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Authors: Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday

BOOK: Mothering Sunday
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Also by Graham Swift

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England and Other Stories

First published in Great Britain by Scribner,

an imprint of Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016


Copyright © Graham Swift 2016

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.

No reproduction without permission.

® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

and design are registered trademarks of The Gale Group, Inc., used under licence by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

The right of Graham Swift to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

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222 Gray’s Inn Road

London WC1X 8HB

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN HB: 978-1-47115-523-9

ISBN eBook: 978-1-47115-525-3

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Typeset in the UK by M Rules

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd are committed to sourcing paper that is made from wood grown in sustainable forests and supports the Forest Stewardship Council, the leading
international forest certification organisation. Our books displaying the FSC logo are printed on FSC certified paper.

For Candice

go to the ball!



Once upon a time, before the boys were killed and when there were more horses than cars, before the male servants disappeared and they made do, at Upleigh and at Beechwood,
with just a cook and a maid, the Sheringhams had owned not just four horses in their own stable, but what might be called a ‘real horse’, a racehorse, a thoroughbred. Its name was
Fandango. It was stabled near Newbury. It had never won a damn thing. But it was the family’s indulgence, their hope for fame and glory on the racecourses of southern England. The deal was
that Ma and Pa—otherwise known in his strange language as ‘the shower’—owned the head and body and he and Dick and Freddy had a leg each.

‘What about the fourth leg?’

‘Oh the fourth leg. That was always the question.’

For most of the time it was just a name, never seen, though an expensively quartered and trained name. It had been sold in 1915—when he’d been fifteen too. ‘Before you showed
up, Jay.’ But once, long ago, early one June morning, they’d all gone, for the strange, mad expedition of it, just to watch it, just to watch Fandango, their horse, being galloped over
the downs. Just to stand at the rail and watch it, with other horses, thundering towards them, then flashing past. He and Ma and Pa and Dick and Freddy. And—who knows?—some other
ghostly interested party who really owned the fourth leg.

He had a hand on her leg.

It was the only time she’d known his eyes go anything close to misty. And she’d had the clear sharp vision (she would have it still when she was ninety) that she might have gone with
him—might still somehow miraculously go with him, just him—to stand at the rail and watch Fandango hurtle past, kicking up the mud and dew. She had never seen such a thing but she could
imagine it, imagine it clearly. The sun still coming up, a red disc, over the grey downs, the air still crisp and cold, while he shared with her, perhaps, a silver-capped hip flask and, not
especially stealthily, clawed her arse.

But she watched him now move, naked but for a silver signet ring, across the sunlit room. She would not later in life use with any readiness, if at all, the word
‘stallion’ for a man. But such he was. He was twenty-three and she was twenty-two. And he was even what you might call a thoroughbred, though she did not have that word then, any more
than she had the word stallion. She did not yet have a million words. Thoroughbred: since it was ‘breeding’ and ‘birth’ that counted with his kind. Never mind to what actual

It was March 1924. It wasn’t June, but it was a day like June. And it must have been a little after noon. A window was flung open, and he walked, unclad, across the sun-filled room as
carelessly as any unclad animal. It was his room, wasn’t it? He could do what he liked in it. He clearly could. And she had never been in it before, and never would again.

And she was naked too.

March 30th 1924. Once upon a time. The shadows from the latticework in the window slipped over him like foliage. Having gathered up the cigarette case and lighter and a little silver ashtray
from the dressing table, he turned, and there, beneath a nest of dark hair and fully bathed by sunshine, were his cock and balls, mere floppy and still sticky appendages. She could look at them if
she liked, he didn’t mind.

But then he could look at her. She was stretched out naked, except for a pair—her only pair—of very cheap earrings. She hadn’t pulled up the sheet. She had even clasped her
hands behind her head the better to look at him. But he could look at her. Feast your eyes. It was an expression that came to her. Expressions had started to come to her. Feast your eyes.

Outside, all Berkshire stretched out too, girded with bright greenery, loud with birdsong, blessed in March with a day in June.

He was still a follower of horses. That is, he still threw money away on them. It was his version of economising, to throw money away. For nearly eight years he’d had money for three, in
theory. He called it ‘loot’. But he would show he could do without it. And what the two of them had been doing for almost seven years cost, as he would sometimes remind her, absolutely
nothing. Except secrecy and risk and cunning and a mutual aptitude for being good at it.

But they had never done anything like this. She had never been in this bed before—it was a single bed, but roomy. Or in this room, or in this house. If it cost nothing, then this was the
greatest of gifts.

Though if it cost nothing, she might always remind him, then what about the times when he’d given her sixpences? Or was it even threepences? When it was only just beginning, before it
got—was it the right word?—serious. But she would never dare remind him. And not now anyway. Or dare throw at him the word ‘serious’.

He sat on the bed beside her. He ran a hand across her belly as if brushing away invisible dust. Then he arranged on it the lighter and ashtray, retaining the cigarette case. He took two
cigarettes from the case, putting one in her own proffered, pouting lips. She had not taken her hands from the back of her head. He lit hers, then his. Then, gathering up the case and lighter to
put on the bedside table, he stretched out beside her, the ashtray still positioned halfway between her navel and what these days he would happily, making no bones about it, call her cunt.

Cock, balls, cunt. There were some simple, basic expressions.

It was March 30th. It was a Sunday. It was what used to be known as Mothering Sunday.

‘Well, you have a gorgeous day for it, Jane,’ Mr Niven had said as she brought in fresh coffee and toast.

‘Yes, sir,’ she’d said and she’d wondered quite what he meant by ‘it’ in her case.

‘A truly gorgeous day.’ As if it were something he had generously provided. And then to Mrs Niven, ‘You know, if someone had told us it was going to be like this, we might as
well have all packed hampers. A picnic—by the river.’

He said it wistfully, yet eagerly, so that, putting down the toast rack, she’d thought for an instant there might actually be a change of plan and she and Milly would be required to pack a
hamper. Wherever the hamper
, and whatever they were supposed to put in it at such inconsiderate notice. This being

And then Mrs Niven had said, ‘It’s March, Godfrey,’ with a distrusting glance towards the window.

Well, she’d been wrong. The day had only got better.

And anyway the Nivens had their plan, on which the weather could only smile. They were to drive to Henley to meet the Hobdays and the Sheringhams. Given their common predicament—which only
occurred once a year and only for a portion of one day—they were all to meet for lunch at Henley and so deal with the temporary bother of having no servants.

It was the Hobdays’ idea—or invitation. Paul Sheringham was to marry Emma Hobday in just two weeks’ time. So the Hobdays had suggested to the Sheringhams an outing for lunch:
an opportunity to toast and talk over the forthcoming event, as well as a solution to Sunday’s practical difficulty. And then because the Nivens were close friends and neighbours of the
Sheringhams and would be honoured guests at the wedding (and would have the same difficulty), the Nivens—as Mr Niven had put it to her when first notifying her of these arrangements—had
been ‘roped in’.

BOOK: Mothering Sunday
10.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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