Authors: Joseph Connolly
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by
Quercus Editions Ltd
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
Copyright Â© 2014 Joseph Connolly
The moral right of Joseph Connolly to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
HB ISBN 978 1 78087 722 8
TPB ISBN 978 1 78087 723 5
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78087 724 2
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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To the boy and girl
Charles and Victoria
Boys and girls come out to play,
The moon doth shine as bright as day.
Come with a whoop and come with a call,
Come with good will or not at all.
(Traditional nursery rhyme)
I got up at the crack of noonÂ â show a bit willing, make a kind of effortÂ â but it seemed to be far too late for, ohÂ â just everything. I was still in my pyjamas, had them bunched up at the scruff of the waistÂ â no slippers on, or anythingÂ â and then she just hit me with it. I was stunned, and I had to look down, trying to avoid any sight of my feet. Hate them in general, feet, and my two especially. I have to say I was stunned, though: stunned.
âWhy are you leaving me? I thought we were happy.'
âIt isn't really a question of happy, though, is it Alan? Really.'
âIs it not? I thought it was. Oh God I'm so miserable. Don't leave me, Susan. Please don't leave me. I never thought you would, just walk out and leave me.'
âI want another husband. It's simple, really.'
I think I must have been pinkly blinkingÂ â maybe a true white innocence suddenly awake and crawling all over me.
âOh God. Oh God. You're leaving me. You're really going to do itÂ â¦'
âYou're not listening to me, are you Alan my sweet? My sugar. I've not even mentioned it, have I? I said nothing about leaving you. Did I? Mm? All I said is, I want another husband.
You see? Yes? No. You don't, do you? Just look at your face: total blank. Well let me explain it to you, yes? Shall I, Alan?'
âThat would beÂ â¦ niceÂ â¦'
âWell listen, then. I want another husband. With me so far? Good, Alan: good. But not instead of, AlanÂ â no. Not instead. As
asÂ â¦ You see? Oh do shut your mouth, Alan, for heaven's sake do. You look just like a fish. Gaping like that. And don't for goodness sake start worrying about having to
anything, or anythingÂ â I'll take care of all the details, just as I always do. I'll arrange it all. You could give me away, if you liked. Would you like that, Alan my sweet? And of course you wouldn't
be giving me away, would you? Because I'll still be here. And so will he.'
âHeÂ â¦ ?'
âHe. Whoever he may be. Don't know yet. Must be rich, of course. I'm rather fed up with being the breadwinner, now. It's really a bit late for breakfast, anything proper. Why don't you just have some cereal, or something? Apple, maybe.'
Mm. So that, I suppose, was the start of it all. That, I think, must surely have been the moment. And I tried to think that she's joking maybe, is she? But she didn't muchÂ â joke, my Susan. Can it be, then, that she's merely mad? She certainly could seem so, at times, my Susan, and never more so than just lately. It was my being out of work that could have triggered it. I think that's what it must have been. The nub of it. I used to be in advertising, you know.
âIt's a shame, I think Alan, that you had to go and be one of the creatives. Because you aren't really, are you my sweet? Creative. My sugar.'
âMcVitie's Bake a Better Biscuit didn't just tumble out of an actor's mouth, you knowÂ â¦'
âMm yes of
I know that, AlanÂ â of course I do. It was terribly clever of you to think of it, terribly terribly clever. But it was rather a long time ago, wasn't it? That one. And the agency, wellÂ â¦ they can't really have thought you were, can they? Very. Creative, I mean. Because it's hardly the way, is it? Generally speaking. To reward a valued creative by giving him the sack. It's roundabout, isn't it? Oblique. Praise-wise.'
âThey were downshiftingÂ â¦'
âYes. That's what you said at the time. Well they certainly shifted you anyway, didn't they Alan? Out if not down.'
âI think you said that at the time also, you know. More than once, as I recall.'
âWell it's no help at all if you're just going to get into one of your
now, is it Alan? Really. And it's not as if your next endeavour was exactly a runaway success now, is it? If we're being honest. Writing the things in Christmas crackers. Didn't scoop you the Nobel Prize, did it? Wasn't the great novel, was it, that we were always hearing about.'
âI beg your pardon, Alan? What did you say?'
âFortune cookies. They weren't for Christmas crackers, as well you know. They were for fortune cookies.'
âOh yes of course they wereÂ â they were, they were, of
they were. How could I be forgetting a simple thing like that? Because we got them, didn't we? Boxes and boxes of them. Crates of the things. Maybe in lieu of a fee, were they Alan? I never did ask. Did you think those little crackers were better than money, did you Alan my sweet? But of course the electricity people, the gas people, all the rest of themÂ â they're terribly old-fashioned when it comes right down to it, aren't they really? Will insist on
, won't they? No matter how
sweetly you offer them a box of cookies, they still seem to prefer hard cash. YesÂ â¦ those little cookiesÂ â¦ our life seemed rather to depend on them, didn't it? For a long while. Biscuits, of one sort or another. Poor Amanda, she practically had to live off themÂ â took nothing else to school with her for months on end. She said she wouldn't mind, but the mottoes, jokes inside, were just so very awful. Were they jokes, Alan? That you wrote? Were they meant to be funny?'
âNot especiallyÂ â¦'
âOh good. Well this is good to know. I maybe should tell her, Amanda, should I? Amanda, dearestÂ â they weren't actually
to be funny, all those little things your father put into the biscuits. They were in fact meant to beÂ â¦ um, what were they meant to be in fact, Alan my sweet? Wise, were they? Were they meant to be wise, do you suppose? Alan? My sugar?'
On and on. Then I got into hardwareÂ â don't ask me how. I don't mean computers, or anything. Just, you knowÂ â hardware. Simple things. Tools, and so on. I quite like them, respond to them, simple things, if I'm honest. Yearn for the days, really, when the only thing that was the size of a cigarette packet was a bloody packet of cigarettes. That wouldn't up and rattle you with a nursery jingle, when you least expected it. But it's what they say about the genie, isn't it? When it's out of the thingÂ â bottle, is it? Or was it a lamp? AnywayÂ â when it's out of the thing. Can't go back, can you? No matter how much you'd like to. Just can't do it. I don't think it can have been a lamp though, you know. Not what they came in, is it? Genies. Can't think it can be. Anyway. Hardware. There was this shop going, you see, just off the high street. Cheap. Scruffy. Had a bit of money left over from the agency, borrowed the rest at a quite startling rate of interestÂ â the reason for its so being, it
was patiently and even rather cruelly explained to me, was the fact that I did not actually own anything as collateralÂ â something, say, in the way of the sort of business I was seeking to acquire. I didn't decide that here I would found a hardware shopÂ â it already was one.
âBut did you never pause for even just the most fleeting of milliseconds, Alan my sweet, to ask yourself frankly why it should be that the owner was selling? Could the fact that it was tiny and dingy and at the end of a perfectly filthy little alleyway off the high street and a large new branch of Robert Dyas poised upon opening at the very epicentre of the high street itselfÂ â could these facts have had the merest scintilla of
, do you imagine Alan? Or that the local paper was just full to bursting with the likelihood of a Homebase being built on the old airfield not five minutes drive away? Do you think that Mr Greasy thought he would dearly love to call it a day, if only some complete and utter dunderhead would appear from out of a fairy tale and actually give him
for the dump?'