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First published in Great Britain under the title
The Point of Rescue
by Hodder & Stoughton 2008
Published in Penguin Books 2009
Copyright © Sophie Hannah, 2008
All rights reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
eISBN : 978-1-101-15945-3
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International Praise for
The Wrong Mother
‘Sophie Hannah just gets better and better. Her plots are brilliantly cunning and entirely unpredictable. The writing is brilliant and brings us uncomfortably close to the dark, ambivalent impulses experienced by the parents of difficult, demanding children.’—
‘Sophie Hannah’s ingenious, almost surreal mysteries are so intricately constructed that it’s impossible to guess how they will end.’—
‘The fresh and the original have been Hannah’s hallmark since her debut,
The Wrong Mother
is her most accomplished novel yet. As the revelations tumble forth, the tension is screwed ever tighter until the final shocking outcome. Exemplary.’—
‘Hannah is fast developing a reputation as one of the best new thriller writers around. This (
The Wrong Mother
) leaves you wrong-footed throughout, with a corker of a twist.’—
The London Paper
The Wrong Mother
is a pacy page-turner and a searing account of the challenges of motherhood.’
‘This is a superior exercise in storytelling that takes time away from the killer-on-the-loose cop chase to reflect on the chillingly plausible thin line between parenting and psychosis.’—
‘It’s the psychological depth that ensures Sophie Hannah’s novels stand out in a crowded market.’—
‘[Hannah’s] characterisation is first-rate, and the sinuous plot contains a jaw-dropping revelation and some neat final twists.’—
‘Hannah doesn’t allow the tension to slacken for a second in this addictive, brilliantly chilling thriller.’
‘Hannah reinforces her reputation as a great new thriller writer. Chilling, compulsive and with a genius twist.’
‘Sophie Hannah has demonstrated a firm hold on the psychologically tense novel, quickly establishing herself as a writer of top-notch thrillers.’—
Table of Contents
THE WRONG MOTHER
SOPHIE HANNAH is an award-winning poet who won first prize in the Daphne du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition. She is the author of
, an international bestseller. Sophie lives in Yorkshire, England, with her husband and two children.
For Susan and Suzie
Monday, 6 August 2007
Or your family.
The last three words are yelled, not spoken. As Pam elbows her way through the crowd in front of me, I hear nothing apart from that last spurt of viciousness, her afterthought. She made it four syllables instead of five: ‘Or your fam-ly’; four blows that thump in my mind like a boxer’s jabbing fist.
Why bring my family into it? What have they ever done to Pam?
Beside me, several people have stopped to stare, waiting to see how I will react to Pam’s outburst. I could shout something after her but she wouldn’t hear me. There is too much noise coming from all directions: buses screeching around corners, music thumping out of shop doorways, buskers beating unsubtle notes out of their guitar strings, the low metallic rumble of trains into and out of Rawndesley station.
Pam is moving away from me fast, but I can still see her white trainers with luminous patches on the heels, her solid, square body and short, aubergine-coloured spiky hair. Her livid departure has cut a long, straight furrow out of the moving carpet of people. I have no intention of following her, or looking as if I am. A middle-aged woman whose shopping bags have carved deep pink grooves into the skin on her arms repeats, in what she probably imagines is a loud whisper, what Pam said to me, for the benefit of a teenage girl in shorts and a halter-necked top, a newcomer to the scene.
I shouldn’t care that so many people heard, but I do. There is nothing wrong with my family, yet thanks to a purple-haired midget I am surrounded by strangers who must be convinced that there is. I wish I’d called Pam that to her face instead of letting her have the last word. The last three words.
I take a deep breath, inhaling traffic fumes and dust. Sweat trickles down both sides of my face. The heat is thick; invisible glue. I’ve never been able to handle hot weather. I feel as if someone is blowing up a concrete balloon inside my chest; this is what anger does to me. I turn to my audience and take a small bow. ‘Hope you enjoyed the show,’ I say. The girl in the halter-necked top smiles at me conspiratorially and takes a sip from the ridged plastic cup she’s holding. I want to punch her.
Once I’ve out-stared the last of the gawpers, I start to march in the direction of Farrow and Ball, trying to burn off some of my indignant energy. That’s where I was going, to pick up paint samples, and I’m damned if I’ll let Pam’s tantrum change my plans. I push through the mobile crush of bodies on Cadogan Street, elbowing people out of my way and enjoying it a bit too much. It’s myself I’m furious with. Why didn’t I reach out and grab Pam by her ridiculous hair, denounce her as she had denounced me? Even an uninspired ‘Fuck off’ would have been better than nothing.
Inside Farrow and Ball someone has turned the air-conditioning up too high; it whirs like the inside of a fridge. The place is empty of customers apart from me and a mother and daughter. The girl has bulky metal braces on her top and bottom teeth. She wants to paint her bedroom bright pink, but her mother thinks white or something close to white would be better. They squabble in whispers in the far corner of the shop. This is the way people ought to argue in public: quietly, making sure that as few words as possible are overheard.
I tell the sales assistant who approaches me that I am just browsing, and turn to face a wall of colour charts: Tallow, String, Cord, Savage Ground. I’m supposed to be thinking about paint for Nick’s and my bedroom.
Tallow, String, Cord . . .
I stand still, too full of rage to move. The sweat on my face dries in sticky streaks.
If I see Pam again when I leave here, I’ll knock her to the ground and stamp on her head. She’s not the only one who can take things up a notch. I can overreact with the best of them.
I can’t shop if I’m not in the mood, and I’m definitely not in the mood now. I leave the chilled air of Farrow and Ball behind me and head back out into the heat, embarrassed by how shaken I feel. I scan Cadogan Street in both directions but there is no sign of Pam. I probably wouldn’t knock her to the ground—in fact, I definitely wouldn’t—but it makes me feel better to imagine for a few seconds that I am the sort of person who strikes quickly and ruthlessly.
The multi-storey car park is on the other side of town, on Jimmison Street. I sigh, knowing I’ll be dripping with sweat by the time I get there. As I walk, I rummage in my handbag for the ticket I’ll need to feed into the pay-station slot. I can’t find it. I try the zipped side pocket but it’s not there either. And I’ve forgotten, yet again, to make a note of where I left my car, on what level and in which colour zone. I am always in too much of a hurry, trying to squeeze in a shopping trip that has been endlessly postponed and has finally become an emergency between work and collecting the children. Is there something about work I need to remember? Or arrange? My mind rushes ahead of itself, panicking before any cause for panic has been established. Do I remember where I put the scoping study I did for Gilsenen? Did I fax my sediment erosion diagrams to Ana-Paola? I think I did both.
There’s probably nothing important that I’ve forgotten, but it would be nice to be certain, as I always used to be. Now that I have two small children, my work has an added personal resonance: every time I talk or write about Venice’s lagoon losing dangerous amounts of the sediment it needs to keep it healthy, I find myself identifying with the damn thing. Two strong currents called Zoe and Jake, aged four and two, are sluicing important things from my brain that I will never be able to retrieve, and replacing them with thoughts about Barbie and Calpol. Perhaps I should write a paper, complete with scientific diagrams, arguing that my mind has silted up and needs dredging, and send it to Nick, who has a talent for forgetting he has a home life while he is at work. He is always advising me to follow his example.
Only forty minutes to get to nursery before it closes. And I’m going to waste fifteen of those running up and down concrete ramps, panting, growling through gritted teeth at the rows of cars that stubbornly refuse to be my black Ford Galaxy; and then because I’ve lost my ticket I’ll have to find an official and bribe him to raise the barrier to let me out, and I’ll arrive late at nursery again, and they’ll moan at me
, and I haven’t got my paint samples, or the toddler reins I was supposed to buy from Mothercare, to stop Jake wriggling free from my grasp and launching himself into the middle of busy roads. And I can’t come into Rawndesley again for at least a week, because the Consorzio people are arriving tomorrow and I’ll be too busy at work . . .
Something hits me hard under my right arm, whacking into my ribs, propelling me sharply to the left. I reel on the kerb, trying to stay upright, but I lose my balance. The tarmac of the road is on a slant, tilting, rising up to meet me. Behind me, a voice yells, ‘Watch out, love—watch . . .’ My mind, which was hurtling in the direction of anticipated future catastrophes, screeches to a halt as my body falls. I see the bus coming—almost on top of me already—but I can’t move out of its path. As if it is happening somewhere far away, I watch a man lean forward and bang his fist on the side of the bus, shouting, ‘Stop!’