Little Egypt (Salt Modern Fiction)

BOOK: Little Egypt (Salt Modern Fiction)
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Little Egypt

 

Little Egypt was once a well-to-do country house in the north of England. Now it’s derelict and trapped on a small island of land between a railway, a dual carriageway and a superstore, and although it looks deserted it isn’t. Nonagenarian twins, Isis and Osiris, still live in the home they were born in, and from which in the 1920s their obsessive Egyptologist parents left them to search for the fabled tomb of Herihor – a search from which they never returned. Isis and Osiris have stayed in the house, guarding a terrible secret, for all their long lives until chance meeting between Isis and young American anarchist Spike, sparks an unlikely friendship and proves a catalyst for change.

 

Praise for Lesley Glaister

 

“Pick almost any paragraph on any page in any of Lesley Glaister’s great fat pile of nine novels and you’ll spot a combination of words snazzy enough to make your heart sing. ” —Julie Myerson
The Guardian

 

“Crime writing of the highest order, creepy ... with satisfying fits of the shivers.”
Sunday Times

 

“Glaister’s rounded gift is to show life as it really is.”
Independent on Sunday

 

“Glaister has the the uncomfortable knack of putting her finger on things we most fear, of exposing the darkness within.”
Independent on Sunday

 

“Glaister’s novels always appear to be as effortless for her to write as they for us to read.”
The Times

Little Egypt

LESLEY GLAISTER
is the prize-winning author of twelve novels, most recently,
Chosen
. Her stories have been anthologised and broadcast on Radio 4. She has written drama for radio and stage. Lesley is a Fellow of the RSL, teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews and lives in Edinburgh.

By the same author

NOVELS

Chosen
(Tindal Street Press 2010)

Losing It
(Sandstone Press 2007)

Nina Todd Has Gone
(Bloomsbury 2007)

As Far As You Can Go
(Bloomsbury 2
004)

Now You See Me
(Bloomsbury 2001)

Sheer Blue Bliss
(Bloomsbury
1999)

Easy Peasy
(Bloomsbury 1998)

The Private Parts of Women
(Bloomsbury 1996)

Partial Eclipse
(Hamish Hamilton 1994)

Limestone and Clay
(Secker and Warburg 1993)

Digging to Australia
(Secker and Warburg 1992)

Trick or Treat
(Secker and Warburg 1990)

Honour Thy Father
(Secker and Warburg 1990)

ANTHOLOGIES
(as editor)

Are You She?
(Tindal Street Press 2004)

Published by Salt Publishing Ltd

12 Norwich Road, Cromer, Norfolk NR27 0AX

 

All rights reserved

 

Copyright © Lesley Glaister, 2014

 

The right of Lesley Glaister to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act
1988.

 

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Salt Publishing.

 

Salt Publishing 2014

 

Created by Salt Publishing Ltd

 

This book is sold subject to the conditions that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, 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.

 

ISBN 978 1 84471 997 6 electronic

For Andrew, once again

PART ONE

S
PIKE’S A THIN
streak of a boy, American, with silver studs in his face and ears, pale matted snakes of hair, and a distinct whiff of the vegetable about him. He hitchhikes when he needs to travel, or else he walks. He doesn’t believe in
money
– marvellous!

We met when he sprang from a skip and landed right in front of me in a tumble of rolling oranges. I screeched and clutched my trolley handle, frightened half to death. He was all solicitation and apology – charm, I’d go as far as to say. We were in the service area behind the supermarket and I’d caught him ‘dumpster diving’.

U-Save throws out huge quantities of perfectly good food just because it’s out of date. A sinful waste and shame, I say, and have said, but do they take heed? Once I’d regained my composure, Spike showed me his haul and offered me a caramel doughnut – delightful. And then he climbed back into the skip and called things out:

‘Carrots? Hummus? Tiramisu?’ and if I said yes he passed them to me and I added them to my trolley. I’ve seen him regularly since then and the same has happened, which does save money, but really the fun is in the sport of it, don’t you know? If I could climb and spring about like Spike I’d do it myself. The beauty of it is that you never know what’s coming next. I’ve been introduced to all sorts of new delights that way: panacotta, globe artichokes, sushi, chicken satay on most useful pointed skewers.

Spike
became
a
friend
to
me

like
an
angel,
you
might
say

and
it
was
Spike
who
set
me
free.

We
were
sitting
on
a
doorstep
in
the
service
area
sharing
a
tub
of
Kalamata
olives.
(Not
the
most
salubrious
place.
Here
they
keep
the
bins
and
skips
and
bales
of
flattened
boxes.
Here
the
dual
carriageway
roars
above
you
and
occasionally
a
hubcap
or
paper
coffee
cup
or
strip
of
rubber
tyre
flies
down.
Here
stray
cats
yowl
and
prowl

there’s
plenty
of
vermin
to
keep
them
fed.
And
here
too,
the
smokers
among
the
U-Save
staff
emerge
to
puff
on
their
cigarettes.
I’ve
spotted
I’m
Doreen
how
may
I
help
you?
,
the
sourest
faced
person
I’ve
ever
met,
puffing
away
there.
Seeing
me
with
Spike
caused
her
orange-pencilled
eyebrows
to
shoot
into
her
hairline.
Most
gratifying.)

It
was
a
late
September
day,
still
quite
warm,
and
I’d
rolled
up
my
trouser
legs
to
sun
my
shins

flaky
and
crinkled
and
mapped
with
veins.
However
did
they
get
like
that?
Each
time
he
finished
an
olive
Spike
ejected
the
stone
forcefully
from
between
his
lips,
aiming
for
an
empty
beer-tin,
but
overshooting.
I
told
him
he
was
blowing
too
hard;
he
demonstrated
that
if
he
blew
more
softly
the
stone
simply
dropped
onto
his
legs.
‘Well,
move
the
tin
further
away
then,
dear,’
I
suggested,
but
he
merely
frowned
and
desisted
from
his
game.

We
turned
to
the
subject
of
dreams

in
the
sense
of
ambition.
His
I
found
grand
but
disappointingly
vague:
peace,
love,
equality,
and
so
on.
Visions
of
the
world
as
it
could
be.
As
he
waxed
lyrical
I
watched
the
nervous
fidget
of
his
hands

fingers
young
and
straight
but
stained
from
smoking,
painfully
bitten
nails.

When
the
olives
were
gone,
he
rolled
himself
a
cigarette.
‘What’s
your
dream
then,
Sisi?’

(You
see
how
I
reverse
my
name?
How
much
more
comfortable
it’s
made,
by
such
a
simple
flip.)

‘To leave,’ I said, nodding towards my home.

‘And go where?’

‘Sunset Lodge. Once I’ve sold up.’

He snorted his derision, but I indulged myself once more in describing the luxury I’d seen in the brochures: reclining armchairs, vast televisions, tempting menus, alternative therapists, a dedicated ‘friend’, parties, seasonal entertainment and a
3
-star suite for visitors.

Spike ground out his cigarette and fiddled with the packet of tobacco. ‘Don’t give in to the fuckers now,’ he said.

‘You asked my dream,’ I pointed out.

We sat in a silence that almost approached the prickly for a while, until he broke it.

‘They still hassling you?’

I shook my head, which was a lie. Stephen, the latest of the developers’ representatives, waits for me twice a week in the U-Save café where I go each morning for my coffee. I conduct all my business in the café rather than let anyone into the house. (Osi would go berserk at such an invasion.) The U-Save Consortium propose to buy Little Egypt – the last remnant of the family property – to raze to the ground and erect what they call a ‘mega-homestore’ and it’s Stephen’s task to win me over.

From the scattered litter, Spike picked up a glossy leaflet advertising this week’s special offers and skimmed it, scoffing. ‘Thirty-six fishy nuggets – buy two get one free – that’s 108 fishy nuggets. The oceans will be fished-out before they’re finished.’

‘And think of all those fish without their nuggets!’ I jested, but he didn’t laugh.

‘What if,’ I said, ‘now don’t go getting on your high horse, dear, but what if a person
did
want to sell a property to someone like, say, U-Save.’

‘Then they’d want their fucking heads examined.’

He moved to a crouch as if about to spring away, but I caught his arm. ‘But what if, for instance, there was something there, something hidden that got uncovered, dug up, say, during the building work?’

He cocked his head at me and squinted. ‘Like Roman ruins and stuff?’

‘Mmm,’ I said, ‘or a corpse, something in that line?’

There was a chink of silver against tooth as he puffed out his lip. ‘Huh, they’d cover it up and you’d never know. Think they’d let anything get in the way of profit?’

Though he was not to know it, these were the magic words that freed me. It was a thought quite new, a revelation. Ever since . . . well for all the years, all these years I’ve supposed that we could never leave, that once
it
was discovered we’d go to prison; Osi, certainly, and perhaps me, too. That’s what Victor believed and left me believing.

I needed to be back home to test the thought. To be alone. If Spike was right, then we could sell and go. Could it really be so? But what of Osi? I flailed about until Spike hauled me to my feet. (My knees are really dreadful, the left in particular. You can get new ones, I hear, though not, so far, at U-Save.)

‘You really think so?’ I asked him.

‘I fucking know so,’ said he.

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