The story of a short life
When Peter Tayfield awoke on the morning of the 15th of October 2015, he knew that this would be a special day. As he took a shower, dressed and ate his breakfast of toast, cereal and tea, he tried to assure himself that this would be the best day of his life. As well as being the most important. Outside, the sun was already shining and the cold, leaf-brown damp of an autumn morning was giving way to the still brightness of a mild October day.
Looking at himself in the mirror, Peter realised that something in the pudgy face of this fifty-eight-year-old, middle-ranking public servant, standing in the bedroom of his modest, though well-kept, semi-detached house in Upminster, Essex, told him that this day had to be different from all the others that had gone before. Different from the thousands of days that had flowed away downstream, along with all the accompanying flotsam and jetsam of experience which already constituted the major part of his life. He sometimes felt that what passed for life was really a continuous stream of sand inexorably slipping through his fingers and that he was powerless to stop it or slow it down. If anything, every day seemed to go by more quickly and days resembled each other ever more closely. But he knew that today would be a special day. Today, he would meet Brother John.
Peter had always been told that he had no brother. He was born in 1957 in Mile End, East London and had been an only child. He knew that some years earlier his mother had given birth to a baby boy, in the same hospital where Peter was born, and she had always told him that the baby had only survived for nine days. She was never very specific. When in later years he had sought more precise answers about the circumstances of the baby’s death, his mother would become very evasive. She told him that the doctors had said that they were very sorry and that they ‘took him away’. ‘It was a different time, love’, she would say. ‘You didn’t ask questions.’ He began to realise that his mum had only seen the baby once and had held him for just a couple of minutes before the doctors had ‘taken him away’. After that, neither Mum nor Dad had ever set eyes upon him again. Mum was only twenty-two when she gave birth and was told that she would have to wait for several years before becoming pregnant again. A full ten years passed before Peter was born.
Mum and Dad had both passed away in 2010 and it had taken Peter almost eighteen months to get over the trauma and grief of that dreadful year. Dad, who was a couple of years older than Mum, had been in decline for a while and, when he finally gave up the ghost, Mum seemed to lose the will to live. They were very close and Peter had soon understood that once she no longer had her husband to care for, Mum, although outwardly quite strong and cheerful, would not last for very long. It was as though her body was becoming hollow. Peter remembered how cold and empty their bungalow in Hornchurch, just up the road from where he lived, seemed the last time he had left it and closed the door. It was just a few weeks after his mum had passed away, but he had noticed that the windows were already getting dirty and that the familiar welcoming odour of furniture polish had all but evaporated. In a little while the place would smell of damp; then someone would buy it and rip out the fixtures and fittings. All traces of Mum ever having been there would soon vanish. The garden had been Dad’s pride and joy for nearly forty years, yet just a few months after his funeral it was becoming overgrown and unkempt, as though nature was conspiring to delete all evidence of his life and achievements.
Once he was over the worst, Peter began to get interested in researching the history of his family. Not that there was much of one, at least not compared to many of the people he knew or worked with. His mother was an only child and his father had just one sister who died in her teens. So completing the modern end of the family tree was not difficult. Albert Tayfield married Anne Clifton in 1945; they had one son, Peter, born in 1957.
As he prepared to go back to the previous generation, Peter’s pen hovered above the page. Surely there was someone else. Whether he liked it or not, there was a brother, albeit short-lived, who was born and died in October 1947. Mum had said that they named him John. Peter felt a need to fill in the dates. Presumably, there was a birth certificate. And a death certificate. On a convenient day in April 2012, he began his search at the Public Records Office. Sure enough he found, without any trouble, the birth certificate of John Compton Tayfield, dated the 15th of October 1947.
The second name came as a surprise; no one had ever mentioned it. Peter knew that his dad was a great cricket fan who used to idolise Denis Compton and who went to as many Middlesex games as he could manage in that era. 1947 had been Compton’s golden summer, during which he scored well over three thousand runs, so you could see what had led Dad to choose the name. It was strange, because Dad had never spoken about the baby; in fact, he seemed unwilling even to acknowledge the brief existence of his son. Peter had always sensed, albeit somewhat obliquely, the sorrow that his mum had felt for the loss of her child. The poignancy of the middle name now made him think about all the suppressed grief, and possibly anger, which must have been swirling around inside his dad for all those years. He imagined this damaged man, at the start of the following season, watching a game at Lord’s on a bleak May afternoon and being utterly powerless to find an outlet for the pain he knew that he would feel for the rest of his life.
After this detour, Peter expected that it would be a simple matter to find a death certificate from around the 24th or 25th of October. But there was none. He started widening his search to look at earlier days, then at later ones. He searched through weeks, months, years. With the help of the staff, he double-checked and triple-checked the records. Finally, he had to face the fact that there was no death certificate for John Compton Tayfield, born the 15th of October 1947. From which he concluded that there had either been an unfortunate oversight or that John Compton Tayfield was still alive.
He remembered sitting in his kitchen that evening after getting back from London and wondering what this all meant. Strangely enough, one of his first thoughts was how ridiculous the situation was. His mother had given birth to a baby that she had seen only for a couple of minutes and who Peter assumed had been dead for close on seventy years. Except that, officially, he wasn’t. It must be a mistake. And then, he thought, why should the official version necessarily be wrong? If it was not wrong, and John Compton Tayfield was still alive, where on earth was he? And why had Mum and Dad been deprived of their son for all those years? And why, for that matter, had he, Peter, never seen his older brother and wrongly presumed himself to be an only child?
He decided that it was time to find answers to these serious questions.
Awaking the next morning, Peter began to feel again that the whole thing was absurd. He had been getting too far ahead of himself. It must be a simple mistake. It was not even worth worrying about. Even in 1947, would doctors have simply taken a living, breathing baby away from its mother for good, without explanation? Of course not. It was just too fantastic; it verged on science fiction. So for several months, Peter Tayfield tried to ignore the subject and almost succeeded. But not quite.
It was just before Christmas 2012 and Peter was sitting at home on a Saturday morning, reading the newspaper. There was nothing of particular importance in it, just the usual run-of-the-mill news. The odd scandal involving an MP, a minor war somewhere and a study which concluded that drinking wine improved your memory. Suddenly tears began to well up in his eyes and he threw the paper angrily on the coffee table. He sat there for some minutes, trembling and almost screaming in frustration. It was not the first time that this had happened. He realised that sweat was pouring off him, even though the room was cool. This was it, he thought. He had to know, before it was too late. As he entered the bedroom to change his soaking wet shirt, he noted that his need to know the truth was becoming more and more physical and he feared that he may have difficulty in controlling it in the future. So on that day he sat down and drew up a plan of action. He would devote every spare moment of the rest of his life to finding out what happened to his brother John.
The next two and a half years were not an easy time. Peter searched everywhere: hospital records, newspaper records, marriage records, telephone records, local government records, the electoral register, to name but a few. He put advertisements in newsagents, advertised online, used social media and scoured the whole of the internet. He travelled the length and breadth of the country, using up his savings and foregoing his annual holidays in Brittany. However, John Compton Tayfield, born in Mile End on the 15th of October 1947, remained as elusive as ever. Of course, there were plenty of John Tayfields about, and quite a few John Comptons, but no one who even began to fit the bill exactly. In spite of the pledge he had made to himself, Peter was, by the summer of 2015, beginning to wonder what more he could do. Not only had he left no stone unturned; he had the impression that he had turned all the stones back the right way up and was about to start again. One day in August of that year, he began to feel that his life was passing him by. He had pressing financial problems and a journalist who had initially wanted to publicise his story had just left the house, clearly believing him to be a crank. He was about to take a decision to stop his search when, looking down the hallway, he noticed that a small white envelope had fallen through the letter box. There was no stamp, so it had clearly been delivered by hand. On the envelope was inscribed, in immaculate handwriting, ‘For the attention of Mr Peter Tayfield.’
He opened it and found inside a piece of folded white notepaper. In the same handwriting was the following message:
‘I will be here on my sixty-eighth birthday. John.’
Peter ran into the street to look for the sender of the letter. The street was deserted, but no matter. His mood had changed in one instant from dejection to elation. He only had to wait until the 15th of October.
And so the day duly arrived. On this Thursday morning, Peter was up early, while it was still dark, having hardly dared to sleep the night before. He had insisted on taking the day off work, even though his office was quite busy. There was no choice, he had told his boss in an untypically direct fashion, without offering any explanation. During the previous few days, he had become nervous and edgy, finding it difficult to relax and lying awake for most of the time he was in bed. And yet now he did not feel tired. In fact, he felt fresh and ready to face the world. As he sat at the breakfast table, he told himself that he had been looking forward to this day. If John did not come, it would be a huge let down, but it did not mean that John would never come. There would be disappointment but there would still be hope. But if John did come, he knew that at the very least a gap in his knowledge, his understanding, indeed, in his very existence, would be filled. He knew that much. Anything else would be a bonus.
He did not have to wait long. He had just finished washing up the breakfast things and clearing the table. He had intended to put out the tea set, to make some sandwiches and to lay out some slices of the fruit cake he had bought the previous day. However, before he had time to do any of these things the doorbell rang, quite loudly. It was barely nine o’clock.
Instinctively, Peter turned off the music on the radio. A Schumann symphony, if he remembered correctly, probably the second. He went to answer the door but there was nobody there. He looked out into the street but saw no one, save a couple of kids running to get to school on time. With a feeling of anti-climax, he closed the front door and was making his way back to the kitchen when his journey was cut short by a sight which stopped him in his tracks. To his left, in the living room, a figure was seated on the sofa. He wore a dark raincoat with a large black fedora hat that was pulled down over his eyes, so that his face was hidden from view, as well as rather baggy, pin-striped trousers and impeccably polished shoes. The effect was of a mysterious, not to say sinister, character from a spy novel.
Peter sat down in the armchair opposite. He knew that no introductions were necessary. It did not even occur to him to wonder how the man had got there. Several minutes passed, during which neither of them said a word. Peter began to feel that, as the host, he should start a conversation.
‘Have you come far?’ he mumbled, and was immediately annoyed by the banality of his question. The visitor said nothing.
After another pause Peter tried again but his second utterance was no more original.
‘They say it will be a lovely day today,’ he said. Again, there was no response.
Peter, sensing the importance of breaking the ice, decided to be a little more direct with his next effort.
‘We certainly have a lot to talk about.’ No sign of a reaction.
He sat back in his armchair. The silence between questions was becoming deafening. Looking at the clock, he realised that half an hour had passed since the arrival of his visitor. This stand-off was not what he had expected and he was not sure for how much longer he could take it. Suddenly, without really understanding why, he became agitated and stood up.
‘Now you’re here, you might at least say something,’ he said, raising his voice.
He was instantly embarrassed by this outburst and sat down again but after a few seconds he realised that it had had some effect. The visitor raised his head and removed his hat, so that for the first time his face was visible. At the sight of this, Peter froze. A shiver made its way down his spine. It was his own face.
There was no mistake. The visitor had Peter’s face, albeit an older and more gnarled version. For one moment, Peter felt that he had been projected forward ten years in time and was looking in a mirror. Everything fitted into place. John was ten years older than he was and, as brothers, it was not surprising that they resembled each other. And yet, Peter had to admit that the resemblance was astonishing. They were like two freakish twins who had aged at a different pace. Finally, and thrillingly, the visitor spoke.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘you certainly look like me. A bit younger, of course. And you sound like me.’ Peter immediately recognised the same shallow baritone.
‘I had the same feeling,’ he replied. ‘What should I call you?’
‘You can call me anything you like,’ came the response.
Peter was unsure how to deal with this rather cold, flippant approach. He did not want to say the wrong thing. In fact, now that he was finally able to confront his visitor, he did not really know what to say. All the same, he knew that there must be a right way to go about this.
‘Do you mind if I call you John?’
‘Why should you call me that?’
‘Because it’s your name. You are John Compton Tayfield, born on the 15th of October 1947. I am Peter Tayfield, born ten years later. We both have the same parents. I think you know that.’
‘That’s what I used to be called,’ replied the visitor. ‘Yes, “Compton”; I believe that Dad was a big fan of Denis Compton. You know that he scored well over three thousand runs in the 1947 season? It seems incredible, doesn’t it? I understand that Dad went to see most of the championship matches at Lord’s that year. Sometimes he had to queue for an hour to get in. Not quite the same today, eh? They’re lucky to get a couple of thousand people.’ A wry smile crossed his face.
‘Dad?’ exclaimed Peter. ‘Why do you call him “Dad”? You never met him.’
‘He was still my dad,’ came the indignant reply, ‘and I have every right to call him that if I want to. In fact, towards the end of his life I encountered him quite a few times near the house or in the High Street in Hornchurch. Sometimes I said “Good Morning” to him and sometimes he said “Good Morning” to me. Of course, I made sure that I was never recognised.’
Peter Tayfield stood up, open-mouthed. ‘What? You met him but you never told him who you were?’
‘Of course I never told him who I was. That would have been cruel. To have been separated from him for all those years and then to have turned up right at the end of his life. How would he have dealt with that? It would probably have hastened his demise.’
‘But you were his son!’ cried Peter. ‘Didn’t he have a right to know who you were? Good heavens, he thought that you had been dead for sixty years.’
The room went quiet for a few seconds. Peter was still trying to process all the information he had just received. Then the visitor spoke again.
‘It’s a strange world. It’s really just a question of biological issue. It’s true that I owe my presence in this world to Mum and Dad, but I owe them nothing else. And yet I still refer to them as “Mum” and “Dad”. I remember thinking that when I attended their funerals.’
‘You were at their funerals?’ yelled Peter, now unable to grasp anything he was hearing.
‘Yes, I was. I was very discreet. I sat at the back. No one could possibly have recognised me.’
‘Just a moment,’ gasped Peter, who had begun to prowl around the room and suck in gulps of air. He swung round towards the visitor. ‘I suppose you knew about me, didn’t you?’
‘Well, I knew who you were and what you did. But I didn’t know much more than that. I had other things to do with my life, you know.’
Peter Tayfield felt that he needed a break, so he left the room and went to make two cups of tea, one of which he placed in front of his visitor, along with a plate of chocolate biscuits. The visitor did not thank him but eventually picked up the teacup and began to drink from it.
‘I thought you might be interested to know the story my life,’ he said quietly, putting down the cup and leaning back in his chair.
Peter hesitated for a moment, suddenly remembering this was the main thing that he did want to know! He realised that, due to his emotional state, he had allowed himself to get sidetracked.
‘Of course’ he mumbled, apologetically. ‘I would be fascinated.’
‘For the first few years,’ said the visitor, ‘I was too young to know where I was. You know, they kept me in the same room until I was about fifteen. I was completely alone and I was in bed practically all day. I was able to look out onto the garden but I could never go outside. The only places I was allowed to visit were the bathroom and toilet just up the corridor. The only people I saw were nurses, who brought me meals and gave me pills – oh, those bloody pills – and the occasional doctor.’
Upon hearing this, Peter’s attitude towards his visitor softened somewhat.
‘It must have been terrible, like being in prison. What sort of place was this? What was wrong with you? It must have been very serious for them to deprive you of any semblance of a normal life. I mean, no friends, no parents, no house, no love…’
The visitor interrupted him and for a split second appeared to smile ruefully at the mention of the word ‘love’.
‘To be honest, I don’t know what sort of place it was. And I have no idea what was “wrong” with me, as you put it. Looking back, I imagine that they thought I had some sort of mental or physical deficiency, but I was never told anything. As for being “deprived” of a normal life, it never occurred to me at the time. You assume that your life is “normal” because it is the only life you have ever known. I had no contact with the world, no radio, no television and I never saw a film or anything like that. Eventually, they did teach me to read and I was given a few books and magazines. But the life that these described might as well have been on another planet.’
‘What about toys or games?’ asked Peter.
‘I never had any of those.’
‘So how did life begin to change for you? I assume that it must have changed at some point.’
‘Well,’ replied the visitor, ‘from the age of fifteen, they let me go out a little. I had always been able to walk, but now I was able to go out into the garden and explore the rest of the building and its grounds. I started to meet other people: other boys, even a few girls and I learned to converse and socialise a little. I began to watch television, to listen to the radio and to music and gradually I realised that there was a big world outside that I knew nothing about. Still, every evening I was taken back to that room, to that bed. Then, on the morning of my eighteenth birthday, I was told to go and see the Director. I will always remember that day. He was seated behind a big desk in a big office. He told me that I had made good progress, although he never explained how or why. He then informed me that I should not expect to leave “the institution” in the foreseeable future. He said that I may even have to spend the rest of my life there and that I should get used to the idea.’
Peter shivered a little at this last sentence. The idea that his own brother, who seemed, at least outwardly, to be perfectly normal as far as one could tell, was locked up in the place he had described, filled him full of horror.
‘And so,’ continued the visitor, ‘I decided to escape. It wasn’t at all difficult. I soon discovered that there was no real security and that afternoon I just jumped over a wall and was away. For the last fifty years, I’ve been on the run. Staying in seaside towns, doing odd jobs, living hand to mouth under assumed names. Sometimes I have spent weeks, even months, on the streets. For years I was terrified that they would find me and take me back to that place. Things are a little easier now but I still have to be careful. Every day I worry that someone is going to come after me.’
‘So how did you find out about the family?’ asked Peter. ‘How did you make contact with us?’
‘You have to realise,’ replied the visitor, ‘that I already had some information. I knew my real name and was able to get a copy of my birth certificate, so I knew who my parents were. But I had absolutely no idea of where they were living or even if they were still alive. Then, about ten years ago, I realised that it was possible to get internet access. Previously I had never understood or cared about the online world. I couldn’t afford a mobile phone or anything like that. Then, one day, someone showed me how to get online at the local library and at a café. I began to search and I soon found out everything I needed to know.’
‘So what did you do, once you had found us? Did you spy on Mum and Dad? Did you harass them?’
‘I wouldn’t put it like that. I decided to move to Hornchurch and I managed to get a job in a warehouse. It was fairly basic work but the pay wasn’t bad, especially as some of it was on an under-the-table basis. With this income, I was able to rent a room. In my spare time, I used to keep an eye on Mum and Dad’s house and to watch them, going out shopping for instance. That’s how we came to exchange pleasantries from time to time.’
‘And you had no desire,’ asked Peter, ‘to introduce yourself, to explain who you were and what had happened?’
‘Why should I?’ replied the visitor, brusquely. ‘As I said before, it would have been cruel. I just wanted to observe them, as I could see that they were getting old. Then, when they died, I was planning to move away from Hornchurch. But in the end, I didn’t.’
‘Why was that?’ enquired Peter.
‘I suppose that I had got used to the place. And where else was I supposed to go? So I decided to make the best of it. Then my attention turned towards you, Peter. I had seen you a few times, of course, notably at the funerals, but, to be frank, you never really interested me. However, when I learned that you were looking for me, and seemed to be putting a lot of effort into it, I was rather intrigued.’
‘How did you know that I was looking for you?’
‘I got lucky, you might say. I followed you up to London one day, just for my own amusement, and at the Public Records Office I heard you asking for a copy of my death certificate, which, as you can imagine, came as a bit of a shock to me. So I started to watch your movements on a regular basis. I tried to build up a picture of your life.’
‘And what conclusions have you drawn?’ Peter was now becoming increasingly nervous about the whole situation.
‘Well,’ said the visitor, ‘I know that you work in HM Revenue and Customs, that you commute to London every day and that you have a nice house and a car. In short, Peter, you have a good life, the kind of life that I could never aspire to lead. And I have decided that I want it.’
‘What the hell do you mean?’ The words came spluttering out of Peter’s mouth. He was now genuinely frightened.
The visitor rose to his feet. Peter noticed that he was exactly the same height as he was, around five foot eight inches. His presence had suddenly become a menacing one.
‘You know, I have been watching you for a few years now and learning about your life, as I explained, but for a long time I had no idea of what concrete steps I should take. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to take action today, the 15th of October 2015. You see, not only is today my sixty-eighth birthday, it is also the fiftieth anniversary of my eighteenth birthday, the day when I absconded from the institution and became a non-person, hiding from the world, living in the shadows. Peter, I don’t want to live in the shadows any more. I want to live here.’
‘Of course,’ stuttered Peter, backing away slightly. ‘Of course you can stay here. I have a spare bedroom….’
The visitor interrupted. ‘Dear Peter, you don’t understand. I don’t want to live here with you. I want to be you. I want to take your place.’
At this point, he produced a revolver and pointed it at Peter.
‘Don’t do it, please!’ cried Peter. ‘You’ll never get away with it. Everyone will know that I am missing.’
‘Just listen to you,’ laughed the visitor. ‘You’re deluding yourself. You are nothing, believe me. You are just another little man, another cog in the machine. I’m the spitting image of you, Peter. I may look a bit older now but once I get settled in and smarten myself up, no one will know the difference.’
‘You can’t do my job.’
‘Can’t I? Believe me, what you do, middle-grade paper shuffling and attending meetings, anyone can do it. All you need to do is to wear a suit and comb your hair.’
‘Please, brother. Don’t kill me. Please. There’s plenty of room for us both here. You can have everything you want. We could be happy.’ Peter fell to his knees and started crying. It was the only thing left that he could find to do.
‘I’m sorry, Peter,’ said the visitor, calmly. ‘There is only room for one of us here and it is going to be me.’
He raised the gun and began to squeeze the trigger. In that instant, Peter instinctively sprang upwards and lunged at him, emitting a primal scream which seemed to vibrate around the whole house. As he collided with the visitor, he heard the gun fire and for a moment, his whole body felt as if it was empty. He landed hard but not on the floor, for he had fallen on top of the visitor. He lay there for some time, perhaps a minute or more, before becoming aware that the man was not moving. His whole body was still. The gun lay a few feet away on a rug by the table. Looking along the visitor’s body, Peter noticed that there was blood running down his face and onto the floor. Some of the blood had stained the sleeve of Peter’s white shirt. He realised that he must have deflected the gun at the vital moment and that the bullet had been fired into the visitor’s head. There was no doubt that he was dead, none at all. He was still wearing his overcoat. The big Fedora hat, which he had removed earlier to reveal himself, was on the chair next to him.
After a while, Peter got up and walked to the kitchen. He was shaking and tried to catch his breath. Pouring himself a glass of milk, he kept saying ‘it was him or it was me’ over and over again. ‘Him or me. I had to try to save myself.’ He knew that he would have to phone the police and began to dial the number on his mobile.
He was surprisingly calm and felt almost happy. He was certainly relieved. After all, that could have been him lying there, blown into oblivion, never able to tell his story. It could have been John drinking the glass of milk and planning the rest of his life. Which one of them survived depended on the events of a split second. But now Peter could get on the phone and recount the whole thing. He had his life back again. Then, suddenly, he became worried. Would they believe him? The only witness was dead. Perhaps he would be accused of murder. Maybe some bent copper would try to frame him.
At that moment, he saw a figure appear behind the frosted glass of the front door. To his relief, he realised that it was the postman, who slipped a white envelope, with Peter’s name and address in a window, through the letter box. Automatically, he went and picked up the envelope, which was from the Public Records Office. He prised it open with his right hand; he was still holding the mobile with his left and at that moment he heard the number of the local police station begin to ring.
The letter inside the envelope was folded and there appeared to be another document attached to it. It read as follows:
‘Dear Mr Tayfield
Some time ago you requested a copy of the death certificate of your late brother, Mr John Compton Tayfield, born the 15th of October 1947. At the time, we informed you that no such death certificate existed. We now realise that we were mistaken and we are pleased to enclose a copy. We apologise most sincerely for this oversight and trust that the attached document will meet your requirements.
Peter looked at the attached document and in an instant his whole body turned to ice. The certificate stated that John Compton Tayfield had died on the 24th of October 1947, just nine days after his birth.
At that moment, someone answered the phone.
‘Police. Can I help you?’
‘Yes’, replied Peter, without thinking. ‘I want to report a death.’
‘A death, sir? Do you mean a crime?’
‘Er, well…yes. There has been a shooting.’
‘Do you need immediate assistance?’
‘What? Oh, no, not immediate.’
‘Just a moment, sir.’
The phone went quiet for a moment, which gave him time to think of the man lying dead in the living room. In view of the existence of the death certificate, it now seemed obvious that he was not John Compton Tayfield, his brother. So who was he? With some trepidation, Peter moved back into the living room and was astonished by the scene which confronted him. The body was gone and everything else seemed to have disappeared: the blood on the carpet, the half-drunk cup of tea, everything. Looking down, he saw that there were no longer any blood stains on his shirt. It was as though none of the morning’s events had ever happened. But then Peter’s eyes settled on the chair. The wide-brimmed fedora hat which his visitor had been wearing was still there. It was still there.
Peter Tayfield stood in the living room, unable to move. He had never believed that he would encounter horror in an empty space, or that the presence of a hat would make him feel fear as never before. His feet were rooted to the spot; perspiration was running down his face and soaking his shirt. His mouth had gone numb.
All of a sudden, he heard a voice on the phone, which he realised that he was still holding to his ear.
‘Sorry to keep you waiting, sir. Do you have the name of the deceased and could you describe what happened?’
After a second or two, Peter found his voice from somewhere.
‘I’m not sure,’ he croaked. ‘I’m not sure.’