“Emily’s dead. She’s drowned.”
It was Maria, my PA, who told me. She pulled me out of the conference and just told me. I started to shake, and my knees buckled under me. I don’t know what happened next, but I thought I was having a heart attack.
I was away at the Party conference, and Ellen had called me several times and left messages, but I hadn’t called her back. I knew from the messages that it was about Emily, but I was up to my ears in meetings, and besides, I’d had it all before with Emily’s disappearing and her bingeing. And I just couldn’t deal with Ellen’s depression. When she was drinking, she could suck the life out of me, and I just wanted to focus on the conference. It wasn’t unusual for Emily to stay out overnight at a party or with friends. She’d always be home sooner or later for a shower and a change of clothes, so I ignored the calls.
Maria must’ve organised the car to be brought to the rear entrance at the hotel, and I was ushered through a passageway between overflowing food bins to the Jag, and bundled into the back and taken to Bayswater. When I opened the front door, Ellen was standing in the hall, waiting for me, but when I came up to her, and put out my arms to hold her, she turned away.
She told me how the police had come to the door. She’d recognized the policewoman from a previous visit when they’d brought Emily home after finding her asleep in a tube station. She’d apparently been stoned and incoherent. They could have prosecuted her for possession but because of my position, Joe Weiner, Minister of State, they hadn’t taken it further.
“I looked behind them to see if Emily was sitting in the squad car, but there was no-one in it. I asked them, ‘have you found her? Where is she?’ But I knew. I just knew.”
The room was silent. Ellen faced the empty fireplace and tidied the array of invitation cards on the mantelpiece. I poured myself a scotch.
“The policeman was saying something about the river police, and I hadn’t the first idea what he was talking about at the beginning. Emily told me she was going to a rock concert with some friends. Wembley she said. ‘What’s that got to do with the river?’ I asked him.”
We were taken to St Thomas’s, to the mortuary, to identify Emily’s body. We were led to a small empty room with a grey lino floor that curved up the walls at the edges, for sluicing, a drain in the centre, and white tiled walls. We stood over a trolley as the attendant lifted the sheet, which covered Emily’s body. She was naked, but he had the decency to show us only her head and shoulders. He looked like a serious lad, dressed in a lab coat.
“Is this your daughter?” he asked. I nodded, and he left the room.
Every time I close my eyes I can see her slack, heart-shaped, white face and the spread of her black hair across the bare grey metal of the trolley. I remember wondering why there was no pillow. She looked like she’d just washed up on a beach. I visualized her floating downstream in the Thames, like Millais’ Ophelia.
“We rowed the night before she left, you know,” Ellen said. “I told her she had to clean her act up, and the last thing she said before she walked out and slammed the door was ‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ Joe, those were her last words to me. And it’s your fault that I’ve got to carry that with me. It was always me having to handle her. Never you.”
Ellen’s face was grey. She had lines around her mouth, where she pursed her lips, and deep furrows between her eyebrows, and she had purple bags under her eyes from so much crying. I couldn’t bear to look at her.
“I didn’t call her because we’d had that row, and now she’s dead.”