It’s Good Friday-the-13th. Things between us are healed as much as they’ll ever be. We’re at Hampton Court. I’ve never been before, though Dad and I used to drive past on the way up to the warehouse at Putney, and he’d say, ‘we’ll go there one day.’ So it’s her place. As its courtier, she shows me round. The topiarists have made perfect cones of the yews before the Palace. We peek our heads inside, as far as the point beyond which you have to pay. She’s a low-ranking courtier, and I’m lower still, a clerk or secretary perhaps. The maze is out too, though I like to imagine ourselves lost in it. But we’d need to be several shades richer, or at the beginning rather than the end of the affair. The vine is free, though, and goes on forever.
After the gardens, we walk in a dip in the park. We guess it once was water. Walking towards the Palace, we happen to see a Royal mistress looking out from the open window of a first floor room. She starts as she sees the disconsolate of the future walking in the water. She stares a while, then turns away and slips into the room, there to wait on His Majesty’s pleasure.
Lone antlers of Hampton Court deer poke above the ridges, sheep abreast of them eye us disinterestedly. It’s then that we see it – the line in the sky, from the sun to the ground. A cloud has so trapped the sun’s light that it shields a perfect triangle of intense blue-grey, above and to the left of which is bright white sky. The triangle holds for a second, then begins to break up, the hypotenuse tilting upwards like a seesaw balanced then weighed down at one end.
The sky darkens to the west, where the line was, above the Palace. The sour yellow-grey of a thunderstorm approaches. It’s six o’clock. I have a stitch, she is such an indefatigable walker, but I manage to resist saying something about it feeling as though someone’s stuck a spear in my side. That’s very unlike me, to resist a wisecrack. It wouldn’t have mattered where in the affair we were, she’d have looked grimly upon me for it; but particularly now. I think of the sideways glance and wry smile she might once have gone on to give me, back at the beginning, her small, sallow face framed by that thick mass of honey-brown curls, and my ribcage is hollowed out by spear thrusts.
The thunderclouds rush overhead, and sunshine restores itself in the western sky. We are walking through Strawberry Hill and about to part forever, I back into the monotone of suburban routines, and she back into town for Easter alone, when we sense a rainbow is set to appear in the east. And Friday-the-13th notwithstanding – she sees it first, there it is. The rainbow arches full for us, or against us. Brightly, and then its inverted twin appears, stretching higher, more faintly, fading into nothing.