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Authors: Polly Williams

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Afterwife

BOOK: Afterwife
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Afterwife

Afterwife

POLLY WILLIAMS

BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK

BERKLEY BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content

This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishiing Group.

Copyright © 2012 by Polly Williams.

Cover design by Rita Frangie.

“Pora Hanging on Headboard” © Adriana Williams / Corbis.

Book design by Laura K. Corless.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of
copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

BERKLEY
®
is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The “B” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Previously published in the UK as
Angel at No. 33

Berkley trade paperback edition / January 2013

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Williams, Polly, date.

[Angel at no. 33]

Afterwife / Polly Williams. — 1st ed.

p. cm.

ISBN: 978-1-101-61886-8

1.  Motherless families—Fiction.  2.  Traffic accident victims—Family relationships—Fiction.  3.  Widowers—Fiction.  4.  Female friendship—Fiction.  5.  Man-woman relationships—Fiction.  6.  Domestic fiction. I. Title.

PR6123.I5527A83 2013

823’.92—dc23

2012010305

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

ALWAYS LEARNING
PEARSON

For my husband, Ben, with love

Acknowledgments

A big thank-you to Jackie Cantor, Kim Witherspoon, Allison Hunter, Lizzy Kremer, Amanda Ng, Katina Doyle, Andrea Chase, Julia Williams, and, as always, Ben, Oscar, Jago, and Alice.

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

Twenty-three

Twenty-four

Twenty-five

Twenty-six

Twenty-seven

Twenty-eight

Twenty-nine

Thirty

Thirty-one

Thirty-two

Thirty-three

Thirty-four

Thirty-five

Thirty-six

Thirty-seven

Thirty-eight

Thirty-nine

Forty

Forty-one

Forty-two

Forty-three

Forty-four

Forty-five

Forty-six

Forty-seven

One

S
o I get run over by a bus and I am wearing my worst knickers. Huge banana-yellow knickers. I lay there in Regent Street, skirt hitched up around my waist like one of those binge drinkers you see on the news. As a crowd clustered, I panned back from the indignity of that crumpled body, fast, shakily, until the figure receded to a lump on the road, surrounded by a circus of flashing lights. Still, you could have seen those knickers from space.

Am I dead? Not sure actually. Don’t
feel
dead. Maybe it’s that I don’t feel dead in the way that an old person doesn’t feel old. Or I have a phantom self, much like an amputee has a phantom limb. Either way, totally weird. I am a christened nonbeliever who never goes to church apart from midnight mass at Christmas—soft spot for carols and candles—but I don’t believe. Not in that stuff. I believe in a bit of yoga (lapsed). The healing power of cold white wine of an evening (unlapsed). But I don’t believe in heaven. I don’t believe in ghosts. Or angels.

And yet.

I am at my own funeral! Look up. I am here, high near the rafters, where pigeons poo and virulent woodworm has set in, unbeknownst to the gay rev. (Colin. He would be called Colin.) There is a drone, shuffling damp shoes on cold dry stone. It’s my Facebook page sprung to life. Heads down, frowning, they walk solemnly through the church’s heavy wooden doors. They all look at least ten years older than their Facebook profile photographs, ashen faced, wearing charcoal and black and sunglasses, like an army of glum fashionistas. Some I haven’t seen in the flesh for years—can’t quite believe my ex Don Adderson has the nerve to show up after screwing Iris, also here, shameless—and I watch as they sing, cry and, yes, yawn. (True to form, Danny Brixham taps out an email on his BlackBerry during the prayer.)

Among the throng I spot the tight cluster of my Muswell Hill friends, neighbors, school mums, the people who’ve populated my daily life since I had Freddie and moved out to the burbs, the people who make up my favorite coffee circuit in the world. Yep, there’s Tash, cutting a dash in black with red shoes. (Red shoes at a funeral? Me neither.) Lydia, the loudest sobber in church. There’s always one, and if you knew Lydia you’d know it absolutely would have to be Lydia. And Suze, dear old Suze with her wild blonde fro, twitching her speech notes, raring to go. She loves public speaking of any kind (entirely wasted on the PTA—should be running a small nation) and I can see she has written reams of absolute tosh about my role in the school community, the volunteering that she’s repeatedly bamboozled and guilt-tripped me into at the school gates: cake sales, international evenings, Christmas fairs, let’s-make-bunting parties, the 5K I ran in a red polka dot fifties ball gown for the twin school in Bolivia. Standing in the same block, directly in front of them, is my poor darling family. Mum, broken. Dad, disbelieving. Mad Aunt Pat, on the other hand, looking like she’s rather enjoying the drama, certainly the opportunity to wear what looks like a giant Oreo cookie on her head. And then there’s my little sister, Mary. If ever anyone
needed a bit of privacy. Poor sis. And Jenny. There’s my best mate, Jenny, just behind her, who looks like she’s been breakfasting on crystal meth and has put on her makeup in the dark. There is so much I want to say to my dearest Jenny, not least that she always used to say that I’d be late for my own funeral. (Wrong!)

Funeral. That means I’m really dead, doesn’t it? I’m presuming someone’s actually checked my pulse. Damn. What if they haven’t? What if there’s been some terrible
error
?

Ollie’s handsome face says that something terrible has happened. His eyes are puffy, slitty, unlit windows. He is cloaked in a cold blue aura like a surgical overall. While Freddie…No, I can’t go there. My darling, beautiful little Freddie.

Whenever I think about either of them living even one minute longer without me I hear a whistling sound, a terrible hiss, like a vicious wind howling across a featureless moor, and it fills me with darkness.

There are no words.

Five days ago I was alive enough to get riled by the way Ollie stacked the plates in the dishwasher. Alive enough to worry about the six pounds that I’d put on over Christmas and vowing to start the Dukan diet. Alive enough to make a New Year’s resolution, assuming I’d make one the year after that, and that, and that, and…

Okay, let’s rewind. Forget my funeral, here’s how my curtain fell.

Five days ago

It’s only a damp Tuesday night but after the hungover drear of New Year’s Day I am really quite keen to get out of the house, to see someone who isn’t my immediate family. But I am late. I am always bloody late. This time I’ve lost a boot, and this is slowing my progress out of the house. My husband is not helping.

“You love me how much out of ten?” Ollie asks, sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, head resting on his knees, watching me with those heavy-lidded black eyes of his. They are the eyes of a young Italian lover, even though he’s not that young, nor Italian. He’s originally from Wigan.

“Nine and a half.”

“When we first met it was eleven.”

“That was before we shared a bathroom.” I hop down the hall on my solo boot. Daft Punk blasts. “Turn it down, Ol, seriously. Where the hell is my other boot?”

Ollie shrugs, pulls Freddie onto his lap. “We have means of stopping Mummy from going out in sexy boots, don’t we, Freddie?” Ollie and Freddie. Their faces repeat the same features in a different color palette. They look at each other and grin an identical Brady-patented grin.

“Ollie, I haven’t seen Jenny in yonks!”

“Must be at least twenty-four hours.”

“Not since Christmas actually.”

“Sweetheart, it’s January the sixth.”

I ignore him and dementedly start pulling things out of the wicker basket in the hall: gloves, trapper hats, fleecy Wellie Warmers, umbrellas, remnants of Christmas wrapping paper that survived my hungover New Year’s Day cleaning purge. Ping Pong, north London’s least affectionate tabby, pounces on a glove and kills it, shaking her head from side to side with the glove in her jaws. “How can a boot just disappear into thin air? How is this
possible
?”

“Mummy’s boot has made a break for it.” Ollie laughs and nuzzles his nose into Freddie’s blond brush of hair. “It’s passed through the portal into that world of lost things never to be found again.”

“Like Doctor Who.” Freddie nods gravely.

“Like my sunglasses. Did you ever find those flash snowboarding sunglasses that your sis gave me for Christmas, Soph?”

I give him an exasperated look—he is constantly losing things, which is why I suspect him of playing a key role in the disappearance of the boot—and hop into the living room. “No, I didn’t.”

“What’s for me and Freddie’s dinner?”

Annoyed by this assumption—albeit a correct assumption—that I am in charge of all things fridge, cupboard and supermarket, I say nothing and bend down to look beneath our gray velvet sofa, the underworld where Lego bricks and hair balls breed.

“Soph? What’s for supper?”

“Last night’s lentil and hock soup in the fridge.”

“Aww. Can’t we have fish and chips?” asks Freddie. Ollie winks at him. And I know that they will have fish and chips, probably with an artery-fuzzing battered sausage and one of those pickled eggs that looks like a rude body part preserved in a jar.

“Aha!”
Lost object found. I grab a plastic segment of Hot Wheels track and determinedly prod my boot into my reach, then tug it on. My foot collides with something hard and sharp. Transformer. I zip the boot up over my skinny jean and it feels tight, too tight, like the waistline of my jeans, which have also miraculously shrunk. I know that my legs have been stuffed like a Christmas stocking with brandy cream, champagne truffles and mince pies. I know that some long, hard weeks of denial lie ahead of me and this is depressing. I hate dieting. It’s not in my nature. I’d like more of everything, more food, sex, sleep, shoes—and more time. Why am I always running out of time?

BOOK: Afterwife
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