Authors: Kathryn Simmonds
Tags: #epub, #ebook, #QuarkXPress
Part One â With our lovely feathers
1. Saturday Afternoon
2. Life and Death
3. Eco Chic
4. An Alien Mug
6. Woman in a Bath
7. Miniature Scotch Eggs
8. Singing Lessons
9. Green Woman Blues
12. The Arm of the Law
13. A Blast from the Past
Part Two â Down at Greenham
14. Never Trust a Journalist
15. A Collapsible Bike
16. A Pink J-Cloth
19. Curl up and Dye
20. Embracing the Base
21. Stripping the Fence
22. Under the Weather
23. Bacon and Eggs
25. Three Little Maids
Part Three â Gonna Lay Down my Burden
27. Silent Night
28. A Two-Seater Sofa
29. In the Cells
30. Down by the Riverside
32. Miss Student Body
35. The Muncher
36. Feel Good
38. An Orange Tent
Love and Fallout
There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and
We are waist-deep in water and marching. At the poolside our instructor bounces on her toes, her compact body tight-sprung like one of the machines in the gym. âThat's it ladies!' she calls, âkeep working!' Maggie marches behind me as the circle rotates. If she wasn't so keen on Aquafit it's unlikely I'd be here, not on a Saturday morning, but then friendship, like marriage, is sometimes a matter of compromise.
The class is halfway through. The dance music is pounding. I've nearly finished a To Do list in my head when I catch sight of a figure crossing the far edge of the pool â a girl of about twenty, her hair a mass of curls. She raises a hand to wave at someone, and as she smiles my list breaks apart and all at once the past comes crashing in. I jerk my chin back with a gasp as if to keep from taking in water.
âCareful, Tess!' Maggie is at my shoulder. I start moving again before there's a pile-up behind me, trying to keep track of the girl as she heads towards the diving boards to scale the silver ladder.
The lesson continues. It's only a girl, I tell myself. A girl swimming, that's all.
Our instructor is bouncing with new urgency, her voice more insistent, the same tone used at fairgrounds when the rides speed up. Twelve women jump on the spot, spinning invisible hoops on their forearms until their muscles burn. The girl dives into deep water and disappears.
In the changing room, citrus shampoos mingle with the chemical tang of chlorine as we go about the business of dressing and undressing. Pool noise swells and fades with every flap of the swing door.
âHonestly Tess, there it was, large as life. Larger. It practically needed its own introduction.' Maggie is drying her hair with a beach towel. âHe didn't have a moustache in the photo. You need to be prepared for something like that. It wasâ¦' she reaches for the word, ââ¦transfixing. Over dinner, I had to stop myself from feeding it.'
I laugh and button my shirt.
âAnd it wasn't just the facial hair. I mean that doesn't have to be a deal-breaker, but there were other things he didn't mention. Like his age.' Beside us a woman has a foot on the bench and is buckling her roman sandal with infinite care. Never too concerned about discretion, Maggie doesn't seem to notice her lean nearer.
âHis profile said forty-nine, but if he was a day under sixty, I'm an Olympic athlete. Why do they think lying is all right?'
The internet dating has been going on for a while, but the only men she's meeting seem to be deficient in some respect: the one who never paid for anything; the one who turned out to be married; the one who had a previously undisclosed enthusiasm for re-enacting historic battles.
âWe could try Salsa dancing,' I say, thinking that might yield a few possibilities. âDo people still do that?'
Maggie says they do, but wouldn't I rather go with Pete? For a moment I try to picture us in a community hall gyrating our hips. It's been suggested in the room of the two-seater sofa that we should spend more time together â could a Latin beat improve the rhythm of our marriage? Possibly. But Pete's never been much of a dancer â six foot three, beardy, size twelve feet, he's more at home on a rugby pitch. Anyway, that isn't a conversation for the communal changing room and, still musing on the idea of a shared hobby, I wring out my costume as Maggie tells me about a fantastic dress she's spotted.
âJust your colour,' she says, sliding a comb through her bob.
âDo I have a colour?'
âYou know you do â¦ Colour me Lovely?'
A birthday gift three years ago â how could I forget the Colour me Lovely lady? I stood in her living room for an hour while she held material swatches against my face and told me I should be wearing more prune, ivory and sage green. She also said I could do topaz, lemon and pink (as long as it was tawny rather than baby). I thanked her, put my cycling helmet back on and pedalled home.
Maggie slows the comb. âThat was fun, wasn't it?'
My agreement seems to make her happy, and she sings to herself as she fastens an earring. On paper we may seem unlikely friends, but shared childhoods can easily thicken water to blood, and forty years on from our first meeting in a Stevenage back garden where we made perfume from fistfuls of her mum's roses, Maggie's more like my sister. A louder, more extravagant sister.
âDoing anything this afternoon?' I ask.
Her response is uncharacteristically brief and I raise an eyebrow. âAnother date?'
She smiles, âSomething like that,' and whisks her make-up bag to a bank of mirrors. Whatever it is will keep until next Saturday, or a mid-week phone call.
The key to my bike lock isn't in the pocket of my jeans, or the pouch of my shoulder bag, and I'm on my knees feeling under the bench, when I hear someone say
I look up. Her curls are wet now, but it's the girl from the diving boards. At close range, the resemblance turns my heart: the same almond-shaped eyes, arched brows, wide mouth. I move aside. She grabs a towel from the hook and enters a cubicle to dress.
When Maggie reappears I'm sitting on the bench with the bag gaping open on my lap. My legs feel useless, as if from the effort of treading water.
âAre you all right?'
She regards me with a frown, and I nod to reassure her, to reassure myself.
âJustâ¦ I can't find my bike key.'
âTessa, you and keys.' Together we finish the search.
It's usually me with an eye on my watch, but today it's Maggie who's eager to be off into the Cambridge sunshine. But I don't ask any more questions â wherever she is or isn't going is her business. She brushes my cheek in a quick goodbye.
When she's gone I remain on the bench, not wanting to admit what I'm waiting for, or rather who. In a few minutes the girl has finished dressing. I stand, ready to leave. My pulse throbs high in my neck as I approach and ask for the time.
She glances down at her sports watch then into my face.
It is remarkable, her eyes are green, and at the corner of her lip is a beauty spot. I hesitate, wanting to speak, wanting to say
You look like someone, someone I knew years ago.
Could she be a relative? A distant cousin? But nothing comes. Instead I'm simply staring at her while women file past us barefoot towards the pool. The changing room is too hot and I have to get out.
âSorry,' I say, accidentally brushing her shoulder in a move to the door.
With our lovely feathers
Pete lowers his paper and quietens one of his trumpet-playing jazz legends. We exchange a smile and I make sure to give him a kiss, albeit a slightly self-conscious one, because Valeria has reminded us that mutual acknowledgement is important and these small acts of appreciation will help re-establish intimacy. If we're going to keep paying her sixty quid an hour for her advice, I for one am going to take it.
âHow was the class?'
âFine.' My mind brushes against the girl from the pool, then withdraws. âHave you trimmed your beard?'
He passes a hand around his jaw. âNo harm in looking presentable.'
âNone at all.' Something else is different. The Hoover's been out because our worn carpet is without fluff ball or paperclip. âSpring cleaning?' The pile of newspapers usually stacked beside the bookshelves has disappeared; the broken dining-room chair propped against the wall for a fortnight has gone, and there's no hint of the usual low-level clutter. âLooks great.' Pete's obviously trying too.
Assembling a cheese sandwich, I notice the fridge is whiter and all the kitchen surfaces have been recently wiped down. It smells lemony.
âWhere's Dom?' I ask, eating the sandwich standing up.
âWorking on his tan.'
That's a joke. If he's not plugged into Goth Friendly, his social networking site, the details of which he keeps a deliberate mystery, he'll be locked in a garage with his band mates rehearsing for greatness.
âThere's a Hitchcock on soon,' Pete says. But I tell him I should get the seed potatoes in, then crack on with the leaflets.
âWhat leaflets?' His eyes leave the sports section.
âFor Heston Fields.'
âWhy are you doing them?'
âSomeone's got to.'
He asks how much else I'm taking on, and I tell him we're just working out a few ideas then stop because there's a definite wrinkle in his brow, the wrinkle that leads to a frown and then on to the open highways of disagreement.
âYou're running another campaign?'
We've had the Heston Fields discussion. Or row, as it turned out, and as far as Pete's concerned, if the council wants to sell a chunk of neglected land so a developer can build luxury flats there's no point losing any sleep. He calls it scrubland, or backlands, but the truth is, it's public land. All right, it's a bit tussocky, but kids play football there and people cross it to reach the parade that qualifies as Heston's high street. We used to play cricket there with the kids. But I know there's no point reminding him of this because Heston Fields has become what Valeria would call a trigger point. Unwilling to provoke an incident, I stuff my mouth with a final sandwich crust.