Authors: Lesley Pearse
‘Have you got any idea of what it felt
like to arrive home here and find my wife had killed herself?’ he shouted at
‘Of course I have. I found her,
remember? Lying in a bath of blood. Is finding your mother dead less traumatic than a
wife? But I didn’t turn on you.’
‘It was you who drove her to
it,’ he said, walking menacingly towards her, his handsome face suddenly twisted
and ugly. ‘Truanting from school, hanging around with guttersnipes, dressing like
some gothic tart, and taking drugs. All those times you stayed out and we hadn’t a
clue where you were.’
She became scared then, afraid he might hit
her. But she had to stand her ground. ‘That was all over years ago, and you know
it,’ she retorted. ‘I couldn’t keep up with my school work, and I was
bullied too. I only ever smoked a bit of dope, nothing worse, almost everyone does that.
I expect even your precious Sophie does. Maybe you ought to look to yourself to find out
why Mum didn’t want to live any more.’
She didn’t wait for his reaction to
that, but picked up her last box and hurried out. She half expected him to come out
after her, but he didn’t.
Ben came running out just as she was
starting up her car, and he looked really upset. ‘I heard all that,’ he
admitted, leaning into her car window. ‘He’s been so mean to you, and he
deserved what you said. But I’m not like him, Eva. You’re my sister, and I
‘Nothing will change between
us,’ she said, reaching up and caressing his cheek. ‘You’ve got my
address and work phone number, so ring me if you want to come round, you’ll be
welcome any time. I love you too, Ben. But I won’t come back here, not
As she drove down the drive for the last time,
tears were pouring down her face. All her memories were here: leaving for her first day
at school holding her mother’s hand, learning to ride a bike, and to swim.
She’d pushed both Ben and Sophie around the garden in their prams, thinking they
were real-life dolls. So many happy Christmases and birthdays. In barely a week’s
time she would be twenty-one, and the only person that date meant anything to, other
than her, was gone. Ben might keep in touch for a while, but once he got to university
he’d forget about her. Sophie was probably eyeing up her old room even now,
because it was bigger than hers. The only time she would give a thought to her elder
sister was when Andrew expected her to iron his shirts and tidy up.
‘Don’t think about it any
more,’ she murmured to herself now as she put her cassette player on the table,
and plugged her television in.
She would make new friends here, and she had
the ones at work too. She could go where she wanted, be with whoever she wanted. She
didn’t need anything from Andrew Patterson.
A week later, on the 26th of April, a rap
on the door quickly followed by Tod shouting out that it was ‘wine
o’clock’ made Eva swiftly zip up her new dress and rush to open the
‘Gosh, you look gorgeous,’ he
said, waving a bottle of wine at her. ‘Don’t let me down by telling me
you’ve got a date.’
It was an auspicious day for her. It was her
twenty-first birthday, and this morning she’d received notification that the
balance in the building society account her mother had used for the rent on the London
studio had been transferred to her and she only had to go into the local branch to get
her passbook. She’d gone there in her lunch hour to find there was £6,040 in the
She couldn’t believe it was such a large
sum. She had never expected to get anything more than a few hundred, and it was all she
could do not to shout it from the rooftops.
Mr Bailey had sent her a birthday card. With
it was a letter explaining that the last tenant in the studio had left after not paying
the rent for several months, and she should be prepared to find the place in a bad
state. He had added that if she decided to sell it, he would be glad to do the legal
work for her.
Yesterday she’d been to a
hairdresser’s that opened late and had blonde highlights and a new cut. She had
been wearing her hair long and straight for the last couple of years, but in a moment of
wanting an entirely new image, partly because of Tod, she’d decided a jaw-length
bob and some highlights might suit her better.
She was thrilled with her new look; her hair
felt marvellous, so much thicker and bouncier. It made her brave enough today to try on
the slinky turquoise sleeveless dress she’d admired in the catalogue at work. To
her amazement it looked really good on her, as she appeared to have lost a bit of weight
since her mother died.
‘No date. But I was hoping someone
might ask me to go down the pub with them, as it’s my birthday.’
‘Oh shit, why didn’t you give me
some warning so I could get you a card?’ he said as he came into the room.
‘I’m not so sad that I have to
announce my birthday in advance.’ She laughed.
‘Fortuitous that I bought some vino
then,’ Tod said, but stopped short when he saw the cards on the mantelpiece.
‘Double shit, it’s your twenty-first!’
There were only three cards: the one from Mr
Bailey, one from Ben and Sophie, and a third large one signed by everyone at work.
They’d had a whip-round and bought her a
Chanel No. 19 gift set.
Olive had given her a lovely tan leather handbag.
‘It’s just another day in
paradise,’ Eva giggled. ‘Now pour that wine.’
She liked Tod so much. The day after she
moved in, he’d knocked and said he was going to the launderette and asked if she
would like to go with him so she’d know where it was. She had never expected that
something as mundane as going to a launderette could be so much fun. Tod could talk
about anything; he observed stuff about people and made her laugh with it.
She could see from the small mountain of
washing that he only tackled it when he’d got nothing clean left to wear. As she
carefully smoothed out and folded his clean clothes, he watched her with amusement.
‘I bung everything in the bag as it
comes out of the dryer,’ he said.
‘If you do it like this, nothing will
need ironing,’ she said.
‘Ironing!’ he exclaimed.
Since then Tod had knocked on her door
several times, mostly to cadge something – tea bags or some milk – but he usually stayed
a little while for a chat. His visits shortened the evenings, and they took her mind off
her mother’s death and Andrew being so nasty.
She’d kept her resolve not to tell him
about the recent events, portraying herself as a happy, independent career girl, and
hoping that in time she would actually feel that was what she was.
‘Then I’d better take you down
the pub, not just because it’s such an important day, but because you look so
gorgeous,’ he said as he looked at her cards. ‘There isn’t one from
your mum and dad. Why’s that? Surely they haven’t forgotten?’
She said the first thing that came into her
head. ‘I’m going
there tomorrow for lunch. And I’d
love to go to the pub with you. Now, about that wine? Are you going to pour me a
It was a lovely evening. First, the pub
where Tod announced to all and sundry that it was her twenty-first, and everyone bought
her drinks and made a fuss of her. Then, when the pub closed, they went on to a club
around the corner where the music was so loud it was impossible to talk to anyone and so
crowded there was barely room to dance either. Eva was happily drunk, content to watch
her new friends being silly together, yet feeling protected from approaches by predatory
lone males, because she was part of a group.
When a drunken man became very insistent
that she dance with him, Tod stepped in.
‘Sorry, mate, she’s spoken
for,’ he said and, putting his arm around her, he drew her on to the dance
He had been dancing ever since they got into
the club. As he put both his arms around her and drew her to his chest, it felt like he
was on fire. ‘Phew, you’re hot!’ she exclaimed.
‘And so are you,’ he said.
‘But not in the sweaty way, like me.’
Eva giggled at the compliment.
‘You don’t know how lovely you
are, do you?’ he said, catching hold of her face with both hands and looking into
No boy had ever said anything like that to
her, but she assumed he’d only said it because he was drunk. Yet his hands on her
face, lips so close to hers, were making her heart beat faster. It was so tempting to
just sink into it, to let him kiss her, but she knew where that would lead.
In the past she hadn’t had a place of
her own to take anyone. But she’d been with boys to their flats, or in their cars,
and afterwards it was always the same, they gave her that
was I thinking of?’ look. The muttered ‘I’ll ring you’, which
they never did. From sixteen to eighteen there had been so many shaming times like that.
The last one, just before her eighteenth birthday, was the worst. He’d been so
rough with her, virtually rape, and then after he’d had his way he turned her out
of his car and drove off, leaving her to walk home alone.
That was the wake-up call she’d needed
and she realized she had to change or she would spend her life being humiliated. She
looked at herself long and hard in a mirror, and accepted that she was short, rather
plain, overweight, and that it was unlikely any boy was going to want her for anything
other than casual sex. She realized too that the so-called friends she hung around with
were toxic for her. She had copied their goth look, heavy drinking, drug taking and
promiscuous behaviour in an effort to fit in, and if she didn’t break away from
them she would end up in the gutter.
She got the job at Oakley and Smithson a few
weeks later. She had seen Miss Olive Oakley’s horrified expression when she walked
into her office for the interview, and in that second she knew she had to reinvent
herself if she wanted to get anywhere at all. But Olive must have seen something in her
to like, because she got the job.
Everything changed for her then. Her first
port of call was to a hairdresser, where she got them to re-dye her hair to tone down
the heavy black, get rid of the purple streaks and cut off all the straggly bits. Next
out was the heavy make-up and the black grungy clothes. She turned up for her first day
at work in a suit her mother had bought her, which at the time she had ridiculed as
being ‘Normal Norah’.
Olive’s smile of approval on Monday
morning was enough to convince her that her new image was the right one.
It was far easier living with approval than
being nagged at
constantly. She loved her job, started having driving
lessons, and she found out that staying home at night to watch television with the
family and helping around the house made for a more tranquil life.
The girls at work often gently teased her
because she hadn’t got a boyfriend, and she had learned to make a joke of it
herself, claiming she was waiting for Mr Right. She’d been chatted up by the van
drivers at work, and on nights out with the girls from work there had been a few blokes
who bought her a drink and flirted with her. But she’d never once let it go
further than that.
In well over three years, Tod was the first
boy she’d met that she really did want. She loved his sense of humour, his
interest in people, the way he could chat about anything, and that he was a gentleman.
But even now when it seemed that he really liked her, she was too afraid of waking up in
her bed with him in the morning and seeing remorse or horror on his face to take a
So she just grinned at him. ‘And you
are very drunk, Tod,’ she said. ‘It’s been a brilliant evening, but
don’t get soppy on me now. I want to go home.’
Tod lurched off to his room when they got
back, and she went to hers. But once she’d got into bed she found herself crying.
It seemed to her that she’d been lonely for most of her life. Not alone, because
there had always been her family and other people around, but it was a loneliness that
came of having no one to share her thoughts and dreams with, no one she could tell about
moments like this, when she didn’t feel she belonged anywhere.
She woke at half past nine the next morning
with a thumping headache, and remembered she’d told Tod she was going to see her
family to celebrate her birthday. She wanted to stay
in bed, but she
knew she must go out, and stay out all day. So she got up, made tea and took some
painkillers, then showered, got dressed and put make-up on.
Driving to Bath to have a look around seemed
the best idea. Maybe she could buy herself a piece of jewellery, and when she got back
she could pretend it was a birthday present from her parents.
It turned out to be a long, dreary and
lonely day. Bath was full of tourists, as it always was in the spring and summer, and
though she’d always loved coming here for the day with her mother, wandering
around the narrow streets with all the little specialist shops, checking out the vintage
clothes shops in Walcot Street, or even going for a walk in Victoria Park, it was no fun
on her own. Stopping to have some lunch in a cafe full of couples and friends only
heightened the feeling of loneliness still more.
She bought a silver bangle, a pretty tea
towel and a tablecloth, and as the shops were closing she drove home. There was a
traffic jam at Almondsbury interchange, an accident involving three cars on the slipway
on to the M5. It took almost an hour to get past it, and by the time she got back to
Crail Road it was after eight o’clock.
Slipping her shoes off, Eva filled the
kettle and had just put the new tablecloth on the table, when there was a knock on the
It was Tod.
‘Good timing,’ she said.
‘I’ve just put the kettle on.’
‘Did you have a nice day?’ he
asked, coming in and just standing there, as if he wasn’t sure he was welcome.
‘Lovely, thanks, but it’s nice
to be home,’ she replied. ‘What’s up? You look a bit anxious. Or is
that just because you’re still suffering from last night?’