. I knew it.’
‘She didn’t want to tell you, not with your exams coming up and everything,’ said Angela. ‘She didn’t want you to be upset.’
‘Upset? Upset? Of course I’m fucking upset. What am I, a child who has to be sheltered from bad news? I’m 21! I’ll kill him, I’ll fucking kill him. Who’s the cunt?
‘Please don’t use that word all the time. It’s horrible.’
‘It’s not,’ said Eric. ‘It’s a perfect word. And it fits him to a T. Cunt. Cunty. Cunty cunt. He’s a cunt. And so is she.’
‘What if it’s not a woman,’ said Angela.
‘You’re fucking shitting me. Dad is fucking some bloke? I don’t fucking believe this. Who is it?’
‘Mum doesn’t know,’ said Angela. ‘It may not be a bloke.’
‘What do you mean? It either is or it isn’t.’
‘He hasn’t said,’ said Angela. ‘He hasn’t said it’s another man but he hasn’t said it isn’t. Mum’s so upset.’
‘I tell you he’s got a fucking screw loose,’ said Eric. ‘I always hated him. Did you know that? Always.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Angela.
‘Listen to Daddy’s little girl,’ said Eric. ‘He can’t do anything wrong in your eyes, can he? You were always his favourite.’
‘That’s not true,’ said Angela again.
There were tears in her eyes and she dabbed at them with her napkin. She put her sunglasses back on to hide the puffiness around her eyes.
‘He hasn’t texted me,’ she said. ‘Or phoned me, or anything. He doesn’t care.’
‘He doesn’t care about anyone,’ said Eric. Except himself. Except his cuntself and his cunt tart or his cunt fancy man. I never want to see him or hear from him again. I hope he dies, and soon.’
‘You’re horrible,’ said Angela.
‘Let’s go sis,’ said Eric. ‘I don’t want to talk about him or think about him.’
They got back on their bikes.
‘We’ll go back via Cockermouth,’ said Eric. ‘That’s a hard climb, take your mind off it. Cockermouth, ha ha. Maybe that’s what he’s doing to her now. Or him.’
‘Stop it,’ said Angela. ‘You’re disgusting.’
Angela got home first. Eric tried but this time he couldn’t catch her.