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?” Continue reading
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. Continue reading
They are walking along the seafront, restricted to a gentle amble by Marge’s presence. It’s a bracing October day, sunny and bright, but with icy gusts of wind that bring tears to their eyes. Because Penny is so behind schedule, and because Martin and Victoria are concerned about inconveniencing everyone with their visit, Martin has insisted on taking everyone out for lunch. Continue reading
The next morning, Penny has barely stepped out of the shower when she hears Sander call out, “They’re here! They’ve arrived.”
She gasps – she’s way behind schedule – then wraps a towel around her middle, and runs up the three stairs that separate their bedroom from the main bathroom. As she passes Sander’s studio, she ducks in and joins him as he looks out of the window. Below them, Martin’s BMW is shuffling back and forth into a seemingly impossible parking space.
“Kiss?” Sander asks, turning to face her. Continue reading
Inexplicably, from Penny’s point of view at least, it takes Sander a full eight days to move the twenty-two boxes of random junk and clothing back from the spare room to the walk-in wardrobe of their bedroom. Eight days, at – she works it out on her iPhone – two point seven five boxes per day. Continue reading
The sun is setting as Penny swings into Wave Crest, the sky lit up like one of Sander’s colour charts. She has rarely, if ever, seen such a spectacular eruption of colour and once she has parked and turned the engine off she sits and stares and allows herself a couple of minutes, a brief, magical pause in what so far has been a horrendous day.
When the rapidly falling temperature within the car makes her shiver, she reaches for her bag from the passenger seat and climbs out.
Indoors, the house is dark and unusually silent. Even the cat, who generally keeps watch, ever hopeful for extra food, is absent. Continue reading
Victoria peers into the oven and then straightens and looks around the kitchen. The dinner, a tray of Delia’s oven-cooked ratatouille and an organic chicken, should be ready right on time, she reckons.
She crosses to the kitchen sink and pulls the squirty bleach out of the cupboard. She particularly likes oven-based meals because once the food’s cooking she can tidy the kitchen entirely and eat without her eyes straying to the pots and pans waiting to be dealt with. There’s something reassuring, she finds, about the cold surfaces of a clean kitchen. She squirts bleach onto the sponge and begins to wipe the worktop. Continue reading
“I didn’t mean anything,” Sander offers softly after a moment’s pause.
Penny blinks at him slowly. “I know,” she replies.
For a few minutes, they eat their soup in silence. Sander thinks about Victoria in Venice and the fact that he mentioned the cost of Christmas and wrestles with his sense of guilt. For they both know that he hasn’t contributed financially for years.
Yes, he still sells the occasional painting, but he hasn’t made any serious money from his work since the noughties. Continue reading
Part One: Two Sisters.
Penny glances at her buzzing mobile then, continuing to stir the soup, she leans over to study the screen on which a single word is flashing: Vicky.
She sighs. She probably has about eight buzzes left before she has to decide what to do. She loves her sister – forty-five years of shared history makes that a given. But it doesn’t mean that Victoria is an easy person to love, and it doesn’t make their relationship an effortless one, either. So Penny generally attempts, at least, to choose the most fortuitous moment in which to speak to her sister. She tries to wait until a positive outcome seems feasible.
She gives the soup another stir as she glances back at her husband, Sander, seated behind her. He raises one eyebrow. She returns her gaze to the phone, now vibrating gently across the worktop, slowly making its way towards the abyss. Continue reading
Christmas Eve, 1975, Margate.
Penny descends the staircase, banging the feet of her doll against the bannisters as she does so. They make a series of satisfying, almost musical, twangs.
The sun is shining through the stained glass window above the front door, casting colourful geometric patterns across the floor tiles.
At the base of the stairs she swings for a moment on the large final bannister. The lounge door is ajar and peering in she can see one edge of the television screen, her mother’s slippered foot, and a single branch of the Christmas tree. Continue reading