Authors: Jane Rogers
|Her Living Image|
|Canongate Books (2012)|
What happens when your husband falls in love with the woman you might have become?
Eighteen-year-old Carolyn Tanner lies in a hospital bed. Recovering from an accident, she imagines herself returning to her parents' home, marrying her childhood sweetheart and becoming a mother. Instead, she joins a women's cooperative and becomes a landscape architect. But as her dream and her real life entangle, she must search to find her true self.
Jane Rogers was born in London in 1952. She read English at Cambridge, followed by a post-graduate teaching certificate at Leicester University. She has worked in
comprehensive schools, further education, and as Writing Fellow at Northern College, at Cambridge and at Sheffield Hallam University. She has paid several extended visits to Australia, where her
family now live. She has also written TV drama, including the BBC adaption of
Mr Wroe’s Virgins
. She lives in Lancashire with her husband and two children.
by the same author
THE ICE IS SINGING
MR WROE’S VIRGINS
Her Living Image
First published in 1984
by Faber and Faber Limited
3 Queen Square London WC1N 3AU
This digital edition first published by Canongate in 2012
All rights reserved
© Jane Rogers, 1984
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or
cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978 0 857 86949 4
At eighteen, Carolyn Tanner was as thin as a stick, with lank no-colour hair which filled her mother with despair. She had the sort of face you wouldn’t notice in a
crowd; especially when she had carefully applied her make-up. The effect of the pearl-grey eyeshadow, blue-black mascara and black eye-liner which she favoured at that age was to make her look
even more ghostly than nature intended. Without a crowd – or the make-up – you would notice her eyes. Not the eyes themselves, which were a pleasant if fairly ordinary clear grey, but
the eyelids. Her eyelids were fuller than is common, framing her eyes with a thick, almost puffy-looking, curve of flesh. That fullness above the eyes was capable of curious effects, making her
look at times as if her eyes were swollen with tears, at other times giving her plain face an exotic sensuality. She was never beautiful, but the combination of small regular features, clear pale
complexion, and that soft vulnerable fleshy roll of eyelid, made up a face that people warmed to.
The day before her accident was a beautiful one. It was June 3, 1972.
Carolyn liked coming home in the afternoons. In summer she was often early, especially once exams started. The estate was quiet, its raw little gardens lying tranquil in the
sun, the grass rectangles with curling-cornered turves and neat snapdragon borders basking purposefully as though they were the only reasons for the existence of the houses.
That summer the heat stood on the pavements and drooped in shimmering layers over the boiled new red-brick houses of the estate. Teachers wryly called it exam weather and claimed that May was
always like this; it did not seem so, to Carolyn. The heat was exceptional, and so was everything else. Everywhere, suddenly, freedom was showing, like light in cracks behind heavy curtains,
shining under doors, showing in pinpoints through keyholes – and brightening, intensifying like the warmth of the sun. Here she was coming home from school at two-thirty on a Thursday
afternoon, and in another month it would be over entirely, exams and all. School would be over.
As she walked up the heat-shiny hill she was happy. In all directions: Alan (still greatly flattered, she was astonished and, yes, delighted); the luxury of coming home alone instead of in a
yowling fighting four o’clock mob; the empty house ahead (which would smell of hot stuffiness, her nostrils tested the air for it already and touched on scents of hot tar, dry earth, cut and
drying grass). Most of all, the English lesson made her almost bounce with glee. She used the word to herself, savouring her feeling; it was glee. How pathetic they were!
In the hot classroom the Venetian blinds had made horizontal stripes which flowed up and down over desks and chairs like contour lines on a map. Lumps was talking about
“What about Anne then? What do you think of her, finally?” Carolyn felt she was a tiger, camouflaged by the stripes of shade, crouching ready to pounce.
“She’s a wet!” said Katie Lawton, in the way that she did, looking round for appreciation of her biting wit.
And then they all chipped in, “Yes, she
, it’s sickening the way she lets them push her around . . . she never does what she wants – how can she pretend she loves him
when she just gives him up? She’s pathetic. . . .”
Carolyn bided her time, waiting, listening.
At last Lumps said ruefully, “Does
one like her?”
Carolyn the tiger pounced.
“I – I – I – she
likeable. And good.” She felt her red-hot blush spreading up her face as everyone’s eyes were on her. “Because–she
– she isn’t wet at all, she does exactly what she thinks is right – and everyone else – in the book – does what they think they ought to do. At the beginning she does
what they say – yes, that’s why it’s called
, but she does because she thinks they must be right and that’s how she ought to behave. And then as she gets
older she manages – as she gets older – she thinks for herself what’s right and wrong – she trusts herself more than what they think –” Out of breath. Lumps
grinning, everyone else still staring at her in surprise. I did it. I told them! Sitting back like a purring cat she only half listened while Lumps went rambling on about Romantic influences on
Jane Austen. I told them. So there!
Arriving home she unlocked the door and pushed it open, standing still on the step to feel the stuffy heat expanding out, and to breathe in the lovely baked atmosphere of empty house. She went
into the lounge, inhaling deeply the airless mix of undisturbed smells: Palmolive washing-up liquid, her father’s pipe, and the simple smell of hot wood and fabric, like ironing. Then she
opened the windows wide and stood waiting for the outside air to flow in, feeling the house air diluting, cooling slightly, its smells fading. That smell guaranteed emptiness. It was the greatest
luxury of all, to come home before her mother.
Carolyn was happy. She had reached a peak of almost-confidence, both in her thin pale looks, which Alan liked, and in her own intellect. She could do it. She was as good as them. She felt the
dizzy excitement of a diver on the highest board, facing the plunge – and the sense that (this was a secret which no one else knew) her own life was special, and would be somehow more
important, more real, than anyone else’s. When she was younger she had thought the same thing about her handwriting, which made her smile now. She used to think it amazing that of all the
styles of handwriting (even in her class in Juniors where they were all taught the same kind of round joined-up writing by Mr Maples) only her own was instantly clear; everyone else’s
presented that momentary obstacle, of looking strange, of being handwriting instead of instant words.
Meg Tanner, walking home from work at the woolshop with her bag full of lunch-hour shopping, tasted like a sweet the image of Carolyn at home studying her books in the nice
Her bag was heavy and her varicose veins ached with a dull pressure on her shins and the back of her calves. She’d tried it with no tights today but it wasn’t worth it, not by the
end of the day. It may be very nice in the morning, but really you need support more than you need the cool. The cool is a luxury, put it that way, the support’s a necessity. Jean said she
wasn’t keen on this heat either, well where’s the pleasure in it when your feet swell up and your corset’s wringing with sweat, where’s the pleasure in that? You
wouldn’t catch me paying to lie and cook like meat in rows on the beach, they’ve got more money than sense.
Nearly five pounds for that wool, it’s daylight robbery. Oh, go on – it’ll suit her down to the ground, you knew that as soon as you saw it in the box, it’s the colour of
her eyes. Sea mist. Nice name too. It’ll look a treat with that flared skirt.
Hearing the sound of a train from down the valley, she faltered in her step, then swapped the shopping bag to the other hand, straightened her shoulders and went on more quickly up the hill.
Crawling along like an old woman, I bet you look a sight. My God though, my blouse is sticking right across my shoulders, it must be in the nineties. Have a bath when I get home. At least you can
breathe up here, a bit. Get the breeze if there’s any going. I’d be going mad down there and that’s the truth – I would.
The Tanners had moved to one of the first houses on the new estate, from Railway Street, three years ago. They had started their married life in a council house, and it had taken them nine years
to get to Railway Street. Railway Street was their own, paid for by Arthur’s hours of filthy silent wrestling with recalcitrant engines, in the small garage that Charlie Watson owned but
where Arthur did all the work. It was their own – but that was about all there was to be said for it. When a train passed every spoon and fork in the drawer had clattered up and down,
separately and together, even after she’d lined the drawer with felt. Sometimes she’d got so she felt like screaming when the trains were coming. It’s no good giving in to it, we
can all be neurotic I always say, but it’s enough to drive you round the twist when they’re every half-hour and you’re waiting for it and expecting it if it’s a minute late,
waiting to be rattled and joggled till your dentures click in your mouth.
Mrs Bateman and Angela coming. She’s a tarty-looking thing, that girl, with her hair frizzed out like that.
“Warm enough for you? It is, isn’t it? We should all go on strike, I say. I like your new hairdo, Angela love, it does suit you.” As she walked on she considered
Carolyn’s hair, which was one of the major problems of her life. Would a light perm help?
Regularly she ransacked the shelves of Boots the Chemist for new varieties of shampoo for her daughter, and the bathroom cabinet was stuffed with half-used bottles, discarded temporarily in
favour of the latest seductive purchase: Silvikrin lemon and lime for greasy hair, Vosene medicated for dull lifeless hair, Sunsilk conditioner for light flyaway hair, Wella herbal cream rinse (to
add body), Johnson’s baby shampoo for frequently washed hair, and Bristow’s Free and Lovely (for any sort of hair that wasn’t). You name it, it’s wrong with my
Carolyn’s hair. Always thought she’d grow out of it, but no, eighteen and she’s still got hair like a baby, too fine to hold a curl or style at all. It wouldn’t be so bad if
it didn’t get so greasy. She smiled to see in her mind’s eye Carolyn’s despairing demonstration of what it was like when she put on her new synthetic jumper. One side of her hair
stuck flat to her head with static, the other stood on end and waved slowly up and down like a dishcloth boiling in the pan.
She noticed the new paint at number fourteen – like a sore thumb, bright orange. It’s time Arthur gave that back door another coat. I’ll have to remind him. He can give his
blessed allotment a miss for once. Get that shawl finished tonight, Jean can put it in the window tomorrow and take the fisherman’s rib out. Never sell a thing like that this weather, stands
to sense. As she thought of Jean she remembered with disproportionate anger Jean’s remark that afternoon. Meg had said something about Carolyn being good – in the house, or something,