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Authors: Alice Peterson

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Monday to Friday Man

BOOK: Monday to Friday Man
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At the age of eighteen, Alice Peterson had been awarded a tennis scholarship to America when she experienced pain in her right hand. It was rheumatoid arthritis and she hasn’t picked up a tennis racket since. She has written two non-fiction books, a personal story called
A Will to Win
, which has been updated and republished as
Another Alice
, and a family memoir based on her grandmother’s life in Rhodesia. Two novels followed, published by Black Swan. The theme of disability features in her fiction but there is nothing gloomy about Alice or her work. Rather, this gives her fiction the added dimension of true poignancy.

 

Also by Alice Peterson

 

Another Alice
You, Me and Him
Look the World in the Eye
M’Coben, Place of Ghosts

Alice Peterson

 

MONDAY TO FRIDAY MAN

 

 

First published in Great Britain in 2011 by

Quercus
21 Bloomsbury Square
London
WC1A 2NS

Copyright © 2011 by Alice Peterson

The moral right of Alice Peterson 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

ISBN
978 0 85738 324 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 are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Typeset by Ellipsis Books Limited, Glasgow
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

To Bernice and Zek in memory of Alice

 

1

 

‘You slot the capsule into the machine like so,’ the shop assistant demonstrates, positioned in front of a deluxe coffee machine. Her red hair is pinned back into a tight ponytail that swishes from side to side. ‘Press the cappuccino button and there you go!’

‘Wonderful,’ I say, as the gleaming machine gurgles, churns and froths the milk. This Italian coffee-maker was one of the wedding presents I had to return reluctantly.

For the finishing touches she sprinkles chocolate powder into the mug and hands it to me. I take a sip.

‘Well, what do you think?’ she asks.

And that’s when I see him.

I stare into his face.

I knew that one of these days we would bump into one another.

After all we both live in Hammersmith.

I’m still not ready to face him.

My eye is drawn to the watch I gave him for his birthday two years ago. I remember putting it round his wrist, Ed leaning across to kiss me.

Now he can’t even look me in the eye.

A fair-haired woman approaches with a piece of paper in her hand. ‘Edward, darling, have we put the Le Creuset casserole dishes . . .’ She stops, sensing the awkward atmosphere. ‘On to our list?’ she finishes, glancing at me and then back to him.

‘We need to go,’ is all he can say.

The glamorous woman whose groomed appearance gives the impression that she lives in a health spa waits to be introduced, but instead Ed takes her arm and firmly leads her out of the shop.

I exit the cookware department without my deluxe coffee machine and step numbly onto the escalator, clutching the handrail, tears stinging my eyes. I can’t believe he’s getting married! Six months and he’s moved on. How could he?

I overhear hushed voices.

‘Hang on . . . Gilly? Oh my God!
That was
Gilly?’ Her powerful scent fills the air.

‘Don’t talk too loud,’ he insists, before adding, ‘we’ll come back later.’

‘You’d better not walk out on me,’ she says, glancing over her shoulder.

I watch them leave the shop.

When it’s safe to follow, I walk out of the double doors, catching a reflection of myself with froth decorating my top lip.

2

 

‘This is Dorset FM playing you your favourite
hot
summer tunes,’ the smooth-voiced radio presenter says, ‘and here’s another great track from a singer who needs no introduction.’ Next I am belting out, ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ by Lionel Richie as I drive into the open countryside.

Ruskin, my dog, barks in protest on the back seat, before sticking his nose out of the window again, enjoying the wind against his face.

‘What’s wrong, Rusk?’ I call, glancing over my shoulder towards him. ‘I have the voice of an angel!’

He barks again, clearly saying I haven’t and that he’s not too keen on my musical taste either. He’s always been more of a Bach and Mozart man.

I pull over into the side of the road to let a tractor crawl past.

I think I needed to bump into Ed last weekend. I really do.

‘Nearly there, sweetheart,’ I promise Ruskin.

Following a friendly exchange between the tractor driver thanking me for waiting, and me thanking him for thanking me, I drive on.

I’m not going to dwell on it, I tell myself.

Ed looked handsome. Slim and tanned. I’d saved up for months to buy him that watch. I grip the steering wheel. ‘Look, Ruskin, isn’t it stunning? Look at the sheep and all this green space and blue sky! We are going to
love
it here!’

I’m convinced Ruskin and I should move out of London and make a new start in the country. I will miss London; I have so many happy memories. Dancing on Friday nights with my friends. Staying up until five in the morning and then enjoying lazy breakfasts as the sun rose. On Saturday nights Ed and I would usually go to a party or dinner and when we returned home, we’d carry on drinking cocktails and stick some music on and be silly. I loved those evenings. The museums are some of the best in the world . . . though it is true to say I don’t make the most of them. Spitalfields and Camden markets on a Sunday. Ed introduced me to opera. I was never sure I was going to like it, but I found myself falling in love with my evenings at Covent Garden. It’s where he proposed.

It is hard to imagine living somewhere else . . . except recently . . . well, recently things have changed. For me London’s lost its shine. Maybe that’s because I’m single and many of my married friends have moved away. Only this morning did I receive yet another change-of-address card from an old school friend of mine, and on this card was a black-and-white illustration of a family waving goodbye as they ascended the sky in a hot air balloon, with the caption above, THE DIGBYS ARE TAKING OFF!

I drive past a thatched cottage, the front door open, letting in the sun. Now where in London would you be able to do this? Certainly not in Hammersmith, where I zigzag the pavements, avoiding one dodgy-looking person after another.

Late at night all I hear now are drunken voices outside my bedroom window and I wake the following morning to find shards of glass on the road. My car was broken into last week. Admittedly I was stupid enough to have left my gym kit on the back seat. The bastards took all of my CDs except for
The Best of Girls Aloud
.

I arrive in a sleepy market-town square and park right outside Hunters Estate Agents. As I unbuckle Ruskin from his seatbelt, I spot my
A-Z
squashed under the passenger seat, keeping company with an empty plastic water bottle, a heap of crumpled parking tickets and . . . what the hell’s that? It’s some old tangerine peel. I’ll do a major tidy-up later.

Examining the parking sign, I discover with delight that I don’t have to pay. In London I can barely utter my name without being charged, so that’s another good reason to leave.

I open the door and walk into the middle of the room, Ruskin pulling me along at a pace towards a man sitting behind his desk.

‘Gilly?’ He stands up to shake my hand. ‘Gilly with a G?’ he adds cautiously with a wry smile.

I smile back, amazed by his memory. Dad used to say that I’d tell everyone I was different because my name was spelt with a ‘G’ and not a ‘J’. I think the last time I met Richard was in Dad’s kitchen. I must have been about ten; Richard would have been in his late teens. He had longish dark hair, was loud and confident. I remember thinking his cowboy boots were trendy. He’d come over for tea with his father.

I look at him now, guessing he must be in his midforties. I thought he’d be taller, but then everyone is big when you are still growing up. He’s solid in build with a crushing handshake and . . . oh my God . . . such terrible dress sense now! Why is he wearing a glaring yellow tropical shirt with pineapples on it? He must be going through a midlife crisis.

‘Good to see you again,’ Richard says, ‘it’s been a long time. How’s your dad?’ Richard is my father’s godson, and it was Dad who had suggested I see him if I really was keen on moving to the country. Richard’s father,

Michael, and my dad met during their National Service and have kept in touch ever since. I remember Michael and my father reminiscing about getting up early in the morning to polish the toecaps of their boots until they shone like the sun, and constantly being shouted at by the sergeant. I had enjoyed listening to their stories.

‘Please, take a seat,’ he says, surveying me in my denim miniskirt, shades and pink Birkenstocks. I take off my sunglasses. Behind Richard’s desk, mounted on the wall, is a large black-and-white framed photograph of an aerial view of Dorset. ‘Cute dog,’ he comments.

‘Thanks.’ I glow with pride. Ruskin is my rescue dog, five years old and a terrier of some kind with a tail like a palm tree, thick sturdy legs and a handsome head too large for his body. Children laugh when they see him but always want to stroke him. To my mind, he’s the most loyal man in my life and I won’t hear a word said against him.

After briefly exchanging news about each other’s dads, Richard gets down to business. ‘So you’re looking to buy in this area?’

‘That’s right. I want an adventure,’ I say boldly. There’s no reason why I can’t take off like the Digbys, I think to myself.

‘I can’t remember . . . do you have family here?’

‘Yes, yes. My Aunt Pearl used to live in . . .’ I narrow my eyes, trying to remember. ‘Tolpuddle. That’s it. Tolpuddle.’ I remember, as a child, being sent off to Aunt Pearl’s during the summer holidays with my twin, Nick. We enjoyed it. She’d take us to lots of different beaches, and Nick and I climbed rocks and played ducks and drakes in the sea.

Richard crosses his arms. He has a strong square face, curly dark-brown hair and thick eyebrows.

‘Anyway, I drove through some lovely villages this morning.’ I decide not to tell him that some of these villages seemed half-dead, ‘and saw a cottage for sale in . . . Poddlehampton, or was it Puddletown . . . Puddle-something anyway.’

‘Piddlehinton.’ He’s trying not to smile. ‘Would you like a coffee or tea?’

‘Oh. A cappuccino please.’

‘You’re not at Foxtons.’

I blush. ‘Instant’s great, thanks.’

He heaves himself out of his chair, walks up a couple of steps, and then he’s out of sight.

I look around the office restlessly before reaching down to stroke Ruskin, who’s lying under my chair.

I gaze out of the window, telling myself not to think about bumping into Ed and his new wife-to-be any more. When I’d stared into his face all I could think was I used to wake up to that face each morning. I know his every line, the shape of his mouth, the story behind his faded scar on the left-hand side of his forehead. I look down at my hands. She wouldn’t wear chipped nail varnish, or bite her nails. I wonder if Ed has told her the story behind his scar?

I am jolted from my thoughts by noise and cursing coming from the kitchen, and Richard asking me if I want milk and sugar. It sounds as if he’s having a fight with the mugs and the kettle is about to explode. As I watch a doddery man shuffle past outside, pushing a trolley on wheels, a ripple of panic sets in. What am I going to do here? Would I find a job easily? I’d miss my father if I left London. He lives in our old rundown family home by Regent’s Park. I don’t think he wants me to move, but you can never quite tell with Dad. I know Anna doesn’t want me to go. Like me she’s single, and she and I are like sisters. I’d miss my twin, Nick, too. I’d especially miss his children. Still, they could all come and stay, couldn’t they, in my idyllic country cottage with pale-pink climbing roses and a pretty front gate. I can see the girls now, running barefoot around my lawn laughing and playing under the sprinkler. In the evenings we’d have fun picking raspberries from my garden.

BOOK: Monday to Friday Man
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