Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Third Grace by Deb Elkink

THE THIRD GRACE, by Deb Elkink, Greenbrier Book Company, 306 pp., $14.99 ( $6.75 Kindle).

The past casts a long shadow — especially when it points to a woman’s first love.

Her name was Mary Grace until she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology — and set the seventeen-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia works as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the country bumpkin far behind. But “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench. The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.

Book Excerpt:

Aglaia returned to the kitchen to refill her mug. Her cat stretched on the couch and yawned, his elfin tongue curling around a lazy “meow” before he bounded over to rub against Aglaia’s housecoat.

She picked him up and he climbed to her shoulder and arranged himself around her neck like a fur collar, his purring idling against her ear as she opened a fishy can of breakfast for him. The tabby was a barn cat, picked up at the SPCA last fall after her former cat lost his four-year battle against city traffic. She’d never buy one of those snooty Siamese or Himalayan breeds, and not just because of the price.

“Here you go, Zephyr,” she said as he sprang to the floor.

What her boss had said about names was true, she thought; they told a lot about a person and even about a pet. The farm crawled with cats when she was young but for some reason the Klassen family never labeled them “Fluffy” or “Snowball,” but talked about them in general terms like “the mama cat” or “that mean tri-color” or “the stray.” Dad liked them around to keep down the rodent population, and Mom always made sure, in the coldest part of winter, to set table scraps outside by the step. On occasion one cat or another made a mad dash into the kitchen, and Joel would always smuggle it into the basement for a quick snuggle.

Aglaia dubbed each of her cats “Zephyr” now—all three cats in turn that she’d owned since they formally named the first one on that perilous summer day in the hayloft.

Mary Grace hunts for the boys for an hour. She calls their names into the machine shop and the bunkhouse, and spies out the pasture but finds Joel’s horse unsaddled, unridden, standing against the backdrop of the thunderheads with its mane blowing. As the storm breaks the hot sky open, she thinks of the loft and scales the splintery ladder with the ease of her tomboy days. She doesn’t hear François picking on his guitar until she’s halfway up the barn wall. She hoists herself through the wooden doorframe into the loft and catches sight of Joel grabbing at the fleeing tomcat.

            “He goes like the wind!” Joel complains.

             She hasn’t climbed that ladder for over a year, and when she finds them there, it strikes her again what a haven the place is—the musty perfume of the bales, the daylight jabbing ghostly fingers through gaps in the shingles.

            François is smoking something that smells sweeter than the hay.

            “What are you doing?” She’s aghast that Joel hasn’t put a stop to it, if only because Dad’s been adamant about their never lighting matches in this firetrap. But more, she’s thrilled at the danger of what she’s walked into. She looks from François to Joel, and gets the impression the two have had words about it and François has won.

But she doesn’t leave the barn—she doesn’t run to tattle. How can she? François’s charcoal eyes smile away her indignation.

            “You’ve come here to sing with me?” François asks as he strums a chord. “Or maybe to smoke with me?” He winks at her again. “Joel won’t try, but you will, non?”

He takes the joint from his lips and raises it to hers, daring her while Joel watches with distress in his eyes. She remembers the pact they made, but she takes the slightest puff anyway and starts coughing. She’s never even smoked a cigarette, never mind a joint. Joel grits his teeth but François smiles, and so she takes a second draw—this time deeper. She knows she should leave now, but hail as hard as Pharaoh’s heart begins a staccato on the barn roof.

The tomcat reappears to skulk near François, curls up against him without invitation, then snags at Joel when he reaches to pet him. “Let’s name him Zephyr,” François says, “for the west wind.”

François makes her feel like a Zephyr, nervous and needy and a little naughty all at once.

***************

 

Aglaia’s fingers wrapped around the demitasse from which she had taken two delectable sips. She hated to polish it off with a final gulp but Lou, watching her from across the table, had already finished hers. Aglaia wanted to sit here forever.

The streets of Paris fulfilled her every expectation. This moment of lounging at her first sidewalk café was a condensation of all of her long-held expectations—the pungent coffee and chocolate-drizzled pastry, the wafting perfume of passers-by, the music pulled from a violin by a gypsy-busker in the shade of the boulevard’s trees. Ignoring Lou’s surveillance, she dipped into her bag to hook out her sketchpad and, with a few deft strokes of her graphite, captured the swing of the violinist’s skirt, the strain at the sleeve seam as the girl propelled her bow across willing strings.

***************

 

Aglaia turned the page to draft another hasty contour of the musician. It was Tuesday morning, eighteen hours since landing, and the first time Aglaia had consciously absorbed the aura of the city. She was in a daze upon arrival at the airport yesterday and almost nodded off in the cab ride to the Hôtel du Caillou, where she and Lou dropped off their baggage, freshened up, and set out on a walking tour of the Montmartre neighborhood stretched prostrate below the great white basilica of Sacré-Coeur. They read the grave markers of famous poets as they took a shortcut through a cemetery. They raced through a Monet show, Lou stopping long enough to instruct her on the Impressionist’s conveyance of light, although she had no use for the portrait artists in the square who called to them for a sitting. They spotted the red windmill of the Moulin Rouge from a distance as they marched along the avenues till Aglaia’s ankle could take no more. She didn’t get a chance to practice her French, since Lou was so quick to speak—to purchase entrance tickets to a gallery or to order a bottle of vin blanc. And she didn’t get a chance to check out a Paris phone book either, Lou yanking her past at least two booths. The day’s heat was unbearable, and after an early supper at an elegant restaurant, Aglaia fell into a deep sleep on her first night in the hotel.

So now she sat beneath the red awning of a Parisian café on a sunny morning with her sketchpad, and she only half listened as Lou began to outline their sightseeing agenda without once asking for her input. For the moment, Aglaia didn’t care. She was immersing herself in the whole luxurious encounter—the tastes and scents and sounds—like she might slide into her bath after a long day of work.

***************

 

Paper crackling, Lou unfolded the Métro map, subway being the preferred mode of transportation around Paris for tourists and residents alike. She said, “Well, come on. Let’s be intentional about our day.” She had all their options for the entire stay figured out, with time set aside for her own research at the university and for Aglaia’s appointment tomorrow morning at the costume museum. Relieved to be off the subject of François, Aglaia became more animated with every turn of the Fodor’s page.

Lou went on about the parks and galleries and bridges. “We’ll fly by the Opéra Garnier, make reservations for a boat trip down the Seine, and take in the Rodin museum.” Lou ran her fingertip along their intended path on the map. “I’ll show you Victor Hugo’s setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where the movie was filmed, and then we’ll stop for some cherry sorbet from Berthillon.”

***************

Aglaia pitched into tourist mode for the rest of the day. She admired the architecture, nodded along to Lou’s overview of French rationalism, and shuddered through a demonstration of a guillotine. She gasped at the fiendish ferocity of the 384 masks carved on the oldest bridge in the city, glaring down at her from their height like some ill-tempered gods, and she recognized another bridge—when Lou pointed it out to her—that Marlon Brando stood upon in the Last Tango in Paris. She trudged through several cathedrals to appreciate their historic significance and even put up with a lecture on Lou’s view about the socio-cultural impact of Joan of Arc upon the women of late mediaeval France.

But they didn’t pause to taste the crêpes sizzling on a curbside griddle, drenched in butter and folded up in a cone of waxed paper but discounted by Lou as peasant fare. They didn’t inspect the bolts of lace stacked up on a vendor’s table in the flea market. And they dashed past the dead chickens that hung from their twine-wrapped claws beneath canopies blowing in the wind, and brown blocks of Marseillaise soap, and round goat cheeses powdered with ash. When they did sit for a few minutes on a park bench, shaded from the burning sun, to rest Aglaia’s ankle and watch a cluster of middle-aged men who played pétanque on the grass, Lou couldn’t explain to her the rules of the game.

It was almost seven o’clock by the time they got off the Métro at the Saint-Georges stop, and the phone calls to any existing Vivier households still hadn’t been made. As they walked into their hotel, Lou asked the concierge to book a table at a nearby seafood restaurant.

“It’s superb, Aglaia. Bouillabaisse as it was meant to be supped and Coquilles Saint-Jacques that trumps any you’ve eaten at home.” Aglaia hadn’t ever eaten either dish at home, and she was intimidated by her culinary ignorance—though she could bet Lou had never tasted really superb Kjielkje noodles rolled out, boiled, and fried in bacon drippings by an old Mennonite cook. She felt herself grin at that, and salivate just a little.

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Categories: Women's Fiction | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Rage by Temujin Hu

THE RAGE, by Temujin Hu, Badlander Publishing, 294 pp., $15.39 ( .99 Kindle).

After serving in the United States military and working in private security in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Temujin Hu pondered, “A lot of people get their faith shaken when they go overseas to fight. I heard combat veterans talking about doing their job and wondering, am I still a good person even though I did what I did?”

Because Temujin’s longtime hobby is screenwriting, he attempted to write a short story dealing with the question: “Is there a good reason for a man to kill someone?”

That story evolved into Temujin’s first novel, THE RAGE, which follows Roland and Nicolas, two men with opposite backgrounds whose efforts to make the most of their tragic circumstances turn into criminal behavior.

Roland, from a poor, abusive background, is a very troubled man whose thinking is affected by the “rage of emotions” brought on by tragedy and stress. Although very intelligent and capable, because of his distorted thinking he applies himself to the criminal craft and becomes an incredibly talented thief and a stealthy killer.

Nicolas is from a wealthy, comfortable background, yet is trying to become a self-made man without the financial or networking assistance of his family. He is driven, disciplined, and seemingly unflappable–until he loses his family. In his depression, he begins to study self-defense and obsess over finding the killer. The tragedy leads Nicolas to acts that appear as criminal as Roland’s, and he allows his life to fall apart as he becomes a very dangerous man on the hunt for a killer.

Both Nicolas and Roland allow bitterness and revenge to destroy their lives to the point that they find themselves living in alleys, abusing illicit drugs, and committing crimes including theft and murder.

“I want people to see no matter how awful things appear, there is always hope and always someone nearby ready to listen – because God often uses people in ways they don’t even realize to impact others in a positive way. So I hope people start to look around their own lives and see how God is at work around them and through them.”

 

Categories: Inspirational Crime | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Book Spotlight: The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith

THE MIRACLE INSPECTOR, by Helen Smith, Tyger Books, 252 pp., $9.99 ($2.99 Kindle).

The Miracle Inspector is a dystopian thriller set in the near future. England has been partitioned and London is an oppressive place where poetry has been forced underground, theatres and schools are shut, and women are not allowed to work outside the home. A young couple, Lucas and Angela, try to escape from London – with disastrous consequences.

Book Excerpt:

Chapter One:

Lucas was dressed smartly, ready for work. He sat at the kitchen table and buttered his toast, and cracked at the top of the boiled egg his wife had made him for breakfast. Angela stood nearby, scrubbing at a small spot on the working surface. Layers of regret hung between them like unfashionable wallpaper. It made the place seem ugly.

‘You know what would be nice?’ Angela said.

Lucas didn’t answer. He was not being impolite, he was waiting for her to express her feelings.

She said, ‘If we could go somewhere…’

He didn’t speak. He licked his fingers. He couldn’t eat the egg but he ate his toast. He waited for her to continue.

‘…together. I wish there was something…’

He noticed that she had stopped rubbing the spot, as if speaking the words had been helping to power her hand. Or perhaps it was the other way around. He’d have liked to make a joke of it. Would the nub of it – the joke – be something about kinetic energy?

‘Will you be home for your tea?’ she said.

‘Yes,’ he said. He wiped his hands and brushed himself down, preparing to leave her. With his weary, cautious manner, his formal clothes, he could have been forty-five years old. He was not quite twenty-five.

‘Unless there’s a miracle?’

‘Well, then you definitely wouldn’t have to cook tea.’ He laughed, thinking they would share a moment.

She stared blankly back at him.

‘If I discovered a miracle, you’d come and see it,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t you?’

She set to work on that spot on the working surface again. She loved her husband; it had been a love match, not forced. There’d probably be only four or five years before one or other of them fell foul of the authorities, so she ought to treasure their time together. But most of their time ‘together’ was spent alone, and the dull routine of running a household was wearing her down. She was making a study of dinosaurs from the encyclopaedias she had salvaged when the local library closed down. Memorising the long names kept her mind occupied, with decisions about how to pronounce the multiple syllables providing a counterpoint to mundane tasks like shaking out the mat, folding linen, polishing taps. Recent attempts to use the recitation of dinosaur names and characteristics as a method of timing the preparation of the egg she boiled each morning for Lucas’s breakfast had thus far ended in failure.

Angela rubbed and rubbed at the spot on the working surface even though she could no longer see it. This was her life for the foreseeable future. She was not quite twenty-one years old.

That evening, when Lucas came home again, Angela didn’t even ask him how his day went. What made her so sure he hadn’t found anything, that it wasn’t worth asking about his day? What if he had the secret with him now, the beautiful, pure, shining truth of it? How would he put it? He was no good with words. ‘Darling, I’ve got some wonderful news. You must keep it to yourself for now.’ Would she think it was a good thing? He realised with a blush that she might not like him to use the word ‘darling’. It was silly and old-fashioned. He didn’t like it much himself – it reminded him of that old reprobate, Jesmond.

‘It’s a bit dry,’ Angela said to him. She was talking about the fish she had put on the plates for their evening meal. She could have been talking about their relationship. How could he put that in a lighthearted way, without seeming critical or prurient, inviting comparisons with wetness, which she wouldn’t approve of, and which he hadn’t actually meant to suggest? After some consideration, he said nothing.

‘You could have called me today.’

‘I couldn’t, not really.’

‘They didn’t have phones wherever you were?’

If I knew a secret, I would keep it for you. That’s what he wanted to say. It seemed too craven. He tried to bring some sunshine in to the room. He thought about what it would be like to sit on some grass somewhere, looking at the light on her face. ‘Maybe we could have a holiday. Would you like that? Richmond or Highgate or somewhere nice. You choose.’

He watched her thinking about what he said, chewing it over in her mind, trying to break it down and make it digestible. She even moved her jaw a little, as if she had a mouth full of hi-fibre bread and was finding it difficult to despatch. But she didn’t reply.

The silences were not something he had expected from marriage. Sex, yes. Companionship. Someone to cook a meal and sit down and eat with, that kind of thing. The silences had evolved naturally, a way of being: ‘Our silences’, yet with no emptiness or vacancy in them. Instead, there were whole worlds contained in those silences; millions of gossamer strands of understanding going back and forth between them, like an invisible version of that fibreglass loft insulation that was illegal now. At school, his art teacher had explained to him that if he wanted to draw something, a chair, for example, he shouldn’t look only at what he could see – the structure of the thing – but also at the spaces. Sometimes it helped to draw the spaces. Similarly, in conversations with his wife, Lucas felt that to acknowledge only the words that were said would have been unhelpful. Their relationship was also about the silences.

He wanted a way to tell her out loud that he loved her and that her silences warmed him like invisible now-illegal loft insulation. But he couldn’t. It would only have come out sounding like a chorus from one of those Country and Western parody acts that were briefly popular on the radio a few years ago, before radio stations were banned and all the apparatus in London confiscated.

That was what he was thinking. What was she thinking?

How long had they been married? It seemed to him that he had never before wondered what she was thinking – although that was impossible, and he must have wondered and then forgotten about it. When she spoke, he listened and then reacted to the words he heard her say. Too often he was briefly wounded by the awfulness of what she said. Later, he would find a way of being reassured by it; it was just ‘her way’. Had he never before stopped to wonder if there was any subtext to what she said, to wonder whether she struggled with silly thoughts that she hid from him, the way he hid his thoughts from her? He didn’t remember ever doing so. He was too preoccupied with keeping his thoughts hidden to worry about hers.

If he could prise open her head with a penknife and put a straw into her brain and siphon out the thoughts, suck them up and then drip them out on to a specially-prepared surface in front of him in a legible little puddle, so he could pick them over and examine them – well, he would have been surprised to uncover anything more profound than the expression of simple wants, needs and instructions to herself that would enable her to carry out her daily tasks around the house: ‘Bread, table. Knives, forks, spoons, salt. Toilet. Eat. Drink. Sex.’ That sort of thing. And yet she was an intelligent woman. It was extraordinary to him that he had never realised that she might have a secret life, something she kept away from him. Did she ever share these thoughts with anyone else? A friend? A ‘relative’? A journal?

‘What?’

‘Sorry?’

‘You’re just sitting there, staring. Finish your meal. Don’t you like it?’

‘What were you thinking about?’

‘You were the one sitting there not saying anything,’ she said. ‘I was only wondering what you were thinking about.’

‘I was wondering what sort of thing you think about.’ He felt slightly defeated by it all but to his surprise she laughed girlishly, as if he’d just made a rather wonderful joke. ‘I have these thoughts sometimes,’ he said. ‘Things I want to say to you that sound like poetry in my head. And I stop myself because they wouldn’t come out right.’

‘Like what?’ A little nostril flare of suspicion from her.

He pressed on: ‘I was going to say to you that I don’t mind it when we don’t say much to each other. It’s like being wrapped up in loft insulation. That’s all.’

He expected her to laugh again. But she stared at him for a few seconds as if he had just said something rather vulgar. Then she came over to him and kissed him once, very gently, on the mouth. Then she half sat on his leg, turned and pushed away the plate of half-eaten food, turned back to him and kissed him, putting her tongue in his mouth – did he taste of the food? – while grinding herself against him. He reached up under her shirt and pushed her bra up and felt her bare skin and then fumbled about – or they fumbled together – and got her knickers out of the way and his trousers undone and they had sex. It wasn’t ideal because of the still-warm food on the plate and not brushing his teeth and the sadness he had noticed in her. She was behaving as if they had just met in a nuclear shelter and the sirens were still going. He put his mouth on her skin, about an inch along from her nipple and bit her. He did it quite gently and she didn’t complain, as if she resisted letting him know anything about how she felt, even when she felt pain. Even when he caused it.

When they finished, she seemed giggly again. Happy, sad, happy. It was as if she was insane. ‘You’re not pregnant?’

‘You want a miracle here, at home?’ Now she was angry. Sometimes he felt he didn’t know her at all. What was there to be angry about? Did she want a child? Or was she simply making a joke? Perhaps she had been making a joke, pretending to be angry, and it had misfired. He felt tired. Desperately tired, as if it was the end of everything, as if he had just carried home something expensive and heavy to save a child’s life – an iron lung or some other breathing apparatus – only to find that the child had already died.

‘If I was certified as a miracle,’ she said, ‘you’d have to stay here and guard me. We could make love all day, then.’

Jesus. She seemed to want to have sex again. She took her top off. She took her skirt off. She took her knickers off. She looked sad again. Maybe it was because he was sitting there gawping, in an appalled kind of way.

She took off his shirt, tugged at his trousers, tried to pull him on top of her.

‘Not on the floor, you’ll get cold,’ he said.

She had one hand at the back of his neck, pulling his face down on hers so she could kiss him. She had her nose pressed right into his face.

‘You’re not crying?’

She didn’t answer. But her face was damp with tears.

He got her up off the floor and half carried her into the living room. It was unromantic. He was like a soldier escorting a wounded colleague. He got her on to the sofa. Perhaps they should talk about things. He’d probably said something wrong. Or not said the right thing. Was it the loft insulation or the miracles, or the food that had dried out in the oven? Perhaps she’d hoped he’d make it home earlier today?

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. It seemed as good a start as any. But she just wanted to have sex again. She was lying on her back and she had her neck resting at an angle on the arm of the sofa. He was worried about snapping it. If he was too energetic and he accidentally snapped her neck and she died instantly but he carried on having sex with her… Actually, it wouldn’t matter what people thought or if he went to prison because nothing would matter any more because his wife would have died, and he honestly wouldn’t want to live any more if she was dead. He thought the world of her.

‘Angela,’ he said afterwards, ‘let’s go away to Cornwall together.’ It was the sort of thing people in London said to each other all the time these days, without having any idea of how they would get there or whether living in Cornwall would really be any better than living in London. But if you wanted to excite and flatter a woman you were supposed to mention Cornwall, as if there could be nothing finer than taking her to a place where she’d be expected to earn her living by serving behind the counter in a supermarket or whatever they made them do there.

But women were funny like that. They were just like other people – they always wanted what they hadn’t got.

‘Lucas,’ she said. ‘If I could really believe that…’

‘About Cornwall?’

‘Some days I think I can’t bear another minute of it.’

‘You sound like one of those women, in those war-time films, you know – with their marvellous accents “I simply can’t bear another minute of it”.’

‘I can’t stand another fucking minute of it. Is that clear enough for you? Is that unstoic enough? Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. How would we get to Cornwall?’

Was this a rhetorical question?

‘With your job, you must know. How could we get to Cornwall? If you really meant it, Lucas, I’d go with you tomorrow.’

That’s the thing. He didn’t really mean it. For some reason that was mysterious even to him, he had used what was effectively a seduction line after he’d already had sex with her twice and without any urgent wish to do it for a third time, since he had a headache and his cock was a bit sore. It was unstrategic of him. He hadn’t thought it through.

‘Or Wales. We could go to Wales.’ She wasn’t going to let it go.

‘I didn’t know you wanted to go to Wales.’

‘Anywhere but here. Imagine if we lived somewhere by the sea, with nice friends, no restrictions on where we went or what we did. Kids playing happily. Not wondering what I’d do if I gave birth to a girl because bringing a girl into this world is a curse.’

‘What would I do for work?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘That’s the sort of thing you’ve got to worry about. How would I support us? Would they let us in to Cornwall?’

‘We’d find a way. As for being accepted – you’ve got money. If we didn’t ask for anything, only contributed…’

‘OK, look. Don’t get upset. Angela? Angela?’ She looked as if she would cry again. ‘Don’t get upset. I’ll look into it. I don’t know how these things work. We’ve got money but there are currency restrictions. What if it doesn’t have any value there?’

‘Find something that does.’

‘I’ll look into it.’

‘You’ve got friends in the Ministry.’

‘I have.’

‘You’ve got influence.’

‘Was that why you married me?’

‘What?’

‘Did you think I had something? Money, power? A way out? Because I don’t.’

‘I married you for your blue eyes.’

‘You know,’ he said, ‘sometimes I wonder if you’re happy.’

‘Happy? No, I’m not happy. Jesus. Of course I’m not happy. But that’s hardly your fault. It’s just the way things are.’

‘You married me for my blue eyes?’

‘You’re sweet. I like the sex, the sex is great. Yeah, you’ve got money and the car and the house and all that. It’s not about that, though, is it.’

‘We could have a baby.’

No answer.

‘Are you bored?’

‘I’m not bored. I’m a prisoner. I want to leave here.’

‘With me?’

‘With you.’

‘I love you, Angela.’

‘I know.’

You can’t say to someone – to your own wife, after she has revealed that she is deeply unhappy – you can’t say ‘So, do you love me, then?’ It might sound needy. He had said ‘I love you’ to her. She should have said it back to him. It was accepted, to bat it back; a reflex. The table tennis of love. She didn’t actually have to mean it. It was comforting, that’s all.

‘What?’ Sometimes she looked at him as if she could hear his thoughts. Why couldn’t he hear hers?

‘Nothing. I love you, Angela.’

‘I know.’

He’d have to try harder if he wanted her to say she loved him and mean it. A good job at the Ministry, sex most nights when he came home, money in the bank, food on the table – it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted to be happy.

‘Lucas?’

‘I was thinking about Cornwall. I was thinking about us driving to the beach – about you driving, if you wanted to – and lying there on the sand, looking up at the sky, without anyone asking us what we were doing.’

‘You really think it’s like that?’

‘A little house with a garden and a dog.’

‘You’re allowed dogs there?’

‘Why not? And a couple of kids. And friends. Having dinner with friends.’

‘I know the names I’d call my kids.’

‘Do you?’

‘Don’t sound so surprised.’

‘We’ve never discussed it.’

‘You think I only think about the things that you discuss with me?’

‘I’m not… you make me sound like an ogre. I don’t make the rules. I don’t think it’s fair.’

‘Don’t you? Why don’t you try and change it, then?’

It had never occurred to him before now that he might be married to a woman who was a seditionist. He felt a sickening shock of fear. His mouth flooded with a bitter taste, his breathing quickened. He picked up a napkin and put it to his mouth and drooled saliva into it, discreetly, to get rid of the taste. He lived in a misogynistic, patriarchal society but still, a man wasn’t supposed to sit and drool on the floor in his own home. His hands felt damp and cold, and his fingers unresponsive, too weak to close in on themselves and make a fist around the napkin. A terrible thought had suddenly come into his head: what if she was a spy? What if she had been asked to say this by the Ministry? Where had he met her, anyway? What did he know about her, really? Maybe it was a test. Perhaps if he tried to have sex with her again? It might take her mind off it. Besides, she was probably feeling pretty horny with all this talk of Cornwall. He put his hands on her.

‘Lucas. Don’t do that. Are you listening to me? Are you saying we can go to Cornwall?’

‘Yes.’

She put her arms around him and kissed him, dryly and gratefully, the way he’d seen her kiss a bottle opener once, after she’d spent half the day looking for it.

And that was it. She wasn’t a spy, she was an unhappy girl and it was in his power to make her happy. He’d made a promise to her, the woman he loved more than anything in the world. All he needed now was a miracle, ha ha.

‘I meant to tell you,’ Angela said. ‘Jesmond was here.’

‘You meant to tell me?’

‘He turned up around lunchtime.’

‘You didn’t let him in?’

‘He was hungry, I had to give him a meal. He had a notebook full of old poems and stuff. Said you might want to look through it.’

‘I’m not interested.’

She attempted an impersonation of Jesmond’s slightly florid style of speaking: ‘“My dear, let me list all the things I wish I could have left with you: a small, shiny shell picked up on a beach on an outing with a woman I was in love with, a poem written for Matthew and Anna when Lucas was born, a photo of my mother, a postcard from my brother sent shortly before he was taken. I’ve lost them all along the way – all except this. Keep it safe for me. They’ll want it for the archive one day, when the situation improves.”’

‘Oh. The archive!’

‘You know he adores you.’

‘If “adores” means turning up unannounced twice a year, stinking and skint and trying to cadge food off you while I’m out at work.’

‘Don’t be an arse.’

But Lucas was uneasy; you never knew who was watching the house.

Categories: Dystopian | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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