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Authors: Catherine Deveny

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The Happiness Show

BOOK: The Happiness Show
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Praise for
The Happiness Show

“A funny, feisty read. I was hooked from the first page.” – Mia Freedman

 

“Insightful, lusty and irreverent exploration of love and marriage. Great read.” – Claudia Karvan

 

“Lizzie Quealy is as irreverent, plain-spoken and open as you could wish for in a true blue Aussie heroine … [
The Happiness Show
] looks at the serious issues of love, sex, ageing, parenthood and commitment with a light-hearted, cheeky charm.” –
Australian Women's Weekly

 

“A thoroughly enjoyable read.” –
MiNDFOOD

 


The Happiness Show
will resonate with anyone who has looked back fondly at times of untethered responsibility … Meatier than your average chick lit,
The Happiness Show
explores emotional and physical infidelity, but does so with humour rather than finger-wagging moralising.”—
The Australian

 

“This book is tough to put down.”—
Grazia

 


The Happiness Show
will resonate long after you've stopped laughing and long after you've finished the last page.” –
The Hoopla

 

“You may find yourself wishing you had a friend like Lizzie because she is such a force of nature, a truly hilarious and fearless woman.” –
Byron Shire Echo

 

“Each character brings a beautiful slice of life to the pages, as do the flaws and quirks of our lovebirds … Those who enjoy indulging in a sly love story or two – but retch when too much cheese comes into play – should adore this novel.” –
Launceston Examiner

 

Copyright

Published by Black Inc.,

an imprint of Schwartz Media Pty Ltd

37–39 Langridge Street

Collingwood Vic 3066 Australia

email: [email protected]

http://www.blackincbooks.com

 

Copyright © Catherine Deveny 2014. First published 2012.

Catherine Deveny asserts her right to be known as the author of this work.

 

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or trans­mitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photo­copying, recording or otherwise without the prior consent of the publishers.

 

Billy Bragg lyrics reproduced by arrangement with the artist.

‘Throw Your Arms Around Me'

Written by Hunters & Collectors (Mushroom Music Publishing)

Reproduced with permission

 

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:

Deveny, Catherine, 1968- author.

The happiness show / Catherine Deveny.

2nd edition.

ISBN for eBook edition: 9781922231253

ISBN for print edition: 9781863956154 (paperback)

A823.3

Married people--Fiction. Interpersonal relations--Fiction. Love--Fiction.

 

Cover designed by Peter Long

 

 

Prologue

Tom was fourteen. He was playing rugby on the lush green pitch of King's Grammar, Wiltshire, England. Well, he wasn't actually playing; he was staring into the clouds, wondering if his mother was dead yet. Just before the ball hit him in the back of the head, he saw his father and the headmaster walking towards the pitch and he knew. The next thing he remembered was a thud and then blackness.

 

*

 

Lizzie was on the other side of the world in cheerless Sunshine, Australia. She was standing in the lounge room of a commission house with tears pouring down her face. The haze of Winfield Blue smoke and the smell of leftover rissoles combined to create the most depressing stench known to humankind. Poverty. Crushing poverty. Not ‘
Funiculì, funiculà
, we're poor but we're happy' poverty. Not ‘We didn't have much money but we wanted for nothing' poverty. Not ‘Love conquers all' poverty. We're talking missed opportunities, bad choices, resentful, repressed, frustrated, ripped off, pissed off, chip-on-the-shoulder poverty.

The real thing.

The stuff that dreams are made of.

Lizzie was, for the millionth time, pleading with her parents to let her have her school uniform a bit shorter.

‘I'll be the biggest dag in the whole school if I have to wear it this long. I might as well just kill myself,' she cried. Her tears didn't sway her parents. But they did reveal that she was wearing mascara, convincing them (if they weren't sure already) that she was, if not a slut, then well on the way to becoming one.

If only. To crack it as a slut in Sunshine in the mid eighties one needed blonde hair, a size-ten figure, a shell necklace and a name like Tracey, Julie or Sharon. Being a loud-mouthed, plain-looking girl whose legs rubbed together when she walked didn't cut it. Even the skinny, rat-faced boys with names like Boggers, Knackers and Horse had standards.

The rest of the family was watching the cricket. From the outside, their house looked identical to all the others in the street: pitch black apart from the living room, where the television projected an eerie blue flicker. The lights were off; her parents were obsessed with saving money on electricity, although they had no problem spending a weekend across the state border in Albury, pissing their tax return away on the pokies.

Her brothers' bums were stuck to vinyl beanbags that smelt of bacon, paralysed by the stifling heat of a late Melbourne summer.

Her dad sat in his chair wearing football shorts and a T-shirt that proclaimed ‘TEN REASONS WHY A BEER IS BETTER THAN A WOMAN.'

Her morbidly obese mother folded the mountain of clothes on the couch, wearing unmatched thongs and a size-24 polyester dress. The dress had a large grey and green print of what might have been hydrangeas, or might have been a pattern specially designed to make fat people feel worse about themselves.

‘No, Lizzie, you can't have it any shorter. When you bend over everybody will be able to see your pants,' her mum explained wearily.

‘And you'll look cheap,' her dad added.

What would you know, dickhead, she thought to herself as she slammed the door of the bedroom she shared with her brothers. It stank of dirty socks and semen-encrusted sheets. She lay on the bottom bunk, put on her Alison Moyet tape and sobbed.

I hate my parents, she thought. Forever. I wish they were dead.

Lizzie Quealy was thirteen and thought she knew everything. She pulled her diary out from under her mattress and began to draw the layout of the flat she planned to move into after she had run away from home. Then she looked through her scrapbook of favourite wedding dresses. She woke up ten hours later, still in her school dress, in a pool of sticky dribble that had spread all over the Mariana Hardwick collection.

 

CHAPTER 1

It was 8.37 a.m. and already it was hot enough to break a sweat. The day before it had been decidedly chilly. December in Melbourne can be like that. Thermals one day, bathers the next.

‘Are you taking Reuben to kinder?' Jim yelled.

Lizzie glanced up at the clock on her computer. ‘Shit. Shit.' As she bolted down the hall she tied a sarong around her waist. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry. Mea culpa, mate, mea culpa.'

‘Any emails?' Jim jammed the last mouthful of Weet-Bix into Scarlet's mouth, wiped her hands with a bib and hoisted her out of the high chair in one smooth movement.

‘Just one from Trev in London, complaining about the locals complaining about the weather, like that's unusual. A bloke from Birmingham once told me it's not that the English are whingers, it's just that they like talking and everything happens to be shit. Reub, grab your bag or we'll be late. Jim, would you put Scarlet into her bathers before I get back? I'm meeting Julia down at the pool at ten.'

‘Can I come?'

‘Only if you have a vagina.'

‘Can I borrow yours?'

‘If you could, you'd never leave the house.'

 

Lizzie vagued out at the traffic lights, tapping her ring against the steering wheel as two small marbles of sweat chased each other down the back of her neck. The people waiting for the tram looked so desolate. Men in itchy suits and ties. Women sweating through their pantyhose and makeup. For fuck's sake, she thought. Those poor bastards.

A man in a suit pulled up next to her in a Ford Fairlane. He was smoking with the windows up and had wet hair. He looked so, so sad. She was suddenly aware of how she looked. Loop earrings, a Balinese sarong, jewelled pink thongs and the Ho Chi Minh T-shirt, bought in Vietnam, that she'd slept in since Monday. Red hair pulled carelessly back, she was cocooned in her unwashed body, the leftovers of her dreams, the funk of her car and the heat of the day. A sticker on the back of her clapped-out Peugeot 505 said, ‘Magic Happens.' Another one said, ‘Is that true or did you read it in the
Herald Sun
?'

From the back seat, Reuben sang along with the car stereo. Such a funny kid. Never liked the Wiggles but loved Midnight Oil, AC/DC and Billy Bragg. Go figure.

The car behind her beeped aggressively. The lights had turned green. She raised her hand and lowered her head, gesturing that it was her fault. As the car passed she yelled out of her window, ‘Hold your horses, mate. Who died?' Then she realised it was a funeral procession. ‘Good on ya, Lizzie,' she muttered to herself.

The harsh sun baked the road and made the Christmas tinsel sparkle so fiercely you could be excused for thinking it was about to catch alight. What shit weather for a funeral, she thought as they pulled up at kinder.

 

*

 

‘This train is about to depart. Please stand clear of the closing doors.'

Tom filed obediently in with the rest of the sad fucks and stood with his back against the window, facing the door. He watched as a woman loaded with shopping bags and struggling with a baby lurched desperately to catch the train. There was nothing he could do. He knew she wasn't going to make it. But she tried so hard. She ran with an apologetic look on her face, like she was begging the train to wait. He felt the thump as the doors clamped together and the train heaved off. Her defeated expression. Her hopelessness as the carriage pulled away. And he felt a small victory in what had otherwise been a day of failures. He'd made it. She hadn't.

He loved the tube because it was the only place he felt alone. He didn't have to think. He never read or listened to music. His own reflection surrounded by the pale grey wash of tragic faces reminded him of what he had become: a salary man. Today the people around him looked particularly assaulted. Winter had come on so suddenly, at 1.33 p.m. to be exact, that everyone was caught short wearing one layer too few.

He had watched himself grow up in the windows of the tube. Every time he sat down it was like flicking on a documentary of his life. His first memory was of making faces at himself on the way to the West End for the Harrods Christmas sales, and then going to see the lights in Oxford Street turned on by Cliff Richard, Cilla Black or someone else suitably ubiquitous.

After checking out peep shows in Soho as a fifteen-year-old, he would travel home feeling thrilled and dirty. He'd spend the whole trip examining his reflection, wondering whether his dad would be able to tell.

At sixteen he'd adored himself in those windows, wearing his first leather jacket, which he'd bought in Carnaby Street for fifty quid. He thought it was the coolest he'd ever look and he vowed to wear the jacket everywhere, for the rest of his life; to make it his trademark. He wore it to meet up with girls in Trafalgar Square and it never let him down. Tongue-tied, trying to conceal an unwanted erection, he'd plunge his hands through the holes in the lining of the pockets. So desperately wanting to fuck these English roses but not game to hold their hands in public.

Later he would see his face reflected amidst gangs of lads off to see Chelsea be flattened again. He never really cared for the football; he just faked it for the curry and pints afterwards.

The train pulled in at Highbury and Islington in front of an enormous billboard of Kylie Minogue. She was wearing those hotpants. If Tom hadn't been so exhausted he'd have had the same thing all the other men in the carriage had: a semi-boner and a high-quality deposit for the wank bank.

Almost on cue he heard a broad Australian accent: ‘Fuckin' hell, this is our stop.' Two girls in their twenties, weighed down with backpacks, shuffled into pole position at the door. Looking up at the tube map, the blonde said to the brunette, ‘Check that out, Rach – Cockfosters!' They laughed unbridled, life-affirming, I-don't-give-a-shit laughs that pealed through the carriage of uptight commuters.

They've just arrived, Tom thought to himself. They
paid
to be here? Now?

He stood behind them and breathed wistfully in.

After directing the girls (who were meeting up with English boyfriends they'd met fruit picking in Mildura) to Godwin Street, Tom tramped home through the bitter streets. The girls had been so excited. It was their first time overseas and they'd made it, alive and in one piece. They'd negotiated customs, airline food, in-flight entertainment, disembarkation cards, currency exchange and the English public transport system to end up on the other side of the world. Somewhere in Godwin Street were two young lads who'd spent the day cooking and cleaning, and who were going to get a shag tonight even though they'd burn the curry and the couch smelt of pipe water and cat food. How he ached to be one of those lads again.

He remembered arriving in Tokyo all those years ago, looking out the window of the train from Narita airport, watching kids walking to school and realising, ‘People actually live here.'

As he approached home he could see, from quite a distance away, that all the lights were on. As he got closer he saw balloons tied to the gate. It was only then that he remembered it was Celia's birthday party. Oh God, he thought. How far have I disappeared up my own arsehole to forget my own daughter's birthday party? As he got closer he heard twenty six-year-old girls singing ‘I Should Be So Lucky' and remembered the words ‘Daddy, can I have a karaoke birthday party? Pleeeeeeeeease?'

As Tom fumbled in his pocket for his keys, the door was opened by his sister-in-law, Becky, who was on her way out with her three-month-old twins and their monstrous pram. Marcus and Spensley, the babies were called – or Marks and Sparks, as Tom preferred to think of them.

‘You've missed the whole thing. If I were your wife, I'd put you in the doghouse.'

‘And if you were my wife, I'd sleep there.'

‘Ha, ha, Winston Churchill. Would you mind giving me a hand with the pram?'

‘Sure. I'll just put my head in.'

He wandered down the hallway, which was littered with pink wrapping, pink ribbons, fairy bread and fairy wings, and spotted a small boy sitting in the middle of it all. The little boy looked up and pointed a finger at him. ‘Bang, bang, you're dead.'

‘I'm well aware of that,' Tom muttered as he walked towards the kitchen. And at that moment Felicity appeared, glowing and immaculate in cream linen. She offered him a vodka, lime and soda and a big warm smile. This is not what he'd expected.

‘I'm so sorry—'

‘It's okay, darling. I called work and Bronwyn told me. Are you alright?'

‘Not sure.' He kissed her on the cheek. ‘I'll just give your sister a hand getting the twins into the car.'

Tom gave Celia, who was now leading the Macarena, a wave, skolled his drink and picked up a mini pork pie on the way out. How long was it since he'd eaten? He had a vague recollection of a HobNob and a cup of coffee mid-morning.

Becky was standing next to a Saab 9-5 Estate, and it was only then that he remembered she and Keith had traded in their BMW Z4 for this over-priced jalopy to accommodate the twins. He'd forgotten about that; he identified people by their cars and he always needed a period of adjustment to get used to their new vehicle. He was totally opposed to the notion of the family/sports-car hybrid. You either bought yourself an Alfa GTV with a 3-litre V6 that could do 240 kilometres an hour on the autobahn in its sleep, or you bit the bullet and bought a Volvo. And a cardigan.

‘If these kids freeze to death, you owe me five years of IVF,' said Becky as she handed Tom one of the twins, who was zipped up in a pale-blue quilted all-in-one. Tom looked into the face of this little creature and couldn't help thinking he was pretty cute. The little chap smiled at him and for one second, Tom forgot.

Forgot that his business partner, Harry, had left his wife and three kids for his 22-year-old secretary and gone AWOL.

Forgot that he had, single-handedly, managed to lose the firm's biggest private client, the El Hussein family, over a badly timed joke about Palestine.

Forgot that he'd received a polite letter from the tax department, notifying him that his law firm, the firm he and Harry had spent the last eight years building, was being audited.

Forgot that he'd had indigestion and heartburn for so long, he routinely bought two packets of Quick-Eze every morning with the
Guardian
as he stepped off the tube at Green Park.

And forgot that when he'd finally finished work and gone to drive home, he'd found that someone had nicked his car. His Audi A6 with the leather seats and a satellite navigation system with the horniest voice he'd ever heard. ‘In 200 metres, turn left,' she'd purr. ‘Fancy a shag, you saucy computer-generated voice, you?' he'd answer.

He'd forgotten all that until Marks, or was it Sparks, chucked all over his new Ted Baker suit.

‘Was it something I said?' Tom asked as he handed the boy back to Becky, who absent-mindedly offered him a baby wipe. ‘It's alright for him. He's waterproof. I'm 100 per cent Italian wool here. If I wasn't his godfather, I'd teach him a lesson.'

‘You're not,' said Becky as she handed Tom the pram, which he heaved into the boot. ‘You're godfather to the other one. See you on Sunday.'

With a toot and a wave she was off. And Tom's life hit him in the chest like a wrecking ball.

BOOK: The Happiness Show
7.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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