As Penny joins the others in the lounge, Victoria is saying, “Apparently, they all come over here for the benefits, and that’s what’s really got to change if we don’t want them all coming over. Either that, or we need to get the control of our borders back.”
“Um,” Martin says, in a non-committal manner.
Despite Sander catching her eye and vaguely shaking his head, Penny asks, “So, who’s this then?”
“I’m sorry?” Victoria replies in a mock-disinterested voice. “Oh, it was just something I read.”
“Where’s Mum?” Penny asks looking around the room.
“Gone for a kip,” Sander replies, hoping that Marge’s absence has diverted Penny from the subject at hand.
“Right,” Penny says. “So, who exactly is supposed to be coming over here for our wonderful benefits system?”
“You know full well,” Victoria says. “The refugees. The Syrians and what-have-you.”
“I know full well that they’re coming here because their country’s at war,” Penny says.
“Oh, come on. The whole place can’t be a war zone. Syria’s huge.”
“Actually, it can,” Penny tells her. “They’re being bombed by their own government, by the rebels, the Americans, Qatar, the Saudis, and the Iranians. In fact it would be easier to list who isn’t currently bombing Syria.”
“And when they’re not being bombed, they’re being decapitated or raped or thrown off buildings by ISIS. It’s not the five pounds a day asylum seeker’s allowance that’s causing them to leave.”
“So how come they’re all men?” Victoria asks. “Answer me that.”
“Penny,” Sander whines, shaking his head, but she batts the intervention away with one hand.
“Who are all men?” she asks.
“In the newsreels. They’re all men. You never see women or children, do you?” Victoria says, glancing at Martin for support. He gives her a “search me” shrug as his only reply. It’s meant to convey, “You’re on your own here,” but Victoria misreads it as a far more complex, “You know I agree with you, but you also know that it’s against rules to argue with my sister-in-law,” shrug. She decides she’s going to have to defend what she believes to be their shared point of view single handed.
“That’s absolute rubbish,” Penny says. “I’m dealing with a total of nine Syrian families at the moment and they’re nearly all women and children.”
“Nine!” Victoria says, sarcastically. “Wow!”
“How dare you!” Penny spits. “Plus, the United Nations – who collect actual data on these things instead of the gossipy hearsay you listen to – say that fifty-one percent of them are women, and fifty something percent are children, so…”
“That’s not what I read,” Victoria insists.
“This is kind of Penny’s job,” Sander mutters, half-heartedly offering a smidgen of support to his wife.
“Well, it is kind of the job of the journalist who wrote the article I read in the Telegraph too, I expect,” Victoria retorts.
“Show me the article.”
“I don’t have it here. Obviously.”
“You’re impossible to argue with,” Penny says. “I don’t know why I bother.”
“I just think that if all these fit young men…” Victoria says.
“And women and children…” Penny interjects.
“…stayed at home and fought for their country instead of running away, then we wouldn’t have to risk British lives to save them, would we? I mean why do we…”
“Who would you like them to stay and fight?” Penny interrupts. “Assad? Al Qaida. ISIS? The Saudis? All of them, maybe?”
“Well, ISIS, obviously, to start with,” Victoria says. “I don’t know what sort of country we’d have if all our boys had run away during the Second World War. We’d probably be living under Hitler or something.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Vicky,” Penny says. “How can you be so bloody ignorant about everything? It’s a totally different situation.”
“Ignorant?” Victoria repeats, looking outraged. “Me?”
“What you’re saying is ignorant. It’s a statement of fact, dear sister.”
“Oh, you’ve always thought you’re so clever,” Victoria says. “Ever since you got your bloody degree you think you know everything. Well I’ve a surprise for you, Penny. Going to college doesn’t actually make you better than everyone else after all. And there are other sources of information out there beyond what your social worker mates tell you.”
“Oh here we go!” Penny says. “You’re the one who thinks you’re above everyone. You’re the one swanning around in your Agnes B trouser suit and quoting the Torygraph to everyone.”
“How about you show me that studio of yours, eh?” Martin says, addressing Sander in an exaggeratedly calm tone of voice. “Maybe show me what you’re working on at the moment?”
“Great idea,” Sander says, even though he’s not working on anything at the moment. He wonders if he can smoke a joint in front of Martin or if he’d be shocked.
“Sander!” Penny protests. “Don’t leave me.”
“This is sister stuff, babe,” Sander replies. “See ya.”
The two men carry their mugs of tea up to Sander’s studio. The sunshine is streaming in, falling across the armchair. “Have the magic seat,” Sander offers, propping himself up on a pile of pillows against the wall and glancing in the direction of his dope box. “I’m fine down here.”
“You’re sleeping in here tonight?” Martin asks, looking around the room and noting the absence of a bed.
“We’ve got one of those blow-up things,” Sander says. “It’ll be fine – if I can find the pump. Do you mind if I smoke?”
Martin shrugs. “It is your studio. And your house.”
“I mean.. you know…” Sander says, emphasising the word. “Smoke.”
“Yeah, I guessed,” Martin laughs. “I don’t, but please, knock yourself out.”
“I certainly intend to try,” Sander replies.
Downstairs, the argument rages on. But other than an occasional grimace when an intelligible shriek reaches their ears (generally Penny’s voice), and other than Sander’s comment that, “I knew they’d argue,” to which Martin replies, “Well, of course,” the men manage to avoid even the vaguest of references to the war being waged below.
“So, who do you reckon between Wigan and Salford?” Martin asks.
“Well, without Mcllorum, Wigan are going to struggle,” Sander replies.
When, twenty minutes later, the children get home, the argument is still ongoing.
“What’s all that about?” Max asks, peeping in through Sander’s door as he makes his way to the sanctuary of his own room.
“Refugees, I think,” Sander says.
“Oh, I think we can safely say they’ve moved onto more personal issues by now,” Martin says, winking at Sander. “Just lie low until tea-time, mate,” he tells Max. “It will all be over by then.”
The words, “Bloody bitch” rise up the stairwell, and Max says, “They’re not going to kill each other, are they?”
Sander shakes his head. “It’s just sibling stuff,” he says. “It’s just like you and Chloe, really.”
“We never argue like that, though,” Max says.
“You probably will,” Martin tells him with a laugh. “One day. If you’re lucky.”
“You have a brother, right?” Max asks.
Martin nods. “And we argue just like that,” he says. “But only at weddings. Weddings and funerals are best for that kind of thing. That’s what we reckon in our family, anyway.”
“Right,” Max laughs. “I’ll, um, remember that advice, uncle Martin.”
By the time Marge comes downstairs at four, the house is in almost complete silence.
Max and Bertie are playing on the Xbox, and Chloe, in her own bedroom, is chatting to a friend via unlimited text messages.
Martin and Sander are watching the football with the sound turned low, and Penny and Victoria are gliding around each other doing their best to avoid any further interaction.
Penny looks red and angry still, while Victoria looks puffy and stoned, which, having taken an extra Valium, she pretty much is.
“Have you two stopped fighting?” Marge asks as she enters the room. “Is it safe to come in?”
Victoria and Penny half-glance at each other. “I have,” Penny says, which provokes a groan from Victoria.
“I’ll make tea,” Victoria says, standing. “Anyone want a cup?” Everyone replies except Penny. “I’m assuming you don’t, then?” Victoria asks, still not looking directly at her sister.
“Assume what you want,” Penny says. “You always do anyway. Why let facts get in the way?”
“Ugh,” Victoria groans, already leaving the room.
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with a good fight to clear the air,” Marge tells her youngest daughter, “But you’re a bit old for all this sulking business.”
“I’m not sulking,” Penny says. “I’m angry. She said some very hurtful things.”
“And I’m sure you said some back.”
“She called me a liar and a snob and a–”
“Stop it. You sound like a five-year-old,” Marge says. “Now go and make up before you ruin the weekend for everyone.”
“No,” Penny says. “Not until she apologises.”
“Don’t think you’re too old for me to take you over my knee,” Marge threatens.
“I think you’ll find I am a bit old for that,” Penny replies.
“Penelope!” Marge says. “Stop sulking and go and make up with your sister. Now!”
Both Sander and Martin look up at this unusual use of Penny’s full name. For the most part everyone forgets that Penny even has a full name.
“No, Marjorie,” Penny says, taking her revenge. “You go and make up with her if you want to.” She can hear that she is indeed sounding like a five-year-old, but that realisation doesn’t seem to help her stop. In fact it makes her angrier. Why does the presence of her sister make her regress forty years, she wonders? What’s that about?
“You’re being silly,” Marge says.
“Oh, mind your own business will you, Mum?” Penny says, exasperated.
“And you’re being rude, now, as well. This is my business. You’re my daughter and all this sulking is utterly ridiculous.”
Penny’s anger bubbles over again. It wasn’t so far below the surface after all. “You know what’s ridiculous?” she says. “You lecturing me. You telling me that I’m ridiculous when you’re the biggest sulker of any of us.”
“Me?” Marge says. “I never sulk. When did you ever see me sulk?”
Penny stands to leave, but as she storms from the room, crossing paths with Victoria in the hallway, she lobs her passing shot back into the room like a hand grenade. “Well, to start with,” she says, “you haven’t spoken to your brother for forty years. So I’d call that a pretty epic sulk, yeah?” She then pulls a truly childish grimace at her sister’s shocked face and strides to the coat stand.
Once the front door has slammed behind her, Marge covers her mouth with one hand. “Well!” she breathes.
Sander clears his throat and Martin raises one eyebrow. Then they both turn back to face the TV screen.
“Jesus, Bellerín’s fast,” Martin says as the footballer streaks diagonally across the screen.
“Yes, he is,” Sander replies. “He’s really bloody fast.”
END OF FINAL SAMPLE
If you have now read all 10 excerpts, you have read a total of 15,000 words out of 104,000, ie 15% of Let the Light Shine. I hope you enjoy the rest tomorrow!
Let the Light Shine is out, tomorrow, the 30th September
in Kindle, Paperback and Audiobook formats.
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