Almost half a mile behind them, Penny, Sander and Marge have had to pause to rest on a wooden bench. “You’re not really going on this silly holiday, are you?” Marge, who doesn’t like to be left out, asks.
“Unless there’s some kind of miracle or we win the lottery we won’t be going anywhere,” Penny says.
“Winning the lottery would be a miracle,” Sander comments, “seeing as we don’t play.”
“You don’t want to be going on holiday with them, anyway,” Marge says. “You two would fight like cat and dog on holiday, just the same as you did in Paris.”
“That was years ago, Mum.”
“But it’s still probably true,” Sander agrees.
“I thought it was insensitive,” Marge comments. “I mean, they know that I can’t go on a walking holiday, and they know that you can’t afford it. So it’s a bit rude, really.”
“I think Martin genuinely thinks it will be pretty cheap,” Sander says. “I think he was just trying to be nice.”
“Cheap?” Marge sniffs. “They don’t even know what cheap means. They just like to rub everyone’s noses in it, is the truth of the matter. It’s like Martin dressing up as Cary Grant and your sister wearing that Agnes B thing. They just want everyone to know who’s top dog, that’s all.”
Penny wrinkles her nose. “You think?”
“She always was a show-off, your sister,” Marge says. “Still, forgive and forget, eh?”
“I don’t think they’re like that,” Sander insists. “They’re just lucky enough to make more money than we do, that’s all. You can’t begrudge them that.”
“Really?” Marge says doubtfully. “And luck, you say? Oh well… So, what about you, Sander? How’s your luck these days? Have you sold any work?”
Sander clears his throat. “Um… No, Marge,” he stammers. “No, I haven’t.”
“Well, I’d sub you if I could,” Marge says. “For the holiday, I mean. But I’m afraid I’m probably even more broke than you are.”
When eventually they get back to the house – after having grabbed a passing mini-cab, so cold were they from shuffling along the seafront – Martin and Victoria are seated in the lounge.
Martin has loosened his tie and removed his jacket, but in his crisp white shirt, he still, Penny thinks, seems to ooze wealth and well-being.
As she makes everyone cups of tea, she remembers when she first met Sander. For he had not always been such a scruff, either.
She had been invited to the private view by Sheena, the girl she shared her flat with. There would, Sheena had promised, be free Champagne, and who was Penny to refuse free Champagne?
On arriving in the gallery, she had been blown away by the beauty of Sander’s huge paintings, and had giggled at the incongruous faces of the blow-up dolls he had painted, situated in business meetings, or dressed as waitresses or bus conductors.
When a short, Woody Allen-type guy came into the room she had asked Sheena if this, finally, was the artist. “No, it’s that guy over there,” Sheena had said, pointing to a man with long hair and big glasses, wearing a grey heavy-check suit and a pink bow-tie.
“I’ll introduce you,” Sheena had offered, but there had been no need, because Sander, who had locked eyes with Penny already (he had the bluest eyes she had ever seen) was already making his excuses and heading their way.
The suit still hangs in the closet upstairs, but even if Sander could get into it, which he can’t, it would look horribly outdated nowadays. No one has been able to get away with lapels like that, or a pink bow-tie, for that matter, since the noughties, and even back then, you probably had to be an in-vogue Danish artist to do so. Sander later admitted that his publicist, who was gay, had chosen the suit for him. And that, Penny thought, sounded about right.
Still, men are so daft, Penny reckons. Because, just like women, all they really want is to be attractive, to be fancied, to catch the eye of the other sex. And there’s really no easier way for a man to achieve that end than to wear a nice suit and an ironed shirt. It’s the male equivalent of walking around in your lingerie, for God’s sake, and yet most men, like Sander, spend their entire lives attempting to dress down. It’s incomprehensible.
“Can I help you with those?” Martin asks from the doorway, and Penny jumps and blushes as if he has perhaps stumbled into her thoughts.
“Sure, you can carry two of these through,” she says, taking two of the mugs of tea from the counter and holding them out. “Nice cufflinks,” she comments, as he takes the teas from her grasp.
“Thanks,” Martin says. “Vicky got them for me in Venice. They’re supposedly Venetian glass, but I reckon most of the stuff they sell there comes from China. Though don’t tell her that.”
As he turns and walks away, she glances at his buttocks, pert and hugged by the material of his suit trousers, and tells herself, “Stop it, Penny, you love Sander.” And it’s true. She does. It’s just that love isn’t incompatible with wishing he dressed better.
And then in her mind’s eye, or ear, she hears Martin saying, “Vicky got them for me in Venice,” and wonders whether her mother isn’t right about him, after all. “Ooh, Vicky got them for me in Venice,” she repeats quietly, in a silly nasal voice.
END OF SAMPLE #9
Let the Light Shine will be published on the 30th September
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